Monday, November 22, 2010
All law students feel the pressure of upcoming exams. Final paper or project deadlines are piled on top of that pressure. Clinic students are trying to get in their final required office hours. Students with court or mediation observations are getting the total time they need. In general, there just do not seem to be enough hours in the day.
And then just when a student thinks she can handle no more, life happens. A computer crashes with all outlines and paper drafts on it. A spiral notebook of class notes disappears when left behind at a coffeehouse. A student gets pneumonia. A best friend dies in a car accident. Parents announce they are getting a divorce. A boyfriend decides now would be the perfect time to end a relationship. The car's transmission gives up the ghost. A younger sibling gets arrested for drugs. Dad files for bankruptcy and can no longer pay the student's rent.
You get the picture. The list is as varied as the students and their lifestyles. The permutations are almost endless. And in some cases, there will be several things happen at the same time or within close proximity of one another.
In each case, the disruption often throws the student into complete disarray. It may be hours, days, or weeks before the student is back to functioning at full capacity. Unfortunately, too many students try to handle these crises by themselves without getting help from resources that are available to them.
Why do they go it alone? There may be several reasons:
- Pride. Most students have always handled things without having to ask for help. They often assume they can just resolve this situation as well. They may not want to let anyone know that they cannot handle the current situation by themselves because they see it as a sign of weakness.
- Embarrassment. The life incident may be highly personal or show the student's bad judgment. Students may be too mortified to explain to a dean or faculty member what has happened to them. They fear that asking for help under their specific circumstances will "put them in a bad light."
- Cultural background. Students may come from backgrounds that require that family business stays within the family. To share about a divorce, sibling's arrest, a parent's bankruptcy, or other personal matters would be seen as a betrayal of the family's trust.
- Lack of knowledge. Students may truly be unaware that there are resources available to them. They may assume that they have no academic options or that low-cost or no-cost resources are unavailable to them.
Here are some suggestions for handling a crisis. Although the procedures, policies, and services will vary from law school to law school, most law schools have resources to help students deal with life's unexpected disruptions.
- Assess what is needed as quickly as possible. Is it going home to be with family? Is it $500 for car repairs? Is it IT help to see if anything can be retrieved from a hard-drive? Is it help from a classmate or tutor/teaching assistant? Is it someone to talk with about the situation?
- Let the law school know what is going on. Talk to the Associate Dean for Academics, the Associate Dean for Student Affairs, the Director of Academic Support, or whomever is the designated staff member. These individuals can explain the options available and make referrals as appropriate. With more knowledge, a student can regain control and choose the best path for resolution of the crisis.
- Follow procedures carefully and meet any deadlines. Every law school has its own procedures for academic options that are available. Deadlines will vary within each school's procedures and policies. Your law school may have some or all of the following available to students with documented problems: rescheduling of exams; extending paper deadlines; withdrawing from a course; dropping to an underload; taking an Incomplete grade and finishing work after the semester is over; taking an In Progress grade and repeating the course the next time the course is offered; taking a leave of absence for the next semester.
- Ask about resources on the main campus of an affiliated university. Law students have often paid fees that include no-cost or low-cost medical care and counseling at the main university wellness center. Universities may also have stress management, financial counseling, biofeedback labs, student legal services, ombudsman services, or other resources that can be helpful.
- Ask about resources in the local community. Independent law schools will often have referral systems to local health providers or counselors or legal services. In some cases, the law schools will have negotiated discounted fees or payment plans. Even where there is an affiliated university, resources in the community will often be well-known by the decanal staff.
- Ask about short-term emergency loan programs at the law school. Although the dollar amounts are usually not large, the payment terms are usually reasonable. Alternatively, depending on timing, financial aid may be re-packaged to provide additional funds for documented medical expenses, purchase of a new laptop, or other emergency needs.
- Get in touch with the spiritual side of life. Studies show that those who pray and believe a higher power is involved in their burdens feel less overwhelmed. Whatever the spiritual orientation, it can be helpful to talk to a spiritual mentor about the problem.
- Realize that law school friends need to focus on exams. The crisis does not have to become everyone else's crisis. It is often more appropriate to turn to non-law-school friends, family, or professionals for support at the end of the semester. Law school friends care, but should not be expected to replace doctors, counselors, or other professional advisers.
Life often intervenes at inconvenient times in law school. Now is not the ideal time to divert attention from studying. However, in reality, it happens. Stay calm. Get help. Do the best that can be done under the circumstances. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Tis' the season for stress. Consider using the following quick tips to lower stress:
- Do your hardest or least liked task first. That way it will not hang over you all day and increase your stress.
- Break down any task into smaller steps. It is less stressful to contemplate reading just one case than to approach 35 pages of reading for a course. After the first case, contemplate just the second case, and so forth.
- Learn just two or three rules at a time. Memory will work better when not overloaded. Your stress will go down as you succeed in remembering smaller amounts of material at one time.
- Ask for help. If you hit a wall on understanding a concept, ask a classmate, teaching assistant/tutor, or professor for assistance. Stress increases dramatically when you stubbornly keep on struggling alone with only frustration as payoff.
- Mark down all deadlines. Mark down an artificial deadline two days prior to each real deadline. Work toward finishing any task by the artificial deadline. You then can be less stressed as you do a final paper edit, a few more practice questions, or a last review of your outline.
- List four things you plan to do for fun during semester break. Read the list often. You will be less stressed knowing you have things to look forward to once exams are over.
- Listen to mellow music. Find something calming and possibly do some deep-breathing exercises to while you listen.
- Go to the cinema. Sitting in a dark movie theater watching an enjoyable film allows you to get completely away from the law school grind and escape into another existence.
- Play with a child. Take your youngest, your favorite niece, or your neighbor's child to the park. Giggle a lot. Be silly. Eat a kid's meal. Remember what it was like to be that age and have fun.
- Pet your pooch or cuddle your cat. Stroking animals is calming. Animal love can make the world a more enjoyable place.
Manage your stress so that it does not manage you. The sooner you implement stress busters into your regimen, the more likely you can prevent stress from getting out of hand. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Over the 9 years that I have been doing academic support with law students, I have become more and more convinced that a positive attitude is a must for this period in the semester. When law students begin to focus on the negative and lose their self-esteem, they handicap themselves in their studying.
