Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Fresh Start" Steps for Bar Exam Repeaters!

'Tis the season, they say.  

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

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

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

But, where is this inside info?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Perspective: The Opportunity To Take The Test

As our students sit for their end of semester exams in a few short days, I consistently deem it important to encourage them to keep all things in perspective and remain focused. Whether or not they adhere to my advice is another story. Nevertheless, I provide the following information to our students, particularly first-year law students:

(1) Remember Why You Are In Law School

Revisit why you decided to come to law school, consider the things you always wanted to accomplish with your law degree, and focus on your purpose for being here. Visualize where you want to be which justifies the reason why you are here. Remember who you are doing it for. Maybe you are doing it for grandma who sacrificed everything to ensure that you got the education necessary to get you where you are now. Maybe you are doing it for your children, younger brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, neighbors, or friends who look up to you and are motivated and inspired by you. Maybe you are a first generation high school, college, and/or law student and you want to show your family again that you are able to do this. Maybe you want to help individuals in your neighborhood, community, city or state, whatever the reason for you being here, remember it. A law school exam is minimal in the larger scheme of things you have accomplished in life and the challenges you have overcome in life thus far. You have passed tests in the past and you can pass these as well.

(2) Focus On The Task At Hand

Concentrate on all things exam preparation and being in the right frame of mind to take your exams. This might be a good time to visit professor office hours if you have not already and to work effectively in your study groups. You might want to get rid of all distractions so cut off social media, maybe even cable television and silence your cell phone during the study period. You will have plenty of time after exams to enjoy all of the activities that appeal to you. If you have friends and family members who would be a distraction to you then you might want to tell them that you will check-in with them after break. Don’t be shy about seeking help. Attend all course reviews offered by your professor.

(3) Stay Motivated

You may not have started off the semester strong but you can finish strong. Realize the adjustments you need to make and when you need to take a break. Find supportive people who can help keep you on task and on track. Help each other stay on track. The fear you feel is probably the product of the exhaustion you feel from the semester. Don’t let stress take over so much that you are ineffective in preparing for exams. Worry takes away from doing. Replace the worry about the exam with actually doing the work. Remember that you are not striving for perfection in your knowledge or preparation. Focus less on the grade and more on the learning and retention of information.

(4) You Can Do It

You made it this far, so you can complete the journey. You did not quit during orientation week, you did not quit in week seven when your legal writing assignment overwhelmed you, nor did you quit in week fourteen when the semester ended and the threat of exams was looming. By not quitting, you have already proven that you are not going anywhere and you have tenacity so why would you quit now. You were smart enough to get into law school and you are smart enough to pass your exams. Finish this journey with all you have, put forth your best effort, and let the chips fall where they may. All you can do is your very best in the time you have remaining so do it! If law school was easy then everyone would do it and everyone would make it to this point.

All the best to the 1Ls and upper-level students taking exams soon, if not already! (Goldie Pritchard)

December 6, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Signs That Exams Are Upon Us

There are a few things that happen almost every semester to indicate that the semester is wrapping up.  Of course, I am not going to list each and every event here but I will highlight five things that seem to come up each and every time.

I Become A Celebrity

My office is a popular place in the building a week to a week and a half prior to exams. 1Ls whom I have never seen before show up. The common question I hear is: “what exactly do you do, I know you help students and I need help.” Upper-level students have a better grasp of what they need which can include anything from a pep talk, time and study management tools, venting sessions, and help finding resources for essay and multiple choice practice. I usually never know who to expect or what they might need. I also have students who are simply seeking opportunities to procrastinate and I am quick to redirect these individuals and remind them of what they need to accomplish.

TA Study Sessions Are Full

At this time, teaching assistant study sessions are wrapping up and students who have not attended these sessions all semester long, show-up. They hope to acquire whatever knowledge they believe will provide them with an extra edge in the final days leading up to the exams. The final sessions are usually the most well-attended sessions of the semester. The teaching assistants have some great last minute exam preparation advice so I am glad students show-up.

Canceled Meetings/No Shows

An upsurge in canceled meetings or no-shows occurs around this time. Students try to avoid me when they know they did not show for a scheduled meeting. It is particularly interesting when students who have been very consistent in attendance start to disappear. I try to give students permission and a way out; I understand that they are studying and trying to finish up the semester strong.

