Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pause For Your Mental Sanity

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

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mental health” as:

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

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

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

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

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

 

image from media.giphy.com

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Plotting Your Final Exam Study Time

Last week Professor Jarmon offered her tips on how to “Find[] Time for Exam Study.” This week I’d like to share my strategy for managing that (perhaps, newly found) time, especially between now and the end of the exam period.

Step One: Put all of your final exams and legal writing deadlines on a one-page calendar, so that you can see everything at the same time. Microsoft Word has tons a free calendar templates available for download. For example, here is what our first-year, fall semester exam schedule looks like:

Fall exams 2017 calendar mini

If you prefer to edit my calendar instead of creating your own, then Download Fall Exams 2017 Calendar here.

Step Two: Make a list of all the major topics that were discussed in each of your courses this semester. The Table of Contents to your casebook will help guide you through this step. If you don’t want to mark-up your textbook (or it’s already heavily marked up), consider downloading a printable version of the Table of Contents from the publisher’s website or online casebook companion.  For this step, focus only on the big picture, not on all the subtopics and individual cases contained within each major topic.  For example, this semester we covered three chapters—general principles, homicide, and property offenses—in my criminal law course, so a student’s Table of Contents may look like this:

  Table of contents mini

Step Three: Think about how long it will take you to learn each one of these major topics. Questions to ask yourself, include: Do you still need to outline, draft rule blocks, or make flashcards for that topic? Did you understand that topic when it was covered in class or were you confused then? Do you already have, or know where to easily find, practice hypotheticals for that topic? You will also want to think about how much time you’ll need to engage in active studying techniques—such as using flashcards or writing out practice essay responses—after you have gathered and refined your notes. Once you’ve reflected on the amount of work you have left to do, write that time allotment down. When in doubt, estimate on the high side; it’s better to have extra time than to run short of study time. And, if you prefer to be overly cautions, also schedule in some wiggle room just in case. For example:

List of topics to master mini 2

If you like my chart, then feel free to Download List of Topics to Master, an editable version, here.  Repeat step three for all of your subjects.

Step Four: Assign specific days and times to each chunk of material, keeping in mind your final exam schedule. For example, if it’s going to take you a total of 32 hours to review criminal law, and the criminal law exam is on Friday, December 1, then you have to spread out those 32 hours between now and November 30. Repeat this same process for each of your exams, bearing in mind that you can’t double-up any timeslots (you can only study one thing at a time, after all) and will still need to sleep, eat, and exercise.  This is the hardest step, because you have to combine the calendar from Step One with the chart in Step Three, into a single, useable study schedule.  As you combine all the information, you may realize that you don't have as much time to study as you had hoped.  If you find yourself in this category, you'll have to start Step Three over, this time making tougher choices about where you'll spend your time and prioritizing certain topics over others.

Step Five: Stick to the plan! If you find that you’ve only allotted 30 minutes to focus on embezzlement, but that after a half-hour of reviewing your notes, you still don’t understand it, you need to move on. Don’t get caught spinning your wheels on any one particular topic. If you have some extra time later, either because another topic didn’t take as long as you expected or because you smartly scheduled in some wiggle room in Step Three above, then revisit the troubling topic again. 

Good luck!  (Kirsha Trychta)

 

November 14, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Finding Time for Exam Study

Many students are trying to decide where they will find the time to get everything done. Here are some tips on finding more time:

