Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

They’re Back!

January 8, 2018, was the first day back for all of our students. Although students had bold ideas and plans for the break; the question is whether or not they accomplished all or some of their aspirations and goals. The result is that students were successful in some things but fell short in others. Regardless of what the successes and shortcomings were, January 8th arrived and students had to go with the flow whether they were ready or not.

The first week of the spring semester is typically quite busy, not because I have an endless list of tasks to tackle, which by the way I do, but because there is a constant stream of students stopping by my office and I am putting out a number of unanticipated fires. Student interactions vary, many 3Ls are excited as they realize that this is their final semester of law school. Their conversations are filled with self-reflection about the challenges they overcame and the successes they now enjoy. I am typically excited for these students yet equally sad that students I have worked with for almost three years will soon move on. Some students want to share their incredible academic achievements particularly in courses they found challenging, some are thrilled by increases in overall GPA they now experience, and others are honored for achieving the highest grade in a certain class. Some of the 1Ls are hard on themselves as anticipated perfect GPAs have resulted in a “B+” or an “A-“ grade in certain classes, not recognizing their very good accomplishments but viewing them with disdain.

I am also greeted by some students I have never seen before, who tell me they will not be strangers to my office any longer because they now realize that they might need to seek additional help. A unique thing at this time is receiving panicked emails about bar application deadlines, selecting a jurisdiction to take the bar exam, and countless other concerns about the bar exam. For many others, contemplating the next steps after law school is frightening as they have yet to identify job prospects. Other than the constant flow of students in my office, there are random events that occur and require my attention such as a reserved room miraculously becoming unavailable, thus requiring a last minute rapid solution to this problem.

Although the start of the semester is usually busy, there is also a simultaneous element of fun, excitement, and challenge. When the students are not around, the building is quiet which is great at first, allowing me to be productive but very quickly becomes too quiet. The energy students exude fuels the building, keeps us moving, and is the very reason why we are here. Each year brings new opportunities to meet new students, to learn new things, and to see new growth. The students push me to become better at what I do and challenge me each and every day; thus, enabling me to bravely take on new suggestions and revamp my various activities and programs every year. Happy Spring 2018 to all. (Goldie Pritchard)

image from media.giphy.com

January 10, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A New Year's Resolution - That Works!

I've already fallen.  Chocolate got me.  I tried, super-hard; but try as I might, chocolate just has a magical grip on me.  

That raises an interesting question.

Are there any New Year's resolutions that I actually might keep so that they become part of my life?

Well, I've got a resolution that both you and me (whether you are a teacher or a student) can bank on for making a meaningful difference in your law school experience.  

In short, do less studying..and more learning.  

That's right, less studying.  You see, studiers study.  They read and re-read, they highlight and re-highlight, they underline and re-underline their class readings, notes, and outlines. But, unfortunately, the data shows that these common study techniques are poor ways to learn.  Don't believe me? Check this article out by Dr. John Dunlosky, entitled: "Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning," in which Dr. Dunlosly surveys the learning science behind what works best for learning:  https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf

Now, before we throw away our highlighters, please note that Dr. Dunlosky acknowledges that highlighting is "fine"...provided that we recognize that highlighting is just "the beginning of the learning journey."  In other words, to go from a studier to a learner involves moving beyond re-reading, highlighting, and underlining to become one that actually experiences, reflects, and acts upon the content.  That sounds hard.  And, it might be.  But, it is not impossible, at all.  Indeed, Dr. Dunlosky focuses on a handful of low-cost, readily-available learning strategies that can meaningfully improve your learning.  Here's just a few of them:

First, engage in retrieval practice. Rather than re-reading a case, for example, close the casebook and ask yourself what was the case all about, why did I read it, what did it hold, what did I learn from it, etc.  

Second, engage in lots of exercise with practice tests and problems.  It's never too early to start.  

Third, as you engage in learning through practice tests, aim to distribute the practice experiences rather than massing them in condensed, concentrated cramming sessions.  You see, what we learn through distributed practice sticks. What we learn through cramming, well, we just don't really learn because it quickly disappears from our grasp.

Fourth, as you engage in learning through practice exercises, try to interleave your practice with a mix of problem types and even subjects.  In other words, rather than just focusing on negligence problems in mass, for example, work a negligence hypothetical followed by an intentional tort problem and then a strict liability problem and finally back to a negligence problem.  Far better yet, interleave torts problems with contracts hypotheticals, etc.

Fifth, as you engage in learning, try to elaborate why the rule applies...or...explain to yourself what steps were needed to solve the problems that you were analyzing...or...figure out what facts served as clues that you should have discussed certain issues.

That's just a few learning strategies that you can implement right away, as sort of a New Year's resolution to you, to help you do less studying this new year...but far more learning.  So, here's to a new academic term of learning! (Scott Johns).

 

 

January 4, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

"The Road Less Traveled"

 

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

We are all travelers in this journey of life.  It seems to me that I've been traveling some pretty busy and clogged highways as of late.  You see, I'm constantly on the internet - from email to the web and on every road in between.  Perhaps you too.  

But, I noticed something extraordinary wonderful this week.  The emails have slowed, nearly to a stand still.  It's provided me with a very special gift at this holiday time. A chance to reflect, to ponder, to observe, to relate to others, and even an opportunity to settle back and read a real book (one with pages that you turn by hand, almost like those old, very old cars, with cranks to open and close car windows rather than electronic switches that zip windows up and down in a flash).

