Thursday, August 25, 2016
Wow...For those of you as 1L students, perhaps you feel like I did when I started law school…alone.
But, here's some great news!
We are not alone; rather, we are "ALL"-alone!
You see, at least according to posters made by recent entering law school students, most of us feel out-of-place, a bit perplexed, unsure of ourselves, wondering how we will perhaps "fit" in, and, most of all, hoping that we can survive law school.
In my case, as a person that turned forty years old in my first year of law school, I was so scared. Downright frightened…and...intimated. But, as it turns out (and I didn't realize at the time), most of my entering colleagues (if not all) were feeling just like I did!
Don't believe me?
Well, here's a few posters with comments that some of recent entering law students - in the very first week - produced to depict what they were excited about in entering law school…and what they were concerned about in entering law school. Perhaps you'll find that you share some of the same excitements and concerns.
And, here's the key…Don't just focus on the negatives but also take time to reflect on the positives that you share with so many (if not all) of your law students. You see,most of us feel just like you do.
So, take time to encourage one another and share your own personal excitements and concerns. It's a bit scary at first, but, in the end, you'll be mighty happy that you did. And, good luck new 1L students. We wish you the best!
Thursday, August 18, 2016
As reported in "Above the Law," there is one thing that we can do to improve our students' grades in all their courses this academic term.
In her post about the article "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance," Kathryn Rubio summarizes the research of Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis that demonstrates that law students that have just one teacher...in just one course...who provide individualized feedback within that course...improve grades for their students...across all courses, even controlling for LSAT and UGPA: http://abovethelaw.com/2016/05/one-thing-can-improve-all-your-law-school-grades/
Here's the proof (or, for those of you that are trial attorneys, the empirical evidence): The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance.
For us, this is incredible news…because…we can make that difference for our students - across all their courses - by integrating individualized feedback through our own courses and programs.
Wow…that's the power of one! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Stress. Oh my!
Just the thought of it hits me in the stomach. But, there's more than just stomach aches at stake.
According to law professor Debra Austin, Ph.D., excessive law school stress also harms the mind too. That's the bad news. But, here's the great news! In fact, it is really terrific news! And, it is news that we can all use…today!
But first, some background.
As the American Bar Association (ABA) reports with respect to Prof. Austin's research, in general stress weakens brain cognition. But, exercise (along with other pro-active measures) actually creates more brain cells…brain cells that we can all use (whether students or ASP'ers) to perform better and without debilitating stress: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/stress_may_be_killing_law_students_brain_cells_law_prof_says
So, as many of us begin a new year of legal studies as students and ASP'ers, it's time to take charge over stress rather than having stress take charge over us. But how, you might ask?
Here's a list of three (3) possible "anti-stress"countermeasures straight out of the research from Prof. Austin:
- Be an exerciser…because neuroscience shows that exercise provides us with "cognitive restoration."
- Get slumber time…because sleep plays "the key role...in consolidating memories." So, sleep on your studies rather than staying up all night to study!
- Engage in contemplative practices…such as mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and focusing on the positive in gratitude…because such practices increase "the gray matter in the thinking brain," improve "psychological functions such as attention, compassion, and empathy," and "decrease stress-related cortisol," among other positives.
For all the details, please see Prof. Austin's research article Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die From Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking Can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loyola L. Rev. 791 (2013), available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2227155
To sum up, learning - real learning - means that we all must take time…counter-intuitively...away from learning…so that we can really experience learning. So, be kind to yourself today...by resting and relaxing and exercising. You'll be mighty happy that you did! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, August 4, 2016
"A great sports instructor or coach builds us up, but also teaches us important lessons of emotional management, such as confidence, perseverance, resilience and how to conquer fear and anxiety. Many times, these lessons have a permanent impact on our mind-set and attitude well beyond the playing field." So says columnist Elizabeth Bernstein in her article: "A Coach's Influence Off the Field." http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-coachs-influence-off-the-field-1470073923?tesla=y
That got me thinking about life…my life as an Academic Support Professional. With the start of a new academic year upon us, perhaps this is an opportunity - as Goldie Pritchard puts it - to try something new. So, I've been thinking and reflecting about my life as an ASP-er, and, in particular, that I might focus on something new--serving as a coach to our law students.
