Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I'm a new fall 1L! How much should I get involved in extracurriculars during the fall semester?

Law students are the "cream of the crop" out of undergraduate, graduate, and employment situations. Typically they have been very involved in student or community organizations; often they have held multiple leadership positions at once. Many worked part-time or full-time during their studies. Some had additional family responsibilities while studying: elder care, child care, marriage.

In short law students are "doers" in their pre-law-school lives. They have juggled a variety of experiences while getting A and B grades in school. Often they tell me they "never had to study" to get those top grades. Many tell me that they studied under 20 hours per week; some tell me that they studied under 10 hours per week. They also tell me they wrote papers the night before and never studied more than a couple of days for tests. When academic pursuits come easily, it leaves lots of room for other pursuits.

Most law students enter law school with the impression that they can continue their high involvement in activities and still get the highest grades. However, a more cautious approach is probably the wiser approach - at least the first semester. Here are some of the reasons why over-involvement may be less than optimal:

  • The cohort in the first-year class is different than the past cohorts in most classes. Remember all of you are from the "cream of the crop," and consequently the outstanding level of intelligence and achievement of your new classmates is likely different from the past. Law students were accepted to law school because they excelled in their prior lives.
  • Law school is different than other educational experiences and will require new learning strategies and study skills for success. All first-year students find the fall semester an adjustment as they face different expectations for classes and exams.
  • The pace of learning is faster in law school because more material that is dense and complex is covered in a semester. On top of preparing for class, law students need to synthesize the material and practice application of that material to new fact scenarios to prepare for best exam performance.
  • Legal research and writing courses require lengthy projects using different analysis and writing skills than previously acquired. Even excellent writers previously have to retool their techniques because legal analysis is more precise and concise. A well-written legal writing project can take consistent work over several weeks with multiple drafts.

We want new law students to get involved in the life and organizations of the law school so they feel part of their new environment. However, here are some tips for entering law students to help them make wise selections regarding their level of involvement:

  • Attend any student organization fairs that your law school holds to find out more about the variety of student organizations: purposes, events, requirements for membership, time commitments.
  • Attend sessions that may explain community opportunities for your involvement: pro bono clinics, volunteer opportunities, service organizations, local bar organizations.
  • Consider any school requirements on your time as a law student: required pro bono hours, mandatory extended orientation meetings for first-year students, supplemental study group-tutoring sessions.
  • Consider your personal interests and career goals that may match student organizations or community opportunities: oil and gas law, criminal defense, immigration law, homeless populations, animal abuse, diversity.
  • Consider time commitments that you already have outside law school: elderly relatives nearby, spouse/partner, children, pets, religious services, national guard service.
  • Weigh all of these factors and look for balance in your commitments in all areas of your life; determine your priorities for your time - both academic and non-academic.
  • Become involved in one or two activities that are good matches for you; focus on being a member who regularly attends meetings, social events, and speakers. You will get to know other students (especially upper-division students with whom you have no classes), feel more connected to the law school community, and have several items for your resume. 
  • Possibly consider being on a committee for an organization, but probably avoid being a committee chair or an officer during your first semester. There will be plenty of time in future semesters to take on positions of leadership.
  • If you choose a "heavy-hitter" commitment such as Student Bar Association or class officer, be even more aware of not stretching yourself too thin your first semester.

Get involved in law school life, but make academics a major priority while you acclimate to the different demands of law school. (Amy Jarmon)

July 8, 2018 in Advice, Orientation, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

I'm a new fall 1L! How will law school be different from past educational experiences?

Law school is different from most prior educational experiences because it is a professional school using different learning and testing experiences than what undergraduate and graduate education use. Students who treat law school just like undergraduate school are frequently disappointed in their first-semester results.

First-year students need to adapt to the new learning environment if they want to achieve the level of grades they have the potential for in their studies. Here are several ways that law school is different than past educational experiences and what those differences mean to the approach needed:

  • You are learning relevant skills for your career in each course. In prior education, we often had courses that had no future impact on our lives: general education courses, interesting but unrelated electives, majors that we did not intend to use after university. In law school, each course is providing you with one or more skills needed in the daily practice of law: analysis of case precedents and statutes; legal reasoning skills; analysis of both sides of a legal problem; precise/concise legal writing; policy arguments; judicial reasoning; procedural rules. The skills in each course build on the skills in previous courses and ultimately determine one's readiness to practice law upon graduation. In addition, much of the content from required courses is tested on the bar exam after graduation. Time spent in successful law school learning (as opposed to short-term studying) pays off in the future in major ways.
  • What you do in class each day is important, but is not what you need to do on the exams. Law school exams focus on applying the law that you have extrapolated from reading appellate cases/statutes for the topics and subtopics in the course. In class you look at cases/statutes to understand what the actual law is and why that is the law. You learn how to tear apart cases/statutes to understand the law, how courts analyze the law, and how lawyers argue the law. On exams you typically are asked to solve a new factual scenario by applying the law and analyzing the arguments for both sides of the dispute. You need to synthesize the law (make connections across the "black letter law": rules, variations of rules, exceptions to rules, policy arguments, etc.) for topics/subtopics and apply that deeper understanding of the law to the analysis. As a lawyer, you will read and analyze cases/statutes every day and then apply that law to construct arguments to solve your client's legal dispute.
  • Your professors expect you to prepare thoroughly for class and will not spoon feed you. Law students often tell me that prior professors told them exactly what to learn for the test so that they did not have to learn any material independently. They just copied down notes and memorized the material to regurgitate on the exam. In law school, professors expect you to not only read the cases carefully, but also understand how those cases fit together before you come to class. They will hit the highlights and make some connections (again that idea of "synthesis"), but will not tell you exactly what will be on the exams. You need to synthesize (again that word!) what you learn each class into the larger topic/subtopic and understand how to use the material to solve legal problems.
  • Memorization of the "black letter law" is essential, but only the beginning of your learning for exam success. Law students often think they just need to memorize the law to succeed academically. You must know the law well so that you can to spot the legal issues in dispute ("issue spotting") and accurately state the law that applies. However, you then need have the higher-learning skill of understanding that law (why it works the way it does; when variations or exceptions come into play; when policy arguments might be appropriate, etc.) to gain points on the exam. Application of the law to the new scenario facts and analysis of the legal arguments are major skills for exam success. Evaluating the arguments for both parties to state a conclusion is needed - but the application and analysis are where the big exam points typically are.  
  • Exams are typically comprehensive over all of the 15-week semester's material. Many law students relate that they never had a comprehensive exam before law school. They had four or five tests over a semester that covered pieces of the course, but never put the entire course together at one time. They did well on those partial exams because they could cram a limited universe of knowledge, dump it on the exam, and forget it afterwards. Because law school exams tend to cover all of the course material, law students need to review the material and practice applying it throughout the semester; there is too much material to cram everything at the end and have enough time for applying that material to practice questions before the exam.
  • Important study steps (outlines and practice questions) are needed beyond daily class preparation. It is very easy to get caught up in class preparation and not include other important study steps in your weekly schedule. Because synthesis, application, and analysis are critical to exam success, law students have to manage their time carefully to allow time for regular synthesis and regular application. Outlines flip your thinking from individual cases to concepts and inter-relationships within subtopics/topics that support analysis. Practice questions after review allow you to apply the law to varied fact scenarios and practice analysis and evaluation before the final exam.

