Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, March 5, 2018

Spring Break! Time to . . . Prepare for Finals!

The sun is breaking through the clouds.  Rain and thunderstorms picked up the last couple weeks.  Ice is melting away, and temperatures are steadily rising.  Spring is right around the corner, which also means Spring Break for most schools will be in the next few weeks.  Plan to have fun, relax, and spend time preparing for finals to maximize the effectiveness of Spring Break.

For most students, spring break starts on a Saturday and finishes the following Sunday.  9 glorious days not being in class.  9 amazing opportunities to get mentally fresh and ready for the stretch run into final exams.  Plan your Spring Break now to utilize all the time effectively.

My suggestion is to spend 4 of the days doing non-law school fun activities.  4 days not thinking about classes, outlines, or exams.  Play golf, watch bad movies, catch up on TV shows, watch an entire new series on Netflix, exercise, hang out with friends, or whatever will provide energy to make it through May.  Rest and recharge is key.

The other 5 days, assuming a normal 5 class schedule, are preparation for final exams.  My suggestion is to devote 1 day to each class.  Spend the morning catching up on the outline.  Make sure it is as up-to-date as reasonably possible.  Spend 1-2 hours on practice questions in the afternoon.  Outlining and practicing will begin critical finals preparation.

Spend the evenings of those 5 days having fun and getting ready for summer.  A couple of those evenings, do nothing.  More resting and relaxing.  Spend 1 of the evenings updating your legal resume.  Spend another evening deciding which employers you want to contact for potential summer internships.  Lastly, don’t forget to spend at least 1 evening reading for the first day of class after Spring Break. 

Planning now can make Spring Break both fun and effective.  Take time to enjoy life.  Recharging will have a huge impact on studying in April.  Catching up on outlines and practicing now provides more focused time in late April to understand the nuances of each subject.  Success requires a good plan.

(Steven Foster)

March 5, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The "Key" to Golden Success - Being "Super Chill?"

As described by reporters Sara Germano and Ben Cohen, Norway might have a secret weapon in winning so many gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Korea this month, namely, being "super chill."

Surprisingly, even just a few hours before a big competition, the Norwegian athletes are still living life, speaking freely with reporters and chatting & laughing it up.  Indeed, the Norwegians are even taking time off to, well, to play video games, have fun, and to socially relax with others.  Yep, they watch TV, they play jigsaw puzzles, and they even have a day or two prior to their big events to be completely "100% free."  You see, according to Norwegian coach Alex Stöckl: "It's important [in achieving success that the athletes] can turn off their minds."

There's an important message here for those of you taking the bar exam next week.  It's A-okay for you to take Monday off before your big event next Tuesday and Wednesday in sitting for your bar exam.  

I know...  

It's REALLY hard to take anytime off, let alone all-day Monday.  But, as illustrated by the success of Norway's athletes, rest strengthens us, rest empowers us, rest restores us.  So, take a lesson from the Olympians and feel free to give your mind a day of rest before the bar exam.  You've earned've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events.  (Scott Johns).


February 22, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Finish Strong on the Bar

Bar preparation is in the stretch run.  Everyone is turning the corner and trying to finish strong.  The goal is to keep up the pace for another week to maximize points on the exam.  Understanding the law is important, but the bar exam is as much a test of mental freshness as it is knowledge of the law.  Make sure to plan for the next week to be as fresh as possible walking into the exam.

Unfortunately, for a certain percentage of the population, every point matters.  I see a decent amount of scores within only a handful of MBE questions of the pass line each administration.  Every choice makes a difference.  Intentionally make choices for the next week that set you up for success.

Cramming all night, studying while tired, and getting hungry while practicing can all affect performance on an exam.  Studying during the wrong time of day or studying while tired decreases cognitive function.  The best advice is to get on the same schedule as the bar exam.  If you haven’t already, start studying at least 30-45 minutes prior to when the exam will start.  You don’t want your brain to start working on essay 2 or 3.  Get all the points possible from the start.

