Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Many law students are in their exams. During the exam period, students need to use their time wisely (efficiency) and get the most results from that time (effectiveness). Here are some thoughts to help students be more productive in their work:
• Spend time studying the topics that you need work on. It is human nature to study what we already know/enjoy and to avoid what we do not know/dislike.
• Let your brain do the “heavy lifting” for more intense review or difficult subjects when it is most alert and focused.
• Save the more active tasks like flashcards, practice questions, or discussion with a study partner for times when you need more activity to give your brain a respite from the heavy work.
• Remember that organizing your desk, papers, folders, books, pencils, etc. to study is not the same as studying. Get down to work rather than pretending to work.
• Learn the material before an open-book exam. You will not have time to look everything up. You want to organize the materials you will have available, but learning is more important than 200 tabs.
• At the end of a study day, plan your study for the next day. Make a specific to-do-list of what you need to accomplish during the blocks of time you plan to study. You will waste less time the next day wondering what to do.
• Avoid multitasking. Multitasking is a myth. You cannot answer emails, text, watch TV, or do other tasks that require attention at the same time that you study. Your brain does not work effectively that way. Focus your full attention on your studying.
• If you have coasted too much during the semester and are now realizing you are in trouble, get to work. Do not waste time with “wish I had,” “should have,” and “could have.” At the beginning of next semester, get your act together to avoid a repeat performance.
• Listen to your brain and body. If you cannot regain your focus or become hungry, your brain and body are telling you that they need a break. Get up and walk around. Grab a quick snack. Then go back to work. You will be more productive after a break.
• Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you skimp on sleep, your brain will not function well. You absorb more information, retain more information, and are more productive with sufficient sleep. You also recall information, organize more efficiently, and write with more clarity if you are rested when you go into an exam.
By making wise choices about time and results, students can prioritize their work rather than be overwhelmed by exam studying. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, November 23, 2015
One of our readers (I won't use the name since the reader may prefer to be anonymous) asked about how to handle out-of-town, non-law-school/non-lawyer visitors who arrive for Thanksgiving despite one's best efforts to explain that visitors are not a plus during this crunch time for study. You are not alone in your problem!
The truth is that people who have not gone to law school have no idea what it is like - no matter how often we try to explain it. Often they assume that law students are exaggerating the study importance because they remember a carefree undergraduate, a graduate student in a degree program that was far less taxing, or a co-worker who was not obligated to study in non-work hours.
If you cannot diplomatically tell them no, then here are some suggestions:
The days before and after Thanksgiving Day:
- If possible, book them into a nice B&B or hotel rather than have them in your home. But, I assume this may not be possible.
- Stay firm on a study schedule and tell them you will only be available to visit with them during certain hours (you choose the hours). You need to stick to this schedule no matter the whining or tears. Ignore the guilt.
- If they are staying with you and willing to leave your home so you can study in peace, arm them with a map and a list of local events/attractions and send them on their way each day. If you can afford it, gift them with tickets to events/the movies/a concert, etc.
- If you cannot be ruler of your own domain, head for the public library, apartment complex business office, student union building on campus, or coffeehouse each morning and stay there until the time you have agreed to spend with them. Leave them lunch fixings to ease your guilt.
- Let them go shopping, watch football, and partake of other pastimes without you participating. Remind them that if they want your undivided attention during the hours you set each day, they have to let you study the remaining hours.
- Get up earlier or stay up later than your guests to spend additional time studying.
- Let's face it, you need some down time. So I would make Thanksgiving Day the most flexible day to spend with visitors.
- If you make a reservation at a restaurant for the turkey dinner or pick it up already prepared from a local grocery store/restaurant, you can save heaps of time in preparation and maybe get some extra study time in.
- While your visitors watch the parade or football or lay comatose on the couch, you may be able to study.
Good luck on juggling non-law visitors. It is not the easiest crowd to deal with when finals are looming ahead. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 13, 2015
Many law schools will finish classes before Thanksgiving Break and begin exams immediately afterward. Some law schools will have a week of classes after the holiday and then go into the exam period. In either case, law students often wonder how they should combine relaxing and studying.
