Friday, December 19, 2014
Law students breathe a sigh of relief once all of their exams are over and the last papers turned in. It is such a good feeling to have the semester over! No more studying for the time being!
Alas, the relief is short-lived for some students. They begin almost immediately to worry about the final grades for their courses. For some students, the worry is caused by being too close to the GPA needed to meet academic standards. For other students, the worry is caused by wanting a certain GPA for qualifying for a certain law firm's job application cut-off or retaining scholarship aid or achieving some other standard for a law-school honor.
Whatever the reason for the worry, it can cause sleepless nights and self-doubt until the grades are finally posted. It is the lack of control over the grades that makes students anxious. Not only do they need to do their personal best, but they need to achieve a high enough score to "beat the curve" for the class.
The recommended percentages for each grade bracket of most law schools' curves mean that the overall class performance determines the grades given. Students know that if everyone in the class knew the material and performed well on the exam then just 2 or 3 points can be the difference between a higher or lower letter grade. They realize that some folks will get low grades no matter how large the break between the lowest C and the next grouping. No wonder students sign up for seminars that often do not have to conform to the recommended curve.
It is important to put grades into perspective while waiting for the outcomes:
- You cannot change anything about the exam that is already completed or the paper that is already turned in. Stewing about the misread fact pattern, the forgotten rule, the missed issue, the skimpy case analysis, and more will not change anything. We are not perfect, so it is inevitable in law exams and assignments that perfection will not be reached. All of us remember "the ones that got away" in our law school experiences.
- A final exam grade reflects one's performance on one set of questions on one day at one time. Any student who was sick, tired, stressed, or unfocused during the exam can know that the grade reflects those less than optimal circumstances and not just knowledge/application.
- Over the full spectrum of a law degree, students benefit from the curve as often as they get hurt by the curve. It evens out over time. The break in the curve gives you a higher grade on one exam but may catch you with a lower grade on another.
- A low grade does not mean you are less intelligent, less worthy, or less talented than the day you walked across the threshold of your law school for the first time your 1L year. It merely means that you need to implement some new strategies and forge ahead. Do not allow grades to undermine your self-worth.
- Grades indicate opportunities for improvement rather than just measures of performance. There are lots of ways to improve on test-taking whether the exams are true-false, multiple choice, short answer, fact-pattern essay, or some other variation. ASP professionals can assist students in evaluating their problem areas and work on strategies with them.
After the initial angst of grades that are less than you hoped for, pull yourself together. You can do this with assistance. Review your exams or papers with your faculty members to get feedback on what you did well and what you need to improve. Then make an appointment with your academic success professional to implement a plan for that improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
“The first rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’ The second rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’”
Brad Pitt uttered these words 15 years ago in the iconic movie Fight Club (a movie about a fight club). Even today when I ask my class, “What is the first rule of Fight Club?” every single guy responds, “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” You may wonder why I would ever ask such a question and the answer is, the same holds true for exams. Don’t talk about exams. Talking about exams is like asking a woman how much she weighs or asking anyone how much he or she makes. First, outside very specific situations (like your doctor’s office), there is absolutely no reason to ask these questions. Second, you wouldn’t ask your friends these questions because you know that no matter the response, someone walks away from the conversation feeling bad. Talking about the exams is exactly the same: there is no reason to talk about it and someone always walks away feeling bad. I’ve had students challenge me and ask, “what if you have to talk about an exam?” and “what if there really is a reason?” I throw it right back and say, “give me an example.” In all the years I've been doing this, I’ve yet to hear a legitimate reason to talk about exams. As you continue through exams, keep in mind the first rule of law school exams, “Don’t talk about exams.”
Monday, December 8, 2014
You have studied and prepared -- will continue to study and prepare -- for your end of term exams. You have outlined each subject and prepared exam checklists that contain the legal issues/rules, elements that yopu need to know to do well; you have reread and continue to reread your outlines; you have written practice exam essays; and you have done practice multiple-choice questions. Keep up that good work and maintain that momentum.