Start eating and resting during the same times as the exam.  Bodies tend to get on cycles.  People like eating near the same time every day.  Think about the day that you eat just a few minutes later than normal.  Stomachs start to rumble and are distracting.  On one of the most important tests in your career, don’t let your stomach get in the way of answering questions correct.  Get your body ready for the normal eating cycle.  For example, Oklahoma’s essay section starts at 8.  Students receive 4 essays with 2 hours to complete them.  At the end of 2 hours, there is a break.  A similar schedule proceeds throughout the day, with a lunch break in the middle.  I tell students to be mentally ready to study by 7:30, eat any quick snack around 10:05, be ready for lunch around 12:15, have another snack at 3:35, and they will finish around 5:45. 

Be ready for exam day is important.  However, anything that could go wrong, may go wrong on exam day.  If you get hungry all of a sudden, be ready with whatever your bar examiners allow in the room.  Oklahoma’s essay day schedule is nothing like the MBE schedule, so students adapt a little on day 2 with snacks during the exam.  Having a backup plan is always helpful.

The bar exam will be as much a test of mental endurance as it will be knowledge of the law.  The best way to be mentally ready for the endeavor is to specifically plan how the day will go and start building study days to mirror exam day.  Preparing nearly every detail will put you in the best position for success.  Good luck on the exam!

(Steven Foster)

February 19, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Time for a Semester Progress Check

5 weeks down in the semester, which is about 1/3 of class time.  Now is a great time for a progress check in each course.  A progress check should analyze both whether the study schedule is working and whether you know the substance so far.  Here are some quick questions/activities to consider:

Study Schedule:

  1.  Do I have an updated outline for each of my courses?
  2.  Have I briefed every case?
  3.  Was I ready for class discussion each day?
  4.  Am I consistently under-prepared for a particular class?
  5.  What additional activities do I need to accomplish (ie - more practice with feedback)?
  6.  What do I need to change now to get more done?

Substantive Knowledge:  (complete these activities without looking at your outline, notes, etc.)

  1.  Try to write down the major topics or headings for each course on separate sheets of paper.
  2.  After writing down the major headings, try to write down the smaller issues within each heading.
  3.  Try to write down the rules and exceptions for each of the issues.
  4.  Ask yourself what is the most confusing part of the course. What is the hardest concept to understand?  Try to find an answer from your notes, classmates, professor, or supplement for confusing concepts.
  5.  Looking at the handwritten flowchart or outline, try to think of facts that are required to test each of the issues.
  6.  Try to orally recite your outline for each course.

Progress checks throughout the semester are critical.  Changing study habits later in the semester or trying to figure out doctrine from months before is difficult.  The goal is to self-assess now to remedy any problems long before exams.  This is a good time to start writing answers to short hypos and asking professors for feedback.  Keep analyzing progress to continually improve.

(Steven Foster)

February 12, 2018 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Power of Practice with Feedback!

Here's great research news that you can bank on, whether you are an ASP professional or a law student!

In brief, just having one academic course with individualized feedback corresponds to an increase of about a third of a letter grade.  So, if you are a law student, make sure that you take advantage of your law school's resources - both in-class and out-of-class - to get individual feedback (and lots of it) each and every week.  And, if you are an ASP professional, what a great opportunity to encourage law students to learn by doing.

Not quite convinced...

Check out the research details in the article entitled "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law School Performance" by Daniel Schwarcz and Dion  Farganis at: Impact of Individualized Feedback

In the interim, here's a snapshot from the article's abstract:

"...[S]tudents in sections that have previously or concurrently had a professor who provides individualized feedback consistently outperform students in sections that have not received any such feedback. The effect is both statistically significant and hardly trivial in magnitude, approaching about 1/3 of a grade increment after controlling for students’ LSAT scores, undergraduate GPA, gender, race, and country of birth. This effect corresponds to a 3.7 point increase in students’ LSAT scores in our model. Additionally, the positive impact of feedback is stronger among students whose combined LSAT score and undergraduate GPA falls below the median at the University of Minnesota Law School."