Some thoughts regardless of which version of the academic calendar you are on:
- Most law students have to study during at least part of their Thanksgiving Break because of the difficulty of their exams and large amount of material to be studied. Gone are the undergraduate days of playing the entire time.
- You will get more done if you have a plan for studying laid out before you leave for the Thanksgiving holiday. Sit down with a calendar and map out for each day what you hope to accomplish.
- Unless your study situation borders on desperate, you want to take Thanksgiving Day off so that you enjoy your family and friends and feel that you have had a holiday. If you are concerned about taking the whole day off, then get up early before everyone else and put in a couple of hours or study in the evening after everyone has collapsed on the couch in front of the TV.
- Each non-class day has three parts: morning (8:00 a.m. - noon); afternoon (1:00 - 5:00 p.m.); evening (6:00 - 10:00 p.m.). Most students will probably need to get 6 - 8 hours of study in each day. If you take several days off, you may want to study more hours on your scheduled study days. Choose the parts of the day when you are the most alert and productive for your study time.
- Consider whether you can get some study tasks completed while traveling. There are several legal CD series that could be listened to while driving or flying. Flashcards and review of outlines could occupy those long airport layovers. If traveling with another law student, discussions of the material or practice questions might be good tasks.
- Determine the best place for you to study. It may be at home, or you may need to go to a local library or other location to get blocks of uninterrupted time.
- If your family situation means that you will not be able to study at home, consider leaving school a day later or coming back a day or two earlier to get additional study time.
Some thoughts specifically for students who have a week of classes after the holiday:
- You may want to complete all of your class preparation for the last week of classes while you are on your break. Then just review your briefs/problem sets for 1/2 hour before class to refresh. By finishing class preparation ahead, you open up more blocks of time during that last class week for exam preparation.
- To lighten your luggage for a flight, photocopy the pages you have to read for the last week of classes rather than lug all of your books. If you have e-books, you are set already.
- If you have assignment deadlines during your last week of classes, try to complete those assignments over the break so that you are not rushing during the final days to work on them. If you need to finish any tasks after the break on those assignments, try to have them be editing tasks rather than major writing.
Whatever your plans may be for the upcoming holiday break, have safe travels. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 26, 2015
Memorization comes easily to some; and is loathsome to others. Understanding your learning preferences can help you refine your memorization skills and help you retain information longer. Listening to your inner voice and sticking with what works best for you is the best way to hone your memorization strategies. If you have not fully explored alternative ways to memorize, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Try to find creative ways to interact with the material and keep it fresh. Think outside the box. Use a white board to write out the law, draw pictures, or color-code topics. Or, match up a concept or theory to one of your favorite songs.
- Use a study partner or significant other to test you on your knowledge with flashcards or just talk out a subject together. If you can teach it, you know it.
- Use other memory devices such as: flash cards, sticky notes, or a digital recorder. Carry them with you and pull them out when you have a few extra minutes. These brief reminders throughout your day will help you solidify the concepts in your memory.
- Create mnemonics that have meaning to you or use ones that you have found in a study aid. Test yourself on these mnemonics.
- Explain the main points of a subject or essay to someone (a family member, friend, or roommate). When you connect a topic or concept to a set of facts you create an association that helps you recall the information at a later time.
- Create tables, flowcharts, or diagrams to illustrate difficult rules or concepts. Depending on the subject or concepts a linear or pictorial study aid makes more sense. For visual learners, these are essential.
- Read your lecture notes or outline/study-aid aloud, record it, play it back and listen to it. When you read silently, you are likely doing a lot of skimming. However, when you read out loud, you are forming a visual and auditory pathway, which will help strengthen your memory of the material.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
The old adage from college about multiple-choice was that you just had to study enough to recognize the right answer among the wrong answers. That bit of advice does not work for law school multiple-choice questions.
