Monday, August 21, 2017
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
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:
(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)
Thursday, July 13, 2017
With a big hat tip to one of our bar takers this summer, here's a website -- The Visual Law Library -- that has some cool colorful cartoons to help brighten up your daily memorization studies.
On the website, cartoonist and attorney Margaret Hagan has created cartoons for the following subjects that are tested on most bar exams: Civil Procedure, Con Law, Contracts, Corporations, Criminal Law, Evidence, Family Law, Property Law, and Torts.
It's a rich resource to allow you to "see" some of the major rules in a colorful way. So, feel free to take a break by scoping out a few cartoons that might help you better remember some of the major rules for upcoming bar exam. (Scott Johns).
Monday, July 10, 2017
We are just a few weeks away from the bar exam. And for many students studying for the bar, that means questions. No. I don’t mean the hundreds, if not thousands, of MBE questions that the students have taken and, perhaps, retaken. And I don’t mean questions on any practice exams. I mean questions running through our students’ heads: questions of doubt, commitment, and normalcy.
Most students studying for the bar have had to live in somewhat of a “Bar Exam Prep Bubble” for the last few months. They celebrated law school graduation in May. But, it wasn’t really a full-on celebration because they knew there was still something more to do. It’s something huge and overwhelming. And it’s something that dictates one’s true entrance into the legal profession.
The bar exam is huge and overwhelming and, in many respects, it does dictate one’s true entrance into the legal profession. This monumental exam has a way of playing mind games with our students—especially at this point in the bar prep season.
We are at a point in the bar prep season where students will start second-guessing themselves. Will I pass? Have I really done all that I should have done over the last few months? What if I freak out and can’t remember anything? Why have I put myself through this?
Despite all the work that our students have put into preparing for the exam, they will think they still have more work to do. Despite the objective results that their bar companies provide to them of their performance so far in the bar prep season, they will wonder and worry about how well they will perform on the ‘big day(s).’
As we prepare ourselves for the last few weeks of bar prep season, let’s remember that anxiety and doubt are normal for this big event. But, they don’t equal failure. Anxiety and doubt don’t mean that our students are unable to succeed. And they don’t mean that our students have not put in the necessary work to succeed.
If we get an anxious and doubting student in our offices, let’s remember our anxieties and doubts about our bar exams. Let’s remember how we may have felt overwhelmed with the amount of material. And let’s remember that we, and every other licensed attorney out there, passed the exam.
The bar exam is challenging. But, it is doable. We are all proof that it is doable. With the right frame of mind and support from family, friends, and ASP professionals, we were all able to overcome the mind games. Our students can, too. (OJ Salinas)
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Lately I have had a number of discussions with students about study aids and exam study. Several were on the verge of spending large sums of money on lots of study aids they did not have time to read. So here are some quick tips for using study aids wisely during exam period:
- Read study aids selectively. If I am confused about easements, then reading a commentary on that topic to clarify the law may be very helpful. However, reading an entire 400-page commentary on property would be over-reacting and not an efficient or effective use of my time if all I am confused about is easements.
- Read one study aid for a topic rather than several. If the first study aid that I read to clarify easements does the trick, I need to stop there. Reading two or three extra study aids on the same topic will not add much oomph and will whittle down the time I have to learn other topics.
- Choose visuals that work for you - if visuals work for you. Crunch Time visuals are decision flowcharts. The Finals series has tree diagrams. Gilberts outlines tend to have tables, checklists, and flowcharts. Acing series often has checklists. Making your own visuals is often the most productive for deep understanding. If visuals do nothing for you, then do not use them!
- Choose practice questions to match your exam type. Most professors tell students their exam formats: fact-pattern essays, short-answer essays, objective questions, or a mix. If I have an objective exam, then I want to focus on doing lots of objective questions. If I have an exam that is just fact-pattern essays, then those are the practice questions that I want to focus on during my study. A mixed exam should have mixed practice questions in proportion to the types.
- Increase the difficulty of the practice questions you complete. As you become more adept, choose practice questions that are more difficult. Go from the one-issue ones in an Examples & Explanations book to the multi-issue ones in commercial outlines or other practice question series.
- Always do any practice questions provided by your own professor. It amazes me how many students do very few of the practice questions or old exams provided by their own professors.
- Remember to learn your professor's version of the course. Using your professor's steps of analysis, buzzwords, etc. makes it easier to find points when grading. Plus any study aid will have covered some topics for a national audience that your professor probably did not cover.