You see, and this is where the rub is, the most significant teachers in my life have, well, not just been teachers. Rather, they've been more than teachers; they've been coaches. And, not just sport coaches. More like life coaches. Whether they were teaching political science or trying to help me throw a ball, they all left indelible imprints, imprints that made me a better person and that went well beyond the classroom (or the baseball field)...because they taught me lessons that were much bigger than just about political science or baseball.
Let me give you an example from political science. I once had a professor by the name of Sandel. No offense, but I can't recall the principles of Kant's categorical imperative or Hannah Arndt's political theories. But, I can vividly remember something much more important that I learned, in particular, to call people by their name…to invite students to comment and participate…to let people speak…by truly listening to them. Those were lessons well given.
Or, in another context regarding life's many daily struggles, as Bernstein sums up in her column, coaches teach us lessons that help us when the going gets tough, for example, in Bernstein's words, "...when I’m on deadline or giving a speech to an intimidating crowd: You need to arrest a negative thought immediately, in midair. Remind yourself that you are competent and know what you’re doing. Slow your breath." Let me be frank. Those are the lessons that got me through law school. And, I learned them through teachers that were, really, coaches.
Thus, as we begin to embark on a new academic season, perhaps I should focus more on coaching. After all, our work brings us in contact with people that are really struggling over learning to be learners in a new learning environment…an environment that we call law school...with people that need us to coach. So, what does a coach do? According to Bernstein, a coach says things that change our lives for the better…and for ever, such as:
“Great job in difficult circumstances.”
“You should be really proud of yourself.”
But, in my own words, a coach, first and foremost, listens and observes others. That I can do, if only, I'd stop talking so much! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.
I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!
This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.
We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process. This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be. I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors.
For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, July 14, 2016
An interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education explores the research and anecdotes regarding on-line reading and learning: Does Reading on Computer Screens Affect Student Learning?
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Hat tip to Scott Johns, University of Denver School of Law, for informing us about a Wall Street Journal article on grit which can be found here: The Virtue of Hard Things. The article talks about Angela Duckworth's research and her book, Grit. Duckworth developed the Grit Scale and found that grit often predicted success better than innate ability. Grit combines passion and perseverance. Duckworth has implemented the Hard Thing Rule in her own family: choosing and committing to one difficult activity that requires daily practice.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Mark Beese, President of Leadership for Lawyers, has an interesting article in the December 2015 online issue of Law Practice Today. He discusses briefly Carol Dweck's mindset theory as well as Learn or Die by Edward Hess. His article lists some ways that law firms can encourage learning. The link to the article is here: The Law Firm as a Learning Organization. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Students learn in many different ways. Memory work is no exception; students need to choose the techniques that work for them. Here are various memory techniques that can be used:
Examples appealing to verbal learners:
- Acronyms: Students take the first letters of a series of words to be memorized to make a common word. A non-law example: HOMES (the Great Lakes - Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eire, and Superior).
- Nonsense acronyms: The same technique is used, but the letters form a nonsense result. The verbal trick is to turn the result into something meaningful. A non-law example: EGBDF (the musical scale - Every Good Boy Does Fine).
- Drilling with flashcards by reading them silently over and over.
- Writing/typing out a rule 15 times.
Examples appealing to verbal and aural learners:
- Rhymes spoken aloud: The tempo of the rhyme helps to remember the words. Non-law example: 30 days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31 except for February.
- Sayings spoken aloud: A wise statement to connect ideas. Old law example: Assault and battery go together like ham and eggs.
- Reading flashcards aloud over and over.
- Reciting a rule aloud 15 times.
Examples appealing to verbal and visual learners:
- The peg method: The pegs are the numbers 1 through 10 with rhyming words of the student's choice; the pegs always stay the same. Example: one-bun; two-shoe; three-tree; four-door; etc. Visuals are then added to the pegs to assist in memorizing a list. Law example: learn the 9 U.S. Supreme Court justices; one is a gooey sticky bun with C.J. Roberts stuck in the middle and yelling to get out; two is a polished wingtip shoe with Justice Scalia standing in the middle with his arms crossed ; three is a tree with Justice Ginsburg sitting in its branches; etc.
- The story-telling method: The items are linked to a story to remember the list. Law example: same task; C.J. Roberts walks out of the law school. Just as he steps into the parking lot, Justice Scalia races up in shiny red sports car. Justice Ginsburg gets splashed with water as the car drives through a rain puddle. Etc.
