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)
Monday, October 26, 2015
Memorization comes easily to some; and is loathsome to others. Understanding your learning preferences can help you refine your memorization skills and help you retain information longer. Listening to your inner voice and sticking with what works best for you is the best way to hone your memorization strategies. If you have not fully explored alternative ways to memorize, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Try to find creative ways to interact with the material and keep it fresh. Think outside the box. Use a white board to write out the law, draw pictures, or color-code topics. Or, match up a concept or theory to one of your favorite songs.
- Use a study partner or significant other to test you on your knowledge with flashcards or just talk out a subject together. If you can teach it, you know it.
- Use other memory devices such as: flash cards, sticky notes, or a digital recorder. Carry them with you and pull them out when you have a few extra minutes. These brief reminders throughout your day will help you solidify the concepts in your memory.
- Create mnemonics that have meaning to you or use ones that you have found in a study aid. Test yourself on these mnemonics.
- Explain the main points of a subject or essay to someone (a family member, friend, or roommate). When you connect a topic or concept to a set of facts you create an association that helps you recall the information at a later time.
- Create tables, flowcharts, or diagrams to illustrate difficult rules or concepts. Depending on the subject or concepts a linear or pictorial study aid makes more sense. For visual learners, these are essential.
- Read your lecture notes or outline/study-aid aloud, record it, play it back and listen to it. When you read silently, you are likely doing a lot of skimming. However, when you read out loud, you are forming a visual and auditory pathway, which will help strengthen your memory of the material.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
The old adage from college about multiple-choice was that you just had to study enough to recognize the right answer among the wrong answers. That bit of advice does not work for law school multiple-choice questions.
In law school, professors have a variety of styles when they write multiple-choice questions. The "best answer" format is popular. Some professors use a "circle all right answers" format. Other professors have answers that designate combinations of answers (a, b and d; b, c, e and f). Then there are professors who end their answer lists with "all of the above" and "none of the above."
Fact patterns may vary in length from one sentence to more than a page. There may be one question per fact pattern or multiple questions per fact pattern. The multiple questions for a fact pattern may be completely separate from one another or "waterfall" so that the answer to the second question depends on the correct analysis on the first question and the answer to the third question depends on the correct analysis on the second question.
With so many variations, law students often feel at a loss how to proceed. Some strategies tend to work for all of the variations:
- First read the question that you are asked to answer at the end of the fact pattern (or before the answer choices). You want to make sure that you answer this precise question.
- Realize that the question asked may have some interesting characteristics that you need to note:
- It may give you the issue (examples: "which motion will be filed" or "what crime will be charged").
- It may assign you a role (examples: judge or prosecutor or defense attorney).
- It may indicate a jurisdiction (examples: "under common law" or "in Texas).
- It may specify facts (examples: "if Phil were 14 years old" or "if the statute of limitations were 3 years").
- After reading the question, you should then read the fact pattern with that specific question in mind. At the end of the fact pattern you should have the answer to the question in mind to help you analyze each answer choice.
- Read each of the individual answer choices carefully and decide for each whether it is a good or bad answer. Use a coding system that makes sense to you: yes/no; true/false; plus/minus.
- Do not skip any of the individual answer choices when you do your analysis. The best answer may be "the defendant is not liable unless..." even though when you finished reading the fact pattern you were sure that the best answer choice would begin with "the defendant is liable."
- If the answer format indicates that you need to consider combinations, then your coding of individual answer choices should indicate the correct combination answer. For example, if your coding indicated that a, b, and d were good answer choices:
- you would pick the answer choice "a, b, and d" and ignore any other combinations
- "all of the above" could not be correct since you thought c was a bad answer choice
- "none of the above" could not be correct since you thought a, b, and d were good answer choices
- To avoid holding the facts and rules that apply in your head while you consider answer choices, consider writing the rule and relevant facts in the margins of the exam paper or on provided scrap paper to allow you to easily evaluate each answer choice against that information.
- Even if you are not 100% sure of an answer choice when you consider a question, circle your best answer choice on the exam paper and bubble in the answer choice on the Scantron sheet before you move to the next question. This method prevents you from misaligning your bubbled answer choices because you forgot you skipped a question. It also prevents you from leaving the question bubble blank if you run out of time to return to the question.