Good luck on exams! (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, May 6, 2017
As exams unfold and the bar exam looms, I find that I have to remind students that they may hit a wall in their studying at some point. By that I mean, getting to a point when your brain cannot absorb one more rule, comprehend one more practice question, or focus on one more sentence. No amount of switching tasks, switching courses, or mental pep talks will budge that mental wall. It cannot be climbed over, gone around, or blasted through no matter what is tried.
So many students keep studying any way because they fear taking a break and walking away. Time is of the essence! But, the only result they will get is hitting their heads against that same wall. Frustration, stress, and anxiety all build as they soldier on.
Hitting a wall is a major stopping point - a 10-minute break or 10 jumping jacks will not budge it. Hitting a wall is our brain's way of saying, "STOP!!! There is no door in this wall for you to walk through. Go away and come back later after a big break."
The problem with this kind of major mental block is that a complete break is needed for the student to come back refreshed. One needs to find an environment or pastime that allows no thoughts about law school or law courses or law exams.
When I was in exam period or in bar studying and hit a wall, it did not help for me to sit in my apartment and read or watch a TV show. Those books and outlines were still over in the corner, worrying me. I was surprised that as a runner and swimmer that those pursuits also did not allow me a total break. I could still worry about law while I ran or swam.
So I chose two activities that meant I would completely relax, get away from the law, and let my brain recover for a couple of hours:
- Going to a movie theater. Once the lights went down, I would become absorbed in the movie and forget all about law school. Comedies were especially good for those laugh endorphins. Besides, I adore popcorn.
- Playing racquetball. That hard little blue ball really hurts if you do not stay focused on the game. Whacking that little ball also got rid of lots of frustration and stress.
Students need to consider what would absorb them to the point of total relaxation. One student told me recently that she would choose playing a difficult piece of music on the piano. Another student chose playing tennis. Another prior student was a woodworker and had to concentrate totally around circular saws.
Listen to your brain. When it is telling you that it cannot do any more, take that longer break. Let your brain recuperate from all the heavy lifting for a couple of hours. Then go back refreshed and begin again. The wall will have come tumbling down by then. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
A common concern among students is how to manage their time during an exam. Many students remark that they were rushed on the final essay or had to randomly bubble the Scantron for the last five multiple-choice questions. Time got away from them, and they simply ran out of time to do a thorough job on every question.
Here are some hints to have better time management in a fact-pattern-essay exam:
- Before you begin answering questions, look at the professor's suggestion on importance regarding each question.
- If the professor indicates a time estimate to show importance, you know how long you should spend on the question to garner the most points and to move through the exam at the right pace. Use the time estimate given by the professor.
- For time estimates, add all the time estimates to make sure the professor did not make a math mistake - the total should equal or be less than the total exam time.
- If the professor does not give time suggestions but instead gives points to show importance, the point totals indicate the proportion of time for each question within the exam.
- For points, divide the total points by the time for the exam to determine how many points you should accumulate in an hour - match the points per hour to the questions to show the pace you should move through the exam.
- For either type of professor indication, make a time chart for each question with the following proportion given to tasks; your chart will have the starting and ending times for each task for each question:
- Spend 1/3 of the time for the question to read, analyze, and organize an answer - your answer will be less jumbled.
- Spend 2/3 of the time for the question to write the answer - follow your answer organization to make sure you discuss everything you saw.
Here are some hints to have better time management in an objective exam:
- Let's say you have 100 questions to finish in 3 hours (1.8 minutes per question) - most students stop their time management here; not very helpful because it is extremely hard to know if you are spending too little time or too much time for a particular question, and you will get whiplash looking at your watch that often.
- The reality is that some questions will take less than 1.8 minutes because you know the material well or they are easier, and some questions will take more than 1.8 minutes because they are harder or you are less sure of the material.
- It is more helpful to set checkpoints for yourself to work at a consistent pace through the exam; the number of checkpoints you use will depend on your past experience with objective exams.
- If you tend to speed through objective questions and misread, pick by gut, make careless errors, or have other speed-demon errors, then you will want more checkpoints to slow you down for careful reading and proper analysis.
- If you tend to get bogged down, stew over answers, second-guess as you go along, add facts outside the question's four-corners, or have other slow-poke errors, then you will want more checkpoints to keep you moving through questions and not dawdle or spin your wheels.