  • Block distractors while you study to avoid wasting time or getting side-tracked:
    • put your phone into airplane mode
    • turn off your message signal for email
    • block internet sites that may tempt you
    • study where others will not stop to chat
  • Evaluate your class preparation time. You want to be well-prepared for class because the newer material will be tested. However, are you able to be more efficient and effective in your class preparation?
    • Ask questions as you read to get more understanding during your reading which helps you to avoid re-reading sections.
    • Make margin notes summarizing important points as you read so that you do not have to re-read the case to make notes/brief.
    • Read for understanding and for the case essentials, not minutia; for exams, you need to apply the law from cases, not recite the cases in detail.
    • Use the weekend to prepare for Monday and Tuesday classes and then review your briefs/margin notes before classes. You then free up time during the week to study for exams.
  • Evaluate your outlining time. You want to focus on the tools that will help you solve new fact scenarios on the exams.
    • Avoid minutia in your outlines; focus on the important items.
    • Ask yourself how an item of information will help you on the exam. If it will not be useful, then it does not need to be in the outline.
    • Avoid perfectionism. Make the best outline you can in the time you have left. Next semester you can work on outlines earlier, but for now focus on utility.
  • Evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of study group/partner time.
    • Are you spending mega time on study group and not spending enough time on your own learning?
    • Is your group staying on task or becoming a social outlet?
    • Does your study group have a set agenda for each meeting so everyone comes prepared to discuss those topics/practice questions?
    • If your group is having problems, have a study group meeting with your law school's academic success professional to discuss strategies.
  • Evaluate your exercise routine. Are you spending more time worrying about your abs than exercising your brain?
    • Experts recommend that you get 150 minutes (30 minutes X 5 days) of exercise a week.
    • Consider exercising for shorter periods of time or fewer days a week if your routine is way over the 150-minutes recommendation.
    • Consider changing your exercise routine for the remaining weeks: walking some days instead of gym time that would take longer; treadmill some days rather than an elaborate multi-machine routine.
    • Would exercising and a meal as one longer block for a break be more efficient than several different blocks of time during the day?
    • Would exercising at your apartment complex fitness center or at the university rec center for a few weeks be less time-consuming than driving to and from your usual commercial gym in town?
  • Evaluate your daily life chores for more efficient and effective ways to get things done. We often waste a lot of time on chores and errands that could be avoided.
    • Set aside one block of time to run all of your errands for the week rather than make multiple trips; then plan the most efficient driving route to get them done without wasted miles (and fuel).
    • Do a major shopping now for non-perishable items so your grocery trips in future weeks will take less time.
    • Do your shopping for school-related items now so you have everything on hand when you need it later: pens, printer paper, colored tabs, highlighters, etc.
    • Do shopping and errands at off-times when the stores are less crowded and lines less long.
    • Do a major apartment cleaning twice during the remaining weeks; the rest of the time just pick up and spot clean.
    • Decide on a low-maintenance wardrobe for the remainder of the semester; avoid the extra dry-cleaning trips and ironing by choosing easy-care clothing.
    • Prepare meals on the weekends that can then be portioned out for the week rather than cooking every day. Freeze some extra portions for future weeks as well.
    • Consider packing your lunches/dinners to take to school rather than wasting time commuting back and forth for meals.

 We often fritter away time when we do not realize it. If you save 15 minutes 4 times during the day and put that time together, you find an hour you did not think you had. (Amy Jarmon)

November 5, 2017 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learning Tune-Up Time!

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

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

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

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

Photo of Evaluation

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Outlining=A Better Understanding of the Doctrinal Materials

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Grapevine Has Some Good Advice and Some Bad Advice

Our last day of classes is the Thursday after Thanksgiving. Students have been telling me some of the things that the law school grapevine is full of right now. There is some good advice being passed around, but it is often mixed with misguided or downright detrimental information about successful exam study and exam performance.

Good advice: Outlines are important to exam success. Outlines whittle down your mountain of briefs and class notes into the a manageable summary of the course. As you make your outlines, you process and synthesize the material for deeper understanding with the goal of using what you learn to solve new legal scenarios on your exam.

Bad advice: Wait until Thanksgiving to outline so information will be fresh. The outline information may be fresh this close to exams, but you will not have time to commit that information to long-term memory for easy, in-depth recall during exams. This problem will be especially pervasive if you are outlining multiple courses over the break. Students who wait this late to outline often tell me later that they could remember the gist of their outlines but none of the details during the exams.

Good advice: Complete any practice questions offered by your professors. These opportunities allow you to see an example of how your professor tests, to check your understanding of the course material, and to monitor your ability to apply the law to facts in a coherent manner. Most professors will review the practice question in class, provide a rubric, or distribute examples of good/mediocre/bad answers.

Bad advice: You can wait until exam period to complete many practice questions. You can never do too many practice questions. Start with somewhat easy practice questions after you have outlined a topic. Review the topic in more depth and graduate to harder practice questions. During the reading/exam periods, you will want to complete even harder questions and do some questions under timed, exam conditions. Practice, practice, practice! It may not make you perfect, but it will make you proficient.

Good advice: Make strategic decisions about how to use your materials in an open-book exam. Each professor has a specific definition of "open-book." Make sure you know the specifics so you avoid an honor violation. Once you know the definition of the allowed materials and what you are allowed to do to those materials, consider which of the following strategies could assist you during the exam: tabbing, margin notes, highlighting keywords in statutes/rules, attack outlines written into the blank pages, notes on code/rule cross-references for certain topics.

Bad advice: You do not have to study as hard for open-book exams. This advice is leftover undergraduate thinking. You will have very little time in law school exams to look anything up. Study as hard as you would for a closed-book exam. Then think strategically about how you will use your open-book materials during the exam when you do have to look something up.

Do not abandon your common sense when you hear something on the grapevine. Think through whether the advice seems sound or has flaws. If you are not sure about the advice, ask the Academic Support Professionals at your law school to help you evaluate the advice. (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

 

 

October 28, 2017 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2017

The End of October is Approaching

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hypothetically Speaking . . . .

I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.

Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.

A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.

But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)

I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.

It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams. 

So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.

I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.

