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.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Mid October means time for mid-terms. In addition to preparing for the substance, you should also prepare for the exam experience. Here are a few tips for getting and staying focused during an exam.
- Before the exam begins: Sit calmly and do not think about anything or anyone else. Listen carefully to instructions. Do not worry about any other part of the exam. Focus solely on what is right in front of you. Take it one step at a time.
- When the exam begins: Look at the first question and take a second to remind yourself that you can do this. Start smoothly, work efficiently, and remain focused and calm.
- If you get stuck: Take a breath and take it one step at a time. (1) Identify the issue. This will help you regain your composure and lead you back to the process of thinking like a lawyer. (2) Look at the facts, starting with the nouns: identify parties and legal relationships. Then look at the verbs: what are the parties doing? Identify acts or omissions. Next, look at the adjectives and adverbs, dates and sequence of events. Your professor included them for a reason. Identify the connection to the nouns and verbs. (3) Develop a rule using legal terms like reasonable, intentional, foreseeable, exceeds the scope, etc. (4) Stay calm and continue to work through the question.
- After the exam is over:Put it behind you. You did the best you could and (over)thinking about perceived mistakes or perfection only leads to a false sense of performance. Don’t discuss it with your classmates. This is the cardinal rule of exams. Invariably someone will bring up an issue that you didn’t see (or vice versa) and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it and will convince yourself that you bombed the test. If someone asks you how you did, just respond with, “I did the best I could.”
Go into the mid-term ready to handle the substance, manage your time, and keep your cool. If you can do this, you will surely succeed. (KSK)
Friday, October 10, 2014
We have just passed the halfway point in our semester. Up until now, most students have been focused on daily survival and have not thought much about their exams. Now is the time for them to allot time for exam study as well as for daily class preparation.
Why become a two-task law student? Most semesters are 14-15 weeks long. To try to learn that amount of material closer to the end of the semester is a daunting task. By spreading exam study over a longer period, students gain several advantages:
- Deeper understanding of the material - how it works rather than just rote memory
- Greater retention - multiple reviews create long-term memory
- More practice question time - monitoring what one really knows and can apply
- More exam-taking experience - practice questions allow exam strategies to become auto-pilot rather than uncomfortable
There are several things that law students can do to take control over their exam study. First, they can compile their current knowledge about each course exam. That knowledge may come from the syllabus, the professor's comments in class, or other sources.
Categories of information might include: question formats, open- or closed-book, length of the exam, any topics excluded from the exam, a practice database provided by the professor, or suggested supplements. After indicating what they already know, they can determine what additional information they want to find out over the remainder of the semester.
Here is an example format that could be used for each course:
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT MY EXAMS
WHAT I NEED TO FIND OUT
Course #1: Torts
At least 3 long fact-pattern essay questions
At least 25 multiple-choice questions
Partially open book
Prof recommends CALI lessons
Practice essay questions on prof's course website
Prof will tell us more about any material not on the exam two weeks beforehand
No information yet on what partially open book means
Second, students can compile the list of topics and subtopics that require study for the exam. For courses in which they have the entire semester's syllabus, the list can be completed through the end of the semester. For courses in which they get the syllabus in chunks, the list can be completed through the current chunk and expanded in future weeks.
By completing this step, students are less likely to underestimate the amount of information that will be on the exam. By breaking the topics into subtopics, students can focus on learning small chunks when they have time instead of waiting to find huge blocks of time (as in "It will take me all weekend to learn negligence.")
Here is an example format that could be used for each course:
Course: ____Torts________ TOPICS AND SUBTOPICS ON EXAM
By looking carefully at their weekly schedules, they can often carve out pockets of time for exam review that they thought did not exist.
- Is their reading and briefing taking less time now for a particular course because they are more efficient?
- Are they sleeping in on the weekends when they could capture 1 or 2 hours of exam review time?
- Do they waste blocks of time on digital distractions such as email, Twitter, FaceBook, etc.?
- Can they spend 1 hour instead of 2 hours at the gym?
