Thursday, August 4, 2016
"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field." So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field." http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-coachs-influence-off-the-field-1470073923?tesla=y
That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional. With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new. So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.
You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers. Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches. And, not just sport coaches. More like life coaches. Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.
Let me give you an example from political science. I once had a professor by the name of Sandel. No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them. Those were lessons well given.
Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd: You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath." Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school. And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches.
Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching. After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach. So, what does a coach do? According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:
“Great job in difficult circumstances.”
“You should be really proud of yourself.”
But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others. That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.
I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!
This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.
We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process. This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be. I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors.
For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
I know from recent emails with colleagues that our calendars are beyond bursting. Student appointments, workshops, meetings, class time, committee meetings, and much more crowd our days. We go home exhausted and turn right around the next day for another go. Often we are working with too few hands for the tasks, too few funds at the ready, and too little recognition.
So why do we continue to do what we do?
Because of the students. They matter to us.
We want them to discover (or rediscover) a love for the law. We want them to learn. We want them to grow in confidence in their abilities. We want them to gain life skills: time management, organization, and more. We want them to see grades improve. We want them to pass the bar on the first attempt. We want them to graduate and do our law schools proud. We want them to be there to serve the under-served.
So how do we keep going against what some days are daunting odds?
I find that small blessings arrive just when I begin to feel worn out or discouraged at all that needs to be done.
- An excited student drops by to share news about a good test grade.
- A student thanks me for help with a study schedule that has made all the difference.
- A student remarks that my listening and encouraging really helped at a difficult time.
- An alum stops by to thank me for teaching him a skill he uses every day in practice.
- A thank you note or card appears in my inbox.
- A batch of homemade cookies is left on my desk.
We love our jobs because we realize we make a difference in our students' lives. And because they make a difference in our lives. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 31, 2015
This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.
Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:
Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource!
Be willing to put in the work:
There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.
Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top.
Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:
Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.
If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.
I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.
Do What Works for YOU:
There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently! Find what works for you and stick with it.
At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that.
Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.
Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge! When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!
Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often).
Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Last week was the first installment on how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Here is the second: You Belong. Be Yourself. Have Fun.
First off: Congratulations. Deciding to pursue law school is difficult; getting accepted even more so. You've successfully done both, and are finally ready to begin. So naturally the next question is: Now what? You've read the online blogs, you've talked to friends, family, and attorneys, and you may have even skimmed a few books in preparation of your first year. I did the same. I quickly realized that it's not as terrifying as they make it in the Paper Chase, nor as easy as in Legally Blonde. It is challenging though, especially that first semester. I want share with you three things I think helped me most to survive that first semester.
1. You belong here.
During orientation and throughout the first few months you will meet and get to know so many great and successful people that will leave you in awe. Your classmates will be decorated servicemen and women, others were valedictorians and college athletes, attended Ivy League schools, some even had illustrious careers before law school. All of this will be overwhelming, you may even think there is nothing you bring to the table, and there is no way you can possibly compete with these people. It is important that you remind yourself that you are here for a reason. Law schools undertake the rigorous selection process that it does to ensure that those who attend here, belong here. You've had just as successful of a journey here as they have. What's more, despite their impressive resumes you all have one thing in common: zero days of law school experience. It's a fresh start for all, nobody has an advantage over you in that regard. You belong here.
2. Be yourself.
I don't mean to sound clichéd but the second most helpful thing for me was to continue being myself, especially when it came to studying. Everywhere you look you will see student's working on some law school related thing: running to the library in between classes to get in a few extra pages of reading, answering every question under the sun that's asked in class, going to office hours; some will even work on their outlines from day one, constantly adding and editing. You will also see the opposite almost everywhere you look: students using class time to make that last second eBay bid, doing a Buzz Feed quiz to see which Disney character they are; some will leave after ten minutes and others won't even show. That doesn't mean that one group is doing significantly better than the other; it means they're doing what works for them, and you need to do the same. Don't feel pressure to be in the library in between every class just because you see others doing it. They might have gone out the night before and didn't get the day's readings done. Don't feel compelled to go to a professor's office hours, maybe you just get the material. Along the same lines, don't stream the latest PGA event in class because others are doing it. They might not find lecture a particularly helpful way of learning, are just there to get the attendance points, but will stay up burning the midnight oil later. You and you alone understand your study habits best, how far along in your readings you are, and what you need to do and when you need to do it. Don't pay attention to what anybody else is doing. Be yourself when it comes to study methods and study time.
