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)
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Most law schools are about to begin their exam periods. Everyone can feel the stress level increasing daily among the students. The doom and gloom, nay-saying, gnashing of teeth, groaning, and moaning of some law students are infecting the atmosphere for everyone.
Keeping a positive outlook and believing in yourself during the exam period will require some strategies to counteract the negativity. Here are some ways to keep yourself from giving in to stress and bad thoughts:
- Retain your common sense and ignore the bizarre rumors that float around a law school at the end of a semester. Example: one group of students told me a rumor that a professor's curve is so tight that the few high grades are assigned alphabetically by last name. That makes no sense because exams are anonymously graded. Beware of the foolishness that abounds this time of year.
- Make conscious decisions about which people add to your positive mindset. Surround yourself with fellow students who are supportive, encouraging, and focusing on productive study. Also, make time to talk with your supporters outside the law school: parents, siblings, mentors, and others. Ask someone to be your cheerleader so you can phone every night for a pep talk.
- Make conscious decisions about which people to avoid. Walk away from the people who are negative. You can be polite in doing so, but get away from them. Do not allow yourself to waste time listening to dire predictions of failure. Do not tolerate anyone who is trying to make you feel less prepared, to undermine your confidence, or to belittle your efforts.
- Find a place to study that decreases your stress level. If the law school atmosphere makes you anxious or you get too many interruptions there, go elsewhere. Some students can study at home; others get too distracted at home. Choose a study location where you will be productive: the main university library, another academic building on campus, an empty Student Union meeting room, a coffee shop, the business center at your apartment complex.
- Focus on manageable tasks. Viewing a course as a 15-week whole is stressful. "I need to know Income Tax" is an overwhelming concept. Break your course down into topics and subtopics. Then focus on learning manageable pieces: "I need to understand the medical expense deduction for Schedule A." Remember the Chinese proverb: you can eat an elephant one bite at a time.
- Avoid talking about an exam after it is over. Put it behind you and move on. You cannot change what you did on the exam. If you talk with people about it, your stress will likely increase because someone will say there was an issue that you did not spot - and half of the time, that person is wrong.
- Take care of yourself. Having enough sleep (7-8 hours per night minimum) helps you absorb, retain, and apply information. You will also be more productive in your study hours. Going into an exam without enough sleep is a recipe for disaster. Eating healthy foods also helps your brain to work better. Exercise is one of the best stress-busters and helps you sleep.
- Encourage yourself. Read inspirational quotes or scriptures each day. Post positive sayings around your apartment. List three good things that happened each day in a journal before you go to bed. Pat yourself on the back for a good study session.
Most of all remember that you are the same intelligent person you were when you entered the law school doors for the first time. Believe in yourself. You can do this. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Schools around the country have entered the exam zone. For the next 2-3 weeks campus are overrun with students walking shuffling around in clothing that has seen better days. They will be unkempt and a bit unclean. They will stay up all hours of the night, chugging energy drinks to keep going. All in the name of studying. This is what it takes to get an A. I say it is time for change. Don’t just follow the crowd. Be your own person and do your own thing: take a shower, go to bed at a decent hour, and still get an A. This is possible if you follow one simple rule: treat studying like a job. You don’t have to wear a suit but would it be so bad to wear clean clothes and not smell like stale sweat? I know it’s a radical concept but it’s worth considering.
First, make a schedule. Create a weekly and daily calendar where you plan out what you want to accomplish that day and that plan should be more than just, “study.” Break an overwhelming task into smaller, more specific chunks: complete 1/3 of outline, review notes for 15 minutes, answer and review one practice question. You also need to schedule time for life. Make an appointment with yourself to do laundry, make dinner, talk to mom. Scheduling these activities means you are more likely to do them. Being able to keep up with day to day tasks will make you feel better and more accomplished.
Second, protect your study time. Just because you spend 12 hours in the library doesn’t mean you actually studied 12 hours. The first step is the hardest but most important- go off the grid. Turn off the phone. Not on silent. Not on airplane mode. Turn. It. Off. It’s ok if you need to take baby steps: start with a 2-hour block without social media and texting. Both are times sucks and every time you go off-task, you lose time (Check out my October 1 post for more on multi-tasking). Devote a solid two hours to studying. You will be amazed at how much work you get done. It’s fine if you want to chat with friends or wander around the library but this is called a “study-break” and you don’t get one of these until you’ve studied.