- Could they study until 7 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night rather than knocking off at 3 p.m.?
By making a schedule of those captured times, students are more likely to follow through on their exam review:
|DAY OF THE WEEK||EXAM REVIEW TIME AVAILABLE|
8:30 - 9:30 a.m.
3:00 - 4:30 p.m.
11:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
8:30 - 10:00 p.m.
3:00 - 4:30 p.m.
3:00 - 6:00 p.m.
9:00 - 10:30 a.m.
3:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Students gain more control when they garner information about their exams, list exactly what to study, and capture wasted time from their schedules for exam review. As they begin to see progress - even in small steps on their topic/subtopic list - they can gain confidence. As they highlight their progress on exam subtopics and keep to their time commitments for review, they will feel more positive about the upcoming end of classes and exam period. (Amy Jarmon)
|Taking Control:||1. Information|
|2. Content||3. Time|
Monday, October 6, 2014
Recent studies show that reading is good for us and that reading in print is, well, even better.
To quote a recent, ahem – online publication – “reading in print helps with comprehension.”
So, what do these studies mean for law students? Law students might consider the following:
- In your Legal Research and Writing class, print out the sources, e.g., the cases and statutes, that are relevant to your assignments and that you will use to write those memos.
- Print out your notes and outlines – if you have typed them. Put these materials in binders and read them from the printed page – not on the screen.
- Reconsider using textbooks in e-book format and favor print books.
- Build in time to read for relaxation – a print book, short story, or magazine – of course.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Multitasking is a way of life for those who’ve grown up in the digital era. You might be talking face-to-face with a friend but you are also texting or checking social media. Even those of us who grew up “b.c.” (before computers) now consider multitasking an essential skill. Why simply drive somewhere when you can drive and talk to someone on the phone? We are busy. We need to multitask. We are good at it. Well, we might not be as good as we think. Research shows that when people do several things at once, they do all of them worse than those who focus on one thing at a time. Multitaskers take longer to complete tasks, make more mistakes, and remember less. In addition, research into multitasking while learning shows that learners have gaps in knowledge, more shallow understanding of the material, and more difficulty transferring the learning to new contexts.
For many, multitasking has become such the norm that you don’t even think about it, you just do it. That’s the problem—you don’t think. However, take a minute to consider why you multitask. Is there an actual need for it? No. You do it because technology has made it possible, because you want to, because meetings/classes are boring, because you don’t want to wait. This is not to say that you shouldn’t watch tv while getting dressed in the morning. But do think twice before multitasking while preparing for and during class. You don’t need to check social media while reading cases. You don’t have to check fantasy football stats during class discussion. Although switching between these tasks may only add a time cost of less than a second, this adds up as you do it over and over again. Class requires focus and multitasking distracts your brain from fully engaging with the material.
The next time you go to class, put the phone on silent and put it away, turn off the internet or shut your lap top. Then focus on the professor and what is going on in the class. The first few minutes will be tough because your brain isn’t used to focusing on one task at a time. However, it won’t take long before your brain realizes it only has to do one thing. You will concentrate more deeply and learn so much more than your classmates who are busy tweeting how bored they are, checking fantasy football stats, and not picking up the exam tip the professor just gave. (KSK)
This idea for this post came from Sara Sampson, OSU Moritz College of Law’s Assistant Dean for Information Services. She made a short presentation on this topic at orientation and was so kind to share her notes and research. Thank you!
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
A good piece of advice from academic support professionals and law professors for students taking law school exams is to begin with the “call of the question.” Who is calling, and what do they want?
