Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, March 19, 2018

Re-Discover Your Why for Success

Have you ever completed a task you didn’t want to do?  Of course you have.  We all do.  Think about how you felt during the process.  Were you encouraged about the accomplishment or were you just ready for it to be over?  Did the feeling depend on your ultimate end goal?  Grit researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth would suggest passion for the ultimate end goal makes a huge difference in perseverance and success.

Headlines and quick recitations of research indicate grit is a common denominator of successful people.  Individuals, especially stressed and busy law students, can make assumptions about what grit entails based on a common understanding.  Many people, myself included, heard small pieces of information and assumed grit meant hard work and perseverance in face of all obstacles.  However, Dr. Duckworth suggests grit contains more than the common understanding.  She argues perseverance is a major component, but perseverance combined with passion is critical for long-term grittiness.

Dr. Duckworth’s research into passion with perseverance resonates with me.  I love playing golf.  I am not uniquely good at golf, but I continue to play.  After the glory of DST, I can go to the driving range once a week after my kids go to bed.  I set goals and continually try to improve.  However, I only improve about 1 shot a year on average, but I keep working hard on the process.  Contrast golf with my low desire for running.  Running is a great activity, but I tend to get bored and winded.  Some OCU faculty and staff form relay teams to participate in the Oklahoma City Bombing Run to Remember in April.  I participated last year and trained just enough to make it through the 5k leg.  My desire to complete a run associated with the largest tragedy in my community keep me training and helped me complete the race.  After April, I didn’t run again until November to start training for a 10k leg this year because I didn't have a larger reason to overcome my lack of desire to run.  Even now, training is hard.  My body hurts, so I keep making excuses to not follow my regimen.  My desire is low, so I will not put in as much effort as I should.  I also predict I won’t keep running after April again.  Most of my running gains will be lost by next year.

Passion is a critical ingredient to get through law school.  At orientation, I make first-year students write down why he/she wants to be an attorney.  I tell them halfway through the semester they should read their why statement again.  Any time they are stressed or finding classes difficult, I suggest going back to the why statement.  Passion and the why can provide enough motivation to continue through struggles.  No one will like every assignment.  No one will like every class.  Re-reading the reason for attending was to help unrepresented groups or provide a better life for family can be enough to complete the assignment in a way to learn the material to retain it for success on finals and the bar exam.  Combining the why with perseverance can help overcome many of law school's challenges.

Learn how to tap into passion now because it will be critical in the practice of law.  No one will like every deposition, client, case, discovery request, or contract.  Trudging through it without passion won’t provide the best advocacy or work product, and that is not the grit that leads to success.  Finding your passion for the end goal and persevering is what leads to long-term success.

(Steven Foster)

March 19, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 5, 2018

Spring Break! Time to . . . Prepare for Finals!

The sun is breaking through the clouds.  Rain and thunderstorms picked up the last couple weeks.  Ice is melting away, and temperatures are steadily rising.  Spring is right around the corner, which also means Spring Break for most schools will be in the next few weeks.  Plan to have fun, relax, and spend time preparing for finals to maximize the effectiveness of Spring Break.

For most students, spring break starts on a Saturday and finishes the following Sunday.  9 glorious days not being in class.  9 amazing opportunities to get mentally fresh and ready for the stretch run into final exams.  Plan your Spring Break now to utilize all the time effectively.

My suggestion is to spend 4 of the days doing non-law school fun activities.  4 days not thinking about classes, outlines, or exams.  Play golf, watch bad movies, catch up on TV shows, watch an entire new series on Netflix, exercise, hang out with friends, or whatever will provide energy to make it through May.  Rest and recharge is key.

The other 5 days, assuming a normal 5 class schedule, are preparation for final exams.  My suggestion is to devote 1 day to each class.  Spend the morning catching up on the outline.  Make sure it is as up-to-date as reasonably possible.  Spend 1-2 hours on practice questions in the afternoon.  Outlining and practicing will begin critical finals preparation.

Spend the evenings of those 5 days having fun and getting ready for summer.  A couple of those evenings, do nothing.  More resting and relaxing.  Spend 1 of the evenings updating your legal resume.  Spend another evening deciding which employers you want to contact for potential summer internships.  Lastly, don’t forget to spend at least 1 evening reading for the first day of class after Spring Break. 

Planning now can make Spring Break both fun and effective.  Take time to enjoy life.  Recharging will have a huge impact on studying in April.  Catching up on outlines and practicing now provides more focused time in late April to understand the nuances of each subject.  Success requires a good plan.

(Steven Foster)

March 5, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Are you feeling drained?

Midterms, paper drafts, quizzes, and more are coming fast and furious at law students right now. My students are looking exhausted, glazed, and numb this week. Next week is another heavy deadline week for many students.

Faculty and staff are also looking a bit frayed around the edges with grading, make-up classes, project deadlines, committee meetings, and paperwork. Next week is more of the same.

