Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Monday marks the first day of exams for 1L students at my institution and I can sense it. Students are stressed and it is only going to get worse. Students are trying to determine what they can accomplish in the limited amount of time they have remaining. Students simply feel overwhelmed by the exam preparation process. At this point, we need to move beyond regret and encourage students to be as effective and efficient as they can be given the task at hand. Here are the top three things concerned students will likely hear from me:
(1) Quality over Quantity
I hear of students spending hours in the library simply to spend hours in the library. Some students feel a sense of accomplishment if they spend hours in the library, even if they are not studying the entire time. Presence in the library equates to information somehow being learned and retained. A library is an amazing place for students with a plan. Students who have a plan, implement the plan, and set deadlines are often more successful and better prepared for exams. A library can be an amazing learning environment if used appropriately. Start your studies with concepts you find most difficult and are most afraid of.
Attempt a practice question for each and every subject area and attempt questions using the various modes of testing used by your professors. Exam day should not be the first time you write the answer to a practice question. It is also not enough to write answers to questions, it is important to know how to critique answers. More importantly, it is necessary to be honest with yourself about your performance. Challenging practice questions are not intended to be discouraging but to highlight what you know and don’t know which can be a very useful study tool.
Checklists are a great way to ensure that you are addressing all possible issues in an issue spotter exam and to ensure that you are addressing all elements or parts of a rule for each specific issue. Checklists can also be a great mechanism for starting the process of memorizing information. All the very best to law students everywhere taking exams in the very near future! (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, December 1, 2016
With exams for many students in full swing, the question becomes how "paced" to "pace" oneself in between a series of final exams. Let me offer one thought as you swing from preparing and tacking one exam to preparing and taking another exam.
For most of us, because we are under significant time pressures to read, organize, and write final exam answers, we tend to approach our preparation efforts with the similar feeling (i.e., that we will never be able to finish a final exam on time) unless we spend most of our exam preparation efforts engaged in timed practice.
In other words, we try our best to work on speed at all costs because we are so worried that we will never finish the exam. But, if you work on speed, you will never get better...only faster. And, that's where the story of the tortoise and the hare comes in.
You know the story. The hare bolts but soon runs out of energy because she did not pace herself. She practiced sprinting in the moment rather than running the race for the long prize.
On the other hand, the tortoise - slow and methodical - just keeps plodding along, step by step, pace by pace, moment by moment, until, against all odds, the tortoise passes the hare and crosses the finish line to the astonishment of all...in first prize.
You see, it is not true that those that write the most or finish the exam the quickest earn the best grades.
Rather, success on final exams comes in showing your work, step by step, pace by pace, moment by moment, in solving legal problems as a professional attorney would do. And, that requires not sprinting in bursts of practice but rather in thinking carefully and slowly and critically and methodically through lots of practice final exam problems.
In short, the key to doing your best work on final exams is to slow down your practice, to reflect on your reading, analysis, and writing, and to incorporate what you learn through each practice set so that you become better able to handle future legal problem-solving scenarios.
Let me give you another picture. Perhaps you've heard the saying: "Chew the cud." According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase means to "think slowly and carefully about the subject." It's roots come to use from another animal account, this time dealing with cows.
You see, cows are said to "chew the cud." Unlike many animals that just swallow their food, cows are constantly chewing their food. That's because the process of digesting food for cows requires a number of steps. First, cows need to chew their food to moisten it in preparation for digestion and send it to a part of their stomachs that adds acids to further soften the food. Then (and this is going to get a bit gross), the first bites of food are sent back to the mouth from the stomach (i.e., regurgitated) so that the cows further chew the softened food so that another part of the stomach can property extract the critical nutrients. http://www.cattle-empire.net/blog/115/what-cud-and-why-do-cattle-chew-it In short, cows can't get fed from food that doesn't get crunched, regurgitated, and then re-crunched again. And, we can't do well on final exams unless we chew on exam problems, write out exam answers, and then review and re-write our answers so that we learn.
In brief, the short days in between exams should be filled with "chewing the cud" by slowly and methodically working through practice problems so that we learn how to get the most out of our preparation efforts for final exams. Or, as another saying goes, "haste makes waste." So, take your time and think carefully and slowly rather than hastily and carelessly as you work through practice problems in preparation for your next final exam. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Two of the most important workshops offered by our Academic Success Program (ASP) are consistently poorly attended. It may be because they are programs offered later in the semester or because students fail to recognize the value of the workshops until after exams. The first workshop is the Legal Analysis Workshop which addresses how to effectively issue spot, how to organize answers to essay questions, and how to develop effective analysis. Students with graded midterms seem to take the time to attend the Legal Analysis Workshop because they want to perform well on their exams or simply want to ensure that they can make positive adjustments prior to final exams. Most students are of the impression that they have a firm grasp of what is expected on exams and know how they will perform. However, for some, this is a false sense of confidence and students who really need this information to not seek it out.
The second workshop is an Exam Preparation Workshop which is presented in collaboration with our Student Affairs Office. This workshop is presented prior to Fall break to encourage students to make adjustments during the break. The workshop addresses various exam preparation skills such as memorization, resolving challenging concepts, developing a study plan given the time constraints, and applying information to multiple choice and essay questions. Once grades are posted, I am often visited by students who inquire about why we do not offer exam preparation support or help students learn how to take law school exams. I am often perplexed because the programs are advertised using a number of outlets. Students can also meet with the ASP directors individually, with Teaching Assistants who add these components to their sessions, and/or obtain information about exam preparation posted electronically. Once I inform them about all these opportunities and how to acquire the information; they either tell me that they were not paying attention or felt overwhelmed by other aspects of law school. They often say: “I should have come earlier” which always makes me smile. We leave the past behind and work on the tasks ahead, preparing for the next set of exams. 1Ls, please seek out academic support resources at your law school as it is never too late to receive help. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
As exams and paper deadlines approach, it is easy to procrastinate. Here are some clues that you are not using your time wisely and missing out on oomph in your studies:
- You have alphabetized your casebooks and study aids on your bookshelf, sharpened three dozen pencils, hole-punched two hundred documents for pretty color-coded binders, made 1000 tabs for your code book, and straightened the drawers of your desk - but you have not actually studied yet.