Interestingly, it seems like too much of a good thing can, well, be too much. And, the internet with its numerous electronic enticements and inducements might just be that good thing that can easily take over our lives.

Obviously, I'm not against the internet.  I'm on it right now as I write this blog.  But, according to researcher Dr. Steven Illardi at the University of Kansas, too much reliance on technological wizardly can be hazardous to one's well-being:  

"Labor-saving inventions, from the Roomba to Netflix spare us the arduous tasks of our grandparents’ generation. But small actions like vacuuming and returning videotapes can have a positive impact on our well-being. Even modest physical activity can mitigate stress  and stimulate the brain’s release of dopamine and serotonin—powerful neurotransmitters that help spark motivation and regulate emotions. Remove physical exertion, and our brain’s pleasure centers can go dormant."  https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-personal-tech-is-depressing

In the midst of this holiday season, why not take the "road less traveled" by giving yourself a wonderful gift by unplugging from the internet, even if just for one day.  But first, let me be frank.  Unplugging is not for the faint of heart; it takes purposefully choosing to travel down a different road, which perhaps at first blush, seems like a very lonely and difficult road.  

You see, as Dr. Illardi relates, there's a research "study from 2010, in which about 1,000 students at 19 universities around the world pledged to give up all screens for 24 hours. Most students dropped out of the study in a matter of hours, and many reported symptoms of withdrawal associated with substance addiction."  In other words, in choosing to take this road less traveled, even for just 24 hours, be ready to be ambushed by your own mind.  

But, there's great news for those who kept moving on the "road less traveled" by staying unplugged for 24 hours.  As Dr. Illardi states, "[T]hose who pushed through the initial discomfort and completed the experiment discovered a surprising array of benefits: greater calm, less fragmented attention, more meaningful conversations, deeper connections with friends and a greater sense of mindfulness."

So, as I wrap up my final blog of 2017, I'm about to go dark...I'll be shortly turning of the power switches to my computer and my so-called smart phone.  At least based on the research, that's a very smart road to travel on.  I'd love for you to travel with me and let me know how it goes!  (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

December 21, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

When the Screen Freezes

How individuals manage difficult moments or periods of crisis is very telling of who they are as individuals, their perseverance, and their strength. As the title states, what happens when students are in the process of taking an exam and the computer screen goes blank or freezes? This might be a remote possibility if the student has done everything to ensure that the laptop and software are in perfect working order but unforeseen circumstances inevitably do occur. I always encourage students to mentally prepare for the worst case scenario and consider how they would address such a situation. There are three general categories of reactions I have observed students adopt.

(1) It’s over.

These individuals are in complete panic and cannot get past the fact that something went wrong. They might even be paralyzed, unable to move forward, and unable to adopt a new course. They are doing all they can to ensure that the computer will work again. They lose precious time but have convinced themselves that there is no other way they can complete the task. They are preventing themselves from moving forward in an effective and efficient way. They might even throw in the towel and give up at this point. This is a defeatist attitude which is not helpful on the exam or in the future.

(2) I can’t do this.

These individuals panic and might even say to themselves a number of negative things but they will ultimately complete the task at hand. These individuals are frustrated and thrown off by the sudden development but are somehow able to get it together and complete the task at hand. The negative self-talk is a defense mechanism used to cope with the stress but despite the discomfort, they finish the exam by handwriting in a Bluebook.

(3) I can do this.

These individual are accustomed to facing challenges and adversity in life and solving problems; therefore, they tackle the situation head-on. While they initially may be thrown off by the turn of events, they nevertheless go on and face the challenge. They might immediately start writing in a Bluebook while simultaneously attempting to reboot their computer but they continue to proceed with the work. The frustration often kicks in after the exam is turned in because they were on autopilot during the exam.

Of course, people will react in different ways depending on their level of comfort with the subject area, perceived and actual difficulty, and ability to manage crisis situations. Having a plan for whatever worse case situation can be helpful if you are ever faced with such a situation or one similar to what you have anticipated. (Goldie Pritchard)

December 13, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Perspective: The Opportunity To Take The Test

As our students sit for their end of semester exams in a few short days, I consistently deem it important to encourage them to keep all things in perspective and remain focused. Whether or not they adhere to my advice is another story. Nevertheless, I provide the following information to our students, particularly first-year law students:

(1) Remember Why You Are In Law School

Revisit why you decided to come to law school, consider the things you always wanted to accomplish with your law degree, and focus on your purpose for being here. Visualize where you want to be which justifies the reason why you are here. Remember who you are doing it for. Maybe you are doing it for grandma who sacrificed everything to ensure that you got the education necessary to get you where you are now. Maybe you are doing it for your children, younger brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, neighbors, or friends who look up to you and are motivated and inspired by you. Maybe you are a first generation high school, college, and/or law student and you want to show your family again that you are able to do this. Maybe you want to help individuals in your neighborhood, community, city or state, whatever the reason for you being here, remember it. A law school exam is minimal in the larger scheme of things you have accomplished in life and the challenges you have overcome in life thus far. You have passed tests in the past and you can pass these as well.