As you prepare for exam day(s), you can take one more step by taking a page from athletes preparing for competitions. Use visualization techniques to build or enhance confidence as you move into the exam period. Breathe deeply, close your eyes, visualize a large powerful animal, visualize yourself as that large powerful animal. Take that image of yourself with you into the exam room. On exam days, employ strong, erect, powerful posture -- posture that reflects confidence.
While there is no substitute for study and preparation for law school exams, you can sse the combination of preparation and visulaization techniques to build confidence as you approach exams. Visualize yourself as powerful; enter the examination room with erect, strong posture; picture yourself writing exams confidently.
(This post was inspired by a presentation at the New England Consortiium of Legal Writing Teachers Conference - September 2014 at Vermont Law School -- "The Sport of Lawyering: Using Visualization to Improve Performance," Julie St. John, Assistant Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law)
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Winter has arrived. Just as the temperatures are dropping and daylight hours are getting shorter, students are gearing up for longer study days and less sleep. During exam period, students tend to over-consume caffeine and junk food and cut back on sleep and exercise. This combination often leads to fatigue and illness. Getting sick is the last thing you want to happen during exams. Exam period is when you need to be at your best so don’t underestimate the importance of healthy habits. Keep your body strong in order to keep your brain strong. Study for those exams but also eat a vegetable, go for a brisk walk, and get some sleep.
Monday, November 24, 2014
For most people, the end of November means Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season. It means family, food, and football. For law students, it means the start of exams. It is a time for writing papers, creating outlines, and studying. A lot of studying. For 1Ls especially, it can be stressful and quite overwhelming. This is the first set of exams they will take and success is not guaranteed.
I recently had breakfast with a group of 2Ls and as the conversation turned to exams, I asked them to share some advice: what do 1Ls need to know about law school exams? Here are their wise words:
- Make your own outline and start with 20 minute blocks to overcome beginner’s inertia.
- Focus on what is important, including the non-school aspects. Don’t let finals take over your life.
- Don’t mistake organizing for studying. You make the perfect outline and not know a thing on it.
- Know the terms of art and use them when answering questions.
- Many people study in different ways. Trust your methods. Don’t feel like you have to be white knuckle the whole finals period.
- Studying is key, but you need to know when to stop. If your outline is done (and it should be) stop the night before the final and do something else: anything else. Especially near the end of your finals, you need to give your brain a break.
- Don’t neglect relationships.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Address the Stress with Mindfulness
Lawyers have a higher rate of depression, anxiety, substance-abuse, and suicide than the rest of the population. The practice of law can be stressful but aren’t most jobs? Why are lawyers having so much trouble dealing with stress? Stress is a mental (and sometimes physical) reaction to a perceived threat or change. In law school, stress manifests early in the 1L year: our past perfection drives our desire to do well and it joins forces with the realization that everyone else is striving for the same level of success. It then crashes into the curved grade system which means that no matter how hard you work, your grade ultimately depends on how well others do. Regardless of the grade, the uncertainty and lack of control lingers throughout your law school career. Then you enter the practice of law and these feelings collide with the emotional intensity of dealing with clients’ problems day after day and working with other lawyers who are often adversarial. It’s a recipe for anxiety, depression, and substance-abuse.
The reality is, life itself is a constant flow of change so we will always have stress. However, stress is not so much the event itself but our perception and reaction to that event. There will always be deadlines and performance expectations. We can’t change that but we can change the way we perceive stress.
Oftentimes, we react to negative situations without thinking. Instead of intentionally focusing on the present moment, we immediately judge it as good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair. This habit is not necessarily a positive one because it is reacting without thinking. It leads to stress, anxiety, depression. Instead, we need to develop a new habit: mindfulness. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for addressing emotional challenges because it helps develop meta-cognition, focuses attention, and strengthens the ability to make deliberate choices. Mindfulness addresses the stress. It allows us to be in control of our own mind instead of our mind controlling us. In practicing mindfulness we learn to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior so we can interrupt stress cycles before they take over.
Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead, and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership recommends something called the Purposeful Pause. The Purposeful Pause is more than just stopping. It is about redirecting and focusing attention so you can make conscious choices. Try incorporating one of these Purposeful Pauses into your day:
- Choose to start your day rather than letting the day start you. Start the day by just breathing and before getting out of bed, take a few seconds to notice the sensations of your breathing.
- Use transitions wisely. Pick a day to drive to (or from) work/school without the radio or phone. When you arrive, allow yourself a few moments to sit in the car, noticing the breath.
- Just walk between meetings/classes. No emails, texts, or social media. Think about each step you take and the possibility of greeting colleagues you pass rather than bumping into them while you text!
Mindfulness is an opportunity to create new, healthy habits. Let’s make the intentional choice to be mindful and let’s change those statistics.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
You don’t procrastinate. You perform better under pressure. This may be true but it is more likely how you justify putting things off. Admit it, just a few weeks ago you told yourself that you were going to stay on top of thing this semester. Law student: start outlining early and be prepared for every class. Professor: get the whole semester planned before classes begin, work on your article every week without fail. You would make no excuses. Then you got busy and more important things came up: moot court try-outs/practice, organizing an event for some organization (of which you are probably the president), your friend’s birthday (you only turn 23 once). Admit it, you procrastinate. Everyone procrastinates sometimes but it should not be the norm. Procrastination may be something you do (or avoid doing) but it should not define you. We procrastinate for many reasons: daunting task, fear of failure, too many options. Whatever the reason, procrastinating actually increases your stress and only puts off the inevitable. Now that you’ve admitted you procrastinate, it’s time to do something about it.
Begin with identifying why you avoid starting a task and address it: break a daunting project into smaller tasks, allow yourself to make a few mistakes along the way, list the cons of waiting until the last minute and the benefits of starting early. The hardest part is turning your aspirations into actions. Identify a positive attribute that describes you and use that to define your actions then pick a start date and hold yourself accountable (arrange to meet a classmate and work together, set up a meeting with your professor to ask questions or get feedback, block out the time on your calendar so you can’t fill it with other things). Take it one day at a time and take back the control. Don’t wait until tomorrow, stop procrastinating today. (KSK)
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
It’s still early in the semester so you might be wondering why I’m writing about motivation. The reason is simple: it’s easier to maintain something than to lose it and get it back.
A few years ago I was in the best shape of my life. I worked out regularly, ate a healthy balanced diet, and even ran a half marathon. I felt great. Then I moved to a new job in a new city and I used that as an excuse to push exercise and healthy eating to the side. Fast forward several months: my clothes were tight and walking from my car to the office was the most exercise I got. I did not feel great. I came up with a plan to get back in shape and went to the gym for the first time in a long time. It was awful. I was out of breath within minutes, moved slower than molasses, and the next day could barely move. It was ugly but I kept going until I got myself to a healthier place. I liked how I felt and decided it was a lot better to maintain than to have to start all over again. When I catch myself being lazy, I just think of that first day back at the gym and get moving. Even if it’s just something small like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or eating only half a bag of chips, I feel better because I know I’m still moving forward.
I share this story because we’ve all been there and it’s something we can all relate to. The same holds true for motivation in law school. You start the semester off excited and ready to go but somewhere along the way you realize you’ve lost some of that drive. Instead of waiting until that happens, here are some tips on how to maintain your motivation throughout the semester:
Know there will be setbacks- you know you’ll have a bad day (or week) but don’t let it sidetrack you. Being prepared for a setback makes it easier to overcome.
Believe in yourself- if you don’t think you can succeed, then why would anyone else? Make a list of your strengths and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
Be realistic- Setting a standard that is impossible to meet guarantees failure. Instead, set small goals that allow you see your achievements along the way.
Challenge yourself- be realistic but not complacent. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or step out of your comfort zone. It is easy to fall into old habits unless you challenge yourself in new and different ways.
Have a support system- Whether its friends, family, professors, classmates, there are people who sincerely want you to succeed and you will need them when your motivation falters. They will give you that little boost and keep you going.
