Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall Finals Study Plan

Thanksgiving approaches. Time for students to commit their study plans to writing!  Here are my recommendations for students who want to prepare for exams AND enjoy their families and friends during a (partially) relaxed Thanksgiving break.

For each course, set target dates for completion of your outline (course summary), early completion of your briefing for class, and the number of practice exam questions you intend to answer.  Thanksgiving Day is Thursday, November 24, 2011. Usually, law schools have no classes on the day before, Wednesday, November 23. Reading week and exams follow shortly after the semester resumes.

For many students, time with family and friends is too important to neglect at this time of year.  Plan to relax!  Writing out your detailed study schedule before November (then sticking to it) will allow you to relax, because you will see the relaxation as PART of the study plan instead of interference with it.  

Example for Contracts class:

A.  Outline completed by November 14.
B.  All cases briefed for class by November 16.
C.  50 MBE questions answered by November 22.
D.  50 single-issue essay questions answered in writing by November 24.
E.  20 one-hour essay questions answered in outline form before reading week.
F.  15 one-hour essay questions answered under exam conditions by 3 days before exam date.

The next step is to break each of those (A through F) down into components.  How many hours per week/day do you realistically estimate it will take you to complete your outline, and to brief the cases ahead of the class schedule? Spread those hours out on your daily calendar.

Do the same for the questions you intend to answer, including notes as to the source of the questions.  You can start gathering questions today.  Here's an idea: exchange questions with your study group, to share the burden of finding questions that address the issues you need to focus on.

Do this for each class, and you'll see that you have enough time between now and the date of each exam to prepare fully, so that you can enter the exam room with well-deserved confidence!

Look in your law library for an old issue of Student Lawyer Magazine, an American Bar Association publication ... Volume 33, Number 7, dated March 2005, includes an article I wrote entitled, "A Plan for Your Exams."  The article provides a more detailed explanation of this exam study plan!  (djt)

November 2, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Handling Life's Disappointments

I am going to elaborate on Amy's post from a couple of weeks ago about taking time to care for yourself. Bad, unfair stuff happens to everyone. Not everyone knows how to handle it when it happens to them. Most people take some time, dust themselves off, heal, and move one. When working with law students, some additional context may help explain why  our current students may take things a bit harder than previous classes.

The three classes that are presently in law school are different; widespread anecdotal report them as younger, which is the natural consequence of students choosing to enroll in law school after undergrad to avoid a depressed economy. Younger students may have less life experience, and less practice handling the ups and downs of life. Additionally, these students are getting bombarded with press telling them that they are fools and their decision to enroll in law school is a mistake. Add in some disappointments, such as a break-up, a family issue, or a fight with a friend, and it's harder for these students to put their troubles in perspective and see that this, too, shall pass. When all the news is bad and you don't have the life experience to see that everything is temporary, disappointment can morph into depression.

Taking some points from Martin Seligman and positive psychology, there are some strategies for working with students who need some advice handling life's disappointments:

1) Whatever state you are in now is not permanent. It may feel like the pain of a break-up, a bad grade, a fight with a friend will be permanent, but the pain will pass. Just like the excitement of a special day or thrill of a good grade passes, disappointment fades. The more you (the student)focus on the disappointment, the more permanent it will feel.

2) Remember your successes. Failure can seem pervasive when several disappointments hit at once. But no one got to law school as a pervasive failure in life. Everyone has successes. When you increase the level of challenge in your life, you increase the risk of failure and disappointment. Recalling the times you were successful can help you bounce back.

3) Remember that you choose how you frame events in your life. Events, by themselves, are neither good nor bad. Even severe traumas, like the death of a loved one, can be viewed from different perspectives. One perspective focuses on being grateful for the time you had with them, another perspective focuses on how much time you wish you still had with them. Similarly, students suffering through break-ups (so common in the first semester of law school) often spend disproportionate amounts of time focusing on their sadness because that person was "the one" and their whole life was built around them. While it is valid to be sad, focusing on how things will always be negative since the significant other is gone keeps the student in a bad cycle.