The call of the question is the question part of the essay exam. This sounds like nonsense. Why not just read the question from start to finish? The reason to read the call of the question first is to have a road map of where you are asked to go when reading the fact pattern. The call of the question can generally be found at the bottom of the essay. One example of a call of the question is, “Discuss the potential causes of action against Defendant and his defenses.” This is an open ended or “issue spotting” type question. Another style is an “issue spotted” question like, “You are the prosecutor in this case. Can Joe be convicted of burglary under the statute?” This question is asking you to analyze only one issue, that is burglary from the viewpoint of the prosecutor. By reading the call of the question first you will be able to narrow the issues to those the professor wants you to address, thus improving your performance. (Bonnie Stepleton)
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The following web sites and applications have been suggested by law students to help other law students:
- Flashcard Machine: website and app that allow the making of flashcards, random sort, and temporary removal from the deck (flashcardmachine.com)
- Quizlet: website and apps for flashcards, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions; can share with others (quizlet.com)
- SelfControl: Mac app for blocking websites, e-mail, and internet for set time period (selfcontrolapp.com)
- Chrome Nanny: a Google Chrome extension to block time-wasting websites
- Facebook Nanny: another Google Chrome extension to block your Facebook access unless you have a notifications
- Blotter: app for Mac users for desktop time management schedule
If you have apps and websites that are your favorites, please send me an e-mail with the heading "Apps and Websites" at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I may share them with our readers. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Group work is essential to graduate programs in business. Group work is a staple of medical school. But law students baulk at the idea of group work. This is a problem that has baffled me for years. We hear more and more about collaborative work as the cornerstone of students learning, and the need to teach law students how to work collaboratively. But professors who do require group work find that law students resist, fight, and malign collaborative projects. Why do law students hate group work?
1) We teach them that their grade is only as good as the person next to them.
Competition for grades starts the minute law students realize they are graded on a curve. Students begin to fear their peers, because they perceive their peers as their enemies, not as collaborators. Students who fear and mistrust they classmates are not going to put in extra effort to work together. They w fear that anyone who knows what they know will use it against them, either in preparing for a final exam, for personally, to hurt them in the future. Fear and mistrust are not the building blocks of collaboration.
2) We haven't dealt with our "free rider" problem.
I have colleagues who assign group projects, and I always hear about the "free rider" who manages (scams) his or her way into a hard-working group, only to receive a (high) grade based on the work of others. The students mistrust the free rider, but other than tattle to the teacher, there is little the group can do about a free rider. I have seen teachers try to deal with the free rider problem by requiring peers to assign grades to their partners, but this often results in gaming. Entire groups can game the grading by agreeing ahead of time what grades they will give each other, or individuals can game the system by agreeing to a group grade, and later giving their partners lower-than-promised grades in order to boost their personal standing in the class (yes, our students know the "prisoner's dilemma"). The only way to deal with the free rider problem is to require law students to work together on many projects over a long period of time, so "free riders" have to fear their own reputation. However, collaborative projects are pretty rare in law school, so a "free rider" doesn't need to fear that they will be ostracized from other groups if they manipulate the system.
3) We have not taught them HOW to work collaboratively, and they fear what they do not understand.
I loved group work when I was getting my MA in education. Early in my program, we were taught how to collaborate. Our professors explained the expectations of the program; teachers must collaborate, so collaboration was a part of what we needed to learn in order to be successful classroom teachers. The professors were very clear about their personal expectations for the class. Any one person could be asked to explain all of the project, at any time, so no one could be a "free rider" without risking their grade. Probably the most important lesson imparted in my program was that we were all in this together. My MA program stressed that all of us are representing the Neag School of Education, and one person who is a failure as a teacher represents our entire program. No one wanted our program to be anything less than excellent, so we wanted to shine. We worked together because we saw ourselves as members of a team, not competitors.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I find that a lot of students have motivation and tiredness problems during the second week of exams. They are almost done, but their energy is flagging. Here are some tips for making the last week of exams less stressful:
It is not unusual to feel your motivation slipping if you have already had several exams or turned in several papers. Try some of the following if you are feeling unmotivated:
- Break large tasks down into smaller pieces that can be focused on one step at a time. Getting started is the hard part usually. Examples would be:
- It is easier to get motivated to study one sub-topic in your outline than to study the entire topic.
- It is easier to agree to do 5 multiple-choice questions than to complete 15 of them.
- It is easier to spend 10 minutes on flashcards than 30 minutes.
