Thursday, June 28, 2018
It's sweltering in much of the USA. And, the heat is only getting hotter for the many recent law school grads preparing for next month's bar exam.
So, I thought I'd offer a few "hot" tips on how to enhance one's learning this summer based on a recently published study entitled: "Smarter Law School Habits: An Empirical Analysis of Law Learning Strategies and Relationship with LGPA," by Jennifer Cooper, adjunct professor at Tulane University, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3004988
As detailed in the article statistically analyzing study tactics and learning, Professor Cooper found that two particular study strategies are positively correlated with law school grades.
The first is elaboration, i.e, explaining confusing concepts to others. So, be a talker this summer as you prepare for your bar exam. In short, be a teacher...be your teacher!
The second is the use of practice questions to learn. So, grab hold of every opportunity you have this summer to learn by doing. Take every mock bar exam you can. Work through every bar exam practice problem available. Be tenacious in your practice. Learn by doing!
Finally, as documented by Professor Cooper, beware of reading and re-reading. It might make you feel like you are learning, but there is little learning going on...until you put down the book and start working on problems for yourself. And, that particularly makes sense with the bar exam...because...the bar exam is testing the "practice of law" not the "theory behind the law."
So, throughout this summer, focus less on reading and more on active learning - through lots and lots of practice problems and self-taught elaboration to explain the legal principles and concepts - as you prepare for success on your bar exam next month. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 14, 2018
It's the time of the year when one group of graduates are taking their oaths of office while another group of graduates are preparing for the bar exam this summer. That brings me to an interesting conversation with a recent bar passer and his spouse about studying versus learning.
You see, with an introduction in hand, I asked the bar passer's spouse if she noticed anything different between her spouse's law school experience preparing for final exams and her spouse's bar prep experiencing in preparing for the bar exam.
Without hesitation, the report came back: "No. It was much the same, same hours, same long days, the same through and through."
In rapid response and without the slightest hesitation, the recent graduate - who just passed the bar exam - exclaimed that it was "totally different. No comparison between preparing for law school exams and the bar exam."
You see, according to his spouse's perspective, preparing for law school exams and bar exams outwardly seemed identical, but, according to the recent graduate, in law school he spent most of his time reading...and reading...and reading...and then learning as much as he could just a few days before final exams. In other words, he spent his law school years studying. In contrast, even though outwardly he put in similar hours for bar prep as for law school studies, his focus was on practicing...and practicing...and practicing. In other words, for law school he was studying; for the bar exam he was learning.
So, for those of you preparing for the bar exam this summer, focus on learning - not studying. What does that mean? Well, a great day is completing two tasks: working through lots of actual bar exam problems and then journaling about what you learned that very day. Yep...that very day. That's key. Learn today. Spend less time studying (reading commercial outlines, watching lectures, and reading lecture notes) and more time learning (doing lots and lots of practice problems). That's because on bar exam day you aren't going to be asked about what you read but rather asked to show what you can do. So, be a doer this summer! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 7, 2018
We're just about three weeks into bar prep. The excitement of graduation seems so long ago. We're back in the same 'ole schoolhouse setting, watching bar review lectures and working through hypothetical legal problems. Sure seems like the same old pattern as law school. But, it need not be.
But first, a bit of background...
In aviation, air traffic controllers will often query pilots about their altitude. It's a bit of a hint from the controllers to the pilots that something might be amiss. And, it almost sounds sort of polite: "Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, Say Altitude."
In response, the pilots make a quick check of the altimeter - the instrument that measures altitude (i.e, height of the airplane in the skies) to confirm that they are at proper altitude as assigned by air traffic control: "Roger Denver Approach Control, Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, level at 15,000 feet."
In between the two communications, however, you can bet that the pilots were quickly making some fast-footed adjustments to the aircraft's altitude to make sure that they would not be busted by the air traffic controllers.
That brings us back to the world of bar prep. A quick "attitude check" might be similarly helpful for your learning.
You see, as Professor Chad Noreuil from Arizona State University puts it in his book entitled "The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam," it can be mighty helpful for your learning to have what I call an "attitude check." In particular, as Professor Noreuil cites in his book, researchers have identified a positive relationship between an optimistic approach to learning and achievement in learning. Consequently, Professor Noreuil counsels bar takers to take on a "get-to" attitude rather than a "have-to" attitude towards bar prep because a "get-to" attitude improves one's chances of succeeding on the bar exam. That's what I refer to as a "get-to" versus a "got-to" attitude.
