Thursday, May 24, 2018
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).
Monday, May 14, 2018
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.
Monday, May 7, 2018
“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.
- 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.
- When reading a case file, identify the cause of action. Then try to recall all the elements of the cause of action.
- Try to recall a rule from the year that is relevant during every task.
- If in a transactional setting, pick one clause of a contract and think of the rule that makes that clause necessary.
- Consider why a business operator chose a certain type of business or why plaintiff’s attorney chose a particular cause of action.
- 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.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
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).
Monday, April 23, 2018
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.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
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.
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).
Monday, April 16, 2018
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.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
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.
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.
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.”
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)
Monday, April 9, 2018
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.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pro: You focus completely on one subject matter instead of spreading your time and focus over multiple courses.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
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:
Daytime cold or allergy medicine
Trail mix or granola bars
Beef jerky or peanut butter
Law student’s favorite snack
Coffee shop gift card or K-cups
Empty Ziploc bags
Ear plugs (cordless)
Stress ball or playdough
Poster board for mind-maps
Contact case and saline solution
Backup reading glasses
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)
Saturday, March 31, 2018
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)
Thursday, March 29, 2018
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).
Thursday, March 22, 2018
It's not too late, at all.
With most law students facing final exams in a month or so, this is the perfect time for your law students to reflect on their learning...with the goal of making concrete beneficial improvements right now, i.e., with plenty of time to prepare for their final exams.
There are many such self-evaluation learning 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.
In fact, just prior to spring break, I asked these questions of my own law students, and I am taking stock of their responses by making changes where needed in my own content and instructional methods too. You see, learning is a team effort, so it is important to get concrete information from all of your team members (your students) to identify what is helping your students learning, what might be hindering their learning, and what goals have yet to be achieved for the course thus far.
In my own course this semester, there were two questions that tended to be most valuable. First, with respect to what might be most hindering learning, I received a number of responses questioning the value of the "think-pair-share" method as a tool to help activate meaningful classroom engagement. Based on those responses, I am hard at work doing research and re-evaluating my own use of "think-pair-share" to confirm whether in fact the method is an effective learning tool for my classrooms this term.
The final question also seemed to provide valuable information about my students' learning, namely, in asking them what they might do differently to improve their overall course grade. To paraphrase their general responses, most students acknowledged that: "It's time to put some more elbow grease into my learning because learning takes curious, engaging, and enterprising hard work on my part." I was glad to see so many take ownership over their learning.
But, as a word of caution, I was quite afraid to ask these questions. You see, I have 123 students; that means that I was bound to receive news that I just didn't want to hear because, frankly, I like to be liked. But, my job as a teacher is not to be liked but to be good at what I have been hired to do. That's my responsibility to my students. It's my obligation to them. So, rather than fretting and worrying about what my students might say, I found out. Yes, some of the comments were a bit painful for me to read. But, read them I did. And, more importantly, I stepped back to take them to heart to see whether there might be things that I ought to change to improve my students' learning for the remainder of the semester.
Looking back, I'm mighty glad I asked because it's already helping me to become a better teacher to my students this semester, while I still have time to make a positive difference in the learning. So, feel free to use these questions with your students this semester. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, March 18, 2018
People previously carried paper daily planners with them everywhere. They had deadlines, tasks, and more carefully penciled into the planners. No meeting was set or deadline agreed without a check of the person’s hard-copy calendar.
Theoretically, in this digital age, our computer or phone calendaring systems should be serving the same functions. However, so many law students admit they do not calendar anything or, if they do input deadlines/events, they never look at the calendar later.
Here are some tips on using a calendaring system:
- An old-fashioned daily planner may be the best choice. It physically reminds you of the day’s events, tasks, and deadlines. Most planners have daily and monthly calendars in them as well as task lists.
- If you are some type of digital calendaring system, take the time to learn its bells and whistles. What features does it have for repeating events, color coding events, reminder notifications, alarms, and more?
- No calendaring system works if you do not use it/look at it. Start a habit of checking your calendar multiple times each day.
- Check all of your law school course syllabi and enter all deadlines for the semester to avoid surprises.
- Consider setting artificial deadlines to work toward at least two days before the actual deadlines. You then can use the final two days for editing or completing minor tasks.
- For a large project, make a “to do” list of all the tasks needed for completion. Then schedule those tasks throughout the days before the deadline. By spreading the work throughout the time available, it will be less stressful and allow for more reflection time.
Learning how to manage time, organize work, and meet deadlines are all skills that are essential for practicing lawyers. By developing these skills in law school, our students will have less culture shock when they move into the legal workplace. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 5, 2018
The sun is breaking through the clouds. Rain and thunderstorms picked up the last couple weeks. Ice is melting away, and temperatures are steadily rising. Spring is right around the corner, which also means Spring Break for most schools will be in the next few weeks. Plan to have fun, relax, and spend time preparing for finals to maximize the effectiveness of Spring Break.