(2) Focus On The Task At Hand

Concentrate on all things exam preparation and being in the right frame of mind to take your exams. This might be a good time to visit professor office hours if you have not already and to work effectively in your study groups. You might want to get rid of all distractions so cut off social media, maybe even cable television and silence your cell phone during the study period. You will have plenty of time after exams to enjoy all of the activities that appeal to you. If you have friends and family members who would be a distraction to you then you might want to tell them that you will check-in with them after break. Don’t be shy about seeking help. Attend all course reviews offered by your professor.

(3) Stay Motivated

You may not have started off the semester strong but you can finish strong. Realize the adjustments you need to make and when you need to take a break. Find supportive people who can help keep you on task and on track. Help each other stay on track. The fear you feel is probably the product of the exhaustion you feel from the semester. Don’t let stress take over so much that you are ineffective in preparing for exams. Worry takes away from doing. Replace the worry about the exam with actually doing the work. Remember that you are not striving for perfection in your knowledge or preparation. Focus less on the grade and more on the learning and retention of information.

(4) You Can Do It

You made it this far, so you can complete the journey. You did not quit during orientation week, you did not quit in week seven when your legal writing assignment overwhelmed you, nor did you quit in week fourteen when the semester ended and the threat of exams was looming. By not quitting, you have already proven that you are not going anywhere and you have tenacity so why would you quit now. You were smart enough to get into law school and you are smart enough to pass your exams. Finish this journey with all you have, put forth your best effort, and let the chips fall where they may. All you can do is your very best in the time you have remaining so do it! If law school was easy then everyone would do it and everyone would make it to this point.

All the best to the 1Ls and upper-level students taking exams soon, if not already! (Goldie Pritchard)

December 6, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Curious George, Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazkai, and Overcoming the Odds!

There's a new documentary film out, telling the story of the co-authors of the Curious George adventure stories as they fled Paris for their lives with bicycles the couple hand-built from spare parts just 48 hours prior to the invasion of Hitler's troops.  http://curiousgeorgedocumentary.com.  

You see, the authors Margaret and Hans Reys were German Jews. Traveling south to neutral Portugal and "sleeping in barns and eating on the kindness of strangers" along the way, the couple eventually made their way to New York City.  According to columnist Sarah Hess, who writes an article about the famous authors and the young filmmaker responsible for bringing to documentary life the incredible story of the Reys, the authors were, in part, imbuing Curious George with their own life experiences in learning to overcoming adversity by constantly maintaining a sense of curiosity and optimism despite the tremendous odds against them.  Sarah Hass, "This is George," The Boulder Weekly, pp. 26-29 (Nov. 2017).

In Sarah Hass's article about the new documentary file, we read about how the film came to fruition through the efforts of an aspiring young filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazki.  Yamazaki grew up in Japan reading the Adventures of Curious George.  She loved the stories. Because of the international fame and relevance to children across the world, Yamazaki couldn't believe that no one had yet to tell the "story-behind-the-story" of the Rey's.  Id. at 28-29. But, that almost stopped her from telling the story.  

You see, Curious George was famously successful; Yamazaki - in her own words - was just a 24-year old filmmaker and director.  In particular, as related to us by Sarah Hass, Hass explains that "deep down Yamazaki wondered if she was really the right one to tell the Rey's story.  Shouldn't a more experienced director take on such an iconic tale? 'But, you know what I realized?' she ask[ed] rhetorically.  'If I had waited to start until I knew what I was doing, or until I knew I was the right person to do it, I still wouldn't have started."  Id. at 29. (emphasis added).

So, Yamazaki went forward despite her lack of confidence in herself, "rely[ing] on borrowed equipment" and lots of IOU's to "pull it off," producing a documentary movie that would not have come to fruition without Yamazki overcoming her own lack of confidence in being a great story teller.  Id. at 29. 

With final exams just having started (or starting soon), many of us feel so inadequate, so inexperienced, so unfit to even begin to prepare for exams. Yes, we'll try our best to create often-times massive outlines, which turnout to be nothing more than our notes re-typed and re-formatted.  But, it's not massive outlines or commercial flashcards that lead to success on our final exams.  Rather, it's following in the footsteps of filmmaker Yamazaki and getting straight to the heart of the issue by step-by-step producing the final product - a film that captures what Yamazki learned and experienced in her curious explorations of the life stories of the Rey's in their own true adventures in overcoming adversity to achieve success.  

As law students, most often we do not feel that we know enough to start actually tackling practicing exams.  But, we are not tested on the quality of our study tools or how much law we memorized from flashcards. Rather, we are evaluated based on our abilities to communicate, probe, and plumb problem-solving scenarios, mostly often in hypothetical fact patterns based on what we have studied and pondered throughout the academic term. That means that - like Yamazaki - we need to overcome our lack of confidence and just start struggling forward with tackling lots of practice final exams.  

Be adventures.  Be curious.  Be bold.   Yes, that means that, like Curious George, you will find yourself making lots of mistakes, but it's in the making and learning from our mistakes in practice problems that we learn to solve the problems that we will face on our final exams.  So, tell your own story of adventures this fall as you prepare for your final exams.  And, best of luck! (Scott Johns).

P.S. The best sources for practice exams are your professors' previous exams. But, if not available, feel free to use some handy, albeit relatively short, past bar exams problems, available at the following link and sorted by subject matter:  http://www.law.du.edu/oldcoloradoexams

November 30, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Signs That Exams Are Upon Us

There are a few things that happen almost every semester to indicate that the semester is wrapping up.  Of course, I am not going to list each and every event here but I will highlight five things that seem to come up each and every time.