In law school, professors have a variety of styles when they write multiple-choice questions. The "best answer" format is popular. Some professors use a "circle all right answers" format. Other professors have answers that designate combinations of answers (a, b and d; b, c, e and f). Then there are professors who end their answer lists with "all of the above" and "none of the above."
Fact patterns may vary in length from one sentence to more than a page. There may be one question per fact pattern or multiple questions per fact pattern. The multiple questions for a fact pattern may be completely separate from one another or "waterfall" so that the answer to the second question depends on the correct analysis on the first question and the answer to the third question depends on the correct analysis on the second question.
With so many variations, law students often feel at a loss how to proceed. Some strategies tend to work for all of the variations:
- First read the question that you are asked to answer at the end of the fact pattern (or before the answer choices). You want to make sure that you answer this precise question.
- Realize that the question asked may have some interesting characteristics that you need to note:
- It may give you the issue (examples: "which motion will be filed" or "what crime will be charged").
- It may assign you a role (examples: judge or prosecutor or defense attorney).
- It may indicate a jurisdiction (examples: "under common law" or "in Texas).
- It may specify facts (examples: "if Phil were 14 years old" or "if the statute of limitations were 3 years").
- After reading the question, you should then read the fact pattern with that specific question in mind. At the end of the fact pattern you should have the answer to the question in mind to help you analyze each answer choice.
- Read each of the individual answer choices carefully and decide for each whether it is a good or bad answer. Use a coding system that makes sense to you: yes/no; true/false; plus/minus.
- Do not skip any of the individual answer choices when you do your analysis. The best answer may be "the defendant is not liable unless..." even though when you finished reading the fact pattern you were sure that the best answer choice would begin with "the defendant is liable."
- If the answer format indicates that you need to consider combinations, then your coding of individual answer choices should indicate the correct combination answer. For example, if your coding indicated that a, b, and d were good answer choices:
- you would pick the answer choice "a, b, and d" and ignore any other combinations
- "all of the above" could not be correct since you thought c was a bad answer choice
- "none of the above" could not be correct since you thought a, b, and d were good answer choices
- To avoid holding the facts and rules that apply in your head while you consider answer choices, consider writing the rule and relevant facts in the margins of the exam paper or on provided scrap paper to allow you to easily evaluate each answer choice against that information.
- Even if you are not 100% sure of an answer choice when you consider a question, circle your best answer choice on the exam paper and bubble in the answer choice on the Scantron sheet before you move to the next question. This method prevents you from misaligning your bubbled answer choices because you forgot you skipped a question. It also prevents you from leaving the question bubble blank if you run out of time to return to the question.
- For any question that you want to return to for a second look, indicate that status in the exam paper margin with the percentage of certainty for the answer choice you bubbled in (examples: 80% or 70% or 60%; use a ? for 50% or less). Do not change the answer choice when you return to the question unless you are more than that percentage sure that the new answer choice would be correct.
- Rather than trying to keep track of the time available for each question (example: 2 minutes), designate time checkpoints and the number of questions you should have completed by that time checkpoint.
- Example for 60 questions in 2-hour exam starting at 1:00 p.m.: 15 questions completed by 1:30 p.m.; 30 questions completed by 2:00 p.m.; 45 questions completed by 2:30 p.m.; 60 questions completed by 3:00 p.m.).
- You can reserve time for review out of the overall time and distribute the remaining time over the questions (for the example in 1: reserve 30 minutes for review; then you would have to complete 20 questions for each of three 30-minute checkpoints at 1:30, 2:00, and 2:30).
- You can use more checkpoints if you tend to go too fast or too slowly through multiple-choice questions. The additional checkpoints will monitor your time more often to indicate if you need to slow down or speed up.
Multiple-choice exams require in-depth understanding of the material so that you can determine why one answer is better than another. Completing as many practice questions as possible will assist you in learning the nuances in applying the law to each question. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 19, 2015
We are already in the tenth week of our 14 week-2 day semester. There are some essential tasks for students to complete if they are going to take advantage of long-term memory in exam review.