Upper-Level Students Are Focused

Those who slacked off throughout the semester are buckling down to get the work done. They have strategic plans charting how they will prepare for each exam and are implementing each plan. Some students are upset about the time they wasted by not engaging with the substantive material earlier in the semester but many were busy focusing on other things. I hear students say: “don’t worry, I will get it done and be ready for exams.” Students say this because they know I will express my concerns and ask them if they have thought about this or that as they prepare for exams.

Students Are In The Library

Each time I enter the library, there appear to be more and more students present in that space. I see students crowded around a table in their most comfortable gear, studying for exams. It is survival mode and stress is mounting. Moreover, some students are in the library environment to be motivated by others but others are simply there to feel like they are doing something when in fact they are not. (Goldie Pritchard)

November 29, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Two Time Management Techniques: Eisenhower Matrix & Pomodoro

As you study for final exams, it is essential to develop a time management strategy that will help you minimize interruptions and maximize focus. Here are two popular methods: the Eisenhower Matrix and the Pomodoro Technique.

The Eisenhower Matrix stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."  Using the Eisenhower decision principle, tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, and then placed in according quadrants:

  1. Important/Urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally, e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally, e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are delegated, e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are dropped, e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.

Priority Grid

During exam periods, you should only allow “Level 1” tasks to interrupt designated study time.

If Eisenhower’s Matrix isn’t your thing, consider Pomodoro.  Pomodoro requires you to identify the “topmost task” on your to do list.  After identifying the task, set a timer for 25 minutes and work until the timer (a.k.a. “Pomodoro”) rings.  Take a short break of 3-5 minutes and then get back to working, until the task is finished.  After every four Pomodoros take a longer break of 15–30 minutes.  For all the details, Download Pomodoro Cheat Sheet.  (Kirsha Trychta)

Pomodoro timeline 

November 28, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pause For Your Mental Sanity

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

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mental health” as:

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

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

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

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

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

 

image from media.giphy.com

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Plotting Your Final Exam Study Time

Last week Professor Jarmon offered her tips on how to “Find[] Time for Exam Study.” This week I’d like to share my strategy for managing that (perhaps, newly found) time, especially between now and the end of the exam period.

Step One: Put all of your final exams and legal writing deadlines on a one-page calendar, so that you can see everything at the same time. Microsoft Word has tons a free calendar templates available for download. For example, here is what our first-year, fall semester exam schedule looks like:

Fall exams 2017 calendar mini

If you prefer to edit my calendar instead of creating your own, then Download Fall Exams 2017 Calendar here.

Step Two: Make a list of all the major topics that were discussed in each of your courses this semester. The Table of Contents to your casebook will help guide you through this step. If you don’t want to mark-up your textbook (or it’s already heavily marked up), consider downloading a printable version of the Table of Contents from the publisher’s website or online casebook companion.  For this step, focus only on the big picture, not on all the subtopics and individual cases contained within each major topic.  For example, this semester we covered three chapters—general principles, homicide, and property offenses—in my criminal law course, so a student’s Table of Contents may look like this:

  Table of contents mini

Step Three: Think about how long it will take you to learn each one of these major topics. Questions to ask yourself, include: Do you still need to outline, draft rule blocks, or make flashcards for that topic? Did you understand that topic when it was covered in class or were you confused then? Do you already have, or know where to easily find, practice hypotheticals for that topic? You will also want to think about how much time you’ll need to engage in active studying techniques—such as using flashcards or writing out practice essay responses—after you have gathered and refined your notes. Once you’ve reflected on the amount of work you have left to do, write that time allotment down. When in doubt, estimate on the high side; it’s better to have extra time than to run short of study time. And, if you prefer to be overly cautions, also schedule in some wiggle room just in case. For example:

List of topics to master mini 2

If you like my chart, then feel free to Download List of Topics to Master, an editable version, here.  Repeat step three for all of your subjects.

Step Four: Assign specific days and times to each chunk of material, keeping in mind your final exam schedule. For example, if it’s going to take you a total of 32 hours to review criminal law, and the criminal law exam is on Friday, December 1, then you have to spread out those 32 hours between now and November 30. Repeat this same process for each of your exams, bearing in mind that you can’t double-up any timeslots (you can only study one thing at a time, after all) and will still need to sleep, eat, and exercise.  This is the hardest step, because you have to combine the calendar from Step One with the chart in Step Three, into a single, useable study schedule.  As you combine all the information, you may realize that you don't have as much time to study as you had hoped.  If you find yourself in this category, you'll have to start Step Three over, this time making tougher choices about where you'll spend your time and prioritizing certain topics over others.

