Thursday, February 22, 2018
As described by reporters Sara Germano and Ben Cohen, Norway might have a secret weapon in winning so many gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Korea this month, namely, being "super chill." https://www.wsj.com/mostchillnationiscrushingit
Surprisingly, even just a few hours before a big competition, the Norwegian athletes are still living life, speaking freely with reporters and chatting & laughing it up. Indeed, the Norwegians are even taking time off to, well, to play video games, have fun, and to socially relax with others. Yep, they watch TV, they play jigsaw puzzles, and they even have a day or two prior to their big events to be completely "100% free." You see, according to Norwegian coach Alex Stöckl: "It's important [in achieving success that the athletes] can turn off their minds."
There's an important message here for those of you taking the bar exam next week. It's A-okay for you to take Monday off before your big event next Tuesday and Wednesday in sitting for your bar exam.
It's REALLY hard to take anytime off, let alone all-day Monday. But, as illustrated by the success of Norway's athletes, rest strengthens us, rest empowers us, rest restores us. So, take a lesson from the Olympians and feel free to give your mind a day of rest before the bar exam. You've earned it...and...you've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events. (Scott Johns).
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Planning and preparing can be necessary and useful – within reason. However, we sometimes use them as avoidance mechanisms for our difficult study tasks.
Here are some examples law students have shared where they used planning and preparing to avoid working on a more difficult task:
- Cleaning the house because they cannot study until their environment is spotless.
- Organizing everything in their study area until everything is perfect for studying: pencils and pens lined up in a row, bookshelves alphabetized, papers for several semesters hole-punched and filed in binders.
- Continuing to research after everything found just repeats prior sources because “there just might be something else out there.”
- Making “to-do” lists that run on for pages and cover the entire semester to stall doing today’s immediate tasks.
- Daydreaming extensively about writing the best paper the professor has ever seen without actually researching for or writing that paper.
You want to plan and prepare. But you want to keep those tasks realistic and not let them become procrastination methods. Here are some tips for more realistic planning and preparing:
- Set time limits on planning and preparation steps rather than having them be open-ended.
- Limit daily “to-do” lists to a maximum of 10 tasks.
- Prioritize your daily “to-do” list into categories (very important, important, least important) and complete tasks in the order of importance.
- Block off specific times in your weekly schedule to do non-law-school items (chores, errands, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) so they do not interrupt more important study tasks throughout the week.
- Ask yourself two questions for each task:
- Is this the wisest use of my time right now?
- If so, am I completing the task in a way to get the most effective results in the least amount of time?
If over-planning or over-preparing are difficulties for you, make an appointment with the academic success professionals at your law school to learn more strategies to use your time and efforts wisely. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Are your students struggling with reading comprehension difficulties?
Well, it might be just related to something quite surprising...the ever-increasing emphasis in on-line reading over paper-based reading.
You see, according to educational researchers in Norway, even controlling for learning differences in student populations, on-line readers statistically underperform in comparison to paper-based readers (as ascertained by test results concerning reading comprehension). Anne Mangen, et al, "Reading Linear Texts on Paper Versus Computer Screen: Effects on Reading Comprehension," International Journal of Educational Research, 58:61-68 (2013), available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com
According the article, at least based on my own reading of the article, there are several possible reasons for the disparate tests results between on-line readers versus paper-based readers such as:
First, on-line reading often requires scrolling, which seems to negatively impact spatial orientation of the text because it disrupts our abilities to mentally represent and recall the material.
Second (and closely related), on-line reading lacks the visual certainty of knowing where to re-locate material that one is struggling with because on-line text is fluid (with different parts of the text never occurring preciously on the same page of the screen) in comparison to paper-based texts (in which we often visually recall a certain passage from its spatial position, for example, in the upper-left hand-side of the page in the text book). In other words, paper-based readers might perform better in comparison to on-line readers because paper-based readers can more easily reconstruct a mental image, leading to more efficient recall during assessment of the material previously read. Those same clues are often lacking in on-line text presentations.
Third, on-line reading seems to impair our overall metacognition abilities (our abilities to monitor and assess our own learning) because on-line reading tends to be perceived by us -- at the outset -- as a familiar way to glean information quickly (and almost effortlessly). In contrast, paper-based reading tends to be perceived by us -- from the get-go -- as requiring much more effort on our part in order to make sense of the text, which by implication suggests that paper-based reading pushes us to better monitor whether and to what extent we are learning through our reading as we move back and forth through the text. In other words, in on-line reading, we tend to overestimate our reading abilities.
