Thursday, July 2, 2015
The bar exam is the last test you will ever take. You’ve been preparing for it since the first day of law school. The foundation is built and these weeks of focused study help solidify what you’ve learned over the past 3-4 years. You will pass if you put in the time to learn the material and master the skills. Friends and family believe you will pass. Professors believe you will pass. Your employer believes you will pass. So, why do you doubt your ability to pass? One reason is that you don’t really know what to expect: Will you get an essay on intentional torts or premises liability? How many future interest questions will be on the MBE? Will you remember all the rules for all the subjects? Did you write enough? Too much?
Human beings seek stability. We like rules, routines, and goals. However, the bar exam does not fit nicely into what we’ve always done. You cover a semester a day and even though you spend 8, 10, 12 hours learning material, it doesn’t quite stick. If you could just hold things still, you’d be able to remember the material. Since everything is always changing, this doesn’t work. This is why you worry you won’t be able to learn everything in time and why you doubt your ability to pass. You are trying so hard to control things that you actually lose control.
It is July and the bar exam is at the end of the month. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Accept that you cannot learn everything and that you don’t need to in order to pass. At the end of each day, reflect on what you did and know that it is enough. It is not about whether you checked off every task assigned by the commercial bar prep company. It is about working solidly and steadily and moving forward. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about everyone else. Stop discussing what you’ve done (or didn’t do) with your friends and family. If they are studying for the bar exam, it will just be a stressor for both of you. If they aren’t studying for the bar exam, they don’t care.
Instead of looking at all those unchecked boxes, make a list of everything you have done over the past 7 weeks. Look at all you’ve accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back. Add to the list every day and look through it a few days before the bar exam. This is proof that you have done enough. This is why your friends, family, professors, and co-workers know you will pass. It is why you should believe it, too.
Need a little motivation? Check out my all-time favorite inspirational speech (it will be the best 60 seconds of your day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c47otcg13Z8
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Many of our students have always been the top of the heap in public education and later college and graduate education. In law school, they find themselves with a group of colleagues who are equally bright and equally successful. Add to that the differences in the law classroom, new forms of analysis and writing, and the most common one-grade-per-course testing method. The result is that some first-semester students can get overwhelmed pretty quickly if they have not spent some reflection time before arriving at law school..
Preparing for your first semester (and reminding yourself if you are an upper-division law student) is essential to your well-being. The preparation you need to do is to spend some time thinking about you and your choices.
Take out a sheet of paper and divide it into columns: values, abilities, areas for improvement, resources.
In the values column, list things that you value about yourself, life, and others. Include values also that caused you to choose law as a profession. Your values will keep you centered as you study the law. There will be people's opinions, case outcomes, methods of legal analysis, etc. that may not mesh with your values. When confronted with those different views, you have a better chance of evaluating those other perspective while staying grounded in your own values if you already know what you value and why those values are important to you.
In the abilities column, list the things that you know you are talented at in all areas of your life - academic, relationships, spiritual, hobbies, etc. Do not expect perfection in yourself or pretend to be perfect. Make an honest appraisal of what you do well. You will want to build on those abilities while you adapt to the study of law and interact with colleagues who may seem to "get it" faster than you do. Education is about developing our abilities further and meeting any challenges with adaptability. Recognize you talent base that will be your starting point and foundation.
In the room for improvement column, list the things that you know you can do better if you allow yourself to increase your knowledge and skills and take constructive criticism. Your abilities may overlap on this list, but it may also indicate improvement for other aspects. For example, you may write well for traditional writing but need to learn how to write legally; you may need to improve your listening skills rather than automatically debating everything; you may work quickly but need to slow down to catch details; you may be a procrastinator and need to use your time more effectively. Law school will challenge you to improve on what you can already do, learn new ways of doing things, and stretch yourself academically and personally.
In the fourth column, list the resources in your life that help you when you become unsure of yourself or discouraged. These resources are family and friends who are your cheerleaders, mentors you go to for advice, the religious mentors for your spiritual beliefs, positive lifestyle choices (sleep, nutrition, exercise), and other positive resources that help you tackle problems and relieve stress and anxiety. Then add to your list the resources that your law school has available for you when you have questions and concerns: professors with office hours, perhaps 1L teaching assistants, the office of academic support programs, librarians, student affairs staff, available counselors, and more. By adding your resources to the list, you are reminded that you are not in law school without support. You are not going it alone.
Keep your list handy throughout your three years. Add, modify, and delete items as appropriate over time. You will grow as a person, a student, a citizen, and a professional lawyer during the three years. Be ready to embrace experiences and become the very best new lawyer you can be for your clients when you graduate. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, May 15, 2015
Congratulations on finishing your academic year! Now you have the summer stretching before you. Here are some thoughts on how to get the most from your summer:
- If at all possible, take some time to decompress before you plunge into a job, summer school, or other obligations. You need some time to relax after your academic year.