It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)

October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Using Study Aids Wisely to Maximize Learning within Time Restraints

A wide range of study aids is available to law students. You need to choose carefully which study aids to use and when to use them. Otherwise you can be overwhelmed by choice and waste time and effort.

What type of study aid do you need for the task?

  • Study aids that are strictly commentaries. These study aids explain the law in depth. Examples: Understanding Law, Concise Hornbooks, Hornbooks, Inside, Mastering, Foundation, Concepts & Insights, Nutshells, Law School Legends (audio), Sum & Substance (audio).
  • Study aids that are commentaries with embedded questions. These study aids explain the law in depth with questions in the text to illustrate the concepts and provide the reader with practice on the narrow issues being discussed. Examples: Examples & Explanations, Glannon Guides.
  • Study aids that contain short summaries of the material with or without practice questions/problems. Examples: Acing, Short & Happy Guides, Skills & Values.
  • Study aids that are lengthy outline versions of the material. These study aids typically have exam tips and practice questions as well. Examples: Gilbert Law Summaries, Emanuel  Law Outlines, and Black Letter Outlines.
  • Study aids that are mixed volumes with summaries of material, visual organizers, and practice questions. Examples: Finals, CrunchTime.
  • Study aids that are strictly practice question books. Examples: ExamPro, Siegel's, Friedman's, Q&A.
  • Study aids that are flashcards to help you memorize the black letter law. Examples: Law in a Flash, Lawdecks, Spaced Repetition.

When and how should you use a study aid?

  • To preview information quickly before starting a topic, scan a summary study aid to get a general idea of the terms and subtopics you will be studying.
  • To pull together the information quickly at the end of a topic before outlining, scan a summary study aid to see what you studied. You may find the summary's structure useful for determining your outline structure if the table of contents for your casebook or your professor's syllabus does not provide a structure.
  • To clear up confusion, a commentary study aid is often useful at the point of outlining. After you have pulled together your own notes and briefs into an outline, you will be more aware of what you understand fully, partially, or not at all. Read a commentary to help with the parts you do not understand and then flesh out your outline as needed. (It is very inefficient to read  topics that you understand fully. Focus on what you do not know.)
  • To review material while doing chores, on the treadmill, or on a trip, you may find it useful to listen to one of the audio commentaries for a course. Consider listening to a section and then stopping the CD to explain that section aloud to check your comprehension.
  • To find questions to help you clarify information for narrow issues when you outline, turn to the commentaries with embedded questions. These questions will help you think through the material for that narrow issue as "starter questions." However, these questions may be easier than "exam-worthy questions" because they are so focused on a specific issue.
  • To test your ability to apply the law that you have already learned well, use the practice questions in the mixed volumes, practice question books, or commercial outlines. These questions are often intermediate level in difficulty. For the hardest exam practice questions, visit your law school's exam database.
  • To test retention of material, application of it to new scenarios, and exam-taking strategies, complete practice questions at least 2-3 days after the material is learned well. If you complete questions too close to the review, you will automatically get them right.
  • To test your ability to perform under time restraints in an exam, do as many practice questions as possible under exam conditions. For essay questions, read/analyze the fact pattern, outline an answer, and write an answer in the time period that would be required for that length/difficulty of a question. For objective questions, complete question sets in a realistic time frame for segments of your professor's exam.
  • To memorize the black letter law, use flashcards throughout the semester to learn items over time. Cramming for memorization at the end of the semester is usually very ineffective.

What are some cautions in using study aids?

  • Study aids are written for purchase and use by all law students in the country. Tailor your use to what matches your professor's coverage of the topics in the volumes.
  • If your professor's version of the course differs from a study aid, learn your professor's version - the grader of your exam is the person to please.
  • Check the copyright date of a study aid: Is it recent? Do you have the latest edition? Has the law changed since it was published?
  • Check the jurisdictions covered by the study aid: Is it national in scope? Is it state specific? Does it cover the variations (UCC, Restatement, etc.) that your professor will test?
  • Greater learning occurs when you generate your own study aids because you process the information instead of just reading what someone else processed. Examples: flashcards, outlines, flowcharts.

Study aids can be great supplements to your learning - however, they are not substitutes for your being an active learner and doing the hard work. (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

October 1, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Illustrating the Law Thru "Picture Books": An Ancient Practice that Might Help in Learning Today!

Perhaps surprisingly, there might be some ancient history right under your nose illustrating the value of creating "picture-books" to teach, guide, synthesis, and communicate legal principles at work.  At least, that's the case at one law school's library (and it might be the same at your law library).  

As related by the Wall Street Journal, the use of illustrations to depict the law is nothing new.  And, it's not really old either because a brief internet search provides lots of exemplars, even in legal educational settings, of the value of "seeing" the law through pictures and illustrations.  So, as you approach midterms or just want to help catch the "big picture" overview of your notes and outlines, feel free to doodle.  Let yourself go wild with your legal imagination.  Create something in a picture, as they say, that is worth a thousand words.  That will be a great way to remember all of those words without having to try to even remember them!  