4) Remind them that the press doesn't focus on the happy, because that makes for boring news. This is the time of the year 2L's are getting offers for summer employment. Mix in the constant barrage of terrible news about law school, and it's easy for students without a big-firm summer placement to feel like a failure. Students depressed about their prospects need to remember that smaller firms and non-profits hire after the new year, sometimes late into the spring. Just because you, the student, struck out in OCI doesn't mean you will never get a job. The news media fails to note that even during the "boom" years of 2002-2007, not all student got big-firm jobs.

5) As trite as it sounds, failure is the key to success. If you are always winning, how will you handle it when you fail when the stakes are high? Learning from mistakes is critical to future success. Failed relationships teach us how to behave when we meet the right person. Fights with friends teach us how to handle disagreements appropriately. Failed interviews teach us how not to answer OCI questions posed by interviewers.

I realize that ASPer's already have these skills, and they sound obvious. Many of our students have not lived enough to have gained perspective on life's disappointments, which leads them to perseverate on negative events. This can have an immediate impact on grades, because dwelling on disappointments increases cognitive load and decreases the ability to focus on homework, reading, and studying. Focusing on disappointments also negative impacts on motivation.  (RCF)


October 22, 2011 in Advice, Current Affairs, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Job, career, or calling?

Stephanie West Allen's Idelawg blog had a post this past week with a link to an article in the Los Angeles Lawyer written by Timothy A. Tosta on the subject in the title line of this posting: Job, calling, or career article .  It is a thoughtful article on how as lawyers we make a choice to have our practice of law amount to just being a job or career or amount to much more as our calling. 

As ASP'ers, we can assist our students in not only learning how to study more effectively but also in thinking about where they want to be in their lives in the future.  How will the practice of law define their lives?  Their beginning to think about that bigger question now will help them remember to continue to refine the answer later.  (Amy Jarmon)

October 2, 2011 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Giving when it hurts

ASP'ers are a caring group. They are often the ones students turn to in their darkest moments. It is not unusual for us to be privy to students' struggles and hardships outside the classroom.

Students tell us about illnesses in their families, scary medical diagnoses, deaths of friends, personal embarrassments, relationship problems, disappointments, and more. They need someone who will encourage them, support them, listen, and make referrals where appropriate. At the end of a day with 8 or 9 appointments, at least 2 of those typically are more than just a discussion about academic issues.

But what about when we have had a personal tragedy, illness, family issue, or other unexpected speed bump in our own lives? How do we keep caring when it hurts inside? We need to remember that we need solace as well. We need to put on our "brave face" and do our jobs, but need to take care of ourselves.

So here are some tips to help you focus on your students even when you are feeling depleted, tired, emotionally wrought, and distracted by your life outside the walls of the law school:

  • Take some personal time off if possible. Even a long weekend can make a difference in your ability to focus. Give yourself lots of rest, permission to do nothing, and access to emotional or medical support. Talk to trusted family or friends to get support.
  • Prioritize your work. What must get done? What can be put off for a few days or weeks? What can be forgotten about for this semester and added to the "do next semester" list?Do not try to soldier on when you do not have the strength temporarily to be "Super-ASP'er."
  • Just say "no" or "not right now" to new projects if you do not have the stamina or concentration to do them well. Realize that this is probably not the time to chair a new committee, agree to design a new web site, or implement a new program.
  • Balance your day. Give yourself at least one block of project time so that you can focus without interruptions. Decide how many one-on-one appointments you can do without being emotionally drained. Schedule appointments so that purely academic assistance is mixed with students whom you know need emotional support so that you do not become exhausted with the need to be "giving" when you really need to protect yourself emotionally.
  • Stay patient with your students. Some law students become overwrought about things that those of us with more life experience know are not crises. They see add/drop period and course decisions as earth-shattering. They feel outraged when a professor leaves them to struggle with processing a sub-topic instead of spoon-feeding them. They are devastated by their first low grade in 16 or more years of education.
  • Tell some trusted colleagues what is going on. Your boss may need to know so that you can re-negotiate project deadlines, agree to some days off, or explain some changes you have made in priorities. A few colleagues who can task share or just be supportive will be a plus.
  • Follow our own advice to students. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Go to the doctor. Get help from a religious leader, professional counselor, or others if needed.
  • Realize some students may notice something is wrong. Some of us are able to look stunningly pulled together even on stressful days and through personal crises. However, most of us look at least somewhat haggard, tired, and stressed - just like we feel. We can still smile, appear superficially cheerful, and pretend to be energetic. However, a few students who work with us a lot are likely to realize that something is wrong. If asked, beg off with "a bad night's sleep," "busy and a little distracted," or "a touch of a bug."

