Wednesday, August 3, 2016
For many academic support educators, we move from bar support to preparing to welcome the incoming class. The law school cycle never quite stops but simply slows down or picks up. Returning students are preparing for their new journey as a 2L or a 3L and incoming students are excited about a new academic adventure. There is something we can all do, students and those who work with students, to prepare for the new academic year. This is a brilliant idea that as an educator, I kick myself for not thinking about: consider how you reconnect with the learning process.
I definitely cannot take credit for this one but when I heard it, I thought that this was the best thing I heard about preparing for law school. A student, a 3L at the time, told me that in anticipation of starting law school, she spent the summer learning how to use a planner. She never used a planner in the past but she recognized that she would have to plan her life a little bit more in law school even though she had juggled school, activities, religious observances, and a business prior to law school. Using a planner over the summer allowed her to get in the habit of writing things down, crossing things off, sticking to a schedule, being flexible in making adjustments, accounting for buffer times, determining whether paper and pen or electronic planners worked best, and the like. She worked on her time management skills before law school so she had a plan while in law school. Isn’t that awesome?!
This is yet another suggestion I cannot take credit for and that was shared with me in a conversation with a colleague at a conference in 2015. Because the beginning of the academic year is upon us, I encourage you to learn a new skill or start a new activity in the days and weeks to come. I would encourage you to try something you are fearful of or would find particularly challenging. The process of facing your fear or challenge is what you should focus on. What steps did you take? Where did you start? How did you start? What was the best process for you? Were you able to follow written instructions or did you need to see a picture or demonstration? Did you revisit the task to ensure you had mastered it? When did you feel comfortable? When did you feel frustrated? First year law students, you should consider your process and your steps because you might find some aspects of law school just as challenging. For the rest of us, it is a reminder of the process. In law school, we typically learn how to learn all over again so it is helpful to be reminded of the slow, methodical, and sometimes frustrating process.
We often forget about the struggle experienced when mastering a skill that is now second nature. Regardless of how in tune we feel, we occasionally need to revisit that process. This can only make us better educators and “meet students where they are” but also move them along to where they should or need to be. I love this idea because it is applicable to all, teaching assistants/teaching fellows, upper level law students, ASP professionals, and professors.
For me, this blog is a new experience that is both exciting and somewhat intimidating but I look forward to the mistakes I will make and the things I will learn along the way. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, July 21, 2016
There's been a lot of talk about "growth mindset" and for good reasons.
As the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dr. Carol Dweck relates in a June 21, 2016 commentary on the website Education Week, "...my colleagues and I learned things we thought people needed to know. We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset)." http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html
But, with the bar exam looming next week for many law school graduates, as the saying goes, "sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words" to hep you and your graduates "catch" hold of a growth mindset in the midst of bar exam stressors. So, at the risk of minimizing the science behind the growth mindset, here's a quick video clip that just might spark some positive vibes of optimism as you and your graduates focus on final tune-ups in preparation for the bar exam next week: http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest
In particular, just like the baseball player, we don't all have to be great hitters…or runners…or pitchers…to be successful on the bar exam. But, right now, most of us working through bar exam problems feel like we don't even know enough to play the game, to run the bases, to hit the ball, in short, to pass the bar exam. However, it is not about knowing enough that is key to passing the bar exam. Specifically, I try to place my confidence NOT in getting right answers on bar exam problems but rather in learning and demonstrating solid legal problem-solving abilities. It's just not an exam in which one can always be correct. So, don't worry about what you missed. Instead, focus on just being the best possible problem-solver player that you can. (Scott Johns).
You Can Do This!
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Academic support professionals at law schools have noticed that new law students are often coming in to the study of law without the same basic study habits and critical reading and thinking skills that we would have seen previously. Although the knee-jerk reaction would be to blame it on the falling number of applicants and those applicants' credential erosion, I think that would be a mistake. The lack of study habits and skills is not just limited to those with the lowest credentials. It is prevalent across entering classes and cannot be explained just by LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs.