- Reconnect with family and friends over the summer months. Socialize with the people you are close to and spend some quality time enjoying their company. They have missed you.
- Laugh aloud as much as possible. Do silly things with your younger siblings or nieces/nephews or children; share the joy of childhood with them. Hang out with friends and family members who see the positive and funny side of things. Let your pet's antics delight you.
- Take up a new hobby or return to an old one. Fill your spare time with things you love but told yourself you did not have time for during the academic year. Then decide how you can carve out some time for your favorite outlet once the school year begins.
- Spend some time volunteering. If you help those who are less fortunate than you, it reorients your perspective and helps you realize that law school is a privilege even if it is hard work.
- Get back into a healthy routine this summer. If you are like most law students, you have become sleep-deprived, junk-food-sustained, and exercise-avoiding. Return to healthy habits so that you become your personal best this summer. Then continue your routine when the semester begins.
- Evaluate your year. What legal or academic skills did you learn this year? What legal or academic skills do you want to improve during next year? What resources at your law school can assist you with those improvements? Make some plans for those improvements.
- Make some non-academic plans for next year. What are your extracurricular goals for the next academic year: student organizations, pro bono work, part-time job, resume building, pursuit of career opportunities? What are your personal goals: stress management, curbing procrastination, better health, spiritual growth, strengthening friendships? What are some positive steps you can take next year to meet those goals.
- Take some time at the end of the summer to recharge your batteries before you return to the classroom in the fall. You want to be refreshed when you return to campus to start another semester.
Have safe and happy summers. We look forward to your return in August. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Have you ever noticed when you are working with students that some law students seem to encounter more than their fair share of life's hardships? The student with academic difficulties is often the same person with financial issues, marital or family issues, personal health issues, and more. It seems for some of my law students that life difficulties come in more than the commonly espoused three in a row.
It often occurs to me that these students persevere against huge odds that would confound most people. The fact that these students with so many obstacles graduate, pass the bar, and become lawyers is really a tribute to their courage. They may not have the highest grade point averages, but they are heads above the crowd in backbone.
Unfortunately, students in the midst of life's obstacles often struggle through them without seeking support. They may not know that assistance exists. They may misjudge the collateral damage to their academics. Or they may let pride get in their way.
Each law school varies in its policies and procedures, but I encourage law students to ask for help when they are dealing with issues that interfere with their academic focus. At least find out your options so that you can make informed decisions.
Some possible resources for students are:
- Meetings with the academic support professional to help with more efficient and effective study skills and time management decisions while the student is juggling the personal circumstances.
- Meetings with an academic or student affairs staff member in the law school to support the student and provide advice on options and referrals.
- Appointments at the university's counseling center for an objective listener during the stressful circumstances that the student is facing.
- Appointments with the university's student health services to provide medical attention and referrals to outside doctors as appropriate.
- Discussion of academic procedures that allow students to postpone exams or papers, take an incomplete grade for additional time to complete coursework, take a course underload for a semester, file a leave of absence for a semester or year, or other options.
Students do not have to handle life's obstacles on their own. As ASP'ers we need to be as familiar as possible with the policies and procedures of our law schools and to make referrals to other law school or university staff and services as appropriate. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, May 3, 2015
Those of us in ASP are finishing up our semesters. All of us are about to dive into the next big project: some ASP'ers begin bar prep; others begin leg-up summer programs for entering 1L students; yet others begin pre-law programs for college or high school students.
All of us have been racing through the academic year and juggling dozens of balls above our heads and behind our backs. The break between fall and spring semesters gave us little respite because we were planning, revising, and preparing for that spring semester. Spring Break was another work week rather than a week off for nearly all of us.
If your last month has been typical, you feel a bit like an emergency room doctor - exhausted and overworked. You have tried to staunch the academic bloodletting and save as many academic futures as possible for students who have shown up for last-minute advice. These latecomers to the process of studying only have time for prioritizing and implementing some quick changes. You do what you can in minimal time. Some students will miraculously do okay. Others will see their law school futures expire on the exam room floors.
I now have two weeks of exams in front of me when the pace falls off because students are hunkered down. A few walking wounded will come my way, but most students will just self-treat and study for the next exam. They just want to survive, go home, and heal.
I know as an ASP'er that now is the only chance that I have to breathe. Not that I will be relaxing, mind you. I will be working my way through a massive list of projects and deadlines.
By breathing, I mean that I can look up and not see the next student waiting in line. By breathing, I mean I will not be finishing one meeting only to rush to another obligation. By breathing, I mean that instead of answering an avalanche of e-mails and handling last-minute crises, I can focus on completing a task and spending quality time with that task.
But you know the best part of being able to breathe for a few days? I get to step back and remember why I love ASP work. I can re-focus on what really matters: the many successes, the many thank yous, the academic and life changes that I have had the honor to be part of, the student tears that have led to smiles on those faces as skills were honed, and the reality that some students would have given up without my help .