Consequently, I give a lot of pep talks. But, I cannot be with them 24 hours a day to keep that positive attitude going. So, here are some of the things that I suggest they can do to stay focused on the positive:
- Post positive messages around the apartment. For one student, these messages might be famous quotes. For another student, they may be scriptures. For another, inspirational pictures rather than words may be more helpful. (Personally, I watch Susan Boyle's first appearance on Britain's Got Talent on You-Tube whenever I want inspiration for beating the odds - talk about a positive attitude when everyone is snickering before you open your mouth to sing!)
- Ask an encourager to phone or e-mail every day. A family member or friend whose job is to keep you focused on the positive can be a valuable asset. Having someone who cares enough to believe in your abilities is priceless.
- Visualize your own success. Athletes often visualize themselves succeeding in whatever they are trying to accomplish: a new height for a pole vaulter, a difficult jump for a figure skater, a faster flip turn for a swimmer. Law students can use visualization to picture themselves walking into an exam, being confident in every question's answer, and completing the exam on time.
- Remember that people learn differently. You are the same intelligent, successful person as when you arrived at your law school. You may learn at a different pace than others. You may have different learning styles. Determine how you need to learn and work for understanding rather than measure yourself against what others do. If they have a technique that will work for you, adopt it. But do not try to become someone that you are not.
- Forget about grades. Grades will not come out until January, and there is no way of knowing now what your grades will be. Focus on today. Finish today what needs to be done. It is the daily accumulation of knowledge that gets the grades. Focusing now on January grades takes one's eye off the ball.
- Avoid people who are toxic. There are always a few law students who want to make others feel stupid and who play games to panic those who are less confident. You do not have to agree to be the victim. Walk away. Do not listen to their ploys.
- Study somewhere different than the law school. Law students often tell me that they feel they have to study non-stop at the law school during the last weeks. Then they tell me how stressed the law school makes them feel. My response? Go somewhere else to study: the main university library, another academic building, the student union meeting rooms, a coffeehouse.
- Keep your perspective about law school in the scheme of life. As bad as your day may seem, it is really a blessing. Lots of people would love to have the opportunity you have. Each day millions of people in our world are without food, water, health care, shelter, and education. Law school is not so difficult in comparison.
- Up your number of hours of sleep. If you are well-rested, you will be more likely to stay positive. Things look much brighter when you have enough sleep. And you absorb more, retain more, and are more productive. Get a minimum of 7 hours and try for 8 hours.
- Add exercise as a break from studying. Exercise is a valuable stress-buster. Whether you just walk around your apartment complex, run a mile, or do 25 sit-ups it will help you expend stress. Instead of skipping exercise, add in at least 1/2 hour three times a week.
- List three nice things you did during the day. Before you go to bed, think of three things you did that were acts of kindness. It may be holding a door, giving change for the vending machine, or lending your notes to a classmate. No matter how small, the acts of kindness will make you feel good about yourself. And before you know it, you will be able to count more times than three when you were a blessing to someone else.
When you are in the thick of law school, it is hard to realize that there are simple ways to get your perspective back. Practicing even just one or two of these methods can make a difference in your attitude. And the more of these steps you follow, the more positive you will feel. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 29, 2010
Sarah Klaper at DePaul University School of Law shared the following link to the "not that kind of doctor blog" with the Legal Research and Writing Professor listserv. As those of us who teach ASP courses, pre-law courses, or law school doctrinal courses move into grading season, I thought this link might be of interest. I found myself saying "Been there, done that." The blog posting can be found at: The five stages of grading. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, October 23, 2010
A number of my students have expressed concern about their inability to focus by late afternoon because their brain cells are, to put it simply, exhausted. They find they cannot learn one more rule, absorb one more concept, or read one more word.
At the same time, they feel pressured by the amount of daily work and the need to focus seriously on exam review. As a result, their stress and anxiety levels are soaring because their flagging focus is contrasted with an increased need to use every minute well. They feel guilty for taking a break in the afternoon instead of chugging on through their work.
Let's face it, law students expect the impossible from their brains. They want maximum performance at every moment without considering the realities of mental "heavy lifting." And, they want that maximum performance even if they are not taking care of themselves so that their brain cells are rested and nourished.
I suggest that my law students first evaluate whether their "care and feeding" regimens are sound.
- Are they getting a minimum of seven hours sleep a night with a regular sleep pattern (going to bed and getting up at the same time during the school week)? If not, their brain cells are fatigued and will not learn or retain as much. Tasks will also take longer when brain cells are tired.
- Are they getting three nutritious meals a day? If not, their brain cells do not have the nourishment for the mental tasks they are being asked to undertake. Junk food and sugar- or caffiene-rich foods do not count as nutritious brain food.
- Are they getting some physical exercise each week? If not, they are not expending stress that can impede focus. They are also not allowing physical exercise to increase their restful sleep to restore brain cells.
- Are they interrupting their concentration with electronic distractions? Today's students often constantly disrupt their concentration with cell phone calls, texting, IMing, and e-mailing. Even a few minutes disruption can alter study results. Self-discipline is needed to avoid being an electronic junkie. Inbox storage capacities and voicemail were invented for a reason - dealing with the inflow of items when it is convenient after dealing with important tasks first.
Once we have checked out the basics, I move on to some other possible suggestions to help them get over the afternoon slump in brain power.
- Lack of focus may be the result of low blood sugar levels in the body. A healthy snack (raisins, an apple, nuts, a granola bar) may give the boost needed to re-focus and get through the next class or assignment. Snacking on candy bars or drinking colas or energy drinks will temporarily give a boost, but result in a later crash.
- It is okay to take a break at the end of a long or difficult class day. It is not uncommon to have a brain slump in the late afternoon. This may be the perfect time to take a break for one or two hours to rejuvenate oneself before further study. However, students need to make sound decisions about their breaks.
- A workout break may be ideal because the student's exercise will defuse stress and promote better sleep later in the evening. Even a brisk walk outside for 15-20 minutes may have a positive effect.
- Running errands may be a useful break so that necessary tasks can be completed while getting a change from studying.
- Combining an hour dinner with an hour of workout or errands may be a smart move. Getting ones nutrition along with an entirely different task set can be reinvigorating.