ASP'ers are folks with big hearts for their students.  Life hurts sometimes.  Be there for your students, but take care of yourself when you need to do so.  (Amy Jarmon)



October 1, 2011 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 26, 2011

1L's, Strong Arm Your Fears!

There is no doubt that you have been caught up in the flurry of activity that accompanies the beginning of the academic year.  Heavy meddlesome casebooks; jam packed orientation;  a throng of new faces; and the cacophony of perplexing terminology bombarding you in each lecture- Welcome to Law School!  Although the first days and weeks (or even your entire first year) of law school may seem overwhelming, there are ways to ease your transition and maintain a positive outlook. 

Here is one way to get started on the right track with your law school journey.  Grab a sheet of paper and a pen (yes, this requires a little work).  Do this when you have about 30+ minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time to devote to it.  Now, open your mind and focus on yourself…

First, take a few minutes to reflect on your personal strengths.  These could be anything from having a friendly smile to being a great basketball player.   Create a list of as many positive attributes about yourself that you can think of.   Do not shy away from being excessive or even exaggeratedly vain.  This list is for your eyes only- so go for it!

Next, write down your fears related to law school.  Is it hard for you to meet new people?  Are you nervous about the infamous Socratic Method?  Are you scared that you do not have what it takes to succeed?   Do you think the workload will be too challenging?  Again, write it all down.  This too is for your eyes only- so try not to limit your list. 

Finally, take the remaining time to think of how you can put your strengths to work on your most dreaded fears.  This may take some work.  Connecting your exquisite knitting ability with your debilitating fear of being called on in class may not seem feasible.  However, with a little creativity anything is possible.  Such as: if you could knit while being called on in class or while in a study group (possibly with other stitchers), you may find that your anxiety has decreased. 

Use your strengths to overcome your fears.  If you are a great communicator one-on-one but fear speaking in large groups, try sitting in the front row and pretend you are conversing with only the professor.  This may help you in more ways than you can imagine.  Grab a seat in the front row and you will likely be more actively engaged and less intimidated or distracted by other classmates. 

Acknowledging your strengths and your fears will help you determine your best personal strategy for success in law school.   Putting your strengths at the forefront and focusing on them (instead of being destroyed by your fears), will lead to more productivity, less stress, and better mental and physical health (and likely a higher GPA). 

Therefore, above all, remain optimistic even on your darkest day.  If you need a reminder of how great you are, ask your significant other, best friend, or a close relative.  They will help you see through the self doubting haze that many law students acquire their first year.  Of course if you need to hear it from an unbiased, trustworthy source, I suggest that you read your list.


August 26, 2011 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Orientation, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Managing stress and anxiety

The last few weeks have been a perfect example of the stressors in the study and practice of law. 

Our summer program students have received their grades for their first law school exam.  For many, they had never been near or below a median score before in their academic lives.  Currently, they are struggling with their first legal writing assignment and the uncertainties of how to write something that is in a totally new genre.  They are feeling overwhelmed by the task and the approaching deadline for the first draft.

The bar exam has just finished the final day of three.  For a number of bar studiers, the last month was discouraging and stressful.  Rather than feeling ready, studiers confided that they had hit a wall and were struggling to get back on track.  As is typical, the bar exam has held surprises - topics or nuances not expected on the exam.  Bar review courses work on probabilities; no one but the Board of Law Examiners ever knows for sure what to expect.  Bar takers have looked more exhausted, worried, discouraged, and stressed as each day has passed. 

First-time law clerks have discussed their adjustments to their summer jobs.  The reality of the seriousness of the practice of law and the responsibility that goes with every assignment has begun to hit home.  Real people with real problems depend on the law clerk's work product.  It is no longer the world of Blackacre, exploding packages, and hairy hands.  The pace of work and lack of instruction can be frightening if a legal employer provides little initial structure.  As thrilling as real legal work may be, it is also stressful.