- For any question that you want to return to for a second look, indicate that status in the exam paper margin with the percentage of certainty for the answer choice you bubbled in (examples: 80% or 70% or 60%; use a ? for 50% or less). Do not change the answer choice when you return to the question unless you are more than that percentage sure that the new answer choice would be correct.
- Rather than trying to keep track of the time available for each question (example: 2 minutes), designate time checkpoints and the number of questions you should have completed by that time checkpoint.
- Example for 60 questions in 2-hour exam starting at 1:00 p.m.: 15 questions completed by 1:30 p.m.; 30 questions completed by 2:00 p.m.; 45 questions completed by 2:30 p.m.; 60 questions completed by 3:00 p.m.).
- You can reserve time for review out of the overall time and distribute the remaining time over the questions (for the example in 1: reserve 30 minutes for review; then you would have to complete 20 questions for each of three 30-minute checkpoints at 1:30, 2:00, and 2:30).
- You can use more checkpoints if you tend to go too fast or too slowly through multiple-choice questions. The additional checkpoints will monitor your time more often to indicate if you need to slow down or speed up.
Multiple-choice exams require in-depth understanding of the material so that you can determine why one answer is better than another. Completing as many practice questions as possible will assist you in learning the nuances in applying the law to each question. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 19, 2015
We are already in the tenth week of our 14 week-2 day semester. There are some essential tasks for students to complete if they are going to take advantage of long-term memory in exam review.
- Getting caught up with course outlines is very important. These are the master documents for exam study. Course outlines condense briefs and class notes to manageable page counts. In addition, these outlines refocus students on synthesis of individual cases into the bigger picture with meaningful legal tools to solve new legal scenarios.
- Although it is important to memorize black letter law, studying for exams is far more than memorization. Students should achieve understanding: how rules and exceptions work together; how the black letter law works to solve legal problems; how policy affects the law.
- Reading a course outline from front to back page at least once a week helps to keep all of the topics and content fresh. This cover-to-cover review prevents memory loss while the student focuses on in-depth study of specific topics or subtopics.
- Intense review of specific topics or subtopics leads to greater understanding. By really grappling with information, a student prepares to use that material on an exam. When focusing on a specific slice of the outline, it is important to think about what the concepts really mean and why the law works as it does for the topic. During this specific study, is the time to get any confusion clarified so that the topic is truly prepared for the exam.
- Practice questions are imperative if a student is going to succeed at the highest level on an exam. Practice questions are most effective when done several days after intense review of a topic. The questions monitor whether the student has understood the material, has retained it, and can apply it to new fact scenarios.
- For essay practice questions, students should write out their answers and compare them to the model answers in the practice-question books. Merely answering a question in one's head does not promote the necessary skills of organizing a complete answer and writing that answer in concise sentences.
- For multiple-choice practice questions, students need to pay attention to the reasons for their errors. Sometimes it is misunderstood content. However, it can also be misreading questions, choosing general rather than specific answers, picking by gut rather than analysis, and other errors.
Students want to distribute their learning throughout the remaining weeks rather than cram at the very end. By promoting long-term memory instead of brain dump, they will be able to retain more information for later bar review. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 31, 2015
This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.
Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:
Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource!
Be willing to put in the work:
There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.
Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top.
Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:
Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.
If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.
I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.
Do What Works for YOU:
There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently! Find what works for you and stick with it.
At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that.
Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.
Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge! When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!
Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often).
Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Spoiler: I'm into rhetorical questions, so I'm not going to answer the one I asked above in this post.
A little over a month ago, I sat for a 200 multiple-choice question exam to determine whether I would cross a hurdle necessary for professional licensure. The readership of this blog is probably a little confused because the bar exam was a little less than a month ago. So to answer the obvious question, no, I was not sitting for yet another bar exam. But I have sat for the bar exam in two jurisdictions, so I was comparing the ordeal for licensure in this new profession against that “golden” standard.
My experience leading up to the test was as follows. I filed my application to undergo supervision as a precursor to becoming a licensed professional counselor in the state of Oklahoma in the summer of 2014. The Board did what it had to do with my application which seemed to consist of a verification of education, a background check, confirmation of a relationship with a suitable supervisor and place of employment, and payment of the fee. After about five weeks, they sent me two letters. One notified me that I could begin accruing supervised hours and the other that I was eligible to take the licensure exams. I have two years from the date of that letter to schedule and successfully complete my examinations. It’s a two-part exam, the already mentioned MCQ exam and then a brief, separate law and ethics exam. I looked at my calendar and said, “I think I’ll take it next summer while my students are preparing for the bar exam; I need a reminder of the misery so that I can be sufficiently sympathetic to their ordeal.” A school year goes by during which I continue working as an academic support professional and I accrue supervised client-contact hours in my spare time.