For your reference, here's the article:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/laws-picture-books-the-yale-law-library-collection-illustrating-the-letter-of-the-law-1506460653 (Scott Johns)

September 28, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Study Group Matchmaking Service

Last year a self-confessed shy student came to my office in search of a study partner.  She wanted to form a study group, but was uncomfortable soliciting classmates to join her group.  She asked me if anyone else had inquired about the same thing, and if so, would I please put them in contact with her.  Her request sparked an idea: an ASP-coordinated study group matchmaking service.  Now in its second year, the Study Group Matchmaking Service has been a hit with first-year students.  The service aids students in identifying other classmates who share their same learning preferences and study schedules.  The service also provides a proposed structure for the study groups, with recommended meeting times, a pre-identified  group leader, and suggested activities tied to the group's expressed learning preferences.  For anyone who is interested in trying out the service at their school, here is a "How To."  

Step One: Create a Survey Form

I start by creating a short, online questionnaire (using Qualtrics, which is similar to Survey Monkey).  The 7-question survey asks:

  1. What's your name?
  2. Which professors do you have this semester? (check all the boxes that apply)
  3. Rank your VARK learning styles from most preferred (1) to least preferred (5).
  4. Would you describe yourself as an extrovert or introvert?
  5. Do you prefer to lead a group meeting or simply attend the meeting?
  6. When do you prefer to study: early morning, right before class (7-9am); midday, between classes and on the lunch break; afternoon, right after classes (4-6pm); evening (6-9pm); or late night (after 9pm)?
  7. Is there anything else you think Professor Trychta should know?

The online form allows me to download the responses into an Excel spreadsheet and then electronically sort answers to select questions, which helps in the matchmaking process.  If your school uses the StrengthsQuest program or a Myers-Briggs personality inventory during Orientation, you may want to incorporate that information into your intake survey as well.

Step Two: Announce the Service

In mid-September, I send out an email describing the Study Group Matchmaking Service.  I also post the same information to Facebook and TWEN.  The email reads:

Are you interested in joining a (new) study group?   The Academic Excellence Center seeks to group interested first-year students together into highly effective study groups.  The benefits of an AEP study group—as opposed to your “friends group”—are many:

  1. Membership to the group will be based on your individual learning preferences (visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic), introvert/extrovert status, and other academic variables.  If you don’t know your learning preference, click here to find out.
  2. Members will agree to a set of rules and standards to ensure that the group functions optimally.
  3. Each group will be limited to 2-4 individuals.
  4. Prof. Trychta and the Dean’s Fellows will be available to assist the AEP study groups with room reservations, locating practice problems, identifying ideal study strategies, and resolving disputes. 

The other benefits of any study group include sharing case briefs, reviewing class notes, preparing group outlines, and, most importantly: group problem solving.  If interested in being matched with a few like-minded classmates, complete this 7-question intake questionnaire (hyperlinked in original) by [next Thursday].  I’ll send out group announcements on [Friday morning], and you can plan to meet your new study group for a quick “hello” at 1:00 p.m. after Torts.

Step Three: Form the Groups

After the students complete the survey, I use the Excel document to look for patterns in their responses.  I start by sorting the students based on their professors.  Next I look for self-confessed group leaders and try to assign one leader to each potential group.  Along those same lines, I try not to put two leaders in the same group, to minimize the opportunity for conflict.  Then I break these groups into smaller subgroups based on learning preferences and desired study schedules.  I am also mindful not to stick an introvert in a group with three extroverts, or vice versa.  This process goes relatively smoothly for most of the students.  However, the last few students can prove hard to place, especially if no one else shares a particular student's same preferences.  For the handful of hard-to-place students, I reach out to them individually.  I tell them honestly that I'm having difficulty placing them in a group because of X reason, and ask them how important that particular preference is to them.  I also tell them about the next-best-fit group and ask if they would be interested in that group instead.  For example: "Dear Lynn, I think the group mentioned below would be a good fit for you, except that they want to meet in the morning.  Otherwise, everything else checks out.  Would you be interested in joining an AM study group?--Prof."  After everyone is assigned, I schedule a speed date.

Step Four: Schedule a Speed Date

The next step in the process is to introduce the group members to each other.  I begin the process with an email, detailing the results and next steps: 

Thank you for signing up for an AEP study group.  This year, we had 25 people request a partner.  Each partnership or group should be between 2-4 members.  Less than 2 is not a group, and more than 4 is unwieldy.  The members of your proposed partnership or group are: H.R. and A.A.