But how do you change your attitude from a "got-to" to a "get-to" attitude? Well, here's a possible approach that might just help provide some perspective about the wonderful opportunity that you have to take the bar exam this summer. You see, very few have that opportunity. That's because the numbers are just stacked against most people. They'll never get the chance that you have this summer.
Here are the details. According to the U.S. government, there are about 7.5 billion people worldwide, and the U.S. population is close to 330 million. https://www.census.gov/popclock/ Out of that population, according to the ABA, there are about 35,000 law school JD graduates per year. That's it. https://www.americanbar.org/content/ And, because most states require a JD in order to to the bar exam, very few people get to take a bar exam, very few indeed.
That brings me back to you. As a JD grad preparing for the bar exam, you are one of the very few who get to take the bar exam. So, take advantage of that opportunity this summer by approaching your bar exam studies as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to "get-to" show your state supreme court all the wonderful things that you have learned about practicing law. You've worked hard in law school for just such a season as this, so, to paraphrase a popular slogan, "Just do it...but do it with a get-to attitude this summer! (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Last week I posted about The Future of the LSAT, including LSAC’s collaboration with Khan Academy to provide free online LSAT prep to everyone. This week I am taking Khan Academy’s LSAT course for a test drive.
Registering for the course was simple. I just needed to input my name, date of birth, and email address. Then I selected LSAT prep from the list of available courses. Once I was officially enrolled, Khan Academy provided me with an overview of their 4 step system:
“1. ... Take a mini-test or a full practice test, and [Khan Academy] will identify the skills you should focus on to improve your score the most.
2. ... Unlock your personalized practice plan. Based on your score goal, schedule, and starting skill strengths, [Khan Academy] will craft a unique practice plan with lessons and exercises at just the right level.
3. ... Step-by-step lessons and explanations will help you understand the questions and concepts on the LSAT, and official LSAT practice tests develop the test-taking and time-management skills you’ll need to reach your goal.
4. ... Your practice plan is divided into stages that start with focused skill practice and end with a LSAT practice test. As your weaknesses turn into strengths, you’ll see your test scores rise towards your goal.”
Because I was strangely curious about how I’d score with 15 years of legal analysis under my wing, I opted to take the 3 hour full-length exam instead of the 70 minute mini-diagnostic. The diagnostic exam—comprised of four graded sections—did not have an official timer (you had to time yourself), but did let you skip between questions within each section and highlight passages in the reading comprehension section. I get the impression that the system may allow for timed tests, however, because under the personal settings tab I was given the option to adjust the testing timer for time-and-a-half or double-time.
I found completing the diagnostic exam online slightly more difficult than a pencil and paper version because I could not engage in active reading techniques or quickly cross-out obviously wrong answer choices. Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard the same complaint from law students who are studying for the multiple-choice section of the bar exam using primarily online resources. My experience this week, combined with my students’ feedback, reinforced a growing concern that I have about LSAC’s decision to explore a digital LSAT exam.
All that aside, at the conclusion of the diagnostic exam, I received my overall score, as well as my score on each particular section. I was then given the option to create a personalized study schedule based on (1) my upcoming LSAT exam date and (2) my target score.
I selected a test date three months away (September) and a target score 9 points higher than my diagnostic score. With that information, the program suggested that I complete 10 full-length practice exams and study approximately 2 hours per week to reach my goal. I could also opt-in to receive automatic email reminders to help me stay on track. My personal study plan included “sub-goals” and very specific target areas on which to focus my efforts (e.g. reading comprehension passages dealing with science), based on my diagnostic performance. This project chunking and mini-goal setting system is definitely a fantastic skill to teach aspiring law students and a welcome feature in the program.
Regardless of whether I opted to complete the diagnostic exam, I could click on the “lessons” tab at the top of the page to instantly access the full repository of available handouts, videos, and practice problems. Click here to Download List of Khan Academy's LSAT Lessons. The 1 to 10 minute lecture videos stream via an embedded You Tube player and include closed captioning, if desired. The quick guides and handouts had helpful tips, but were entirely online. I also received “energy points” for each goal achieved and activity completed, in the same vein as a video game.