So, get a power boost on your academic performance by getting lots of feedback throughout the semester about your learning.  As the research suggests, you'll be glad you did! (Scott Johns).


February 8, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Digital "Note-Taking" and "Note-Snapping": A Recipe for Learning...Or Not?

With hat tips to Prof. Herb Ramy (Suffock University Law School) & Prof. Ira Shafiroff (Southwestern Law School), the classroom has moved well-past the laptop age into the smart phone age, with perhaps some deleterious impacts on learning.

That leads to two important questions given the increasingly common use of laptops and smartphones as note-taking devices.

First, with respect to computers in the classroom, might digital note-taking actually be harmful to one's learning (and even the learning of one's neighbors still taking notes the old-fashioned way by hand)?

Second, with respect to smart phones, is it really a good idea to snap-up a few photos of the lecture slides or whiteboard markings as tools to meticulously capture what was presented in class?

Well, there are two important links to help you be the judge...of your own use of answering these questions, whether you are a classroom learner or a teacher.

First, with respect to computers, the New York Times provides a helpful overview of the big picture research about the benefits and the limitations with respect to taking notes by computer (to include the potential detrimental effects upon your neighbors). Susan Dynarski, "Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting," New York Times (Nov. 22, 2017), available at:

Second, with respect to smart phone "snapping," the Law Teacher newsletter provides valuable suggestions for promoting boundaries that might be helpful in maximizing the learning effectiveness (and limiting the distractions that might result from too much classroom photo-taking). Dyane O’Leary, "Picture This: Tackling the Latest Trend in Digital Note Taking," The Law Teacher (Fall 2017), available at:

The jury is in for me.  I take notes by hand (but I have been known to snap a few whiteboard photos!).  But, regardless of your method of capturing class content and discussions, perhaps the most important question is what do you do with that information.  Does it become a part of you, as a learner, or does it merely remain mostly-empty words, diagrams, and images that don't really lead to change?  That's an important question because, to be learner rather than just a studier, it's not the information that leads to learning but what we do with that information that makes all the difference.  So, next time you're tempted to bring out your camera, you might just ask yourself what's your next step in using that digital information to help you actually learn. Without an answer to that question, it's perhaps really not a "Kodak" moment. (Scott Johns).



January 18, 2018 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A New Year's Resolution - That Works!

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

That raises an interesting question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Getting Exam Study OOMPH

Just sitting in a chair and putting in minutes does not always translate into exam performance. You want to make sure that you get results from the time you put into studying. Here are some tips for maximum results from your efforts:

  • Eliminate distractions: turn off the cell phone, disable your Internet to avoid surfing the net, use earplugs to block out noise, choose a quiet study location.
  • Learn actively: engage with the material, ask yourself questions, read aloud, think about how you would use the material.
  • Synthesize material: consider how rules interact, think about when the exceptions apply, compare and contrast cases, fit cases into the subtopic and topic, interrelate the topics to one another.
  • Pretend you are the professor: what did the professor stress; what buzz words or phrases did the professor use; what types of questions did the professor ask. 
  • Practice what you learn: apply the law to new fact scenarios, think about spin-off hypos, discuss how to use the law with classmates.
  • Discuss material with a classmate: take turns explaining material to one another and giving feedback; take opposing sides on a fact scenario and present the arguments; work together on a flowchart for a topic.

When your focus wanders or you passively read your outline over, you are not getting oomph. Shake it up! Get involved! As Dennis Tonsing says, "Learn is an active verb." (Amy Jarmon)


December 10, 2017 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Some Practical Tips for Exams

Stay positive during your weeks of exams – you can do this! Pace yourself throughout each week and remember to take care of yourself.