A number of factors in undergraduate education (and no doubt earlier education) seem to be linked to students coming into law school without the background study habits and skills that we have long expected entering law students to have. Here are some of the things that students who did very well in college commonly tell me about their undergraduate experiences:
- Most students studied only 15-20 hours per week at the most. Many will tell me that they made As and Bs with even less studying.
- The course examinations often required them to memorize information and merely regurgitate it onto the paper to get high grades.
- Examinations were not comprehensive over the semester's entire course material; exams typically covered no more than 2-4 weeks of material.
- Because examinations covered limited material, cramming was the successful study method for high grades. Students did not study to retain information for long-term memory and later use, but rather to dump it and forget it.
- Students often took courses and had majors that they never planned to use the information from in the future. Thus, cramming for high grades had few or no long-term effects for many of them.
- Students often were allowed to drop the lowest grade among the 4 or 5 tests they took for a course.
- Students often commented that professors rarely graded papers for punctuation, grammar, word choice, or style. "They just wanted to know my ideas."
- Many students mention they had never written a paper longer than 5 pages in college. Some had never written anything longer than 2 pages.
- Students delayed any work on papers until a few days before they were due because they could get high grades on first drafts.
Although students are warned throughout orientation programs about the differences in law school, students who end up in academic difficulty often state that "I thought they were talking to everyone else." It is often difficult for students who have been successful on little studying and cramming to change their habits.
The students who listen to the warnings that law school is different and "up their game" with more study hours often choose study habits that focus only on class survival and required papers. They do not always realize the importance of regular review and long-term memory for comprehensive semester exams, the future bar exam, and practice. They do not realize the importance of practice questions to apply concepts. They may miss the importance of building skills across classes that will be used every day in practice.
Professional practice as a lawyer requires a different approach toward education by law students. Our dilemma is to determine how to provide the study habits and skills not attained in lower education so that law students can be successful in law school and ultimately in practice. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, June 9, 2016
Congratulations to all of the new 1Ls who will be arriving on our campuses this August! We look forward to your joining us in your journey to being attorneys.
What should you be doing this summer to prepare for law school? Here are some suggestions:
- Spend time with family and friends. Your time as a law student will be very busy, so you want to have quality relaxation time this summer. Take advantage of this time to have family trips, lots of conversations, and companionship with the people who are special in your life.
- Get your finances in place as soon as possible. Make a budget that you can stick to during the semester so that you will not run out of money or run up credit card debt. Working during your first year of law school as a full-time student is not doable.
- Use the summer to get yourself in shape: regular exercise, good nutrition, a regular sleep schedule of 7-8 hours. Your brain will be doing heavy lifting for the next 3 years. You need to be healthy to have optimal learning. Many law students run into trouble because they do not take care of themselves, and their academics suffer. Undertake solid routines this summer to prepare yourself for a rigorous academic year, and then continue good routines during the year.
- If at all possible, move into your law school apartment at least two weeks before orientation begins. Get all of the boxes unpacked, the cable hooked up, the pictures hung, and the refrigerator stocked with nutritious foods. Explore your new city. Locate the pharmacy, dry cleaners, grocery store, and other necessities. You will have first-day reading assignments for your classes, and the work will not let up until the end of exams. You want your living situation completely settled before you start orientation and classes.
- Realize that law school is not the same as undergraduate school. You need to learn new study strategies to succeed in law school. Although you study cases on a daily basis, you need to synthesize material through outlines. Law school exams test differently than other disciplines; you are asked to apply the law to analyze new fact scenarios. Pay careful attention in orientation to study skill sessions and attend fall workshops provided by the academic support professionals at your law school.