So, my dear colleagues, take time to breathe. Remind yourself of why you love ASP work. Remember the little and big miracles you have witnessed and been part of this year. You are a blessing to your students and a blessing to your ASP colleagues. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, April 17, 2015
Law school is tough but so is life. Now is the time to develop your toolbox for dealing with stress. You would not use a hammer to cut a piece of wood but you won’t be able to get that nail in if you don’t learn how to use a hammer effectively. The same thing goes for stress. If you don’t develop tools for dealing with stress now, chances are you won’t handle it well later in life. Avoid- you might be able to avoid stress if you plan ahead and take control of your surroundings. Leave 10 minutes early and avoid traffic, study in a quiet area of the library where you won’t be bothered by annoying people, or say no to leading that committee or planning that event. You can say yes to some things, but you don’t have to say yes to everything. Alter- you might not be able to avoid stress but you can change the situation. Manage your time and organize your day so that you stay on task, set limits for yourself whether it’s studying or social media. Cope- if you have no choice but to accept certain things then talk to someone. Your feelings are legitimate so even if the situation can’t change, talking about it will make it less frustrating. Believing that you can’t cope is itself a stressor so changing your expectations is very helpful. You may need to redefine success or adjust your standards, especially if perfection is your goal. Oftentimes something as simple as adopting a mantra (I can do it) can help you work through that feeling of helplessness. Stress is a part of life so what matters is how you deal with it. Start applying techniques now to balance the stressors. With a little practice you’ll not only know what tools you have but how to use them.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Law school is a challenging endeavor. The LSAT, application process, and transition to law school are hurdles that arise before students are even asked to write their first legal memo, participate in their first round of Socratic torture, or face the fierce competition exhibited by their new peer group. These are daily challenges for new law students. Why then would I suggest that they (and we) seek out more challenges?
When we are challenged, we sometimes feel deflated or weaker. We are out of our comfort zone; we are troubled, worried, stressed; and we are overwhelmed. This does not seem like a state of mind to encourage. However, I firmly believe that it is when are challenged, that we are able to grow, transcend our self-doubts, and establish mechanisms to better prepare for future challenges. Unfortunately, challenges, obstacles, naysayers, and competitors exist. They exist in law school, in life; and, they certainly exist in legal practice. Therefore, we need to face them head-on and become better at overcoming them.
The more often we are challenged, the more empowered we become. Thus, take on an extra project, or register for an intensive course on a complex topic, run a race or climb a peak, participate in moot court, apply for a competitive job, or do something really scary (caveat: do not break the law, remember to wear safety glasses, and always read the fine print).
Undoubtedly, there will be failures, mistakes, and defeats; but, the learning and self-growth is an incredible silver lining. Whether success is elusive or easily achieved, the experience builds resilience and a new level of self-confidence. As the FM dial frequently reminds us, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The semester is over and you've spent the last week either sleeping or catching up on everything you put off during exams. You've still got a few weeks until next semester starts so it is time to find a balance between rest and relaxation, and reenergizing so you can start the new year off right.
The first goal is to stay healthy:
- Drink plenty of water: we often eat when what our body really needs is hydration. Drink a glass of water the next time you feel sluggish or have the munchies. Odds are this will do the trick.
- Get moving: in addition to physical benefits, regular exercise gives you more energy, improves your mood and lowers stress.
Next, do something each day:
- Plan your day: even if you are on vacation, identify two or three things to accomplish each day. This prevents the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
- Use your brain: you don’t have to read legal tomes or memorize statutes but you should learn something new every day. Increasing your knowledge keeps you inspired and motivated.
- Reflect daily: end each day with a few minutes of reflection of what you’ve accomplished (not what you haven’t done).
Last, focus on what makes you happy:
- Express gratitude: identifying things you are grateful for promotes happiness and increases self-worth.
- Clean your desk/room: doing this might not make you happy but the end result will. A clean space allows you to focus on your work instead of the clutter.
- Indulge yourself: set aside time to indulge yourself (just a little) so that you don’t resent having to work or study.
Too much of any one thing is never good so use these next few weeks to find a balance. It will be both enjoyable and productive and you’ll have a good foundation for next semester.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Law students breathe a sigh of relief once all of their exams are over and the last papers turned in. It is such a good feeling to have the semester over! No more studying for the time being!
Alas, the relief is short-lived for some students. They begin almost immediately to worry about the final grades for their courses. For some students, the worry is caused by being too close to the GPA needed to meet academic standards. For other students, the worry is caused by wanting a certain GPA for qualifying for a certain law firm's job application cut-off or retaining scholarship aid or achieving some other standard for a law-school honor.
Whatever the reason for the worry, it can cause sleepless nights and self-doubt until the grades are finally posted. It is the lack of control over the grades that makes students anxious. Not only do they need to do their personal best, but they need to achieve a high enough score to "beat the curve" for the class.