- It is easier to decide to write 1 page of a paper than to complete it in one go.
- Give yourself rewards for staying on task. Each person has different rewards that appeal; find the ones that work for you.
- For a small task, take a 10-minute break or get a cup of tea or walk around the law school a few times.
- For a medium-sized task, take a 30-minute break or make a phone call to a friend or get a snack.
- For a large task, take 1-2 hours off or read several chapters in a fluff novel or watch a movie.
It is not unusual to be getting tired if you have already had several exams. Try some of the following if that is how you feel:
- Take short breaks every 60 - 90 minutes if you are having trouble staying focused.
- Eat breakfast to give your body fuel in the morning; even a piece of fruit, yoghurt, or toast can make a difference.
- Take time for a healthy lunch so that you can refuel; try to avoid junk food if you can.
- Carry some healthy energy snacks in your backpack to boost your energy when it drops in the afternoon: apples, nuts, small boxes of raisins, granola bars.
- If you nap, make it for ½ hour or less; long naps tend to make you groggy and disrupt your sleep cycle when you go to bed at night.
- Get 8 hours of sleep per night to recharge your batteries for this week.
Feeling stressed or sluggish? Add exercise back into your week if you have let your usual routine slip. Exercise is one of the best ways to defuse stress, raise your sagging spirits, and sleep better at night. Even 30 minutes will help you feel more energized and calm.
Lift your spirits by looking ahead. Plan two or three fun things for after exams are over. If you have some things to look forward to, it is easier to grit your teeth and get on with what you have to do right now.
Get a pep talk to keep yourself going. Phone your friends or family for encouragement. Talk to someone who believes in you. Shamelessly ask for affirmation! (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Some law students have ill-conceived notions about their priorities for studying and how those priorities interface with basic life needs. They decide that the way to get better grades is to either skimp on/skip or go overboard on meals, exercise, and sleep. Unfortunately, any of these choices is a sure way to jeopardize their grades.
I had a law school friend who survived mainly on Dr. Pepper and Snickers. He lost lots of weight since that diet was his staple one. He also spent little food prep time (the vending machines just wanted a few minutes for their coins to be dropped in). However, he also had little sustained energy because of sugar high and crash cycles; he was sick every time a bug circulated; he was lethargic most of the time.
Several law students I know have decided over the last few years to imbibe energy drinks at high levels to stay awake and have ended up in the emergency room with heart palpitations or panic attacks. They lost more time (not to mention the stress and anxiety they had) than they gained.
My first semester in law school I foolishly stayed up until the wee hours of the morning studying and then overslept an exam. My law school allowed me to take the exam and have the full time, but my grade was automatically dropped two levels as the penalty.
I know a bar studier who spent hours each day exercising only to fail the bar - but his abs were in great shape. One law student spent so much time each day training for marathons that he flunked out of law school his third year. I know lots of law students who spend 2-3 hours in the gym per day because "exercise is important to me."
Both the skimpers/skippers and the overdoers have the wrong idea. Nutritious meals, 7-8 hours of sleep, and 150 minutes of exercise per week are all essential to a balanced and healthy life - and to better grades. Your brain and body need fuel: meals and sleep. They also need stress release and proper sleep inducement: exercise does both.
Meals with a healthy balance of the food groups are essential to your body and brain. Eat lean meat (or other protein foods) and lots of fruit and vegetables. Add whole grains and dairy (or substitutes if you are gluten or lactose intolerant). Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Have regular meal times so that you do not starve your body and then overeat. Avoid excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine.
Sleep allows your brain and body to work at optimal levels. Your brain absorbs more information quickly and retains it better. You get more done in less time because you are focused. You are alert in the exams rather than foggy.
The medical research shows you need 7 - 8 hours every night to avoid becoming chronically sleep depraved. A regular bedtime and wake up time mean even more benefits for you. And do not vary your sleep schedule more than 2 hours on the weekend; you will lose the benefits of your weekly routine if you do so.