3. Have fun.
Yes it's possible to have fun in law school. You can go to bar reviews, football games, and trivia nights without your academics suffering. It's important that you don't ignore your hobbies and do non-law related things, whatever that may be. It's easy to get sucked in to the law school world and lose sight of the outside world. Don't. Doing the things I mentioned above will take your mind off studying, give you a nice break so you can keep going, plus you'll have fun doing it. Getting to know your classmates outside of the law school halls was also one of the most rewarding things I did in my first year.
So keep these three things in mind: You belong, be yourself, and have fun. You will also be surrounded by a most supportive group of professors and students to help you along the way, so never hesitate to ask for advice or support. Congratulations, welcome, and good luck!
Monday, August 17, 2015
Each summer I ask my outgoing 1Ls “what advice would you give to someone getting ready to start law school?” I compile the responses and create a Top 10 or list of Dos and Don’ts. This year, however, two students wrote such fantastic, heartfelt, and in-depth advice that I have to share them in their entirety. Here is the first one: You Only Have One 1L Year So Make it a Good One.
The summer leading into your 1L year of law school I would do one thing: relax. Spend time with family and friends, travel, and enjoy all of your favorite activities. Read a novel or your favorite book, and avoid legal treatises or cases; there will be plenty of that in the year to come. I would also avoid the law school prep books. While I did read two of these books, I found that, instead of providing solid advice and preparation, they only made me more anxious about the year ahead. In my opinion, the less time thinking about law school, before law school actually starts, the better. I learned everything those books told me, and much more, in my first two weeks at school. The books were more useful in producing unnecessary anxiety and erroneous preconceived notions of law school than actually being helpful. Some might find these guides useful, but I think law school orientation and the first few days of class provide a clearer picture of what to expect. It’s easier to begin with a blank slate and learn as you go, rather than be forced to overwrite preconceived notions. Plus, whether they show it or not, everyone starts 1L year in the same boat, naïve and intimidated, and these prep guides will not provide an easy leg up. So I say pick up a novel instead.
As far as success in law school, there is no one answer or rule that everyone can abide by and succeed. Every student is different. I can say, however, that it’s important to be yourself. Stick to the study methods and discipline that got you accepted into law school in the first place; don’t try to imitate others. Other students will inevitably brag to you about how long they spent in the library, how late they stayed up studying, or how it all just “makes sense” to them. Usually these are lies and, if not, what works for one person may not work for others. Unless they are completely deficient, do not radically adjust your lifestyle and your work habits, do what works best for you, and stick to your guns. I believe staying true to yourself and maintaining a work/life balance is absolutely essential to succeeding and staying healthy, both mentally and emotionally, your first year of law school. Make friends with your classmates, commiserate together, and blow off steam in your desired fashion when you have free time, which will still exist. Do not let life pass you by just because you have a heavy workload. Furthermore, if you find that your methods aren’t producing the results you want, speak with your professors, counselors, and upperclassmen to find successful strategies that work best for you. Along those same lines – feedback is key. Utilize your professors as much as possible, as they also want to see you succeed, and seek feedback from them whenever possible. Find out what they are looking for in your work, the things they think are important, and adjust your strategies to their class. This will pay dividends in developing your skills and knowledge. Most importantly, make sure you follow your own path, otherwise you may not be happy with where you end up.
That being said, however, the easiest way to undermine your success in law school is to fall behind. While the work may seem overwhelming at first, it’s important to complete all of the required reading before each class. Without doing so, the material in class will be much harder to comprehend and will leave you a step behind. Worse, you may be called on to answer questions about the reading. If you didn’t read, you could, at worst, lose points toward your final grade, and, at best, be embarrassed and discouraged. Over time, any backed-up work will build until you are left with an insurmountable amount of information that you now have to teach yourself. This will definitely be at a disadvantage when it comes time for the exam. Therefore, it’s important to stay ahead of your work. Even if you read the material days ahead of time, it’s critical to do the required work and be prepared for class. Leaving work until the last minute or falling behind is the easiest way to shoot your law school success in the foot.