In early May, I pulled out the letter to find the procedure for registering for the exam. I had to apply with a third party administrator to take the exam. I sent in the application with a check and a copy of the Board’s eligibility letter. While waiting to hear back from the third party administrator, I procured my materials to prepare for the exam. I bought them new (which most of my fellow graduates did not), and I combined several different providers resources. They cost less than buying the books alone from most of the bar prep providers.
By the end of May I received an email with my approval and instructions to continue. I went to their website. I entered my zip code. I chose a geographically convenient testing center. It then showed me a calendar with available appointment times. I selected a convenient and feasible date and appointment time to take the exam. Because mornings aren’t my friend, I choose a noon appointment.
I won’t bore you with the details of my study plan (or my study reality) and I’ll go straight to test day. On test day, I had a leisurely breakfast and ran a couple of low brain-power errands, e.g. buying moving boxes. I reported to the testing center 20 minutes before my appointment with two forms of ID in hand. The receptionist checked my ID, confirmed my appointment, created a palm scan to verify identity should I need to exit and then return to the test. I put my hair in a ponytail because a hair tie on my wrist is a threat to test security while one in my hair is not. All of my belongings except my picture ID went into a locker, and I was escorted into the test room to my testing station. The proctor pulled up the test on the computer, gave me a brief orientation, and then left me to the test.
The format of the exam is a 200 question test in a multiple choice format, given in what someone who has taken the MBE considers an overly generous amount of time (I believe it was 240 minutes). It covers eight different content areas as well as five different types of work behaviors. Only 160 of the 200 questions are live questions; they are testing 40 items on every single administration of the exam. And I received my results within 60 seconds of hitting the submit button. Had I failed, it would be three months and another registration fee before I could attempt again. I exited the room, and they used my ID and palm scan to verify that I was still the person who entered the room to take that test. They gave me an unofficial copy of my test results and I was on my way within 90 minutes. No BS belief that finishing the exam early indicates I’m compromising exam security.
Moving to the point I really want to draw with this post - many other professions, some that are arguably more aligned with the practice of law than counseling, use an examination format closer to the counseling model than the law model. Some CPA candidates are encouraged to focus on their exam one segment at a time rather than try to pass all sections at once because they can stack scores from multiple testing dates to get the passing score for each component of their exam. Nurses receive an adaptive computer-based test in facilities like the one I was at. Moreover, the GRE is now, mostly, a computer-based test that is administered in centers like the one I went too. And it’s administered to more than 300,000 people in the United States each year. I’m sorry, I know I jumped from licensing to entrance exams, but let’s compare the number of times the GRE is administered in a year with the almost 81,000 people who took bar exams in 2014.
The infrastructure exists in this country to change the way we do the bar exam, while still maintaining the quality of the test in regards to assessing our graduates' core legal knowledge and reasoning skills. In future weeks, I hope to discuss some of the further ramifications of this idea. This change would create some benefits for examinees, state bars, the public at large, and others. There would also be burdens to those same entities, as well as some others, if this thought experiment were to become a reality. (CMB)
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Pace yourself this week. You want to be as alert going into your last exams as the first ones you had.
- Get enough sleep. Being rested will help you more than staying up to the wee hours cramming.
- Take short breaks at least every 90 minutes. Your brain can continue filing away information in the 10 minutes you take off.
- If you need a longer break, combine exercise and a meal so that you have a couple of hours off and use the combination to combat stress and re-energize.
- Add movement to your breaks. Walk around outside for a few minutes. Walk throughout the hallways of the law school. Do a few jumping jacks. Jog in place.
- Eat food that nourishes your brain. Avoid overdosing on caffeine, sugar, energy drinks. Take a dinner break where you sit down and eat a real meal rather than pizza or junk food.
Prioritize what you still need to study. Spend more time on the things you are having difficulty with for a course. Light review is all you should need on the things you already know well.
If you are losing focus, mix up your study tasks; variety that suits your learning styles can help you regain focus:
- Intensely review a subtopic in your outline
- Drill with your flashcards
- Talk to a friend about the material
- Do some practice questions
- Draw a spider map of the concepts
- Write out a difficult rule 10 times
- Read aloud a topic in your outline
- Tab your code book for an open-code exam
If you are working on a paper, break down your tasks into small pieces so it will not be so overwhelming.