Take advantage of the opportunities this new semester presents. Maintain your motivation so you have to work extra hard to get it back.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Welcome to law school!
Welcome to law school, we’re glad you’re here! Many of you will be hearing this statement over and over again during the next few weeks, and may have various thoughts as to why so many people keep saying the same thing. Are they truly glad I’m here? Is this some sort of veiled greeting that masks the torture that waits? Will they still be happy to see me if I ask a “dumb” question? All good questions that any cautious soon to be lawyer would ask when entering into foreign territory. Let me hopefully assuage your fears by responding to those questions.
Yes, we are truly glad that you are at your respective law school. When many people are making the choice not to embark on this particular career path, you have decided to follow your passion to serve others and make this society better through the law. We are glad that you will continue to enrich the legal bar with your soon to be acquired legal skills. Does some form of torture await? Well, I wouldn’t call it torture but more of an intensive training program where you are mentally challenged (sometimes physically too) in order to build a sharp, curious and critical thinking mind. It’s somewhat analogous to running a marathon (so I’m told) the preparation is grueling and at times you may want to quit, but when the time comes to actually run the 26 miles you are ready and crossing the finish line will be the best thing in the world. A victory like no other; much like law school graduation or passing the bar exam. Will they still like you if you ask a “dumb” question? Everyone who enters law school as a student does so not having practiced law before, so no question is a dumb question. You are here to learn and professors will be very happy if you ask questions. In fact, one of the ways that your professors get to know you is by your questions and comments. Ask questions in class and in office hours. Let them know that you are paying attention and that you are curious; let them know who you are. Think of your professors as your trainers for the marathon. They are there to give you guidance, knowledge and encouragement as you train. However, they can’t give you what you need if you don’t ask questions and let them know what you need to succeed.
So, welcome to law school, I’m glad you decided to join the profession! I really mean it. (LMV)
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Summer is winding down and the fall semester starts in a few weeks, which means it’s time for everyone to offer advice on law school success. Here’s my two cents on how to start the semester off right: understand, organize, analyze. That’s it. Seems simple, right? Of course there is a catch. You will be reading court decisions and reading a case is not like reading fiction or textbooks. It goes beyond understanding the material. A case is just a piece of a much larger puzzle. To put that puzzle together you start with understanding the words within the case but then you must understand the case as a whole and how it fits into the larger organizational scheme. Finally, you must analyze that information under different fact scenarios to predict outcomes and resolve client issues. It won’t be easy at first and you will make mistakes, but the concepts are foundational and it won’t be long before understanding, organizing, and analyzing becomes a part of your internal thinking process.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This is my mantra for law school, the bar exam, the practice of law. There are always unknown factors and more than one right answer. You have to do your best to be prepared for anything but it still might not be enough. Certainty, absolutes, and complete control are not common. When asked a question, most lawyers answer with, “It depends…” Studying for the bar exam is a real test in getting comfortable being uncomfortable. You struggle to learn a massive amount of material yet are tested on only a fraction of it, and your score depends on how well others do. It’s a nerve-wracking process. I talk to my students about what it takes and how they will feel but I also experience it with them. Each summer during bar prep I do something that makes me uncomfortable. This year I decided to run. Every day. For the entire bar prep period and through the bar exam (66 days). Yes, I’m a runner but I hadn’t been consistent and was definitely not in peak condition. I had never run this many consecutive days and I kept making excuses to not do this challenge. I was a little scared that I would fail, which is exactly why I had to do it. Before I started I set some ground rules for myself: each week I would take a max of 2 “rest” days (under 2 miles) and do at least 1 challenging run (high mileage, hills, etc.). I would also go public (facebook) so I couldn’t make excuses. Then I started running. I started out cautious because I was afraid I’d get worn out. I realized that was wimpy and kicked it up a notch. I added cross-training two days a week to build up strength. And I kept running. By the end, I ran almost 200 miles in 4 states, lost a few pounds, and got some killer tan lines. I also learned a lot about myself and what it means to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Of all the challenges I have done, this is the one that most connected me to what my students are going through. Here are just a few take-aways:
(1) If you don’t take a break every now and then, you’ll get worn out and crash.