I tried to group students together based on their expressed learning preferences, class schedules, and personalities.  You each have Professors Trychta, Cady, & Rhee, are available to study in the early mornings, prefer read/write and kinesthetic techniques, while disfavoring aural learning techniques.  On paper, you’re a great fit.  (FYI – There are two other Trychta-Cady-Rhee groups: (1) M.D. & T.G. and (2) A.L., B.D. & M.H.  You may find it helpful to collaborate with them periodically.)

Signing-up for the matchmaking service does not mean that you must join the group.  Instead, you should plan to meet briefly in the lobby [on Friday] after Torts class to introduce yourselves and discuss the goals of the group.  Treat this initial meeting much like a first date.  If you opt to join the group, then you should promise to commit to the group for the rest of the semester.  If the members of your group can’t reach a consensus about some aspect of the study group’s objectives or rules, let me know.  Perhaps I can reassign some of the members or suggest a compromise.

The most effective study groups are those that have clearly defined objectives and rules.  For example, the purpose of your group may be to (a) outline or (b) discuss hypotheticals.  The group should discuss the options, and then make a conscious decision based on what the members hope to get out of the group study experience.  To aid you in determining the group’s rules, I’ve attached a sample “contract.”  Feel free to use, modify, or ignore the sample contract, as your group sees fit. 

Obviously, you may choose to run your group however you decide.  But I note that group problem solving works most effectively when the members of the group (1) ask someone to introduce a specific problem or issue, (2) appoint a scrivener and a leader, (3) identify all the potential issues, but not the solutions (4) then discuss all the possible answers, (5) consult resources for additional help, and finally (6) organize and summarize what you learned.

Moving forward, your group may reserve law school classrooms and conference rooms for study sessions by making a request at the Student Services front desk.  Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. 

As mentioned above, I attach a sample study group contract to the email.  You can Download Study Group Contract using the interactive link.  I'm quite confident that I stole this contract idea from someone on a blog or listserv several years ago, but I cannot remember who drafted it.  If you're the original author, please feel free to reach out to me and I will happily give you a proper attribution credit. 

Step Five: Stay Out of The Way

Lastly, I make myself available in my office during the meet-n-greet hour, but I do not affirmatively attend the event.  Once I have identified and disclosed a potential group match, I stay out of the way unless specifically asked by students to intervene.  While I actively oversee the Dean's Fellows study groups, I assert no ownership or responsibility over these Matchmaking Groups.  Rather my job is to simply facilitate an introduction.  With little oversight, admittedly, not every group will work out, but a few do.  In fact, I still see one group from Fall 2016 meeting regularly in the lobby as second-year students.  And, that alone is enough motivation for me to continue the service.  (Kirsha Trychta)

September 26, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 25, 2017

We Are Not in College Anymore

We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.

There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.

But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).

The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.

So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!

One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)

September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #3: Daily Maintenance is Essential

As I explained in part one and part two of this multi-part series, earlier this year I decided to undertake a new and difficult task (specifically, to grow a giant pumpkin) in hopes of gaining more insight and perhaps empathy for what it is like to be a first year law student. Here’s my third takeaway:

Daily maintenance is essential for success in giant pumpkin growing and law school studying.  The key is getting the novice learner to appreciate that If she steps away in either situation for too long, she will find herself unable to catch up.

Once the temperamental seedling is planted outside, you must care for it – daily. The plant will grow from a few inches to a few hundred square feet in less than two months. Here’s my plant on July 22, 2017, just seven weeks after I planted it outside.    

July 22 3

A pumpkin’s rapid growth invites a plethora of problems unique to giant vegetable growers. Unsurprisingly, a small problem early in the process can quickly blossom into a huge issue. Consequently, my expert-coach was insistent that I check on my plant every day. This novice was convinced that he was being overly attentive, hyperbolic, or just plain crazy. So, I ignored his advice and traveled to the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning’s summer conference in mid-July, leaving my plant to fend for itself for a few days. When I returned, I found that the stem had begun to rot due to a moisture issue.  Ugh, turns out he might have been right!

Stem rot 2
(That brown guck on the top of the stem is rot.)

I took my foot off the gas for one week and the plant began to get the better of me. Thankfully, I noticed the soft spot early enough to salvage the stem. But, my neglect left my plant struggling for several anxiety-ridden weeks.  Seeing the rot, I quickly came to realize that my coach was correct.  Unfortunately, it took me seven weeks and almost losing my pumpkin to finally accept that daily maintenance is essential.

Just like daily patch inspections are imperative for pumpkin success, regular and frequent outlining is essential for law school success because we cover a lot of ground, very quickly.  In light of my own laissez faire attitude in July, I began to suspect that my law students likely viewed my repeated reminders to regularly convert class notes to studyable outlining material the same way I viewed my coach’s recommendation to check on my pumpkin daily.  Over the last few years, I've discussed the importance of outlining as early as orientation and as late midterms exams.  Regardless of the timing, students remained suspicious of the virtues of a daily outlining regiment.  Much like the saying "you can lead a horse to water..." I struggled to make the students "drink in" my advice.  Then it hit me: I needed to manufacture a "stem rot awakening" for my students. 