If the idea of making and following a schedule, and not texting or tweeting for a whole two hours seems a bit daunting, try it out for a day and see how it goes. I doubt you’ll revert back to your old ways. Not only will you do well on your exams but you’ll have clean laundry, too.
Friday, April 24, 2015
When I meet with students to assess exam performance and the topic of multiple choice questions comes up, oftentimes the student says, “I thought I was good at multiple choice but apparently I’m not.” Although I don’t like that the student has given up on himself, I use this as an opportunity to work on multiple choice strategies.
The theme I use for teaching multiple choice is control: you need to stay in control of the question, not the other way around.
The first step is to read with a purpose. Read the call of the question for the expected outcome: “What is P’s best argument?” “If D wins, what is the basis?” “How should the judge rule?” This sets up the framework for the best answer choice. Next, read the fact pattern and identify the central issue. Then recall the relevant rule. Don’t look to the answer choices for help in figuring out the issue or the rule. Three are written to distract you away from this. Only look at the answer choices after you know what you are looking for. The best answer choice will address both the central issue and the correct rule. If the issue raised in the answer doesn’t match the issue raised in the question, it is not the best choice. If the legal basis for each answer choice isn’t relevant or completely correct, then it is not the best answer choice.
Just as writing an essay response is a process, so too is answering a multiple choice question. The difference is that with an essay your response must demonstrate the process and with multiple choice you demonstrate the process by choosing the best answer. Knowing the material is not enough to get a question correct. You have to work through practice questions and master the process in order to get the correct answer. Take the time, practice the process, and stay in control.
Friday, April 10, 2015
It’s almost time for exams which means students across the country will put healthy lifestyles on hold in order to spend more time studying. Yes, studying is important but if you want your brain working at optimal capacity, then feed it right. Junk food isn’t good for your body or your brain. Fuel yourself with food that enhances your brain function, mood, and memory. Instead of reaching for chips, candy, or an energy drink, try one of these brain foods. Broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Blueberries and strawberries are effective in improving short term memory. Peanut butter has fat but the good kind- it keeps the heart and brain healthy and functioning properly. Unlike grains like rice and pasta that cause energy levels to peak and crash, leaving your brain exhausted, whole grains provide a steady flow of energy. Dark chocolate in moderation improves blood flow to the brain which improves cognitive function. Not only will your brain thank you but when exams are over you’ll still be able to fit into your clothes.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Law students spend hours and hours studying. A 60 hour week is the norm. The law school study standard is 3 hours of prep for every hour of class. This means actual study time, not time spent in the library. You may think you are productive but are you? Of those 4 hours you spent in the library last night, how much of that time was spent on actual studying? One way to measure it is to track your “billable hours.” Make note of the time you start studying and use the timer on your phone to track how long you are on task. Stop the timer every time you stop studying. Even if it’s just a few seconds, stop the timer. How many times did you stop to read a text, send a text, check twitter feed or facebook updates, talk to someone, get up and stretch, re-organize your materials? This adds up and you are probably not as productive as you think. Once you realize how much time you waste, use the timer to keep you focused. If you plan on studying for 3 hours, you know that reading and responding to a text means stopping the timer and 3 hours can turn into 4 or 5. Would you rather spend that time at your desk or in the library, or would you rather spend it doing something you enjoy? The choice is yours. (KSK)
Monday, January 19, 2015
If you are a first year law student - especially - it is important to take stock of your law school learning and progress. Regardless of the results of your fall exams, there is much to be learned from your exam results.
* Get copies of your exams -- all of them -- to the extent that your law school permits. Review your exams carefully.
* Ask yourself how your best essay answers differ from the essays that you are less pleased with.
* If your professors have made rubrics or sample/model answers available make good use of those resources.
- outline the model or sample answer & look to see how it compares with your own.
- does the model or sample answer use the IRAC structure?
- does your answer follow the IRAC structure, using IRAC is a good way to ensure that you include the necessary components of legal analysis, such as the rule and use of the exam facts?
- what points of law or analysis are noted in the rubric or sample/model answer -- but not in your answer?
- did your course outlines contain the information needed to do well on the exams? If not, learn from this experience as you prepare outlines for the spring courses.