If the article's conclusions are true, then that leads us to wonder whether, the next time we see one of our students struggling with reading cases, dissecting statutes, or analyzing multiple-choice or essay problems, perhaps we should first ask about their reading. Are they primarily reading using on-line text or paper-based text? The answer to the question might just lead to a memorable breakthrough in one's success in law school.
That leads me to one final thought.
I wrote this blog trying, as best I could, to read the Norwegian article online. So, please take what I've written as a grain of salt...because...I might have well have overestimated my own metacognition of the research findings.
In fact, writing this blog has been mighty hard work on my end because it's required near-endless multi-tasking as I switched screen shots between the article and the blog. In short, I very well might have demonstrated the merit of this research based on my own, perhaps mistaken, paraphrases of the research findings. I'll let you be the judge. Just make sure you print out the article before you read it! Oh, and if you're not sure if you can recall how to read old-fashioned paper text, here's a funny video clip that'll serve as reminder: https://www.youtube.com/medevialreadinghelpdesk (Scott Johns).
Monday, February 12, 2018
5 weeks down in the semester, which is about 1/3 of class time. Now is a great time for a progress check in each course. A progress check should analyze both whether the study schedule is working and whether you know the substance so far. Here are some quick questions/activities to consider:
- Do I have an updated outline for each of my courses?
- Have I briefed every case?
- Was I ready for class discussion each day?
- Am I consistently under-prepared for a particular class?
- What additional activities do I need to accomplish (ie - more practice with feedback)?
- What do I need to change now to get more done?
Substantive Knowledge: (complete these activities without looking at your outline, notes, etc.)
- Try to write down the major topics or headings for each course on separate sheets of paper.
- After writing down the major headings, try to write down the smaller issues within each heading.
- Try to write down the rules and exceptions for each of the issues.
- Ask yourself what is the most confusing part of the course. What is the hardest concept to understand? Try to find an answer from your notes, classmates, professor, or supplement for confusing concepts.
- Looking at the handwritten flowchart or outline, try to think of facts that are required to test each of the issues.
- Try to orally recite your outline for each course.
Progress checks throughout the semester are critical. Changing study habits later in the semester or trying to figure out doctrine from months before is difficult. The goal is to self-assess now to remedy any problems long before exams. This is a good time to start writing answers to short hypos and asking professors for feedback. Keep analyzing progress to continually improve.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Here's great research news that you can bank on, whether you are an ASP professional or a law student!
In brief, just having one academic course with individualized feedback corresponds to an increase of about a third of a letter grade. So, if you are a law student, make sure that you take advantage of your law school's resources - both in-class and out-of-class - to get individual feedback (and lots of it) each and every week. And, if you are an ASP professional, what a great opportunity to encourage law students to learn by doing.
Not quite convinced...
Check out the research details in the article entitled "The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law School Performance" by Daniel Schwarcz and Dion Farganis at: Impact of Individualized Feedback
In the interim, here's a snapshot from the article's abstract:
"...[S]tudents in sections that have previously or concurrently had a professor who provides individualized feedback consistently outperform students in sections that have not received any such feedback. The effect is both statistically significant and hardly trivial in magnitude, approaching about 1/3 of a grade increment after controlling for students’ LSAT scores, undergraduate GPA, gender, race, and country of birth. This effect corresponds to a 3.7 point increase in students’ LSAT scores in our model. Additionally, the positive impact of feedback is stronger among students whose combined LSAT score and undergraduate GPA falls below the median at the University of Minnesota Law School."
So, get a power boost on your academic performance by getting lots of feedback throughout the semester about your learning. As the research suggests, you'll be glad you did! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Lately, I have met with students with a variety of concerns about overall academic performance last semester. Many are assessing whether or not newly implemented strategies and approaches will benefit them during the spring semester final exam period. With the middle of the semester fast approaching, some students are already expressing regret regarding their academic performance and exam preparation thus far.
I have heard the word “regret” tossed around so many times lately. In exploring what students perceive “regret” to mean for them, I have discovered that it has different connotations for each student. For many of these students simply articulating their concerns and developing an action plan they can quickly implement has proven positive. Below are a few ways we (the students and I) have participated in addressing various student concerns:
Energy directed toward thoughts about steps one has failed to take, where the semester is going, or fears about failure is misdirected. That energy is better used when specific tasks are identified and implemented to yield expected results.
