Monday, May 14, 2018
Congratulations to everyone earning a J.D. recently! Earning a Doctorate level degree is an amazing accomplishment. 2011 Census data indicates approximately 3% of the US population 25 and older possess a Doctorate or Professional degree. Walking across the stage and completing the J.D. requirements puts all graduate in elite company. No matter what happens this summer, know all J.D. graduates (including yourself) are elite!
While already elite, everyone knows there is still one more hurdle prior to becoming an attorney. The vast majority of graduates still need to pass the bar exam. The limited time and breadth of material requires focus for all 10 weeks. I recommend my students start preparing the Tuesday morning after graduation through the Sunday before the bar. One focus to take it one time.
Bar prep should start shortly after graduation, and it must be the highest priority during the summer. However, preparing for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint. The key to success is maintaining a steady pace and not burning out early. Here are my tips for a steady pace throughout the summer:
1. Create a good daily schedule. All the bar review companies do a good job assigning particular tasks each day, but their schedules are “flexible” on when to do the work. I suggest to most students (not everyone) to sit down and create an hourly calendar, for example:
9-12:30 – Lecture
12:30-1:30 – Lunch
1:30-4 – Assigned practice questions
4-4:30 – Mental Break
4:30-5:30 – Review Lecture
5:30-7 – Dinner
7-9 – Review Previous Material
Scheduling increases the chances the majority of the work is completed. Time isn’t wasted deciding what to do.
2. Schedule Breaks. Notice my example included breaks throughout the day. Breaks are critical during bar prep. Students who try to go non-stop 7 days a week burn out quickly. The bar exam will be as much mental preparedness as it will be a test of legal analysis. Being fresh and rested increases focus, retention, and engagement. Include breaks both during the day and each week.
3. Know yourself. Create reasonable schedules and breaks. If you know you can’t study during a certain time of the day, then build a schedule around what is best for you. My only caveat here is the bar exam in most states starts at 8am or 9am, so studying solely at night may not be the most beneficial. You do need to transition to being alert by 7am at some point during the process.
4. Plan to attend the physical location. I know I will sound old with this piece of advice, but attend the location for your course. I know the online version is the same. I know many locations are showing a video, and I know your computer shows videos as good as the location. I also know through anecdotal stories and taking roll that students physically at the locations have higher pass rates, at least for my school. Being present creates habits that can lead accomplishing more during the day.
5. Create a good routine. It is true that bar prep is hard, but it is also true that most of the difficulty can be overcome with a good routine. Bad practice scores, not remembering rules, and general frustration will arise. The brain’s fight or flight response will be triggered. A good routine where you know exactly how to fight by doing more questions, finding a good resource, etc. will enable you to continue to improve. Without a routine, responding to difficulty with a round of golf instead of a round of questions becomes easy..
Bar prep is beginning. Know your awesome accomplishments. Know that getting a J.D. illustrates an ability to pass the bar. Take the time to then build a schedule and routine to put yourself in a position to succeed. The goal is to be able to walk out of the bar exam knowing you gave your full effort to pass.
Monday, April 23, 2018
Graduation is right around the corner. Party planning has begun, and thoughts of bar prep are put off until after enjoying the festivities. Senioritis is at an all-time high. 3-4 years of exhaustion is taking a toll. I completely understand the feelings, but I also warn 3Ls, don’t get too complacent. Finish strong on this set of finals.
Last week was the last class ever with all my 3Ls. I congratulate them and discuss our last few practice problems for the semester. One of my most important messages during class is to finish strong on finals. Don’t get complacent on the last few tests.
Students realize going through all but one set of finals means they should be able to pass the last few. I agree. They obviously have the skills to succeed. However, complacency, or focusing too much on party planning, could lead to a lack of preparation. Don’t let the excitement or exhaustion take over.