- Sitting down at the computer to answer e-mails, surf the Web, or check out Facebook may not be the ideal break. These tasks tend to morph into expanded breaks - one hour becomes two hours. Also, sitting in front of a computer screen can be innervating rather than rejuvenating. If ones next study task is sitting in front of a computer screen working on an outline, the break period may actually increase the monotony of the follow-on study task.
- Watching TV or playing computer games may have the same downsides as a computer break.
- A power nap of twenty minutes might be useful. However, a two-hour nap is likely to disrupt that evening's sleep schedule and make one more groggy. (If a student needs long naps every day, then it usually means that a regular sleep schedule is lacking. If one gets seven or more hours per night during the same time period each night, the need for naps should disappear within two weeks.)
Students need to realize that the in-depth and critical thinking required when studying law willbe mentally exhausting at times. An appropriate period of down time before going back to the next demanding task is not unreasonable. Forcing oneself to continue studying when brain cells cannot absorb any more is counter-productive, frustrating, and stressful.
Many students can improve focus with greater self-awareness and common sense solutions. For students with severe, long-standing focus problems that do not respond to moderate changes in routine, there may other factors such as illness, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, or ADHD interfering. Obviously, these types of problems would need to be diagnosed and treated by appropraitely trained professionals. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Grades have come out. The probation and academic dismissal lists have been drawn up now. There are some surprises. And some not. Now begins the process of talking with students who will be petitioning.
Of course, the students want to know "yes" or "no" as to whether their petitions will be approved. It is not that easy, however. Each petition is decided case by case on its unique circumstances and merits. There is not a formula that calculates whether a petition will get approved or be denied. There is no crystal ball.
And there is the waiting time. Decisions on petitions for readmission to continue with one's own class do not take too long because a committee reviews the petitions. Petitions for re-entry to start over again as a 1L are the problem. With summer, it is the task of getting a faculty quorum to meet on these petitions (also on appeals of the readmission committee).
Depending on the student's circumstances, the petition itself might get delayed. For example, a student may need time for testing for previously undiagnosed learning disabilities/ADHD and following up with the process for accommodations. That information may be critical to the petition's chances of success. Delay on being able to petition means delay in an answer, especially if it is a re-entry petition and the process goes beyond the scheduled June faculty votes for re-entry.
In talking with students, I try to help them realistically assess the strengths and weaknesses of their petitions. We also talk about their options within the process. And I often talk with them about back-up plans if their petition is not approved. Although most of them would rather avoid the latter discussion, I find that if their petitions do not get approved, they are better able to handle that decision if they have already thought about their alternative plans. Often they will apply to another graduate program here or closer to home.
How can I help the most as an ASP'er during the process?
- By answering questions and explaining procedures.
- By listening to concerns and reading between the lines.
- By being available for appointments and phone calls.
- By giving an honest assessment of the pros and cons of each case.
- By making appropriate referrals.
- By being someone they can talk to about their fears, concerns, and anxiety.
- By reminding them, should things go awry with the petition, that law school is not the only path in life and they are still talented individuals.
I cannot make things instantly right for the students. But I can make things less lonely for them during the process. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 22, 2010
We have seven class days left. I am meeting lots of students who are brand new to my ASP services. These students are usually panicky. For the most part, they are extremely behind. We are talking no outlines or, best case, last outlined in Week 4 of the semester. If I am lucky, they have at least been reading for class (though usually not briefing).
Welcome to ASP triage work. I want to ask "What were you thinking?" I don't. First of all, we do not have the time right now for that discussion. Second, I do not want to risk sending them "over the edge" and flat-lining any chances we have of fixing the situation to some extent.
Here are a few of the emergency measures that I suggest to them:
- Make every minute count. Do not waste time. Only undertake studying that gets results. Always consider what the payback will be for the exam (or paper or project) when starting a task.
- Keep up with current class reading. Many students are tempted to stop reading for class to find more study time. This strategy is a bad idea because then they are then lost on the current material which will also be on the exam.
- Continue going to all classes. Many students are also tempted to skip class to find more study time. This strategy does not work because the professor will now be pulling the course material together, will give out information about the exam, and will test on the new material.
- Develop a structured time management schedule. Block out times for the week when reading for class, writing any papers, and reviewing for exams will occur. Label each block with the course related to the task. Spread the time for exam review among all exam courses so that progress can be made on every one of them. Few people can work more than a few hours on a paper at one time. Use breaks from a paper for reading or reviewing for exams.
- Prioritize your courses and topics within courses. Some of the things to consider are:
- Determine the level of understanding in each course.
- Determine the amount of material to learn for the first time in each course.
- Determine the amount of material already reviewed for each course.
- Evaluate which topics are most likely to be heavily tested, moderately tested, and slightly tested for each exam.
- Determine whether course topics need to be studied chronologically as presented (because they build on one another) or can be isolated for study in any order.
- Check to see the order of your exams within the exam period.
After we avert this crisis as much as possible, we have the "next semester" conversation about using sound study habits from the first day of the semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, March 19, 2010
The stress levels are going up as students realize that there is less than half of the semester left once we return from Spring Break. Several study techniques can help minimize your anxiety in the coming weeks:
- Plan your study schedule carefully. Decide what hours you can free to focus on review each week. Designate review time by course so that you can determine whether you have prioritized time properly for each course. Not all courses are equal - think about your level of preparedness and understanding for each separate course.
- Study for understanding rather than mere memorization. If you truly understand a concept, you will retain the information better and recall the information more quickly. Also, understanding a concept will allow you to reason through a difficult question on an exam. Instead of guessing, you will be able to consider the question logically and thoroughly.
- Go to your professor early and often to get questions answered. The sooner you "plug up" holes in your understanding, the more quickly you will lower your anxiety. The same is true if you are a first-year student who has access to help from upper-division tutors or teaching assistants.
- Think about the information at all four levels of processing when you study: global, intuitive, sequential, and sensing. Two of these styles will be your preferences. The other two styles are your "shadows" - you can process at those levels, but it takes a bit more effort. You will understand the material with both breadth and depth if you consider all four levels.
- Global: What is the big picture of the material? What are the essentials that you need to understand? How do the topics in the course fit together to make the whole?