The recommended percentages for each grade bracket of most law schools' curves mean that the overall class performance determines the grades given. Students know that if everyone in the class knew the material and performed well on the exam then just 2 or 3 points can be the difference between a higher or lower letter grade. They realize that some folks will get low grades no matter how large the break between the lowest C and the next grouping. No wonder students sign up for seminars that often do not have to conform to the recommended curve.
It is important to put grades into perspective while waiting for the outcomes:
- You cannot change anything about the exam that is already completed or the paper that is already turned in. Stewing about the misread fact pattern, the forgotten rule, the missed issue, the skimpy case analysis, and more will not change anything. We are not perfect, so it is inevitable in law exams and assignments that perfection will not be reached. All of us remember "the ones that got away" in our law school experiences.
- A final exam grade reflects one's performance on one set of questions on one day at one time. Any student who was sick, tired, stressed, or unfocused during the exam can know that the grade reflects those less than optimal circumstances and not just knowledge/application.
- Over the full spectrum of a law degree, students benefit from the curve as often as they get hurt by the curve. It evens out over time. The break in the curve gives you a higher grade on one exam but may catch you with a lower grade on another.
- A low grade does not mean you are less intelligent, less worthy, or less talented than the day you walked across the threshold of your law school for the first time your 1L year. It merely means that you need to implement some new strategies and forge ahead. Do not allow grades to undermine your self-worth.
- Grades indicate opportunities for improvement rather than just measures of performance. There are lots of ways to improve on test-taking whether the exams are true-false, multiple choice, short answer, fact-pattern essay, or some other variation. ASP professionals can assist students in evaluating their problem areas and work on strategies with them.
After the initial angst of grades that are less than you hoped for, pull yourself together. You can do this with assistance. Review your exams or papers with your faculty members to get feedback on what you did well and what you need to improve. Then make an appointment with your academic success professional to implement a plan for that improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
“The first rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’ The second rule of Fight Club is, ‘don’t talk about Fight Club.’”
Brad Pitt uttered these words 15 years ago in the iconic movie Fight Club (a movie about a fight club). Even today when I ask my class, “What is the first rule of Fight Club?” every single guy responds, “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” You may wonder why I would ever ask such a question and the answer is, the same holds true for exams. Don’t talk about exams. Talking about exams is like asking a woman how much she weighs or asking anyone how much he or she makes. First, outside very specific situations (like your doctor’s office), there is absolutely no reason to ask these questions. Second, you wouldn’t ask your friends these questions because you know that no matter the response, someone walks away from the conversation feeling bad. Talking about the exams is exactly the same: there is no reason to talk about it and someone always walks away feeling bad. I’ve had students challenge me and ask, “what if you have to talk about an exam?” and “what if there really is a reason?” I throw it right back and say, “give me an example.” In all the years I've been doing this, I’ve yet to hear a legitimate reason to talk about exams. As you continue through exams, keep in mind the first rule of law school exams, “Don’t talk about exams.”
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Address the Stress with Mindfulness
Lawyers have a higher rate of depression, anxiety, substance-abuse, and suicide than the rest of the population. The practice of law can be stressful but aren’t most jobs? Why are lawyers having so much trouble dealing with stress? Stress is a mental (and sometimes physical) reaction to a perceived threat or change. In law school, stress manifests early in the 1L year: our past perfection drives our desire to do well and it joins forces with the realization that everyone else is striving for the same level of success. It then crashes into the curved grade system which means that no matter how hard you work, your grade ultimately depends on how well others do. Regardless of the grade, the uncertainty and lack of control lingers throughout your law school career. Then you enter the practice of law and these feelings collide with the emotional intensity of dealing with clients’ problems day after day and working with other lawyers who are often adversarial. It’s a recipe for anxiety, depression, and substance-abuse.
The reality is, life itself is a constant flow of change so we will always have stress. However, stress is not so much the event itself but our perception and reaction to that event. There will always be deadlines and performance expectations. We can’t change that but we can change the way we perceive stress.
Oftentimes, we react to negative situations without thinking. Instead of intentionally focusing on the present moment, we immediately judge it as good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair. This habit is not necessarily a positive one because it is reacting without thinking. It leads to stress, anxiety, depression. Instead, we need to develop a new habit: mindfulness. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for addressing emotional challenges because it helps develop meta-cognition, focuses attention, and strengthens the ability to make deliberate choices. Mindfulness addresses the stress. It allows us to be in control of our own mind instead of our mind controlling us. In practicing mindfulness we learn to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior so we can interrupt stress cycles before they take over.
Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead, and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership recommends something called the Purposeful Pause. The Purposeful Pause is more than just stopping. It is about redirecting and focusing attention so you can make conscious choices. Try incorporating one of these Purposeful Pauses into your day:
- Choose to start your day rather than letting the day start you. Start the day by just breathing and before getting out of bed, take a few seconds to notice the sensations of your breathing.