- Getting caught up with course outlines is very important. These are the master documents for exam study. Course outlines condense briefs and class notes to manageable page counts. In addition, these outlines refocus students on synthesis of individual cases into the bigger picture with meaningful legal tools to solve new legal scenarios.
- Although it is important to memorize black letter law, studying for exams is far more than memorization. Students should achieve understanding: how rules and exceptions work together; how the black letter law works to solve legal problems; how policy affects the law.
- Reading a course outline from front to back page at least once a week helps to keep all of the topics and content fresh. This cover-to-cover review prevents memory loss while the student focuses on in-depth study of specific topics or subtopics.
- Intense review of specific topics or subtopics leads to greater understanding. By really grappling with information, a student prepares to use that material on an exam. When focusing on a specific slice of the outline, it is important to think about what the concepts really mean and why the law works as it does for the topic. During this specific study, is the time to get any confusion clarified so that the topic is truly prepared for the exam.
- Practice questions are imperative if a student is going to succeed at the highest level on an exam. Practice questions are most effective when done several days after intense review of a topic. The questions monitor whether the student has understood the material, has retained it, and can apply it to new fact scenarios.
- For essay practice questions, students should write out their answers and compare them to the model answers in the practice-question books. Merely answering a question in one's head does not promote the necessary skills of organizing a complete answer and writing that answer in concise sentences.
- For multiple-choice practice questions, students need to pay attention to the reasons for their errors. Sometimes it is misunderstood content. However, it can also be misreading questions, choosing general rather than specific answers, picking by gut rather than analysis, and other errors.
Students want to distribute their learning throughout the remaining weeks rather than cram at the very end. By promoting long-term memory instead of brain dump, they will be able to retain more information for later bar review. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 31, 2015
This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.
Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:
Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource!
Be willing to put in the work:
There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.
Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top.
Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:
Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.
If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.
I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.
Do What Works for YOU:
There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently! Find what works for you and stick with it.
At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that.
Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.
Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge! When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!
Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often).
Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Spoiler: I'm into rhetorical questions, so I'm not going to answer the one I asked above in this post.
A little over a month ago, I sat for a 200 multiple-choice question exam to determine whether I would cross a hurdle necessary for professional licensure. The readership of this blog is probably a little confused because the bar exam was a little less than a month ago. So to answer the obvious question, no, I was not sitting for yet another bar exam. But I have sat for the bar exam in two jurisdictions, so I was comparing the ordeal for licensure in this new profession against that “golden” standard.
My experience leading up to the test was as follows. I filed my application to undergo supervision as a precursor to becoming a licensed professional counselor in the state of Oklahoma in the summer of 2014. The Board did what it had to do with my application which seemed to consist of a verification of education, a background check, confirmation of a relationship with a suitable supervisor and place of employment, and payment of the fee. After about five weeks, they sent me two letters. One notified me that I could begin accruing supervised hours and the other that I was eligible to take the licensure exams. I have two years from the date of that letter to schedule and successfully complete my examinations. It’s a two-part exam, the already mentioned MCQ exam and then a brief, separate law and ethics exam. I looked at my calendar and said, “I think I’ll take it next summer while my students are preparing for the bar exam; I need a reminder of the misery so that I can be sufficiently sympathetic to their ordeal.” A school year goes by during which I continue working as an academic support professional and I accrue supervised client-contact hours in my spare time.
In early May, I pulled out the letter to find the procedure for registering for the exam. I had to apply with a third party administrator to take the exam. I sent in the application with a check and a copy of the Board’s eligibility letter. While waiting to hear back from the third party administrator, I procured my materials to prepare for the exam. I bought them new (which most of my fellow graduates did not), and I combined several different providers resources. They cost less than buying the books alone from most of the bar prep providers.
By the end of May I received an email with my approval and instructions to continue. I went to their website. I entered my zip code. I chose a geographically convenient testing center. It then showed me a calendar with available appointment times. I selected a convenient and feasible date and appointment time to take the exam. Because mornings aren’t my friend, I choose a noon appointment.