You are not alone in trying to make these adaptations! You have a number of people who are there to help if you take advantage of the resources offered to you. However, you need to use the resources to gain the benefits.

Many professors will initially help students in class to see how to analyze cases and synthesize them into topics/subtopics. They may offer fact-scenario questions so that students can practice application and analysis. Professors are available to answer questions outside of class. The academic support/success professionals at your law school will offer workshops on a variety of study skills that lead to academic success. You can also request individual appointments with those ASP folks. Many law schools have upper-division teaching assistants/tutors to supplement your first-year classes. Many law schools also offer writing specialists or writing centers to assist you.

You can successfully adapt to the different law school educational experience by being aware of the differences and then seeking assistance as needed. (Amy Jarmon)

 

July 1, 2018 in Advice, Orientation, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Perspective for the MBE

Father’s Day week is awesome for many reasons.  I normally get to caddy a junior golf tournament with my son, spend time with family, and watch golf’s US Open.  We spend the majority of our time outside enjoying activities together.  This week is what summer is all about.

I love the US Open because it is normally the hardest golf tournament of the year.  They play courses with near impossible putting greens and impenetrable rough.  A little part of me enjoys watching the best players in the world struggle the same way I do on weekends.  As I prepared this post, I watched Rory McIlroy, who reached #1 in the world rankings a few years ago, hit a shot from the right rough to left rough 20 yards short of the green.  He then proceeded to hit his next shot only 10 yards out of the rough into a sand bunker.  I can absolutely relate. 

The US Open winner will have similar struggles, just not as many times as the rest of the field.  Most winners will say this tournament is all about perspective.  Par is a great score this week if everyone else is above par. 

Bar prep and completing MBE questions is a similar experience.  Missing question after question is like hitting from the rough, to more rough, and then the sand.  Mental exhaustion increases mistakes and leads to more stress.  Students hear they only need a certain percentage correct to pass, but most students aren’t near that percentage right now.  The struggle is brutal.  Bar prep requires the same grind as the hardest round of golf or any other endeavor.

For my students, and many others, the timing is increasing stress.  Yesterday was the halfway mark between graduation and the bar exam.  Time is flying by, but no one feels comfortable with the material.  New subjects are still presented.  Low scores and new material breaks spirits, and everyone needs high motivation to finish the rest of preparation.

The critical action right now is to find perspective.  Just like most of the golfers are hacking it around Shinnecock Hills Golf Club right now, the vast majority of students preparing for the bar exam are struggling right now.  Almost no one feels comfortable with the material.  Nearly no one is scoring great.  Also, you don’t have to score great now or ever.  You only need to get enough questions correct at the end of July to be above the pass line.

Many of you are halfway done with bar prep.  Celebrate that success.  Everyone has come a long way to this point.  Get perspective on where you should be right now.  I am not saying blindly keep going no matter what.  Always keep in touch with your bar prep specialist, but remember, everyone is a weekend hacker on MBE questions right now.  Keep hacking away with guidance to put yourself in a position for success.

(Steven Foster)

June 18, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Studying vs. Learning: A Matter of Perspective

It's the time of the year when one group of graduates are taking their oaths of office while another group of graduates are preparing for the bar exam this summer.  That brings me to an interesting conversation with a recent bar passer and his spouse about studying versus learning.

You see, with an introduction in hand, I asked the bar passer's spouse if she noticed anything different between her spouse's law school experience preparing for final exams and her spouse's bar prep experiencing in preparing for the bar exam.

Without hesitation, the report came back: "No. It was much the same, same hours, same long days, the same through and through."  

In rapid response and without the slightest hesitation, the recent graduate - who just passed the bar exam - exclaimed that it was "totally different. No comparison between preparing for law school exams and the bar exam."  

You see, according to his spouse's perspective, preparing for law school exams and bar exams outwardly seemed identical, but, according to the recent graduate, in law school he spent most of his time reading...and reading...and reading...and then learning as much as he could just a few days before final exams.  In other words, he spent his law school years studying.  In contrast, even though outwardly he put in similar hours for bar prep as for law school studies, his focus was on practicing...and practicing...and practicing.  In other words, for law school he was studying; for the bar exam he was learning.

So, for those of you preparing for the bar exam this summer, focus on learning - not studying.  What does that mean?  Well, a great day is completing two tasks: working through lots of actual bar exam problems and then journaling about what you learned that very day.  Yep...that very day.  That's key.  Learn today.  Spend less time studying (reading commercial outlines, watching lectures, and reading lecture notes) and more time learning (doing lots and lots of practice problems).  That's because on bar exam day you aren't going to be asked about what you read but rather asked to show what you can do.  So, be a doer this summer!  (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 14, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A "Get-To" vs. "Got-To" Attitude as a Spring Board to Learning!

We're just about three weeks into bar prep.  The excitement of graduation seems so long ago.  We're back in the same 'ole schoolhouse setting, watching bar review lectures and working through hypothetical legal problems.  Sure seems like the same old pattern as law school.  But, it need not be.

But first, a bit of background...

In aviation, air traffic controllers will often query pilots about their altitude.  It's a bit of a hint from the controllers to the pilots that something might be amiss.  And, it almost sounds sort of polite:  "Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, Say Altitude."  

In response, the pilots make a quick check of the altimeter - the instrument that measures altitude (i.e, height of the airplane in the skies) to confirm that they are at proper altitude as assigned by air traffic control:  "Roger Denver Approach Control, Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, level at 15,000 feet."  

In between the two communications, however, you can bet that the pilots were quickly making some fast-footed adjustments to the aircraft's altitude to make sure that they would not be busted by the air traffic controllers.

That brings us back to the world of bar prep.  A quick "attitude check" might be similarly helpful for your learning.