The last set of finals is still important for a number of reasons. The most obvious is most students need the credits to graduate. Don’t fail a class due to lack of preparation. At many schools, the scholastic achievements (cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude) are awarded after the last set of grades. Ignoring finals can have an impact on those awards. Lastly, you will need some of the information from your finals for the bar. Studying for finals helps retain bar exam information. If you are taking bar subjects, which hopefully you are taking a few, this is built in bar prep. Time spent during reading week learning Secured Transactions is time you can spend taking extra MBE questions during bar prep. Preparing for this set of finals is still important.
I understand the reality of the last set of finals and the fun that ensues. I highly encourage everyone to safely enjoy an amazing accomplishment. The amount of people that have the ability to obtain a J.D. is miniscule. Walking across the stage is a moment to cherish. Just make sure that walking across the stage is the last thing to get the J.D., not an extra class after grades come out. Prepare well now to enjoy the ceremony later.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has indicated that the national average MBE multiple-choice scaled score for the February 2018 bar exam declined once again. As illustrated in the chart below, the MBE score has declined from near-term highs of 138 to 132.8 in just the span of a few short years.
According to the NCBE, "[r]epeat test takers comprised about 70% of those who sat in February 2018 and had an average score of 132.0, a 1.7-point decrease compared to February 2017. This result drove the change in the overall February 2018 MBE mean." http://www.ncbex.org/news/repeat-test-taker-scores-drive-february-2018-average-mbe-score-decline/.
In contrast, the NCBE reports that the February 2018 average MBE score for first-time takers remained relatively flat, 135.0 for February 2018 first-time takers as compared to 135.3 for February 2017 first-time takers. There have been several changes to the MBE exam over the last few years. In February 2015, the NCBE added another subject to the scope of the multiple-choice exam with the addition of Federal Civil Procedure. And, in February 2017, the NCBE changed the number of pre-test (otherwise known as experimental) questions from 10 to 25, resulting in the 200 point scaled score calculated out of a total of 175 graded questions rather than previous MBE exams which graded 190 questions. In addition, for the February 2018 MBE exam, the scope of Property Law was expanded to include some new sub-topics.
For those of you taking the July 2018 exam, there are several take-aways. First, the MBE exam is a difficult exam. Second, you can't learn to pass the exam without practicing the exam. Third, statistics don't determine your destiny; rather, your destiny is in your hands, in short, it's in the reading, the analyzing, and the practicing of multiple-choice questions that can make a real positive difference for your own individual score. So, please don't fret. It's not impossible...at all.
Finally, let me be frank. In my own case, as I work through practice MBE questions, I am NEVER confident that I am getting the answers correct. And, that is REALLY frustrating. In fact, when I get a question right, I am glad but often surprised. So, I try to NOT be confident that I have chosen the correct answer but rather be CONFIDENT that I am reading CAREFULLY and that I am METHODICALLY puzzling through the answer choices to step-by-step eliminate incorrect choices to help me better get to the correct answers.
So, for those of you taking the bar exam this summer, take it slow and steady. Ponder over every multiple-choice question you can. Eliminate obviously wrong choices. And, you might even keep a daily journal of your multiple-choice progress, perhaps by simply creating a spreadsheet of the issues tested, the rules used, and a few helpful tips as reminders of what to be on the lookout for as you approach your bar exam this summer. In short, make it your aim to be a problem-solver learner. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
It is about that time of the semester when students are simply tired. Most, if not all of their major commitments are completed and the final commitment is probably to finish off the semester. At this time, moaning and groaning are common. Some students simply want classes to end so they can begin to prepare for exams while others would rather skip exams and begin the summer break.