(2) There is rarely a good reason not to run but there are a lot of excuses.
(3) If you don’t have a plan you’ll find yourself running at 9:30pm and again at 6:30am the next day.
(4) A bad run is still a run and you will benefit from it.
(5) You must believe in yourself but don’t underestimate the importance of friends and family.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s what it’s all about.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
My article is due to go out to law reviews on Friday. I have learned many, many things while writing the article, but the most important lesson learned is about teaching. Specifically, the process of submitting my piece to outside reviewers has given me renewed insight into what our students experience when they receive feedback. I know the research on students and feedback. However, it is completely different to experience getting feedback. If you have been in ASP for a while, you probably haven't received feedback since law school. Getting feedback is very tough. To write something, to spend weeks and months preparing, and then weeks and months writing, is emotionally draining and personally exhausting. You cannot help but feel that your admittedly flawed, incomplete article is a part of yourself. But then you have to let it go out to reviewers. If you are lucky, you will have tough, critical reviewers who are willing to tell you everything that is wrong with the piece, so that you can make it better before the submission process. I have been blessed with some really tough reviewers, and my piece is immeasurably better because they spent hours telling me just what is wrong with my flawed, incomplete article. I am confident that what goes out on Friday morning is no longer flawed or incomplete, but a fully-realized articulation of a problem. And it is better, stronger, and complete because of the feedback I received from outside reviewers.
The process of receiving feedback has reminded me how tough it is on our students. They spend all semester struggling with the material, and then they are judged on their learning just once or twice a semester. They cannot help but feel like they are being personally judged, evaluated, and measured. Part of our job is to help our students see that critical feedback is not meant to measure failures and self-worth, but to show them how to be stronger, better, and smarter. It is a part of the "invisible curriculum" of law schools (to use a Carnegie term) that criticism will produce stronger lawyers. We need to make that visible to students; we need to explain that we give them critical feedback because we believe they can be smarter, stronger, better thinkers and writers.
If you are a long-term ASPer, try writing an article for a law review. It may not help you in your professional evaluations, you may not need it for tenure, but you should do it because it will make you a better teacher. Reading about feedback is not the same as receiving feedback. Write because it will help you understand your students.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Summer bar preparation is kicking into high gear. The first week is a blur. The second week is overwhelming. The third week is a blur again. Bar preparation is excruciating- physically, mentally, and emotionally. One way to stay even and remain focused is to practice meditation.
Meditation can take on many forms. However, mindfulness, attention to breathing, and intentional focus are necessary components. First, try to create an environment where you can be quiet and free from distractions. You do not need to redecorate or go to extremes. Merely find a spot where you can feel relaxed for ten or twenty minutes per day without being interrupted.
Next, concentrate on your breathing. Think about good air coming in to refresh and satiate your spirit; and, the bad “stressful” air being exhaled and released. Attention to breath is essential to meditation. If the only one thing that you accomplish is sitting with your breath for 10 minutes, you will still be in a better mental place. Try to clear your mind and focus on your breathing and let everything else melt away. Thousands of assignments, rule statements, MBE questions, and life stressors will try to infiltrate your thoughts. Keep them out by concentrating on your breathing. Let this time be just about your breathing.
By making meditation a daily practice, the stress of bar review will slowly melt away…at least for a short part of your day. Even though schedules are strained, adding a 10-20 minute daily meditation can help add a deeper level of peace and contentment. So... turn off your phone and computer, find a soft spot to land, close your eyes, and breathe.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Friday, May 23, 2014
Some students have engaged in early bar preparation prior to law school graduation, while others have chosen to focus their efforts on other tasks during their last year of law school. While I strongly advocate for the notion of “the earlier the better” for bar prep, many decide to live solely in the present and avoid the bar exam until it is imminent. "Ignorance is bliss"after all.