Students often panic when they see what others are doing or the work product that others have generated when they have nothing to show for the time that has now elapsed. Seeing what others do should be motivating rather than demoralizing. Furthermore, personal life issues, financial concerns, career concerns, summer opportunities, graduation, and the bar exam are some of the thoughts that consume time and prevent students from concentrating on more pressings tasks at hand. While all are valid concerns and considerations, they do not have to be simultaneously contemplated. Instead, they need to be prioritized.
Generate a Game Plan
Of course, this sounds very obvious but when I sit down with a student and really probe what a student’s plan is to address academic, life, and career concerns, often the student has nothing concrete to share. They have ideas and general plans but no timelines, deadlines, processes for setting realistic goals, systems for attaining goals, assessment mechanisms, and alternative options. All of which will help redirect energy and eliminate distractions because they have a process for addressing concerns which helps limit distractions and their energy is focused on implementation as they realize how much time they do have to accomplish goals.
Revisit Problem and Plan
Simply having a plan and implementing it is insufficient. Revisiting initial concerns to assess whether a plan addresses various elements is very important. A game plan may be effective for certain aspects but not for others. Simply adopting someone else’s plan may prove ineffective for one student, while requiring little or significant adjustment to suit another. Assessment keeps students on tasks, allows them to recognize successes, and encourages them to move forward. Being open and willing to make adjustments is necessary as well.
A positive attitude and positive expectations go a long way. Of course, life is filled with unexpected events which can affect one’s positivity meter but a good attitude goes a long way.
Stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is always difficult but it challenges you with something you are not familiar or accustomed to and that challenge allows you to discover your potential. Trying approaches and strategies which might seem outrageous to you might yield positive results. Also, if you are simply repeating and doing what has not served you in the past, how are you ever to yield positive and different results?
Regret is simply regret unless you do something about it particularly when you still have lots of time to make significant changes that can yield positive results. Nothing is final until it is final and nothing is over until it is over. You still have ample time to turn things around. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Each spring semester, I lead a structured study group primarily focusing on Constitutional Law. For the last few years, I’ve started the semester off with the same “standing” exercise with students, and it’s been a big hit. I begin by drawing a pictograph on the whiteboard consisting of three big empty rectangles, side-by-side. I then challenge the students to fill-in the chart with concepts from their standing chapter in a way that makes sense, graphically.
I encourage them to start by identifying the three main concepts from the standing material. After a few minutes, the students come up with their list: standing (generally), ripeness, and mootness. If they get stuck, I encourage them to look at their book’s Table of Contents for hints. I then ask them to place each concept in chronological order. If I have enough dry erase markers, I’ll write the ripeness material in red, since no case that is deemed unripe will get before the court. I put the standing material in green indicating that those who have standing are cleared to argue their case before the court, and reserve yellow for the more nuanced category of mootness.
Next, I ask them to identify the test from the casebook that is associated with each principle. This could obviously differ depending on the casebook, but, in my experience, most constitutional law books stick to the same main cases. I sometimes will write the case name under the principle, but no more. I don’t write the specific test on the board, but instead give the students time to review and edit the test in their notes or to add the test if it is missing from their notes.
Finally, I draw an arrow going from “mootness” to “standing,” and ask them what the arrow represents. After a few guesses, I give them a hint if they need it; I tell them to think about the abortion cases that they read. Eventually someone figures it out, and we have a conversation about the concept that some legal issues are “capable of repetition, yet evading review” which means that although the issue is technically moot, the party may be deemed to have standing anyway.
I end the exercise by reminding the students that the picture is an overly-simplified version of some very complex constitutional concepts, and that in order to be successful on the exam, they are going to need to continue to build upon what we started in the review session.
The entire exercise usually takes about 20-30 minutes, leaving enough time in a single review session to also complete a few pre-selected practice multiple-choice questions that focus on the standing principles to help solidify their newly-organized standing rules. (Kirsha Trychta)
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
As you review your fall semester exams and set goals for the spring semester, ask yourself: Does my exam look like the work of someone who should be given a license to practice law? When you graduate, you are likely to accept a position with either a plaintiff’s firm, prosecutor’s office, a defense firm, or the court. And, you may find yourself switching from one side to the other throughout your legal career. Therefore, you have to convince your professor that you are capable of handling the legal matter from any chair in the courtroom. The good news is that a well-constructed IRAC answer does just that!