Examples appealing to visual learners:
- Method of location: The student chooses a familiar building (parents' house perhaps) and four rooms in that building (living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen perhaps) and five items in each room (couch, recliner, coffee table, TV, and floor lamp in the living room perhaps). The person walks through the rooms and views the items in exactly the same order each time. Images are connected to the location to remember the items on a list. For long lists, the student walks through the rooms more than once. Law example: for negligence, a soldier is standing at attention on the couch - duty; a tank is ramming through the center of the recliner - breach; etc.
- Memory palace: Like method of location except the student builds a more elaborate and imaginary palace with many rooms to tie the list locations. Because the palace is imaginary, the student needs to spend ample time getting acquainted with each room to aid memory.
- Visual organizers: Drawing a spider map, Venn diagram, or other visual organizer to represent the rule/concepts. This method is especially good for remembering concepts with multiple layers.
Often law students forget memory techniques that were successful for them in earlier educational experiences. If a technique worked in middle school, it may also work for law school or may work if modified. (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.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Law school attracts extroverts and in many ways is designed for them. An astute law student must highlight their successes, be vocal participants in a Socratic classroom, and zealously advocate in order to thrive in the competitive law school environment. However, being an introvert does not mean that an individual cannot excel in law school or contribute meaningfully to the practice of law.
There is a great TED talk by Susan Cain, a lawyer turned writer, who explores introversion and the value of quiet. In this TED talk, she implores everyone to “stop the constant group work”, “unplug and get inside your own head”, and share your gifts with others. Part of her manifesto includes a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” How beautiful would it be for law school classrooms to honor the quiet introvert as much as the outspoken extrovert? Is it possible to encourage “gentle shaking” in a law school doctrinal classroom? Here are a few suggestions that will help introverts feel more comfortable speaking up and contributing in a sometimes intimidating law school classroom.
- Rethink participation during class and provide alternative means to have students engage with the material or with each other.
- See each student as an individual who expresses their ideas and knowledge in multiple and various ways.
- Have students sign up to be the expert for a particular class period or for a particular set of cases.
- Use think- pair-share prior to full classroom discussions about a topic, case, or set of problems.
- Distribute or post discussion questions with the reading assignment prior to class.
- Allow students to pass in class (within reason).
- Teach students how to brief cases and prepare for class discussions. This type of transparency will create more engaged students and lead to a more a dynamic discussion.
- Do not call on students too quickly. Let the question stew with the class and allow introverts more time to reflect and process.
- Consider a flipped classroom so that students feel more prepared to discuss and/or participate during class time.
- Use technology in the classroom. Technology is ubiquitous, and can be integrated it into the classroom to provide added layers of participation and engagement- especially for diverse learners.
- Create learning groups, which will help make a large law school classroom more accessible to introverts.
- Reflect on your own learning style and personality. How do they affect your teaching style and how is your delivery received by extroverts and introverts? How can alter your style to be more inclusive?
(Lisa Bove Young)
Friday, September 26, 2014
I really enjoy my students. It is a privilege to help them reach their academic potential. With new strategies, encouragement, and regular support many of the students who were struggling can make a major turn-around. When they stop by or email me to tell me about the high grade on a midterm, a positive critique on a paper, their first B grades in law school, and other triumphs, I share their joy.
Each student is unique in the combination of learning styles, personal and academic challenges, course difficulties, and more. Although there are strategies that work for most students, those strategies may not be a match with others.
I discuss with my students that the materials that I give them will pull together strategies that have worked for many students - strategies that are based on memory and learning theory as well as other research. I explain the reasons for the strategies and their relevance to grades, future bar passage, and ultimately to practice. I also encourage them that if the strategies do not work for them as individuals that we need to explore what strategies will work for them. We can work as a team to modify approaches or brainstorm new approaches that will work.
Most students are eager to become more successful learners. They readily become part of the team to improve their academics. They want to learn more deeply, to improve their skills, and to improve their later performance on the bar exam and in practice. The meetings become a dialogue seeking the strategies that work best for them as individuals. We discuss, tweak, and brainstorm together.
One challenge to a team effort is that some students are resistant to any change in their study habits even when their grades indicate that their past strategies have not been successful. Change is frightening when the consequence of not making grades is dismissal from law school. Change is stressful when they are struggling with the first bad grades in a lifetime and silently question whether other law students are smarter. Change is very uncomfortable when old habits feel so safe in comparison to new techniques.
With these students, I discuss strategies that will move their studies closer to success within their limited comfort with change. As they see positive results with small steps, they are often willing to try additional small changes. Unfortunately, because they limit the number and range of strategies, they often also limit their academic improvement compared to other students who are open to change.