But then . . . IT WILL BE SPRING BREAK!!!! That week without classes is looking a lot like an oasis in the desert. Faculty are off for the entire break, of course; staff have the last two days of the week off.

Everyone is hanging on.

Here are some tips for all of us to keep motivation and productivity up for next week's final push:

  • Avoid expecting perfection. Do the best you can under the circumstances each day and move on without regrets.
  • If you cannot do it all juggling school, work, home - delegate. People who care about you are there to help.
  • Prioritize your "to do" list so that your energies go to the most important tasks rather than being scattered and ineffective.
  • If you need to, ask for help to stay positive and productive. Recruit a personal cheerleader as necessary.
  • Make a list of two or three fun things to do over spring break with family or friends.
  • At the end of each day, be thankful for three things - no matter how small.
  • Rejuvenate yourself with some pampering to counterbalance low energy: a special meal, a massage, an early bedtime, chocolate - you get the idea.
  • Take a few minutes each day for meditation, relaxation exercises, soothing music, or inspirational readings.
  • Laugh: at yourself, at life, at law school. Instead of chuckles, go for belly laughs!

A respite is in sight. You may not be able to play throughout the entire Spring Break, but you will be able to have more flexibility in your time. (Amy Jarmon)

March 3, 2018 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The "Key" to Golden Success - Being "Super Chill?"

As described by reporters Sara Germano and Ben Cohen, Norway might have a secret weapon in winning so many gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Korea this month, namely, being "super chill."

Surprisingly, even just a few hours before a big competition, the Norwegian athletes are still living life, speaking freely with reporters and chatting & laughing it up.  Indeed, the Norwegians are even taking time off to, well, to play video games, have fun, and to socially relax with others.  Yep, they watch TV, they play jigsaw puzzles, and they even have a day or two prior to their big events to be completely "100% free."  You see, according to Norwegian coach Alex Stöckl: "It's important [in achieving success that the athletes] can turn off their minds."

There's an important message here for those of you taking the bar exam next week.  It's A-okay for you to take Monday off before your big event next Tuesday and Wednesday in sitting for your bar exam.  

I know...  

It's REALLY hard to take anytime off, let alone all-day Monday.  But, as illustrated by the success of Norway's athletes, rest strengthens us, rest empowers us, rest restores us.  So, take a lesson from the Olympians and feel free to give your mind a day of rest before the bar exam.  You've earned've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events.  (Scott Johns).


February 22, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bar Exam Positive Affirmation

Every year, I am aware of the stress that bar studiers experience the week before the bar exam but I continue to be surprised by its various forms of manifestation. Some bar studiers are so fearful of the exam ahead that they consider sitting for the bar exam at a later date, some anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, while others simply doubt their ability to pass after all the time and work they have invested. It is perfectly normal to have concerns and be nervous about the bar exam but when they ignore progress they have already made throughout the bar review process and when self-doubt, fear of failure, and a defeatist attitude dominate then momentum and progress made thus far could hinder the last few days of bar exam preparation. It is heartbreaking to be aware of the obstacles a bar studier has overcome to get to this point in bar preparation then see every bit of confidence they built up seemingly disappear. Worse of all is when the bar studier who served as the support system for other bar studiers breaks down. Fear is contagious and particularly when those who have relied on the strength of another become overwhelmed and scared when that person is overcome by fear and doubt.

If we are what we think then we must derive words that manifest our intentions and hopes. Even if we do not completely believe all that we say, we can at least state a desire we might like to see manifested and propel ourselves into making it a reality. Similarly, a change in attitude and a positive outlook on a situation may well become reality. I encourage bar studiers to have a few positive affirmations they can read out loud, say to themselves, or say with others. I ask them to think about something other than: “I will pass the bar exam.” I ask them to be specific with their choice of words to counter negative thoughts.

Below are some of the affirmations bar takers have shared with me over the years. Each is unique to individual bar taker’s state of mind and concern.



“I am capable of passing the bar exam because I have done everything necessary and in my power to ensure that result”  

“I have been given endless talents which I can utilize to tackle unanticipated subjects on my essays and tasks on the MPT”

“I have a process for tackling MBE questions and when I panic, I will go back to my process”

“I have prepared for whatever comes my way (proctor failing to give 5-minute warning, others getting sick, others discussing issues I did not identify, etc..) on each exam day”

“I will stay away from people who create additional stress until the bar exam is over in order to surround myself with positivity”

“When I panic about my surroundings on exam day, I will remember that I have done this before (completed 200 MBEs in 6 hours) in bar review and get into my zone”

“I am capable, I made it through law school and can make it through this exam”

“I was very focused in my preparation for the bar exam so I am prepared”

“I will turn my nervous feelings into productive and positive energy to maximize my performance on this exam”

“I know most of what I need to know and what I don’t know I have a strategy for”

“Every day I got better at the tasks and will be my best on bar exam days”