- Your apartment is spotless after you have done spring cleaning (after all you did not do it in April): scrubbed all baseboards, dusted every nook and cranny, washed all drapes and throws, polished the wood floors, shampooed the carpets, cleaned out closets, and polished the porcelain surfaces to a gleaming finish.
- You have focused on Christmas shopping (Black Friday and Cyber Monday were just a start) and scoured every store for presents for family, friends, family pets, friends' pets, neighbors, neighbors' pets, distant relatives, the mailman, the cute barista at Starbucks, etc.
- You have decided to decorate and ready your apartment for the holidays: put up your tree, hung the wreaths, strung the outdoor lights, made popcorn or construction paper chains to festoon your evergreen, baked cookies, hung stockings with care by the chimney, and wrapped endless packages in perfectly coordinated ribbons and paper.
- You paint the living room, dining room, bedrooms, and kitchen, then redo the kitchen backsplash with an intricate mosaic that takes hours to finish, replace all countertops and the sink (you always wanted one of those farmhouse models), and decide to go shopping for new stainless steel appliances for the perfect look.
- You write actual letters to every high school and college friend you every had (after all what says happy holidays like a handwritten missive), talk for hours on the telephone with every relative, review the 2000 emails in your inbox to see what might need deleting, and read every piece of junk mail that lands in your real-world mailbox.
- You set a goal to study right after you watch every episode for all seasons of Downton Abbey or become world champion on your favorite gaming indulgence whether that is Pokémon Go, solitaire, or the latest really cool video game.
Do you think I am kidding? All of these scenarios reflect procrastinating law students I have known with very little exaggeration in the details. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Thanksgiving is over - except maybe the leftovers. Most folks end up with a surfeit of turkey, dressing (stuffing to some of you), sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, succotash, greens, biscuits, cranberry sauce, gravy, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, etc. Your refrigerator's stock may look different depending on your region of the country, culinary tastes, and family traditions. However, leftovers are pretty universal everywhere after the big day.
Some people love the leftovers better than the initial feast! Others groan every time they look at all of the food still waiting to be eaten. Exam study strikes many law students the same way that leftovers are viewed.
For some students, exam study is better than the semester's courses. They are into pulling it all together (yes, you can use that fancy word "synthesizing" that law professors love) and finally understanding what the semester was about. They love the accomplishment of focusing on the main concepts and applying them (finally) to practice questions. For them exam study is a delightful feast of previously unrecognizable and half-baked concepts that now are fully learned and understood. A delicious culinary delight, rather than dreary leftovers! (They do not love exams, mind you; but they love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with their exam review.)
For other students, exam study is a dreaded rehash of an already eaten meal. They have gotten the gist of the course all semester and were fully satisfied with just that - a gist. Now they are being forced to sit down and eat the meal a second time - leftovers that they did not consume the first time: nuances in the law, precise rule statements, specific methodologies to use. They just want the leftovers gone and may try to feed the sweet potato casserole under the table to the dog (messy to say the least). In an effort to avoid the leftovers they do not like, they may go straight for dessert and focus only on the parts they have already mastered or the topics they like most. Some of these students will get up from the table so often during the review process that they never really savor the meal at all.
Both of these types of exam studiers, although different in perspective on the process, are basically cramming the Thanksgiving meal at the end of the semester. Next fall semester, they will enjoy it more if they take small bites throughout the semester, savor it day by day, digest it slowly, and proclaim its tasty merits along the way. Then they will be truly well-fed all semester and be able to eat in moderation at the big meal. They will have the ability to pick and choose from leftovers rather than overeating because they did not get enough nourishment over the semester. They will avoid the heartburn of cramming all of it down at the very end. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, November 21, 2016
Thanksgiving is almost upon us. Wow, the semester went by fast. As you go into Thanksgiving Break and exam study mode, here are some suggestions:
· Add any new material to your outlines on the last class day before Thanksgiving Break so that your master documents for exam study are ready to use during the break.
· If you are travelling during the break, consider whether you could get some studying done while on your journey:
o Could you listen to study aid audio CDs to review material in a course during your drive?
o Could you read through an outline while sitting in the airport?
o Could you work through flashcards during that layover?
o If travelling with another law student, could you discuss class material or quiz each other?
· Remember that each study day has three parts to it: morning (8 a.m. – noon); afternoon (1 – 5 p.m.); evening (6 – 10 p.m.). Determine which parts of the day are your optimal study times.
o When are you most alert and productive?
o When can you schedule study time around family activities if you are going home?
· On the morning of your first study day during the break, read all of your outlines through once. This read-through will accomplish several things:
o It will refresh your memory on everything you covered this semester in each course.
o It will give you a change to identify areas that you know well, need some work on, and need a great deal of work on before the exam in the course.
· If you will have trouble studying while out of town, consider leaving town later or coming back earlier to optimize your study time here.
· If studying at your family’s home will not work because of distractions, consider going to the local public or college library, the business center of your family’s apartment complex, or some other place to study.
· Take Thanksgiving Day off if you can afford to do so with your exam study. You will feel better for having a holiday. And if you are with family, they will be happier with you for joining them for the day’s festivities and traditions.
· Finish class preparation for the last class days after the break (if that is your law school's schedule) over the Thanksgiving Break if possible to open up more study time during the last class week.
o Then you will need to review the material to refresh your memory before you go to class each day.
o If you are flying home, photocopy the pages you have to read rather than take all of your casebooks with you.
· If you have papers or projects due the week you come back, try to finish a final draft by Sunday night of the break so that the remaining time can be devoted just to editing, citation checks, and printing the paper.
· Do a final update of your outlines for new material on the last class day after the break for each course. You want to be ready to study on the first reading day and not play catch up.