I won’t bore you with the details of my study plan (or my study reality) and I’ll go straight to test day. On test day, I had a leisurely breakfast and ran a couple of low brain-power errands, e.g. buying moving boxes. I reported to the testing center 20 minutes before my appointment with two forms of ID in hand. The receptionist checked my ID, confirmed my appointment, created a palm scan to verify identity should I need to exit and then return to the test. I put my hair in a ponytail because a hair tie on my wrist is a threat to test security while one in my hair is not. All of my belongings except my picture ID went into a locker, and I was escorted into the test room to my testing station. The proctor pulled up the test on the computer, gave me a brief orientation, and then left me to the test.
The format of the exam is a 200 question test in a multiple choice format, given in what someone who has taken the MBE considers an overly generous amount of time (I believe it was 240 minutes). It covers eight different content areas as well as five different types of work behaviors. Only 160 of the 200 questions are live questions; they are testing 40 items on every single administration of the exam. And I received my results within 60 seconds of hitting the submit button. Had I failed, it would be three months and another registration fee before I could attempt again. I exited the room, and they used my ID and palm scan to verify that I was still the person who entered the room to take that test. They gave me an unofficial copy of my test results and I was on my way within 90 minutes. No BS belief that finishing the exam early indicates I’m compromising exam security.
Moving to the point I really want to draw with this post - many other professions, some that are arguably more aligned with the practice of law than counseling, use an examination format closer to the counseling model than the law model. Some CPA candidates are encouraged to focus on their exam one segment at a time rather than try to pass all sections at once because they can stack scores from multiple testing dates to get the passing score for each component of their exam. Nurses receive an adaptive computer-based test in facilities like the one I was at. Moreover, the GRE is now, mostly, a computer-based test that is administered in centers like the one I went too. And it’s administered to more than 300,000 people in the United States each year. I’m sorry, I know I jumped from licensing to entrance exams, but let’s compare the number of times the GRE is administered in a year with the almost 81,000 people who took bar exams in 2014.
The infrastructure exists in this country to change the way we do the bar exam, while still maintaining the quality of the test in regards to assessing our graduates' core legal knowledge and reasoning skills. In future weeks, I hope to discuss some of the further ramifications of this idea. This change would create some benefits for examinees, state bars, the public at large, and others. There would also be burdens to those same entities, as well as some others, if this thought experiment were to become a reality. (CMB)
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Pace yourself this week. You want to be as alert going into your last exams as the first ones you had.
- Get enough sleep. Being rested will help you more than staying up to the wee hours cramming.
- Take short breaks at least every 90 minutes. Your brain can continue filing away information in the 10 minutes you take off.
- If you need a longer break, combine exercise and a meal so that you have a couple of hours off and use the combination to combat stress and re-energize.
- Add movement to your breaks. Walk around outside for a few minutes. Walk throughout the hallways of the law school. Do a few jumping jacks. Jog in place.
- Eat food that nourishes your brain. Avoid overdosing on caffeine, sugar, energy drinks. Take a dinner break where you sit down and eat a real meal rather than pizza or junk food.
Prioritize what you still need to study. Spend more time on the things you are having difficulty with for a course. Light review is all you should need on the things you already know well.
If you are losing focus, mix up your study tasks; variety that suits your learning styles can help you regain focus:
- Intensely review a subtopic in your outline
- Drill with your flashcards
- Talk to a friend about the material
- Do some practice questions
- Draw a spider map of the concepts
- Write out a difficult rule 10 times
- Read aloud a topic in your outline
- Tab your code book for an open-code exam
If you are working on a paper, break down your tasks into small pieces so it will not be so overwhelming.
- Separate research, writing, and editing tasks into three “to do” lists.
- Read aloud if you are having trouble reviewing what you have already written.