“Passing the bar exam is not ACING the bar exam, it is achieving the passing score and I can do that. I reject the spirit of perfectionism”

“I succeed even in stressful situations”

“Today I release my fears and open my mind to new possibilities”

“Whatever I need to learn always comes my way at just the right moment”

(Goldie Pritchard)

February 21, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Overcomers Needed to Combat Negative Messaging

While I don’t consider myself old, I am starting to tell stories about “the good ole’ days.”  Days where I was taught to ride a bike by being pushed down the street and then my uncle let go.  I crashed, got up, probably cried about not wanting to continue, and then was forced to get back on for the next attempt.  My mom recalls that she was taught to swim by being thrown in a lake and told to swim back to survive.  Those are terrible parenting strategies (and probably exaggerations), but I do find myself telling my kids “we don’t say I can’t in this house” right before a huge meltdown struggle.  A key message was to overcome obstacles.

Now is the time in both bar prep and the semester where I see students psychologically disadvantaging themselves with the wrong perspective.  Bar takers are struggling with recent simulated MBE results.  My last semester 3Ls are struggling through their MBE homework.  The pain of multiple choice is high right now.  Many students will shy away from more work that illustrates they are not doing well.

Despite the current despair, my hope is everyone possesses a get back on the bike attitude, even if they are wailing.  Unfortunately, I am concerned we (including myself) are not teaching perseverance as well at all levels of education.  I fear our students aren't getting back on the bike due to their perspective of their own ability.

Students constantly receive messages from society, law school, and peers about their ability.  If students don’t receive instruction on how to overcome those obstacles before law school, schools should start overtly teaching how to overcome very real obstacles.  Some law schools’ demographics include students who constantly receive messages that they are not good at certain types of questions.  Research is clear that girls at young ages are as capable, if not better, at math than boys.  As kids grow up, societal messages and images tell young women they are not good at math.  This results, along with many other factors, with less women in STEM fields.  Many of our students experience the same phenomenon.  Schools with lower credentials have a student body who were told by the LSAT that they aren’t good at multiple choice tests, and many of those students were subsequently told by some law schools, through rejection letters, that they weren’t good enough on multiple choice tests to attend.  Limited options to unranked law schools sends messages of inferiority before students are even in chairs.

Students of historically marginalized groups attending those schools face even greater challenges.  Stereotype threat, not seeing many peers like themselves, and discovering statistics about group performance sends additional messages of limited chances of success.  The explosion of easily accessible information through social media and the internet only exacerbates this problem.

My anecdotal perspective is that some students receiving these messages are ill-equipped to navigate the negative environment, which in many ways is not students’ fault.  Between helicopter parenting and YMCA sports (only half-joking), some law students haven't faced real challenges or losing before law school.  They haven't been exposed to the need for a Growth Mindset.  I always talk about improvement and the goal is to get better, but anecdotally, I have heard more students say they aren’t good at multiple choice questions over the last few years.  I try to tell students about a growth mindset, but I don’t think it registers to them that saying they are bad at a certain type of question is a form of the fixed mindset.  The confirmation of certain classes from law school make overcoming this idea difficult.

Overcoming failures is critical to success in law school, the bar exam, and the practice of law.  Not only do we need students to acquire persistence for success now, we are doing a disservice to them if we let them practice law without the ability to handle defeat.  I am committing to be more overt about my messaging on improvement and growth mindset.  I specifically tell students the statement “I am bad at multiple choice questions” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and hurts their scores.  I plan to continually talk about the obstacles in practice and how to learn to handle them now.  I will show them how they improve and how improvement is the goal.  I want my students to enter the profession with the ability to continue to advocate for their client in spite of continuously losing motions.  Hopefully those skills will help them be more professional lawyers.

(Steven Foster)

February 5, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Matter of Perspective...Makes All the Difference in Learning!

Howdy Bar Prep Students:
I am writing this note especially to those of you currently in the midst of preparing for the February 2018 bar exam.
If you're like me, about this time in bar prep, I felt like I was striking out...1...2...3...yikes...another swing at a question with another miss.  I didn't even come close to the right answer so many times. And, so many times I wanted to throw in the towel.
But, it's not the misses that count...but...rather...what you're learning along the way.  In fact, it's in our misses that we learn where we need to improve so that we can more confidently demonstrate our spectacular problem-solving abilities to our chosen Supreme Court bar.  So, capitalize on your mistakes by turning them into positive lessons learned to improve your problem-solving skills.
Frankly, that's hard to do...unless we realize that we all have amazing strengths as we work on preparing for bar exams.  You see, to use a baseball analogy, some of us are pitchers, some catchers, a few umpires, and some runners.  And, there's room a plenty for all of us regardless of our "playing positions" as attorneys of the state supreme court bar.  So don't give up on yourself just because you feel like you are striking out.  We all feel that way.  Rather, keep on looking at the bright side by learning through doing lots of practice problems.  That little change in perspective - turning misses into pluses - can make all the difference in your learning.  To help give you a perspective of what this might look like in action, take a quick look at this short video clip:   And, good luck as you continue to learn in preparation for success on you bar exam this winter.  (Scott Johns).