- Let's do a time chart for the example of 100 questions in 3 hours (with a starting time of 1 p.m. and ending time of 4 p.m.); a checkpoint every 30 minutes works for many people: 1:30 p.m.: 17 questions completed; 2:00 p.m.: 34 questions completed; 2:30 p.m.: 51 questions completed; 3:00 p.m.: 68 questions completed; 3:30 p.m.: 85 questions completed; 4:00 p.m.: 100 questions completed. (Do not worry about the 16.6 when you divide 100 by 6; pretend you are the IRS and round up to 17 so that you have fewer questions in the last 1/2-hour segment.)
- Are you someone who needs more checkpoints for the same exam example? A checkpoint every 20 minutes would give you: 1:20 p.m.: 11 questions completed; 1:40 p.m.: 22 questions completed; 2:00 p.m.: 33 questions completed; 2:20 p.m.: 44 questions completed; 2:40 p.m.: 55 questions completed; 3:00 p.m.: 66 questions completed; 3:20 p.m.: 77 questions completed; 3:40 p.m.: 88 questions completed; 4:00 p.m.: 100 questions completed. (For the 11.1 when you divide 100 by 9, again pretend you are the IRS and round down to 11 questions with 12 questions for the final 20-minute segment.)
- If you are someone who wants some time to go back and review your exam, deduct those minutes from the total exam time and spread the remaining time through your time chart in the correct proportions depending on essay or objective questions.
Some other tips about time management on exams:
- Practice the time-charting steps when you doing your exam-worthy practice questions as you get closer to each final. If you are used to making time charts, you will be more adept at doing so in the exam itself.
- Practice some questions under timed conditions as well; you become more comfortable with the pacing if you practice.
- Remember that the goal is to finish the exam; keep moving through all of the questions according to your time chart.
- Make sure that you still read the professor's exam instructions; a professor who says complete 3 of the 5 essay questions will only read 3 answers even if you ignored the instructions, time-charted well, and completed 5 essays.
- Study the material for understanding and not just memorization; you will analyze more quickly if your understanding is deeper.
- Open-book exams are a trap; you will not have time to look everything up, so your studying should be as strong as for a closed-book exam.
- Complete lots of practice questions; you will analyze more quickly if you have had lots of practice with many fact scenarios before the exam.
- If you reserve review time, be selective in what you go back to review; reviewing everything leads some students to second-guessing themselves and changing right answers.
The good news is that poor time management is an exam problem that can be remedied with smart strategies. Analyze your past time management problems and take action to correct them. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 27, 2017
"What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students...It is my task to convince you to not turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it...That's because I don't understand it. Nobody does."
- Dr. Richard P. Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Princeton : 1985)
Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics - 1965
Students and teachers, let me ask a question:
Is it hard to learn, I mean really difficult, so much so that you aren't sure that you are getting it?
I went through law school thinking that I didn't learn anything because I didn't understand anything. And, it's true! I didn't understand anything! But, I did learn.
So, here's the truth. We don't have to understand it all to learn the law. Rather, true learning comes through realizing that we don't understand it all; that we have lots of unanswered questions; that we are puzzled and perplexed beyond belief. That's downright uncomfortable but that's learning for you!
However, that makes me worried, as a teacher, because I've started to think that I understand the law, that I understand legal analysis, that I understand how to carefully craft a persuasive legal argument.
But no one really understands the law. How could one?
When I start to think that I understand the law, I end up making it all so simple that what I am teaching or studying or reviewing no longer has any correspondence at all to reality. So, let's face the music. That's a grave error because life is not simple (and the law is all about disputes among real actual complicated live people).
So, as you prepare for your finals (and teachers as you reflect on your teaching), do yourself a big favor and be comfortable with uncertainty. Don't feel like you need to understand it all. Rather, jump into the materials; they are full of suspense and conflicts with puzzles abounding in all directions. And, that's a good thing because that's the life of the law. So, feel free to be honest with yourself and say that you don't understand it all. And, in the process, you'll have taken one mighty big step on the path to true learning! (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Is procrastination nipping at your heels? Are you delaying because it all seems overwhelming? Here are some quotes about procrastination that may give you the inspiration to get started:
- You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
- The best way to get something done is to begin. - Author unknown
- The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action. - Alexnder Graham Bell
- If and When were planted, and Nothing grew. - Proverb
- Stop talking. Start walking. - L.M. Heroux
- This one makes a net, this one stands and wishes. Would you like to make a bet which one gets the fishes? - Chinese rhyme
- Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried. - Author unknown
- Procrastination is like a credit card: it's a lot of fun until you get the bill. - Christopher Parker
- You can eat an elephant one bite at a time. - Chinese proverb
- To think too long about doing a thing often is its undoing. - Eva Young
- Doing just a little bit during the time we have available puts you that much further ahead than if you took no action at all. - Byron Pulsifer
- You cannot plow a field by turning it over in your mind. - Author unkown
- I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work. - Pearl S. Buck
- The sooner work is begun, the sooner it is done. - Author unkown
Take a deep breath. Beginning is the hardest. Begin with an easy task, a tiny task, one page, one paragraph. Once you have begun, you are likely to find it possible to continue. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Over the years, I’ve seen many students struggle in preparing for final exams, particularly with uncertainty about how best to prepare.