* Make appointments to meet with your porfessors -- even for courses that ended in December. Meeting with your professors helps you to learn from the exam experience. But be prepared for those meetings by thoroughly reviewing your exams - before the meetings.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I was speaking with one of my students, a 3L, about her preparation for the bar exam this summer. She mentioned that she did not take several bar tested subjects, but that she felt prepared for the core courses except for Contracts. I asked her what happened in Contracts. She said she loved her Professor; she participated in class, studied hard and understood the material, but got a C on the final both semesters. I then asked her what happened when she reviewed her exam. She replied that she did not review her exam. I asked her what her Professor said when she met with him to discuss her performance. To my dismay, she said that she did not meet with him. Why? She said she was too scared to meet with him. While I know this happens with scary Professor Kingsfield types, her Professor does not fit that description. I explained that even if she was a bit nervous about meeting with him, she should have made the effort.
After we take an exam, we have a good idea about how we performed. If, for some reason, our actual performance does not align with our perceived performance, it is best determine why this discrepancy exists. This student is now in her last semester of law school and approaching her bar review without knowing whether she truly understands Contracts. Was it merely an organizational error on her final? Did she manage her time poorly? Did she miss an essential issue? Or, did she have fundamental problems with her conceptual knowledge of contract law?
In retrospect, she realized that she should have faced her fears and made an appointment to discuss her final exam with her Professor. But, we cannot live in the past. I suggested that she make an appointment now with her 1L Contracts Professor. He may not remember her, he most certainly will not remember her final exam, and he may not be able to give her a ton of feedback. However, he might be able to provide some insights into her grade. For instance, there are likely some common trends that appear in exams that he gives a C grade. Also, he may be able to offer insights about how he grades verses what will be tested and graded on the bar exam. And, lastly, even if he does not offer much information about her particular performance, she will feel more empowered by the experience. By facing her fear and being self-motivated to ascertain why Contracts eluded her, she will be more confident moving forward with her last semester and her bar prep and will likely stop letting this moment in her past affect how she feels in the present.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Law students breathe a sigh of relief once all of their exams are over and the last papers turned in. It is such a good feeling to have the semester over! No more studying for the time being!
Alas, the relief is short-lived for some students. They begin almost immediately to worry about the final grades for their courses. For some students, the worry is caused by being too close to the GPA needed to meet academic standards. For other students, the worry is caused by wanting a certain GPA for qualifying for a certain law firm's job application cut-off or retaining scholarship aid or achieving some other standard for a law-school honor.
Whatever the reason for the worry, it can cause sleepless nights and self-doubt until the grades are finally posted. It is the lack of control over the grades that makes students anxious. Not only do they need to do their personal best, but they need to achieve a high enough score to "beat the curve" for the class.
The recommended percentages for each grade bracket of most law schools' curves mean that the overall class performance determines the grades given. Students know that if everyone in the class knew the material and performed well on the exam then just 2 or 3 points can be the difference between a higher or lower letter grade. They realize that some folks will get low grades no matter how large the break between the lowest C and the next grouping. No wonder students sign up for seminars that often do not have to conform to the recommended curve.
It is important to put grades into perspective while waiting for the outcomes:
- You cannot change anything about the exam that is already completed or the paper that is already turned in. Stewing about the misread fact pattern, the forgotten rule, the missed issue, the skimpy case analysis, and more will not change anything. We are not perfect, so it is inevitable in law exams and assignments that perfection will not be reached. All of us remember "the ones that got away" in our law school experiences.
- A final exam grade reflects one's performance on one set of questions on one day at one time. Any student who was sick, tired, stressed, or unfocused during the exam can know that the grade reflects those less than optimal circumstances and not just knowledge/application.
- Over the full spectrum of a law degree, students benefit from the curve as often as they get hurt by the curve. It evens out over time. The break in the curve gives you a higher grade on one exam but may catch you with a lower grade on another.
- A low grade does not mean you are less intelligent, less worthy, or less talented than the day you walked across the threshold of your law school for the first time your 1L year. It merely means that you need to implement some new strategies and forge ahead. Do not allow grades to undermine your self-worth.
- Grades indicate opportunities for improvement rather than just measures of performance. There are lots of ways to improve on test-taking whether the exams are true-false, multiple choice, short answer, fact-pattern essay, or some other variation. ASP professionals can assist students in evaluating their problem areas and work on strategies with them.