Another challenge to a team effort is that some students are not invested in their academics to a level that allows them to live up to their true academic potential. For a few, the reality is that responsibilities and circumstances outside of law school limit their time for studying. Examples of these aspects would be care for elderly parents, serious medical illness in the family, personal illness, or financial problems. For other students, the extra hours that law school requires to get high grades does not seem worth the effort. They are content with studying enough hours to keep their grades above the academic standards but not more than that amount.
With these students, I work together to get more results from the time invested. Where time is being consumed by study methods that get little oomph, it can be boosted by more effective strategies. Often undergraduate study methods can be modified for law study to get more traction. These students can still improve some - though again the reality is that their improvement is likely to be less than students who have more hours to invest in effective study.
Throughout the process, I try to encourage students, to read between the lines as to what is going on with them, and to be supportive. Each student has to make a decision as to what strategies are feasible to implement within the personal framework of that student. The individual's parameters will determine the student's overall success in academics. I can be a guide and a partner in the process. The student has to make the final choices as to time and effort. I have to respect their choices even when I recognize that they will not meet their full academic potential. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, September 6, 2014
If you learn through visual methods, consider the following study techniques:
Use easy visual strategies that allow you to see material better:
- Bulleted or numbered lists
- Bold, italics, underlining, all caps, etc.
- Color coding for rules, policies, important case names.
- Indentation to show organizational hierarchy.
- Graphic organizers: timelines, tables, Venn diagrams, spider maps, etc.
Buy a whiteboard so that you can organize material as you think about it and then convert it to hard copy. A large whiteboard can be used at home; a small whiteboard can be kept in your carrel at school.
Check out the variety of visual organizers you could use by visiting these websites:
Turn facts into visual images in your mind (mental motion pictures or photographs) to remember examples of when a rule applies and when it does not or when an element is met and when it is not. The visuals help with issue spotting.
Memorize information through visual images. For negligence: duty is a soldier standing at attention, breach is a tank breaking through a wall, etc.
Use index cards tacked on a bulletin board to arrange information visually to see the inter-relationships. Different colors of index cards can be used to indicate categories or importance.
Purchase one of the software packages that makes it easy to create visuals. One example can be found at http://www.inspiration.com - but many products exist.
If someone else's visual is too complex, deconstruct it. Start with the basics and then build the visual one layer at a time so that you can understand it.
Check out various study aids to see which series with visuals is most helpful to how you see information: Crunch Time, Gilbert's Outlines, Kaplan PMBR Finals.
As a visual learner, determine what strategies work best for you. Although visual learners have some commonalities, each individual has favorite techniques that work for that person but not everyone. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Working with others to prepare for exams can be an uplifting and productive experience. However, it can also cause frustration and waste valuable study time. Therefore, as you begin to prepare for your final exams, reflect on whether a study group could be a beneficial or whether you should steer clear of them. If you decide to move forward with a study group keep these considerations in mind:
- Think about your study goals and your expectations for the study group before agreeing to work with others.
- Be thoughtful about the group size, meeting times, and purpose. Explicitly agree to all of these parameters. A larger study group that meets at night may not be the most effective for you if you are not a night owl and prefer small groups.
- Have each group member identify their learning style. If 3 out of 4 are read/write learners and you are aural, it may not be the right group for you.
- Establish a start time and an end time for your study group sessions. Time is of the essence and you do not want your study group to take over all of your free time.
- Try to keep open lines of communication. End each session with a recap and reflection to discuss whether the session was productive. Or, follow up via email with suggestions for the next group meeting.
- Create an agenda that will help each member of the study group come to the meeting prepared. Knowing what to expect will help retain the focus of the group meeting and help everyone stay on task.
- Give everyone in the study group a chance to take on a leadership role like: drafting the agenda, leading the discussion, providing handouts or examples, or scheduling the sessions. When everyone plays a part in the process, a more cohesive group will develop.
- When you leave you study group sessions, how do you feel? If you feel positive, that is a good sign. But, go one step further. List the top five things you learned during the session. You want more than a warm and fuzzy feeling after meeting with your study group. Revisit your personal goals for the group session and make sure that you assess whether you are consistently meeting those goals.
Ultimately, a study group can be a great way for you to grasp difficult legal concepts and to review for final exams. Additionally, a study group can provide a great support network and can help you avoid procrastination. Good luck on your finals!