- Realize also that you need to study more hours per week than you have ever had to study. You need to be organized, efficient, and effective in your studies. To achieve the best grades, you need to do more each week than just daily class preparation. You need to synthesize the material into outlines and review regularly to prepare for exams. You also need to complete practice questions throughout the semester to monitor your learning. Cramming does not work in law school. There is too much material to learn in the last few weeks. The rule of thumb to get all tasks done every week (class prep, outlines, review, practice questions, legal research and writing) is 50-55 hours per week.
- Analyze what your main distractions are and how they cause you to procrastinate. For many law students, the distractions are electronic: cell phone calls, email, texting, gaming. Law students cannot afford to waste hours a day on distractions. Weaning yourself from your electronic handcuffs over the summer will help you use time more effectively during the semester.
- Read as much as possible. Read a mix of fiction and non-fiction books. You need to get into training for reading 30-60 pages per night for each course. You will not be as shocked by the workload if you spend lots of time reading over the summer and practice reading for comprehension.
- I do not recommend trying to read torts, contracts, civil procedure, or other legal course materials over the summer. For the most part, you will get little out of it without the classroom experience. Plus, most law courses will not cover all of the topics that you are reading about on your own.
- There are some very good books on law school written by academic support professionals. I would recommend starting with Herb Ramy's Succeeding in Law School as summer reading. Ruth McKinney's Reading Like a Lawyer would be another good summer choice. During the school year, Alex Ruskell's A Weekly Guide to Being a Model Law Student can keep you on schedule. Carolina Academic Press has a wide variety of good books on law school, legal reasoning, and other law school topics.
- Non-lawyer family members will not fully understand what your future 3 years will be like - unless you go to law school, it is hard to understand the demands. You may want to share Andrew McClurg's book entitled A Companion Text to Law School with them to help them to understand what your three years will be like.
Have enjoyable and battery-charging summers. You want to hit the ground running when you arrive in the fall. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Ah, summer is finally here. Congratulations to all of you for completing a year of your law degree! For rising 2L students: Isn't it fabulous not to be 1Ls any longer! You are now seasoned (and let's hope, not too battle-scarred) law students. For rising 3L students: Wow! You will soon be sitting the bar exam and begin your professional lives as lawyers.
So what should you be doing with your summers?
First of all, you should get some relaxation and rest and have some fun. Recharge your batteries. Spend time with family and friends. Play with your pets. Laugh with your children, nieces, and nephews. Catch up on all of the movies you missed. Read fluff novels. And enjoy.
If you are working in a legal job, make the most of the experience. Learn as much as you can in whatever type of position you are in for the summer. If you are observing, ask questions. If you are researching, learn how to hone your skills. If you are writing/drafting, concentrate on improving your word choice, punctuation, grammar, and conciseness. Pay attention not only to the legal content of your work, but also how to be effective and efficient in that work. Watch attorneys to see how they organize their work and approach legal problems. No matter how small the task, you can learn something about lawyering.
If you are in summer courses, take the opportunity to improve your study habits. Summer courses speed by, so stay on top of each class in preparation and review. Build your outlines each day, if possible, but at least each week. Prepare well for class so that you will increase your learning and have a better idea of what is important in class discussion. Review subtopics and topics regularly so that you can start practice questions early. Summer courses are often a way to improve your grade point average if you stay on top of the material.
If you are in a study abroad program, work hard in your courses so that you get good grades and expand your global knowledge. If financially possible, take the opportunity to travel in the region. Expand your language skills. Meet local residents so that you can learn about the culture from those who live there. A study abroad program is often a good line on your resume to start an interview conversation. And, for some of us, study abroad programs lead to later international employment or LLM opportunities.
If you are in a non-law job, enjoy the break that you are having from the law. Save up your money to help with costs during the school year. Enjoy being around people who do not want to discuss cases every minute! Get the most out of the opportunity to show your versatility when you job hunt.
But, most of all, enjoy your summers! All of us in ASP will look forward to seeing you back on campus in August. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Many law students have problems with sleep. Students typically tell me that they get six or less hours of sleep on a regular basis. The ones who get less than six hours sleep often tell me that they know they are too tired to focus in class or in their studies. The students who get six hours usually tell me they function just fine and have not had more hours of sleep since they left home to attend college.