January 25, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

"The Road Less Traveled"


"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

We are all travelers in this journey of life.  It seems to me that I've been traveling some pretty busy and clogged highways as of late.  You see, I'm constantly on the internet - from email to the web and on every road in between.  Perhaps you too.  

But, I noticed something extraordinary wonderful this week.  The emails have slowed, nearly to a stand still.  It's provided me with a very special gift at this holiday time. A chance to reflect, to ponder, to observe, to relate to others, and even an opportunity to settle back and read a real book (one with pages that you turn by hand, almost like those old, very old cars, with cranks to open and close car windows rather than electronic switches that zip windows up and down in a flash).

Interestingly, it seems like too much of a good thing can, well, be too much. And, the internet with its numerous electronic enticements and inducements might just be that good thing that can easily take over our lives.

Obviously, I'm not against the internet.  I'm on it right now as I write this blog.  But, according to researcher Dr. Steven Illardi at the University of Kansas, too much reliance on technological wizardly can be hazardous to one's well-being:  

"Labor-saving inventions, from the Roomba to Netflix spare us the arduous tasks of our grandparents’ generation. But small actions like vacuuming and returning videotapes can have a positive impact on our well-being. Even modest physical activity can mitigate stress  and stimulate the brain’s release of dopamine and serotonin—powerful neurotransmitters that help spark motivation and regulate emotions. Remove physical exertion, and our brain’s pleasure centers can go dormant."

In the midst of this holiday season, why not take the "road less traveled" by giving yourself a wonderful gift by unplugging from the internet, even if just for one day.  But first, let me be frank.  Unplugging is not for the faint of heart; it takes purposefully choosing to travel down a different road, which perhaps at first blush, seems like a very lonely and difficult road.  

You see, as Dr. Illardi relates, there's a research "study from 2010, in which about 1,000 students at 19 universities around the world pledged to give up all screens for 24 hours. Most students dropped out of the study in a matter of hours, and many reported symptoms of withdrawal associated with substance addiction."  In other words, in choosing to take this road less traveled, even for just 24 hours, be ready to be ambushed by your own mind.  

But, there's great news for those who kept moving on the "road less traveled" by staying unplugged for 24 hours.  As Dr. Illardi states, "[T]hose who pushed through the initial discomfort and completed the experiment discovered a surprising array of benefits: greater calm, less fragmented attention, more meaningful conversations, deeper connections with friends and a greater sense of mindfulness."

So, as I wrap up my final blog of 2017, I'm about to go dark...I'll be shortly turning of the power switches to my computer and my so-called smart phone.  At least based on the research, that's a very smart road to travel on.  I'd love for you to travel with me and let me know how it goes!  (Scott Johns).




December 21, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Looking To A Fresh Start

This week, I find myself void of creativity, innovation, and energy.  My energy and strength were transferred to all of the students I interacted with over the last two to three weeks.  On a daily basis, I have managed to complete only one administrative or planning task simply because emotions related to the preparation, anticipation, and taking of exams consumed my attention. 

Student questions, concerns, and desires to debrief post exam consumed the remainder of the work day.  Today is the last and final day of exams and I am almost as depleted as the students I see roaming the halls of the building.  I, therefore, look forward to a short break within the next few days.

Although nervous energy consumed the hall outside the exam rooms; students remained filled with hope as they discussed their plans for the break.  I was mistaken for an exam taker by a proctor, gave my final pep talk of the semester, and smiled as each student entered the exam room. 

All the very best to students everywhere!  Enjoy your break, see you next year, and remember these few quotes:

“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over” - Guy Finley

“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were”- Rainer Maria Rilke

“The beginning is always today” - Mary Wollstonecraft

(Goldie Pritchard)

December 20, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Students Coping with Anxiety

Anxiety is an issue for many college students. More of our law students are arriving on our campuses with a history of test anxiety, general anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). All of us in ASP and bar prep have worked with law students to help them cope with these aspects of their lives. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had an article with a video in which five college students share how they cope and what they want others to know: Facing Anxiety. The Chronicle is joining the non-profit Active Minds in collecting students' stories. (Amy Jarmon)

December 16, 2017 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

When the Screen Freezes

How individuals manage difficult moments or periods of crisis is very telling of who they are as individuals, their perseverance, and their strength. As the title states, what happens when students are in the process of taking an exam and the computer screen goes blank or freezes? This might be a remote possibility if the student has done everything to ensure that the laptop and software are in perfect working order but unforeseen circumstances inevitably do occur. I always encourage students to mentally prepare for the worst case scenario and consider how they would address such a situation. There are three general categories of reactions I have observed students adopt.

(1) It’s over.