Without exception, that leads to a question. In the past, how have you learned to solve problems? And, without exception, students say that they learn to solve problems…by practicing problems (usually with lots of ups and downs, turbulence, and bumps and bruises). That’s because we don’t learn how to solve problems by watching others solve problems.
And, that’s the rub about law school learning.
Simply put, much of our law school experience has been us watching others solve problems (whether observing a professor run through a hypothetical problem, listening to a student in Socratic dialogue, reading and briefing cases, or even in the midst of preparing massive outlines as study tools). Unfortunately, you are not tested on your case briefs, outlines or study tools. Rather, you are tested on your abilities to solve legal problems.
So, here’s the key. Change your focus from passive learning into active learning by grabbing hold of lots of practice problems, sweating over them, stretching yourself through them, and exercising your “brain muscles” in tackling complex legal issues. In short, take charge of your own learning by practicing lots of final exam problems.
To help you visualize what active learning for final exams might look like, here’s a short video animation of the Hudson River airplane crash, spliced with the pilot and aircraft controller communications.
First, as you watch the video, you’ll can see that all is calm. It’s a great smooth takeoff. The flight is well on its way to a far-away destination, and, then, suddenly, there’s flock of geese in the way. That’s how I always feel when I practice exams. All is relatively peaceful and then I turn to the first question and it looks like I’ve just flown into a flock of geese with my engines flaming out as a result. So, here’s lesson one – prepare for geese. You will have problems that are difficult on your final exams. But, you won’t learn how to tackle them until you start working through them first, well, right now, before you take your final exams.
Second, notice the pilot’s voice. Is it calm or ruffled? Yes, the engines have quit. Yes, the plane is not flying to a far-away place anymore. But, it is still an airplane. It still has wings and radios. It is still flying. It’s just not going to Chicago or Phoenix or Los Angeles today. So, here’s lesson two – don’t ever give up, even in the midst of your exam prep and final exams. Keep flying your airplane. Keep working on learning by doing.
Third, as you continue to watch the video, you’ll start hearing lots of air traffic controllers trying their best to help the pilot make a successful return, first to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and then to Teterboro Airport across the Hudson River in New Jersey. The controllers are busily clearing runways and directing the pilot to turn to this heading and that course. But, the pilot stays in control. Finally, the controllers ask which runway the pilot would like to land on, and, instead, the pilot says – frankly and calmly – the Hudson River. So, here’s lesson three – fly your own airplane. Don’t let others control your destiny. You’re the one that is taking the exam (not those that are giving you lots of advice). And, only you know yourself. So, make your own decisions. Just like pilots do, practice solving legal problems through lots of "simulator flight" time.
Here's the secret about learning. You see, that wasn’t the first time that the pilot lost his engines in flight. The pilot had experienced dual engine failure lots of times…in the simulator. Yes, the pilot had read the horn books on how to land on a river, the cases of previous airplanes successfully ditching in the water, and the manuals on how to stay calm and collected in the midst of a flock of geese. But, reading is not sufficient to learn how to fly an airplane. That’s because no one learns to fly by reading about flying. You learn to fly…by flying. Similarly, you learn to solve legal problems…by solving legal problems. So, get flying today as you prepare for your final exams tomorrow. And, good luck on them all! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Feeling crunched for time to make a course outline. Well, here's a tip to give you a jump-start if you've happened to wait until now to start making your outlines in preparation for final exams.
- Make a copy of the casebook table of contents (TOC) (and super-size it on 11 x 14 paper if you like to make hand-written outlines).
- If you are a hand-writer, then grab a pen and get ready to roll.
- If you are a typist or you like to make flashcards or flowcharts, then grab your preferred tool and list out the chapter subjects and the sections, giving your work lots of "breathing room" to input the cases and materials from the chapters.