- Use transitions wisely. Pick a day to drive to (or from) work/school without the radio or phone. When you arrive, allow yourself a few moments to sit in the car, noticing the breath.
- Just walk between meetings/classes. No emails, texts, or social media. Think about each step you take and the possibility of greeting colleagues you pass rather than bumping into them while you text!
Mindfulness is an opportunity to create new, healthy habits. Let’s make the intentional choice to be mindful and let’s change those statistics.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
It’s still early in the semester so you might be wondering why I’m writing about motivation. The reason is simple: it’s easier to maintain something than to lose it and get it back.
A few years ago I was in the best shape of my life. I worked out regularly, ate a healthy balanced diet, and even ran a half marathon. I felt great. Then I moved to a new job in a new city and I used that as an excuse to push exercise and healthy eating to the side. Fast forward several months: my clothes were tight and walking from my car to the office was the most exercise I got. I did not feel great. I came up with a plan to get back in shape and went to the gym for the first time in a long time. It was awful. I was out of breath within minutes, moved slower than molasses, and the next day could barely move. It was ugly but I kept going until I got myself to a healthier place. I liked how I felt and decided it was a lot better to maintain than to have to start all over again. When I catch myself being lazy, I just think of that first day back at the gym and get moving. Even if it’s just something small like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or eating only half a bag of chips, I feel better because I know I’m still moving forward.
I share this story because we’ve all been there and it’s something we can all relate to. The same holds true for motivation in law school. You start the semester off excited and ready to go but somewhere along the way you realize you’ve lost some of that drive. Instead of waiting until that happens, here are some tips on how to maintain your motivation throughout the semester:
Know there will be setbacks- you know you’ll have a bad day (or week) but don’t let it sidetrack you. Being prepared for a setback makes it easier to overcome.
Believe in yourself- if you don’t think you can succeed, then why would anyone else? Make a list of your strengths and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
Be realistic- Setting a standard that is impossible to meet guarantees failure. Instead, set small goals that allow you see your achievements along the way.
Challenge yourself- be realistic but not complacent. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or step out of your comfort zone. It is easy to fall into old habits unless you challenge yourself in new and different ways.
Have a support system- Whether its friends, family, professors, classmates, there are people who sincerely want you to succeed and you will need them when your motivation falters. They will give you that little boost and keep you going.
Take advantage of the opportunities this new semester presents. Maintain your motivation so you have to work extra hard to get it back.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
The summer was a whirlwind. Prepping students for the bar exam means that you are constantly on call and required to be positive and upbeat even when you are not necessarily feeling that way. It is truly exhausting. I learned that while I am generally a positive and energetic person, I too need down time. After the bar was wrapped up and I organized the tornado of papers that took over my office, I took a break and unplugged.
We often read about how media is overtaking our lives and that we should encourage our students and children to unplug and go outside. I am often the one preaching such advice. It was not until I made a conscious choice to unplug and schedule my out of office email reply message that I realized I too have been swallowed by the digital age.
Thus, for most of one week, I did not check email, social media, or my cell phone. It was so liberating…once I got used to it. I learned that I spend a lot of time plugged in, which can be distracting and time consuming. This semester, I encourage everyone to carve out time weekly, or even daily, where you schedule time to unplug. We need to practice what we preach and we need to be more mindful of how we use our time. So, as you are gearing up for the semester and planning your calendar, think about including a block of time where you move away from technology, unplug, and learn something new about yourself.
Lisa Bove Young
Saturday, August 16, 2014
As the beginning of another school year approaches, I have been thinking about how a law student's success is so closely tied to the attitudes of the student. Here are some of my thoughts after observing law students through working in ASP and teaching elective courses.
Attitudes for success:
- Confidence in one's ability to adapt and learn is positive. It is a new educational frontier when 1Ls arrive. With flexibility and willingness to learn, most 1Ls will gain the new strategies for legal education success.
- Openness to constructive criticism coupled with hard work will turn around many of the typical 1L errors in critical analysis and writing (whether exam answer or memorandum).
- Willingness to seek help in a proactive way will overcome many obstacles. Students who use resources in a timely manner can ameliorate problems before they become intractable - whether the help is from professors, librarians, academic success professionals, deans, or other resources.
- Respect for others at all levels within the law school community will engender respectful treatment in return. Much of the tension and competitiveness of law school can be lessened when everyone in the environment remains respectful. Faculty, administrators, staff, and students are all integral to that environment being present.
- Kindness improves one's outlook about law school and engenders helpfulness rather than hostility. A student who values collegiality will lend notes to an ill classmate, explain a concept to a struggling student, and share a kind word with a classmate faced with a crisis.
- Passion for a desired professional goal will often provide motivation when the going gets tough. Examples are: I volunteered with abused children and want to represent children in need of protection. I want to be part of helping families immigrating to the U.S. As a former park ranger, I want to practice environmental law.