Have safe travels and a happy holiday this week. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Wow; do I ever get distracted...with emails...incoming snapchats....Facebook posts....and just the overall buzz of the omnipresent internet. There is so much NOISE that takes up so much of my TIME that I seem to get so LITTLE done. That's particularly true for me in preparing for exams because, to be honest, I am a big-time procrastinator...with a CAPITAL P!
In fact, I was just fretting about how much I had to do today (which, of course, is related to my procrastination issues) when I came across an article by Lucette Lugando describing how surgeons stay focused during organ transplants. Hum...That's what I need. To Focus. To Stay on Task. To Just Get Something Meaningful Done Today! http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-surgeons-stay-focused-for-hours-1479310052
So, here are a few thoughts that I gleaned from Lugando's article that might be especially handy as law students (and myself) begin to prepare for final exams.
1. First, put away my cellphone. Turn it off. Hide it. Ditch it. As detailed in Lugando's article, "Transplant surgeons, whose work includes stitching minuscule blood vessels together, minimize their distractions. No one checks cellphones in the operating room during surgery." No one checks their phones? Really? Are you kidding? Of course not, at least not during surgery. And, exam preparation requires us to do surgery, so to speak, on our study tools and on loads of practice exams. Thus, as I create study tools or as I learn by taking practice exams, I can help myself mightily by placing my focus on my work at hand... rather than the cellphone that is so often in my hand...by removing the "cellphone temptation" out of my grasp. Who knows? It might even lower my anxiety to stop looking at it constantly.
2. Second, sharpen my field of vision to the bare essentials (working on my study tools, practicing lots of exam questions, and looping the lessons learned from my practice problems back into my study tools) by creating an environment that is free of my own personal distractions...so that I focus on learning rather than the noise that is so often around me. As Lugando points out, "The surgeons often wear loupes mounted on eye glasses to magnify their work, which limits their field of vision to a few inches." In other words, with respect to final exam preparation, maybe I need to limit my field of vision to the "few" essentials, namely, creating study tools, testing my study tools out through practice exams, and then editing my study tools to incorporate what I learned about problem-solving through the practice exams. Practically speaking, that means that I need to remove all the other objects of distraction within my field of vision, first, by scheduling my study tasks (and not just my study hours) and, second, by setting up a place where I will not be distracted by the environment around me.
There's a saying, apparently by Winston Churchill, that says: "You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks." Or, as Bruce Lee put it, "The successful warrior is the average [person] with a laser-like focus." So, instead of having the cellphone bark at you constantly, you might just try out what surgeons do...and turn your focus into a laser for several hours a day by getting rid of distractions during your study periods as you create your study tools and practice final exam problems. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Crunch time is fast approaching for law students. Exams are getting closer now that we are nearly two-thirds of the way through the semester. It is a time in the semester when students begin to make study choices that superficially seem good but are really very counter-productive. Here are some tips on making wise decisions:
- Cramming promotes forgetting material as soon as it is dumped on the exam. By reviewing and applying material multiple times, it is more likely to end up in long-term memory - the filing cabinet of your brain. Long-term memory helps you use the material in later courses and retain more material for your ultimate goal of bar review.
- Merely re-reading an outline several hundred times will not result in deep understanding. Remember to really grapple with the material and ask yourself questions. What does this element's definition really mean? How do these rules work together? What fact scenarios would change the outcome when this rule is applied? How would the analysis change under the common law/majority jurisdiction rule and under the restatement/uniform code/state-specific law/etc.?
- Students often take a compartmentalized approach of some variation to studying: two weeks on course 1; the next two weeks on course 2; then two weeks on course 3. However, we forget 80% of what we learn in two weeks if we do not review regularly. By focusing on only one course at a time, you have brain leakage on the other courses - especially the last one in the list.
- It is human nature to spend time on what we already know well and avoid what we do not understand. We go for the safe and cozy. You need to allot sufficient time to address the really difficult material and not leave it until the end for cramming.
- Students often fall for the open-book trap. They study less diligently because of a false sense of security. In reality, students rarely have time in an exam to look up much material. It is better to study the material well with the goal of limited use of any open-book options during the exam.
- It is inefficient to complete intermediate- or expert-level practice questions when one has not studied the material yet. If you do not know the material, you are unlikely to learn it in an organized fashion and synthesize it properly with random exam questions. Learn the material well first so that you can truly monitor your understanding and practice your exam-taking skills to the most advantage.
- Have at least a few days lag time between learning the material and doing those harder practice questions, however. If you do the practice questions right after your review, you will get them right because of the timing. A time lag allows you to monitor your retention and true ability to apply the material.
- Beware of avoiding practice questions because you do not know yet the type of exam (objective, short-answer, essay) you will have. Do a variety of questions for now. You will be ahead of the game if you do as many practice questions as possible to monitor your understanding and application of the law. When your professor announces the exam format(s), switch your efforts to those specific types of practice questions.
- Memorization of the law cannot be done in major stretches of time. Your brain chunks information and has limited capacity to memorize lots of rules at once. Limit your memory drills to bursts of 30 minutes or less. The number of drills for a course will depend on the amount of material and its difficulty.
- Students can be tempted to spend too much time preparing to study or over-elaborating tasks, so that more effective study tasks with lots of results get lost in the process. It is easy to distract oneself with neatly retyping notes, designing artistic visuals worthy of an art gallery, searching for the perfect binder and tabs, cleaning one's study area, lining up highlighters and pens, and stacking up one's study aids. Go for oomph instead of frills.
- Sleep is one of the first things to go (if it has not already). However, lack of sleep is one of the main reasons for low productivity, fuzzy thinking, poor retention/recall of material, and brain freeze. Get 7 - 8 hours every night (preferably with the same bedtime and waking hours) in order to get much more done in less time with the added benefits of real learning and focus.
You want to be efficient (using time wisely) and effective (getting real oomph from that time) during the remaining weeks. By carefully choosing your strategies, you can maximize your exam review. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 29, 2016
As mentioned in a previous blog, most of my law school outlines were - simply put - not outlines…and not useful at all in law school. Rather, my outlines were just my regurgitated notes with my case briefs and class notes filling out the details.