- Brainstorm a short "sound-bite" for each case, one by one, and input that "blurb" into your outline. Note: Trust yourself! Your blurb can just be a phrase or one sentence (two at the max). That's because there's a learning concept called "useful forgetfulness." The process of deciding what to put down (i.e., boiling the case or article down to its essence without re-writing verbatim your class notes or case briefs) leads to much deeper memory because, by volitionally choosing NOT to put everything down on paper, you are using your own brainpower to personally analyze what is really important about the case or article to you. In other words, this is where learning happens...because...you've taken the time to distill it in your own words!
- Keep on adding in the short blurbs and, before you know, you've built a TOC outline.
One final note. As I go back to review my class notes and cases to write my case blurbs, I try to skim for just the big concepts, i.e., as though I'm just trying to "catch up with old friends." In other words, I'm just trying to get reacquainted, so to speak.
Not sure what a case blur looks like? Well, here's a sample:
Fisher v. Carousel (lunch buffet plate snatched from NASA mathematician's hand by restaurant work): tortious battery includes contact either through direct physical touching or through touching an object intimately connected to a person because the purpose of battery is to protect human dignity from forceful violations that impact our minds and invade our wills.
In sum, as you can see from the example, I list the case name, I identify a few material facts, and then I re-write the holding of the case in my own words...with a slight twist...because I add the word "because" to explain the court's rationale. And, there you have it: a hand-dandy TOC outline! (Scott Johns).
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Law students may be making some foolish study decisions as they realize their exams are only 4-6 weeks away. Now is the time when the rumor mill generates some study tips that on the surface may sound time-saving, but in reality are very foolish.
Here are some of the rumors that are passed around and the explanation why the study tip is harmful:
- The rumor: Stop preparing for class and just focus on exam study. The harm if followed: Minimal class preparation is a sure way to miss the nuances in class discussion. You will not know what is or is not important without context from preparation. You will not know what the professor is skipping because you were expected to have learned and understood those points during your preparation. The new material will also be on the exam. Why act like it is not a priority? Be efficient and effective in your class preparation, but do not jettison it.
- The rumor: Take all of your remaining class absences so that you have more study time. The harm if followed: Professors will make comments about the exam content and format during the last weeks. Do you want to depend on another law student passing on that inside scoop? For some courses, the last weeks of material pull the entire course together. Some professors test the last part of the semester more heavily because of the very important topics covered at the end.
- The rumor: Have your study group divide up topics for the course so that each person focuses on one or two topics and then teaches the others what they need to know. The harm if followed: All this accomplishes is your being personally ready only for the exam questions on the topics you were assigned. You will know the gist of the other topics, but not have deep understanding of the material others have covered for you. Would you want a emergency room doctor who thoroughly understood broken bones, but only listened to others explain the gist of cardiac arrest?
- The rumor: Spend your time doing practice questions in a study group with everyone chipping in on the possible issues and answers. The harm if followed: Study groups can be helpful for discussing practice questions after you have done them on your own: reading, analyzing, organizing an answer, and writing an answer. Group think without individual work does not tell you whether you would have spotted all issues, you would have thoroughly understood the analysis, and you would have written a solid exam answer. The group will not be with you in the exam to help you think through the questions.
- The rumor: Spend as little time as possible on your 1L writing assignments because your doctrinal courses count for more credit hours. The harm if followed: A high grade in your lower-credit 1L research and writing course is still a high grade! It helps your GPA. Employers pay a great deal of attention to the legal research and writing grades. Employers realize you may have to gain some background on bankruptcy or environmental law; they expect you to know how to research and write already. You will depend on good research and writing skills every day as a lawyer.
If what the rumor mill is suggesting seems too easy, it probably is not good advice. Unsure about what you are hearing? Talk with the academic support professional at your law school to get good advice that will be based on efficient and effective study strategies that will get you more results. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 16, 2017
In a commentary entitled "Doing is the Key to Learning," physicist Frank Wilczek reflects on learning, writing that "[t]he fear of making mistakes is a great barrier to creativity. But if you're ready to learn from them, mistakes can be your friends. As I have often advised students, 'If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems--and that's a big mistake.'" "Wilczek's Universe," Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2017, p. C4.
You see, sometimes we are too afraid to learn...because...we are too afraid to make mistakes.
But, there is NO learning without mistakes. That's particularly true at this stage of the semester when final exams still seem so far away. So, rather than trying practice problems or meeting with others to discuss hypotheticals, we avoid practicing exam hypotheticals because we often don't feel like we are ready to practice...because we don't feel like we know enough yet to take a try at problem-solving.