Get some exercise. You will feel more energized. Your stress level will be lower. You will sleep better. Thirty minutes five times a week works! It can be a walk - you don't have to be a super athlete to get the benefits.
Here are some tips to work these healthy habits into your life even during this crunch time of the semester:
- Adjust your sleep schedule in increments if it is totally off schedule. For example, you decide that 11 p.m. bedtime and 7 a.m. wake up are your goals. Adjust your bedtime over several nights by 15 minutes to get closer to your goal. Then spend several nights getting to bed 15 minutes earlier than that. Continue the adjustments until you get to 11 p.m. Stay on your bedtime goal for 2-3 weeks consistently - your eyes will pop open 5 minutes before the alarm goes off once your body has its new routine.
- Make time for healthy meals in your schedule. You will relax more and help your digestion if you sit down for your meal and eat slowly - no standing at the kitchen counter and gulping it down please. To shorten your food preparation each day, make large quantities of food on the weekend that can be portioned out over the week. Buy healthy prepared foods at the grocery store to use all week rather than depend on fast food or the vending machines.
- Combine an exercise and meal break for perhaps 2 hours at dinner time. First get your exercise and then take time for your meal. A longer break at this time of day generally helps to re-energize students for evening study.
- Be on the alert for when you are using sleep, meals, or exercise as avoidance behavior rather than healthy behavior. If you get a regular sleep schedule, naps should become unnecessary. Watch out for sleeping until noon on the weekends. Remind yourself that gym time 7 days a week for 2 hours is not supported by the research. Encourage yourself to complete meal planning for the week ahead of time to avoid having to cook for an hour every night.
Use your sleep, meals, and exercise to promote your study. You can still get lots of studying in while taking care of yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Law students tell me repeatedly that they have two huge fears when they start an exam. First, they fear drawing a total blank during the exam and not being able to remember even the basics. Second, they fear messing up their time managment and not being able to finish the exam or rushing at the end.
To combat these fears, you can complete two steps as soon as the exam proctor tells you to begin. First, write down a checklist of the material on a piece of scrap paper (our law school provides scrap paper in every exam room) or on the back of the exam paper. Second, make a time chart to manage your time during the exam.
The checklist is typically a skeleton outline of the topic and subtopic headings for the course. By writing this information down before you begin the exam, you provide yourself with a security blanket. Putting it down before you start answering any questions, lets you memorialize the information before you start stressing out. You can refer to it for each essay answer to see if you forgot to discuss anything. You can use it to jog your memory if you draw a blank during the exam.
Your checklist may look somewhat different depending on the course. It may include rules with elements, steps of analysis for problem-based topics, policy arguments for another course, etc. You can tailor the information to memorize for your checklist to match the course content.
You can also vary the structure of your checklist. A visual learner may use a series of spider maps for the course. A verbal learner may use an acronym or silly sentences to remember the topics and subtopics in the list. An aural/oral learner may recite a sing-song of the checklist silently in her head as she writes it down.
For a closed-book exam, you memorize the checklist so you can quickly write it down. For an open-book exam, the checklist is the first page of the outline that is allowed in the exam.
The second step is formulating a time chart for the exam. You will want to look quickly at the instructions for the exam to check whether you complete all questions or have options (for example, complete 3 of the 5 questions). For most exams you will be required to complete all questions.
The time chart will vary in format for essay exams and multiple-choice exams. If an exam is mixed, there will be a time chart for each part of the exam. The time chart will help you to work through all of the questions at a steady pace so that you complete the entire exam.
For essay questions, your chart will have 3 columns (question number and its allotted time; time for reading, analysis, and organization; time for writing). You should spend 1/3 of your time on a question for reading, analysis, and organization. You should spend 2/3 of your time on writing the answer. Each exam question will have a row in the time chart with 3 columns in that row.
As an example, assume the exam begins at 1:00 p.m. and has multiple questions:
- Question 1 is a 1-hour question (spend 20 minutes for reading, analysis, and organization; spend 40 minutes for writing).