I Become A Celebrity

My office is a popular place in the building a week to a week and a half prior to exams. 1Ls whom I have never seen before show up. The common question I hear is: “what exactly do you do, I know you help students and I need help.” Upper-level students have a better grasp of what they need which can include anything from a pep talk, time and study management tools, venting sessions, and help finding resources for essay and multiple choice practice. I usually never know who to expect or what they might need. I also have students who are simply seeking opportunities to procrastinate and I am quick to redirect these individuals and remind them of what they need to accomplish.

TA Study Sessions Are Full

At this time, teaching assistant study sessions are wrapping up and students who have not attended these sessions all semester long, show-up. They hope to acquire whatever knowledge they believe will provide them with an extra edge in the final days leading up to the exams. The final sessions are usually the most well-attended sessions of the semester. The teaching assistants have some great last minute exam preparation advice so I am glad students show-up.

Canceled Meetings/No Shows

An upsurge in canceled meetings or no-shows occurs around this time. Students try to avoid me when they know they did not show for a scheduled meeting. It is particularly interesting when students who have been very consistent in attendance start to disappear. I try to give students permission and a way out; I understand that they are studying and trying to finish up the semester strong.

Upper-Level Students Are Focused

Those who slacked off throughout the semester are buckling down to get the work done. They have strategic plans charting how they will prepare for each exam and are implementing each plan. Some students are upset about the time they wasted by not engaging with the substantive material earlier in the semester but many were busy focusing on other things. I hear students say: “don’t worry, I will get it done and be ready for exams.” Students say this because they know I will express my concerns and ask them if they have thought about this or that as they prepare for exams.

Students Are In The Library

Each time I enter the library, there appear to be more and more students present in that space. I see students crowded around a table in their most comfortable gear, studying for exams. It is survival mode and stress is mounting. Moreover, some students are in the library environment to be motivated by others but others are simply there to feel like they are doing something when in fact they are not. (Goldie Pritchard)

November 29, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks: Good for the Body, Heart, and Mind!

As highlighted in a recent article by Jerry Cianciolo, taking on an appreciative disposition reaps great benefits in terms of our health, our emotional state, and our mind too.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-substitute-for-complaint-free-wednesday-1511216941. 

Citing to a Harvard article from 2015, Mr. Cianciolo relates that complimenting others leads to "positive changes in [our own] physiology, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, and social relationships.” Let’s be real. That’s something we could all use in law school. 

And yet (and not surprisingly), the opposite brings downsides.  According to Stanford neurologist Robert Sapolosky, complaining and worrying leads to such negative health implications as adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. 

But I have to be honest.  I’m a big-time worrier.  To be frank, it seems like the stresses of law school life only serve to accentuate my worries.  Perhaps you’re like me.  If so, I have great news.

Our viewpoint is a matter of our choice.  We can decide whether to worry or wonder, to complain or compliment, to lament or thank. 

So, in the midst of this thanksgiving season, please join with me in choosing to spread some sunshine towards others, perhaps with a gentle smile of warmth to someone in law school that seems all alone, or a kind word to a friend that is having a difficult time of it preparing for final exams, or a generous spirit to someone who is down and out as we commute to campus.  And, in the process of choosing to live out a thankful attitude in our words and deeds, our own hearts will radiate with warmth and gratitude. That’s something to be mighty thankful for throughout this season of law school as we turn the corner from our law school classrooms to preparing for final exams. And, it just might help with our problem-solving too! (Scott Johns).

November 23, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

When The Students Are Away…

Monday officially marked the first day of the fall break for our students. This technically means that students have left the building until next week. First year law students who heeded warnings and upper level students who viewed the break as an opportunity to get ahead academically occupy study rooms in the library and classrooms throughout the building. A student or two might stop by my office or honor a scheduled meeting but this is also my opportunity to maximize my student-free time. While the students are away, I have much to accomplish but can also practice some self-care.

This is the first period of time since the semester began that I can sit, think, and complete a task without multiple interruptions. This is the perfect time to tackle some big projects and tasks that require minimal interruptions or multitasking. Below are just a few things I accomplished during this short week:

(1) Met and worked with a handful of students

(2) Met and discussed a January project with my supervisor

(3) Met with a colleague to discuss another January project

(4) Purged a number of papers

(5) Worked on mock exams

(6) Left the building for lunch

(7) Walked outside for some fresh air

(8) Took a personal day off from work

I hope that as Academic Support Professionals, we can all take a deep breath, rejuvenate, spend some time with family and friends, and come back energized to help students finish the semester strong. (Goldie Pritchard)

November 22, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pause For Your Mental Sanity

Fall semester break (Thanksgiving Break) is approaching and there are many signs that students need a break to refocus, rest, and put a dent in tasks they have either avoided or simply had insufficient time to tackle. First year law students, in particular, have been spread very thin trying to learn new skills, balance multiple tasks, and learn new information. Simply put, they are pushed to the brink of their perceived capabilities. These activities are all potential sources of stress that may negatively impact one’s body and mind even when you are aware that you need to slow down. Students forget about focusing on what is most important to them when everything within them says that they cannot complete this or that assignment. Productivity starts to plummet, sleep schedules are off, healthy eating habits are replaced with unhealthy ones, gradual withdraw from social life takes place, frequent panic attacks occur, and some students no longer enjoy things they once enjoyed. In essence, students no longer feel good about themselves.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mental health” as:

“the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life; also: the general condition of one’s mental and emotional state.”