- Separate research, writing, and editing tasks into three “to do” lists.
- Read aloud if you are having trouble reviewing what you have already written.
- Do multiple edits with each one focusing on a different task rather than a mega-edit:
Punctuation; Grammar; Logic; Flow and style; Citation; Footnotes; Format
- If possible, finish the day before it is due so that you can set it aside and come back for a final look with fresh eyes.
Think of three things that you are going to do to celebrate your end of the semester. Having things to look forward to helps you stay motivated.
Good luck as you continue through exams! Summer is almost here. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, May 2, 2015
As law students settle into their exam studying, here are some tips to help them be more productive:
- Remember that exams are testing whether you can apply the law to facts in new legal scenarios to solve legal problems. You need to know the law well, but you need to go beyond mere rote memorization of the law. You need to understand the law and how to apply it.
- Focus on your professor’s course. What topics/subtopics did your professor cover? What rule statements, steps of analysis, preferred formats, etc. did your professor provide? What study tips did your professor give?
- Update your outlines with the last class material as soon as possible after your last classes because they are your master documents. Outlines, if done correctly, are the most efficient and effective way to learn 15 weeks of material.
- Re-reading cases is inefficient because you focus on unconnected case fragments. Class notes may also keep the course unconnected and include unnecessary details.
- If you do not have an outline, prioritize: condense your notes to the tools that you need to solve legal problems; organize by topics and subtopics to synthesize the material into 10 -20 pages if possible.
- Make a list of all the topics and subtopics in your outlines that you need to learn for an exam. Include subtopics, because you often can make progress on several subtopics when an entire topic looks overwhelming. As you have completed your learning for a subtopic, highlight it off the list. Highlighting will give you more psychological buzz than just checking it off.
- Practice questions are very important to exam success. The more questions you complete, the more prepared you are to tackle new scenarios on the exam. Practice questions help you monitor your understanding and get your exam-taking strategies on auto-pilot.
- Complete exam-quality practice questions after you learn material. If you do them before you have a good grasp on the topic, you will waste time and excuse your low performance with “I would have gotten it right if I had studied.”
- After you have learned a topic, wait at least a day or two before tackling practice questions on that topic if possible; otherwise you will get answers right because you just finished studying the topic and not because you have retained and understood it.
- Use commentary study aids effectively. Focus only on topics or subtopics that you still do not understand. Reading an entire 300-page study aid is usually not efficient. If you understand the topic/subtopic after reading about it in one commentary, avoid reading additional commentaries on the same information.
- Use study groups effectively. Keep the number in the group small to avoid logistic and group dynamic problems. Have an agenda for each meeting so everyone knows what topics will be covered and what practice questions to complete beforehand.
- Balance study group time with your individual study – your group members cannot help you in the exam; you need to know the material and be able to apply it. Complete practice questions individually as well as any group questions discussed.
- Open-book exams can be a trap for many students. You still need to know the material well. Normally you will not have enough time to look everything up. Beware of slacking off in your preparation. Plan your organization strategies for the materials allowed under your professor’s definition of open book.
- Each day has three main blocks of study time: morning (8 a.m. – noon), afternoon (1 – 5 p.m.), and evening (6 – 10 p.m.). The number of hours you need to study each day will depend on several factors: how much material you learned to exam-ready standard by the end of classes, your specific exam schedule, the number of practice questions you have already completed, and your individual productivity as a student.
- This is a marathon and not a sprint. Get sleep; eat nutritious meals; exercise to relieve stress. Going into an exam sleep-deprived is a disaster waiting to happen. Wearing yourself out before your last exam is counter-productive.
- The night before a morning exam or the morning before an afternoon exam should ideally be “fluff study”: a cover-to-cover read of your outline, very easy practice questions, or going through your flashcard deck again. If you have not learned it already, cramming will just make you more anxious and befuddled in those last few hours.
Finally, treat your brain with respect. When you lose your focus and cannot get it back by more active learning methods, your brain is telling you to take a break. Forcing yourself to continue when you have hit the proverbial wall is not productive. Walk away and come back later - just make sure you do come back instead of playing video games for 10 hours. Good luck on exams! (Amy Jarmon)