This semester I scheduled a full-fledged practice exam, closed book and given under exam like conditions, during week five of a sixteen week criminal law course.  Even though the exam was only graded pass/fail based on a good faith effort, students took the exercise seriously.  I mentioned the practice exam on the first day of class, but only spent about 15 minutes suggesting how to assemble their class notes to study.  Instead of lecturing on outlining, I simply recommended that the students implement whatever studying approach they thought would be beneficial.  In other words, I left the students to their own devices.  As soon as the students completed the practice exam, they received a sample answer and then were asked to reflect on their study habits.  Many of the students saw "rot" in their Bluebooks, and were immediately interested in whatever study strategies I could recommend.  

Post-exam I gave a more lengthy lecture about how best to study for law school exams, and invited students to make individual appointments with myself or a Dean's Fellow for additional feedback on their current note taking and outlining strategies.  It's been less than two weeks since the mock exam, and more than half of the class has voluntarily come to see me or a Dean's Fellow.  Lastly, hoping to capitalize on their newfound willingness to engage, I also launched a study group matchmaking service a few days after the mock exam.  (More about that soon!)  Although the students were a bit shocked by the mock exam experience, they are also happy to have the opportunity to remedy any soft spots before the midterm exam.

Caveat: I teach one section of our first-semester criminal law course.  If you don't teach a substantive course, you could partner with another professor for this exercise.  (Kirsha Trychta)

September 19, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 18, 2017

1L Enrichment Groups

I am having an Enrichment Group Leaders training meeting today at noon. So, I have enrichment groups on my mind (hence, the blog post!). Perhaps, many of you are also working with enrichment groups or are thinking about developing enrichment groups. I am sure many of us would love to chat and learn more about our various programs and how we can continue to best serve our students. We can continue the conversation via email or on Twitter (tweet me @ojsalinas, and use #lawschoolASP).

Like many law school academic success programs throughout the country, we provide an opportunity for our 1L students to get additional training and support from upper level students. One way that we provide this opportunity to our 1Ls is through participation in Enrichment Groups.

Every 1L student at Carolina Law is invited to participate in our Academic Excellence Program Enrichment Groups. These groups are run by upper level law students who have done well in school and have shown the ability to do well in mentoring and meeting with students. 1Ls are assigned to their groups based on their 1L professors, and the groups are “tied” to two of the 1L casebook classes—with one upper level student “Enrichment Group Leader” often taking the lead on one of the two casebook classes.

The groups typically meet once a week for about 50 minutes starting late September. The groups alternate discussing ASP topics related to one of their two casebook classes during the group meetings. These topics change as the 1Ls advance during the semester. So, the initial group meeting may simply focus on developing rapport within the group and identifying group member goals for choosing to participate in the group. The next groups may focus on taking notes and case reading for the particular casebook classes. Later group meetings may introduce outlining and the use of study aids to help review practice questions related to the casebook classes. And, finally, we try to end our semester with a practice exam for each of the two casebook classes.

We generally have strong positive feedback from our 1Ls on our Enrichment Groups. Students typically feel that the groups are great ways to provide additional support and guidance in their classes. They also like the idea that these study groups are voluntary and that the groups are already formed for them—the students don’t have to worry about not getting “chosen” or “asked” to join a particular study group.

As I mentioned, I am having a training session for our Enrichment Group Leaders this afternoon. One thing that we try to emphasize with our leaders and their group participants is that the leaders are not “tutors.” They are not there to teach the 1Ls the substantive law, and they certainly don’t replace their law school professors. While the leaders have done well in the casebook class that they are “leading” (and, many of them actually had the same professor for that particular casebook class during their 1L year), our Enrichment Group Leaders are there to help facilitate learning. They are there to provide further support for our students. They are there to “enrich” the students’ 1L academic experience. And we believe a more enriched 1L experience is a better 1L experience. (OJ Salinas)

September 18, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Activist Learning Practice Hypos: Yours for the Taking!

Attention First-Year (and Upper-Level Law Students)!

Here's a handy link for super-short & super-helpful hypothetical essay prompts (complete with discussion guides and point sheets)...yours for the taking (no pun intended!): 

http://www.law.du.edu/pastbarexamessays

And, the best news is that it is totally free!

Oh, and there's more great news. The essays are organized into the following subjects:

  • Administrative Law
  • Agency Law
  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Corporations
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Partnership
  • Property Law
  • Torts
  • Sales (UCC Article 2)
  • Commercial Paper (UCC Article 3)
  • Secured Transactions (UCC Article 9)
  • Wills & Trusts

So, as you're working your way through the casebooks, feel free to dabble in a handful of practice problems to put you in the pilot's seat of your learning, i.e., taking control of your "learning travels" this semester through "learning by doing")!   (Scott Johns)

P.S. This is THE LINK that I wish I had as a law student...BECAUSE...the best way to prepare for midterms is to see and work through examples of midterms!