- Intuitive: What are the relationships among the topics, sub-topics, concepts, and cases? What policies or theories have been discussed in class? Do you know how to argue those policies or theories appropriately for the parties?
- Sequential: What are the individual units that you need to understand in the course? What steps of analysis or methodologies do you need to use for each topic or sub-topic? How can you think through the information methodically when you answer a question?
- Sensing: What facts, details, and practicalities do you need to know to flesh out the material? Are there nuances that you need to note in how the law is applied? Can you state the rules and definitions precisely? Do you need to know case names or code sections for your professor?
Apply the concepts and rules to as many practice questions as possible. Practice questions help you to understand the nuances in the law through different scenarios. The more variations you see on the facts ahead of time, the less likely that an exam question will seem "alien" to you. You will have thought about something similar previously during your practice sessions. By doing some practice questions "under test conditions" prior to the exam, you will be less anxious about formatting essay answers, choosing the "best" multiple-choice answer, or managing your time during the exam. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, February 26, 2010
Our part of Texas has had an abnormal winter. In my 6 years here, I do not remember so much bitter cold, sleet, and snow. I have had to use my snow shovel more than I ever remember. (At least I own one compliments of years in Ohio and Central Virginia.) Every time it gets nice (like yesterday at 70 degrees), the weather switches again. The cold front is moving in and "rain or wintry mix" is predicted.
Those of you in typical snow country have been snowed under more than usual. Those of you who have not seen snow in at least a decade have seen snow also. As if the weather were not bad enough, students and staff are at home with flu, colds, and other ailments.
Even during better winters, students always seem to have the blahs during January, February, and the beginning of March. After all, there isn't any of the excitement that accompanies fall semester with its "new start" and optimism. Spring semester is more of the same. Add shorter daylight. Add 1L professors moving more quickly through harder material than in the fall semester. Add 3L students who no longer care and just count the days. Add the stress of too many student organization responsibilities. Add the stress of a less than stellar job market.
It is no wonder that students have a lack of motivation. Exam period is getting closer. But, Spring Break does not seem close enough. Here are some hints for staying focused despite rampant blahs:
- Take one day at a time. Groaning that the break is too distant or that exams are coming up focuses somewhere outside today's realm of possibility. You can control what happens today.
- Large tasks often encourage lethargy. Break the task into small pieces. Forty pages of Payment Systems reading becomes eight blocks of five pages. A trial brief becomes a list of small research, writing, and editing tasks.
- Add more rewards into your schedule for staying on task. By having something to look forward to, you can convince yourself it is okay to work. Choose rewards with meaning for you personally (a bubble bath, a 1/2-hour sitcom, a longer lunch) and match them to the difficulty of the task (bigger rewards for bigger accomplishments).
- Find an accountability partner. Keep each other on track by asking one another if the tasks for the day were accomplished. If you have to "report in" to someone else, you are more likely to stop procrastinating.
- Avoid those people who turn grouchy with winter. Some folks are like hibernating bears awakened too early and really angry about it. They can color your view of life. Everyone is allowed to groan a bit, but it gets old fast if it is endless.
- Get some exercise. It doesn't have to be skiing or ice hockey. If you hate the cold, bundle up and go to a warm swimming pool or indoor running circuit. It is easy to let the weather make us all sedentary lumps.
Students usually brighten up once daylight starts to get longer and hints of spring turn into the real thing. The trick is staying focused until that happens. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, January 28, 2010
I have spent the last month talking with students whose grades were not good after last semester. In many cases, something unexpected happened to the student during the fall semester. That unexpected happening threw the student into a tailspin that meant that law school was not the student's focus.
The circumstances vary greatly. A close friend or family member may have been killed in a car accident. A parent may have been diagnosed with cancer. A long-term relationship may have ended in acrimony. A student may have become homeless. The student became very ill. Money may have run out. The list could include many other circumstances as well.
One can easily understand how these events could derail a student's attempts at studying. My concern is that the student often tells no one what is going on and "toughs it out" rather than seek assistance. Some students react in this way because the event is embarrassing or highly personal. Some students choose this path because they have always been able to overcome obstacles on their own. Some students are from cultural backgrounds that discourage one from talking about family or personal matters. Others are so overcome by the circumstances that they just do not know where to turn for help.
Unfortunately, most of these students had options that they could have considered. Most law schools have a variety of policies, procedures, and people to help students cope with adversity. After the fact, it is impossible to salvage a semester. However, at the time of the incident/tragedy, the law school may have been able to assist.
In hopes of helping law students seek help rather than go it alone, I am offering some suggestions should the unexpected occur this semester. Each law school will differ on the services and assistance available, but a law student coping with the unexpected should consider the following:
- Many law schools have policies and procedures that offer a variety of academic options. The timing in the semester may determine which options apply. Possibilities include: leave of absence, withdrawal from school, withdrawal from one or more courses to reduce the student's course load, delayed exams, paper or project extensions, incomplete grades, in progress grades.
- Many law schools have staff members whose duties specifically include working with students who have unexpected events suddenly impede their academics. Even if the student initially contacts the "wrong" person, these persons will be able to refer the student to the correct office. Staff members with these duties likely include: the associate dean for academics, the associate dean for student affairs/dean of students, or the academic support staff members.
- Choosing among options may require financial aid advice because of implications for loans, scholarships, or grants. Some law schools have a financial aid counselor specifically for law students. Law schools may instead use the university financial aid office on main campus for advising students about how options will affect their financial circumstances (and any deadlines that may affect financial aid).
- If the circumstance is purely financial, the financial aid officer may also be able to document the situation for re-packaging the student's aid for eligibility for more dollars. Emergency loan procedures at the law school may provide for quick loan dollars to cover car repairs, the deposit on a new apartment, or other smaller amounts needed to correct a problem.
- The law school may have information on local housing to assist a student who suddenly is without a place to live. Private parties may contact the law school with information on rooms or houses for rent. Law schools may also have "roommate wanted" listings or a bulletin board system for posting housing opportunities. Universities connected with the law school may have "off-campus housing" offices that can assist.
- Student health or counseling services may be included within student's fees to provide access to these professionals. These services may well be available at law schools connected to universities.