  • The night before a morning exam or the morning before an afternoon exam, plan light study only – read through your outline and complete easy practice questions. You will go into the exam less stressed.
  • Cramming right up to the last minute is unproductive. You are better off getting a good night’s sleep than staying up to the wee hours before an exam. You need to be well-rested, alert, and focused in the exam.
  • If possible with your exam schedule, take 2 or more hours off after an exam before you go back to studying. If your exams are spaced nicely, take the rest of the day off after an exam. Your body and brain will thank you.
  • Do the best you can each day with your studying. If something goes wrong, put it behind you and start fresh the next day.
  • Do the best you can on each exam. Realize that the days of needing 100% for a good grade are over. You cannot accurately guess what your grade will be when you leave an exam.
    • After an exam is over, put it behind you and move on to the next exam. You cannot change the way that exam went. You can change how the next exam goes.
    • Talking to others about the exam will only add to your stress. So smile, politely say you do not talk about exams, and walk away.
    • It is very common to realize when you walk out of an exam that you missed an issue, forgot a rule, or did not address a fact appropriately. Put it behind you. Move on to the next exam.
  • If you are not familiar with the room where your exam will be, check it out ahead of time.
    • Is there a wall clock in the room showing the correct time?
    • Do you know where you would prefer to sit in the room?
    • Does the room seem overly warm or cold?
    • Anything else about the room that is of note?
  • Eat a good meal before your exam because your brain needs the fuel for all the heavy lifting it will do.
  • Plan to leave early for your exam to avoid last-minute mishaps:
    • Set multiple alarms or have a friend telephone you if you are a heavy sleeper and might oversleep an exam.
    • Know where there are current road works that might mean altering your route. Have a Plan B if you are unsure.
    • Remember to get to the exam room early enough to get settled and have everything ready to begin.
  • Decide ahead of time where you want to wait once arriving early at the law school.
    • In the exam room so you have first dibs on the seat you want.
    • In your study carrel for some quiet and fewer people around.
    • Outside on a bench or at a table until it is time to go in.
    • Some place else that gives you a balance of calm and preparedness.
  • Pack up the essentials that you need for the exam the night before the exam – you will be less likely to forget something.
    • Laptop and its accessories if you are typing your exams
    • Extra pens even if you are typing – you will want to make notes on any provided scrap paper.
    • Your exam number if your exam is anonymous.
    • Tissues, throat lozenges, or other medications that you need.
    • Wrist watch if you need one to track the time (smartphones/watches are usually forbidden).
    • Any items specifically approved by the professor for an open-book exam.
    • Sweater in case the exam room is too cold for you during the 3-4 hours you will be sitting there.
  • Know who you need to contact at your law school if you get sick or have a family emergency and wish to ask about rescheduling an exam.

Good luck in your studying and on all of your exams! (Amy Jarmon)

December 8, 2017 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Perspective: The Opportunity To Take The Test

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

(1) Remember Why You Are In Law School

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

(2) Focus On The Task At Hand

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

(3) Stay Motivated

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

(4) You Can Do It

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

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

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Signs That Exams Are Upon Us

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

I Become A Celebrity

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

TA Study Sessions Are Full

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

Canceled Meetings/No Shows

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

Upper-Level Students Are Focused

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

Students Are In The Library

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Two Time Management Techniques: Eisenhower Matrix & Pomodoro

As you study for final exams, it is essential to develop a time management strategy that will help you minimize interruptions and maximize focus. Here are two popular methods: the Eisenhower Matrix and the Pomodoro Technique.

The Eisenhower Matrix stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."  Using the Eisenhower decision principle, tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, and then placed in according quadrants:

  1. Important/Urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally, e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally, e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are delegated, e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are dropped, e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.

Priority Grid

During exam periods, you should only allow “Level 1” tasks to interrupt designated study time.

If Eisenhower’s Matrix isn’t your thing, consider Pomodoro.  Pomodoro requires you to identify the “topmost task” on your to do list.  After identifying the task, set a timer for 25 minutes and work until the timer (a.k.a. “Pomodoro”) rings.  Take a short break of 3-5 minutes and then get back to working, until the task is finished.  After every four Pomodoros take a longer break of 15–30 minutes.  For all the details, Download Pomodoro Cheat Sheet.  (Kirsha Trychta)

Pomodoro timeline 

November 28, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pause For Your Mental Sanity

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

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mental health” as:

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

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

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

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

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


image from

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)