Overall, the Khan Academy LSAT program appears to be quite robust—especially given its zero dollar price tag. I would recommend this website to law school hopefuls. (Kirsha Trychta)
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
The LSAT is changing.
The Law School Admission Council announced four big changes to the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in 2017.
First, LSAC is increasing the number of test administrations. Beginning in 2019, LSAC will offer six tests each year instead of the standard four. Presumably to soften the transition from four tests in 2017 to six tests in 2019, LSAC quietly added a 5th exam to the calendar for 2018. Registration is currently open for the newly added fifth test, which will take place on July 23, 2018.
Second, LSAC has begun to conduct Digital LSAT field tests. LSAC is exploring the possibility of transitioning to a computer-based exam, instead of the traditional paper-and-pencil version. The results of the first field test, which was conducted in October 2017, have not been made available to the public yet.
Third, LSAC eliminated the maximum-of-three-tests-in-two-years restriction. Applicants may now take the LSAT exam as many times as they would like, limited only by the frequency of test administrations and cost.
Lastly, LSAC partnered with Khan Academy to offer "free personalized LSAT prep for all." The Khan Academy LSAT program launches this week (June 1, to be exact). I plan to enroll and test-drive the program. Look for a follow-up report soon.
Meanwhile, in April 2018, the American Bar Association's Standards Review Committee of the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar recommended eliminating the LSAT requirement altogether, allowing law schools to focus on other admissions credentials. The committee's proposal was then considered by the section's council at their May 11th meeting, and after some small changes, the council adopted the committee's recommendation. The changes to Standards 501 and 503 would eliminate the requirement of a “valid and reliable test” as part of a law school’s admissions process. "Significantly, the Council also adopted a new interpretation ... that would establish a “rebuttable presumption” that recognizes the centrality of a valid and reliable admissions test in law schools’ admissions policies and practices. It provides that a school whose admissions policy and process were called into question by the Council would presumptively be out of compliance with the revised Standard 501 if it did not include a valid and reliable admissions test as part of its policy.” The Council's recommendation will now be forwarded to the ABA's House of Delegates , who could consider the issue as early as this August.
LSAC's President responded to the May 11th ABA vote with a short press release, stating that LSAC "anticipates that most law schools will continue to use the LSAT in the admission process because of its proven validity and reliability for predicting success in law school."
Monday, May 14, 2018
Congratulations to everyone earning a J.D. recently! Earning a Doctorate level degree is an amazing accomplishment. 2011 Census data indicates approximately 3% of the US population 25 and older possess a Doctorate or Professional degree. Walking across the stage and completing the J.D. requirements puts all graduate in elite company. No matter what happens this summer, know all J.D. graduates (including yourself) are elite!
While already elite, everyone knows there is still one more hurdle prior to becoming an attorney. The vast majority of graduates still need to pass the bar exam. The limited time and breadth of material requires focus for all 10 weeks. I recommend my students start preparing the Tuesday morning after graduation through the Sunday before the bar. One focus to take it one time.
Bar prep should start shortly after graduation, and it must be the highest priority during the summer. However, preparing for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint. The key to success is maintaining a steady pace and not burning out early. Here are my tips for a steady pace throughout the summer:
1. Create a good daily schedule. All the bar review companies do a good job assigning particular tasks each day, but their schedules are “flexible” on when to do the work. I suggest to most students (not everyone) to sit down and create an hourly calendar, for example:
9-12:30 – Lecture
12:30-1:30 – Lunch
1:30-4 – Assigned practice questions
4-4:30 – Mental Break
4:30-5:30 – Review Lecture
5:30-7 – Dinner
7-9 – Review Previous Material
Scheduling increases the chances the majority of the work is completed. Time isn’t wasted deciding what to do.
2. Schedule Breaks. Notice my example included breaks throughout the day. Breaks are critical during bar prep. Students who try to go non-stop 7 days a week burn out quickly. The bar exam will be as much mental preparedness as it will be a test of legal analysis. Being fresh and rested increases focus, retention, and engagement. Include breaks both during the day and each week.
3. Know yourself. Create reasonable schedules and breaks. If you know you can’t study during a certain time of the day, then build a schedule around what is best for you. My only caveat here is the bar exam in most states starts at 8am or 9am, so studying solely at night may not be the most beneficial. You do need to transition to being alert by 7am at some point during the process.