These individuals are in complete panic and cannot get past the fact that something went wrong. They might even be paralyzed, unable to move forward, and unable to adopt a new course. They are doing all they can to ensure that the computer will work again. They lose precious time but have convinced themselves that there is no other way they can complete the task. They are preventing themselves from moving forward in an effective and efficient way. They might even throw in the towel and give up at this point. This is a defeatist attitude which is not helpful on the exam or in the future.

(2) I can’t do this.

These individuals panic and might even say to themselves a number of negative things but they will ultimately complete the task at hand. These individuals are frustrated and thrown off by the sudden development but are somehow able to get it together and complete the task at hand. The negative self-talk is a defense mechanism used to cope with the stress but despite the discomfort, they finish the exam by handwriting in a Bluebook.

(3) I can do this.

These individual are accustomed to facing challenges and adversity in life and solving problems; therefore, they tackle the situation head-on. While they initially may be thrown off by the turn of events, they nevertheless go on and face the challenge. They might immediately start writing in a Bluebook while simultaneously attempting to reboot their computer but they continue to proceed with the work. The frustration often kicks in after the exam is turned in because they were on autopilot during the exam.

Of course, people will react in different ways depending on their level of comfort with the subject area, perceived and actual difficulty, and ability to manage crisis situations. Having a plan for whatever worse case situation can be helpful if you are ever faced with such a situation or one similar to what you have anticipated. (Goldie Pritchard)

December 13, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Fresh Start" Steps for Bar Exam Repeaters!

'Tis the season, they say.  

But, for many law school graduates, the month of December seems like a herculean challenge because a number of graduates are preparing to retake the bar exam next February...after receiving devastating news that they did not pass.  

So, let me write directly to those of you who did not pass the bar exam this past summer.

First, you do not have to be a repeater.  Repeaters repeat, with the same outcome likely to result.  Instead, it's time to take advantage of the information and the experience that you had and turn it into a "fresh start."  You see, you have "inside information," so to speak, that first-time takers lack.  You know what it's like to sit for the exam, and, in most states, you have concrete information about what you did that was great along with inside scoop about where you can improve.

But, where is this inside info?  

It's in the scores that you received along with your answers.  The first step on your "fresh start" journey takes incredible courage but is key...grab hold of your exam questions and answers and work through them, one by one, reading the questions, outlining answers, writing solutions, and reflecting on what you learned through re-writing the exam. In the process, you'll be able to see firsthand where you can improve.  That's important information that is not available to first-time takers.  So, take advantage of it.

Second, don't focus on studying but on learning.  You see, success this time around on the bar exam is not a matter of working harder but rather working differently.  [That's why I’m always reluctant to call it studying because the focus should be on learning.].  From a big picture viewpoint, as Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emerita of Teaching and Learning at Penn State University describes, learning involves three overlapping activities focused on (1) content; (2) experiences; and, (3) reflection.

Let me be frank about the content phase of learning.  We often feel so overwhelmed by the content, particularly because it comes to us from bar review companies in the form of massive detailed lectures and equally massive detailed outlines, that we never move beyond the content.  In short, we don't feel like we know enough to practice.  Consequently, we tend to be immobilized (i.e., stuck in) in the content stage.  Instead of experiencing problem-solving first hand, we tend to re-read outlines, re-watch lectures, and in general create gigantic study tools before we have had sufficient experiences with the content to know what is really important in the big scheme of things.  

And, in my experience, most often when people don’t pass the bar exam on the first time around, it is almost always NOT because they didn’t know enough law but rather because they wrote answers that didn’t match up with the questions asked.  They were stuck in the content stage, spending too much time learning answers rather than experiencing questions.  As mentioned above, that's because we are so naturally focused on trying to learn and memorize the law.  But, I can’t EVER recall someone not passing because they didn’t know sufficient law.  It’s almost as though we know too much law that the law becomes a barrier...because we write all of the law that we know in our answers...even if it is not relevant.

That’s why the second stage is so important – experiencing the content through active open book practice.  

And, the third stage is critical too – reflection – because that is where we dig in to see patterns in the bar exam questions over time.

With that background in mind, let me offer a few suggestions so that you are not a repeater but a "fresh start" taker on your bar exam next February.

1.  Avoid the Lectures!  I would not redo the bar review commercial lectures.  At the most, if you feel like you must, feel free to listen via podcasts while exercising, etc.  In other words, just get them over and done with so that you can move quickly into the experiencing stage using the content of actual practice problems to solve problems for yourself. In other words, the least important thing in successfully passing the bar exam on the second go is listening to the lectures or reading outlines.  Rather, as you work through practice problems, take the time to dig in and understand whether you really understood what was going one...that's the sort of experience in practicing along with the sort of reflection that makes a huge difference.

2.   Daily Exercise!  Establish a schedule so that you exercise consistent learning every day.  The key is to be on a daily regimented schedule because it’s in your daily actions of experiencing and reflecting through actual bar exam problems that leads to big rises in bar exam scores.