That's the BIGGEST mistake of all because learning is hard. Practice is hard. It involves trial and error (and even lots of trials and lots of errors!). In the process, we find out what we know (and what we don't really know). It involves making lots of mistakes before we start seeing any great successes at all in our problem-solving abilities. And, let's be frank: That is just downright humbling. It's frustrating. It's embarrassing. So, we avoid practicing because we want to avoid making mistakes.
So, here's the key:
To REALLY learn, embrace mistakes as golden opportunities for growth. Grab hold of them. Relish in them. Bask in your mistakes because without mistakes you really aren't learning...for it is in the process of making mistakes that you are teaching yourself things that you could have never learned through reading, or taking copious notes, or watching others solve legal problems. In short, the key to learning in law school "is all in the doing" of law school. So, be bold, take a risk, hang it all out by being a law school problem-solver "doer!" Oh, and don't forget, your professors became experts at problem-solving...because THEY MADE THE SAME MISTAKES THAT YOU WILL MAKE TOO. (Scott Johns)
Monday, February 20, 2017
Law students are always looking for shortcuts. The problem is that a shortcut by definition is not efficient or effective: it is cutting corners. Yet year after year, students listen to the upper-division student myth that you just need to get another outline and not make your own.
So let's get it out in the open before it is too late in the semester to still create a good outline of your own: learning occurs when you grapple with material and process it yourself.
- Using a secondhand outline means that someone else learned and processed, you did not.
- A borrowed outline means that you become a parrot who can recite the information without understanding that information.
- You need to understand the law at a deeper level that you reach by outlining if you want to apply it adeptly to new legal scenarios on an exam.
- Each person learns differently; another person's outline or a commercial outline may not match how you need to process material to learn.
- A professor's change in perspective on a course, legal reforms, or a different casebook can all make a prior outline inaccurate - or even obsolete.
- A commercial outline is for a national audience and rarely matches your professor's structure, emphasis, or state jurisdictional focus.
- The quality of the borrowed outline may be suspect if you do not know the grade that was received for the course.
Looking at another outline for format ideas and to check for missing concepts or nuances if legitimate. But depending on it instead of doing your own hard work is asking for deficient learning. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, February 16, 2017
As you make your final tune-ups in preparation for your bar exam next week, remember, anxiety is normal. So, please don't fret the "butterflies."
But, as I can attest due to my own exam stress, that is "easier said that done." So, let me offer a technique or two that I use when dealing with a question that I can't seem to figure out how to even begin to answer.
First, I don't try to get a perfect answer. Rather, I treat each exam question as an opportunity to demonstrate my ability to solve legal problems. In other words, I remind myself that I don't have to be right or correct to pass the bar exam; rather, I just have to demonstrate legal problem-solving abilities, something that we have all worked for several months to cultivate in our bar preparation work.
Second, no matter how difficult the exam, I focus on maintaining a winning positive attitude...by realizing that all of the test-takers are facing the same challenges (and therefore the same stresses). That's right. If the problem seems difficult for you (and me), it is difficult for all of us!
Third, I use a simple "3-step plan" to give me a friendly "push-start" to get my mind around how to solve a problem. So, here are the steps, steps that you might try yourself when you find yourself a bit perplexed on how to begin answering a problem:
1. Grab hold of the call of the question and re-write it as an issue statement (e.g., The issue is whether the contract between Pratt and Delta is valid.).
2. Add material facts to your issue statement (e.g., The issue is whether the contract between Pratt and Delta is valid when the defendant failed to sign the contract.).
3. Now, you are ready to organize an answer...because you see (identified the trigger facts) that constitute the big issue (i.e., a statute of frauds problem here).
Let me offer one more "stress-busting" exam tip that you might incorporate in the midst of your bar exam.
That's right. Don't spend all of your time - for hours on end - hunched over your bar exam questions.
INSTEAD, GET SOME FRESH AIR!
LEAN BACK IN YOUR CHAIR...AND BREATHE!
It's amazing but just leaning back in your chair, as the commander of your own "bar-ship" as you read and navigate your way through exam questions, can make a whale of a difference because the action of leaning back brings valuable oxygen to your body...to empower your mind...to do the work that is before you. And, if you really want to take it to the next level, while you are "leaning back," why not just put your hands behind your head to form a "soft pillow" of comfort and confidence. You can picture the move. Just visualizing the move might bring a smile to your face. And, that smile is a bit of relaxation in the midst of taking your bar exam. So, nicely done! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Hat tip to Dr. Nancy Johnson!