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Some of my law students avoid study groups because of prior problems they had with group work during undergraduate study. You know the problems:
- a slacker who let everyone else do the work on the group project but got the same good grade
- the student recounting the story did all the work for the group so it was done right
- a dominating person who demanded things be done the way s/he said
- an unpleasant person who sneered at or put down the others in the group
- a disorganized group that took longer than necessary on every task
- a totally confused person who slowed down the group's progress
- a group meeting that degenerated into a social occasion every time
Some of my law students avoid study groups because of prior problems with law school study groups. The problems were usually law variations of the above problems.
Here are some tips for making study groups positive experiences with good results:
- Realize that study group is somewhat of a misnomer. The purpose is not to study together every day (as in read and brief every case together). The groups are typically tied to review and application tasks.
- The size of the group often correlates to the number of problems that a study group will have. The highest number range that generally works well is three or four students. Group dynamics and logistics become more difficult as the number of people increases beyondthat number.
- The group needs to have agreement on the purposes for the group. Examples: Will the group make outlines together? Will the group members instead share their own outlines? Will the group review topics/subtopics in depth each week? Will the group do practice questions together?
- The group needs to have agreement on how often it wants to meet and whether it wants a set day and time to meet each week.
- The group needs to have agreement on the etiquette for the group. Examples: Does everyone have to agree for someone to be added to the group? How will the group handle someone who is a slacker? How will the group curtail rudeness, arrogance, or other negative dynamics? Will the group share group-generated materials with non-group members?
- The group needs to recognize different learning styles and structure itself in a way that facilitates learning for everyone. All learning styles have merit: global processing, intuitive processing, sequential processing, sensing processing, reflective thinking, active thinking, visual, verbal, aural/oral, kinesthetic/tactile, etc. Some examples of how differences can be acommodated and honored are:
- Globals and intutivies focus on breadth; sequentials and sensors focus on depth. All four processing styles are legitimate. Each student prefers two of the four styles. All four styles used together will allow students to look at material from 360 degrees for better learning.
- Reflective thinkers will learn more from the experience if each meeting has an agenda for most of the time so they can prepare and reflect ahead of time (we will cover depreciation and do problems 1-3 in the practice question book at the next meeting). Active thinkers can usually tolerate an agenda as long as a portion of the group time is open-ended (we can bring up any question or topic after the structured part of the session).
- Aural (listening) learners may listen quietly rather than participate in the discussion or may summarize at the end of the discussion. Oral (talking) learners may ask lots of questions or learn by explaining material to the others.
- Visual learners may want the group to work on flowcharts, spider maps, or other visual organizers. Verbal learners may want the group to use acronyms to condense rules or concepts.
- Kinesthetic learners will need some breaks within a long study group session. Tactile learners will stay more focused during active learning such as practice problems.
- If a study group is having difficulties with group dynamics, decisions about purposes or etiquette, or using its time well, the academic success professional at the law school may be able to make suggestions on how to correct or minimize the problems.
- Some students will prefer to choose one study partner rather than have a study group. This option is fine. The important thing is getting at least one other perspective on the material outside one's own head.
If used well, study groups or study partners can be a positive boost to learning. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
During the final week of bar prep, memorization is paramount. Overlearning the law is the best way to conquer the bar exam. MBE success requires quick recollection and MEE success requires depth of knowledge- both of which rely on memorization.
When studying this week, above all, try to understand your learning preference(s). Listening to your inner voice and sticking with what works best for you is the best way to be successful with your memorization. However, if you are still looking for other ways to memorize, here are a few ideas:
- Find creative ways to interact with the material and keep it fresh.
- Use a study partner or significant other to test you on your knowledge with flashcards or just talk out a subject together.
- Create tables, flowcharts, or diagrams to illustrate difficult rules or concepts. Even drawing pictures can help you create a memorable visual.
- Use other memory devices such as: flash cards, sticky notes, white boards, or a tape recorder.
- Create mnemonics that have meaning to you or use ones that have been created by your bar prep.
- Explain the main points of a subject or essay to someone else (a family member, friend, or roommate). Or, talk to yourself- it's ok, you are studying for the bar!
- Color code, use different fonts, or hand-write rules over and over in order to individualize the material and make it more memorable.
- Read your lecture notes or outline/study-aid aloud, record it, play it back and listen to it.
- Study while you move- walk, ride a bike, bounce on an exercise ball, or use an elliptical.