This sentiment brings to mind Thomas Gray’s poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, a personal reflection on the bliss of youth and the worries and trials that lie ahead in adulthood. Law school is by no means paradise, but it invokes “wild wit, invention ever-new” much more than preparing for the bar exam. Unfortunately, preparing for the bar exam feels much more like "comfortless despair."
Thus, I encourage students to take time now at the close of their legal education to reflect on their successes, their challenges, and the fun times that they had as a law student. This provides closure to their law school experience and helps invigorate their ambition to succeed on the bar exam. And, since the "folly" of bar review will be upon them next week, I hope they have one last weekend of pure, unrestrained bliss.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
I usually abhor things like Upworthy and Buzzfeed, but I do like the message of this video by Alan Watts and the South Park folks:
It points out that education trains us into thinking that a good and successful life means living it as a bone-rattling rush to some sort of electrifying conclusion that will once-and-for-all make us happy. Law students, who by-and-large have been successful in doing what school tells them to do, are particularly susceptible to this sort of thing. For myself, I went to law school wanting to save the squirrels and came out on the other side thinking that I had to go to big law or I was a total loser.
Although it might be hard to "dance" while learning the Rule Against Perpetuities, it's not a bad attitude for students (and their teachers) to develop. (Alex Ruskell)
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Hat tip to Jan M. Levine for reminding us about a Spring 2013 article in The Law Teacher. The article that Professor Levine wrote is based on a letter from a former student who had left law school years before and wanted to share his thoughts with the perspective he had gained. The issue of The Law Teacher can be found here with the article near the end of the issue: It's OK to Leave Law School.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Whenever I meet with students who have done poorly in the first semester, I tell them about the first English paper I turned in in college. I had never gotten less than an A in anything in my life, I was the “English” guy for big state contests, I’d won several creative writing awards, and I really thought I wanted to major in English. On my first paper, I got a C. When I went to talk to the professor, a man who wore seersucker suits and looked like a cross between Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders, he said in his genteel Virginia-tidewater accent, “Is English your first language? Your name is Russian. Are you translating as you write?”
The unfortunate thing was that he was genuinely curious and English is my first, and only, language.
And the thing was, he was right. The paper was too clever by half, full of elevated verbiage and ideas that got started but then petered out. Split-infinitives were everywhere, the Oxford Comma had apparently decided to hop a bus to Cambridge, and the whole thing rested on a very faulty argument I'd cribbed from an R.E.M. song. But, I took his advice and comments seriously, readjusted my writing process, and, in the words of my seventh grade science teacher, "Got back on the A-train."
I go on to tell my students that I bet most of their professors have a similar story somewhere back in their academic careers, so they should realize that 1) they’re not alone, 2) they can bounce back, and 3) this is an integral part of the learning experience that is often overlooked (as in, “Hell, I’m never taking Crim Law again! Let’s toss that exam and never look at it!”).
I honestly believe hitting a roadbump can sometimes be the best thing that can happen to a student. It forces the student to reflect on their learning and forces them to get better. If I had continued on my merry way without hitting that first bump I might still be scribing in bloviated sentences constructed entirely in the aether and intertwined with the thoughts and errs of beknighted folly -- or something.
So, I try to present a first semester failure as opportunity. I ask them to go over their exams with their professors to see where they fell short, then I meet with them and we make a plan to fix those holes.
And, happily, this year many, many second year students have been coming in to tell me about how they have been able to turn around their grades. While their egos may have been bruised, they have gained necessary insights into themselves and their education. And I know these insights will make them better lawyers. (Alex Ruskell)
Monday, January 13, 2014
Alex and Rebecca have made very valid points in their posts regarding grades and reactions to grades last week. I would like to add some additional observations.
Our law students with few exceptions have always beeen at the top of the heap. A and B grades have come easily to them during their educational lives. In addition they have been campus leaders, successful athletes, officers in community youth groups - and for the non-traditional students, community leaders and exemplary employees. Whether their grades are good for law school (but just not good enough for them) or in the great middle of the class (those ever present C grades) or at the bottom of the heap for law school (probation or dismissal), the shock is there when their expectations are not met.