You see, as Professor Chad Noreuil from Arizona State University puts it in his book entitled "The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam," it can be mighty helpful for your learning to have what I call an "attitude check."  In particular, as Professor Noreuil cites in his book, researchers have identified a positive relationship between an optimistic approach to learning and achievement in learning.  Consequently, Professor Noreuil counsels bar takers to take on a "get-to" attitude rather than a "have-to" attitude towards bar prep because a "get-to" attitude improves one's chances of succeeding on the bar exam.  That's what I refer to as a "get-to" versus a "got-to" attitude.

But how do you change your attitude from a "got-to" to a "get-to" attitude?  Well, here's a possible approach that might just help provide some perspective about the wonderful opportunity that you have to take the bar exam this summer.  You see, very few have that opportunity.  That's because the numbers are just stacked against most people.  They'll never get the chance that you have this summer.  

Here are the details.  According to the U.S. government, there are about 7.5 billion people worldwide, and the U.S. population is close to 330 million.  https://www.census.gov/popclock/   Out of that population, according to the ABA, there are about 35,000 law school JD graduates per year.  That's it.  https://www.americanbar.org/content/  And, because most states require a JD in order to to the bar exam, very few people get to take a bar exam, very few indeed.  

That brings me back to you.  As a JD grad preparing for the bar exam, you are one of the very few who get to take the bar exam.  So, take advantage of that opportunity this summer by approaching your bar exam studies as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to "get-to" show your state supreme court all the wonderful things that you have learned about practicing law.  You've worked hard in law school for just such a season as this, so, to paraphrase a popular slogan, "Just do it...but do it with a get-to attitude this summer!  (Scott Johns).

 

June 7, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Test Driving Khan Academy's LSAT course

Last week I posted about The Future of the LSAT, including LSAC’s collaboration with Khan Academy to provide free online LSAT prep to everyone.  This week I am taking Khan Academy’s LSAT course for a test drive.

Registering for the course was simple.  I just needed to input my name, date of birth, and email address.  Then I selected LSAT prep from the list of available courses.  Once I was officially enrolled, Khan Academy provided me with an overview of their 4 step system:

“1. ... Take a mini-test or a full practice test, and [Khan Academy] will identify the skills you should focus on to improve your score the most.

2. ... Unlock your personalized practice plan. Based on your score goal, schedule, and starting skill strengths, [Khan Academy] will craft a unique practice plan with lessons and exercises at just the right level.

3. ... Step-by-step lessons and explanations will help you understand the questions and concepts on the LSAT, and official LSAT practice tests develop the test-taking and time-management skills you’ll need to reach your goal.

4. ... Your practice plan is divided into stages that start with focused skill practice and end with a LSAT practice test. As your weaknesses turn into strengths, you’ll see your test scores rise towards your goal.”

Because I was strangely curious about how I’d score with 15 years of legal analysis under my wing, I opted to take the 3 hour full-length exam instead of the 70 minute mini-diagnostic.  The diagnostic exam—comprised of four graded sections—did not have an official timer (you had to time yourself), but did let you skip between questions within each section and highlight passages in the reading comprehension section.  I get the impression that the system may allow for timed tests,  however, because under the personal settings tab I was given the option to adjust the testing timer for time-and-a-half or double-time. 

I found completing the diagnostic exam online slightly more difficult than a pencil and paper version because I could not engage in active reading techniques or quickly cross-out obviously wrong answer choices.  Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard the same complaint from law students who are studying for the multiple-choice section of the bar exam using primarily online resources.  My experience this week, combined with my students’ feedback, reinforced a growing concern that I have about LSAC’s decision to explore a digital LSAT exam. 

All that aside, at the conclusion of the diagnostic exam, I received my overall score, as well as my score on each particular section.  I was then given the option to create a personalized study schedule based on (1) my upcoming LSAT exam date and (2) my target score.

I selected a test date three months away (September) and a target score 9 points higher than my diagnostic score.  With that information, the program suggested that I complete 10 full-length practice exams and study approximately 2 hours per week to reach my goal.  I could also opt-in to receive automatic email reminders to help me stay on track.  My personal study plan included “sub-goals” and very specific target areas on which to focus my efforts (e.g. reading comprehension passages dealing with science), based on my diagnostic performance.  This project chunking and mini-goal setting system is definitely a fantastic skill to teach aspiring law students and a welcome feature in the program.  

Regardless of whether I opted to complete the diagnostic exam, I could click on the “lessons” tab at the top of the page to instantly access the full repository of available handouts, videos, and practice problems.  Click here to Download List of Khan Academy's LSAT Lessons.  The 1 to 10 minute lecture videos stream via an embedded You Tube player and include closed captioning, if desired.  The quick guides and handouts had helpful tips, but were entirely online.  I also received “energy points” for each goal achieved and activity completed, in the same vein as a video game.

Overall, the Khan Academy LSAT program appears to be quite robust—especially given its zero dollar price tag.  I would recommend this website to law school hopefuls.  (Kirsha Trychta)

June 5, 2018 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Procrastination Avoidance

A report is due next week, and I could do it today.  However, I think tomorrow is a better time to complete it.  The next day, I think tomorrow is a better time to complete it.  The 1L appellate brief is due, but facebook is much more fun than Lexis.  The Statute of Limitations runs next week, but I know I can draft a petition in no time.  Sound familiar?  I won’t assume any of you encounter these problems, but I am sure you talk to students about them.

Procrastination is a problem in law schools, and honestly, throughout society.  Some people always think tomorrow is a better day or justify putting something off because he/she works well under pressure.  Procrastination strategies have serious ramifications in law school, on the bar exam, and especially, the practice of law.  Any time is a great time to stop procrastinating.

Stopping procrastination is easier said than done, but I am recommending a short and great book to my students titled Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy Pychyl.  Pychyl researched procrastination, and he wrote the book to make it easy to apply in everyday life.

Pychyl addresses all the comments we hear from students and explains why people have certain procrastination feelings, why the feelings are wrong, and how to overcome putting off the task.  He discusses how most of our explanations are merely justifications for procrastination behavior.  People tend to always think tomorrow is a better day than today to complete a difficult task (affective forecasting).  Unfortunately, tomorrow is always a day away, and nothing is completed.  We never really feel like doing it tomorrow, so we continually delay. 

He also addresses the common justification of working better under stress.  Many of our students, and many attorneys unfortunately, think waiting to the last minute produces better work product.  His research indicates what we all know.  Last minute writing leads to more errors and less accuracy.  Our students could overcome the errors in undergrad by being near the top of the class.  We all know that doesn’t work in LRW or in front of judges in practice.