And, there was a good reason that I didn't know how to outline or create another organization tool (such as a flowchart, a map, an audio file, a poster, etc.). That's because I didn't have a framework in mind to organize my notes, briefs, and casebook materials. And, I suspect that many of our students find themselves in similar straits.
So, here's a thought…just a thought. Perhaps Academic Support Professionals might lend a hand in providing the organizational template for outlining.
Here's why. First, the casebook and the class syllabus already provide our students with a rough guide as to methods to organize a law school subject. So, we don't mind giving our students some sort of start in the process. But, the rough guide from a casebook and syllabus are not enough.
That's because the rough outlines in those materials do not provide students with sufficient details to organize the subject. The tables of contents, for example, usually just provide legal terms of art. That's it. No so-called "black letter" law at all.
So, here's the rub. We expect our students to craft the rules for themselves. But, in the practice of law, we don't do that at all. Rather, at least speaking for myself, when I work on a novel legal problem, I don't ever start with a casebook. Instead, I start with a mini-hornbook to provide me an overview of the black letter law, including the big picture "umbrella" rules, such as: A refugee is "one who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion…" Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101(a)(42)(A).
Then, I start digging into the cases to figure out, assuming that the law does not define the various terms, what persecution means or membership in a particular social group, etc. In short, as an attorney, I have never had to create an umbrella rule from scratch based on reading a bunch of cases. Instead, I use the cases to determine how to apply (or distinguish) the rule to (or from) the situations that my clients are facing.
If that is how most of us practice law, then maybe that is how we should study law too. If so (and this is just a hunch of mine), maybe we should be giving our students a template of the black letter law. Then, our students can proactively use that template to flesh out the meanings of the rules, the limits of the rules, and the particular applications of the rules…by inserting within that template their case blurbs, class notes, class hypotheticals, policy rationales, etc.
One of my best professors in law school (and also one of my most difficult in terms of grading) was not afraid at all to set out the black letter law for us, both as a preview of the coming class and as a review of the previous class. With the law set out, we were much better able to dig into the heart of the law…what do the words mean, what are the policy implications behind the rules, should the rules be changed, etc.
In short, we learned to think like a lawyer…even without having to craft our own umbrella rules. And, amazingly, that's one of the few law school classes that I can still recall many of the things that I learned. The others - just like most of my law school outlines - are just faded memories. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 18, 2016
As reported in "Above the Law," there is one thing that we can do to improve our students' grades in all their courses this academic term.
In her post about the article "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance," Kathryn Rubio summarizes the research of Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis that demonstrates that law students that have just one teacher...in just one course...who provide individualized feedback within that course...improve grades for their students...across all courses, even controlling for LSAT and UGPA: http://abovethelaw.com/2016/05/one-thing-can-improve-all-your-law-school-grades/
Here's the proof (or, for those of you that are trial attorneys, the empirical evidence): The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance.
For us, this is incredible news…because…we can make that difference for our students - across all their courses - by integrating individualized feedback through our own courses and programs.
Wow…that's the power of one! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
As mentioned in an earlier post, many law students struggle with time management in exams. Time charting for multiple-choice exams is different than for fact-pattern essay exams. However, time charting is just as important to make sure that a student completes the full exam without rushing at the end or leaving questions blank.
Students often tell me that they have a minute, a minute and a half, or two minutes per question depending on how many questions the professor has announced will be on the exam and the time period allowed. Let's face it, trying to keep those small portions of time in mind over several hours is difficult. You would get whiplash from looking at your watch as you went through 100 questions if you tried to track the time used for most questions.
A time chart with checkpoints is a useful method to make sure you finish the entire exam but do not become hyper about your time per question. The checkpoints provide times when you will evaluate your progress through the exam to see if you are going too quickly or too slowly through the exam.
Most students find that 1/2-hour checkpoints work well if the multiple-choice exam is over two hours long. For shorter multiple-choice exams, 1/4-hour checkpoints may be desirable. The checkpoint alerts you to how many questions you should have been completed by that point in the exam.
Let's say that you have 100 questions to complete in a 4-hour exam. The exam starts at 1:00 p.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. If you have 1/2-hour checkpoints, the questions will be divided into eight segments. 100 divided by 8 = 12.5 questions. If you round up to 13 questions per checkpoint, you will have 9 questions left to complete in your last half hour of the exam. If you round down to 12 questions per checkpoint, you will have 16 questions left to complete in your last half hour of the exam.
Most students would prefer to complete the 13 questions at each checkpoint and have less pressure at the end of the exam. If they complete the 9 questions in the last segment earlier than 5:00 p.m., they will have time to go back and selectively review some questions. Strategically, most students would choose to have the time chart below using 13 questions per segment:
NUMBER OF QUESTIONS COMPLETED
You can modify the number of checkpoints that you choose to reflect exam issues that you might have with multiple-choice. If you know that you tend to rush through and misread or not spend sufficient time analyzing answer options, you may want additional checkpoints to slow you down. If you know that you tend to overthink and get behind in an exam, you may want additional checkpoints to prevent your bogging down. In either of these cases, you might decide you want 20-minute checkpoints instead of 1/2-hour checkpoints.
Should your reserve time in your chart for review of the test? In the time chart above where you only have to complete 9 questions in the last segment, you will garner a few review minutes automatically if your pace stays the same in that segment. However, if you want specific review time, you will need to subtract your reserved review time from the total exam time and then distribute the remaining time appropriately over the questions to determine your checkpoints. For example, if you reserved 20 minutes out of your four hours, you would have 220 minutes to distribute for 100 questions. You would still need to complete 12.5 questions per segment (rounding up to 13 or down to 12).
If you reserve review time, just make sure that you do not review every question because you are more likely to second-guess yourself and change right answers. Instead go back to select questions where you were unsure about the answer. When you initially complete a question, put a check mark in the margin to indicate when you want to review that question later; always bubble in an answer on the Scantron (if using one) and circle on the test paper the choice you have bubbled. If you do not have time to go back to the question, you at least had an answer indicated rather than a blank.