From this group of students, I hear: “I am over it!” “I don’t care anymore.” “I am ready to graduate.” “Get me out of here, I have completely checked-out.” For many 3Ls, fatigue seems to weigh them down as the end approaches; commencement marks the end of their legal education and the beginning of their professional careers. As students, they worked hard for almost three years as they assumed leadership roles, were members of student organizations, worked with various legal entities, participated in legal clinics and a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and have almost completed the requirements for graduation. These students are simply tired! Completing and submitting bar applications seemed to mark the end but they are quickly reminded that they still have final exams ahead. Gearing up for commencement by ordering graduation regalia, notifying family and friends, and planning graduation celebrations are exciting activities that seem to serve only as a distraction from the inevitable, exams. I try to remind students that “their journeys are not over until they are over,” they still need to pass classes to obtain their degree. They probably do not want to return to the same institution after walking across the stage at commencement or self-sabotage by failing to complete one of the requirements necessary to sit for most bar exams, completion of a law degree. This reality check appears to provide temporary motivation for some.
For this group of students, 2Ls, the thrill of the first semester of the second year of law school has disappeared. They began the academic year excited and motivated because they got to select their course schedule and participate in all of the activities they hoped for in law school. Many probably overcommitted themselves to a variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities they ambitiously thought they could simultaneously undertake. They were initially motivated by the excitement and energy earned from study abroad, externship, legal work, and courses completed over the summer. New extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that motivated them now appear routine and in retrospect, many realize that they overcommitted themselves. At this point, 2Ls are desperately trying to re-energize in order to finish the semester strong. Those who already have summer opportunities lined-up seem less motivated. My reality check to this group is: “you did it to yourself, you committed to these activities so you need to finish your commitments.”
These students are simply in shock that legal writing is officially over or will be over within a matter of days. They have spent so much time with their appellate briefs and it was a major aspect of their second semester. A task that seemed impossible at first manifested in the completion of the appellate brief, oral argument, and the legal writing course. Many tell me that for the first time in months, they happily and restfully took naps or slept for a full eight hours. Many are also excited to devote their complete attention to preparing for final exams. Some students whom I have not seen in a while are suddenly appearing in my office to discuss final exams. The realization that the end of the first year of law school is in sight seems overwhelming. My reality check to this group is: “you have a lot of work to do because you somewhat disengaged from your doctrinal classes and now have limited time to get on track so plan wisely and maximize the time you have remaining.” (Goldie Pritchard)
Sunday, April 8, 2018
The grapevine (or rumor mill depending on your school's terminology) is working overtime right now. Students are coming in daily to tell me the latest that is circulating among the students - especially the 1L class. Some of what I am hearing has some truth, but much of it is mixed at best or totally wrong at worst. Here is some sorting of the wheat from the chaff:
Grapevine Advice #1: If you have any class absences left, now is the time to take them to gain more exam study time.
- Pro: Selective use of a class absence on a day when you understood the material deeply and have a reliable friend to take notes might not be disastrous.
- Cons: The disadvantages of using up class absences far outweigh this advantage.
- The material during the last few weeks of class is also going to be on the exam, so skipping class is detrimental to your understanding exam material.
- Professors talk about the exams during the last weeks and provide more details. Relying on another student to pass on this inside scoop in all its detail is risky.
- Course material in the last weeks is often the very material that pulls together topics or the whole semester, so missing class impacts your synthesis of the course.
- Some professors test the last part of the course more heavily than earlier introductory/foundational material.
- Even your very best friend may not take notes that include information that you would include because your cognitive processing styles may differ.
Grapevine Advice #2: For the last weeks of class, study one course each week for any extra time you have in your schedule.
- Pro: You focus completely on one subject matter instead of spreading your time and focus over multiple courses.
- Cons: The disadvantages of focusing on one course each week outweigh this advantage.
- We forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review regularly. Your knowledge of Course 1 will diminish over the intervening weeks before you cycle back to it.
- This review method treats all courses equally even though they usually are not equal. Amount of material covered, difficulty of material for you personally, your own status as to an up-to-date outline, type of exam questions, prior review that you have already completed, and more can make courses "unequal."
- You may not have enough weeks left to cover the number of courses you are taking. Upper-division law students often have more exam courses than 1L students.
Grapevine Advice #3: Focus on exam study for courses in the order of your exams.
- Pro: It is wise to consider the order of your exams as an aspect of your exam strategy because you need to be ready by each exam date.
- Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
- The first two cons listed above for advice #2 also apply to this grapevine advice.
- An exam schedule is often not evenly spaced. If some exams are on consecutive days and other exams have gaps in between, that specific schedule should be considered.
Grapevine Advice #4: Study really hard for the courses that have more credit hours and consider the others as secondary.
- Pro: You recognize that a 4-credit course covered more material than a 3-credit course, so it is important in your scheduling of study time.
- Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
- Every course can help or hurt your grade point average. You do not know how others will do in the course and how that will affect the grading curve.
- Your grade point average is based on both credits and quality points. An "A" grade in a three-credit course (4 quality points X 3 credits = 12 quality points) affects your grade point average the same way a "B" in a four-credit course does (3 quality points X 4 credits = 12 quality points).
- Legal research/writing courses often garner fewer credits, but employers put a lot of emphasis on those grades. They know you can learn a new topic on the job. They will not teach you to research and write on the job.
You want to study for exams in a way that will maximize your time and your strengths in exam preparation. Consider these things:
- Unless a professor says a topic is excluded from the exam, all material is fair game.
- Completing more exam studying before the end of classes will leave you less material to review for the first time during exams.
- Some students focus best with variety and would want to study multiple courses during the same day or week.
- Starting off with your most difficult course for a few days may lower your anxiety about that course, so you can then focus better on other courses.
- Some students are weaker on synthesis, policy, or sifting out the trivial things; they need more study time on these aspects.
- Some students are weaker on methodologies, nuances in applying the law, or preciseness in stating the law. They need more study time on these aspects.
- Any study schedule you devise needs to allow for lots of practice questions several days after you study a topic.
- You want to consider this time period to be a marathon and not a sprint. Short breaks every 90 minutes and longer breaks every 3 or 4 hours will help you focus.
- Remember to add sleep, nutritious meals, and exercise to your study schedule - you brain will work better.
If you want to brainstorm study strategies that will work for you, visit with your academic support professional at your law school. That professional can help you sort out the truth from the myth in the grapevine advice you are hearing. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, March 25, 2018
The semester is rapidly coming to an end. Students are juggling paper deadlines, studies for finals, the banquet/ball season, applications for summer jobs, registration for next year's courses, and much more. Some students are also anxious over midterm exam grades that were not as high as they had hoped.
The level of tension in the building is on the rise. In conversations with students, I have been hearing sentences including phrases such as "I wish I had...," "if only I...," "time got away...," and other regrets. A few of the conversations also include phrases such as "everyone else...," "my classmates are better than me...," and "maybe I'm not good enough...," and other comparisons.
Here in West Texas, the weather has hit the mid-80's, and spring fever is compounding any motivational problems. Coming off Spring Break into such warm temperatures has made the same-old-same-old routine seem even less inviting.
Try these strategies for staying in control over the next weeks as the semester winds down:
- Put the past behind you. You can only control what you do in the present and future. Stow the regrets for later when rethinking your work strategies for next semester.
- Stop the comparisons to everyone else. You are you and need to focus on what you are able to accomplish.
- Decide where you can study most efficiently and effectively. Where can you focus best? Where can you find a less stressful environment? What environment offers the least distractions and interruptions?
- Plan your exam studying. Look at your weekly schedule and carve out times to devote regularly to exam studying for each course. Think you don't have any time? Look at unused time between classes, TV/video game time, social media time, wasted weekend time, etc.
- Divide each course up into the topics with subtopics that will be on the final exam. You can often find time to study a subtopic when finding time to study an entire topic seems impossible. Any progress, however small, is still progress!
- Use practice questions wisely. If you review material well before doing hard practice questions, it is more efficient and effective. You need real feedback on future exam performance, not squishy "well if I had studied I would have been okay on that question" excuses.
- Choose study partners carefully. Who is serious about doing well? Who is on top of the course? Whose schedule fits with yours? Whose group dynamics do you need to avoid?