The good news is he provides practical actions to overcome those issues and others, including digital distractions.  Each chapter has a mantra to help get past the delay.  He does emphasize just getting started, but he moves beyond just telling readers to start.  He provides good mental models and advice to overcome procrastination.  His advice could make a huge difference for many of our students putting off briefs and outlines.  I will definitely recommend to my students.

(Steven Foster)

June 4, 2018 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Is Learning Comfortable?

There's a line in the movie "The Greatest Showman" that goes something like this:  "Comfort is the enemy of progress."  

Attributed to PT Barnum, that got me thinking.  

I began to wonder if comfort might also be the enemy of learning, or at least perhaps a barrier to learning.

That's because learning is, frankly, uncomfortable.  And, it's uncomfortable because we learn from our own mistakes.  And, mistakes are, well, hard for us to accept because they show us that we are frail and have much to learn.

In my own case, I got to thinking that I might be trying to create such a "perfect" learning environment, so perfect, that I might be leaving my students with very little room for making mistakes.  In short, if that is the case, then there is very little left for my students to do, and if my students aren't doing, then they aren't making mistakes, and if they aren't making mistakes, then they really aren't learning at all.  My quest for perfect teaching might be crowding out learning.

Of course, it's important to inspire our students, to serve a role models of what it means to be learners, and to create optimal learning environments.  But, an optimal learning environment might just mean a lot less of them watching, listening, and observing me and a lot more of me watching, listening, and observing them.  That's really hard for me to do because, quite simply, I want to help them along, I want to speed the learning process along, and I want to make learning as simple as possible because I don't like to see my students be uncomfortable.

That's especially true in the bar prep world.  Much of bar prep is focused around talking heads featuring hours after hours of watching lectures hosted by prominent academics.  And, those lectures (and especially re-watching those lectures) can lull us into a false sense that we are learning.  In short, we can get mighty comfortable while watching lectures.  But, unfortunately, watching is not learning.  It might be an important and indeed necessary first step on the way to success on the bar exam, but, I daresay, no one passes the bar exam by watching others solve legal problems.  Instead, people pass the bar exam because of what they are doing after the bar review lectures.  And, that is really uncomfortable, especially in bar prep, because the stakes are so high and we make so many mistakes along the way.  In fact, because the questions are so difficult, it's hard to feel like we are learning when we are making so many mistakes.  

That's where we can come in as academic support professionals.  We can dispel the myth that learning comes "naturally." No it doesn't.  As I heard on a recent radio program, no one drifts into losing weight (or gaining strength or developing any new skill at all).  We have to be intentional.  We have to act purposefully.  So too with learning.  We don't become good at solving legal problems by osmosis, by watching lectures, by sitting on the sidelines observing others solve legal problems.  We become good at solving legal problems by solving legal problems (and lots of them).  And, I'm pretty sure that those wonderfully rehearsed bar review lectures didn't come out perfectly on the first cut.  In fact, take a look at any of the back scenes from any movie.  There are lots of outtakes that didn't make the cut.  But, without the outtakes, there wouldn't be a movie because, like learning, making a movie means making a lot of mistakes along the way.  So, as we support our students this summer as they prepare for their bar exams, let's give them room to learn.  Let's help them appreciate that none of us became experts by being experts.  Instead, we became good because we recognized that we weren't very good at all in the beginning but we keep at it, over and over, until we started to make progress, until we started to learn.  Of course, along the way, it didn't feel very comfortable.  But, because we know that learning is hard, humbling work...for all of us...it's okay to be uncomfortable.  So, this summer, let's help our students embrace the uncomfortableness of learning by being myth-busters, and, in the process breaking down the real barriers to learning, namely, believing that learning comes naturally for everyone but us.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

May 24, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bar Prep Marathon Begins

Congratulations to everyone earning a J.D. recently! Earning a Doctorate level degree is an amazing accomplishment.  2011 Census data indicates approximately 3% of the US population 25 and older possess a Doctorate or Professional degree.  Walking across the stage and completing the J.D. requirements puts all graduate in elite company.  No matter what happens this summer, know all J.D. graduates (including yourself) are elite!

While already elite, everyone knows there is still one more hurdle prior to becoming an attorney. The vast majority of graduates still need to pass the bar exam.  The limited time and breadth of material requires focus for all 10 weeks.  I recommend my students start preparing the Tuesday morning after graduation through the Sunday before the bar.  One focus to take it one time.

Bar prep should start shortly after graduation, and it must be the highest priority during the summer. However, preparing for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint.  The key to success is maintaining a steady pace and not burning out early.  Here are my tips for a steady pace throughout the summer:

 

1.  Create a good daily schedule. All the bar review companies do a good job assigning particular tasks each day, but their schedules are “flexible” on when to do the work. I suggest to most students (not everyone) to sit down and create an hourly calendar, for example:

9-12:30 – Lecture

12:30-1:30 – Lunch

1:30-4 – Assigned practice questions

4-4:30 – Mental Break

4:30-5:30 – Review Lecture

5:30-7 – Dinner

7-9 – Review Previous Material

Scheduling increases the chances the majority of the work is completed. Time isn’t wasted deciding what to do. 

2.  Schedule Breaks. Notice my example included breaks throughout the day. Breaks are critical during bar prep.  Students who try to go non-stop 7 days a week burn out quickly.  The bar exam will be as much mental preparedness as it will be a test of legal analysis.  Being fresh and rested increases focus, retention, and engagement.  Include breaks both during the day and each week.

3.  Know yourself. Create reasonable schedules and breaks. If you know you can’t study during a certain time of the day, then build a schedule around what is best for you.  My only caveat here is the bar exam in most states starts at 8am or 9am, so studying solely at night may not be the most beneficial.  You do need to transition to being alert by 7am at some point during the process.

4.  Plan to attend the physical location. I know I will sound old with this piece of advice, but attend the location for your course. I know the online version is the same.  I know many locations are showing a video, and I know your computer shows videos as good as the location.  I also know through anecdotal stories and taking roll that students physically at the locations have higher pass rates, at least for my school.  Being present creates habits that can lead accomplishing more during the day.

5.  Create a good routine. It is true that bar prep is hard, but it is also true that most of the difficulty can be overcome with a good routine. Bad practice scores, not remembering rules, and general frustration will arise.  The brain’s fight or flight response will be triggered.  A good routine where you know exactly how to fight by doing more questions, finding a good resource, etc. will enable you to continue to improve.  Without a routine, responding to difficulty with a round of golf instead of a round of questions becomes easy..

Bar prep is beginning. Know your awesome accomplishments.  Know that getting a J.D. illustrates an ability to pass the bar.  Take the time to then build a schedule and routine to put yourself in a position to succeed.  The goal is to be able to walk out of the bar exam knowing you gave your full effort to pass. 