Finally, I would emphasize all of the incredible upsides of law school. I heard plenty of horror stories coming into my first year, and generally expected to be working non-stop under constant stress. Yet, I had no idea how much fun law school could actually be. While there are certainly times of stress and feeling overwhelmed, I would highlight the other side of law school– basically, how enjoyable the experience can also be. While this is the time to buckle down and establish clear career goals, it is also a time to meet many intelligent, like-minded individuals, challenge yourself intellectually, expand your personal horizons, and make friends and acquaintances that will likely be around for life. Put yourself out there and challenge yourself whenever possible. As long as you are mindful not to overburden yourself or stretch yourself too thin, be willing to say yes to every opportunity that crosses your path. You will come out stronger and better prepared for a legal career every time. Finishing my first year of law school was an extremely proud moment for me. I felt as if I had accomplished as much in one year as I had in my entire life leading up to that point. Becoming a lawyer had seemed like a vague, distant future for most of my life, but after my first year I felt as if I could finally see where my career and my life were headed, and I could not be more excited for it. Be proud of heading into your first year of law school, and avail yourself to all of its incredible benefits. There is plenty of fun to be had. This is one aspect I wish had been more impressed upon me going into 1L year.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Some suggestions for friends and family supporting someone through the bar exam.
Bar Taker: I’m going to fail.
Wrong: Keep up that negative attitude and you certainly will fail.
Right: You are a brilliant, wonderful, hard-working person who is going to win the bar exam!
Bar Taker: I’m getting fat/so out of shape.
Wrong: You do look a little fluffy. And your clothes are a little tight. You need to work out.
Right: No you’re not. You look fantastic. In fact, your arms are so buff from lugging around all those commercial outline books it looks like you’ve been doing Crossfit.
Bar Taker: sniffing the air around him/her Do I smell?
Wrong: You don’t smell but that t-shirt you’ve worn for 3 days in a row sure does, and I could fry okra with all the grease from your hair.
Right: You sure do! You smell like someone who is going to pass the bar exam.
Bar Taker: My house/apartment/room is such a mess.
Wrong: Funny you should say that. I just submitted an audition tape to Hoarders.
Right: You poor dear! Please let me help you. You go to the library and study while I clean up.
Bar Taker: Ugh. I am absolutely exhausted from studying all day.
Wrong: Studying all day? You’ve got to be kidding. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about studying is not the same as actually studying.
Right: Studying like that is just so draining. You just relax right here on the couch and let me wait on you for the rest of the evening.
Bar Taker: I’m just so stressed. I can’t do this anymore.
Wrong: Stressed? You think this is stressful? Insert one of the following:
Mother- Try being in labor for 36 hours like I was with you. Now that is stress.
Sibling- You are such a big baby. No wonder Mom loves me best.
Significant other- Stress is trying to deal with you and your incessant whining. By the way, I’m breaking up with you.
Right: I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of stress you are dealing with. This is the most difficult experience anyone has had to go through. Ever. Let me make an appointment for you to get a massage. My treat.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
I love sports. I love to play sports, coach sports, and watch sports. Studying for the bar exam is like playing a sport, coaching a sport, and watching a sport. There are highs and lows, agonies and defeats, and setbacks and triumphs. Bar review for many law school grads has been in full force for a couple of weeks. The foggy haze of transition from law student to bar student has lifted. Now, it is time for bar students to get their heads in the game.
Like preparing for a sport, you must look at your bar preparation as you would a training schedule. You cannot swim the 500 meters, score the winning goal, or finish the race without focused, incremental, and structured training. Bar review is just that. Everyone says, "Bar prep is a marathon, not a sprint."
During your bar prep, you want to get high scores on MBEs, ace the essays, and finish the performance test with time to spare. However, this is usually far from the realities of your initial phase of bar prep. You have not fully memorized the law or mastered your test taking skills at the beginning of bar prep. However, you are laying the foundation. And, it is this foundation that will get to you game day.