In a recently published article entitled "How Laptop Internet Use Relates to Classroom Learning," researchers Susan Ravizza, Mitchell Uitvlugt, and Kimberly Fenn report two interesting findings with respect to the empirical relationship between classroom internet use and final exam scores.
First (and perhaps not surprisingly), according to the article classroom non-academic use (such as surfing the web, watching videos, or using social media) has a negative impact on final exam scores.
Second (and perhaps surprisingly), according to the article classroom academic use of a computer (such as to look up a term that is being discussed in class on Wikipedia) has no measurable impact on final exam scores.
Taken together, the research suggests some caution with respect to student use of computers in classroom settings because, based on their findings, even academic use of computers by students during the classroom is not producing beneficial learning outcomes as measured by final exam scores.
In light of the lively debate concerning student use of computers in classrooms and potential benefits or detriments, here's the article in full: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797616677314
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Wow. At long last, final exams are over...sort of.
For most of us, we have a very difficult time with uncertainty in general, which is particularly exasperating as we wait - sometimes for weeks - for our grades to arrive.
So, despite the festive times of this month, we often find ourselves unable to relax, to enjoy the season, and to simply wind down and rest.
Nevertheless, there's a simple way - in just a flash of a moment - to help break free from the many stresses and strains of the past few weeks of final exams. Why not try out, today, the "smile loop?" It sounds, sort of, fun, doesn't it? So, here's the scoop (and the science too):
You see, according to an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein:
"Smiling produces neural messaging in your brain that makes you happier. Some studies have shown that when we smile our facial muscles contract, which slightly distorts the shape of the thin facial bones. This leads to an increase in blood flow into the frontal lobes of the brain and the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. And, when we smile at someone, that person tends to smile back. So, we've created a feel-good loop." http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-fall-back-in-love
For those of you that are not scientists (that's me!), the short scoop is that smiling brightens not just our days but the days of those around us. And, it sure seems to me that smiling at another person gets us on the right track to thinking about others rather than worrying about the past few weeks of final exams (with its lingering wait for grades).
I had the chance to put smiling to the test in very unforgiving circumstances over the course of the past few weeks as a volunteer attorney. There's a little Greek island just a few short miles off the Turkish coast. Because of its locale so close to Turkey, thousands of people have been fleeing on small inflatable boats across the Aegean Sea to escape persecution, calamity, and in some cases war in their native countries - from Syria to Iran to Iraq to Afghanistan to South Sudan - with the hope of receiving refugee in the European Union. I talked with a man, his wife and his adorable small children that risked it all traveling by land from Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey only to be finally living for months in a small UNHCR tent in a refugee camp on the island of Chios.
Despite the lack of resources and the uncertainty of still waiting - for months on end - to receive as of yet an asylum hearing, he smiled. And, then his children smiled. Why, his whole family smiled. In the cold of the wind swept coast of this little island refugee camp, we all smiled...together. He and his family may not have had much to give but they gave something immeasurably priceless...they shared smiles with me.
Let me say, this was not unique. As I walked through the refugee camp with a number of refugee-seekers, even though we often didn't speak the same language, we were able to communicate in ways that are often richer than words. Over and over, refugees would just come up to me with big generous smiles and warm handshakes of greetings. Memorably, a small Syrian boy grabbed my hand one day by the lunch tent as a group of young people were dancing, asking me to join in the footsteps and singing.
You see, smiles are not just a trick to make your life better or happier. No, no at all! Rather, smiles are the sweetness of life itself in helping us to make the world a little better for others. So, as you wait for final exam grades to come in, be of good courage and share smiles with those around you. Who knows? That brief smile might get you up and dancing!
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Exams are in full swing so students are focused and appear to be productive. The hustle and bustle of activity throughout the building has calmed down only to usher in the quiet sounds of exam study. I see and hear students prior to and after exams; meanwhile, I am able to complete administrative tasks uninterrupted. Topics of student conversation typically relate to stress, study strategies, complex concepts, time management, and study aids. Students have an array of “light bulb moments” which is quite interesting to hear. Conversations I have with students are slightly different and concern pre-exam confidence building and post-exam debriefing.
The most exciting thing I have observed is how students support one another as classmates, friends, and colleagues. Students are more likely to listen to other students, even more than they listen to academic support experts, so it is nice to hear students repeat to their peers’ advice I have given them. A few things I have heard students repeat in the hallways include:
“You can do this! We’ve got this!”
“You studied so hard and it is going to pay off.”
“You taught me the information so you know it.”
“We completed all of the professor’s past exam so we have some idea of what the professor is looking for. If worse comes to worse, we have a reference point and can write something down.”