- Column 1 will show "Question 1: 1 hour."
- Your second column for Question 1 would show "1:00 - 1:20 p.m."
- Your third column for Question 1 would show "1:20 - 2:00 p.m."
- Question 2 is a 45-minute question (spend 15 minutes for reading, analysis, and organization; spend 30 minutes for writing).
- Column 1 for Question 2 will show "Question 2: 45 minutes."
- Column 2 for Question 2 will show "2:00 - 2:15 p.m."
- Column 3 for Question 2 will show "2:15 - 2:45 p.m."
- And so forth through the questions for the full exam time.
If you wish to reserve time to review your written answers before the exam ends, then you will reserve review time and decrease the time you allow for each question. Many students would rather use the full time for each question rather than allot review time.
If your professor indicates points rather than time for each question, then determine the time to spend proportionately for the number of points. Practicing this method ahead of time will make it more natural when converting from points to time.
For multiple-choice questions, your chart will have 2 columns (a time checkpoint; the number of questions to be completed by that time). Each checkpoint time will be in a row with the number of questions completed column for that row. It is usually a good idea to include 4-6 checkpoints.
As an example, assume the exam begins at 1:00 and lasts 3 hours with 90 questions:
- 1:30 p.m. 15 questions completed
- 2:00 p.m. 30 questions completed
- 2:30 p.m. 45 questions completed
- 3:00 p.m. 60 questions completed
- 3:30 p.m. 75 questions completed
- 4:00 p.m. 90 questions completed
If you wish to reserve time to review question answers before the exam ends, then you will reserve review time and decrease the time you allow for the checkpoints accordingly. Again, many students would rather use the full time for the questions rather than allot review time.
You want to make sure that you devise your checklist early enough in the class or exam period to allow you time to commit it to long-term memory so that you will know it by heart. You also want to practice making time charts so that the method is on auto-pilot. Both of these strategies should help lessen your anxiety during the actual exam. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Completing practice questions in courses is essential for the best grades on final exams. Although students know they need to do practice questions, they sometimes make choices that do not reap the most benefit from practice question time.
Here are some tips for making practice question time more effective:
- Spend most of your time on practice questions that will match your professor's testing format if you know what that will be. If fact-pattern essay, then complete fact-pattern essay questions. If multiple-choice, then complete multiple-choice questions. If short answer, then complete short-answer questions. If a mix, then complete a mix of questions. If you do not know the formats, then complete a variety of questions.
- Complete as many questions as possible and more than you think you need to do. That means lots and lots. Completing more practice questions means that you are less likely to confront a scenario on the exam that is a surprise and also means that your exam-taking strategies are on auto-pilot.
- Keep a log of your practice question performance. Across practice question sessions, you will see repeated errors that you can self-correct long before the exams. Why did you get answers wrong? Missed issues? Read too fast? Did not know specific content? Skipped steps in analysis? Knew the law but not how to apply it?
- Read the answer explanations for multiple-choice questions and the model answers for other questions. Valuable information can be gleaned from this material. Did you get an answer correct but missed a nuance in the law? Did you miss sub-issues? Did you structure an essay answer in the most organized manner? Did you miss an argument for one of the parties?
- Always complete practice questions that your professor provides in class, on the course website, through the teaching assistant, on the law school's exam database, etc. These are outright gifts! You learn your professor's testing style. If you have problems with these questions, talk with your professor on office hours to see how you could improve your answers.
- Realize that practice questions come in levels of difficulty. Some questions are testing your initial understanding: boxed flashcards, Examples & Explanations, Crunch Time short answer, CALI. Some questions move to intermediate difficulty: multiple-choice practice question books, commercial outline questions, Siegel's. Some questions are true exam style: exam database questions at your and other law schools. Move through the levels of difficulty to prepare for the exams; do not hang out on the easy questions and expect to get your best grades.
- If you are taking a course that does not have ready-made practice questions available, get with several classmates and write questions that you swap and discuss. It is harder than you think to write questions; you will have to think carefully about the material. Your classmates may see things in answering your questions that you missed entirely.