(Steven Foster)

May 14, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 7, 2018

Using Summer Jobs for Understanding

“Objection your honor . . .”  says any number of TV lawyers, and I immediately shout at the TV, “that isn’t the real rule.”  My wife rolls her eyes while I proceed to explain to the TV how the judge made an incorrect ruling.  Legal Analysis practice while watching TV.  Great fun for everyone in the room, and a good learning tool.

Reading Kirsha’s excellent series comparing litigation to teaching made me consider how students could utilize summer jobs to solidify and expand understanding of the foundational courses.  Context and examples help illustrate how rules operate and relate to each other.  Understanding rules in a vacuum is difficult, but students can see the rules in action through real life clients.  Real clients will contextualize and solidify knowledge.

Summer jobs are a great way to see the rules in action.  I listed a few tips to think about during the summer to help understand bar exam courses even more.

  1. When summarizing or analyzing discovery documents, consider whether the evidence is admissible. Try to predict which evidence rule the opposing party would use to exclude the evidence.
  1. When reading a case file, identify the cause of action. Then try to recall all the elements of the cause of action.
  1. Try to recall a rule from the year that is relevant during every task.
  1. If in a transactional setting, pick one clause of a contract and think of the rule that makes that clause necessary.
  1. Consider why a business operator chose a certain type of business or why plaintiff’s attorney chose a particular cause of action.
  1. Make a conscious effort to attach any work done during the summer to specific rules either learned last year or will be in a subject next year.

Summer jobs are a great way to improve understanding.  I heard too many classmates after my 1L summer say our professors didn’t teach them certain things during the previous year.  I knew they were wrong because I was in class with them and learned the concepts.  Many students missed the context to understand how the concepts worked in practice.  Being intentional during the summer can provide the context to solidify knowledge for the bar exam.

(Steven Foster)

May 7, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Internal Signaling: The Power of Motivational Self-Talk to Improve Performance

Having just returned from a bar exam conference, I am struck by how little we know about what actually correlates to success on the bar exam.  Nevertheless, for our students, it is common to jump to the conclusion that bar exam results are "preordained" based on a complex mathematical formula consisting of primarily (or indeed solely) LGPA and LSAT scores.  In other words, those that pass have high numbers; those that don't, don't.  

Interestingly, in our attempt to reduce the complexity of life experiences to numbers, there are always what we refer to as "outliers."  People that pass (or fail) regardless of LGPA and LSAT scores.  I sometimes wonder whether we are all outliers because even the best of statistical models fails to accurately predict bar passage results for our students.  And, that brings me to the field of human performance.  

You see, according to writer Alex Hutchinson, early on in the field of sports-based human performance, "[p]hysiologists pieced together an impressively detailed picture of the factors that - in theory - dictate our ultimate capacity [in terms of predicting athletic success]....There was one problem with this approach: It couldn't predict who would win an athletic contest....Clearly, something was missing from the 'human machine' picture of athletic limits."  Alex Hutchison, The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance, Wall Street Journal (February 2, 2018), available at:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mental-tricks-of-athletic-endurance. That something tends to be not easily reducible to biological measurement; it tends to be what some refer to colloquially as "head games."

In other words, in an athletic competition, your body is sending signals to your brain about the current physiological state of your body, i.e., whether you are running of out of energy, or dehydrated, or overheated, etc.  As interpreted by your brain, those signals then become self-fulfilling; they can serve to limit our endurance and our perseverance such that they become a barrier to improving our athletic performance.  However, psychologists have begun to explore the power of motivational self-talk to reinterpret those signals so that they do not in fact have such determinative power over athletic performance.  According to Dr. Hutchinson, it seems that positive self-talk can boost performance beyond what we think is possible based merely on the internal signaling of our biological markers.

That raises an interesting question with respect to bar passage.  We often hear people analogize that passing the bar requires preparation akin to preparing for a marathon.  As such, there's a case to be made that it might not be true that LGPA and LSAT are the major determinant signals as to who passes the bar exam.  Indeed, it is much more nuanced and complex; otherwise, why have a bar exam at all if results are preordained by past testing results in the form of LGPA and LSAT scores?    

Well, to be frank, we have a bar exam precisely because we know that LGPA and LSAT scores do not determine bar pass results.  And, as in athletic competitions, I have a hunch that one's self-talk has much to do with one's success in overcoming the nagging self-doubts that are common to most of us ("I don't fit in the law; I can't pass the bar exam; there's way too much to learn to pass the bar; I just don't have the time needed to pass the bar; I wasn't much of a success in law school so I'm not going to be successful on the bar exam; etc.").  Although there is no "magic cure-all," and of course LGPA and LSAT scores indicate something, it is important to recall that "something" doesn't mean "everything."  

And, that's where we come in.  Our bar exam destiny is not predetermined.  It is something that we can positively and concretely influence and improve by acting upon positive self-talk as we work - problem by problem and question by question - to train ourselves for success on the bar exam.  Those two things go hand-in-hand - "practice and talk" and "talk and practice."  So, whether you are preparing yourself for final exams or getting ready to study for the bar exam, pay attention to your self-talk.  Indeed, ask yourself today "What am I telling myself and is it really true or not?" (Scott Johns).

 

April 26, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Finish Strong on Finals

Graduation is right around the corner.  Party planning has begun, and thoughts of bar prep are put off until after enjoying the festivities.  Senioritis is at an all-time high.  3-4 years of exhaustion is taking a toll.  I completely understand the feelings, but I also warn 3Ls, don’t get too complacent.  Finish strong on this set of finals.

Last week was the last class ever with all my 3Ls.  I congratulate them and discuss our last few practice problems for the semester.  One of my most important messages during class is to finish strong on finals.  Don’t get complacent on the last few tests.

Students realize going through all but one set of finals means they should be able to pass the last few.  I agree.  They obviously have the skills to succeed.  However, complacency, or focusing too much on party planning, could lead to a lack of preparation.  Don’t let the excitement or exhaustion take over.

The last set of finals is still important for a number of reasons.  The most obvious is most students need the credits to graduate.  Don’t fail a class due to lack of preparation.  At many schools, the scholastic achievements (cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude) are awarded after the last set of grades.  Ignoring finals can have an impact on those awards.  Lastly, you will need some of the information from your finals for the bar.  Studying for finals helps retain bar exam information.  If you are taking bar subjects, which hopefully you are taking a few, this is built in bar prep.  Time spent during reading week learning Secured Transactions is time you can spend taking extra MBE questions during bar prep.  Preparing for this set of finals is still important.