Attitudes detrimental to success:
- Arrogance about one's superiority in comparison to others skews reality. 1Ls who arrive resting on their laurels and smug about how special they are often figure out the differences in law school too late in the semester to achieve their academic potential.
- Refusal to take responsibility for one's learning and understanding will lead to lower grades. Students who earn grades below their academic potential are often focused on what the professor, writing specialist, academic success professional, or [fill in the blank] should have done for them. They avoid recognizing and correcting the things they chose not to do to help themselves.
- Perfectionism creates unrealistic expectations that lead to exhaustion. Students who desire to be perfect will be overwhelmed by the amount of work. They often have trouble starting or finishing tasks in a timely manner because of their standards.
- Expected mediocrity can result from self-defeating comparisons to other law students. Students who begin to view themselves as not as good as others will often settle for lower grades. Examples are: I guess I am just a C student. Everyone else is so much smarter than I am. I'll never get an A grade.
- Immaturity leads to lack of effort and frivolous time management that result in bad grades. These students overlook that law school is a professional school and stay stuck in undergraduate behaviors. Playing every evening and weekend, drinking oneself into a stupor, and focusing on socializing lead to poor academic decisions.
- Apathy can result when law school has no personal meaning to the student. Examples are: I came to law school because I did not know what else to do. All males in my family have been attorneys for the last five generations - it was expected that I be a lawyer.
Attitudes color students' ability to adapt to law school, to handle the stress, to seek help, and to reach their full academic potential. Positive attitudes need to be nurtured. Negative attitudes need to be addressed to minimize harmful results. Attitudes will affect whether students just survive or thrive. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.” ― Natalie Babbitt
To those that have just finished taking the bar exam, I hope you enjoy your first week of summer- the first week of August. I hope that you find your version of a Ferris wheel and pause to enjoy the great summer days. Whether it’s catching up with friends, reading non-law related books, fishing, swimming, lounging by the pool or on the beach. Whatever it may be, I hope you enjoy because you have earned it. You have earned the right to lazy around, sleep endlessly, drink a great bottle of wine, or just play with your dog or cat. Again, whatever it may be, enjoy!. Summer awaits you. It may be the last time where you will have endless time to do whatever you want, which may entail nothing at all. So, enjoy.
For those of you starting law school in the fall, you are at the beginning of this journey. However, the same applies to you. Enjoy all the fun, beauty and richness that is August. (LMV)
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
I find that a lot of students have motivation and tiredness problems during the second week of exams. They are almost done, but their energy is flagging. Here are some tips for making the last week of exams less stressful:
It is not unusual to feel your motivation slipping if you have already had several exams or turned in several papers. Try some of the following if you are feeling unmotivated:
- Break large tasks down into smaller pieces that can be focused on one step at a time. Getting started is the hard part usually. Examples would be:
- It is easier to get motivated to study one sub-topic in your outline than to study the entire topic.
- It is easier to agree to do 5 multiple-choice questions than to complete 15 of them.
- It is easier to spend 10 minutes on flashcards than 30 minutes.
- It is easier to decide to write 1 page of a paper than to complete it in one go.
- Give yourself rewards for staying on task. Each person has different rewards that appeal; find the ones that work for you.
- For a small task, take a 10-minute break or get a cup of tea or walk around the law school a few times.
- For a medium-sized task, take a 30-minute break or make a phone call to a friend or get a snack.
- For a large task, take 1-2 hours off or read several chapters in a fluff novel or watch a movie.
It is not unusual to be getting tired if you have already had several exams. Try some of the following if that is how you feel:
- Take short breaks every 60 - 90 minutes if you are having trouble staying focused.
- Eat breakfast to give your body fuel in the morning; even a piece of fruit, yoghurt, or toast can make a difference.
- Take time for a healthy lunch so that you can refuel; try to avoid junk food if you can.
- Carry some healthy energy snacks in your backpack to boost your energy when it drops in the afternoon: apples, nuts, small boxes of raisins, granola bars.
- If you nap, make it for ½ hour or less; long naps tend to make you groggy and disrupt your sleep cycle when you go to bed at night.
- Get 8 hours of sleep per night to recharge your batteries for this week.
Feeling stressed or sluggish? Add exercise back into your week if you have let your usual routine slip. Exercise is one of the best ways to defuse stress, raise your sagging spirits, and sleep better at night. Even 30 minutes will help you feel more energized and calm.
Lift your spirits by looking ahead. Plan two or three fun things for after exams are over. If you have some things to look forward to, it is easier to grit your teeth and get on with what you have to do right now.
Get a pep talk to keep yourself going. Phone your friends or family for encouragement. Talk to someone who believes in you. Shamelessly ask for affirmation! (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Right before exams, I usually try to have a Academic Success Workshop devoted to stress reduction. The most useful and popular thing that we have done is to lead the students in a stress reduction meditation from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis. We fed them pizza, gave them goodie bags of tissues and toys, and then took about 40 minutes to go through it.