With the check mark noting later review, also indicate how sure you are about that answer choice - 80%, 70%, 60%, 50%, less than 50%. (Some students do not review questions they are at least 80% sure of initially and only indicate lower percentages.) The estimate tells you when you return to the question that you should not second-guess yourself and should only change the answer if you are now more than that percentage sure that the new answer is correct. Practice estimating your degree of certainty when you complete questions during your exam study; you do not want to waste time in the exam trying to determine what 70% certainty is compared to 60%.
If you practice time charting and completing questions at the appropriate pace during your exam study, the methods will be natural when you get into the actual exam. You can also determine ahead whether you are someone who needs additional checkpoints because you are too slow or fast and whether you want to reserve review time or complete the exam using the full time for answering questions once. As soon as the proctor indicates you may begin, you will quickly build your time chart to follow.
If an exam has both a fact-pattern essay portion and a multiple-choice portion, then you will complete two time charts - one for each portion of the exam. For information on time management for fact-pattern essay exams, please see the post on Saturday, April 30th. Good luck on completing your exams! (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 30, 2016
The professor's goals for fact-pattern essay exams are multiple. Within the larger goal of seeing whether students can apply law to new fact scenarios they have never seen, the professor is looking for several aspects:
- Can students spot issues - both the big issues and the sub-issues?
- Can students accurately state the law - and variations of the law such as common law, restatement, or specific codes?
- Can students analyze the arguments for the parties - "showing their work" rather than being conclusory?
- Where appropriate, can students use cases and policy to support the arguments?
- Can students do all of this in an organized manner with concise writing?
- Can students state a conclusion - even if it does not garner points or matter for the "it depends" nature of the question?
- Can students do all of this within the time given for the exam?
For many students, one of the biggest challenges of exam-taking is the time management throughout the exam. Some students finish exams early because they do not methodically work through the questions and miss points that could have been garnered. These students are often the ones that professors lament are conclusory. Other students have problems with completing the entire exam or with being rushed in completing the last few questions. These students are often the ones that professors lament went down rabbit trails.
There are few law school exams where students do not have to complete all of the questions on the exam to get maximum points. The occasional "complete three of the four questions" instruction would be the exception. We know that most law school exams, unlike the undergraduate versions that students have experienced, are written for the full time allotted for the exam. In fact, some professors on purpose write exams that cannot be completed within the time allotted "because I get such an easy grading curve that way."
So how can students get through an entire exam with the best chance of picking up maximum points across the exam? The strategy is to make a time chart for completing the entire exam. When does one make the time chart? As soon as the proctor says, "You may begin." Take a piece of scrap paper (provided in nearly every exam). Read the instructions and look at the point count or time allotment for each exam question. Then do some math for your time chart.
Let's assume that you have five fact-pattern essay questions to complete for the exam in four hours. The exam begins at 1 p.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. Let's also assume that your professor indicates time to be used for each question. Two are indicated as 1-hour questions; two are 45-minute questions; one is a 30-minute question.
The rule of thumb for each of the questions is that you want to spend 1/3 of your time reading, analyzing, and organizing (RAO) your answer and spend 2/3 of your time writing (W) the answer. For the 1-hour questions, that means 20 minutes RAO and 40 minutes W. For the 45-minute questions, that means 15 minutes RAO and 30 minutes W. For the 30-minute question, that means 10 minutes RAO and 20 minutes W. Translating this information into a time chart would look as follows:
1 (1 HOUR)
1:00 – 1:20 p.m.
1:20 – 2:00 p.m.
2 (1 HOUR)
2:00 – 2:20 p.m.
2:20 – 3:00 p.m.
3 (45 MINUTES)
3:00 – 3:15 p.m.
3:15 – 3:45 p.m.
4 (45 MINUTES)
3:45 – 4:00 p.m.
4:00 – 4:30 p.m.
5 (30 MINUTES)
4:30 – 4:40 p.m.
4:40 – 5:00 p.m.
By using the time chart, you can keep track of how you should move through the exam for each question. You are prompted to read more carefully, think through your analysis, and organize your answer to maximize points before writing your answer. You are less likely to forget a fact, miss a case to reference, or skip an element to analyze when you have structure before you write. Professors can find points more easily in an organized and thorough answer. Also, you know exactly when to move on to writing rather than rushing through or stalling on the RAO step.
Using a chart prompts you to write in a more lawyerly manner. You know the points you want to make because of your organization time, and you can more quickly turn those points into concise sentences and paragraphs. You know when to conclude and move on to the next question at the end of the W time so you will consistently work through the entire exam. You do not want to rush at the end or miss completing one or more questions because you did not watch your time.
If you realize a couple of minutes before your W time ends on a question that you will not have time to write everything you wanted in complete sentences or paragraphs, quickly outline the points you would include if you had more time. Some professors will give a few points to that outline; others will not. However, if you have extra time at the end of the exam, you can return to that question and flesh out the outline into sentences and paragraphs. You will not waste time trying to remember what you were thinking.
What if your professor assigns points rather than times to questions? In some cases the points will translate easily into time because points equal obvious time blocks within the overall exam. For example, the same four-hour exam with 8 questions broken down into two 90-point questions and six 10-point questions would equal time (90 + 90 + 60 = 240 points = 240 minutes = 4 hours). Using the 1/3 to 2/3 rule of thumb, you would split time 30 minutes RAO - 60 minutes W for the first two questions and 3-4 minutes RAO and 6-7 minutes W for each of the remaining 6 questions depending on your preference for slightly more RAO time or slightly more W time.
Even when your professor does not make points or minutes obvious, you can still tell proportionately how to use the time given the points. Assume you have two 100 point questions, two 75 point questions, and one 40 point question to complete in the 4 hours. You have 240 minutes; you have 390 points. You can eyeball it, or use a formula: divide the points for the question by the total points for the exam and multiple that number times the total minutes for the exam. If you ball-parked the minutes for ease of math, you would spend 1 hour on each of 100-point questions for 2 hours of the exam time, 45 minutes on each 75-point question for 1 hour and a half of the exam time, leaving 30 minutes on the 40-point question.