The Rules Section
Q. Where do the jurors learn all of the legal rules and instructions during a trial?
A. From the judge, especially during the final jury instructions.
You have to show the professor that you know and understand the rules of law associated with the litigation. At a real trial, it will be your job as the judge to properly instruct the jury as to the law. Similarly, if you are one of the litigants, then you must protect your client’s interests by ensuring that the judge properly carries out his or her duty. Therefore, both the judge and the litigants need to be well-versed on the legal standard. Show the professor that you know the rules that are related to the specific dispute. Just as a Judge wouldn’t burden a jury with unnecessary rules that don’t relate to the instant case, you too, should be selective in the rules offered to your professor. Include enough rules to help the jury/professor understand the legal standard, while omitting any unnecessary or irrelevant bits of information.
The Application Section
Q. Where do the jurors get all of their facts during a trial?
A. From the witnesses who testify and the exhibits offered into evidence during the litigation.
Q. Whose job is it to tie everything together, i.e. convince the jury that the facts offered at trial actually amount to a crime or tort or breach of contract, under the law as explained by the judge?
A. From the lawyer representing the injured party.
This section shows the professor that you can argue on behalf of your client. The professor essentially gives you a trial transcript when they draft a fact pattern or hypothetical for the exam. It is your job, as the attorney, to dissect that transcript, identifying each piece of helpful (or hurtful) testimony. Then you must compile all of those facts into a thorough and thoughtful argument on behalf of your client, making sure to discuss each of the legal factors or elements important to your case. Just like all good attorneys, you will likely spend more time discussing the hotly disputed elements, while quickly dispensing with the more obvious ones.
Would you ever stand up in a jury trial and say “Clearly the defendant intended to kill the victim,” and then simply sit back down? Of course not! So, don’t make that type of conclusory argument on an exam either. Instead, take the professor step-by-step through each fact or witnesses or piece of documentary evidence that supports your argument, just like you would during a real trial.
If you follow these litigation techniques when you draft your spring exam answers, you’re bound to get a verdict in your favor! (Kirsha Trychta)
Thursday, January 18, 2018
With hat tips to Prof. Herb Ramy (Suffock University Law School) & Prof. Ira Shafiroff (Southwestern Law School), the classroom has moved well-past the laptop age into the smart phone age, with perhaps some deleterious impacts on learning.
That leads to two important questions given the increasingly common use of laptops and smartphones as note-taking devices.
First, with respect to computers in the classroom, might digital note-taking actually be harmful to one's learning (and even the learning of one's neighbors still taking notes the old-fashioned way by hand)?
Second, with respect to smart phones, is it really a good idea to snap-up a few photos of the lecture slides or whiteboard markings as tools to meticulously capture what was presented in class?
Well, there are two important links to help you be the judge...of your own use of technology...in answering these questions, whether you are a classroom learner or a teacher.
First, with respect to computers, the New York Times provides a helpful overview of the big picture research about the benefits and the limitations with respect to taking notes by computer (to include the potential detrimental effects upon your neighbors). Susan Dynarski, "Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting," New York Times (Nov. 22, 2017), available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/business/laptops-not-during-lecture-or-meeting.html
Second, with respect to smart phone "snapping," the Law Teacher newsletter provides valuable suggestions for promoting boundaries that might be helpful in maximizing the learning effectiveness (and limiting the distractions that might result from too much classroom photo-taking). Dyane O’Leary, "Picture This: Tackling the Latest Trend in Digital Note Taking," The Law Teacher (Fall 2017), available at: http://lawteaching.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Fall-2017-Law-Teacher-final.pdf
The jury is in for me. I take notes by hand (but I have been known to snap a few whiteboard photos!). But, regardless of your method of capturing class content and discussions, perhaps the most important question is what do you do with that information. Does it become a part of you, as a learner, or does it merely remain mostly-empty words, diagrams, and images that don't really lead to change? That's an important question because, to be learner rather than just a studier, it's not the information that leads to learning but what we do with that information that makes all the difference. So, next time you're tempted to bring out your camera, you might just ask yourself what's your next step in using that digital information to help you actually learn. Without an answer to that question, it's perhaps really not a "Kodak" moment. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, January 4, 2018
I've already fallen. Chocolate got me. I tried, super-hard; but try as I might, chocolate just has a magical grip on me.
That raises an interesting question.
Are there any New Year's resolutions that I actually might keep so that they become part of my life?