“We were in office hours more than anyone else and figured out what we did not know.”
“You are smart!”
“Leave the past in the past; you have control over what is ahead.”
Encouraging hallway chatter makes all the difference! (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Monday marks the first day of exams for 1L students at my institution and I can sense it. Students are stressed and it is only going to get worse. Students are trying to determine what they can accomplish in the limited amount of time they have remaining. Students simply feel overwhelmed by the exam preparation process. At this point, we need to move beyond regret and encourage students to be as effective and efficient as they can be given the task at hand. Here are the top three things concerned students will likely hear from me:
(1) Quality over Quantity
I hear of students spending hours in the library simply to spend hours in the library. Some students feel a sense of accomplishment if they spend hours in the library, even if they are not studying the entire time. Presence in the library equates to information somehow being learned and retained. A library is an amazing place for students with a plan. Students who have a plan, implement the plan, and set deadlines are often more successful and better prepared for exams. A library can be an amazing learning environment if used appropriately. Start your studies with concepts you find most difficult and are most afraid of.
Attempt a practice question for each and every subject area and attempt questions using the various modes of testing used by your professors. Exam day should not be the first time you write the answer to a practice question. It is also not enough to write answers to questions, it is important to know how to critique answers. More importantly, it is necessary to be honest with yourself about your performance. Challenging practice questions are not intended to be discouraging but to highlight what you know and don’t know which can be a very useful study tool.
Checklists are a great way to ensure that you are addressing all possible issues in an issue spotter exam and to ensure that you are addressing all elements or parts of a rule for each specific issue. Checklists can also be a great mechanism for starting the process of memorizing information. All the very best to law students everywhere taking exams in the very near future! (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, December 1, 2016
With exams for many students in full swing, the question becomes how "paced" to "pace" oneself in between a series of final exams. Let me offer one thought as you swing from preparing and tacking one exam to preparing and taking another exam.
For most of us, because we are under significant time pressures to read, organize, and write final exam answers, we tend to approach our preparation efforts with the similar feeling (i.e., that we will never be able to finish a final exam on time) unless we spend most of our exam preparation efforts engaged in timed practice.
In other words, we try our best to work on speed at all costs because we are so worried that we will never finish the exam. But, if you work on speed, you will never get better...only faster. And, that's where the story of the tortoise and the hare comes in.
You know the story. The hare bolts but soon runs out of energy because she did not pace herself. She practiced sprinting in the moment rather than running the race for the long prize.
On the other hand, the tortoise - slow and methodical - just keeps plodding along, step by step, pace by pace, moment by moment, until, against all odds, the tortoise passes the hare and crosses the finish line to the astonishment of all...in first prize.
You see, it is not true that those that write the most or finish the exam the quickest earn the best grades.
Rather, success on final exams comes in showing your work, step by step, pace by pace, moment by moment, in solving legal problems as a professional attorney would do. And, that requires not sprinting in bursts of practice but rather in thinking carefully and slowly and critically and methodically through lots of practice final exam problems.
In short, the key to doing your best work on final exams is to slow down your practice, to reflect on your reading, analysis, and writing, and to incorporate what you learn through each practice set so that you become better able to handle future legal problem-solving scenarios.
Let me give you another picture. Perhaps you've heard the saying: "Chew the cud." According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase means to "think slowly and carefully about the subject." It's roots come to use from another animal account, this time dealing with cows.
You see, cows are said to "chew the cud." Unlike many animals that just swallow their food, cows are constantly chewing their food. That's because the process of digesting food for cows requires a number of steps. First, cows need to chew their food to moisten it in preparation for digestion and send it to a part of their stomachs that adds acids to further soften the food. Then (and this is going to get a bit gross), the first bites of food are sent back to the mouth from the stomach (i.e., regurgitated) so that the cows further chew the softened food so that another part of the stomach can property extract the critical nutrients. http://www.cattle-empire.net/blog/115/what-cud-and-why-do-cattle-chew-it In short, cows can't get fed from food that doesn't get crunched, regurgitated, and then re-crunched again. And, we can't do well on final exams unless we chew on exam problems, write out exam answers, and then review and re-write our answers so that we learn.
In brief, the short days in between exams should be filled with "chewing the cud" by slowly and methodically working through practice problems so that we learn how to get the most out of our preparation efforts for final exams. Or, as another saying goes, "haste makes waste." So, take your time and think carefully and slowly rather than hastily and carelessly as you work through practice problems in preparation for your next final exam. (Scott Johns).