What if your professor gives no clue as to points or time? Do not leave your common sense at home. If the difficulty and length of the fact patterns/call of the questions are very similar, divide the time equally among the questions. If some fact patterns are long, some medium, and some short, then divide time proportionately among them.
Finally, what if you are the type of person who must leave time to go back over the exam "just in case you missed something" the first time through the exam. Okay, if you really, really feel compelled to do so . . . . Subtract the amount of review time you want to reserve from the total minutes for the exam. Then reduce the time per question proportionately. Then do a time chart for 1/3-2/3 based on that number of minutes left per question.
Do not let your math phobia paralyze you. If you practice time charting when you are doing longer practice questions before the exam, the method becomes second-nature. Some professors will announce during the week preceding exams how many questions there will be and the points/times allotted for those questions. If you know that information ahead, you can sort out the math before exam day. Then when the proctor says you may begin, you can replicate your time chart on scrap paper. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
We are in the stretch when most law schools are having or about to have Spring Break. Remember the good old undergraduate days when every student headed out for fun in the sun or ski slope heaven depending on interests? Most law students are unable to be that carefree for the entire break from classes.
Here are some thoughts on having both free time and productive study time during the Spring Break:
- Make a list of all the study tasks that you must accomplish during Spring Break. These are the tasks that have deadlines after the break (midterms, paper drafts, etc.).
- Make a list of the study tasks that you should accomplish during Spring Break. These are the tasks that will make your life so much easier on the downward slope of the semester if they are finished (catching up on reading/briefing, finishing outlines up to this point in the semester, reading study aids for difficult topics, etc.).
- Make a list of three things you want to do for yourself during Spring Break. These may be personal (sleep, workout), relational (spend time with parents, siblings, significant other), or fun (see a movie, go dancing, work on a tan).
- Now take a calendar and map out a plan for yourself. If you plan ahead, you are more likely to be productive.
- Be realistic in your planning. Do not under- or over-schedule yourself. Look for a balance.
- On your plan you want to include all of your must-accomplish tasks, most (if not all) of your should-accomplish tasks, and all of your things-for-me tasks.
- To fit everything in, consider that each day has three parts: morning (8 a.m. - noon), afternoon (1 - 5 p.m.), and evening (6 - 10 p.m.) Divide each calendar day into thirds.
- If you are traveling, you need to designate the parts of days as "travel" when you will be able to accomplish no studying - or just a little (flashcards, listening to law CDs).
- Next fill in any parts when you have family obligations that are definite (Auntie Em's birthday party, promise to take your little brother to see Zootopia on the Wednesday).
- Now think about the rhythm of each day as you fill in other parts with productive study tasks. Consider when family will be at work, when you are most focused, the difficulty of the task, and when you want some down time.
- The proportion of study parts to fun parts that you will need during the break will depend on your task lists and your goals for overall exam studying. A head start on exam review during the days off can make a huge difference in how stressed you are for the remainder of the semester.
If you are going to be with family and friends, you may want to share your study plan with them. If they understand how important it is for you to have productive time, they can be more supportive. And, when they see that you have built in time for them as well, they can be more patient in waiting for you to surface from your books.
Have safe, productive, and fun days off from law school. Get some rest. Laugh a lot. And make progress on your studies, so you return less overwhelmed. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, February 26, 2016
During the past few weeks, I have been meeting with our students who are on probation. As part of these meetings, we always discuss the students' initial thoughts on their performance. (We will do lots of more specific assessment, but I am interested in their reactions and perspectives shortly after getting their grades.) The responses tend to fall into several general categories; individual students may fall into several of these categories
1: Outside circumstances that impacted them. Examples in this category would be serious personal illness, death or serious illness in the family, victim of a serious crime, or sudden change in financial circumstances.
2: Circumstances during the final exam that impacted them. Examples in this category would be illness during the exam, panic attack during the exam, or computer crash and loss of answers.
3: Poor academic decisions throughout the semester. Examples in this category would be reading only when they knew they would be called on, taking the maximum number of absences, surfing the web in class, or depending on canned briefs/others' outlines/class scripts.
4:Poor exam preparation. Examples in this category would be cramming at the very end, outlining right before exams, completing no practice questions, or skipping the professor's exam review session.
5: Poor exam strategies during the exam. Examples in this category would be not reading the instructions ("do 3 of the 5 questions"), ignoring the allotted time for sections of the exam, not organizing answers before writing, including insufficient analysis, or spending time on rabbit trails.
6. Others at fault for the performance. Examples in this category would be the professor's exam was too hard, the exam covered material not discussed in class, my section was the hard section, or my study group was not good.
No doubt, I could come up with other categories or parse these categories differently. However, I think these six categories would cover most of what I have heard over the years. Here is my take on each of these categories in isolation:
Category 1: These types of circumstances are usually unavoidable or outside of the control of the student. They are the serious "life happens" category. It is easy to see how these circumstances would impact a student's ability to study and focus on law school. If the circumstances have resolved, then the student can focus on their studies more. If circumstances are ongoing, then the student needs referral to resources to help (examples, student health services, counseling center) and strategies to work within the life parameters they are faced with while in school. Some students decide to take a leave of absence and return after the circumstances have resolved themselves.
Category 2: These types of circumstances may be "one off" situations or they may have continuing implications. Referrals may be needed (example, to deal with panic attacks). Discussion about procedures to avoid the situation in the future may be needed (example, if you are unwell, request an exam reschedule under the school's procedure). Hopefully, many of these types of circumstances will not reoccur.
Categories 3 and 4: These types of circumstances can usually be addressed effectively through new study strategies. Motivation problems, procrastination, and life circumstances may be part of this category's impact on grades. If so, then those aspects will also need to be addressed.