Here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare for game day:
- Map out the remaining subjects that you need to review and the tasks that you need to complete. Writing this out can help you manage your stress and your work load.
- Set realistic goals for each day (or each hour). Meeting goals helps propel you over the next hurdle, builds your confidence, and shows you that you can win this!
- Give yourself time to process the information that is being thrown at you. Do not expect that you will know everything after listening to a lecture and completing 30 multiple choice questions. Bar review is a process, trust in the process.
- Make time for breaks. If you schedule a break, it is not considered procrastination. Everyone needs down time and it is important that you balance your intense study schedule with sufficient time to refresh.
- Evaluate your work. It is important to understand what you are doing right and what you still need to work on. This will help you refocus your time and prioritize improving your weaker areas.
- Play a sport or watch a sporting event (Women's World Cup perhaps). This may give you the inspiration to help you keep your head in the bar review game.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Bar Exam Season is here.
Just a few days ago you took your last law school exam and celebrated graduation and hooding with family and friends. You’ve barely had time to open the graduation cards and now it’s time to hit the books again. Commercial bar prep has begun and it is just the beginning of a great adventure. You’ve worked hard for almost three (or four) years, 10 more weeks is no big deal. The good news is that the first week is the easy week so take advantage of any free time to do the following:
Organize your life.
- Do laundry, go grocery shopping, clean your apartment. Studying for the bar exam seems to affect your ability to do any of these things.
- Talk to family and friends about the next 10 weeks and how you will be less available. Assure them you will make time for them but studying for the bar is a full-time job.
- Find a healthy, non-law related activity to help with stress relief. It is important to relax and have a little fun. It’s good for your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Organize your study schedule.
- Go through your bar exam material and familiarize yourself with it. You will use some things more than others and it’s good to figure out your go-to sources early.
- Take a look at the prepared study schedule and modify it to fit your learning and study needs. Figure out your study approach and make sure you have all your study supplies.
- Find a place to study. Try out a few different places and figure out which atmosphere best promotes focused study (hint- it will not be anywhere in the vicinity of a tv, refrigerator, couch, bed, etc).
You've got 10 weeks of studying ahead of you. There's no getting around it so you might as well make the best of it. (KSK)
Sunday, May 3, 2015
Those of us in ASP are finishing up our semesters. All of us are about to dive into the next big project: some ASP'ers begin bar prep; others begin leg-up summer programs for entering 1L students; yet others begin pre-law programs for college or high school students.
All of us have been racing through the academic year and juggling dozens of balls above our heads and behind our backs. The break between fall and spring semesters gave us little respite because we were planning, revising, and preparing for that spring semester. Spring Break was another work week rather than a week off for nearly all of us.
If your last month has been typical, you feel a bit like an emergency room doctor - exhausted and overworked. You have tried to staunch the academic bloodletting and save as many academic futures as possible for students who have shown up for last-minute advice. These latecomers to the process of studying only have time for prioritizing and implementing some quick changes. You do what you can in minimal time. Some students will miraculously do okay. Others will see their law school futures expire on the exam room floors.
I now have two weeks of exams in front of me when the pace falls off because students are hunkered down. A few walking wounded will come my way, but most students will just self-treat and study for the next exam. They just want to survive, go home, and heal.
I know as an ASP'er that now is the only chance that I have to breathe. Not that I will be relaxing, mind you. I will be working my way through a massive list of projects and deadlines.
By breathing, I mean that I can look up and not see the next student waiting in line. By breathing, I mean I will not be finishing one meeting only to rush to another obligation. By breathing, I mean that instead of answering an avalanche of e-mails and handling last-minute crises, I can focus on completing a task and spending quality time with that task.
But you know the best part of being able to breathe for a few days? I get to step back and remember why I love ASP work. I can re-focus on what really matters: the many successes, the many thank yous, the academic and life changes that I have had the honor to be part of, the student tears that have led to smiles on those faces as skills were honed, and the reality that some students would have given up without my help .