- Write out fact-pattern essay answers as you would have to do on the exam. Just completing a bullet-pointed list of what you would say does not prepare you for writing concise sentences that connect all of the dots in your analysis when you are under time pressure.
- Wait to do practice questions until you have intensely reviewed a topic. Doing practice questions instead of reviewing the material first is an inefficient way to study. If you do not know the material yet, the practice questions will only tell you that you do not know it. You will not get much out of the time.
- Wait several days after intensely reviewing a topic before completing practice questions on it. If you do practice questions too close to your review, you will get them right because you just reviewed the topic. You want to see if you have retained material and can still apply it to the questions.
- Start doing practice questions now if you have not already done so. You do not want to wait until exam period to do practice questions for the first time. You will not have enough time to hone your exam-taking skills. You also will not have enough time to do lots of questions.
- Always do practice questions on your own before discussing them with study partners. You want to know that you can independently complete questions. Discussion can be helpful to find points that you missed. You will not have your study partners to do the thinking for you in the exam, so make sure you practice doing it on your own before the exams.
- Complete some of your practice questions under exam conditions. If your professor has a word count or page limit, practice to meet it. If a question would be approximately one-hour on the exam, complete it in one hour. If you will have one hour to complete 40 multiple choice on the exam, complete that number in that time span in practice.
By using practice questions effectively ahead of time, you can increase your chances of doing well in the actual exam situations. Practice questions can be your best friends if you cultivate your skills while doing them. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Students are realizing that the semester is speeding along and rapidly coming to a close. Many students have done a good job of completing outlines regularly, reviewing outlines already, and completing practice questions on material they have already learned. Other students are just now contemplating efforts beyond daily class preparation. Those students with paper courses are either well into their research and writing stages or have suddenly realized they need to get underway.
Why do some students postpone exam study or papers until the last few weeks? There can be several things at work that influence a student's decision to delay.
The delay in exam review and on paper tasks is often a habit left over from undergraduate education. When there were multiple tests and no cumulative final exam, it was easy to get A grades by studying a few days before the test. The amount of material on the test was minimal. And without a cumulative test later, there was no reason to remember the material beyond the test date. When a paper was only a few pages long, it was easy to pull it together rapidly and still have an excellent grade.
Another aspect of delay is the well-meaning but erroneous advice of upper-division law students. The mantra around our law school is that you do not have to study for exams until "six weeks out." To most upper-division law students who experienced those multiple/non-cumulative exams, this mantra seems to make sense since the suggested time period is so long compared to past study periods (You want me to study for 6 whole weeks!).
Some students delay because they are chronic procrastinators. Like Scarlett O'Hara they will think about it tomorrow. But then they do not think about it - or just put it off again. Rather than go away, however, the delayed tasks become more and more urgent. As they become more urgent, they also may become more paralyzing. And then the delay just continues.
These students who now realize how much they need to accomplish can help themselves by implementing the following techniques:
- Evaluate their time managment. Honestly determine where they waste time (long lunches, e-mail/Twitter/Facebook, long exercise regimens, food preparation, sleeping late on the weekends, etc.) and commit those "found" hours for study.
- Commit on paper to the hours that will be used for review for exams or for paper completion every week: Monday 2-4 review Wills; Tuesday 1-2 review Copyright and 6-7:30 review Tax; Wednesday 2-5 Natural Resources paper; Thursday 9-10 review Tax and 6-7 review Copyright; Friday 1-2:30 Wills practice questions and 4-6 Tax practice questions; and so forth for each day.
- Break down the large tasks into smaller steps. Use a monthly calendar to distribute tasks into the designated times committed each day to those tasks. Put into review slots the subtopics to review. Put into paper slots the research, writing, or editing tasks to complete. Put into the practice question slots the questions to be completed from the professor's course site, a study aid, or other source.
- Find an accountability partner to help stay on track. Agree to meet and study in the same room so studying cannot be skipped. Agree to discuss certain subtopics or practice questions on a particular day so that the work must be done. Tell the person at the end of each day what was or was not accomplished from the monthly schedule.