Category 5: This type of problem can be addressed with specific exam-taking strategies. Strategies will vary somewhat depending on the type of exam (essay, short answer, multiple-choice, true-false, mixed). The problems are often correctable. Practicing the new strategies will be important to success.
Category 6: In many ways, this category of student explanations is the most troubling. If students are still at the stage of blaming others for their performance, they are not yet ready to work on strategies to improve their performance. Students need to get beyond disappointment, anger, embarrassment, and finger-pointing - the reasons for this category's viewpoint are varied. If they are going to take control of their academic performance and strive toward improvement through implementing new strategies, they need to get beyond the emotional reactions. It often takes several weeks to work with these students to get past their discontent and unwillingness to evaluate any personal responsibility for their performance.
Assistance to students will be most effective if the ASP and student efforts are part of a team approach. The student needs ASP support and input. But, ultimately, the student has to implement changes and do the work. Most students welcome being part of a team and will succeed. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Spring semester is a new beginning. You can repeat the strategies that worked. You can modify strategies that need some tweaking. You can implement new strategies to replace bad strategies. Now is your opportunity to make changes where needed!
Here are some things you want to consider:
- Start a serious study routine now. Too many students waste the first half or two-thirds of the semester before they get down to consistent hard work.
- Prepare for class with your focus on learning and understanding. Doing time over pages is not learning. Understanding before class has real advantages:
- You can follow the discussion better and not wonder what is going on.
- You can answer questions better if called on by the professor.
- You can take better notes because you know what you already have in class preparation materials (briefs, worksheets, problem sets, etc.).
- You can ask questions that you know are relevant and important because you know more about the material.
- Review before you walk into class to allow yourself to have seen the material twice. If the topic is a continuing one, read the notes from the prior class to gain context.
- Review your class notes after each class for 15 minutes some time during the same day to reorganize, fill in gaps, add examples, note down questions to ask, and summarize the essential take-away points.
- Outline each week for each exam course. You will gain insights and context more quickly. You will be outlining while material is still fresh. You will build your master study document easily and be able to start exam review.
- Distribute your learning throughout the semester. That is, front-load exam study rather than wait to cram. Here are four reasons for doing this:
- You will recall, understand, and apply information more easily if you have seen it multiple times during review throughout the semester.
- Long-term memory is built over time and allows you to retrieve information later (on the exam, during an advanced course, bar review, or practice).
- Cramming equals mere brain dump without any longevity of memory; you will need to relearn everything later.
- You will decrease your stress if you spread exam learning over 15 weeks (the usual semester length) rather than a few weeks at the end.
- Include multiple levels of review in your weekly schedule to front-load exam study:
- Prevent forgetting 80% of what you learn within 2 weeks: Read your outline front to back page each week to keep everything fresh.
- Intensely review sections of your outline for deep understanding: grapple with the concepts; synthesize those concepts; know how to use them to solve new legal problems.
- Apply the material on as many practice questions as possible. Choose questions similar to the exam if you know the type of exam. Practice does make perfect.
- Spend time on memory drills to learn the black letter law over time, so it comes to you quickly through repetitive study.
- Get assistance early and often. Ask your professors questions. Get feedback on practice questions if possible. Read study supplements if needed. Visit with the academic support professional at your school.
- Adopt a mindset that you can improve! Last semester was last semester. Focus on what you can do this semester.
You have more control over your semester and exams than you realize! You need to use learning and memory to advantage. Take charge of your semester from the beginning rather than dawdling. Go for it! (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Now is a good time to contact your professors to review any fall semester exams about which you had concerns. If you received a C+ grade or below in a course, you should definitely consider reviewing the exam.
- Many of the exam-taking skills for law school translate from one course to later courses even though the course material is very different.
- An exam review can highlight study strategies that were successful prior to the exam as well as indicate study strategies that need modification or abandonment.
- An exam review will allow you to track what you did well during the actual exam and want to continue doing on future exams.
- An exam review will allow you to track what you had problems with during the actual exam and want to improve on for future exams.
- Exam reviews for several courses may indicate patterns of success or error that you have repeated across exams.
- Here are two handouts that can assist you in what to look for when you do your exam reviews.The first handout is for fact-pattern essay (also relevant for the most part to short-answer): Download Patterns to Look for and Questions to Ask When Evaluating Fact The second handout is for multiple-choice questions (also relevant for the most part to true-false): Download Patterns to Look for and Questions to Ask When Evaluating Multiple These handouts suggest questions that can help you analyze your exam performance more thoroughly.
- Professors vary in how they complete exam reviews. Here are some variations that you may encounter: a) The professor may conduct exam reviews for students who email with a request, may have a sign-up sheet on the professor’s office door, or may announce some other mechanism. b)The professor may first schedule appointments with students with the lowest grades, then move to the next level of grades for appointments, and so forth. c)The professor may have the student review the exam individually (and possibly the grading rubric or sample exam answers) before meeting with the professor. d)The professor may instead have the student come for the meeting and review the exam together.
- Make sure that you take careful notes during your exam review so that you will know what areas you want to continue doing well and what areas you want to improve on for future exams.
- After your exam reviews, evaluate what you have found out. Look for any patterns across exams and courses. Make a plan for your future exam study and exam-taking.
- If you are unsure what strategies may help you for your specific problem areas, make an appointment to talk with the academic support professional at your law school.
All students can improve their grades by implementing new study strategies and new test-taking strategies. Take advantage of professor feedback to make informed decisions instead of just randomly trying new strategies. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Hat tip to Patti Desrochers at Touro for forwarding a link to a podcast featuring Lillian Spiess (Assistant Director of Academic Development) and Stephanie Juliano (Assistant Director of the Writing Center) discussing Study Tips and Tricks for Being Successful During Finals with their Dean, Patricia Salkin. The link is here: Touro Law Podcast on Exam Success.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Many law students are in their exams. During the exam period, students need to use their time wisely (efficiency) and get the most results from that time (effectiveness). Here are some thoughts to help students be more productive in their work:
• Spend time studying the topics that you need work on. It is human nature to study what we already know/enjoy and to avoid what we do not know/dislike.