So, my dear colleagues, take time to breathe. Remind yourself of why you love ASP work. Remember the little and big miracles you have witnessed and been part of this year. You are a blessing to your students and a blessing to your ASP colleagues. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Schools around the country have entered the exam zone. For the next 2-3 weeks campus are overrun with students walking shuffling around in clothing that has seen better days. They will be unkempt and a bit unclean. They will stay up all hours of the night, chugging energy drinks to keep going. All in the name of studying. This is what it takes to get an A. I say it is time for change. Don’t just follow the crowd. Be your own person and do your own thing: take a shower, go to bed at a decent hour, and still get an A. This is possible if you follow one simple rule: treat studying like a job. You don’t have to wear a suit but would it be so bad to wear clean clothes and not smell like stale sweat? I know it’s a radical concept but it’s worth considering.
First, make a schedule. Create a weekly and daily calendar where you plan out what you want to accomplish that day and that plan should be more than just, “study.” Break an overwhelming task into smaller, more specific chunks: complete 1/3 of outline, review notes for 15 minutes, answer and review one practice question. You also need to schedule time for life. Make an appointment with yourself to do laundry, make dinner, talk to mom. Scheduling these activities means you are more likely to do them. Being able to keep up with day to day tasks will make you feel better and more accomplished.
Second, protect your study time. Just because you spend 12 hours in the library doesn’t mean you actually studied 12 hours. The first step is the hardest but most important- go off the grid. Turn off the phone. Not on silent. Not on airplane mode. Turn. It. Off. It’s ok if you need to take baby steps: start with a 2-hour block without social media and texting. Both are times sucks and every time you go off-task, you lose time (Check out my October 1 post for more on multi-tasking). Devote a solid two hours to studying. You will be amazed at how much work you get done. It’s fine if you want to chat with friends or wander around the library but this is called a “study-break” and you don’t get one of these until you’ve studied.
If the idea of making and following a schedule, and not texting or tweeting for a whole two hours seems a bit daunting, try it out for a day and see how it goes. I doubt you’ll revert back to your old ways. Not only will you do well on your exams but you’ll have clean laundry, too.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Law school is tough but so is life. Now is the time to develop your toolbox for dealing with stress. You would not use a hammer to cut a piece of wood but you won’t be able to get that nail in if you don’t learn how to use a hammer effectively. The same thing goes for stress. If you don’t develop tools for dealing with stress now, chances are you won’t handle it well later in life. Avoid- you might be able to avoid stress if you plan ahead and take control of your surroundings. Leave 10 minutes early and avoid traffic, study in a quiet area of the library where you won’t be bothered by annoying people, or say no to leading that committee or planning that event. You can say yes to some things, but you don’t have to say yes to everything. Alter- you might not be able to avoid stress but you can change the situation. Manage your time and organize your day so that you stay on task, set limits for yourself whether it’s studying or social media. Cope- if you have no choice but to accept certain things then talk to someone. Your feelings are legitimate so even if the situation can’t change, talking about it will make it less frustrating. Believing that you can’t cope is itself a stressor so changing your expectations is very helpful. You may need to redefine success or adjust your standards, especially if perfection is your goal. Oftentimes something as simple as adopting a mantra (I can do it) can help you work through that feeling of helplessness. Stress is a part of life so what matters is how you deal with it. Start applying techniques now to balance the stressors. With a little practice you’ll not only know what tools you have but how to use them.