In short, there are ways to get help in a crisis. I encourage law students to let someone in the law school administration know what is going on so that services and options can be explored. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Now that we are approaching the final crunch before exams, I try to help my law students find ways that they can save time on some of their tasks at school and at home.
Here are some hints that seem to ease the stress because of greater efficiency and effectiveness on school tasks:
- Read actively now for learning rather than highlighting material to learn later.
- Review regularly so that you do not need to relearn as much.
- Review your readings/briefs before you go into class.
- Review your class notes within 24 hours for better understanding. Condense them in anticipation of outlining later.
- Review your outline cover to cover regularly in addition to any specific topics you are learning.
- Should you study at school, another academic building, a coffeehouse, or at home to avoid distractions?
- Should you study one subject for a longer period (2-4 hours) or switch among subjects to keep focused?
- Should you cut back on hours at your job to make studying a priority?
- Should you lessen the time you spend on e-mailing, instant messaging, texting, and talking on the phone?
Here are some hints that seem to ease the stress because of greater efficiency and effectiveness on home tasks:
- Minimize your time spent on cleaning by scheduling a major cleaning session now and then picking up and spot cleaning only through the end of exams.
- Plan your errands so that you have scheduled blocks of time twice a week; place errands in the same part of town in the same time block.
- Run your errands in "off peak" times whenever possible to avoid lines. Since many stores stay open late or 24 hours, you do not have to shop at the same time as most people.
- Stock up on food supplies that have a long shelf life to avoid multiple grocery trips later.
- Buy "family size" portions of prepared foods even if you live alone so that you will have multiple meals taken care of at once. Freeze unused portions for later if you desire more variety within a week's menu.
- Complete as much food prep as possible on the weekend for the entire week. Cut up fresh fruit or vegetables to be portioned out over the week. Cook multiple servings of a recipe in the crock-pot to use during the week without extra food prep (or to freeze and thaw for greater variety later). Make sandwiches ahead for several days.
- Trade off child care with other law students so that each law school student can have blocks of uninterrupted time for study.
- Talk to family and friends about how important this period in the semester is to your success. Ask for them to help you have concentrated periods of study until exams are over.
By taking control over daily tasks that are not high priority, law students can minimize their stress and focus more on their study priorities. Saving even 1/2 hour per day means 3 1/2 extra hours per week to study for exams. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 6, 2009
I know lots of law students who are perfectionists. In all prior learning experiences, they have been able to cope with this characteristic because the workload was not mammoth and the competition for grades was usually moderate.
If you think about it, American society pushes bright students to be perfect. We get into college by getting A grades. We get into law school by getting A grades. And, we are expected to get those grades while juggling lots of leadership positions and organization/team memberships. In fact, we are encouraged also to get jobs on top.
Having to be perfect, however, is very stressful. Why? Because it is impossible. No matter the prior accolades, there is always the lurking worry that one might not be perfect the next time. One can never relax as a perfectionist. Perfectionists tend to be unforgiving of their non-perfection: 95 is a failure; a missed response in class is an embarrassment of mammoth proportions; wrinkled jeans are shameful.
Some perfectionists have trouble beginning projects because of possible failure. If one will not be able to write the perfect paper within the time period or with the instructions given, then why even begin? And, if one delays, then an explanation for "failure" could be that one could have written the perfect paper if there had been more time.
Some perfectionists have trouble finishing projects. It is hard for them to read and brief efficiently (because every detail must be understood before moving to the next case), finish their research and move on to writing (because there may be one more case out there somewhere), or finalize a paper (because it needs one more rewrite to be perfect). If a perfectionist is also a very high-scoring sensing (detail) learner, the perfectionism may be exacerbated by that learning preference.
The stress of being perfect is often accompanied by physical or emotional difficulties. Stomach problems, headaches, insomnia, irritability, and depression are just a few examples. The toll on self can be devastating.
Perfectionists may also create tension in their work or family environments because of their expectations. In a sense, the focus is on what is wrong rather than what is right. A perfectionist may make an irritated remark to a group member who turned in the project with one typo. A minor error by a professor becomes a major crisis resulting in unforgiving criticism of that person. The apartment must be spotless at all times, and roommates beware of any transgressions.
Perfectionists can moderate the characteristic. Here are some suggestions:
- reorient expectations from being perfect to doing the best one can do each day
- become aware of what situations trigger perfectionism and decide on strategies to moderate one's behaviors in those situations
- set realistic time limits for projects and work within those time limits
- make realistic daily "to do" lists and keep long-term "to do" items on a monthly list to be transferred when appropriate to the daily list
- avoid being consumed by one task (perhaps a memo) to the exclusion of other necessary tasks
- spread work out over the semester to lower stress and allow longer periods for studying for exams or completing an assignment
- focus on feedback to improve a grade rather than focusing on the "failure" of meeting one's expectation for a better grade
- do not place unrealistic expectations or criticism on others because of your own perfectionism
- practice forgiveness for yourself and others when "perfect" is not achieved.
For those whose perfectionism is deeply entrenched and cannot be conquered with vigilance, consider working with a counselor at your campus counseling center. You will not be the only one who has sought help for the problem! Conquering perfectionism in law school will not only make you a happier law student; it will make you a happier practitioner as well. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Some students seem to be "magnets" for life's problems. The same student gets ill, has problems with a significant other, has a car that dies, has a delayed financial aid grant/loan, has a family member in the hospital, and has a puppy that gets sick. Obviously, these students may have their attention diverted from their academics as life's problems accumulate.
During my eighteen years working with students with academic issues, I have noticed that academic issues rarely come along without some life issues attached. However, not all students with multiple disruptions suffer as drastically in their academic performance. I have spent some time trying to determine reasons why some students juggle all of their life problems and academics better than others.
Here are some thoughts why certain students cope better than others. The items on the list are not in any specific order. The students who still succeed academically seem to have several of the following characteristics:
- They manage their time well. They schedule time to study within the parameters of other things going on in their lives. They are more efficient and effective with the time they have available. As much as possible, they stay on top of reading, outlining, and studying despite the exigencies they are facing. They get notes from classmates for days they were sick. They organize rides with friends until a new car is obtained. They take flashcards to drill with while in the vet's waiting room. They read ahead in anticipation of going home for dad's upcoming surgery.
