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)
Friday, December 8, 2017
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)
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
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)
Thursday, November 30, 2017
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. http://curiousgeorgedocumentary.com.
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: http://www.law.du.edu/oldcoloradoexams
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
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)
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
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:
- Important/Urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally, e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.
- Important/Not Urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally, e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.
- Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are delegated, e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.
- Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are dropped, e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.
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)
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
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)
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
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:
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:
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:
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)
Sunday, November 5, 2017
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)
Thursday, November 2, 2017
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).
Monday, October 30, 2017
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)
Saturday, October 28, 2017
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)
Monday, October 23, 2017
It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.
As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.
By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.
As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)
October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 16, 2017
I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.
I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.
Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!
Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)
October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 12, 2017
The Smart-Phone Dilemna: "Blood Pressure Spikes, Pulse Quickens, Problem-Solving Skills Decline," says Columnist
As recently reported by columnist Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year."
Most of us don't think that's too awful. I certainly depend on mine...and all the time. It's become my phone, my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my companion, my navigator, my weather channel, to name just a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable nano-technology. But, here's the rub. Accordingly to Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies that, as the headline above suggests, indicate that smart phone access is harmful, well, to one's intellectual, emotional, and perhaps even bodily health.
Let me just share a few of the cited studies from Mr. Carr's article on "How Smart-phones Hijack Our Minds." https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811?mod=e2tw
First, as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a California study that suggests that the mere presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities. In the study of 520 undergraduate students, the researches - using a TED lecture talk - tested students on their exam performance based on their understanding of the lecture with the students divided into three separate groups. In one classroom, the students placed their cellphones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam. In another classroom the students had to stow their cellphones so that they didn't have immediate access (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight--out-of-mind" approach). In the last classroom situation, the students had to leave their cellphones in a different room from the lecture hall. Almost all of the students reported that the placement or access of their cell phones did not compromise their exam performance in anyway. But, the test results shockingly indicated otherwise. The students with cellphones on their desks performed the worst on the exam. In addition, even the students with the cellphones stowed performed not nearly as good as the students who were not permitted to bring cellphones to the lecture. Apparently, just the knowledge that one's cellphone is ready and standing by negatively impacts learning.
Second, also as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a Arkansas study that suggests that students can improve their exam performance by a whole letter grade merely by leaving one's cellphone behind when headed to classes. In that study of 160 students, the researchers found that those students who had their phones with them in a lecture class, even if they did not access or use them, performed substantially worse than those students that abandoned their cellphones prior to class, based on test results on cognitive understanding of the lecture material. In other words, regardless of whether one uses one's cellphone during class, classroom learning appears to be compromised just with the presence of one's cellphone.
Third, as again reported by Mr. Carr, cellphone access or proximity not only hinders learning but also harms social communication and interpersonal skills. In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation. Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a cellphone present. The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no cell phones available. The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation that the subjects experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy. The researches found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were "personally meaningful topic[s]." In sum, two-way conversations aren't necessary two-way when a cellphone is involved, even if it is not used.
Finally, Mr. Carr shares research out of Columbia University that suggests that our trust in smartphones and indeed the internet compromises our memorization abilities. In that study, the researches had participants type out the facts surrounding a noteworthy news event with one set of participants being told that what they typed would be captured by the computer while the other set of subjects were told that the facts would be immediately erased from the computer. The researchers then tested the participants abilities to accurately recall the factual events. Those that trusted in the computer for recall had much more difficulty recalling the facts than those who were told that they couldn't rely on the computer to retain the information. In other words, just the thought that our computers will accurately record our notes for later use, might harm our abilities to recall and access information. And, as Mr. Carr suggests, "only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."
Plainly, that's a lot to think about. And, with all of the conversations swirling about as to whether teachers should ban laptops from classrooms, it might just add "fuel to the fire." On that question, this article does not opine. But, regardless of whether you take notes on a computer or not, according to the research, there's an easy way to raise your letter grade by one grade. Just leave your smartphone at home, at your apartment, or in your locker...whenever you go to classes. (Scott Johns).
Monday, October 2, 2017
I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.
Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.
A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.
But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)
I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.
It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams.
So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.
I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.
It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)
October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, October 1, 2017
A wide range of study aids is available to law students. You need to choose carefully which study aids to use and when to use them. Otherwise you can be overwhelmed by choice and waste time and effort.
What type of study aid do you need for the task?
- Study aids that are strictly commentaries. These study aids explain the law in depth. Examples: Understanding Law, Concise Hornbooks, Hornbooks, Inside, Mastering, Foundation, Concepts & Insights, Nutshells, Law School Legends (audio), Sum & Substance (audio).