After the initial angst of grades that are less than you hoped for, pull yourself together. You can do this with assistance. Review your exams or papers with your faculty members to get feedback on what you did well and what you need to improve. Then make an appointment with your academic success professional to implement a plan for that improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
“The first rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’ The second rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’”
Brad Pitt uttered these words 15 years ago in the iconic movie Fight Club (a movie about a fight club). Even today when I ask my class, “What is the first rule of Fight Club?” every single guy responds, “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” You may wonder why I would ever ask such a question and the answer is, the same holds true for exams. Don’t talk about exams. Talking about exams is like asking a woman how much she weighs or asking anyone how much he or she makes. First, outside very specific situations (like your doctor’s office), there is absolutely no reason to ask these questions. Second, you wouldn’t ask your friends these questions because you know that no matter the response, someone walks away from the conversation feeling bad. Talking about the exams is exactly the same: there is no reason to talk about it and someone always walks away feeling bad. I’ve had students challenge me and ask, “what if you have to talk about an exam?” and “what if there really is a reason?” I throw it right back and say, “give me an example.” In all the years I've been doing this, I’ve yet to hear a legitimate reason to talk about exams. As you continue through exams, keep in mind the first rule of law school exams, “Don’t talk about exams.”
Monday, December 8, 2014
You have studied and prepared -- will continue to study and prepare -- for your end of term exams. You have outlined each subject and prepared exam checklists that contain the legal issues/rules, elements that yopu need to know to do well; you have reread and continue to reread your outlines; you have written practice exam essays; and you have done practice multiple-choice questions. Keep up that good work and maintain that momentum.
As you prepare for exam day(s), you can take one more step by taking a page from athletes preparing for competitions. Use visualization techniques to build or enhance confidence as you move into the exam period. Breathe deeply, close your eyes, visualize a large powerful animal, visualize yourself as that large powerful animal. Take that image of yourself with you into the exam room. On exam days, employ strong, erect, powerful posture -- posture that reflects confidence.
While there is no substitute for study and preparation for law school exams, you can sse the combination of preparation and visulaization techniques to build confidence as you approach exams. Visualize yourself as powerful; enter the examination room with erect, strong posture; picture yourself writing exams confidently.
(This post was inspired by a presentation at the New England Consortiium of Legal Writing Teachers Conference - September 2014 at Vermont Law School -- "The Sport of Lawyering: Using Visualization to Improve Performance," Julie St. John, Assistant Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law)
Friday, December 5, 2014
I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Walter Mischel, who is known for administering “The Marshmallow Test” to young children as a researcher at Stanford. As many of you are aware, the test consisted of children sitting in a room with a single marshmallow (or another sweet treat) while being asked to delay eating it. If they delayed their gratification, the child would get a greater reward at a later time (typically two marshmallows). The experiment produced interesting and, at times, comical responses from the children being observed. You can check out some Marshmallow Test videos on YouTube to watch the eye rolling, seat squirming, and general agitation exhibited by the children.
While the underlying experiments were amusing to watch, the conclusions drawn from the initial experiments and the long term studies were quite insightful. Essentially, by understanding our impulses and how we can retrain ourselves in order to have greater willpower, we can make better choices and be more productive. Many of us believe that human nature rules whether the child would take the marshmallow instead of waiting (or whether the student would study for another 2 hours before watching an episode of their favorite show or checking their Facebook page). While some are more inclined to eat the marshmallow right away, many are able to resist for a limited amount of time.
As Dr. Mischel pointed out, we can all learn how to control our impulses (kids with marshmallows or adults with other enticements). For example, if you know that when you go to holiday parties, you rush the dessert table and do not leave that table until you have sampled two of each type of dessert, you can put a plan in place in order to limit your dessert intake. If you have no plan in place or if you arrive to the party hungry, you are more likely to fall into the dessert vortex. If plan ahead, to first spend some time at the crudité and also allow yourself a bite from three different sweets over the course of the event, you are more likely to be successful in limiting your impulses. Alternatively, if you instead plan to abstain completely from eating dessert at the party, you will likely fail. Thus, deliberate and premeditated change in small increments helps create a new practice that is easier to successfully adopt and sustain.