To be very honest, I find that many law students have not learned good study habits in prior educational settings even though they got excellent grades. A variety of factors play into that situation:
- grade inflation (one study showed that 75% of college grades are As and Bs),
- multiple-choice "just recognize the right answer" exams,
- no papers or only short papers written,
- papers that focus on just ideas and not writing style/grammar/punctuation,
- spoon feeding of what will need to be regurgitated on the exam,
- multiple exams that allow for cramming pieces of a course rather than comprehensive understanding of material,
- grading that allows for the lowest grade on exams/assignments to be dropped,
- group work that allows slackers to coast for the same grade as the others who did the work,
- and many more aspects.
When students are suddenly confronted with the amount of material in law school courses and the one-grade phenomenon of many courses, their old study habits no longer work. This reality is especially true if they came from educational backgrounds that were not competitive for grades and handed out accolades for basically showing up and doing the minimum.
The good news for all law students is that solid study strategies can be learned and make a difference in one's grades. More efficient and effective reading, briefing, note-taking, outlining, and exam-taking can all boost grades. Time management and organization are key skills that can also be learned.
Attitude is critical as well. Realizing that one can change and improve is important to future success. Willingness to work hard and change one's habits are major steps. Some law students get discouraged and settle for being average or below average as though their destiny is fixed after grades come out.
Do not give in to that mindset! Students can change their academic study strategies and reach their academic potential. Students can improve their grades wherever they currently fall in their classes. All students can change their strategies and gain greater learning with less stress.
Why do I believe this? I work weekly with a number of probation students each semester to help them find more efficient and effective ways to study. Look at some statistics for grades this past semester from probation students who met with me regularly, changed their study strategies, and worked smarter. Some made greater strides than others, but improvement resulted. (I have not included information for 3 probation students whose grades for one course are still unreported.)
GRADE POINT PRIOR SEMESTER'S COURSES GRADE POINT FALL SEMESTER COURSES
(last enrolled regular semester GPA; not cum GPA) (fall semester GPA; not cum GPA)
- 1.321 2.666
- 1.428 2.750
- 1.571 3.045
- 1.607 2.678
- 1.642 2.607
- 1.642 2.678
- 1.714 3.000
- 1.733 2.250
- 1.750 2.650
- 1.857 2.500
- 1.892 2.785
- 2.107 3.384
- 2.250 2.333
And here are the statistics for 2 other probation students:
- 1.642 1.857 (cancelled many ASP appointments; up for dismissal)
- 1.866 3.600 (did not meet with ASP)
Intervention by the Office of Academic Success Programs is not the only variable that determines improvement as can be seen by the last example. The number of strategies implemented, the number of hours studied, motivation, individual appointments with professors for help, personal circumstances, sleep/nutrition/exercise, and other variables also have impacts.
The point is that for all of the students who implemented more efficient and effective study strategies, improvement happened. Once all the grades are in for the remaining 3 students, will all of the students I met with meet academic standards? Maybe not, but 13 probation students have already exceeded the standards they needed and are on the road to future success. By honing their new study strategies, they should be able to continue at their new academic levels and beyond.
The take away from this post: Put last semester's GPA behind you and move forward by seeking assistance from ASP and your professors so that you can implement new study strategies to help you improve your grades and live up to your academic potential. There is no magic bullet or guarantee, but there is hope. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
When I was a law student, I looked at Thanksgiving break as prime study time. Many of my friends and study partners avoided the travel rush in order to best prepare for final exams and catch up on much needed sleep. With over 25 million people traveling around Thanksgiving, it may be wise for many of you to opt out of travel as well.
However, maintaining traditions and building community helps strengthen bonds and provides comfort at a time of the year when we need it most. Therefore, circa 1997, my law school comrades and I decided to create a new Thanksgiving tradition- Friendsgiving. We all gathered on Thanksgiving Eve and feasted on roasted turkey, pecan topped sweet potato soufflé, and amazing homemade pumpkin and apple pies (with a mug of hot cider spiked with Tuaca). A foodies delight!