I understand the reality of the last set of finals and the fun that ensues.  I highly encourage everyone to safely enjoy an amazing accomplishment.  The amount of people that have the ability to obtain a J.D. is miniscule.  Walking across the stage is a moment to cherish.  Just make sure that walking across the stage is the last thing to get the J.D., not an extra class after grades come out.  Prepare well now to enjoy the ceremony later.

(Steven Foster)

April 23, 2018 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

NCBE Reports February 2018 Average MBE Bar Exam Score

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has indicated that the national average MBE multiple-choice scaled score for the February 2018 bar exam declined once again.  As illustrated in the chart below, the MBE score has declined from near-term highs of 138 to 132.8 in just the span of a few short years.  

February 2018 MBE Averages

According to the NCBE, "[r]epeat test takers comprised about 70% of those who sat in February 2018 and had an average score of 132.0, a 1.7-point decrease compared to February 2017. This result drove the change in the overall February 2018 MBE mean."  http://www.ncbex.org/news/repeat-test-taker-scores-drive-february-2018-average-mbe-score-decline/.  

In contrast, the NCBE reports that the February 2018 average MBE score for first-time takers remained relatively flat, 135.0 for February 2018 first-time takers as compared to 135.3 for February 2017 first-time takers.  There have been several changes to the MBE exam over the last few years. In February 2015, the NCBE added another subject to the scope of the multiple-choice exam with the addition of Federal Civil Procedure.  And, in February 2017, the NCBE changed the number of pre-test (otherwise known as experimental) questions from 10 to 25, resulting in the 200 point scaled score calculated out of a total of 175 graded questions rather than previous MBE exams which graded 190 questions.  In addition, for the February 2018 MBE exam, the scope of Property Law was expanded to include some new sub-topics.

For those of you taking the July 2018 exam, there are several take-aways.  First, the MBE exam is a difficult exam.  Second, you can't learn to pass the exam without practicing the exam.  Third, statistics don't determine your destiny; rather, your destiny is in your hands, in short, it's in the reading, the analyzing, and the practicing of multiple-choice questions that can make a real positive difference for your own individual score.  So, please don't fret.  It's not impossible...at all. 

Finally, let me be frank.  In my own case, as I work through practice MBE questions, I am NEVER confident that I am getting the answers correct. And, that is REALLY frustrating. In fact, when I get a question right, I am glad but often surprised.  So, I try to NOT be confident that I have chosen the correct answer but rather be CONFIDENT that I am reading CAREFULLY and that I am METHODICALLY puzzling through the answer choices to step-by-step eliminate incorrect choices to help me better get to the correct answers.  

So, for those of you taking the bar exam this summer, take it slow and steady.  Ponder over every multiple-choice question you can.  Eliminate obviously wrong choices.  And, you might even keep a daily journal of your multiple-choice progress, perhaps by simply creating a spreadsheet of the issues tested, the rules used, and a few helpful tips as reminders of what to be on the lookout for as you approach your bar exam this summer.  In short, make it your aim to be a problem-solver learner.  (Scott Johns).

April 19, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 16, 2018

Maximizing Willpower

Have you ever had a long, hard day and come home to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream?  I hope that isn’t just me.  I will eat the entire pint despite the fact that I am trying to eat healthier and exercise more.  Something about the end of the day makes eating grilled meat with green vegetables difficult.  Five Guys Burgers is just more appealing, and the research gives me an excuse for why I keep stopping at the wrong place.

Willpower research helps us understand the best time to complete tasks and when we are more likely to succumb to temptation.  Studies show that taxing intellectual endeavors requiring focus and willpower drain our energy to resist later temptations.  Participants are more likely to eat a donut, cookie, or treat after a difficult task.  Positive interactions during the difficult task can help retain some willpower.  Understanding the research can help our students accomplishment more by using the right times of the day for studying.

The studies explain many student habits during law school.  Law school classes are taxing endeavors.  At the end of the day, most students are exhausted.  The exhaustion leads to decreased willpower which makes it easy to stop studying, fail to complete readings, not complete practice questions, and focus more on electronics than law school.  Students are behaving in predictable ways even though we continually tell them to add the extra work.  Many students don’t have the willpower to complete what is already assigned, much less additional exercises.

My schedule during law school made completing tasks much easier.  Before law school began, I made the choice to put studying as my top priority.  I hadn’t made that choice in undergrad, so I knew I needed to make a change.  My philosophy was to treat law school like a job.  I arrived on campus for my first class and continued focusing on law school until I left.  I read for the following days between classes and limited my lunch break to approximately 45 minutes.  After my last class, I stayed on campus and read instead of going home.  I left once I completed all my work.  My routine and location made completing everything easier.  I also completed all my assignments in a reasonable amount of time.  I didn’t need tons of extra willpower because I created a good routine.  Due to that plan, I can count on one hand the amount of class readings I missed in 3 years of law school.  Good plans use willpower efficiently.

I urge students to follow a similar approach.  Taking long breaks and saving reading to the end of the day makes completing work difficult.  Class interactions are draining.  The intellectual rigor of law school takes a toll.  Being at home and exhausted makes it easy to go to the couch or surf the internet instead of finishing readings.  Most people’s willpower in the evening is so low that failure to complete everything is inevitable.  We all know that once you don’t complete an assignment, catching back up is difficult.  Being behind leads to stress, and law school becomes unbearable.  The stress decreases willpower leading to more uncompleted assignments.  The cycle can be devastating.  Creating a schedule is good, but being intentional with when tasks are scheduled can increase the likelihood of getting all the work done.  Don’t merely create a plan.  Create a good plan to efficiently use willpower to increase the chances of accomplishing all the tasks.

Willpower is a newly researched topic.  The research can lay the foundation for how we schedule our day.  We should encourage everyone to create schedules that are realistic and maximize study time when we are most motivated.  Everyone will learn and retain more when studying at optimal times.

(Steven Foster)

April 16, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I’m Over It: End of Semester Blues

It is about that time of the semester when students are simply tired. Most, if not all of their major commitments are completed and the final commitment is probably to finish off the semester. At this time, moaning and groaning are common. Some students simply want classes to end so they can begin to prepare for exams while others would rather skip exams and begin the summer break.