- They utilize the resources available to them. They schedule appointments with the student health services or counseling center as appropriate. They are proactive about talking to the deans about possible options at their law school: medical withdrawal, dropping to an underload, leave of absence, re-scheduling final exams, incomplete or in-progress grades, etc.
- They explain their problems to their professors without using them as excuses. They are forthright with the information and explain what they are and are not able to do. They may well ask for appropriate extensions, patience with their non-preparedness for class, or schedule extra meetings with the professor to compensate for missed classes. But they do not use the exigencies as excuses for not having to do the work or doing mediocre work in expectation of a sympathy grade.
- They remember that law school is an important priority even though not the only priority. They realize they must focus on studying as well as handle the emotional fallout of life. They do not become consumed by life to the extent of ignoring law school. They set aside time each day to deal with life and time to study as well. If they become unable to handle both priorities they talk with the deans about their options. (Sometimes they have to make the difficult decision to withdraw and come back when life is under control and they can accomplish what they need to do academically.)
- They maintain their perspective during difficulties. They do not let an emergency or disruption send them into a tailspin. They differentiate between molehills and mountains. They count their blessings during hard times. They practice staying calm during crises. They often have a spiritual core that keeps them centered rather than feeling that they must shoulder the world alone.
- They are able to set boundaries on demands in their lives. They limit the amount of time that others can "control" their lives. They do not let others interrupt their lives constantly with demands that are non-urgent or unreasonable. They can differentiate between urgent, important, and unimportant. Examples: they will run routine errands for their grandmother once or twice a week rather than whenever they get a call; they return telephone calls or e-mails during study time on a priority basis rather than on mere occurrence; they meet their obligationis academically rather than let a friend consume hours talking about her boyfriend woes.
- They focus on living their own lives rather than other peoples' lives. They realize that the only life they can control is their own. They realize their own limits as to how they can help others. Ultimately, they recognize that they cannot save their parents' marriage, prevent their little brother from dating the wrong girl, or prevent their best friend from drinking too much. They make referrals to skilled professionals, listen as appropriate, and show love to those whom they love. But they do not take on the responsibility of solving everyone else's problems.
It is hard to juggle law school demands during normal circumstances. When life throws multiple problems into the mix, it takes courage and hard work to balance everything and make wise decisions. Students who reach out for help from deans, professors, academic support professionals, and the many other resources available to them are more likely to navigate the problems and law school without academic disaster. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I vividly remember the first time I was called on in law school. It was Contracts class. I was well-prepared. I opened my mouth to respond, and nothing came out. It was probably only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Anxiety almost took over. The ironic thing is that I had regularly done public speaking throughout my prior career.
When my students tell me that they have a fear of speaking in class, I empathize with them. Sometimes it is just fear of a new situation. Other times it stems from learning styels. Students who are listeners rather than talkers with a high degree of reflective thinking in their learning styles are unlikely to jump in and rabbit on in class.
My 1L students who avoid class participation and internally gasp when they are called upon usually fear the Socratic Method and having all eyes on them in a large section. However, 2L and 3L students also admit that they are reticent to speak in class. The problem for them is that class participation often makes up some portion of their grade. So, unlike the 1L student who can silently pray that she is not called upon, the 2L or 3L has to brave it and raise a hand or forfeit a chunk of the grade.
Here are some tips that I give to my students to help them become more confident:
- After reading and briefing (or taking notes if material other than cases is assigned), take a few minutes to synthesize your reading. Then out loud explain the reading to an empty chair, the family pet, or an understanding friend. Next think of the professor's usual questions and answer them out loud. You can practice your answers and gain confidence by this recitation step.
- When the professor asks a question in class, answer silently in your head. Then compare your answer to what another student says. Listen to the professor's feedback. You will probably find that you would have answered correctly. Again, your self-confidence should get a boost from this exercise.
- Gain additional practice voicing your opinions, questions, and answers by talking in your study group more than usual, talking with a classmate about the material, participating in student organization meetings, or asking the professor questions on office hours. The more you talk, the less apprehensive you will be.
- Pick the class that you feel most confident in about the material and/or most comfortable with the professor/class size. Prepare carefully for each class. Write down one or two questions that you could ask in class. Choose one or two of the professor's typical questions that you could answer. In each class period for two weeks, make yourself participate once. Then particpate twice each class period the next two weeks. Continue to increase your participation over the semester.
- After you have had success in one class, use the same methods in another class. Be consistent about challenging yourself to participate every class.
- If you find it hard to make yourself voluntarily participate, consider going to the professor for assistance. Explain that you are trying to get over your fear of speaking in class and ask that the professor call on you some days. Most professors are pleased when students try to confront their fears and are willing to help in overcoming the challenge.
Law school is a "safe place" to gain more confidence in speaking in groups. Practice is essential in developing a new skill. As an attorney, you will be expected to speak up in meetings, hold client interviews, and lead case/project meetings. Why not gain those skills in the law school environment? (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 9, 2009
Stress and anxiety are increasing as the semester reaches the halfway point. More students are mentioning that they are not sleeping well, cannot focus, are prone to procrastinate, and feel guilty or depressed about their academics.
In many of the conversations, students share with me the types of negative self-talk statements that cycle through their heads. Here are some examples:
- Everyone else seems to "get it." What's wrong with me?
- I am way behind and won't catch up no matter what I do.
- I will never finish this memo/paper with a good grade.
- I should be paying more attention to my boyfriend/spouse/ children/sick aunt and am such a bad person.
- I will never understand ________, so why not just give up.
Students often believe this internal negativity without any question. Instead they should rebut the negativity and refuse to blindly accept it as true. The rebuttal should take a more positive position and determine a strategy to resolve any problem. Examples of rebuttals to the negative self-talk above might be:
- Realistically, I am not the only person who is confused. I can get clarification from my professor/tutor/study group by asking questions.
I am behind in my reading and have a strategy for catching up. I'll stay current with my new reading and slip in back reading one case at a time next week.
I will do my very best. I have time for one more draft and several more edits.
I am not a bad person. I am balancing my time between school and personal obligations. My family members and friends understand the importance of school.
This course is hard, but I can learn it. I shall spend some time today writing down my questions and talking to my professor.