When we were overwhelmed by the semester and feeling gloomy from the rainy gray Seattle skies, we gathered for a night filled with delicious food and gratitude. I feel blessed to have found lifelong friends during my time in law school. I consider all of them my Seattle family. We spend several holidays each year together and now we are almost outnumbered by our children, but Friendsgiving started it all. This year I am hosting our 15th Friendsgiving celebration!
Before you jump into your weekend of studying, I encourage you to create your own Friendsgiving tradition!
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Sometimes, timing is everything. Law students need to learn to use their time wisely to effectively manage the demands of law school while balancing jobs, families, and self-care. Being at the right place at the right time makes a significant difference for law students who are networking for job opportunities and seeking support systems. Also, timing and pacing during a final exam (or the bar exam) can mean the difference between a passing grade and a failing one. In this post, I have referenced song lyrics that incorporate the theme of time while relating them to the law school experience.
“If I could save time in a bottle…” I know I may be dating myself with this one, but I had to begin with this classic line from Jim Croce’s hit love song “Time in a Bottle”. Ask your students what they would do if they could save time in a bottle. Are they making the most of each moment? Are they being intentional with how they plan their schedules, spend their time, and balance their commitments? We all want more time (especially law students), but instead of focusing on the lack of time we have, highlight ways to use time more efficiently and encourage your students to be present when free moments avail themselves.
“I’ve got too much time on my hands…” This classic rock song by Styx was written as a reflection on the unemployment crisis in the 70’s. The underlying theme in the lyrics rings true in many respects for today’s law students. They are worried about their careers, finding a job, and performing well on exams. They may not be able to tighten their focus when they actually do find that they have “time on their hands." Time management does not always come naturally. Providing students with tools and resources to help them manage their time will help them prioritize, use their free time wisely, and establish effective routines.
Similar to the melancholy quality of Styx’s lyrics, Otis Redding hits a few low notes when he croons about… “sitting on the dock of the bay…wasting time….” Students sometimes sit and feel like they cannot catch a break. Redding’s hit resonates with students who are feeling like they have left the life they knew only to find that law school is challenging, competitive, and sometimes disappointing. When they feel like “nothing's gonna change”, we step in to give them hope. Providing the tools for success to law students empowers them to make necessary changes to ensure their success. Especially at the close of the semester, we need to recognize that law students are exhausted, overloaded, and feeling lost. As Cyndi Lauper so aptly sings in “Time After Time”, when law students "are lost, they turn and they will find [us]", Academic Support Professionals. We catch them and lift them back up.
After exams or a when facing a rough patch during the semester, students may need to turn to ASP for this lift or for help with creating a new plan for their upcoming semester. If their study strategies or exam performance are subpar, they begin humming, “If I could turn back time” (with Cher’s iconic diva-ness echoing in their minds). Reflecting on study habits, legal analysis skills, and exam performance are key components to succeeding in law school. Everyone has moments in their past that they wish they could replay (or delete). Using these moments as opportunities for growth instead of moments of failure, helps students see beyond their initial shock, shame, or disappointment.
Like the Stones, we want our students to sing (and feel) that "time is on my side, yes it is...." While this may not always be realistic, there are many ways to get closer to that dream. Here are a few ideas:
- Create sample study schedules for your students
- Give them calendars and checklists to help them plan their time
- Ask them to keep a journal that tracks how they use their time during a typical day or week and then ask them to reflect on their time management
- Provide a time management workshop or webinar
- Have them draft a to do list at the start of each day and evaluate their progress at the end of each day
- Pair 1L students up with a 2L or 3L mentor to discuss how to effectively schedule their time
- Challenge students to unplug for a block of time each day (This is a good one for all of us!)
- Teach students the art of delegation
- Encourage students to take time each day to recharge.
By establishing routine time management practices, students will feel more balanced and be more productive. Because as Pete Seeger so aptly wrote, there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance." We should all spend more time dancing.