Good luck on your memorization this week!
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Global processors are always looking for the big picture, the overview, or the roadmap in learning - they want to know the essentials and the end result. Intuitive processors are curioius about concepts, abstractions, theories, and policies and seek out relationships among ideas - they are synthesis peole. When these two breadth-processing styles combine as strong preferences, the learners can sometimes assume they know a course when they only know the gist of a course.
These processors are more tempted to take shortcuts in learning: skim a case, read the canned brief, produce a cursory outline, and write conclusory memos. They often come out of exams with comments like "I guess I didn't know Torts as well as I thought." They are shocked when reviewing an exam to see that they never analyzed element three even though they knew the analysis. The analysis stayed in their heads instead of making it to the paper for the professor to grade.
Global-intuitive students tend to make mistakes on exams that stem from their breadth of learning without sufficient depth of learning, thinking, and organizing. For example, on fact-pattern essay exams, they leave out the steps of their analysis because they think the professor will know how they got from point A to point D without having to lay it out. It is true that the professor knows how to get there, but the professor needs to know that the student knows how to get there (rather than a lucky guess) to give points on the exam. On multiple-choice exams, they tend to pick by gut rather than carefully consider every answer option. Consequently, they look at the options that match their conclusion (guilty, admissible, liable) and miss the best answer that is not guilty unless, inadmissible unless, or liable only if. Alternatively, they may not know which of two better answers is best because they do not know the nuances of the law on which the question turns.
There are several ways that global-intuitive students can help themselves to develop more in-depth understanding of the law and gain more points on exams:
- Avoid shortcuts that tempt one to only know the gist of a course: canned briefs, scripts, outlines of other students.
- Spend time memorizing the precise wording of the rules, definitions of elements, and other law so that one is not fuzzy on elements, factors, variations. or other items.
- For essay exams: Write out fact-pattern essay answers instead of just thinking about them; get feedback from professors, teaching assistants, or classmates on the depth of analysis.
- For multiple-choice exams: Complete lots of practice questions and read the answer explanations in the book to learn the nuances of the law rather than just the gist of the law.
- Take the time to read, analyze, and organize an essay answer. The rule of thumb is to use 1/3 of the time for a question to do these steps and then 2/3 of the time to write the answer.
- Use a chart to organize the essay answer rather than hold information in one's head. Rows can indicate the parties to the dispute. Columns can indicate the elements or factors that need to be discussed. One can enter facts, cases to be mentioned, and policy arguments in the appropriate cells as a careful read of the fact pattern is completed.
- When writing the essay answer, change the audience one writes to - instead of writing to the professor, write the answer as though explaining the law to a non-lawyer (your cousin, grandmother, little brother). Connecting the dots is easier when writing to a lay audience.
- When writing the essay answer, ask "why?" at the end of each sentence. If an explanation for the statement is not there, keep writing and add the "because" to the sentence.
- Carefully weigh each answer choice on multiple-choice tests; look for the best answer rather than the superficially right answer.
- Slow down in exams and use all of the time given. Global-intuitives tend to finish early which often indicates that they missed smaller issues, did not fully analyze the arguments, or did not read the questions carefully enough.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Sequential processors focus on the individual units before them (cases, subtopics, topics) rather than look at the bigger picture (how these units combine into a whole). Sensing processors focus on details, facts, and practicalities rather than look at ideas or synthesis (the inter-relationships of concepts, subtopics, etc.). When these two depth-processing styles are combined in a student as strong preferences, the students can become too focused on pieces and detail and miss the broader view, inter-relationships, and policy arguments.
Several strong sequential-sensing learners have mentioned to me in the last few weeks that they feel that the only time they are focused on what really matters is when they are reading and briefing for class. When they are outlining, reviewing their outlines, or doing practice questions (all of these steps are in their weekly schedules), they fear that they are not expending their energies on what really counts.
After several of these comments came close together, I decided to step back and analyze why these issues were surfacing after I thought we had discussed what one is trying to accomplish in law school courses. I realized that for these individuals we had not yet fully formulated what one does in law school versus what one will do in one's specialty in practice.
These students saw their job in law school as learning all the law in a course so that they were ready to practice that legal area later. They had missed the fact that they are learning topics for a course (but not all of the law for that specialty) to gain critical thinking and writing skills and general knowledge to solve new legal problems (for exams). Once they are in practice, they will focus on learning all they can about their own practice area(s). However, law school does not expect that level of in-depth study; it expects familarity with a variety of areas of law and application of the concepts to new legal scenarios.