There are other actions that can also assist in dealing with negativity in one's outlook. By following some simple steps, life begins to look less awful:
- Get enough sleep. At least 7 hours. With appropriate rest, our brains are more alert and productive. And problems do not seem as overwhelming.
- Exercise. Exercise is one of the best stress busters. By taking a break for some cardio, students renew themselves for the next round of studying.
- Eat nutritious meals. Our bodies and brains perform better when we include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat or fish in our diets. Junk food, sugary snacks and drinks, caffeine, and processed foods provide less nutrition. And skipping meals is total no-no!
- Surround oneself with positive people. Avoid law students who are complaining, moaning, and groaning. You can take on their negativity if you are not careful.
- Break larger tasks into very small steps. You will feel more motivated and confident about completing a small step when the larger task seems too overwhelming.
- Take time to write down a "blessings" list for yourself. Write down all the things you can be thankful for and read it whenever you begin to lose your perspective.
- Remember that you are the same very bright and capable person who entered law school. You are dealing with challenging material and are among others who are equally bright. If you use the many resources available at your law school, you can learn more efficient and effective strategies for your studies that will help you succeed.
- Seek medical advice if necessary. If the negativity makes you ill or turns into depression, go to a doctor or counselor for assistance.
Most law students feel overwhelmed at some point during law school. However, it does not have to be an ongoing way of life. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, September 25, 2009
This is not about the stress and anxiety students are feeling, but the stress and anxiety we feel at the start of the school year. 5 weeks into the year, and many of us feel as beat-up as our students. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if you light the candle (mixed metaphor, but I think it works).
Most ASPer's run themselves ragged at the start of the school year; orientation, new-student workshops, bar prep workshops, one-on-one's with nervous students. On top of these demands, many of us are also teaching classes of some sort. At the start of the semester, you think..."Okay, it will get better in a few weeks. I just have to hold out for a few weeks, and it will slow down." However, it rarely slows down. After the start of the semester, mid-term prep starts. Then mid-term crisis. Finals prep is right after you finish with midterm crisis. Throughout, ASPer's are grading and giving feedback, writing practice questions, serving as a resource to other faculty, attending committee and faculty meetings, returning (voluminous amounts) of email, and some have additional publishing and presentation requirements for contract renewal or tenure considerations. And if you are a new ASPer, everything just takes a longer amount of time to get finished, because you are on such a steep learning curve. To be in your first or second year of the profession, don't expect to work as fast or get as much done as someone in the fourth, fifth, or sixth year.
Lesson: It won't slow down until summer, unless you are involved in bar prep, and it never slows down.
ASPer's tend not to be of the personality type that takes time for themselves. We are the givers. We certainly don't do it for the money (in fact, many of us took pay cuts to be ASPer's). We do it for the satisfaction of helping people. But there is a never-ending supply of people to help. Recognizing this fact is part of the solution. During law school, a wise, wise ASPer told me that all of us got to law school because we ate our spinach before the chocolate cake, but in law school, there is a never-ending supply of spinach, and it's possible to never reach the chocolate cake. You just need to make a choice to stop eating the spinach and reward yourself with the chocolate cake. There may be spinach left on your plate, but you need to choose the chocolate cake.
Right now, you need to start making tough choices, choices that replenish you emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. No one will make these choices for you. Of course there is more to do, there always is more to do, but some of it just won't get done. You won't please all people. Doing more than you are capable of handling can make you a poor role model for our students, who need to see effective work-life balance. No, students won't be thrilled when you tell them you are taking a day off from meetings to focus on professional development, but they will learn much more from a refreshed, happier, teacher than a burnt-out, angry, exhausted one. You may not get support from your faculty and staff; some may resent that you are taking a break during the semester (many don't realize that you worked through the summer). ASP has a high burn-out rate because so many of us don't make the tough choices soon enough. We wait until we finish our first year, then we want to wait until after contract renewal, then after we succeed teaching our first doctrinal class, publishing for the first time, so on and so forth. Very few administrators will tell you to take a time out to focus on your own needs; their top concern is the needs of the school and the needs of the students. You need to explain that you are placing the needs of the school and the students first when you take time off, because you will come back giving 100% everyday, instead of 50% (or 30%) most days.
If you feel like you need permission, I am giving you permission. I am not your boss, your partner, a family member, or a colleague (to most of you). I am a concerned person who has been there, and done that. (RCF)
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
And another study backs up what Larry Krieger and Ken Sheldon have been telling us in the ASP community for years...extrinsic goals make people more anxious, and intrinsic goals make people more happy. Of course, the study is far more complex than my simplification here, but it's interesting that more research is coming out showing that money, fame, and good looks are not the keys to happiness...they are keys to the hedonic treadmill. Unfortunately, these are the reasons many people come to law school. And then we see unhappiness and anxiety.
For more on the study, click here The Keys to Happiness
Friday, May 15, 2009
Finals finished a week ago today. Grades are due on Monday.
I am beginning to get e-mails and queries from students who were on probation last semester. It is as if they have had some relaxation but also just long enough to rehash exams. They are now mentally preparing themselves.
Some are inquiring about meetings in preparation for attending summer school. They are feeling confident that grades will allow them to continue. They want to start working on their study habits for the short, intense summer classes. They will often be juggling classes and part-time jobs. The discussions with these students tend to focus on:
- Discussion about the differences between regular semesters and summer sessions.
- Discussion about progress in their study skills and honing improved skills to new levels while shoring up areas that are still weak.
- A draft time management schedule for their planned courses and work hours.
- If they ask, we discuss how the petition process ties into summer school start-up should their grades fail to meet all of the requirements. (With no grades posted yet, I tend to allow them to ask. We still have time for this discussion if needed as grades come in.)
Some are making backup plans. They are somewhat hopeful about grades, but are contacting me about possible alternatives. The discussions with these students tend to focus on:
- The petition process if their grades fail to meet all of the requirements. They usually ask about the process immediately. The time line for the process is often important to them.
- Discussion of possible avenues other than law school: work, other graduate programs, later readmission, application to other law schools.
- The reality that it will take a few days for all grades to be posted and that some grades may be late coming in because of professor illness or other extenuating circumstances.
- Stress management tips as needed.