3.  Practice Makes Passing Possible!  Right from the "get go," take advantage of every practice exam you can.  Most of your days, from the very beginning of your studies, should be engaged in practicing actual bar exam problems and reflecting on what you learned.  Don't try to learn the material through reading the outlines.  Dig in and use the outlines to solve practice problems.

4.  Reach Out To Your Law School!  Meet once per week, on a schedule, with someone at your law school to talk out your work. Bring one of your written answers or a set of MBE question that you have done or a performance test problem that you just solved.  You see, according to the learning scientists, when we explain to someone the steps that we took to solve a problem, it sticks with us.  So, take advantage of your local ASP professionals on your law school campus.

5.  Make Your Learning Work Count!  Skip the commercial bar review online homework and drills.  If the problems presented by your commercial course are not formatted like actual bar exam problems (essays, MBE questions, or performance test problems), don't do them. Period.  That's because the bar examiners don't test whether you did the drills or the online homework; rather, they test whether you can communicate and solve hypothetical bar exam fact pattern problems.  So, focus your work on the prize. Only do bar exam questions.

6.  Two-Thousand!'s a number to remember.  According to a recent successful "fresh start" taker, the number is 2000.  That's right.  A recent taker said that she/he did just about 2000 MBE questions.   That's really experiencing the content.  You see, it’s important to work through lots and lots of bar exam problems because that helps you to see fact patterns that trigger similar issues over and over.  And, if you do that many questions, you don’t really have time for commercial bar review online homework or making gigantic study tools or re-watching the lectures over and over.  Instead, you’ll be using your time...wisely...for what is really important, learning by doing.   In particular, focus your learning (not studying!) on probing, pondering, and reflecting through every available essay and MBE question that you can.  Unfortunately, we often hear of people slowing down in the practice arena during the last two weeks to make big study tools and to work on memorization. But, memorization doesn’t work without content...and content doesn't work with out experiencing lots and lots and lots of practice problems. In other words, by practicing every possible problem that you can get your hands on you are actually memorizing without even knowing it. 

7.  The Final Two Weeks!  In the last two weeks, while you are still spending the bulk of your time practicing problems, for an hour or two a day, start to run through flashcards, or your old study tools, or posters, or your subject matter outlines.  But, do so in a flash.  It doesn’t matter whether you use commercial flash cards, your own note cards, or your own short subject matter outlines, etc., just pick something and use it to reflect on your learning. Here’s a suggestion:  The learning science experts say that it is important to “elaborate,” i.e., to explain and talk through what you are learning and ask why it is important, etc.  In other words, as you run through your study tools, put them into your own words, e.g., vocalize them, sing them out if you’d like, or even dance with them or put some “jazz” into them. In short, make your study tools live!  However, always remember that the best way to make your study tools come to life is to use them to work through lots of bar exam problems throughout the last two weeks of bar prep.

8. Be Kind-Hearted To Yourself! Realize its okay to have melt-downs.  Note, I said meltdowns not just a meltdown.  Everyone has them, and they happen more than once.  That's being human.  So, be kind to yourself.  Feel free to take time off for short adventures.  The important thing is to take some time to rest and to rejuvenate, in whatever form works for you.  My favorite is ice cream followed by a close second with hiking and even watching Andy Griffith shows (you’re too young to know what that is!).

Well, with that learning background as a foundation and these steps in mind, I wish you well as you prepare for success on your upcoming bar exam!  (Scott Johns).


December 7, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Impostor Syndrome - 10 Steps to Ovecome It

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article interviewing Valerie Sheares Ashby, Dean of Arts and Sciences at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, about how she got over impostor syndrome. The article is an interesting story of one person's success and can be found here. Within the article is a link to 10 Steps to Overcome the Impostor Syndrome by Dr. Valerie Young giving practical advice on overcoming the syndrome. Over a approximately a year of intentionally practicing the steps, Ashby states that she was no longer limited by the syndrome.

These 10 steps may be beneficial to our students (and ASP'ers) who suffer from impostor syndrome. The 10 steps are here: 10 Steps. (Amy Jarmon)

December 4, 2017 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Small Ways To Help Combat Stress

Some possible ways to handle some of the pre-exam and exam stress:

  • Study what you do not know rather than spending lots of time on what you already know. You will see more progress.
  • Complete your “hardest” studying early in the day, so that it will not hang over you all day.
  • Study as you focus best: one subject per day or several subjects to break up your day.
  • Stock up before exams on the necessities: frozen dinners; healthy snacks; beverages; pens; pencils; ink cartridges; etc.
  • Plan a special celebration for the last night of exams so that you have something to look forward to as a reward.
  • Decide some rewards that you will give yourself as you finish tasks. A small task gets a small reward; a big task gets a big reward.
  • Say please and thank you more often than usual. Your kindness will likely elicit a smile from the recipient which will brighten your own day.
  • Talk to at least one person who has nothing to do with law school each day. It will remind you that there is still life outside of the law school bubble.
  • Avoid sugar or caffeine highs and crashes during studying; be careful with energy drinks because they are heavy on both sugar and caffeine.
  • Get extra sleep several nights before each exam in case you have trouble sleeping the night before an exam.
  • A light-hearted comedy at the movie theater is a great way to de-stress from an exam.
  • At the end of each day, think of three small blessings you had that day. Examples: someone smiled at you; you heard a story that made you laugh; a family member called to wish you luck.
  • Surround yourself with people who believe in you - in person, by phone, by text.
  • Take an exercise break! You will de-stress, feel more alive, and sleep better at night.
  • Enjoy simple pleasures: laugh with a child; pet a dog; sing a song; dance the Texas Two-Step around your living room.

Take a few deep breaths! Best wishes for exams. (Amy Jarmon)

December 2, 2017 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Curious George, Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazkai, and Overcoming the Odds!

There's a new documentary film out, telling the story of the co-authors of the Curious George adventure stories as they fled Paris for their lives with bicycles the couple hand-built from spare parts just 48 hours prior to the invasion of Hitler's troops.  

You see, the authors Margaret and Hans Reys were German Jews. Traveling south to neutral Portugal and "sleeping in barns and eating on the kindness of strangers" along the way, the couple eventually made their way to New York City.  According to columnist Sarah Hess, who writes an article about the famous authors and the young filmmaker responsible for bringing to documentary life the incredible story of the Reys, the authors were, in part, imbuing Curious George with their own life experiences in learning to overcoming adversity by constantly maintaining a sense of curiosity and optimism despite the tremendous odds against them.  Sarah Hass, "This is George," The Boulder Weekly, pp. 26-29 (Nov. 2017).

In Sarah Hass's article about the new documentary file, we read about how the film came to fruition through the efforts of an aspiring young filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazki.  Yamazaki grew up in Japan reading the Adventures of Curious George.  She loved the stories. Because of the international fame and relevance to children across the world, Yamazaki couldn't believe that no one had yet to tell the "story-behind-the-story" of the Rey's.  Id. at 28-29. But, that almost stopped her from telling the story.  

You see, Curious George was famously successful; Yamazaki - in her own words - was just a 24-year old filmmaker and director.  In particular, as related to us by Sarah Hass, Hass explains that "deep down Yamazaki wondered if she was really the right one to tell the Rey's story.  Shouldn't a more experienced director take on such an iconic tale? 'But, you know what I realized?' she ask[ed] rhetorically.  'If I had waited to start until I knew what I was doing, or until I knew I was the right person to do it, I still wouldn't have started."  Id. at 29. (emphasis added).

So, Yamazaki went forward despite her lack of confidence in herself, "rely[ing] on borrowed equipment" and lots of IOU's to "pull it off," producing a documentary movie that would not have come to fruition without Yamazki overcoming her own lack of confidence in being a great story teller.  Id. at 29. 

With final exams just having started (or starting soon), many of us feel so inadequate, so inexperienced, so unfit to even begin to prepare for exams. Yes, we'll try our best to create often-times massive outlines, which turnout to be nothing more than our notes re-typed and re-formatted.  But, it's not massive outlines or commercial flashcards that lead to success on our final exams.  Rather, it's following in the footsteps of filmmaker Yamazaki and getting straight to the heart of the issue by step-by-step producing the final product - a film that captures what Yamazki learned and experienced in her curious explorations of the life stories of the Rey's in their own true adventures in overcoming adversity to achieve success.  

As law students, most often we do not feel that we know enough to start actually tackling practicing exams.  But, we are not tested on the quality of our study tools or how much law we memorized from flashcards. Rather, we are evaluated based on our abilities to communicate, probe, and plumb problem-solving scenarios, mostly often in hypothetical fact patterns based on what we have studied and pondered throughout the academic term. That means that - like Yamazaki - we need to overcome our lack of confidence and just start struggling forward with tackling lots of practice final exams.  

Be adventures.  Be curious.  Be bold.   Yes, that means that, like Curious George, you will find yourself making lots of mistakes, but it's in the making and learning from our mistakes in practice problems that we learn to solve the problems that we will face on our final exams.  So, tell your own story of adventures this fall as you prepare for your final exams.  And, best of luck! (Scott Johns).

P.S. The best sources for practice exams are your professors' previous exams. But, if not available, feel free to use some handy, albeit relatively short, past bar exams problems, available at the following link and sorted by subject matter:

November 30, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks: Good for the Body, Heart, and Mind!

As highlighted in a recent article by Jerry Cianciolo, taking on an appreciative disposition reaps great benefits in terms of our health, our emotional state, and our mind too. 

Citing to a Harvard article from 2015, Mr. Cianciolo relates that complimenting others leads to "positive changes in [our own] physiology, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, and social relationships.” Let’s be real. That’s something we could all use in law school. 