- Do multiple edits with each one focusing on a different task rather than a mega-edit:
Punctuation; Grammar; Logic; Flow and style; Citation; Footnotes; Format
- If possible, finish the day before it is due so that you can set it aside and come back for a final look with fresh eyes.
Think of three things that you are going to do to celebrate your end of the semester. Having things to look forward to helps you stay motivated.
Good luck as you continue through exams! Summer is almost here. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, May 2, 2015
As law students settle into their exam studying, here are some tips to help them be more productive:
- Remember that exams are testing whether you can apply the law to facts in new legal scenarios to solve legal problems. You need to know the law well, but you need to go beyond mere rote memorization of the law. You need to understand the law and how to apply it.
- Focus on your professor’s course. What topics/subtopics did your professor cover? What rule statements, steps of analysis, preferred formats, etc. did your professor provide? What study tips did your professor give?
- Update your outlines with the last class material as soon as possible after your last classes because they are your master documents. Outlines, if done correctly, are the most efficient and effective way to learn 15 weeks of material.
- Re-reading cases is inefficient because you focus on unconnected case fragments. Class notes may also keep the course unconnected and include unnecessary details.
- If you do not have an outline, prioritize: condense your notes to the tools that you need to solve legal problems; organize by topics and subtopics to synthesize the material into 10 -20 pages if possible.
- Make a list of all the topics and subtopics in your outlines that you need to learn for an exam. Include subtopics, because you often can make progress on several subtopics when an entire topic looks overwhelming. As you have completed your learning for a subtopic, highlight it off the list. Highlighting will give you more psychological buzz than just checking it off.
- Practice questions are very important to exam success. The more questions you complete, the more prepared you are to tackle new scenarios on the exam. Practice questions help you monitor your understanding and get your exam-taking strategies on auto-pilot.
- Complete exam-quality practice questions after you learn material. If you do them before you have a good grasp on the topic, you will waste time and excuse your low performance with “I would have gotten it right if I had studied.”
- After you have learned a topic, wait at least a day or two before tackling practice questions on that topic if possible; otherwise you will get answers right because you just finished studying the topic and not because you have retained and understood it.
- Use commentary study aids effectively. Focus only on topics or subtopics that you still do not understand. Reading an entire 300-page study aid is usually not efficient. If you understand the topic/subtopic after reading about it in one commentary, avoid reading additional commentaries on the same information.
- Use study groups effectively. Keep the number in the group small to avoid logistic and group dynamic problems. Have an agenda for each meeting so everyone knows what topics will be covered and what practice questions to complete beforehand.
- Balance study group time with your individual study – your group members cannot help you in the exam; you need to know the material and be able to apply it. Complete practice questions individually as well as any group questions discussed.
- Open-book exams can be a trap for many students. You still need to know the material well. Normally you will not have enough time to look everything up. Beware of slacking off in your preparation. Plan your organization strategies for the materials allowed under your professor’s definition of open book.
- Each day has three main blocks of study time: morning (8 a.m. – noon), afternoon (1 – 5 p.m.), and evening (6 – 10 p.m.). The number of hours you need to study each day will depend on several factors: how much material you learned to exam-ready standard by the end of classes, your specific exam schedule, the number of practice questions you have already completed, and your individual productivity as a student.
- This is a marathon and not a sprint. Get sleep; eat nutritious meals; exercise to relieve stress. Going into an exam sleep-deprived is a disaster waiting to happen. Wearing yourself out before your last exam is counter-productive.
- The night before a morning exam or the morning before an afternoon exam should ideally be “fluff study”: a cover-to-cover read of your outline, very easy practice questions, or going through your flashcard deck again. If you have not learned it already, cramming will just make you more anxious and befuddled in those last few hours.
Finally, treat your brain with respect. When you lose your focus and cannot get it back by more active learning methods, your brain is telling you to take a break. Forcing yourself to continue when you have hit the proverbial wall is not productive. Walk away and come back later - just make sure you do come back instead of playing video games for 10 hours. Good luck on exams! (Amy Jarmon)
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)