Step Five: Stick to the plan! If you find that you’ve only allotted 30 minutes to focus on embezzlement, but that after a half-hour of reviewing your notes, you still don’t understand it, you need to move on. Don’t get caught spinning your wheels on any one particular topic. If you have some extra time later, either because another topic didn’t take as long as you expected or because you smartly scheduled in some wiggle room in Step Three above, then revisit the troubling topic again. 

Good luck!  (Kirsha Trychta)

 

November 14, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learning Tune-Up Time!

With many law students facing final exams in just over a month, this is a great time for students to reflect on their learning with the goal of making beneficial improvements before it is too late, i.e., before final exams are over.  

There are many such evaluation techniques but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.  

And, if you are a law student, there's no need to wait on your teachers to ask these questions.  Rather, make them part and parcel of your learning today.  

So, whether you are currently serving as a teacher or taking courses as a student, you'll find these questions to be rich empowering opportunities to make a real difference in your learning! (Scott Johns).

Photo of Evaluation

November 2, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Outlining=A Better Understanding of the Doctrinal Materials

I mentioned last week that 1Ls are likely starting to think hard about outlining for their podium courses. With the end of October approaching, students need to focus some of their precious time on preparing for their final exams. It takes a while for some students to shift their focus. But, those students who take time to prepare for final exams may often feel more confident and less stressed come the end of the semester. And a more confident and less stressed student may be better able to focus and demonstrate to the professor what he/she knows about the doctrinal subject come December.

One way students can to start feeling more confident and less stressed is by organizing their class notes around big picture rules in an outline. Students can insert into the outline various hypotheticals that test these big picture rules. The professor in the Socratic class could have generated these hypotheticals. They could also be pulled from other sources, like law school study aids or from the casebooks’ Notes and Decisions. Or, better yet, students can try to generate the hypotheticals on their own.

An outline can take many shapes or forms. What’s important is that each student focuses on what helps him/her best understand the material. What’s also important is that students try to create their outlines on their own. It’s cliché—but, a huge part of the learning process is synthesizing all the materials that each student has available to him/her and putting it down in the outline. Working with the materials and thinking about how and why the materials fit into the doctrinal course can help solidify or create a better understanding of the material. And who doesn’t want a better understanding of the material before finals? (OJ Salinas)

October 30, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How's Your Motivation?

We are at a time in the semester when students may be having motivation problems. Yet this is also the time in the semester when they need to stay motivated. Here are some tips to keep on track during the remainder of the semester when focusing on school work becomes difficult:

  • Breaking large tasks into smaller tasks to make them less daunting can help motivate you to get your work done. It is easier to get motivated to read 5 pages than 30 pages or to outline one subtopic than an entire topic. On your to-do list, list 6 blocks of 5 pages rather than 30 pages together; list multiple subtopics rather than an outline topic. Cross off each smaller task as you complete it to see your progress.
  • If you are having severe problems in your motivation to even get started on a small task on your to-do list, make the task even smaller. Tell yourself to read just one page or to outline just the first rule. Still problems? Then tell yourself one paragraph or one element of the rule. There is a point when you will realize it is ridiculous that you cannot complete a teeny task and thus might as well get started. Getting starting is usually the hardest part; most people can continue once they get started.
  • Congratulate yourself each time you finish a task. Pat yourself on the back for your diligence. Set up a reward system: small rewards (cup of coffee, 5-minute meditation, snack) for small tasks; medium rewards (15-minute walk, short phone call with a friend, 2 short chapters in a fluff novel) for medium tasks; big rewards (a restaurant dinner, going to the cinema, an hour's play with a pet) for big tasks. Choose rewards that are meaningful for you.
  • Avoid the moaners and groaners among your fellow law students. Hearing other people whine, complain, or spread doom and gloom affects your own mood. Wish your pessimistic classmate luck and walk away before you get infected with negativity.
  • Find places to study away from the law school if necessary to stay motivated and positive: the main university library, other academic buildings, your apartment complex business center, the public library.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Yes, there are a lot of bright people here in law school. But remember that you were admitted because you also are one of those bright people. Besides, you are comparing yourself to the facades that others are projecting. This point in the semester causes a lot of false bravado that may not be backed up with as many study hours, as much exam preparedness, and as much confidence in reality. 
  • If you are not good at staying positive and motivated, ask a family member or friend to become Chief Encourager. Call or meet with that person for a pep talk each day. In addition, read positive scriptures, quotes, or sayings each morning and each evening to keep you motivated - maybe even post them around your apartment.
  • An accountability partner may also be needed in addition to an encourager. Meet another law student at a certain time at the library. Each of you will do your own work, but having to meet gets you where you need to be to start studying. It stops you from spending another hour watching TV or playing video games at home.
  • Watch out for de-motivating blood sugar drops in the afternoon. If you start to drag mid-afternoon, have a healthy snack: apple, granola bar, handful of nuts, yogurt, etc. Keep snacks in your backpack or carrel to provide a quick energy boost.
  • Sunlight affects your mood. To combat the fall blahs, take a few minutes each afternoon to get outside the law building or your apartment and into the sun. Walk around the outside of the law building two times. Sit on your patio in the sun.
  • Get enough sleep. Eat nutritious meals. Get some exercise. All of these lifestyle factors affect motivation. It is hard to stay focused on your studies if you are tired, hungry, wired on sugar and caffeine, or imitating a slug.