And yet (and not surprisingly), the opposite brings downsides.  According to Stanford neurologist Robert Sapolosky, complaining and worrying leads to such negative health implications as adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. 

But I have to be honest.  I’m a big-time worrier.  To be frank, it seems like the stresses of law school life only serve to accentuate my worries.  Perhaps you’re like me.  If so, I have great news.

Our viewpoint is a matter of our choice.  We can decide whether to worry or wonder, to complain or compliment, to lament or thank. 

So, in the midst of this thanksgiving season, please join with me in choosing to spread some sunshine towards others, perhaps with a gentle smile of warmth to someone in law school that seems all alone, or a kind word to a friend that is having a difficult time of it preparing for final exams, or a generous spirit to someone who is down and out as we commute to campus.  And, in the process of choosing to live out a thankful attitude in our words and deeds, our own hearts will radiate with warmth and gratitude. That’s something to be mighty thankful for throughout this season of law school as we turn the corner from our law school classrooms to preparing for final exams. And, it just might help with our problem-solving too! (Scott Johns).

November 23, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pause For Your Mental Sanity

Fall semester break (Thanksgiving Break) is approaching and there are many signs that students need a break to refocus, rest, and put a dent in tasks they have either avoided or simply had insufficient time to tackle. First year law students, in particular, have been spread very thin trying to learn new skills, balance multiple tasks, and learn new information. Simply put, they are pushed to the brink of their perceived capabilities. These activities are all potential sources of stress that may negatively impact one’s body and mind even when you are aware that you need to slow down. Students forget about focusing on what is most important to them when everything within them says that they cannot complete this or that assignment. Productivity starts to plummet, sleep schedules are off, healthy eating habits are replaced with unhealthy ones, gradual withdraw from social life takes place, frequent panic attacks occur, and some students no longer enjoy things they once enjoyed. In essence, students no longer feel good about themselves.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mental health” as:

“the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life; also: the general condition of one’s mental and emotional state.”

Our students should aspire to have good mental health; always be aware of how they feel and how they manage their feelings. There are several resources at counseling centers and student affairs offices on various campuses on this topic that I am only mildly addressing.

Our students have a week off before they return to wrap-up the semester and take final exams. Of course, I relentlessly encourage students to maximize the time they have over break. Use this time wisely and effectively but also get some rest. I encourage students to develop a realistic and productive study plan in order to set themselves up for success by implementing the plan. I also encourage students to develop an additional plan for rest and recuperation, emphasizing it is very easy for time off to develop into all play and rest and no work, nevertheless, it is important to plan and limit their rest time.

A top priority on the list is to get some true rest and some valuable sleep of at least eight hours each and every day. I also encourage students to have a day when they do absolutely nothing but what they want to do and engage in at least one activity that makes them happy. Their goal is to be re-energized and in the best, mental and emotional state to wrap-up the last few weeks of the semester.

This is not to say that no time is spent on maximizing study time but I would let you refer to my colleague’s entry here which addresses exam preparation in detail. Happy restful yet productive break to all students. (Goldie Pritchard)


image from

November 15, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Imposter Syndrome Podcast

Hat tip to my colleague, Atiba Ellis, who forwarded me a link to the BBC World Service podcast series "The Why Factor," which recently explored the concept of Imposter SyndromeThe podcast smartly outlines the causes of Imposter Syndrome and then highlights the syndrome's prevalence in the workplace and higher education--especially among diverse or minority employees and students.

The 23-minute episode explains: "Have you ever felt like a fraud? You think that one day your mask will be uncovered and everyone will know your secret. According to psychologists, this is a common feeling that many of us suffer from and it has a name; Imposter Syndrome. The term was coined by two American psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, in 1978. Dr Clance and Dr Imes first thought the feeling was only experienced by high achieving women, but quickly found that men experienced it too. According to subject expert, Dr Valerie Young, women are more susceptible to imposter feelings because they internalise failure and mistakes- whereas men are more likely to attribute failure and mistakes to outside factors. However, those who belong to minority groups of whom there are stereotypes about competence also commonly experience imposter feelings.  If you suffer from imposter syndrome, don’t worry you’re in good company; Maya Angelou, Robert Pattinson, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and many more successful people have expressed feeling like imposters."

(Kirsha Trychta)

November 7, 2017 in Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Relaxation Resources

Our workshop topic last week was stress management. One of the handouts gave some suggestions on resources. Here are the suggestions:

Headspace – free and subscription meditation sessions (recommended by multiple law students)

MIT Medical webpages

– relax and rest

– some relaxing music

– body scan mindfulness meditation

Free white noise download

You can internet search for keywords (meditation, mindfulness, relaxation, white noise) and find many more websites. (Amy Jarmon)

November 4, 2017 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2017

The End of October is Approaching

It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.

As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.

By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.

As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)

October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)