4. Plan to attend the physical location. I know I will sound old with this piece of advice, but attend the location for your course. I know the online version is the same. I know many locations are showing a video, and I know your computer shows videos as good as the location. I also know through anecdotal stories and taking roll that students physically at the locations have higher pass rates, at least for my school. Being present creates habits that can lead accomplishing more during the day.
5. Create a good routine. It is true that bar prep is hard, but it is also true that most of the difficulty can be overcome with a good routine. Bad practice scores, not remembering rules, and general frustration will arise. The brain’s fight or flight response will be triggered. A good routine where you know exactly how to fight by doing more questions, finding a good resource, etc. will enable you to continue to improve. Without a routine, responding to difficulty with a round of golf instead of a round of questions becomes easy..
Bar prep is beginning. Know your awesome accomplishments. Know that getting a J.D. illustrates an ability to pass the bar. Take the time to then build a schedule and routine to put yourself in a position to succeed. The goal is to be able to walk out of the bar exam knowing you gave your full effort to pass.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Graduation is right around the corner. Party planning has begun, and thoughts of bar prep are put off until after enjoying the festivities. Senioritis is at an all-time high. 3-4 years of exhaustion is taking a toll. I completely understand the feelings, but I also warn 3Ls, don’t get too complacent. Finish strong on this set of finals.
Last week was the last class ever with all my 3Ls. I congratulate them and discuss our last few practice problems for the semester. One of my most important messages during class is to finish strong on finals. Don’t get complacent on the last few tests.
Students realize going through all but one set of finals means they should be able to pass the last few. I agree. They obviously have the skills to succeed. However, complacency, or focusing too much on party planning, could lead to a lack of preparation. Don’t let the excitement or exhaustion take over.
The last set of finals is still important for a number of reasons. The most obvious is most students need the credits to graduate. Don’t fail a class due to lack of preparation. At many schools, the scholastic achievements (cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude) are awarded after the last set of grades. Ignoring finals can have an impact on those awards. Lastly, you will need some of the information from your finals for the bar. Studying for finals helps retain bar exam information. If you are taking bar subjects, which hopefully you are taking a few, this is built in bar prep. Time spent during reading week learning Secured Transactions is time you can spend taking extra MBE questions during bar prep. Preparing for this set of finals is still important.
I understand the reality of the last set of finals and the fun that ensues. I highly encourage everyone to safely enjoy an amazing accomplishment. The amount of people that have the ability to obtain a J.D. is miniscule. Walking across the stage is a moment to cherish. Just make sure that walking across the stage is the last thing to get the J.D., not an extra class after grades come out. Prepare well now to enjoy the ceremony later.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has indicated that the national average MBE multiple-choice scaled score for the February 2018 bar exam declined once again. As illustrated in the chart below, the MBE score has declined from near-term highs of 138 to 132.8 in just the span of a few short years.
According to the NCBE, "[r]epeat test takers comprised about 70% of those who sat in February 2018 and had an average score of 132.0, a 1.7-point decrease compared to February 2017. This result drove the change in the overall February 2018 MBE mean." http://www.ncbex.org/news/repeat-test-taker-scores-drive-february-2018-average-mbe-score-decline/.
In contrast, the NCBE reports that the February 2018 average MBE score for first-time takers remained relatively flat, 135.0 for February 2018 first-time takers as compared to 135.3 for February 2017 first-time takers. There have been several changes to the MBE exam over the last few years. In February 2015, the NCBE added another subject to the scope of the multiple-choice exam with the addition of Federal Civil Procedure. And, in February 2017, the NCBE changed the number of pre-test (otherwise known as experimental) questions from 10 to 25, resulting in the 200 point scaled score calculated out of a total of 175 graded questions rather than previous MBE exams which graded 190 questions. In addition, for the February 2018 MBE exam, the scope of Property Law was expanded to include some new sub-topics.
For those of you taking the July 2018 exam, there are several take-aways. First, the MBE exam is a difficult exam. Second, you can't learn to pass the exam without practicing the exam. Third, statistics don't determine your destiny; rather, your destiny is in your hands, in short, it's in the reading, the analyzing, and the practicing of multiple-choice questions that can make a real positive difference for your own individual score. So, please don't fret. It's not impossible...at all.