Our students should aspire to have good mental health; always be aware of how they feel and how they manage their feelings. There are several resources at counseling centers and student affairs offices on various campuses on this topic that I am only mildly addressing.

Our students have a week off before they return to wrap-up the semester and take final exams. Of course, I relentlessly encourage students to maximize the time they have over break. Use this time wisely and effectively but also get some rest. I encourage students to develop a realistic and productive study plan in order to set themselves up for success by implementing the plan. I also encourage students to develop an additional plan for rest and recuperation, emphasizing it is very easy for time off to develop into all play and rest and no work, nevertheless, it is important to plan and limit their rest time.

A top priority on the list is to get some true rest and some valuable sleep of at least eight hours each and every day. I also encourage students to have a day when they do absolutely nothing but what they want to do and engage in at least one activity that makes them happy. Their goal is to be re-energized and in the best, mental and emotional state to wrap-up the last few weeks of the semester.

This is not to say that no time is spent on maximizing study time but I would let you refer to my colleague’s entry here which addresses exam preparation in detail. Happy restful yet productive break to all students. (Goldie Pritchard)

 

image from media.giphy.com

November 15, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Power of Positive Thinking

It can be quite difficult to adopt and maintain a positive outlook when everything around you seems to be falling apart. You may not find yourself in a position to have a positive attitude when time seems to evade you and you simply cannot find ample time to complete each and every task. This is a particularly stressful period of time for various populations I interact with; therefore, why not address positive thinking? 1Ls have possibly received feedback from a midterm and now have to change everything about the way they study, all while balancing their final writing assignment for the legal writing course. 2Ls and some 3Ls completed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and some are now questioning whether or not they adequately prepared for the exam to obtain the desired score. Others are hoping to have successfully passed the MPRE so they do not have to take it again or take it for the third time if this is their second go at it. 3Ls are starting to panic as they realize that this is the last set of exams and all that stands between them and a law license are bar applications, final grades, and the bar exam. For all these groups, there are a few short weeks prior to final exams and each day gets them even closer.

With the above-mentioned concerns and the semester progressively nearing a close, students are tense and quite stressed. I try to keep all of this in perspective as I interact with these students individually and collectively. A positive attitude is infectious and with each interaction, my intent is to highlight positivity thus enabling students to focus on the “big picture” while remaining positive in each challenge they face along the way. A positive disposition can lead to success when obstacles are no longer viewed as obstacles but rather seen as opportunities. Individuals are more disposed to help others with a positive attitude and more likely to avoid those with a negative attitude. Negative thoughts, words, and attitudes generate negative feelings, moods, and behaviors. Negativity can forge a pathway to failure, frustration, and disappointment. I have witnessed students talk themselves out of opportunities and successes simply because of fear which generated negative attitudes.

How then does one address the inevitable occasional negative feelings? Creating a vision board with a list of things you aspire to have and are working towards. Stating weekly affirmations that uplift, encourage, and empower you. Adopting positive words in your inner dialogue or when interacting with others. Being cognizant of your negative internal dialogue and quickly changing it to positives can work wonders. All the best with the final stretch. (Goldie Pritchard)

November 8, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learning Tune-Up Time!

With many law students facing final exams in just over a month, this is a great time for students to reflect on their learning with the goal of making beneficial improvements before it is too late, i.e., before final exams are over.  

There are many such evaluation techniques but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.  

And, if you are a law student, there's no need to wait on your teachers to ask these questions.  Rather, make them part and parcel of your learning today.  

So, whether you are currently serving as a teacher or taking courses as a student, you'll find these questions to be rich empowering opportunities to make a real difference in your learning! (Scott Johns).

Photo of Evaluation

November 2, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Everyone Passed The Bar Exam But Me

As bar results from various jurisdictions continue to trickle in, July 2017 bar takers are either filled with excitement and relief or are sorely disappointed and devastated. As those who were unsuccessful on the exam sort through their emotions and decide what to do next, they cope with the results in different ways. There are those who know they did not put forth the effort necessary and are therefore disappointed with the result and even mad at themselves as they see friends elated to have passed the bar exam. On the other end of the spectrum are those who put forth every effort but did not yield the expected result. These individuals are distraught, directionless, overwhelmed and apprehensive about embarking on the bar study journey all over again. As individuals who were unsuccessful on the bar exam regroup, some will sulk in their emotions, sadness, and fear of failing the bar exam again. The reality is that some will continuously be haunted by the fear of failure throughout their bar preparation period. Others will be motivated to succeed by the fear of failure and make significant strides toward passing the bar exam.

The most challenging aspect for bar support professionals is working with students who were unsuccessful on the bar exam but their entire ‘friend group” passed the bar exam. It is even more difficult when the unsuccessful individual overwhelmingly put in their best possible effort and was the very source of encouragement and support for the entire group of friends who passed. It is also difficult in an era when everyone posts every life event on social media so one is constantly faced with the successes of others and one’s perceived failure. Where then do we even start?