Stress managment is a critical skill for law students and lawyers.  The legal world is prone to overwhelming amounts of work, constant deadlines, and very important decisions.  It is no secret that lawyers often succumb to alcohol or drug abuse to handle the stress.  Relationship problems are also well-known because of the demands.  

Our law students need to learn stress management early in their careers.  They need to learn how to keep balance in their lives and prevent stress as well as how to cope with stress when it occurs. 

  • Managing time carefully rather than letting it escape can prevent stress. 
  • Learning to recognize and minimize procrastination can lower stress. 
  • Following healthy sleep, exercise, and nutrition routines can help reduce stress.
  • Keeping in touch with friends and family can create a support network to counteract stress.
  • Talking to someone about the stressful situation can alleviate the "aloneness" and provide possible solutions.

There are many useful resources for coping with stress.  Some examples are:

  • Larry Krieger's booklet: The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress 
  • Law School Academic Success Project: Wellness pages for law students
  • Numerous law schools have information on stress management on their academic support web pages.
  • Numerous university counseling or health center web pages discuss stress management techniques.
  • Type "stress management techniques" into your favorite browser for a multitude of websites with information.

The most important thing to remember is that stress can lead to other health problems if not handled in a positive way.  Prevention is better than cure.  (Amy Jarmon)          

July 29, 2011 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Now that grades are out

Most law students have received their spring semester grades at this point.  The cheers and groans are probably echoing somewhere near you.  Grades can be a euphoric high, a dismal depression, or somewhere in between.  Here are some ideas how to view your grades wherever you fall in the class:

For those who are at the top of the class (however you want to define that measure):

  • Congratulations!  Your hard work has paid off, and you can celebrate.
  • Evaluate your study habits.  Even though you are happy with your grades, you still want to take some time to consider your semester's studying to improve your study skills.  What were your strengths and weaknesses?  Do you need to become more effective in your reading, note-taking, outlining, writing/researching, or exam-taking skills?  Do you do better in certain types of course or exam requirements?
  • Consider your options.  Do your grades give you confidence to sign-up for more challenging courses for next year?  Do your grades suggest that you want to re-think your career goals?  Do your grades mean that you can now become involved in student organizations or community service where you were hesitant to do so before?  Do you now have the confidence to try out for a competition team, apply to be a research assistant, or participate in the write-on competition after all?
  • Evaluate your summer plans.  Does your evaluation of your study skills suggest that you need to spend time this summer on specific skills?  Are there areas of the law that have picqued your interest that you want to read about during the next weeks?  Do you have the confidence now to apply for summer law jobs that you doubted you could get before?
  • Enjoy your academic postion, but do not let it go to your head.  Some law students make the mistake of letting an inflated ego become an obstacle.  They may slack off because they think they are invincible and will actually see their grades drop at the end of the next semester as a result.  Or they may become a bit arrogant and think they are better than fellow students, staff, faculty, and deans.  Arrogance does not win friends or influence people.     

For those of you in the great middle of the class:

  • Work through any frustration or anger about your grades.  Occasionally I will talk with law students whose dissatisfaction with their grades leads them to vent emotionally rather than taking positive actions to improve.  If you find yourself saying any of the following things, you probably need to step back and regain some objectivity: "I was in the hard section and would have done fine in another section."  "If I had Professor A instead of my professor, I could have had a better grade."  "Course C is a dumb course any way, so it wasn't my fault."  "It is not fair that there is a curve."  "The prof should have given me the B because I was only 3 points away."
  • Do not make the mistake of considering yourself to be mediocre or just average.  You are holding your own. Remember that you entered your law school class with the best and the brightest of college and university graduates.  You are still who you were when you entered; the competition changed.  You are not necessarily destined to remain in the great middle.  You can break out of the great middle with appropriate changes.   
  • You can improve your grades by becoming a smarter studier.  Take some time to think through what worked well and what did not.  Be honest with yourself.  Did you put in your best efforts or slack off at some point?  Did you take shortcuts rather than become more efficient and effective?  Did you use all of the resources available to you at your law school - professors' office hours, supplemental study groups, academic support professionals, writing specialists, advisors?
  • Make a plan for improving your study skills.  Instead of just changing up things at random or latching on to every piece of advice you hear from upper-division students, make an appointment with the academic support professional at your law school.  That person is able to help you objectively evaluate you strengths and weaknesses and look at sound strategies for improvement.
  • Review exams with your professors for any courses in which you received a C+ or lower grade.  You should try to do this as soon as possible on your return for the next semester.  You want to determine what you are doing well and need to continue.  You want to get specific feedback on what you need to improve on for higher grades.  Take copious notes during your discussions with the professors and share them with the academic support professional at your school to get advice on strategies and techniques for improvement.