How does this apply to law students? Law students often succumb to and/or are ambushed by procrastination. It is difficult to delay gratification no matter what age. I learned from the marshmallow studies and from Dr. Michel’s presentation that we can all learn how to control our impulses if we understand what drives our impulses and if we are committed to making one small change at a time. In my example above, an individual knows that they struggle with overindulging in dessert. The willpower is harder to maintain without a clear and doable strategy in place. However, recognizing the temptation, adopting a realistic alternative, and planning ahead create a method for success. If law students try to more fully understand their impulsive triggers, they are better positioned to generate a plan to resist or avoid them.
Thus, law students can follow this strategy to use their time more effectively and more efficiently. Here are a few ideas:
- They can begin by writing out typical time stealers and creating targeted goals to reduce them. (Examples: When I study in groups, I am easily drawn off topic. When I turn on the television, I end up watching it for longer than I expected. If I turn my phone on while I am studying, my social media becomes a huge distraction.)
- They can purchase or create calendars in order to plan and track their time. Hard copy calendars visualize their priorities much better than a computer version.
- They can turn off their electronic devices while they study for a continuous block of time. (Example: I will study Torts for 3 hours in the library and leave my computer and phone in my locker.)
- They can disable their Wi-Fi while in class or while reviewing notes on their computer.
- They can establish a reward system that motivates this continued behavior. (Example: If I complete my stated study goal, I will get a night off or an extra hour of sleep, or more time for a special activity.)
Once an effective time management plan is established and the inherent benefits are apparent, students are more apt to fully adopt these new strategies by continuing to buck their impulses. After all, two marshmallows later are better than one marshmallow now.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Winter has arrived. Just as the temperatures are dropping and daylight hours are getting shorter, students are gearing up for longer study days and less sleep. During exam period, students tend to over-consume caffeine and junk food and cut back on sleep and exercise. This combination often leads to fatigue and illness. Getting sick is the last thing you want to happen during exams. Exam period is when you need to be at your best so don’t underestimate the importance of healthy habits. Keep your body strong in order to keep your brain strong. Study for those exams but also eat a vegetable, go for a brisk walk, and get some sleep.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Across the country law students are studying for semester exams. This is not the first blog post about staying healthy, managing time, and staying organized and motivated during exam prep. There is a reason for that. Law students tend to get distracted by what you are doing for exams that you forget to understand why you are studying for exams. It’s because you want to be a lawyer. Well, I’m a lawyer, too. Yes, I went to law school a long time ago and but exam prep hasn’t changed much. Law students still consume way too much caffeine, don’t shower or shave often enough, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning and then crash until noon. I don’t recommend doing any of these things. Law school is the bridge to the profession of law so treat it as such and start studying like a professional. Get up at 7-7:30, shower, eat breakfast, and be ready to study by 8-8:30. Put in 4 good hours in the morning (with a short break) and then take an hour for lunch. Not only do you need to feed your body but you need to give your brain a break and a chance to re-charge. After lunch, it’s time for another 4 focused hours of studying. It’s now 5-5:30 but you aren’t starving because you ate a decent breakfast and lunch. You take a 30-minute break (have a snack, get some fresh air), and are good for another 2 hours. Now it is 7-7:30 and you are hungry and tired. You’ve put in 10+ hours and it’s time to call it a day. You prepare and eat dinner and catch up on email and social media. Before going to bed, you review all you’ve accomplished and make a plan for the next day so when you get to your study spot you are ready to go and don’t have to waste time figuring out what to do. If this sounds too easy to be true, it’s not. It just requires you to stop thinking like an undergrad and start thinking like a lawyer.
Monday, November 24, 2014
For most people, the end of November means Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season. It means family, food, and football. For law students, it means the start of exams. It is a time for writing papers, creating outlines, and studying. A lot of studying. For 1Ls especially, it can be stressful and quite overwhelming. This is the first set of exams they will take and success is not guaranteed.
I recently had breakfast with a group of 2Ls and as the conversation turned to exams, I asked them to share some advice: what do 1Ls need to know about law school exams? Here are their wise words:
- Make your own outline and start with 20 minute blocks to overcome beginner’s inertia.
- Focus on what is important, including the non-school aspects. Don’t let finals take over your life.
- Don’t mistake organizing for studying. You make the perfect outline and not know a thing on it.
- Know the terms of art and use them when answering questions.
- Many people study in different ways. Trust your methods. Don’t feel like you have to be white knuckle the whole finals period.