When putting together Workshops, my usual tendency is to worry about providing enough content and good advice, but I think 40 minutes of forced calming down was probably the best thing we could do.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Some law students have ill-conceived notions about their priorities for studying and how those priorities interface with basic life needs. They decide that the way to get better grades is to either skimp on/skip or go overboard on meals, exercise, and sleep. Unfortunately, any of these choices is a sure way to jeopardize their grades.
I had a law school friend who survived mainly on Dr. Pepper and Snickers. He lost lots of weight since that diet was his staple one. He also spent little food prep time (the vending machines just wanted a few minutes for their coins to be dropped in). However, he also had little sustained energy because of sugar high and crash cycles; he was sick every time a bug circulated; he was lethargic most of the time.
Several law students I know have decided over the last few years to imbibe energy drinks at high levels to stay awake and have ended up in the emergency room with heart palpitations or panic attacks. They lost more time (not to mention the stress and anxiety they had) than they gained.
My first semester in law school I foolishly stayed up until the wee hours of the morning studying and then overslept an exam. My law school allowed me to take the exam and have the full time, but my grade was automatically dropped two levels as the penalty.
I know a bar studier who spent hours each day exercising only to fail the bar - but his abs were in great shape. One law student spent so much time each day training for marathons that he flunked out of law school his third year. I know lots of law students who spend 2-3 hours in the gym per day because "exercise is important to me."
Both the skimpers/skippers and the overdoers have the wrong idea. Nutritious meals, 7-8 hours of sleep, and 150 minutes of exercise per week are all essential to a balanced and healthy life - and to better grades. Your brain and body need fuel: meals and sleep. They also need stress release and proper sleep inducement: exercise does both.
Meals with a healthy balance of the food groups are essential to your body and brain. Eat lean meat (or other protein foods) and lots of fruit and vegetables. Add whole grains and dairy (or substitutes if you are gluten or lactose intolerant). Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Have regular meal times so that you do not starve your body and then overeat. Avoid excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine.
Sleep allows your brain and body to work at optimal levels. Your brain absorbs more information quickly and retains it better. You get more done in less time because you are focused. You are alert in the exams rather than foggy.
The medical research shows you need 7 - 8 hours every night to avoid becoming chronically sleep depraved. A regular bedtime and wake up time mean even more benefits for you. And do not vary your sleep schedule more than 2 hours on the weekend; you will lose the benefits of your weekly routine if you do so.
Get some exercise. You will feel more energized. Your stress level will be lower. You will sleep better. Thirty minutes five times a week works! It can be a walk - you don't have to be a super athlete to get the benefits.
Here are some tips to work these healthy habits into your life even during this crunch time of the semester:
- Adjust your sleep schedule in increments if it is totally off schedule. For example, you decide that 11 p.m. bedtime and 7 a.m. wake up are your goals. Adjust your bedtime over several nights by 15 minutes to get closer to your goal. Then spend several nights getting to bed 15 minutes earlier than that. Continue the adjustments until you get to 11 p.m. Stay on your bedtime goal for 2-3 weeks consistently - your eyes will pop open 5 minutes before the alarm goes off once your body has its new routine.
- Make time for healthy meals in your schedule. You will relax more and help your digestion if you sit down for your meal and eat slowly - no standing at the kitchen counter and gulping it down please. To shorten your food preparation each day, make large quantities of food on the weekend that can be portioned out over the week. Buy healthy prepared foods at the grocery store to use all week rather than depend on fast food or the vending machines.
- Combine an exercise and meal break for perhaps 2 hours at dinner time. First get your exercise and then take time for your meal. A longer break at this time of day generally helps to re-energize students for evening study.
- Be on the alert for when you are using sleep, meals, or exercise as avoidance behavior rather than healthy behavior. If you get a regular sleep schedule, naps should become unnecessary. Watch out for sleeping until noon on the weekends. Remind yourself that gym time 7 days a week for 2 hours is not supported by the research. Encourage yourself to complete meal planning for the week ahead of time to avoid having to cook for an hour every night.
Use your sleep, meals, and exercise to promote your study. You can still get lots of studying in while taking care of yourself. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 14, 2014
The drama! The tears! The gnashing of teeth! Just another day at law school where students are reacting to the latest round of mid-term grades, a last-minute change in a course syllabus, newly scheduled make-up classes, or switched sides for the legal practice appellate brief. Some law students are beside themselves at the very audacity of it all.
Add to those dramas: gossip about the latest student fashion faux pas, catty remarks about a student's in-class response to a professor's question, whispered speculation about professors' lives, and wild rumors about the job market. Mix it all together and what do you get? Law school's version of Reality TV.