If you need help getting organized and motivated, visit with the Academic Support Professionals at your law school to get some assistance. I guarantee you that you will not be the first law student they have seen struggling with motivation. (Amy Jarmon)

October 29, 2017 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2017

The End of October is Approaching

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Be a Risk-taker for Your Legal Education

Occasionally, prospective law students ask me what it takes to be a successful law student. I am always happy to respond to this question because most of the time, these students find information from current students more valuable. One basic answer I provide is that students who are risk-takers and do not fear multiple bouts of failure tend to be some of my most successful law students. Although a somewhat perplexing response, I always proceed with an example, knowing from experience that most prospective students do not believe me initially. It is not until the end of the fall semester when exams are over and students have had a moment to step back and reflect on experiences that they understand what I meant.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “risk-taker” as “a person who is willing to do things that involve danger or risk (possibility of loss or injury) in order to achieve a goal.” The danger or risk referred to in law school academic performance is exposure of academic weaknesses and short comings. The perception that everyone knows that you do not know something; you are not yet good at something; you failed at something; or more importantly, your professor is aware of it all is quite terrifying to many first year law students. Some of them prefer to stay in the dark about everything for fear of possibly being relentlessly judged by one misstep. They do not realize that other students are preoccupied with their own fears and may forget about classroom exchanges or that due to the number of other students in the classroom; the professor may inadvertently forget the exchange. The worst aspect of this is likely when students avoid resources and/or interactions such as engaging with vital academic support programs and services that could eventually be beneficial to them.

Encouraging students to utilize resources that are available to them through the academic support program is probably the most difficult obstacle in the first year of law school. As a result, I try to use a number of modes of information delivery with the hope that students will use or tap into one or more of them. These include large and small group interactions, one-on-one interaction, and access to digital resources that allow students to work at their own pace. But sometimes, this is not enough. The hope is that at the very least, classmates, teaching assistants, and other administrators will help remind and direct students to resources that a conducive to learning.

My risk-taking students are often my high achieving students because they have redefined failure for themselves and created opportunities to excel. All of them were not the students one would expect to perform well from the beginning. Redefining failure is crucial to overall law student success. One simply cannot rely on past measures of achievement, otherwise one might become disappointed. Students need to focus on innovative ways of assessing improvement, understanding, knowledge, and time management just to list a few. They also need to determine how to obtain the feedback necessary for the positive adjustments necessary for academic success. Taking ownership of one’s own learning and managing one’s emotional reactions to feedback requires some skill and tenacity. My students who attempt all of this are self-empowered and build their arsenal of knowledge and skills throughout the academic year which typically yields positive results around exam time.

Risk-taking students are the students who attend regular professor office hours but also get answers wrong and spend time understanding where they went wrong. They may suggest and lead study groups, ask the questions every student wants to ask but does not dare ask the professor, are in my office regularly showing me how they have diagrammed and organized concepts, or are simply doing the things they should be doing. (Goldie Pritchard)

October 18, 2017 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.

I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.

Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!

Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)

October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Smart-Phone Dilemna: "Blood Pressure Spikes, Pulse Quickens, Problem-Solving Skills Decline," says Columnist

 As recently reported by columnist Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year." 