Friday, April 10, 2015
It’s almost time for exams which means students across the country will put healthy lifestyles on hold in order to spend more time studying. Yes, studying is important but if you want your brain working at optimal capacity, then feed it right. Junk food isn’t good for your body or your brain. Fuel yourself with food that enhances your brain function, mood, and memory. Instead of reaching for chips, candy, or an energy drink, try one of these brain foods. Broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Blueberries and strawberries are effective in improving short term memory. Peanut butter has fat but the good kind- it keeps the heart and brain healthy and functioning properly. Unlike grains like rice and pasta that cause energy levels to peak and crash, leaving your brain exhausted, whole grains provide a steady flow of energy. Dark chocolate in moderation improves blood flow to the brain which improves cognitive function. Not only will your brain thank you but when exams are over you’ll still be able to fit into your clothes.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I was speaking with one of my students, a 3L, about her preparation for the bar exam this summer. She mentioned that she did not take several bar tested subjects, but that she felt prepared for the core courses except for Contracts. I asked her what happened in Contracts. She said she loved her Professor; she participated in class, studied hard and understood the material, but got a C on the final both semesters. I then asked her what happened when she reviewed her exam. She replied that she did not review her exam. I asked her what her Professor said when she met with him to discuss her performance. To my dismay, she said that she did not meet with him. Why? She said she was too scared to meet with him. While I know this happens with scary Professor Kingsfield types, her Professor does not fit that description. I explained that even if she was a bit nervous about meeting with him, she should have made the effort.
After we take an exam, we have a good idea about how we performed. If, for some reason, our actual performance does not align with our perceived performance, it is best determine why this discrepancy exists. This student is now in her last semester of law school and approaching her bar review without knowing whether she truly understands Contracts. Was it merely an organizational error on her final? Did she manage her time poorly? Did she miss an essential issue? Or, did she have fundamental problems with her conceptual knowledge of contract law?
In retrospect, she realized that she should have faced her fears and made an appointment to discuss her final exam with her Professor. But, we cannot live in the past. I suggested that she make an appointment now with her 1L Contracts Professor. He may not remember her, he most certainly will not remember her final exam, and he may not be able to give her a ton of feedback. However, he might be able to provide some insights into her grade. For instance, there are likely some common trends that appear in exams that he gives a C grade. Also, he may be able to offer insights about how he grades verses what will be tested and graded on the bar exam. And, lastly, even if he does not offer much information about her particular performance, she will feel more empowered by the experience. By facing her fear and being self-motivated to ascertain why Contracts eluded her, she will be more confident moving forward with her last semester and her bar prep and will likely stop letting this moment in her past affect how she feels in the present.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Winter Break is over and the semester has begun. Regardless of whether you have your fall semester grades, it’s important to start the new semester with the right approach: optimistic, determined, and with an open mind. The last one is the toughest because it means having an open mind about yourself and ability to grow and change. When a friend experiences a set-back we are quick to encourage but when it comes to ourselves, we aren’t very forgiving. This semester, try doing for yourself what you do for others. Instead of giving up because something is too hard, accept that success will take some time and effort. Don’t think you can’t make your situation any better because you can improve if you keep trying. See mistakes as something to learn from; and before you settle, ask yourself if this is really the best you can do. Think back to something that didn’t come easy to you (learning to swim, ride a bike, drive a car). What if you quit instead of persevering? You certainly wouldn’t be where you are today. Keep your head up, keep working hard, and keep that mind open. (KSK)
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The semester is over and you've spent the last week either sleeping or catching up on everything you put off during exams. You've still got a few weeks until next semester starts so it is time to find a balance between rest and relaxation, and reenergizing so you can start the new year off right.
The first goal is to stay healthy:
- Drink plenty of water: we often eat when what our body really needs is hydration. Drink a glass of water the next time you feel sluggish or have the munchies. Odds are this will do the trick.
- Get moving: in addition to physical benefits, regular exercise gives you more energy, improves your mood and lowers stress.
Next, do something each day:
- Plan your day: even if you are on vacation, identify two or three things to accomplish each day. This prevents the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
- Use your brain: you don’t have to read legal tomes or memorize statutes but you should learn something new every day. Increasing your knowledge keeps you inspired and motivated.
- Reflect daily: end each day with a few minutes of reflection of what you’ve accomplished (not what you haven’t done).
Last, focus on what makes you happy:
- Express gratitude: identifying things you are grateful for promotes happiness and increases self-worth.
- Clean your desk/room: doing this might not make you happy but the end result will. A clean space allows you to focus on your work instead of the clutter.
- Indulge yourself: set aside time to indulge yourself (just a little) so that you don’t resent having to work or study.
Too much of any one thing is never good so use these next few weeks to find a balance. It will be both enjoyable and productive and you’ll have a good foundation for next semester.
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.