 

 

 

 

 

September 14, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Ready. Set. Go, 1Ls--You are in Training Camp Now!

Dog Glasses books

We just completed our first week of school at Carolina Law. Like many law students throughout the country, our 1Ls experienced their first week of Socratic classes. They read and briefed their cases. They’ve been introduced to legal citations and the hierarchy of authority. They’ve taken advantage of the free lunches provided at the various student organization meetings.

After a week of law school, many 1Ls may wonder whether they will have enough time during the day to stay afloat. They may worry that they are spending way too much time reading their cases. And despite the large amount of time that they are devoting to reading their cases, they may mistakenly fear that they are the only ones in their classroom who are not able to fully follow the various hypotheticals that their professors ask in class. They may question whether they are fit for law school.

1Ls: If you are feeling this way, remember that law school is a marathon. There may be times during the year when you feel like you have to run a little faster than normal. But, the sprint for the finish line is really not until the end of the semester when you have to answer the final exam hypotheticals.

Training3

Consider a lot of what is happening during the semester as your training for that sprint. Yes. You might falter every now and then as you train. But, don’t get discouraged. Try to learn from the misstep, and fine-tune your next step so that you continue to progress. You are just starting to develop your critical thinking muscles. You are beginning to strengthen your ability to perform legal analysis. You are establishing a foundation of stamina that will help push you through the marathon—including the sprint to the end.

Like many athletes who start a new sport season, you are in a training camp right now. And this training camp is unlike any other training camp you have experienced before. Learning how to learn the law takes time. It takes practice. It takes repetition. Keep putting in the time, because the more you practice, the better you will get. But, make sure that you are active and engaged when you are reading and studying. You can’t passively learn the law; you have to be present and in the moment. And make sure to leave some time for you to do the kinds of things that make you “You.” Law school is a big part of who you are right now. But, it is not all of you.

You will find that it will take you less time to read and brief your cases in the next few weeks. You will find that your critical thinking skills will begin to improve. You will find that your ability to synthesize rules and apply those rules to different factual scenarios will become easier and, dare I say . . . fun!

Best of luck as you continue your training! And remember you have great ASP folks at your schools to help coach you and cheer you on! (OJ Salinas)

September 4, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Orientation, Reading, Sports, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Think Twice Before Banning Laptops: A Note on Accommodations and Diverse Thinking and Learning

Pause keyboard

I mentioned in last week’s blog about my inability to remain focused on our law school's voluntary pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls due to events related Charlottesville. As I continue my efforts to remain focused, I’ll try to spend a few minutes talking about a topic that many of you likely discuss with your students, either during a similar orientation or pre-orientation program or in workshops or individual conferences: whether students should handwrite their notes or take them on a laptop.

The use of laptops in class rightfully generates much discussion on faculty and ASP mailing lists, particularly at the start of the semester. The discussion has even entered the Twitter realm (for example, here and here; H/T Prof. Ellie Margolis and Prof. Katherine Kelly).

I know there is a lot research and concerns out there relating to laptop use and taking notes. For instance: (1) students may often find it difficult to follow classroom dialogue while trying to type everything down that is discussed in class; and (2) there are potential distractions related to laptop use in class—both for the student doing something that he/she should not be doing on the laptop and for those students sitting near this student.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the research and concerns. I understand that laptops can create tempting distractions for our students.  And I agree that we don’t want students “zoned out” from using laptops in our classes.  But, we should also not want to “zone out” students who may need to use a laptop in class as a critical learning tool for them.

So, I want to caution folks before they decide to ban laptops entirely in the classroom. I want folks to remember that banning laptops may create a situation where students with an accommodation for a learning disability are forced to disclose that they have a learning disability.  This forced disclosure may not be an issue for some students—they may not complain or make much of the ban, or they might not care that they are the only student in a 70+ class who has his/her laptop out in a no-laptop use classroom. So, a complete laptop ban may not be that much of an issue for some students.  But, it could still be an issue. 

If you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class, perhaps your student affairs office might be able to not place students who have laptop use as an accommodation in your class. Of course, this recommendation may only work if you happen to teach a course that is also offered during the same semester by a faculty member who does not have a laptop ban.

Perhaps, someone like a student affairs or ASP professional may have a chat with those students who are disengaged in the classroom to see what may be contributing to the disengagement. Is it solely the laptop? Or, as those of us in the law school ASP world know, are there other academic or non-academic factors that may be impacting the student’s ability to “follow along in class”? Are the students distracted by a laptop disengaged because the laptop is in front of them? Or, is something happening outside of the classroom that may be motivating the student to disengage on the laptop? Could it be easier for a student who is having a challenging time in law school to disengage, rather than continuing to try and fail?