Most of us don't think that's too awful.  I certainly depend on mine...and all the time.  It's become my phone, my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my companion, my navigator, my weather channel, to name just a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable nano-technology.  But, here's the rub.  Accordingly to Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies that, as the headline above suggests, indicate that smart phone access is harmful, well, to one's intellectual, emotional, and perhaps even bodily health.  

Let me just share a few of the cited studies from Mr. Carr's article on "How Smart-phones Hijack Our Minds."  https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811?mod=e2tw

First, as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a California study that suggests that the mere presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities.  In the study of 520 undergraduate students, the researches - using a TED lecture talk - tested students on their exam performance based on their understanding of the lecture with the students divided into three separate groups.  In one classroom, the students placed their cellphones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam.  In another classroom the students had to stow their cellphones so that they didn't have immediate access (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight--out-of-mind" approach).  In the last classroom situation, the students had to leave their cellphones in a different room from the lecture hall.  Almost all of the students reported that the placement or access of their cell phones did not compromise their exam performance in anyway.  But, the test results shockingly indicated otherwise.  The students with cellphones on their desks performed the worst on the exam. In addition, even the students with the cellphones stowed performed not nearly as good as the students who were not permitted to bring cellphones to the lecture.  Apparently, just the knowledge that one's cellphone is ready and standing by negatively impacts learning.

Second, also as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a Arkansas study that suggests that students can improve their exam performance by a whole letter grade merely by leaving one's cellphone behind when headed to classes.  In that study of 160 students, the researchers found that those students who had their phones with them in a lecture class, even if they did not access or use them, performed substantially worse than those students that abandoned their cellphones prior to class, based on test results on cognitive understanding of the lecture material.  In other words, regardless of whether one uses one's cellphone during class, classroom learning appears to be compromised just with the presence of one's cellphone.

Third, as again reported by Mr. Carr, cellphone access or proximity not only hinders learning but also harms social communication and interpersonal skills.  In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation.  Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a cellphone present.  The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no cell phones available.  The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation that the subjects experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy.  The researches found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were "personally meaningful topic[s]."  In sum, two-way conversations aren't necessary two-way when a cellphone is involved, even if it is not used.

Finally, Mr. Carr shares research out of Columbia University that suggests that our trust in smartphones and indeed the internet compromises our memorization abilities.  In that study, the researches had participants type out the facts surrounding a noteworthy news event with one set of participants being told that what they typed would be captured by the computer while the other set of subjects were told that the facts would be immediately erased from the computer.  The researchers then tested the participants abilities to accurately recall the factual events.  Those that trusted in the computer for recall had much more difficulty recalling the facts than those who were told that they couldn't rely on the computer to retain the information.  In other words, just the thought that our computers will accurately record our notes for later use, might harm our abilities to recall and access information.  And, as Mr. Carr suggests, "only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking.  No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."

Plainly, that's a lot to think about.  And, with all of the conversations swirling about as to whether teachers should ban laptops from classrooms, it might just add "fuel to the fire."  On that question, this article does not opine.  But, regardless of whether you take notes on a computer or not, according to the research, there's an easy way to raise your letter grade by one grade.  Just leave your smartphone at home, at your apartment, or in your locker...whenever you go to classes.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

October 12, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

MPRE FRENZY

During the past few weeks, my focus was on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). Students have received countless resources to help support them with the MPRE preparation process. Students recognize that the exam is fast approaching and some have not yet started to study. Others are considering various study strategies and asking themselves whether they are learning what they need to learn.

Below are some considerations as students wrap-up or engage-in MPRE studies:

• Build your skill and momentum. Most bar-type multiple choice questions are reading comprehension questions so initially, you might want to go at a slow pace as quickly reading the fact patterns then selecting an answer might not yield the correct answer. Often, you may overlook key facts which could dictate your selection of the correct answer. Develop your reading comprehension skills by slowing down, then building your pace. Take it one step at a time and focus on your timing closer to the exam

• Practice to practice. Simply completing practice questions or exams without a purpose can be detrimental; therefore, you may wish to consider your fundamental justification and benefits for completing questions. Why you are completing questions? Are you completing question to determine your understanding of a sub-issue, to determine your exam time management skills, to determine your ability to manage multiple sub-issues at once, to learn, or to highlight strengths and deficiencies? You want to think about why you are completing questions, what purpose it serves and is it service that purpose. You might need to make adjustments depending on your answer. You absolutely do not want to avoid the difficult questions.