For most students, spring break starts on a Saturday and finishes the following Sunday. 9 glorious days not being in class. 9 amazing opportunities to get mentally fresh and ready for the stretch run into final exams. Plan your Spring Break now to utilize all the time effectively.
My suggestion is to spend 4 of the days doing non-law school fun activities. 4 days not thinking about classes, outlines, or exams. Play golf, watch bad movies, catch up on TV shows, watch an entire new series on Netflix, exercise, hang out with friends, or whatever will provide energy to make it through May. Rest and recharge is key.
The other 5 days, assuming a normal 5 class schedule, are preparation for final exams. My suggestion is to devote 1 day to each class. Spend the morning catching up on the outline. Make sure it is as up-to-date as reasonably possible. Spend 1-2 hours on practice questions in the afternoon. Outlining and practicing will begin critical finals preparation.
Spend the evenings of those 5 days having fun and getting ready for summer. A couple of those evenings, do nothing. More resting and relaxing. Spend 1 of the evenings updating your legal resume. Spend another evening deciding which employers you want to contact for potential summer internships. Lastly, don’t forget to spend at least 1 evening reading for the first day of class after Spring Break.
Planning now can make Spring Break both fun and effective. Take time to enjoy life. Recharging will have a huge impact on studying in April. Catching up on outlines and practicing now provides more focused time in late April to understand the nuances of each subject. Success requires a good plan.
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Congratulations Feb 2018 Bar Takers!
It’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam.
Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Really? Not that hard?
Really? You know that I passed?
Really? There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a suggestion for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Or, Instagram them. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).
Monday, February 26, 2018
Can you remember the first time trying a new sport or hobby? Do you remember how it felt to be terrible and completely fail at first? I can easily remember my first summer playing golf. I started playing while in college at a 9 hole, short, play all day course. I spent round after round searching for my ball hundreds of yards away from my target. The joy was finally getting one near where I was aiming, but I only remember a few of those shots. More often, I vividly remember shots where my beautiful swing perfectly compressed the ball straight into a tree to ricochet over my head and behind me. I am now on my 14th year playing golf, and my current experiences are only marginally better. My 7 year old can beat me from his tee box on most days.
I didn’t expect, nor do I expect now, to be Jordan Spieth just because I played sports throughout my life. However, I see many students with unrealistic expectations coming in to law school. The expectation is that legal study is similar to all other forms of education, so success in prior experiences means success should happen in law school. When final exams don’t go as expected, some students’ motivation decreases and a cycle of poor performance ensues. My hope is to change that expectation and promote treating law school like any other sport or skill. Failing now is critical to success as an attorney.
Law School and Undergraduate study are as similar as baseball and golf. Baseball and golf are sports where a person swings and hits a ball. However, the technical motion of the wrists, hips, shoulders, etc. tend to be very different in the swings. Athleticism transfers, but the specific skills are different. Law study does require understanding vast amounts of information, recalling it on an exam, and studying like Undergraduate study. The specific skills are very different. The self-regulation of additional work, applying learned information to new hypotheticals, and the lack of many assessments make law school a different kind of academic endeavor. Legal analysis requires deductive and inductive reasoning. Many times, undergraduate exams require memorization and recitation. Deep reasoning is much more difficult. There is a reason Bryce Harper (professional baseball player) isn’t also a professional golfer. Different skills must be developed to succeed at a new endeavor.
The above analogy is helpful for entering students, but why should most students think about it now? Now is the time to remedy problems from the fall to achieve a higher level of success. Many famous sports figures will say failure is how they learned what was necessary to succeed. The recent Gatorade commercial is a great example. Don’t let failing to meet expectations decrease motivation. Previous study skills are different than what is necessary for law school. Treat law school the same as any other activity that you started new. Don’t expect to be the greatest or best the minute the doors open. Legal study and legal analysis are specific skills that must be developed and nurtured over many years to become proficient. Don’t let one semester derail a dream, especially since each semester adds more information necessary for the bar.
Using failure to continually improve is a life skill. All law firms expect fifth year associates to be better than first year associates. Firms care as much about the ability to improve as how much law someone remembers from law school. Now is the time to learn how to improve. Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team in his first attempt. Jordan Spieth didn’t win the US Kids Golf World Championship as a teenager. Tom Brady was a late (extremely late) round pick in the NFL draft and couldn’t beat out Drew Bledsoe for the starting QB job his rookie year. Success isn’t determined by where you start. Success will be determined by how you respond.
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)