For those of you in the bottom portion of the class (however you want to define that measure):

  • Deal with your disappointment with your grades and move forward.  Do not let discouragement prevent you from improving your grades in the future.  All law students can learn more effective ways to study.  You definitely want to work with the academic support professional at your law school to evaluate what went wrong and what you are doing right.  Avoid being your own expert.  You obviously need someone else's expertise in study strategies to sort out what can be done.
  • Review each of your exams with your professors.  If this will not be possible until the fall semester, make yourself notes about each exam that you took.  Did you run out of time?  Did you have trouble with one section but not others?  Were you confused by a particular topic that was tested?  Did you panic or freeze up during the exam?  As soon as possible in the new semester, make an appointment to go over the exam to discover your strengths and weaknesses.  The more specific the feedback, the more information you will have to guide your improvement.
  • Look hard at your time management and tendency to procrastinate.  It is not unusual for law students to have problems with these two areas.  Many law students received good grades in undergraduate courses with little work and last-minute cramming.  There was less material to learn.  The material was rarely as dense as law cases.  Multiple tests or other assessments made it easier to fall into cram mode.  Again, your academic support professional can help you develop better skills in these problem areas.
  • Evaluate your goals, motivation, and commitments.  How do you want to use your law degree upon graduation?  Do you want to be in law school right now?  Do you like the study of law?  Are there other variables (family, financial, medical) that suggest you need a leave of absence to get things sorted out?  Is law school a priority in your life right now?
  • If you are being placed on probation, find out exactly what that means.  What is the standard that you must meet?  What time period do you have to meet that standard?  Are you required to take a certain number of credit hours during your probation semester (some schools have a higher requirement for probation students)?  What happens if you have to repeat a required course while on probation?  What resources are available to you (academic support professional, advisor, tutoring, counselor)?

For those of you who are facing academic dismissal:

  • Be honest with yourself.  After you get over the initial shock, you need to evaluate how you ended up in this place academically.  Is law school where you really want to be?  Is being a lawyer a priority for you?  Did you put in the effort that was needed on your academics?  Were there circumstances outside school that caused you problems?         
  • Find out your law school's procedures and policies.  Every law school is different.  You need to determine your law school's way of doing things.  You should be able to find this type of information in your law school's student handbook (look on-line if you were not handed a hard copy during your 1L orientation).  If you cannot find the information, contact the Associate Dean for Academics, Registrar, or other appropriate person at your law school for help.
  • Find out what options you have (if any).  Some law schools allow dismissed students to petition for readmission (continue on with your class) or re-entry (repeat your 1L year) on the basis of extraordinary or exceptional circumstances.  Some law schools make you sit out at least two years before you can reapply.  Some law schools have entirely different options. 
  • Get some advice from an authority on the school's policies and procedures if you need to consider options.  You preferably want to talk with administrators who work most closely with students on these issues.  If possible, schedule an appointment.  Consider a telephone discussion if you cannot make it back to campus.  Write down your questions ahead of time so that you do not forget to ask everything.
  • Have a Plan B.  There are always other options than law school if a petition is not successful or you cannot petition under your law school's policies.  You can apply to a graduate program in another field.  (Yes, people who leave law school for academic reasons do get accepted in other graduate programs.)  You can get a law-related job until you can re-apply.  (Think paralegal or legal assistant, for example.) You can get a non-law-related job until you decide what to do more long-term.  You can get a roommate to help with expenses on your apartment.
  • Remember that leaving law school does not mean that you are a failure.  The study of law is not a good match for everyone.  There is a niche out there that will use your talents and abilities.  You will be successful in life - law is not the only career path.  You are the same bright, talented, exceptional person you were before law school.  All that has changed is that law school did not work out.  That is actually okay even though it may not feel that way right now.  You will be fine. 