3Ls

From this group of students, I hear: “I am over it!” “I don’t care anymore.” “I am ready to graduate.” “Get me out of here, I have completely checked-out.” For many 3Ls, fatigue seems to weigh them down as the end approaches; commencement marks the end of their legal education and the beginning of their professional careers. As students, they worked hard for almost three years as they assumed leadership roles, were members of student organizations, worked with various legal entities, participated in legal clinics and a number of co-curricular and extracurricular activities, and have almost completed the requirements for graduation. These students are simply tired! Completing and submitting bar applications seemed to mark the end but they are quickly reminded that they still have final exams ahead. Gearing up for commencement by ordering graduation regalia, notifying family and friends, and planning graduation celebrations are exciting activities that seem to serve only as a distraction from the inevitable, exams. I try to remind students that “their journeys are not over until they are over,” they still need to pass classes to obtain their degree. They probably do not want to return to the same institution after walking across the stage at commencement or self-sabotage by failing to complete one of the requirements necessary to sit for most bar exams, completion of a law degree. This reality check appears to provide temporary motivation for some.

2Ls

For this group of students, 2Ls, the thrill of the first semester of the second year of law school has disappeared. They began the academic year excited and motivated because they got to select their course schedule and participate in all of the activities they hoped for in law school. Many probably overcommitted themselves to a variety of extracurricular and co-curricular activities they ambitiously thought they could simultaneously undertake. They were initially motivated by the excitement and energy earned from study abroad, externship, legal work, and courses completed over the summer. New extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that motivated them now appear routine and in retrospect, many realize that they overcommitted themselves. At this point, 2Ls are desperately trying to re-energize in order to finish the semester strong. Those who already have summer opportunities lined-up seem less motivated. My reality check to this group is: “you did it to yourself, you committed to these activities so you need to finish your commitments.” 

1Ls

These students are simply in shock that legal writing is officially over or will be over within a matter of days.  They have spent so much time with their appellate briefs and it was a major aspect of their second semester.  A task that seemed impossible at first manifested in the completion of the appellate brief, oral argument, and the legal writing course.  Many tell me that for the first time in months, they happily and restfully took naps or slept for a full eight hours. Many are also excited to devote their complete attention to preparing for final exams.  Some students whom I have not seen in a while are suddenly appearing in my office to discuss final exams.  The realization that the end of the first year of law school is in sight seems overwhelming. My reality check to this group is: “you have a lot of work to do because you somewhat disengaged from your doctrinal classes and now have limited time to get on track so plan wisely and maximize the time you have remaining.”  (Goldie Pritchard)

April 11, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Understanding How to Create and Modify Habits

Routines are critical for me to get anything done in a day. I wake up at the same time every morning. I hit snooze 1 time, read my daily devotional after the next alarm, then start my shower routine. I turn the coffee pot on at the same time, grab breakfast, and have “shoe race” with my kids before driving them to school on the same route. The days I follow a solid routine at work with to-do lists, I am more focused and accomplish more. Sound familiar?

My routine and habits help me get through law school and overcome struggles. I knew what I planned to accomplish and finished my tasks even when life was difficult. I tell students every semester that having a routine makes doing additional MBE questions in face of failure, navigating life circumstances, and accomplishing anything else much easier, especially when confronting obstacles during studying. However, I didn’t know much about the research on habit formation until recently. The research could help all of us working with students.

I started listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg recently while driving, and so far, I love the book. It is a great combination of explaining habit research and providing anecdotal stories of how the research worked in particular situations ranging from large corporations to individuals. I plan to purchase a desk copy to highlight and take notes.

Law students could benefit from the research. The early parts of the book discuss creating and modifying habits. People have cues and rewards for situations, and changing the routine or response to the cue while still receiving the reward helps habit formation or modification. I am already thinking about how I can teach specific responses to certain cues to help 1Ls build habits for law school and reinforce the habits right before the bar exam. Individual meetings may be the best way to inculcate routines, but I am also thinking about how I could integrate the information into my classes.

The section I am listening to right now is about willpower. Research indicates people can increase willpower, and small gains in willpower in one area of life can spillover to other areas. The willpower discussion overlaps with Angela Duckworth’s Grit research. The book indicates willpower can be built with pre-programmed responses to challenging circumstances, which creates routines. Starbucks receives high customer service reviews because they developed training programs for routine responses. Employees use a specific tactic when rude or angry customers come to the counter. Even if an employee is tired, upset, or life is going poorly, the pre-programmed response provides the willpower to help the customer in spite of the rudeness. Response routines can drastically improve willpower.

Students need pre-programmed responses to challenges. Many of us encounter students who dislike professor feedback on assignments, perform poorly on oral questions, or fail another set of MBE questions. Telling students to overcome the obstacle and not worry about the performance may be true but probably not specific enough to help. Helping students determine a clear roadmap for the response is what will help the next time. When faring poorly on the MBE, help them come up with a routine, which could include decompression, analysis, positive response, and another set of questions. We all know it is easy to continue when everything is going well. Responses planned before challenging events are more likely to help overcome those events. Just as lawyers do, plan for the worst.

I can’t wait to finish the book. I encourage everyone to listen or read it if you get a chance.

(Steven Foster)

April 9, 2018 in Advice, Books, Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Be Wary of Advice on the Grapevine

The grapevine (or rumor mill depending on your school's terminology) is working overtime right now. Students are coming in daily to tell me the latest that is circulating among the students - especially the 1L class. Some of what I am hearing has some truth, but much of it is mixed at best or totally wrong at worst. Here is some sorting of the wheat from the chaff:

Grapevine Advice #1: If you have any class absences left, now is the time to take them to gain more exam study time.

  1. Pro: Selective use of a class absence on a day when you understood the material deeply and have a reliable friend to take notes might not be disastrous.
  2. Cons: The disadvantages of using up class absences far outweigh this advantage.
  •  The material during the last few weeks of class is also going to be on the exam, so skipping class is detrimental to your understanding exam material.
  • Professors talk about the exams during the last weeks and provide more details. Relying on another student to pass on this inside scoop in all its detail is risky.
  • Course material in the last weeks is often the very material that pulls together topics or the whole semester, so missing class impacts your synthesis of the course.
  • Some professors test the last part of the course more heavily than earlier introductory/foundational material.
  • Even your very best friend may not take notes that include information that you would include because your cognitive processing styles may differ.

Grapevine Advice #2: For the last weeks of class, study one course each week for any extra time you have in your schedule.

  1. Pro: You focus completely on one subject matter instead of spreading your time and focus over multiple courses.
  2. Cons: The disadvantages of focusing on one course each week outweigh this advantage.
  • We forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review regularly. Your knowledge of Course 1 will diminish over the intervening weeks before you cycle back to it.
  • This review method treats all courses equally even though they usually are not equal. Amount of material covered, difficulty of material for you personally, your own status as to an up-to-date outline, type of exam questions, prior review that you have already completed, and more can make courses "unequal."
  • You may not have enough weeks left to cover the number of courses you are taking. Upper-division law students often have more exam courses than 1L students.