Finally, let me be frank. In my own case, as I work through practice MBE questions, I am NEVER confident that I am getting the answers correct. And, that is REALLY frustrating. In fact, when I get a question right, I am glad but often surprised. So, I try to NOT be confident that I have chosen the correct answer but rather be CONFIDENT that I am reading CAREFULLY and that I am METHODICALLY puzzling through the answer choices to step-by-step eliminate incorrect choices to help me better get to the correct answers.
So, for those of you taking the bar exam this summer, take it slow and steady. Ponder over every multiple-choice question you can. Eliminate obviously wrong choices. And, you might even keep a daily journal of your multiple-choice progress, perhaps by simply creating a spreadsheet of the issues tested, the rules used, and a few helpful tips as reminders of what to be on the lookout for as you approach your bar exam this summer. In short, make it your aim to be a problem-solver learner. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
It is about that time of the semester when students are simply tired. Most, if not all of their major commitments are completed and the final commitment is probably to finish off the semester. At this time, moaning and groaning are common. Some students simply want classes to end so they can begin to prepare for exams while others would rather skip exams and begin the summer break.
From this group of students, I hear: “I am over it!” “I don’t care anymore.” “I am ready to graduate.” “Get me out of here, I have completely checked-out.” For many 3Ls, fatigue seems to weigh them down as the end approaches; commencement marks the end of their legal education and the beginning of their professional careers. As students, they worked hard for almost three years as they assumed leadership roles, were members of student organizations, worked with various legal entities, participated in legal clinics and a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and have almost completed the requirements for graduation. These students are simply tired! Completing and submitting bar applications seemed to mark the end but they are quickly reminded that they still have final exams ahead. Gearing up for commencement by ordering graduation regalia, notifying family and friends, and planning graduation celebrations are exciting activities that seem to serve only as a distraction from the inevitable, exams. I try to remind students that “their journeys are not over until they are over,” they still need to pass classes to obtain their degree. They probably do not want to return to the same institution after walking across the stage at commencement or self-sabotage by failing to complete one of the requirements necessary to sit for most bar exams, completion of a law degree. This reality check appears to provide temporary motivation for some.
For this group of students, 2Ls, the thrill of the first semester of the second year of law school has disappeared. They began the academic year excited and motivated because they got to select their course schedule and participate in all of the activities they hoped for in law school. Many probably overcommitted themselves to a variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities they ambitiously thought they could simultaneously undertake. They were initially motivated by the excitement and energy earned from study abroad, externship, legal work, and courses completed over the summer. New extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that motivated them now appear routine and in retrospect, many realize that they overcommitted themselves. At this point, 2Ls are desperately trying to re-energize in order to finish the semester strong. Those who already have summer opportunities lined-up seem less motivated. My reality check to this group is: “you did it to yourself, you committed to these activities so you need to finish your commitments.”
These students are simply in shock that legal writing is officially over or will be over within a matter of days. They have spent so much time with their appellate briefs and it was a major aspect of their second semester. A task that seemed impossible at first manifested in the completion of the appellate brief, oral argument, and the legal writing course. Many tell me that for the first time in months, they happily and restfully took naps or slept for a full eight hours. Many are also excited to devote their complete attention to preparing for final exams. Some students whom I have not seen in a while are suddenly appearing in my office to discuss final exams. The realization that the end of the first year of law school is in sight seems overwhelming. My reality check to this group is: “you have a lot of work to do because you somewhat disengaged from your doctrinal classes and now have limited time to get on track so plan wisely and maximize the time you have remaining.” (Goldie Pritchard)
Sunday, April 8, 2018
The grapevine (or rumor mill depending on your school's terminology) is working overtime right now. Students are coming in daily to tell me the latest that is circulating among the students - especially the 1L class. Some of what I am hearing has some truth, but much of it is mixed at best or totally wrong at worst. Here is some sorting of the wheat from the chaff:
Grapevine Advice #1: If you have any class absences left, now is the time to take them to gain more exam study time.
- Pro: Selective use of a class absence on a day when you understood the material deeply and have a reliable friend to take notes might not be disastrous.
- Cons: The disadvantages of using up class absences far outweigh this advantage.
- The material during the last few weeks of class is also going to be on the exam, so skipping class is detrimental to your understanding exam material.
- Professors talk about the exams during the last weeks and provide more details. Relying on another student to pass on this inside scoop in all its detail is risky.
- Course material in the last weeks is often the very material that pulls together topics or the whole semester, so missing class impacts your synthesis of the course.