Whichever category matches your grades, don't get stuck in the place where you are.  Evaluate.  Strategize.  Move forward.  And, believe in yourself.  (Amy Jarmon)  


June 3, 2011 in Advice, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Making time when there seems to be none

A common theme in my discussion with students this week is that there are not enough hours in the day.  Many of them are starting to get stressed over the amount of work to fit into the amount of time left in the semester. 

Part of the problem is that they are trying to juggled end-of-the-semester assignments and papers with ongoing daily tasks and review for final exams.  It can seem overwhelming if one does not use good time management skills.

Here are some tips:

  • Realize that you control your time.  With intentional behavior, a student can take control of the remainder of the semester rather than feeling as though it is a roller coaster ride. Make time for what really matters.
  • Work for progress in every course.  If one focuses on one course to the detriment of the other courses, it creates a cycle of catch-up and stress.  A brief might be due in legal writing, but that should not mean dropping everything else for one or two weeks.  Space out work on a major assignment over the days available and continue with daily work in all other courses.
  • Use small pockets of time for small tasks.  Even 15 minutes can be used effectively!  Small amounts of time are useful for memory drills with flashcards or through rule recitation out loud.  20 minutes can be used to review class notes and begin to condense the material for an outline.  30 minutes can be used for a few multiple-choice practice questions or to review a sub-topic for a course.
  • Capture wasted time and consolidate it.  Students often waste up to an hour at a time chatting with friends, playing computer games,  watching You Tube, answering unimportant e-mails, and more.  Look for time that can be used more productively.  If several wasted blocks of time during a day can be re-captured and consolidated into a longer block, a great deal can be accomplished!  For example, reading for class can often be shifted in the day to capture several separate, wasted 30-minute slots and consolidate them into another block of perhaps 1 1/2 hours. 
  • Use windfall time well.  It is not unusual in a day to benefit from unexpected blocks of time that could be used.  A ride is late.  A professor lets the class out early.  A study group meets for less time than expected.  An appointment with a professor is shorter than scheduled.  Rather than consider the time as free time, use it for a study task.
  • Realize the power of salvaged blocks of time.  If a student captures 1/2 hour of study time a day, that is 3 1/2 extra hours per week.  An hour per day adds up to 7 hours per week.  Time suddenly is there that seemed to be unavailable.
  • Break down exam review into sub-topics.  You may not be able to find time to review the entire topic of adverse possession intensely, but you can likely find time to review its first element intensely.  By avoiding the "all or nothing mentality" in exam review,  progress is made in smaller increments.  It still gets the job done!
  • Evaluate your priorities and use of time three times a day.  Every morning look at your tasks for the day and evaluate the most effective and efficient ways to accomplish everything.  Schedule when you will get things done during the day.  Do the same thing at lunch time and make any necessary changes.  Repeat the exercise at dinner time.
  • Cut out the non-essentials in life.  Save shopping for shoes for that August wedding (unless perhaps you are the bride) until after exams.  Stock up on non-perishable food staples now rather than shop for them every week.  Run errands in a group now and get it over with to allow concentrating on studies for the rest of the semester.
  • Exercise in appropriate amounts.  If you are an exercise fanatic spending more than 7 hours a week on workouts, it is time to re-prioritize.  You may have the best abs among law students at your school, but you need to workout your brain cells at this point in the semester.
  • Boost your brain power in the time you have.  Sleep at least 7 hours a night.  Eat nutritional meals.  Your brain cells will be able to do the academic heavy lifting in less time if you do these simple things.

So, take a deep breath.  Take control of your time.  And good luck with the remainder of the semester. (Amy Jarmon)          

April 7, 2011 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 4, 2011

International Journal of Wellbeing

Stephanie West Allen's Idealawg has noted the new International Journal for Wellbeing in a recent posting.  The posting includes an article table of contents and a link to the journal.  Check out the link to Idealawg and to find out more about this new free, on-line resource.  You can register at the journal's website to receive new issues or to submit content for review.  (Amy Jarmon) 

February 4, 2011 in Books, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What will you do with all your free time now that exams are over?

Our law school upper-division students have apparently been telling the 1L's to spend the semester break reading study aid supplements for their spring courses.  Now I have a great deal of respect for go-getters who want to receive good grades.  But, I am not so sure that this advice to the 1L's is very good.