• Review and learn the rules. How are you ensuring that you are committing the rules to memory, particularly the ones you “trip up” on? How are you condensing the information to review them? Typically, students stop at either reviewing an outline or watching a lecture but you might want to have an idea of what a rule on a particular topic says to effectively be able to arrive at the correct answer. Are there flashcards or other available resources you can use?

• Resources you may wish to consider. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) Website has a number of resources posted so use them or at the very least, check to see whether your selected MPRE preparation course includes such information. Does it cover the entire content in the MPRE Subject Matter Outline? Does it highlight MPRE Key Words and Phrases? Are you aware that the NCBE website includes a practice exam that you can purchase and sample MPRE questions available for free?

To the November 4th MPRE bar takers: All the very best! (Goldie Pritchard)

October 11, 2017 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hypothetically Speaking . . . .

I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.

Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.

A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.

But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)

I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.

It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams. 

So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.

I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.

It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)

October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Using Study Aids Wisely to Maximize Learning within Time Restraints

A wide range of study aids is available to law students. You need to choose carefully which study aids to use and when to use them. Otherwise you can be overwhelmed by choice and waste time and effort.

What type of study aid do you need for the task?

  • Study aids that are strictly commentaries. These study aids explain the law in depth. Examples: Understanding Law, Concise Hornbooks, Hornbooks, Inside, Mastering, Foundation, Concepts & Insights, Nutshells, Law School Legends (audio), Sum & Substance (audio).
  • Study aids that are commentaries with embedded questions. These study aids explain the law in depth with questions in the text to illustrate the concepts and provide the reader with practice on the narrow issues being discussed. Examples: Examples & Explanations, Glannon Guides.
  • Study aids that contain short summaries of the material with or without practice questions/problems. Examples: Acing, Short & Happy Guides, Skills & Values.
  • Study aids that are lengthy outline versions of the material. These study aids typically have exam tips and practice questions as well. Examples: Gilbert Law Summaries, Emanuel  Law Outlines, and Black Letter Outlines.
  • Study aids that are mixed volumes with summaries of material, visual organizers, and practice questions. Examples: Finals, CrunchTime.
  • Study aids that are strictly practice question books. Examples: ExamPro, Siegel's, Friedman's, Q&A.
  • Study aids that are flashcards to help you memorize the black letter law. Examples: Law in a Flash, Lawdecks, Spaced Repetition.

When and how should you use a study aid?

  • To preview information quickly before starting a topic, scan a summary study aid to get a general idea of the terms and subtopics you will be studying.
  • To pull together the information quickly at the end of a topic before outlining, scan a summary study aid to see what you studied. You may find the summary's structure useful for determining your outline structure if the table of contents for your casebook or your professor's syllabus does not provide a structure.
  • To clear up confusion, a commentary study aid is often useful at the point of outlining. After you have pulled together your own notes and briefs into an outline, you will be more aware of what you understand fully, partially, or not at all. Read a commentary to help with the parts you do not understand and then flesh out your outline as needed. (It is very inefficient to read  topics that you understand fully. Focus on what you do not know.)
  • To review material while doing chores, on the treadmill, or on a trip, you may find it useful to listen to one of the audio commentaries for a course. Consider listening to a section and then stopping the CD to explain that section aloud to check your comprehension.
  • To find questions to help you clarify information for narrow issues when you outline, turn to the commentaries with embedded questions. These questions will help you think through the material for that narrow issue as "starter questions." However, these questions may be easier than "exam-worthy questions" because they are so focused on a specific issue.
  • To test your ability to apply the law that you have already learned well, use the practice questions in the mixed volumes, practice question books, or commercial outlines. These questions are often intermediate level in difficulty. For the hardest exam practice questions, visit your law school's exam database.
  • To test retention of material, application of it to new scenarios, and exam-taking strategies, complete practice questions at least 2-3 days after the material is learned well. If you complete questions too close to the review, you will automatically get them right.
  • To test your ability to perform under time restraints in an exam, do as many practice questions as possible under exam conditions. For essay questions, read/analyze the fact pattern, outline an answer, and write an answer in the time period that would be required for that length/difficulty of a question. For objective questions, complete question sets in a realistic time frame for segments of your professor's exam.
  • To memorize the black letter law, use flashcards throughout the semester to learn items over time. Cramming for memorization at the end of the semester is usually very ineffective.

What are some cautions in using study aids?