Yes, law school has a fishbowl aspect to it - too many people in one building without any relief. Yes, it is stressful with exams roughly four weeks away. Yes, some law students are easy targets for gossip and snide remarks. Yes, professors have lives outside the classroom. Yes, there are lots of rumors out there.
However, law students need to step away from the remote and get some perspective. Life happens. It happens everywhere. In and out of law school. And many of the things that get blown out of proportion as tragedies in law school are extremely minor compared to the real tragedies in life.
Being diagnosed with cancer, finding out your relative is seriously ill, having your spouse unexpectedly file for divorce, having your house burn down - those are tragedies. The little things in life are irritations, inconveniences, disappointments, or annoyances in comparison. They are not tragedies.
So take ten deep breaths. Have a reality check. And turn off the TV until after exams. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Law students tell me repeatedly that they have two huge fears when they start an exam. First, they fear drawing a total blank during the exam and not being able to remember even the basics. Second, they fear messing up their time managment and not being able to finish the exam or rushing at the end.
To combat these fears, you can complete two steps as soon as the exam proctor tells you to begin. First, write down a checklist of the material on a piece of scrap paper (our law school provides scrap paper in every exam room) or on the back of the exam paper. Second, make a time chart to manage your time during the exam.
The checklist is typically a skeleton outline of the topic and subtopic headings for the course. By writing this information down before you begin the exam, you provide yourself with a security blanket. Putting it down before you start answering any questions, lets you memorialize the information before you start stressing out. You can refer to it for each essay answer to see if you forgot to discuss anything. You can use it to jog your memory if you draw a blank during the exam.
Your checklist may look somewhat different depending on the course. It may include rules with elements, steps of analysis for problem-based topics, policy arguments for another course, etc. You can tailor the information to memorize for your checklist to match the course content.
You can also vary the structure of your checklist. A visual learner may use a series of spider maps for the course. A verbal learner may use an acronym or silly sentences to remember the topics and subtopics in the list. An aural/oral learner may recite a sing-song of the checklist silently in her head as she writes it down.
For a closed-book exam, you memorize the checklist so you can quickly write it down. For an open-book exam, the checklist is the first page of the outline that is allowed in the exam.
The second step is formulating a time chart for the exam. You will want to look quickly at the instructions for the exam to check whether you complete all questions or have options (for example, complete 3 of the 5 questions). For most exams you will be required to complete all questions.
The time chart will vary in format for essay exams and multiple-choice exams. If an exam is mixed, there will be a time chart for each part of the exam. The time chart will help you to work through all of the questions at a steady pace so that you complete the entire exam.
For essay questions, your chart will have 3 columns (question number and its allotted time; time for reading, analysis, and organization; time for writing). You should spend 1/3 of your time on a question for reading, analysis, and organization. You should spend 2/3 of your time on writing the answer. Each exam question will have a row in the time chart with 3 columns in that row.
As an example, assume the exam begins at 1:00 p.m. and has multiple questions:
- Question 1 is a 1-hour question (spend 20 minutes for reading, analysis, and organization; spend 40 minutes for writing).
- Column 1 will show "Question 1: 1 hour."
- Your second column for Question 1 would show "1:00 - 1:20 p.m."
- Your third column for Question 1 would show "1:20 - 2:00 p.m."
- Question 2 is a 45-minute question (spend 15 minutes for reading, analysis, and organization; spend 30 minutes for writing).
- Column 1 for Question 2 will show "Question 2: 45 minutes."
- Column 2 for Question 2 will show "2:00 - 2:15 p.m."
- Column 3 for Question 2 will show "2:15 - 2:45 p.m."
- And so forth through the questions for the full exam time.
If you wish to reserve time to review your written answers before the exam ends, then you will reserve review time and decrease the time you allow for each question. Many students would rather use the full time for each question rather than allot review time.
If your professor indicates points rather than time for each question, then determine the time to spend proportionately for the number of points. Practicing this method ahead of time will make it more natural when converting from points to time.
For multiple-choice questions, your chart will have 2 columns (a time checkpoint; the number of questions to be completed by that time). Each checkpoint time will be in a row with the number of questions completed column for that row. It is usually a good idea to include 4-6 checkpoints.
As an example, assume the exam begins at 1:00 and lasts 3 hours with 90 questions:
- 1:30 p.m. 15 questions completed
- 2:00 p.m. 30 questions completed
- 2:30 p.m. 45 questions completed
- 3:00 p.m. 60 questions completed
- 3:30 p.m. 75 questions completed
- 4:00 p.m. 90 questions completed
If you wish to reserve time to review question answers before the exam ends, then you will reserve review time and decrease the time you allow for the checkpoints accordingly. Again, many students would rather use the full time for the questions rather than allot review time.
You want to make sure that you devise your checklist early enough in the class or exam period to allow you time to commit it to long-term memory so that you will know it by heart. You also want to practice making time charts so that the method is on auto-pilot. Both of these strategies should help lessen your anxiety during the actual exam. (Amy Jarmon)