- Study aids that are commentaries with embedded questions. These study aids explain the law in depth with questions in the text to illustrate the concepts and provide the reader with practice on the narrow issues being discussed. Examples: Examples & Explanations, Glannon Guides.
- Study aids that contain short summaries of the material with or without practice questions/problems. Examples: Acing, Short & Happy Guides, Skills & Values.
- Study aids that are lengthy outline versions of the material. These study aids typically have exam tips and practice questions as well. Examples: Gilbert Law Summaries, Emanuel Law Outlines, and Black Letter Outlines.
- Study aids that are mixed volumes with summaries of material, visual organizers, and practice questions. Examples: Finals, CrunchTime.
- Study aids that are strictly practice question books. Examples: ExamPro, Siegel's, Friedman's, Q&A.
- Study aids that are flashcards to help you memorize the black letter law. Examples: Law in a Flash, Lawdecks, Spaced Repetition.
When and how should you use a study aid?
- To preview information quickly before starting a topic, scan a summary study aid to get a general idea of the terms and subtopics you will be studying.
- To pull together the information quickly at the end of a topic before outlining, scan a summary study aid to see what you studied. You may find the summary's structure useful for determining your outline structure if the table of contents for your casebook or your professor's syllabus does not provide a structure.
- To clear up confusion, a commentary study aid is often useful at the point of outlining. After you have pulled together your own notes and briefs into an outline, you will be more aware of what you understand fully, partially, or not at all. Read a commentary to help with the parts you do not understand and then flesh out your outline as needed. (It is very inefficient to read topics that you understand fully. Focus on what you do not know.)
- To review material while doing chores, on the treadmill, or on a trip, you may find it useful to listen to one of the audio commentaries for a course. Consider listening to a section and then stopping the CD to explain that section aloud to check your comprehension.
- To find questions to help you clarify information for narrow issues when you outline, turn to the commentaries with embedded questions. These questions will help you think through the material for that narrow issue as "starter questions." However, these questions may be easier than "exam-worthy questions" because they are so focused on a specific issue.
- To test your ability to apply the law that you have already learned well, use the practice questions in the mixed volumes, practice question books, or commercial outlines. These questions are often intermediate level in difficulty. For the hardest exam practice questions, visit your law school's exam database.
- To test retention of material, application of it to new scenarios, and exam-taking strategies, complete practice questions at least 2-3 days after the material is learned well. If you complete questions too close to the review, you will automatically get them right.
- To test your ability to perform under time restraints in an exam, do as many practice questions as possible under exam conditions. For essay questions, read/analyze the fact pattern, outline an answer, and write an answer in the time period that would be required for that length/difficulty of a question. For objective questions, complete question sets in a realistic time frame for segments of your professor's exam.
- To memorize the black letter law, use flashcards throughout the semester to learn items over time. Cramming for memorization at the end of the semester is usually very ineffective.
What are some cautions in using study aids?
- Study aids are written for purchase and use by all law students in the country. Tailor your use to what matches your professor's coverage of the topics in the volumes.
- If your professor's version of the course differs from a study aid, learn your professor's version - the grader of your exam is the person to please.
- Check the copyright date of a study aid: Is it recent? Do you have the latest edition? Has the law changed since it was published?
- Check the jurisdictions covered by the study aid: Is it national in scope? Is it state specific? Does it cover the variations (UCC, Restatement, etc.) that your professor will test?
- Greater learning occurs when you generate your own study aids because you process the information instead of just reading what someone else processed. Examples: flashcards, outlines, flowcharts.
Study aids can be great supplements to your learning - however, they are not substitutes for your being an active learner and doing the hard work. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Perhaps surprisingly, there might be some ancient history right under your nose illustrating the value of creating "picture-books" to teach, guide, synthesis, and communicate legal principles at work. At least, that's the case at one law school's library (and it might be the same at your law library).
As related by the Wall Street Journal, the use of illustrations to depict the law is nothing new. And, it's not really old either because a brief internet search provides lots of exemplars, even in legal educational settings, of the value of "seeing" the law through pictures and illustrations. So, as you approach midterms or just want to help catch the "big picture" overview of your notes and outlines, feel free to doodle. Let yourself go wild with your legal imagination. Create something in a picture, as they say, that is worth a thousand words. That will be a great way to remember all of those words without having to try to even remember them!
For your reference, here's the article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/laws-picture-books-the-yale-law-library-collection-illustrating-the-letter-of-the-law-1506460653 (Scott Johns)