- Ask for help if they need it. The academic success professional at the law school can assist with prioritizing work, formulating study schedules, and discussing additional strategies that match the student's situation.
- Minimize life tasks to find more study time. Food preparation can be done on the weekends. A major apartment cleaning now and then minimal spot cleaning and pick up until exams are over. Stock up on food staples and other supplies now to avoid extra shopping trips. Switch to an easy care wardrobe instead of high maintenance fashion.
It is time to take control over the remainder of the semester. The downward slope is here, but there is still time to correct any delaying tactics that have become detrimental. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Once exams are over students may feel a sense of elation. Some may feel a let-down. After expending so much time and energy on preparing for and taking exams, the next hurdle is waiting for grades. Law school grades are a tricky subject. Students who receive “good” grades in law school, have opportunities for jobs and clerkships that others may not enjoy. Law students compare themselves to each other which leads to self-doubt and even to the destruction of relationships. However, grades are not destiny. Avoid dwelling on grades, and instead, focus on getting as much feedback on exams as possible. If you are able to review an exam, do so early in the semester before you get too busy. If there are comments on the exam, note what they are. What did you do well? What do you need to improve? Talk with your professor in person about your exam. Then, with this feedback, reach out to your academic support professional to work on improving performance on exams. Most importantly, evaluate whether you are learning. Most students will see a steady increase in their grade point average. Staying mindful of the learning process will aid you in haveing a more meaningful and fulfilling law school career. (Bonnie Stepleton)
Friday, December 6, 2013
When we are in the thick of things, it is sometimes easy to lose our common sense and work off of emotion and stress alone. So here are some practical tips for exam takers:
- When you lose focus, become more active in your studying: read aloud, ask yourself questions about what you are reading, switch study tasks, or discuss the material with another student.
- If you focus does not improve by being more active in your study approach, take a break from studying and come back to it fresh. 10 - 15 minutes every couple of hours works for most students. If you have been studying for a longer period of time, take a longer break.
- If you hit a wall and cannot absorb anything else no matter what you do, then it is definitely time to walk away for some time. Perhaps go run and then have a meal. Or go to the cinema and lose yourself in a good movie. Or window shop to take your mind off things.
- If even one of these diversionary breaks does not help you re-focus, then your brain and body may be telling you to stop and go to bed early. Get up the next day and start over.
- Stop listening to the exaggerations, outlandish claims, and scare tactics disseminated by other students. Do the best you can do each day and ignore all the stress-mongers.
- After an exam is over, do not talk about it with others. You are likely to stress over what you think you missed; others are often wrong about issues on the exam. Put the exam behind you and mentally focus on any exams still ahead. You cannot change what is already done, so put your efforts on the exams that you can impact.
- If you get sick, go to the doctor. Putting off medical attention has negative consequences: you infect others, you get even more ill, you delay your serious illness until the middle of exams.
- If you have a meltdown, go to the counseling center. Do not just sit around and be miserable. You need to talk with someone who can help you handle your stress and be more objective.
- Come up with an appropriate reward system for small, medium, and large tasks. Enjoy a cup of green tea for completing a small task. Take a 30-minute walk for finishing a medium task. Go out to dinner with friends for completing a large task. Set the rewards that will have meaning for you.
- Eat balanced, nutritious meals so that your brain has the fuel necessary for exam heavy-lifting. Avoid junk food, sugary treats, and overdoses on caffeine. Get those fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains!
- Keep a regular sleep schedule with 7-8 hours of sleep each night during the exam period. Minimal sleep and all-nighters are a sure way to arrive at an exam too tired to think. If your exams are early morning ones and you are a night owl, begin the change over in your body clock now so that you are able to wake up and be alert for that early exam. If you tend to sleep poorly the night before an exam, then go to bed even earlier for the week prior to your exam and stockpile some ZZZZZs.
Good luck on exams to everyone. (Amy Jarmon)