- After you study a topic, list the areas of confusion/questions you still have. Go to your professor often to get clarification instead of storing up all your questions until the end of the course.
- Spend time with positive people! Your motivation will increase if you surround yourself with people with "can do" attitudes.
- Get into a healthy routine to benefit your brain and body. Sleep, nutritious meals, and moderate exercise will help your productivity, mental well-being, and energy.
If you are having trouble planning your work, stop in to see the academic support professionals at your school. They can help you prioritize your work and manage your time better. Expert learners ask for help when they need it. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 22, 2018
It's not too late, at all.
With most law students facing final exams in a month or so, this is the perfect time for your law students to reflect on their learning...with the goal of making concrete beneficial improvements right now, i.e., with plenty of time to prepare for their final exams.
There are many such self-evaluation learning techniques, but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.
In fact, just prior to spring break, I asked these questions of my own law students, and I am taking stock of their responses by making changes where needed in my own content and instructional methods too. You see, learning is a team effort, so it is important to get concrete information from all of your team members (your students) to identify what is helping your students learning, what might be hindering their learning, and what goals have yet to be achieved for the course thus far.
In my own course this semester, there were two questions that tended to be most valuable. First, with respect to what might be most hindering learning, I received a number of responses questioning the value of the "think-pair-share" method as a tool to help activate meaningful classroom engagement. Based on those responses, I am hard at work doing research and re-evaluating my own use of "think-pair-share" to confirm whether in fact the method is an effective learning tool for my classrooms this term.
The final question also seemed to provide valuable information about my students' learning, namely, in asking them what they might do differently to improve their overall course grade. To paraphrase their general responses, most students acknowledged that: "It's time to put some more elbow grease into my learning because learning takes curious, engaging, and enterprising hard work on my part." I was glad to see so many take ownership over their learning.
But, as a word of caution, I was quite afraid to ask these questions. You see, I have 123 students; that means that I was bound to receive news that I just didn't want to hear because, frankly, I like to be liked. But, my job as a teacher is not to be liked but to be good at what I have been hired to do. That's my responsibility to my students. It's my obligation to them. So, rather than fretting and worrying about what my students might say, I found out. Yes, some of the comments were a bit painful for me to read. But, read them I did. And, more importantly, I stepped back to take them to heart to see whether there might be things that I ought to change to improve my students' learning for the remainder of the semester.
Looking back, I'm mighty glad I asked because it's already helping me to become a better teacher to my students this semester, while I still have time to make a positive difference in the learning. So, feel free to use these questions with your students this semester. (Scott Johns).
Monday, March 5, 2018
The sun is breaking through the clouds. Rain and thunderstorms picked up the last couple weeks. Ice is melting away, and temperatures are steadily rising. Spring is right around the corner, which also means Spring Break for most schools will be in the next few weeks. Plan to have fun, relax, and spend time preparing for finals to maximize the effectiveness of Spring Break.
For most students, spring break starts on a Saturday and finishes the following Sunday. 9 glorious days not being in class. 9 amazing opportunities to get mentally fresh and ready for the stretch run into final exams. Plan your Spring Break now to utilize all the time effectively.
My suggestion is to spend 4 of the days doing non-law school fun activities. 4 days not thinking about classes, outlines, or exams. Play golf, watch bad movies, catch up on TV shows, watch an entire new series on Netflix, exercise, hang out with friends, or whatever will provide energy to make it through May. Rest and recharge is key.
The other 5 days, assuming a normal 5 class schedule, are preparation for final exams. My suggestion is to devote 1 day to each class. Spend the morning catching up on the outline. Make sure it is as up-to-date as reasonably possible. Spend 1-2 hours on practice questions in the afternoon. Outlining and practicing will begin critical finals preparation.
Spend the evenings of those 5 days having fun and getting ready for summer. A couple of those evenings, do nothing. More resting and relaxing. Spend 1 of the evenings updating your legal resume. Spend another evening deciding which employers you want to contact for potential summer internships. Lastly, don’t forget to spend at least 1 evening reading for the first day of class after Spring Break.