- A few of these students doubt that they will want to continue even if their grades turn out okay. I encourage them to do what is best for them and remind them that law school is not a perfect match for everyone.
Several different types of probation students will contact me once grades begin to post. The context will vary with each situation.
Some will contact me with excitement over the postive changes they made and their first ever Bs - or even As. What are fondly known as "Atta Boy! Atta Girl!" letters will be in the mail for them before too long as they surpass their probation requirements. In these cases, I focus on:
- Being enthusiastic in my celebration with them.
- Talking about future honing of study habits to continue a sharp upward trend in their grade point averages.
- Offering to work with them again on a regular basis to help them improve further when they take their next courses.
Some students will contact me with despair when not all of their grades measure up to their expectations even though they met the requirements. Why? They are personally disappointed because they just eked by the probation requirements or have not yet achieved anything higher than perhaps a C+. For such students, the discussion focuses on:
- The areas of improvement that they did have and what changes contributed to that improvement.
- The fact that study habits improve over time and need to be honed each semester.
- A game plan for ways they can improve in the future.
- An offer to work with them again on a weekly basis to help them improve further when they take their next courses.
Some of the students who are despairing will have fallen below the requirements but have a right to petition because of extraordinary circumstances. With these students, I will focus on:
- Listening to their concerns and worries so that they are able to process some of the shock and sorrow.
- Turning their attention to any options that they have and how to take action on those options.
- Explaining what the requirements mean for the student's specific transcript and discussing the petition option(s) appropriate for that student. Again, time lines are often important.
- Explaining what categories of information must be included in the written petition.
- Beginning the process of thinking about alternatives if a petition is unsuccessful.
- Discussing stress management tips as needed.
- Referring them to other deans or offices as appropriate.
And for those students whose grades are so far away from the requirements that petitioning is not realistic or impossible because of the rules, the discussion focuses on:
At the end of the day, I want each of these students to exit whatever level in the process feeling that someone listened, gave accurate information, and helped them through the process. A student may have abysmal grades, no extraordinary circumstances, or no options left in regard to law school. However, that student still deserves someone who listens with patience and courtesy. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Law students may find that providing themselves rewards for task completion during final assignments and exam studying will keep them motivated. Students should match the reward to the accomplishment: large rewards for large tasks completed; medium rewards for medium tasks completed; and small rewards for small tasks completed.
Students can determine their own definitions of large, medium and small tasks depending on difficulty of course material, type of assignment, and length of the paper. In addition, students will differ as to the content of the motivators depending on their own tastes and lifestyles.
Here are some ideas to help students generate their own rewards lists:
- Ice cream for dessert
- Chai latte on the way to school
- Popcorn snack mid-afternoon
- Chat in the student lounge for 10 minutes
- Sit outside and work on one's tan for 10 minutes
- Check e-mail for 10 minutes
- Walk around campus for 10 minutes
- Watching a 1/2 hour sitcom.
- Phoning a friend for 30 minutes.
- Lunch with a friend in the student lounge
- Video games for 30 minutes
- Free cell for 30 minutes
- Playing Frisbee with the family dog
- Reading a story to a child
- Lunch or dinner at a restaurant
- Going to the cinema
- Reading the Sunday paper cover to cover
- Reading a novel for several hours
- Taking a drive in the countryside
- Buying a new cookbook
- Taking one's children to the park
The rewards are only limited by the law student's imagination and finances. By having something to look forward to, it is easier to persevere and finish a task. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Exams start here in 21 days, so the stress level is increasing by the minute. Many of my students are handling their stress well, but some have become so stressed that they are not able to get a perspective on how to help themselves.
Students sometimes think their stress comes only from studying itself, but stress can also come from friends, family, and personal responsibilities. By dealing with both the law and non-law stress, students can cope more effectively.
The following list of stress busters should help students who are looking for quick and easy solutions for decreasing their stress:
- Tackle your most onerous task for the day as early as possible in your schedule. That way, it won't "hang over" you all day long and add to your stress.
- Tackle your hardest study tasks when you are most alert. Your brain will absorb material more easily for greater understanding and retention. Consequently, you will feel better about your study session and lower your stress.
- Decide whether you study better for exams by focusing on one subject or several subjects per day. Some students need the variety to stay focused. By working with your own style, you will be less stressed than trying to study the way your friends study.
- Read through your outlines cover to cover each week in addition to any specific topics you are studying. By keeping all of the material fresh, you will feel less anxious about forgetting things.
- Take short breaks (5-10 minutes) every 90 minutes and longer breaks every 4 hours (45 minutes). Your brain will keep filing information while you relax. You will stay more focused by allowing some down time to de-stress.
- Explain to your family and non-law friends why you need to focus on preparing for exams. Schedule some fun activities for after exams so they know you will make it up to them after this last push. If you do not feel guilty about family and friends, you will be less stressed.
- Exercise for 30 minutes at least 2-3 times per week. You may not have time for your usual long workout at the gym. However, taking time to go for a walk or jog will help defuse stress.
- Eat three balanced meals a day. Resorting to junk food deprives your brain of much needed fuel and contributes to stress. Cook large quantities over the weekend or in a crock pot so that you have meals for the week.
- Avoid caffeine overloads, including energy drinks. High doses of caffeine can have serious health side effects: increased blood pressure, panic attacks, increased anxiety, insomnia, and more. Drink ice water instead.
- Avoid sugar highs and crashes from too many candy bars and sodas. Too much sugar will add to irritability which will cause you to feel stressed.
- Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night. Shirking on sleep means your brain cells do not work as well, your productivity goes down, and your ability to cope with stress decreases.
- Stock up on all of your exam essentials now: pens, pencils, ink cartridges, healthy snacks, healthy beverages, foods with long shelf life. Fewer errands to run as exams approach will lower your stress.
- Complete a "whirling dervish" clean of your apartment now. Then just pick up and spot clean for the remaining weeks. Finding time for major chores every week can be very stressful.
- Switch to low-maintenance clothing so that you have less ironing to do and fewer dry cleaning trips to fit in to your schedule. Again, one less chore to worry about will lower your stress.
By adding even one or two stress busters, students can increase their coping skills as the semester winds down and the stress winds up. (Amy Jarmon)