As a bar support professional, we have a general idea about the probability of success on the bar exam for those law students we have regularly engaged with throughout law school. Of course, students defy the odds and my goal is to ensure that students beat the odds against them each and every time. When one has worked with a student who struggled throughout law school, helped that student build the mental fortitude to overcome defeats in small battles throughout law school, seen the student master various skills and work diligently during bar studies, it is difficult to see the student not attain their goal of passing the bar exam. How do you uplift the encourager?

My approach to working with any student who was unsuccessful on the bar exam is twofold. First, address the mental coping mechanisms then second, address the practical aspects of preparing for the bar exam. Individuals usually want to avoid discussing how they feel about the bar exam, how it is impacting their day to day life, and how it will affect their bar preparation process but these are conversations bar preparation professionals should never shy away from. It might involve tears and maybe even require a break but strategizing about how to manage interactions with former classmates, professors, family, and employers, just to mention a few, are all very important. Also realizing that they are not alone in having these emotions and that others who were also unsuccessful feel the same way and may have coping mechanisms that might be helpful to adopt. This is also a time to build a relationship with the bar studier which might encourage them to have the conversations with you about their fears and moments of doubt and concern throughout the bar preparation process. However, there might be situations when we might need to encourage students to obtain other professional help.

Although we aim to adequately address the practical aspects of preparing for the bar exam, it is the mental fears that typically make this process daunting. The voice students hear ringing in their ears, “you are going to fail the bar exam again” or the frustration of not immediately getting all questions correct might awaken the fears that all of their hard work may not yield the result they long for. Students can learn how to write better essays and performance tests with strategies and individualized and consistent feedback. Students get better at multiple choice with strategy, practice, and specific techniques to critique their process. Students can build time management skills with progressive time management drills. Students can build knowledge and memory by developing techniques to study and retain material and adequately applying those techniques. The one thing we cannot do is get into the minds of our bar takers to block all of the negativity they might tell themselves.

To those who had a practice run and are going to get back on the bar study schedule, LET’S DO THIS!!!  You CAN do it.  You are not the first and you are not alone.  Your bar support professionals are there to support you with this round.  Be courageous! (Goldie Pritchard)

November 1, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #5: Be Passsionate

Last Thursday (October 26) was National Pumpkin Day and today is Halloween; it seems like a fitting day to conclude my “Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson” series.

For the first four installments (read #1, #2, #3 and #4 here), I not only detailed my experience growing a giant pumpkin, but also tried to empathize with first-year law students.  For this final post, I’d like to focus on “passion,” which I believe is an essential element to successfully transition from novice to expert. 

You have to be truly passionate about the work in order to perform at a competitive level over a sustained period of time.

During the early morning hours on October 14, I officially entered my pumpkin in the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Grower’s annual weigh off.  At 516 pounds, my pumpkin took 35th place out of 38 eligible entries. 

  Presley 516a

Many of the more experienced growers were impressed with her* shape and color, but commented that she was simply “too small” to be a real contender—even in the rookie category. These other growers would then immediately follow-up their statement with a question about my plans for next year.  Although each of their questions varied slightly (e.g. “What seed will you grow next year?” “Will you be performing a new soil test?”  “Do you think you can outgrow your husband?”), implicit in every question was the notion that I would undoubtedly be growing a pumpkin again next year.  I responded to each of their questions with a straightforward answer: “I’m not going to grow another pumpkin.  This was a one-time-thing for me.”  Then, almost universally, a sense of disbelief would appear on the questioner’s face for a brief moment before a Cheshire Cat grin would settle in across their lips.  The grinning grower would respond with something like “Oh, give it a few months.  You’ll be itching to plant a seed in the spring.”

After the third or fourth time, it dawned on me that the other growers simply did not (or perhaps more accurately, could not) believe me. Because these vegetable enthusiasts love growing pumpkins so much, they are unapologetically eager to get back in the patch and try something new.  The fact that I was not as equally eager seemed too confusing for them to accept.  But for me, most days in the patch were a chore that I could manage, not a task I wanted to master

I suspect that both the “can do” folks and “want to do” crowd exists in the law student population as well. The question then becomes what do we, as academic support professors, do to assist the “can do” students; that is, those students who are able to achieve the minimum benchmarks of success, but are likely disinclined to challenge themselves during their three years of school. Can we motivate someone to evolve from “can do” to “want to do”?  And, is the evolution really necessary? 

With regard to the latter question first: I submit that the evolution is imperative to long term success in the legal field. Extrapolating from my own experience trying something new and challenging, I feel comfortable asserting that in order to be content and fulfilled while working long hours, you have to be truly passionate about the project.  Therefore, if a law student possesses a can-do attitude, but doesn’t actually enjoy the work, he will eventually lose interest and the quality of the work will suffer.  In law school that translates to mediocre grades, but in legal practice poor quality work may result in the loss of a client or even malpractice.  In addition to producing lesser quality work, the student will be fundamentally discontent and unfulfilled.  Perhaps this helps explain the extraordinarily high rates of depression among law students.  The difference between me—the novice pumpkin grower—and the law student is that I have the luxury of walking away after one season.  Giant pumpkin growing is just a hobby, not a career path.  On the other hand, most law students—because of financial commitments, family pressure, or a lack of personal insight—are not in a position to just walk away from law school after one year.  Even if the student finds the entire first year a laborious chore, his can-do attitude will likely convince him to return for another year.