Planning now can make Spring Break both fun and effective. Take time to enjoy life. Recharging will have a huge impact on studying in April. Catching up on outlines and practicing now provides more focused time in late April to understand the nuances of each subject. Success requires a good plan.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
As described by reporters Sara Germano and Ben Cohen, Norway might have a secret weapon in winning so many gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Korea this month, namely, being "super chill." https://www.wsj.com/mostchillnationiscrushingit
Surprisingly, even just a few hours before a big competition, the Norwegian athletes are still living life, speaking freely with reporters and chatting & laughing it up. Indeed, the Norwegians are even taking time off to, well, to play video games, have fun, and to socially relax with others. Yep, they watch TV, they play jigsaw puzzles, and they even have a day or two prior to their big events to be completely "100% free." You see, according to Norwegian coach Alex Stöckl: "It's important [in achieving success that the athletes] can turn off their minds."
There's an important message here for those of you taking the bar exam next week. It's A-okay for you to take Monday off before your big event next Tuesday and Wednesday in sitting for your bar exam.
It's REALLY hard to take anytime off, let alone all-day Monday. But, as illustrated by the success of Norway's athletes, rest strengthens us, rest empowers us, rest restores us. So, take a lesson from the Olympians and feel free to give your mind a day of rest before the bar exam. You've earned it...and...you've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events. (Scott Johns).
Monday, February 19, 2018
Bar preparation is in the stretch run. Everyone is turning the corner and trying to finish strong. The goal is to keep up the pace for another week to maximize points on the exam. Understanding the law is important, but the bar exam is as much a test of mental freshness as it is knowledge of the law. Make sure to plan for the next week to be as fresh as possible walking into the exam.
Unfortunately, for a certain percentage of the population, every point matters. I see a decent amount of scores within only a handful of MBE questions of the pass line each administration. Every choice makes a difference. Intentionally make choices for the next week that set you up for success.
Cramming all night, studying while tired, and getting hungry while practicing can all affect performance on an exam. Studying during the wrong time of day or studying while tired decreases cognitive function. The best advice is to get on the same schedule as the bar exam. If you haven’t already, start studying at least 30-45 minutes prior to when the exam will start. You don’t want your brain to start working on essay 2 or 3. Get all the points possible from the start.
Start eating and resting during the same times as the exam. Bodies tend to get on cycles. People like eating near the same time every day. Think about the day that you eat just a few minutes later than normal. Stomachs start to rumble and are distracting. On one of the most important tests in your career, don’t let your stomach get in the way of answering questions correct. Get your body ready for the normal eating cycle. For example, Oklahoma’s essay section starts at 8. Students receive 4 essays with 2 hours to complete them. At the end of 2 hours, there is a break. A similar schedule proceeds throughout the day, with a lunch break in the middle. I tell students to be mentally ready to study by 7:30, eat any quick snack around 10:05, be ready for lunch around 12:15, have another snack at 3:35, and they will finish around 5:45.
Be ready for exam day is important. However, anything that could go wrong, may go wrong on exam day. If you get hungry all of a sudden, be ready with whatever your bar examiners allow in the room. Oklahoma’s essay day schedule is nothing like the MBE schedule, so students adapt a little on day 2 with snacks during the exam. Having a backup plan is always helpful.
The bar exam will be as much a test of mental endurance as it will be knowledge of the law. The best way to be mentally ready for the endeavor is to specifically plan how the day will go and start building study days to mirror exam day. Preparing nearly every detail will put you in the best position for success. Good luck on the exam!
Monday, February 12, 2018
5 weeks down in the semester, which is about 1/3 of class time. Now is a great time for a progress check in each course. A progress check should analyze both whether the study schedule is working and whether you know the substance so far. Here are some quick questions/activities to consider:
- Do I have an updated outline for each of my courses?
- Have I briefed every case?
- Was I ready for class discussion each day?
- Am I consistently under-prepared for a particular class?