  • Study aids are written for purchase and use by all law students in the country. Tailor your use to what matches your professor's coverage of the topics in the volumes.
  • If your professor's version of the course differs from a study aid, learn your professor's version - the grader of your exam is the person to please.
  • Check the copyright date of a study aid: Is it recent? Do you have the latest edition? Has the law changed since it was published?
  • Check the jurisdictions covered by the study aid: Is it national in scope? Is it state specific? Does it cover the variations (UCC, Restatement, etc.) that your professor will test?
  • Greater learning occurs when you generate your own study aids because you process the information instead of just reading what someone else processed. Examples: flashcards, outlines, flowcharts.

Study aids can be great supplements to your learning - however, they are not substitutes for your being an active learner and doing the hard work. (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

October 1, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Illustrating the Law Thru "Picture Books": An Ancient Practice that Might Help in Learning Today!

Perhaps surprisingly, there might be some ancient history right under your nose illustrating the value of creating "picture-books" to teach, guide, synthesis, and communicate legal principles at work.  At least, that's the case at one law school's library (and it might be the same at your law library).  

As related by the Wall Street Journal, the use of illustrations to depict the law is nothing new.  And, it's not really old either because a brief internet search provides lots of exemplars, even in legal educational settings, of the value of "seeing" the law through pictures and illustrations.  So, as you approach midterms or just want to help catch the "big picture" overview of your notes and outlines, feel free to doodle.  Let yourself go wild with your legal imagination.  Create something in a picture, as they say, that is worth a thousand words.  That will be a great way to remember all of those words without having to try to even remember them!  

For your reference, here's the article:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/laws-picture-books-the-yale-law-library-collection-illustrating-the-letter-of-the-law-1506460653 (Scott Johns)

September 28, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Study Group Matchmaking Service

Last year a self-confessed shy student came to my office in search of a study partner.  She wanted to form a study group, but was uncomfortable soliciting classmates to join her group.  She asked me if anyone else had inquired about the same thing, and if so, would I please put them in contact with her.  Her request sparked an idea: an ASP-coordinated study group matchmaking service.  Now in its second year, the Study Group Matchmaking Service has been a hit with first-year students.  The service aids students in identifying other classmates who share their same learning preferences and study schedules.  The service also provides a proposed structure for the study groups, with recommended meeting times, a pre-identified  group leader, and suggested activities tied to the group's expressed learning preferences.  For anyone who is interested in trying out the service at their school, here is a "How To."  

Step One: Create a Survey Form

I start by creating a short, online questionnaire (using Qualtrics, which is similar to Survey Monkey).  The 7-question survey asks:

  1. What's your name?
  2. Which professors do you have this semester? (check all the boxes that apply)
  3. Rank your VARK learning styles from most preferred (1) to least preferred (5).
  4. Would you describe yourself as an extrovert or introvert?
  5. Do you prefer to lead a group meeting or simply attend the meeting?
  6. When do you prefer to study: early morning, right before class (7-9am); midday, between classes and on the lunch break; afternoon, right after classes (4-6pm); evening (6-9pm); or late night (after 9pm)?
  7. Is there anything else you think Professor Trychta should know?

The online form allows me to download the responses into an Excel spreadsheet and then electronically sort answers to select questions, which helps in the matchmaking process.  If your school uses the StrengthsQuest program or a Myers-Briggs personality inventory during Orientation, you may want to incorporate that information into your intake survey as well.

Step Two: Announce the Service

In mid-September, I send out an email describing the Study Group Matchmaking Service.  I also post the same information to Facebook and TWEN.  The email reads:

Are you interested in joining a (new) study group?   The Academic Excellence Center seeks to group interested first-year students together into highly effective study groups.  The benefits of an AEP study group—as opposed to your “friends group”—are many:

  1. Membership to the group will be based on your individual learning preferences (visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic), introvert/extrovert status, and other academic variables.  If you don’t know your learning preference, click here to find out.
  2. Members will agree to a set of rules and standards to ensure that the group functions optimally.
  3. Each group will be limited to 2-4 individuals.
  4. Prof. Trychta and the Dean’s Fellows will be available to assist the AEP study groups with room reservations, locating practice problems, identifying ideal study strategies, and resolving disputes. 

The other benefits of any study group include sharing case briefs, reviewing class notes, preparing group outlines, and, most importantly: group problem solving.  If interested in being matched with a few like-minded classmates, complete this 7-question intake questionnaire (hyperlinked in original) by [next Thursday].  I’ll send out group announcements on [Friday morning], and you can plan to meet your new study group for a quick “hello” at 1:00 p.m. after Torts.