So, if we conclude that the can-do student is likely to persist through all three years of law school, even if he finds the entire process somewhat miserable, then what can we do to help transition his mindset from can-do into one of want-to-do?  How can we make him passionate about his project?  I suspect that identifying the student’s long-term career plan and then tying law school tasks directly to his individual goal(s) may prove useful in reframing his motivation.  A more defined end goal may motivate the student to engage beyond the basics and eventually spark a real passion.  Numerous ASP articles outline the benefits of curiosity, self-directed learning, and internal motivation in achieving academic success.  My own experience echoes these scholars' findings. 

Looking forward: next time I encounter a can-do student, I plan to spend a few extra minutes trying to identify his real passion, and (hopefully) tie that passion directly to his legal studies.  In short, I hope to spark a passion for the law which should better equip and inspire the novice to transition into an expert who is excited about facing new challenges and his own potential for exponential growth.

*Like most sailing vessels, giant pumpkins are referred to using female pronouns.

Happy Halloween! (Kirsha Trychta)

Pumpkins in truck

Novice grower at 516 pounds on the left; expert grower at 1,337 pounds on the right. 

October 31, 2017 in Advice, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Outlining=A Better Understanding of the Doctrinal Materials

I mentioned last week that 1Ls are likely starting to think hard about outlining for their podium courses. With the end of October approaching, students need to focus some of their precious time on preparing for their final exams. It takes a while for some students to shift their focus. But, those students who take time to prepare for final exams may often feel more confident and less stressed come the end of the semester. And a more confident and less stressed student may be better able to focus and demonstrate to the professor what he/she knows about the doctrinal subject come December.

One way students can to start feeling more confident and less stressed is by organizing their class notes around big picture rules in an outline. Students can insert into the outline various hypotheticals that test these big picture rules. The professor in the Socratic class could have generated these hypotheticals. They could also be pulled from other sources, like law school study aids or from the casebooks’ Notes and Decisions. Or, better yet, students can try to generate the hypotheticals on their own.

An outline can take many shapes or forms. What’s important is that each student focuses on what helps him/her best understand the material. What’s also important is that students try to create their outlines on their own. It’s cliché—but, a huge part of the learning process is synthesizing all the materials that each student has available to him/her and putting it down in the outline. Working with the materials and thinking about how and why the materials fit into the doctrinal course can help solidify or create a better understanding of the material. And who doesn’t want a better understanding of the material before finals? (OJ Salinas)

October 30, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2017

The End of October is Approaching

It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.

As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.

By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.

As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)

October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Be a Risk-taker for Your Legal Education

Occasionally, prospective law students ask me what it takes to be a successful law student. I am always happy to respond to this question because most of the time, these students find information from current students more valuable. One basic answer I provide is that students who are risk-takers and do not fear multiple bouts of failure tend to be some of my most successful law students. Although a somewhat perplexing response, I always proceed with an example, knowing from experience that most prospective students do not believe me initially. It is not until the end of the fall semester when exams are over and students have had a moment to step back and reflect on experiences that they understand what I meant.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “risk-taker” as “a person who is willing to do things that involve danger or risk (possibility of loss or injury) in order to achieve a goal.” The danger or risk referred to in law school academic performance is exposure of academic weaknesses and short comings. The perception that everyone knows that you do not know something; you are not yet good at something; you failed at something; or more importantly, your professor is aware of it all is quite terrifying to many first year law students. Some of them prefer to stay in the dark about everything for fear of possibly being relentlessly judged by one misstep. They do not realize that other students are preoccupied with their own fears and may forget about classroom exchanges or that due to the number of other students in the classroom; the professor may inadvertently forget the exchange. The worst aspect of this is likely when students avoid resources and/or interactions such as engaging with vital academic support programs and services that could eventually be beneficial to them.

Encouraging students to utilize resources that are available to them through the academic support program is probably the most difficult obstacle in the first year of law school. As a result, I try to use a number of modes of information delivery with the hope that students will use or tap into one or more of them. These include large and small group interactions, one-on-one interaction, and access to digital resources that allow students to work at their own pace. But sometimes, this is not enough. The hope is that at the very least, classmates, teaching assistants, and other administrators will help remind and direct students to resources that a conducive to learning.

My risk-taking students are often my high achieving students because they have redefined failure for themselves and created opportunities to excel. All of them were not the students one would expect to perform well from the beginning. Redefining failure is crucial to overall law student success. One simply cannot rely on past measures of achievement, otherwise one might become disappointed. Students need to focus on innovative ways of assessing improvement, understanding, knowledge, and time management just to list a few. They also need to determine how to obtain the feedback necessary for the positive adjustments necessary for academic success. Taking ownership of one’s own learning and managing one’s emotional reactions to feedback requires some skill and tenacity. My students who attempt all of this are self-empowered and build their arsenal of knowledge and skills throughout the academic year which typically yields positive results around exam time.

Risk-taking students are the students who attend regular professor office hours but also get answers wrong and spend time understanding where they went wrong. They may suggest and lead study groups, ask the questions every student wants to ask but does not dare ask the professor, are in my office regularly showing me how they have diagrammed and organized concepts, or are simply doing the things they should be doing. (Goldie Pritchard)

October 18, 2017 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.

I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.

Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!

Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)

October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Smart-Phone Dilemna: "Blood Pressure Spikes, Pulse Quickens, Problem-Solving Skills Decline," says Columnist

 As recently reported by columnist Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year." 