- What additional activities do I need to accomplish (ie - more practice with feedback)?
- What do I need to change now to get more done?
Substantive Knowledge: (complete these activities without looking at your outline, notes, etc.)
- Try to write down the major topics or headings for each course on separate sheets of paper.
- After writing down the major headings, try to write down the smaller issues within each heading.
- Try to write down the rules and exceptions for each of the issues.
- Ask yourself what is the most confusing part of the course. What is the hardest concept to understand? Try to find an answer from your notes, classmates, professor, or supplement for confusing concepts.
- Looking at the handwritten flowchart or outline, try to think of facts that are required to test each of the issues.
- Try to orally recite your outline for each course.
Progress checks throughout the semester are critical. Changing study habits later in the semester or trying to figure out doctrine from months before is difficult. The goal is to self-assess now to remedy any problems long before exams. This is a good time to start writing answers to short hypos and asking professors for feedback. Keep analyzing progress to continually improve.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Here's great research news that you can bank on, whether you are an ASP professional or a law student!
In brief, just having one academic course with individualized feedback corresponds to an increase of about a third of a letter grade. So, if you are a law student, make sure that you take advantage of your law school's resources - both in-class and out-of-class - to get individual feedback (and lots of it) each and every week. And, if you are an ASP professional, what a great opportunity to encourage law students to learn by doing.
Not quite convinced...
Check out the research details in the article entitled "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law School Performance" by Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis at: Impact of Individualized Feedback
In the interim, here's a snapshot from the article's abstract:
"...[S]tudents in sections that have previously or concurrently had a professor who provides individualized feedback consistently outperform students in sections that have not received any such feedback. The effect is both statistically significant and hardly trivial in magnitude, approaching about 1/3 of a grade increment after controlling for students’ LSAT scores, undergraduate GPA, gender, race, and country of birth. This effect corresponds to a 3.7 point increase in students’ LSAT scores in our model. Additionally, the positive impact of feedback is stronger among students whose combined LSAT score and undergraduate GPA falls below the median at the University of Minnesota Law School."
So, get a power boost on your academic performance by getting lots of feedback throughout the semester about your learning. As the research suggests, you'll be glad you did! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 18, 2018
With hat tips to Prof. Herb Ramy (Suffock University Law School) & Prof. Ira Shafiroff (Southwestern Law School), the classroom has moved well-past the laptop age into the smart phone age, with perhaps some deleterious impacts on learning.
That leads to two important questions given the increasingly common use of laptops and smartphones as note-taking devices.
First, with respect to computers in the classroom, might digital note-taking actually be harmful to one's learning (and even the learning of one's neighbors still taking notes the old-fashioned way by hand)?
Second, with respect to smart phones, is it really a good idea to snap-up a few photos of the lecture slides or whiteboard markings as tools to meticulously capture what was presented in class?
Well, there are two important links to help you be the judge...of your own use of technology...in answering these questions, whether you are a classroom learner or a teacher.
First, with respect to computers, the New York Times provides a helpful overview of the big picture research about the benefits and the limitations with respect to taking notes by computer (to include the potential detrimental effects upon your neighbors). Susan Dynarski, "Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting," New York Times (Nov. 22, 2017), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/business/laptops-not-during-lecture-or-meeting.html
Second, with respect to smart phone "snapping," the Law Teacher newsletter provides valuable suggestions for promoting boundaries that might be helpful in maximizing the learning effectiveness (and limiting the distractions that might result from too much classroom photo-taking). Dyane O’Leary, "Picture This: Tackling the Latest Trend in Digital Note Taking," The Law Teacher (Fall 2017), available at: http://lawteaching.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Fall-2017-Law-Teacher-final.pdf
The jury is in for me. I take notes by hand (but I have been known to snap a few whiteboard photos!). But, regardless of your method of capturing class content and discussions, perhaps the most important question is what do you do with that information. Does it become a part of you, as a learner, or does it merely remain mostly-empty words, diagrams, and images that don't really lead to change? That's an important question because, to be learner rather than just a studier, it's not the information that leads to learning but what we do with that information that makes all the difference. So, next time you're tempted to bring out your camera, you might just ask yourself what's your next step in using that digital information to help you actually learn. Without an answer to that question, it's perhaps really not a "Kodak" moment. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 4, 2018
I've already fallen. Chocolate got me. I tried, super-hard; but try as I might, chocolate just has a magical grip on me.