• Let your brain do the “heavy lifting” for more intense review or difficult subjects when it is most alert and focused.
• Save the more active tasks like flashcards, practice questions, or discussion with a study partner for times when you need more activity to give your brain a respite from the heavy work.
• Remember that organizing your desk, papers, folders, books, pencils, etc. to study is not the same as studying. Get down to work rather than pretending to work.
• Learn the material before an open-book exam. You will not have time to look everything up. You want to organize the materials you will have available, but learning is more important than 200 tabs.
• At the end of a study day, plan your study for the next day. Make a specific to-do-list of what you need to accomplish during the blocks of time you plan to study. You will waste less time the next day wondering what to do.
• Avoid multitasking. Multitasking is a myth. You cannot answer emails, text, watch TV, or do other tasks that require attention at the same time that you study. Your brain does not work effectively that way. Focus your full attention on your studying.
• If you have coasted too much during the semester and are now realizing you are in trouble, get to work. Do not waste time with “wish I had,” “should have,” and “could have.” At the beginning of next semester, get your act together to avoid a repeat performance.
• Listen to your brain and body. If you cannot regain your focus or become hungry, your brain and body are telling you that they need a break. Get up and walk around. Grab a quick snack. Then go back to work. You will be more productive after a break.
• Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you skimp on sleep, your brain will not function well. You absorb more information, retain more information, and are more productive with sufficient sleep. You also recall information, organize more efficiently, and write with more clarity if you are rested when you go into an exam.
By making wise choices about time and results, students can prioritize their work rather than be overwhelmed by exam studying. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, November 23, 2015
One of our readers (I won't use the name since the reader may prefer to be anonymous) asked about how to handle out-of-town, non-law-school/non-lawyer visitors who arrive for Thanksgiving despite one's best efforts to explain that visitors are not a plus during this crunch time for study. You are not alone in your problem!
The truth is that people who have not gone to law school have no idea what it is like - no matter how often we try to explain it. Often they assume that law students are exaggerating the study importance because they remember a carefree undergraduate, a graduate student in a degree program that was far less taxing, or a co-worker who was not obligated to study in non-work hours.
If you cannot diplomatically tell them no, then here are some suggestions:
The days before and after Thanksgiving Day:
- If possible, book them into a nice B&B or hotel rather than have them in your home. But, I assume this may not be possible.
- Stay firm on a study schedule and tell them you will only be available to visit with them during certain hours (you choose the hours). You need to stick to this schedule no matter the whining or tears. Ignore the guilt.
- If they are staying with you and willing to leave your home so you can study in peace, arm them with a map and a list of local events/attractions and send them on their way each day. If you can afford it, gift them with tickets to events/the movies/a concert, etc.
- If you cannot be ruler of your own domain, head for the public library, apartment complex business office, student union building on campus, or coffeehouse each morning and stay there until the time you have agreed to spend with them. Leave them lunch fixings to ease your guilt.
- Let them go shopping, watch football, and partake of other pastimes without you participating. Remind them that if they want your undivided attention during the hours you set each day, they have to let you study the remaining hours.
- Get up earlier or stay up later than your guests to spend additional time studying.
- Let's face it, you need some down time. So I would make Thanksgiving Day the most flexible day to spend with visitors.
- If you make a reservation at a restaurant for the turkey dinner or pick it up already prepared from a local grocery store/restaurant, you can save heaps of time in preparation and maybe get some extra study time in.
- While your visitors watch the parade or football or lay comatose on the couch, you may be able to study.
Good luck on juggling non-law visitors. It is not the easiest crowd to deal with when finals are looming ahead. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 13, 2015
Many law schools will finish classes before Thanksgiving Break and begin exams immediately afterward. Some law schools will have a week of classes after the holiday and then go into the exam period. In either case, law students often wonder how they should combine relaxing and studying.
Some thoughts regardless of which version of the academic calendar you are on:
- Most law students have to study during at least part of their Thanksgiving Break because of the difficulty of their exams and large amount of material to be studied. Gone are the undergraduate days of playing the entire time.
- You will get more done if you have a plan for studying laid out before you leave for the Thanksgiving holiday. Sit down with a calendar and map out for each day what you hope to accomplish.
- Unless your study situation borders on desperate, you want to take Thanksgiving Day off so that you enjoy your family and friends and feel that you have had a holiday. If you are concerned about taking the whole day off, then get up early before everyone else and put in a couple of hours or study in the evening after everyone has collapsed on the couch in front of the TV.
- Each non-class day has three parts: morning (8:00 a.m. - noon); afternoon (1:00 - 5:00 p.m.); evening (6:00 - 10:00 p.m.). Most students will probably need to get 6 - 8 hours of study in each day. If you take several days off, you may want to study more hours on your scheduled study days. Choose the parts of the day when you are the most alert and productive for your study time.
- Consider whether you can get some study tasks completed while traveling. There are several legal CD series that could be listened to while driving or flying. Flashcards and review of outlines could occupy those long airport layovers. If traveling with another law student, discussions of the material or practice questions might be good tasks.
- Determine the best place for you to study. It may be at home, or you may need to go to a local library or other location to get blocks of uninterrupted time.
- If your family situation means that you will not be able to study at home, consider leaving school a day later or coming back a day or two earlier to get additional study time.
Some thoughts specifically for students who have a week of classes after the holiday:
- You may want to complete all of your class preparation for the last week of classes while you are on your break. Then just review your briefs/problem sets for 1/2 hour before class to refresh. By finishing class preparation ahead, you open up more blocks of time during that last class week for exam preparation.
- To lighten your luggage for a flight, photocopy the pages you have to read for the last week of classes rather than lug all of your books. If you have e-books, you are set already.
- If you have assignment deadlines during your last week of classes, try to complete those assignments over the break so that you are not rushing during the final days to work on them. If you need to finish any tasks after the break on those assignments, try to have them be editing tasks rather than major writing.
Whatever your plans may be for the upcoming holiday break, have safe travels. (Amy Jarmon)