- Studying is key, but you need to know when to stop. If your outline is done (and it should be) stop the night before the final and do something else: anything else. Especially near the end of your finals, you need to give your brain a break.
- Don’t neglect relationships.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
With Thanksgiving week coming up, law students everywhere are thinking about spending time with family and friends and taking a few days off to relax. However, the long weekend is also a great time to begin thinking about final exam preparation. Therefore, in between the pumpkin pie and leftover turkey sandwiches, law students, especially 1Ls, will benefit from creating a study strategy for upcoming finals. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Create a detailed study plan. Calendar the next month so that you are able to incorporate your study agenda with all of your other responsibilities. Don’t forget to calendar your down time including: exercise, veg-out time, and the basics...like sleep.
- Think about what you covered thus far this semester in class. Did you spend more time on particular areas of law or on certain cases? If yes, make sure you have a solid understanding of those areas. In addition to reviewing your notes from class, go back and reread the important cases again and take detailed notes.
- Prepare to begin memorization. Depending on when your finals are scheduled, you may not be ready to begin the memorization process. However, this is a great time to prepare for memorization. Create study aids (see below) and/or mnemonics as you begin reviewing the material.
- Consider your learning style. Are you a visual learner? Then, try creating a flowchart or mind-map. Use a whiteboard and color-code your checklists. Are you a kinesthetic learner? Make flashcards or record yourself talking about the law or reciting the elements. Think outside the box, not everyone learns from “outlining.” Instead, I encourage you to create a “study aid” that is tailored to your needs as a learner.
- Review the big picture. Having an understanding of the law or the overarching legal theories will help you as you begin your memorization and intensive studying. A good way to effectuate this understanding is to create a one page schema or mind-map of the main ideas or concepts from the course. This will help you see the big picture without getting bogged down in the minutia and will help you see how connections can be made between the many parts. Chunking the material into sections will also help you make these connections and allow you to have a deeper understanding of the law.
- Look over sample outlines and study guides. These can help you get started, but try not to rely solely on them for your exam study. Also, many of the bar review companies provide 1L study guide material, which may include traditional outlines, on-line lectures, and practice questions. These are great resources and are typically free!
- Ask for your Professor or Academic Success Office for past sample exams. These exams are extremely valuable study tools. You can use them to identify the issues being tested, the rules to apply, and, more importantly, to understand your Professor's expectations.
- Take practice tests. You can also simulate a final exam with past exams or hypos and practice questions found in various study aids. The more exam writing you practice, the more proficient you will become. This is the most effective way to study for final exams! It is not only what you know, but also being able to apply what you know in a timely and logical manner.
- Lastly, Thanksgiving is about being thankful. If you are not happy, well-rested, self-confident, and balanced, the rest of your life (especially exam prep) will not be productive. Use this time to reflect on what you are thankful for, catch up on your sleep, and build up your spirit.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
(Lisa Bove Young)
Friday, November 7, 2014
If you are working on future interests with any of your students, one of the professors here at South Carolina has made a new mobile app for learning future interests called Future Interests Made Simple. It includes pictures, diagrams, graphics, examples, and lots of practice problems with explanations. It's available for iPhones, iPads, and Android phones for $2.99. I've taken it on several test drives, and I think it works pretty well. The links for it are below:
iTunes store: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id933368390
Google Play store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=appnotch.sec.hln7690
Monday, October 27, 2014
First year law students may be experiencing law school mid-term exams at this time of the semester. These exams bring with them stress – on the one hand – and opportunities for growth and learning – on the other hand.
Prepare for mid-term exams by completing, perfecting, and condensing outlines. Do practice questions to gain experience dealing with law school essays and with multiple-choice questions. Find questions by looking at what your law school may have on file, by asking your professors, or by looking at study aids that contain questions and corresponding answers. Write practice essays under conditions that mimic those of the actual mid-terms. Meet with study groups to discuss the answers; meet with professors to review your answers. Last – but not least – go back to your outlines to be certain that they contained the concepts needed to answer the practice questions.
After the mid-term, review the feedback given by the professor. If the professor distributes a model answer, outline the model answer – as you compare your answer to the model answer. Additionally, do an IRAC check of your essay to see whether you included the necessary components of a law school essay. Once you have an understanding of what went right and what went wrong, try to rewrite the essay – as a learning-by-practice experience. Meet with your professor to review your work and to make the most out of the learning opportunities that mid-term exams present.