One more recommendation if you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class: maybe, reconsider why you have the no laptop policy in the first place.

Do we assume that students who handwrite their notes never disengage? Or, can a student on a social media account be just as "zoned out" as someone daydreaming or drawing an elaborate doodle on his/her notebook paper?

Do we assume that someone who has a laptop will automatically be programmed to type everything down verbatim in class and, thus, not follow along in the classroom dialogue? Do we assume that someone who is handwriting his/her notes will not automatically try to write everything (or as much) down in class and, thus, will follow along in the classroom dialogue?  I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.

Do we assume that those students who are using a laptop are naturally worse note-takers—that they have not developed or cannot develop with guidance (from great ASP folks, like us!) effective methods for taking notes in a law school class? Do we assume that those students who handwrite their notes all have developed the proper method for effective and efficient ways to take notes in a law school class? Again, I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions. 

And, finally, are we even aware of, or do we automatically discount, the various computer applications out there that might be geared for diverse learning styles or that might help keep our students’ notes better organized?

We often try to train our law students on flexible thinking—that there may often not just be a black or white answer to things in the law; that there, frustratingly, is often a large shade of gray in the law; that the answer to many questions in the law may often be “It depends.”

Perhaps, we can practice a little of what we preach. Just because we may not be able to take effective notes using a laptop in a law school classroom doesn’t mean our students are unable to take effective notes on a laptop in class. And just because we may not have needed a laptop to succeed in law school doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else could not succeed in law school by using one. Some students may actually need the laptop to help them succeed. And a “black" or "white" law might actually say that they are entitled to use a laptop in class. (OJ Salinas)

August 21, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Orientation, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Did You Forget About the MPRE?

News flash, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is this Saturday, August 12th. This exam is perfectly nestled between the end of summer classes and the start of a new academic year. It also occurs shortly after the bar exam for those who sat for the July Bar Exam. While students and graduates have good intentions, the summer MPRE is sometimes forgotten, overlooked, or simply ignored for a number of reasons. Some assume at the start of the summer that they have all summer long to think about and start studying for the MPRE while others are plagued by other concerns. Students who only recently finished summer classes are stressed and tired so the need to refocus their energies on preparing for yet another exam is daunting. Individuals who recently sat for the bar exam and either relegated taking the MPRE or failed to previously attain the necessary score for their jurisdictions have only had the opportunity to take one deep breath before returning to study mode. Hopefully it was not too hard in comparison to preparing for the bar exam. For those rising 2Ls and 3Ls who simply ignored messages from their Academic Support Program or forgot to sign-up for the MPRE; you still have opportunities to take this exam so take a deep breath but come up with a plan. Below are a few myths and last minute tips for individuals anticipating the Saturday MPRE:

Myths

(1) You only need to study for two weeks, one week, or the day before the MPRE

Based on my experience, students who provide such advice to other students are individuals who were probably unsuccessful in attaining the requisite score on their first attempt at the MPRE. Very few of my students, even those who completed a Professional Responsibility course and are at the top of the class, are able to study in this limited amount of time and be successful on the MPRE. You know how long it takes you to learn, retain, and apply information; you know your process so plan accordingly. You also know how differently you manage “code” and “rule intensive” materials. Most MPRE programs give you about a month to prepare for the exam so why would you spend less time preparing?

(2) You do not need to complete practice questions just learn the rules

If you have recognized that you need to consider how rules are applied to hypothetical situations as you studied for law school exams, then why would your approach change for the MPRE? If you realized that completing essays and multiple questions allowed you to hone the nuances of specific concepts then why wouldn’t you do the same here? True understanding of the rules and how they apply is another way of learning the information.

(3) You do not need to complete a timed exam

If you had exam time management challenges in the past then you may want to assess how you access, retrieve, process, and answer questions under timed circumstances. Even if you have never experienced exam time management challenges in the past, wouldn’t you want to know how you manage this subject area, in this testing format, with these time constraints so that the day of the exam is not the first time you attempt this?

Last Minute Tips

(1) Do not simply rely on what you covered in your law school Professional Responsibility course. There may be topics you did not cover; therefore, survey your materials and review topics not covered if you have not already done so.

(2) Practice! There is still time to complete timed MPRE questions prior to the day of the exam. If you have not already practiced, please close the books and learn from the questions. You have time to complete at least two full exams, in addition to all the questions you have already completed.

(3) Read the instructions carefully as some of this information might surprise you and plan for what you can and cannot bring into the testing room.

(4) Commit to your strategy or approach and do not change it mid-exam.

Good luck to everyone taking the MPRE! (Goldie Pritchard)

August 9, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)