Well, I've got a resolution that both you and me (whether you are a teacher or a student) can bank on for making a meaningful difference in your law school experience.
In short, do less studying..and more learning.
That's right, less studying. You see, studiers study. They read and re-read, they highlight and re-highlight, they underline and re-underline their class readings, notes, and outlines. But, unfortunately, the data shows that these common study techniques are poor ways to learn. Don't believe me? Check this article out by Dr. John Dunlosky, entitled: "Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning," in which Dr. Dunlosly surveys the learning science behind what works best for learning: https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf
Now, before we throw away our highlighters, please note that Dr. Dunlosky acknowledges that highlighting is "fine"...provided that we recognize that highlighting is just "the beginning of the learning journey." In other words, to go from a studier to a learner involves moving beyond re-reading, highlighting, and underlining to become one that actually experiences, reflects, and acts upon the content. That sounds hard. And, it might be. But, it is not impossible, at all. Indeed, Dr. Dunlosky focuses on a handful of low-cost, readily-available learning strategies that can meaningfully improve your learning. Here's just a few of them:
First, engage in retrieval practice. Rather than re-reading a case, for example, close the casebook and ask yourself what was the case all about, why did I read it, what did it hold, what did I learn from it, etc.
Second, engage in lots of exercise with practice tests and problems. It's never too early to start.
Third, as you engage in learning through practice tests, aim to distribute the practice experiences rather than massing them in condensed, concentrated cramming sessions. You see, what we learn through distributed practice sticks. What we learn through cramming, well, we just don't really learn because it quickly disappears from our grasp.
Fourth, as you engage in learning through practice exercises, try to interleave your practice with a mix of problem types and even subjects. In other words, rather than just focusing on negligence problems in mass, for example, work a negligence hypothetical followed by an intentional tort problem and then a strict liability problem and finally back to a negligence problem. Far better yet, interleave torts problems with contracts hypotheticals, etc.
Fifth, as you engage in learning, try to elaborate why the rule applies...or...explain to yourself what steps were needed to solve the problems that you were analyzing...or...figure out what facts served as clues that you should have discussed certain issues.
That's just a few learning strategies that you can implement right away, as sort of a New Year's resolution to you, to help you do less studying this new year...but far more learning. So, here's to a new academic term of learning! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
How individuals manage difficult moments or periods of crisis is very telling of who they are as individuals, their perseverance, and their strength. As the title states, what happens when students are in the process of taking an exam and the computer screen goes blank or freezes? This might be a remote possibility if the student has done everything to ensure that the laptop and software are in perfect working order but unforeseen circumstances inevitably do occur. I always encourage students to mentally prepare for the worst case scenario and consider how they would address such a situation. There are three general categories of reactions I have observed students adopt.
(1) It’s over.
These individuals are in complete panic and cannot get past the fact that something went wrong. They might even be paralyzed, unable to move forward, and unable to adopt a new course. They are doing all they can to ensure that the computer will work again. They lose precious time but have convinced themselves that there is no other way they can complete the task. They are preventing themselves from moving forward in an effective and efficient way. They might even throw in the towel and give up at this point. This is a defeatist attitude which is not helpful on the exam or in the future.
(2) I can’t do this.
These individuals panic and might even say to themselves a number of negative things but they will ultimately complete the task at hand. These individuals are frustrated and thrown off by the sudden development but are somehow able to get it together and complete the task at hand. The negative self-talk is a defense mechanism used to cope with the stress but despite the discomfort, they finish the exam by handwriting in a Bluebook.
(3) I can do this.
These individual are accustomed to facing challenges and adversity in life and solving problems; therefore, they tackle the situation head-on. While they initially may be thrown off by the turn of events, they nevertheless go on and face the challenge. They might immediately start writing in a Bluebook while simultaneously attempting to reboot their computer but they continue to proceed with the work. The frustration often kicks in after the exam is turned in because they were on autopilot during the exam.
Of course, people will react in different ways depending on their level of comfort with the subject area, perceived and actual difficulty, and ability to manage crisis situations. Having a plan for whatever worse case situation can be helpful if you are ever faced with such a situation or one similar to what you have anticipated. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, December 7, 2017
'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).
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
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)
Thursday, November 30, 2017
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
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
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)
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
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:
- Important/Urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally, e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.
- Important/Not Urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally, e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.
- Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are delegated, e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.
- Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are dropped, e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.
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)
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
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)
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
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:
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:
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:
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)
Thursday, November 2, 2017
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).