Grapevine Advice #3: Focus on exam study for courses in the order of your exams.

  1. Pro: It is wise to consider the order of your exams as an aspect of your exam strategy because you need to be ready by each exam date.
  2. Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
  • The first two cons listed above for advice #2 also apply to this grapevine advice.
  • An exam schedule is often not evenly spaced. If some exams are on consecutive days and other exams have gaps in between, that specific schedule should be considered.

Grapevine Advice #4: Study really hard for the courses that have more credit hours and consider the others as secondary.

  1. Pro: You recognize that a 4-credit course covered more material than a 3-credit course, so it is important in your scheduling of study time.
  2. Cons: The disadvantages of making this your only criterion for exam study outweigh this advantage.
  • Every course can help or hurt your grade point average. You do not know how others will do in the course and how that will affect the grading curve.
  • Your grade point average is based on both credits and quality points. An "A" grade in a three-credit course (4 quality points X 3 credits = 12 quality points) affects your grade point average the same way a "B" in a four-credit course does (3 quality points X 4 credits = 12 quality points).
  • Legal research/writing courses often garner fewer credits, but employers put a lot of emphasis on those grades. They know you can learn a new topic on the job. They will not teach you to research and write on the job.

You want to study for exams in a way that will maximize your time and your strengths in exam preparation. Consider these things:

  • Unless a professor says a topic is excluded from the exam, all material is fair game.
  • Completing more exam studying before the end of classes will leave you less material to review for the first time during exams.
  • Some students focus best with variety and would want to study multiple courses during the same day or week.
  • Starting off with your most difficult course for a few days may lower your anxiety about that course, so you can then focus better on other courses.
  • Some students are weaker on synthesis, policy, or sifting out the trivial things; they need more study time on these aspects.
  • Some students are weaker on methodologies, nuances in applying the law, or preciseness in stating the law. They need more study time on these aspects.
  • Any study schedule you devise needs to allow for lots of practice questions several days after you study a topic.
  • You want to consider this time period to be a marathon and not a sprint. Short breaks every 90 minutes and longer breaks every 3 or 4 hours will help you focus.
  • Remember to add sleep, nutritious meals, and exercise to your study schedule - you brain will work better.

If you want to brainstorm study strategies that will work for you, visit with your academic support professional at your law school. That professional can help you sort out the truth from the myth in the grapevine advice you are hearing. (Amy Jarmon)

April 8, 2018 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Exam Survival Baskets

Over the weekend there was a lot of talk in my house about Easter baskets, which got me thinking about law school survival baskets. If you know a law student who is about to start studying for spring exams or perhaps the bar exam, consider making them an Exam Survival Basket.  Pre-assembled gift baskets are readily available online, but for a fraction of the cost you can create your own.  You may want to include things from the list below—in no particular order:

Headache medicine

Pepto bismol

Daytime cold or allergy medicine

Tissues

Trail mix or granola bars

Beef jerky or peanut butter

Law student’s favorite snack

Hard candy

Water bottle

Coffee shop gift card or K-cups

Empty Ziploc bags

Ear plugs (cordless)

Stress ball or playdough

Pencils

Pens

Highlighters

Notecards

Jumpdrive

Poster board for mind-maps

Contact case and saline solution

Eye drops

Backup reading glasses

Sleeping mask

Good luck token, like a stuffed animal

University branded swag like a coffee mug or hooded sweatshirt

Business card of the law student’s bar preparation / academic support professor 

Happy belated Easter! Happy Passover!  Happy April! 

(Kirsha & Roxy Trychta)

Basket

April 3, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

SXSWedu Talk on Digital Distractions

This video highlight from The Chronicle of Higher Education focuses on a SXSWedu talk by Manoush Zomorodi and JP Connolly discussing the many students who are distracted by their smartphones, tablets, etc. Unfortunately it is just a clip; I have not yet found a link for the entire talk. It touches on the power of boredom, the endlessness of scrolling, streaks, and disruption of focus. The statistics (from research by Gloria Mark) regarding the impact of interruptions and self-interruptions on brain focus are useful for students to know (begins at 11:29 for those of you who want to scroll there without watching the entire clip). The link is: Digital Distractions. (Amy Jarmon)

March 31, 2018 in Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Quick Classroom Exercise to Jazz Up Student Learning!

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference. Being exhausted from grading numerous writing assignments into the wee hours of the morning, Prof. Katherine Lyons and Prof. Aimee Dudovitz (Loyola Law School - Los Angeles) caught my attention with the title of their talk: "Integrating Quick Classroom Exercises that Connect Doctrine and Skills and Still Allow You (and Your Students) to Sleep at Night."  

Frankly, this was a presentation that spoke directly to me.  It was medicine for my tired heart and my hurried mind.  I needed sleep (and lots of it)!

My favorite tip was what I'll paraphrase as the "one-moment question."  

Just pop on the screen a one-moment research question and ask your students to get to work researching, drafting, and writing a quick 5-10 minute email answer.  That's right. Start with researching.  As the professors made clear, don't let them blurt out an answer.  Instead, make them work.  Tell them to start looking on the internet, digging into the legal research engines for their answers.  Then, based on their own research discoveries, direct your students to write out short emails to provide you with precise answers to that particular question.  Once submitted, now you can open up the classroom for a well-researched and informed conversation about the answer to the one-moment question. And, because the answers are super-short, it shouldn't take much time to at least make a mark or two on each answer as follow-up feedback.

As an example, Professors Lyons and Dudovitz suggested that one might ask - in the midst of a civil procedure class discussing the propriety of "tag" jurisdiction for instance - whether a plaintiff could properly serve a corporate defendant by serving the summons and complaint on an out-of-state corporate officer just passing through the local airport of the plaintiff's forum state.  As a tip, the professors suggested that you pick out a question that has a bright-line answer based on jurisdictional precedent (and one that can be easily researched).  And, as they suggested, as a bonus have the students keep track of their research trails in arriving at their answers.

That got me thinking.  In my own teaching this semester, perhaps I should ask my students - in the midst of  our studies of constitutional law - whether a state such as Colorado could hypothetically prohibit out-of-state residents from being licensed as Colorado attorneys and, if not, why not.  To confess, I'm pretty sure about the answer but not exactly certain of the reason. But, I think it has to do with the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause.  So, I better take heed of the professors' advice and start researching for myself.  In the process, I think that I might just become a better learner (and teacher too)!  (Scott Johns).

March 29, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)