- Some professors test the last part of the course more heavily than earlier introductory/foundational material.
- Even your very best friend may not take notes that include information that you would include because your cognitive processing styles may differ.
Grapevine Advice #2: For the last weeks of class, study one course each week for any extra time you have in your schedule.
- Pro: You focus completely on one subject matter instead of spreading your time and focus over multiple courses.
- Cons: The disadvantages of focusing on one course each week outweigh this advantage.
- We forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review regularly. Your knowledge of Course 1 will diminish over the intervening weeks before you cycle back to it.
- This review method treats all courses equally even though they usually are not equal. Amount of material covered, difficulty of material for you personally, your own status as to an up-to-date outline, type of exam questions, prior review that you have already completed, and more can make courses "unequal."
- You may not have enough weeks left to cover the number of courses you are taking. Upper-division law students often have more exam courses than 1L students.
Grapevine Advice #3: Focus on exam study for courses in the order of your exams.
- Pro: It is wise to consider the order of your exams as an aspect of your exam strategy because you need to be ready by each exam date.
- Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
- The first two cons listed above for advice #2 also apply to this grapevine advice.
- An exam schedule is often not evenly spaced. If some exams are on consecutive days and other exams have gaps in between, that specific schedule should be considered.
Grapevine Advice #4: Study really hard for the courses that have more credit hours and consider the others as secondary.
- Pro: You recognize that a 4-credit course covered more material than a 3-credit course, so it is important in your scheduling of study time.
- Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
- Every course can help or hurt your grade point average. You do not know how others will do in the course and how that will affect the grading curve.
- Your grade point average is based on both credits and quality points. An "A" grade in a three-credit course (4 quality points X 3 credits = 12 quality points) affects your grade point average the same way a "B" in a four-credit course does (3 quality points X 4 credits = 12 quality points).
- Legal research/writing courses often garner fewer credits, but employers put a lot of emphasis on those grades. They know you can learn a new topic on the job. They will not teach you to research and write on the job.
You want to study for exams in a way that will maximize your time and your strengths in exam preparation. Consider these things:
- Unless a professor says a topic is excluded from the exam, all material is fair game.
- Completing more exam studying before the end of classes will leave you less material to review for the first time during exams.
- Some students focus best with variety and would want to study multiple courses during the same day or week.
- Starting off with your most difficult course for a few days may lower your anxiety about that course, so you can then focus better on other courses.
- Some students are weaker on synthesis, policy, or sifting out the trivial things; they need more study time on these aspects.
- Some students are weaker on methodologies, nuances in applying the law, or preciseness in stating the law. They need more study time on these aspects.
- Any study schedule you devise needs to allow for lots of practice questions several days after you study a topic.
- You want to consider this time period to be a marathon and not a sprint. Short breaks every 90 minutes and longer breaks every 3 or 4 hours will help you focus.
- Remember to add sleep, nutritious meals, and exercise to your study schedule - you brain will work better.
If you want to brainstorm study strategies that will work for you, visit with your academic support professional at your law school. That professional can help you sort out the truth from the myth in the grapevine advice you are hearing. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, March 25, 2018
The semester is rapidly coming to an end. Students are juggling paper deadlines, studies for finals, the banquet/ball season, applications for summer jobs, registration for next year's courses, and much more. Some students are also anxious over midterm exam grades that were not as high as they had hoped.
The level of tension in the building is on the rise. In conversations with students, I have been hearing sentences including phrases such as "I wish I had...," "if only I...," "time got away...," and other regrets. A few of the conversations also include phrases such as "everyone else...," "my classmates are better than me...," and "maybe I'm not good enough...," and other comparisons.
Here in West Texas, the weather has hit the mid-80's, and spring fever is compounding any motivational problems. Coming off Spring Break into such warm temperatures has made the same-old-same-old routine seem even less inviting.
Try these strategies for staying in control over the next weeks as the semester winds down:
- Put the past behind you. You can only control what you do in the present and future. Stow the regrets for later when rethinking your work strategies for next semester.
- Stop the comparisons to everyone else. You are you and need to focus on what you are able to accomplish.
- Decide where you can study most efficiently and effectively. Where can you focus best? Where can you find a less stressful environment? What environment offers the least distractions and interruptions?
- Plan your exam studying. Look at your weekly schedule and carve out times to devote regularly to exam studying for each course. Think you don't have any time? Look at unused time between classes, TV/video game time, social media time, wasted weekend time, etc.