Sequential-sensing students feel more secure in preparing for class because they mistakenly think that memorizing everything about individual cases is the most important task. Because synthesis and big-picture thinking are more uncomfortable for them (especially if policy is involved), they feel less convinced that outlines, review, and practice questions are full-fledged studying.
Once these students realize that class preparation is important but not the be-all and end-all, the light-bulb comes on for them. They are still less comfortable with the synthesis and big-picture thinking that lead to application, but they can see those broader study tasks as legitimate. By releasing themselves mentally from having to know every minute detail in each case and each sub-topic and each legal area, they begin to make the transition to the additional levels of learning that will allow them to succeed on exams. They push themselves to synthsize the material and fit it into the bigger picture. They realize that practice questions assist them in this process and help them to apply the law on exams. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Leave Your Point of View at the Fact Pattern Door: Part 2 of 2 (Guest post by Seth Aiken, UMass Law)
In the first installment of this post, I suggested that for some law students, life experience and a strongly held point of view can get in the way of law school success. “Older” students, having lived and worked and experienced a little more than most of their peers can tend to let their own point of view and perceptions about the world interfere with legal reasoning. Rather than seeing the legally significant issues in a fact pattern, they focus on the implausibility of the facts and how unlikely or unfair a scenario seems in the context of their own experience or personal values.
With these students, my strategy is to have them start by adding a phrase to the beginning of the first sentence of every essay question, “On an island that you’ve never been to and where no visitors ever go…(essay question begins). I want them to remember that a fact pattern is a closed universe and that adding facts or injecting personal insights into it will only derail their best efforts.
Then I give my students five steps for looking at a fact pattern and drawing out the legally important issues:
- Call of the Question – Start at the end of the exam and read the call of the question so you understand what you are being asked to do.
- Acts – Rather than trying to spot and analyze whole issues, start instead by reading the fact pattern sentence-by-sentence and highlighting any act or failure to act by a party – anything someone in your fact pattern says, does, or chooses not to do.
- Resist Judgment – You do not have enough information yet to know whether any of these acts give rise to a legally significant issue. Resist making any judgment about whether the act is relevant, worthwhile, good, bad or otherwise because all you know right now, is that somebody said or did something.
- Elements – Assuming you studied and know all the elements of every issue you might be tested on, go to each act and consider if it could be one element of an issue. Remember, don’t skip or overlook an act just because it seems like a little thing. The seriousness or severity of the action doesn’t matter. Whether you think the action would lead to a legal action in real life doesn’t matter. What matters is whether that act in the fact pattern, taken at face value could satisfy one element of something you are being tested on. On the other hand, you don’t want to force an issue that simply isn’t relevant. Some facts ARE there to tempt you into a time-wasting, grade-crushing wild goose chase. In order to stay on target, ask:
a) Is the issue you’re thinking about within the testable universe? (i.e. DO NOT analyze a Criminal Law issue in a Torts exam.)
b) Is this issue relevant to the call of the question? (i.e. DO NOT discuss the rights of B vs. C when the question is asking only about the rights of A vs. B.)
c) Are there other facts that satisfy each of the other necessary elements to make out this issue? DO NOT speculate about other elements based on your common sense or some past experience.
Success vs. Relevance – This is the fifth and final step I ask my students to think about because I want the word “success” to trigger a few different cautionary flags.
The success of the issue: Just because a complaining party has a weak case (weak elements) and is likely to lose doesn’t mean the issue isn’t worth raising. If you can make a good faith, “straight-faced” argument that each of your elements is supported by some fact or facts, it is probably a relevant issue, win or lose. In fact if you can make a good faith argument that MOST of your elements are supported by facts, you should raise the issue. Weak facts or a missing element bear on the success of an issue, but are never a reason to not raise it. Being able to explain to your professor why an issue fails is just as important as being able to show why an issue succeeds.
The successes a student brings into the exam: You are walking into the exam with a point of view based in your life experience. Your successes and accomplishments have equipped you to identify and solve many challenging problems, to relate to people and empathize with their circumstances. HOWEVER – here in this exam, you must leave those successes and accomplishments behind. Relating to the people in your fact pattern and empathizing with their circumstances will distract you from seeing what is relevant and keep you from engaging in effective legal analysis.
Seth-Thomas Aitken, UMass School of Law - Dartmouth