Step Three: Form the Groups

After the students complete the survey, I use the Excel document to look for patterns in their responses.  I start by sorting the students based on their professors.  Next I look for self-confessed group leaders and try to assign one leader to each potential group.  Along those same lines, I try not to put two leaders in the same group, to minimize the opportunity for conflict.  Then I break these groups into smaller subgroups based on learning preferences and desired study schedules.  I am also mindful not to stick an introvert in a group with three extroverts, or vice versa.  This process goes relatively smoothly for most of the students.  However, the last few students can prove hard to place, especially if no one else shares a particular student's same preferences.  For the handful of hard-to-place students, I reach out to them individually.  I tell them honestly that I'm having difficulty placing them in a group because of X reason, and ask them how important that particular preference is to them.  I also tell them about the next-best-fit group and ask if they would be interested in that group instead.  For example: "Dear Lynn, I think the group mentioned below would be a good fit for you, except that they want to meet in the morning.  Otherwise, everything else checks out.  Would you be interested in joining an AM study group?--Prof."  After everyone is assigned, I schedule a speed date.

Step Four: Schedule a Speed Date

The next step in the process is to introduce the group members to each other.  I begin the process with an email, detailing the results and next steps: 

Thank you for signing up for an AEP study group.  This year, we had 25 people request a partner.  Each partnership or group should be between 2-4 members.  Less than 2 is not a group, and more than 4 is unwieldy.  The members of your proposed partnership or group are: H.R. and A.A.

I tried to group students together based on their expressed learning preferences, class schedules, and personalities.  You each have Professors Trychta, Cady, & Rhee, are available to study in the early mornings, prefer read/write and kinesthetic techniques, while disfavoring aural learning techniques.  On paper, you’re a great fit.  (FYI – There are two other Trychta-Cady-Rhee groups: (1) M.D. & T.G. and (2) A.L., B.D. & M.H.  You may find it helpful to collaborate with them periodically.)

Signing-up for the matchmaking service does not mean that you must join the group.  Instead, you should plan to meet briefly in the lobby [on Friday] after Torts class to introduce yourselves and discuss the goals of the group.  Treat this initial meeting much like a first date.  If you opt to join the group, then you should promise to commit to the group for the rest of the semester.  If the members of your group can’t reach a consensus about some aspect of the study group’s objectives or rules, let me know.  Perhaps I can reassign some of the members or suggest a compromise.

The most effective study groups are those that have clearly defined objectives and rules.  For example, the purpose of your group may be to (a) outline or (b) discuss hypotheticals.  The group should discuss the options, and then make a conscious decision based on what the members hope to get out of the group study experience.  To aid you in determining the group’s rules, I’ve attached a sample “contract.”  Feel free to use, modify, or ignore the sample contract, as your group sees fit. 

Obviously, you may choose to run your group however you decide.  But I note that group problem solving works most effectively when the members of the group (1) ask someone to introduce a specific problem or issue, (2) appoint a scrivener and a leader, (3) identify all the potential issues, but not the solutions (4) then discuss all the possible answers, (5) consult resources for additional help, and finally (6) organize and summarize what you learned.

Moving forward, your group may reserve law school classrooms and conference rooms for study sessions by making a request at the Student Services front desk.  Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. 

As mentioned above, I attach a sample study group contract to the email.  You can Download Study Group Contract using the interactive link.  I'm quite confident that I stole this contract idea from someone on a blog or listserv several years ago, but I cannot remember who drafted it.  If you're the original author, please feel free to reach out to me and I will happily give you a proper attribution credit. 

Step Five: Stay Out of The Way

Lastly, I make myself available in my office during the meet-n-greet hour, but I do not affirmatively attend the event.  Once I have identified and disclosed a potential group match, I stay out of the way unless specifically asked by students to intervene.  While I actively oversee the Dean's Fellows study groups, I assert no ownership or responsibility over these Matchmaking Groups.  Rather my job is to simply facilitate an introduction.  With little oversight, admittedly, not every group will work out, but a few do.  In fact, I still see one group from Fall 2016 meeting regularly in the lobby as second-year students.  And, that alone is enough motivation for me to continue the service.  (Kirsha Trychta)

September 26, 2017 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 25, 2017

We Are Not in College Anymore

We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.

There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.

But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).

The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.

So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!

One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)

September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)