Most of us don't think that's too awful.  I certainly depend on mine...and all the time.  It's become my phone, my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my companion, my navigator, my weather channel, to name just a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable nano-technology.  But, here's the rub.  Accordingly to Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies that, as the headline above suggests, indicate that smart phone access is harmful, well, to one's intellectual, emotional, and perhaps even bodily health.  

Let me just share a few of the cited studies from Mr. Carr's article on "How Smart-phones Hijack Our Minds."  https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811?mod=e2tw

First, as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a California study that suggests that the mere presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities.  In the study of 520 undergraduate students, the researches - using a TED lecture talk - tested students on their exam performance based on their understanding of the lecture with the students divided into three separate groups.  In one classroom, the students placed their cellphones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam.  In another classroom the students had to stow their cellphones so that they didn't have immediate access (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight--out-of-mind" approach).  In the last classroom situation, the students had to leave their cellphones in a different room from the lecture hall.  Almost all of the students reported that the placement or access of their cell phones did not compromise their exam performance in anyway.  But, the test results shockingly indicated otherwise.  The students with cellphones on their desks performed the worst on the exam. In addition, even the students with the cellphones stowed performed not nearly as good as the students who were not permitted to bring cellphones to the lecture.  Apparently, just the knowledge that one's cellphone is ready and standing by negatively impacts learning.

Second, also as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a Arkansas study that suggests that students can improve their exam performance by a whole letter grade merely by leaving one's cellphone behind when headed to classes.  In that study of 160 students, the researchers found that those students who had their phones with them in a lecture class, even if they did not access or use them, performed substantially worse than those students that abandoned their cellphones prior to class, based on test results on cognitive understanding of the lecture material.  In other words, regardless of whether one uses one's cellphone during class, classroom learning appears to be compromised just with the presence of one's cellphone.

Third, as again reported by Mr. Carr, cellphone access or proximity not only hinders learning but also harms social communication and interpersonal skills.  In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation.  Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a cellphone present.  The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no cell phones available.  The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation that the subjects experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy.  The researches found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were "personally meaningful topic[s]."  In sum, two-way conversations aren't necessary two-way when a cellphone is involved, even if it is not used.

Finally, Mr. Carr shares research out of Columbia University that suggests that our trust in smartphones and indeed the internet compromises our memorization abilities.  In that study, the researches had participants type out the facts surrounding a noteworthy news event with one set of participants being told that what they typed would be captured by the computer while the other set of subjects were told that the facts would be immediately erased from the computer.  The researchers then tested the participants abilities to accurately recall the factual events.  Those that trusted in the computer for recall had much more difficulty recalling the facts than those who were told that they couldn't rely on the computer to retain the information.  In other words, just the thought that our computers will accurately record our notes for later use, might harm our abilities to recall and access information.  And, as Mr. Carr suggests, "only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking.  No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."

Plainly, that's a lot to think about.  And, with all of the conversations swirling about as to whether teachers should ban laptops from classrooms, it might just add "fuel to the fire."  On that question, this article does not opine.  But, regardless of whether you take notes on a computer or not, according to the research, there's an easy way to raise your letter grade by one grade.  Just leave your smartphone at home, at your apartment, or in your locker...whenever you go to classes.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

October 12, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

MPRE FRENZY

During the past few weeks, my focus was on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). Students have received countless resources to help support them with the MPRE preparation process. Students recognize that the exam is fast approaching and some have not yet started to study. Others are considering various study strategies and asking themselves whether they are learning what they need to learn.

Below are some considerations as students wrap-up or engage-in MPRE studies:

• Build your skill and momentum. Most bar-type multiple choice questions are reading comprehension questions so initially, you might want to go at a slow pace as quickly reading the fact patterns then selecting an answer might not yield the correct answer. Often, you may overlook key facts which could dictate your selection of the correct answer. Develop your reading comprehension skills by slowing down, then building your pace. Take it one step at a time and focus on your timing closer to the exam

• Practice to practice. Simply completing practice questions or exams without a purpose can be detrimental; therefore, you may wish to consider your fundamental justification and benefits for completing questions. Why you are completing questions? Are you completing question to determine your understanding of a sub-issue, to determine your exam time management skills, to determine your ability to manage multiple sub-issues at once, to learn, or to highlight strengths and deficiencies? You want to think about why you are completing questions, what purpose it serves and is it service that purpose. You might need to make adjustments depending on your answer. You absolutely do not want to avoid the difficult questions.

• Review and learn the rules. How are you ensuring that you are committing the rules to memory, particularly the ones you “trip up” on? How are you condensing the information to review them? Typically, students stop at either reviewing an outline or watching a lecture but you might want to have an idea of what a rule on a particular topic says to effectively be able to arrive at the correct answer. Are there flashcards or other available resources you can use?

• Resources you may wish to consider. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) Website has a number of resources posted so use them or at the very least, check to see whether your selected MPRE preparation course includes such information. Does it cover the entire content in the MPRE Subject Matter Outline? Does it highlight MPRE Key Words and Phrases? Are you aware that the NCBE website includes a practice exam that you can purchase and sample MPRE questions available for free?

To the November 4th MPRE bar takers: All the very best! (Goldie Pritchard)

October 11, 2017 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)