- Divide each course up into the topics with subtopics that will be on the final exam. You can often find time to study a subtopic when finding time to study an entire topic seems impossible. Any progress, however small, is still progress!
- Use practice questions wisely. If you review material well before doing hard practice questions, it is more efficient and effective. You need real feedback on future exam performance, not squishy "well if I had studied I would have been okay on that question" excuses.
- Choose study partners carefully. Who is serious about doing well? Who is on top of the course? Whose schedule fits with yours? Whose group dynamics do you need to avoid?
- After you study a topic, list the areas of confusion/questions you still have. Go to your professor often to get clarification instead of storing up all your questions until the end of the course.
- Spend time with positive people! Your motivation will increase if you surround yourself with people with "can do" attitudes.
- Get into a healthy routine to benefit your brain and body. Sleep, nutritious meals, and moderate exercise will help your productivity, mental well-being, and energy.
If you are having trouble planning your work, stop in to see the academic support professionals at your school. They can help you prioritize your work and manage your time better. Expert learners ask for help when they need it. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 22, 2018
It's not too late, at all.
With most law students facing final exams in a month or so, this is the perfect time for your law students to reflect on their learning...with the goal of making concrete beneficial improvements right now, i.e., with plenty of time to prepare for their final exams.
There are many such self-evaluation learning 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.
In fact, just prior to spring break, I asked these questions of my own law students, and I am taking stock of their responses by making changes where needed in my own content and instructional methods too. You see, learning is a team effort, so it is important to get concrete information from all of your team members (your students) to identify what is helping your students learning, what might be hindering their learning, and what goals have yet to be achieved for the course thus far.
In my own course this semester, there were two questions that tended to be most valuable. First, with respect to what might be most hindering learning, I received a number of responses questioning the value of the "think-pair-share" method as a tool to help activate meaningful classroom engagement. Based on those responses, I am hard at work doing research and re-evaluating my own use of "think-pair-share" to confirm whether in fact the method is an effective learning tool for my classrooms this term.
The final question also seemed to provide valuable information about my students' learning, namely, in asking them what they might do differently to improve their overall course grade. To paraphrase their general responses, most students acknowledged that: "It's time to put some more elbow grease into my learning because learning takes curious, engaging, and enterprising hard work on my part." I was glad to see so many take ownership over their learning.
But, as a word of caution, I was quite afraid to ask these questions. You see, I have 123 students; that means that I was bound to receive news that I just didn't want to hear because, frankly, I like to be liked. But, my job as a teacher is not to be liked but to be good at what I have been hired to do. That's my responsibility to my students. It's my obligation to them. So, rather than fretting and worrying about what my students might say, I found out. Yes, some of the comments were a bit painful for me to read. But, read them I did. And, more importantly, I stepped back to take them to heart to see whether there might be things that I ought to change to improve my students' learning for the remainder of the semester.
Looking back, I'm mighty glad I asked because it's already helping me to become a better teacher to my students this semester, while I still have time to make a positive difference in the learning. So, feel free to use these questions with your students this semester. (Scott Johns).
Monday, March 5, 2018
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.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
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." https://www.wsj.com/mostchillnationiscrushingit
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.
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 it...and...you've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events. (Scott Johns).
Monday, February 19, 2018
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!
Monday, February 12, 2018
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:
- Do I have an updated outline for each of my courses?
- Have I briefed every case?
- Was I ready for class discussion each day?
- Am I consistently under-prepared for a particular class?
- What additional activities do I need to accomplish (ie - more practice with feedback)?
- What do I need to change now to get more done?
Substantive Knowledge: (complete these activities without looking at your outline, notes, etc.)
- Try to write down the major topics or headings for each course on separate sheets of paper.
- After writing down the major headings, try to write down the smaller issues within each heading.
- Try to write down the rules and exceptions for each of the issues.
- 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.
- Looking at the handwritten flowchart or outline, try to think of facts that are required to test each of the issues.
- 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.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
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).
Thursday, January 18, 2018
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 technology...in 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: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/business/laptops-not-during-lecture-or-meeting.html
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: http://lawteaching.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Fall-2017-Law-Teacher-final.pdf
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).
Thursday, January 4, 2018
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: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf
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).
Sunday, December 10, 2017
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)