That raises an interesting question.
Are there any New Year's resolutions that I actually might keep so that they become part of my life?
Well, I've got a resolution that both you and me (whether you are a teacher or a student) can bank on for making a meaningful difference in your law school experience.
In short, do less studying..and more learning.
That's right, less studying. You see, studiers study. They read and re-read, they highlight and re-highlight, they underline and re-underline their class readings, notes, and outlines. But, unfortunately, the data shows that these common study techniques are poor ways to learn. Don't believe me? Check this article out by Dr. John Dunlosky, entitled: "Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning," in which Dr. Dunlosly surveys the learning science behind what works best for learning: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf
Now, before we throw away our highlighters, please note that Dr. Dunlosky acknowledges that highlighting is "fine"...provided that we recognize that highlighting is just "the beginning of the learning journey." In other words, to go from a studier to a learner involves moving beyond re-reading, highlighting, and underlining to become one that actually experiences, reflects, and acts upon the content. That sounds hard. And, it might be. But, it is not impossible, at all. Indeed, Dr. Dunlosky focuses on a handful of low-cost, readily-available learning strategies that can meaningfully improve your learning. Here's just a few of them:
First, engage in retrieval practice. Rather than re-reading a case, for example, close the casebook and ask yourself what was the case all about, why did I read it, what did it hold, what did I learn from it, etc.
Second, engage in lots of exercise with practice tests and problems. It's never too early to start.
Third, as you engage in learning through practice tests, aim to distribute the practice experiences rather than massing them in condensed, concentrated cramming sessions. You see, what we learn through distributed practice sticks. What we learn through cramming, well, we just don't really learn because it quickly disappears from our grasp.
Fourth, as you engage in learning through practice exercises, try to interleave your practice with a mix of problem types and even subjects. In other words, rather than just focusing on negligence problems in mass, for example, work a negligence hypothetical followed by an intentional tort problem and then a strict liability problem and finally back to a negligence problem. Far better yet, interleave torts problems with contracts hypotheticals, etc.
Fifth, as you engage in learning, try to elaborate why the rule applies...or...explain to yourself what steps were needed to solve the problems that you were analyzing...or...figure out what facts served as clues that you should have discussed certain issues.
That's just a few learning strategies that you can implement right away, as sort of a New Year's resolution to you, to help you do less studying this new year...but far more learning. So, here's to a new academic term of learning! (Scott Johns).
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Just sitting in a chair and putting in minutes does not always translate into exam performance. You want to make sure that you get results from the time you put into studying. Here are some tips for maximum results from your efforts:
- Eliminate distractions: turn off the cell phone, disable your Internet to avoid surfing the net, use earplugs to block out noise, choose a quiet study location.
- Learn actively: engage with the material, ask yourself questions, read aloud, think about how you would use the material.
- Synthesize material: consider how rules interact, think about when the exceptions apply, compare and contrast cases, fit cases into the subtopic and topic, interrelate the topics to one another.
- Pretend you are the professor: what did the professor stress; what buzz words or phrases did the professor use; what types of questions did the professor ask.
- Practice what you learn: apply the law to new fact scenarios, think about spin-off hypos, discuss how to use the law with classmates.
- Discuss material with a classmate: take turns explaining material to one another and giving feedback; take opposing sides on a fact scenario and present the arguments; work together on a flowchart for a topic.
When your focus wanders or you passively read your outline over, you are not getting oomph. Shake it up! Get involved! As Dennis Tonsing says, "Learn is an active verb." (Amy Jarmon)
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)