Here is why I am concerned about their reading up on their doctrinal 1L courses:

  • The syllabi for 1L courses have not been posted yet.  Consequently, they will be reading in the dark without knowing what topics and subtopics will be included in the course.  Study aids typically include material for a national audience with all topics that might be taught by some professor.  Rarely does a professor have time to cover all of that material.
  • Each professor has his or her own slant on course material.  Some professors have specific analysis frameworks that they want students to learn.  Some professors are more policy oriented to the material.  Some professors cover both state-specific codes as well as model codes.  Without more information on the professor (by attending class and tutoring sessions), 1L students will read out of context and absorb the study aid's point of view which may not be the professor's slant.
  • 1L students still have additional analysis skills and foundational areas of law to learn.  They will be encountering concepts, terms, and new ways of thinking in their spring courses that are foreign to them.  They may be working extensively with statutes for the first time.  Trying to learn these new areas without class discussion and case readings may leave them more confused than grounded in a new subject area.
  • Most 1L students are exhausted.  They have been through a grueling first semester with constantly demanding concepts, formats of testing, legal jargon, and new study techniques.  Many have not only lost sleep, but also eaten junk food and not exercised.  For some, they have been stressed from day one of fall semester.  Now they should relax, catch up on sleep, eat right, get on an exercise regime, and spend time with family and friends.  For most, learning more law will not be a therapeutic endeavor.

It would be more helpful for them to read one or two books on academic success, legal reasoning, or exam-taking strategies if they are determined to do something law related.  Books of these types will help them evaluate their study techniques and fill in gaps in their foundation of how to think about the law.  Here are some books that they may want to consider:

  • Charles R. Calleros, Law School Exams: Preparing and Writing to Win.
  • John Delaney, How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams.
  • John Delaney, Learning Legal Reasoning.
  • Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul. Getting to Maybe.
  • Wilson Huhn, The Five Types of Legal Argument.
  • Michael Hunter Schwartz, Expert Learning for Law Students (with workbook).
  • Andrew J. McClurg, 1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor's Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School.
  • Ruth Ann McKinney, Reading Like a Lawyer.
  • Herbert N. Ramy, Succeeding in Law School.
  • Dennis J. Tonsing, 1000 Days to the Bar: But the Practice of Law Begins Now!.

I think it is very important for law students (whether 1L or upper-division) to return in January well-rested, happy, healthy, and energized.  Spring semester will be just as long as fall - though hopefully a bit less overwhelming for the 1L's.  (Amy Jarmon) 


December 18, 2010 in Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 22, 2010

When life has bad timing

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) 


November 22, 2010 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

10 Stress Busters

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) 

November 20, 2010 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Keeping a positive attitude

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)



November 17, 2010 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Five stages of grading

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)

October 29, 2010 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Coping with brain cells that cry "Uncle"

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)   



October 23, 2010 in Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wishing for a crystal ball and instant answers

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)


June 3, 2010 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's triage time again

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.  
  • Break course topics down into sub-topics.  It is easier to stay motivated and to see progress if one can cross off sub-topics quickly.  It is also easier to find a shorter block of time to complete review of a sub-topic than it is to find a block of time to review the entire long topic.
  • Condense material to the essentials for each course.  These students no longer have the advantage of learning all of the nuances and gaining full understanding.  They need to make sure they understand the basic concepts, the important rules, and the methodologies.  Unfortunately, they will be depending on working memory and may well have to re-learn everything later during bar review.  
  • Apply the law after learning each topic.  Do a few practice questions to see if you can actually use what you learned about a topic.  Once you know how to structure an answer for a particular topic, the structure can be used when you confront new facts for the same topic on an exam.
  • Get enough sleep.  Staying up late and getting less than seven hours of sleep as a minimum will be counter-productive.  Going into an exam in a sleep-deprived state will only mean being unable to focus and analyze clearly.  Cramming more material during last-minute, late-night study will not make up for exhausted brain cells.    

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)


April 22, 2010 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Study techniques that reduce anxiety

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)

March 19, 2010 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Do you have the spring semester blahs?

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)   


February 26, 2010 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dealing with the unexpected

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)

January 28, 2010 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)