Sleep research for many years has recommended 7 - 8 hours of sleep on a consistent schedule as optimal for productivity, focus, retention, etc. When I can convince students to get on a regular sleep routine with 7 - 8 hours per night, they are initially skeptical. But after their body clocks adjust and they get on that regular schedule (it takes a week or two depending on how sleep-deprived the student is already), they are amazed at how much more they get done with improved focus and understanding.
So, I was interested to read Jill Duffy's post on a recent sleep study that explained the 6-hour phenomenon of thinking one has had enough sleep to perform well. The link to the posting is here: Why Six Hours of Sleep Is As Bad As None At All . (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, March 14, 2016
Are you a procrastinator? Do you know someone who is?
Most people procrastinate sometimes. And, some people procrastinate all of the time.
Some people only procrastinate in certain areas of their lives: just school, just chores, just financial decisions. Some people procrastinate in all areas of their lives: personal, academic, work-related, and more.
Most of my law students have at least occasional problems with procrastination. Some of them admit that procrastination has taken over every aspect of their lives. Often, students know they procrastinate and feel helpless to change their ways.
Procrastinating in law school can mean lower grades and increased stress. Procrastinating during bar exam study can mean a failure on the first attempt at the exam. Procrastinating in practice can mean tremendous stress, loss of reputation, or even disciplinary actions if it includes missed filing deadlines or lack of preparation for a trial.
Here are some things to keep in mind if procrastination is a problem for you:
Procrastination is learned behavior that can be unlearned with conscious effort and strategies.
A good habit, according to research, takes 21 days of consistent implementation to become natural.
Procrastination is really part of a "habit pair" - ending a bad habit and replacing it with a good habit. Thus, change may take longer.
By making changes in small increments over time, it is easier to curb procrastination than trying to "change everything at once."
Procrastinators may "fall off the wagon" and should not give up. Instead immediately start again on your strategies.
A time management routine that gets repeated at least in part every week can often help procrastinators to finish regular tasks at their regular times.
Curbing procrastination becomes more realistic if you become aware of your procrastination patterns:
- What aspects of your life do you procrastinate in? Examples: academics, employment, finances.
- How often do you procrastinate in these aspects of your life? Examples: daily, weekly, monthly, rarely, sometimes, frequently.
- What types of tasks trigger your procrastination? Examples: writing papers, studying for exams, project deadlines, balancing the checkbook, housecleaning.
- How do you '"act out" your procrastination? Examples: delay starting tasks, delay finishing tasks, refuse to follow instructions, stew about making a mistake, daydream, play video games.
- How do you justify to yourself that it is okay to procrastinate? Examples: too much to do, stupid assignment, work better under pressure, task is too hard.
- How do you justify your procrastination to others? Examples: brag about your finishing right before the deadline, tell team members they worry too much, pretend you got a better grade than you did.
- What emotional toll does procrastination take on you - or others? Examples: your increased stress, your guilt over bad habits, others get stressed out by your procrastination, others have to nag you on tasks.
- What other consequences does your procrastination have on you - or others? Examples: all-nighters before deadlines, lower grades than could have been achieved, run out of time to do everything, frustration of others during a group project, reputation for being unreliable, lost friends.
- Who do you trust to tell about your plan to stop procrastinating and ask to be an accountability partner to help you curb your procrastination? Examples: roommate, study group member, spouse.
Consider one aspect or task that you procrastinate on and choose one or two small strategies that you could implement to prevent procrastination. Here are some examples:
- Aspect: Lose track of deadlines for classes. Strategy: Use a hard copy daily planner to track all assignments and deadlines. (You can also use a phone calendar - but you have to actually look at it for it to be useful.)
- Aspect: Not good at prioritizing tasks so leave important ones until last. Strategy: Make a to-do-list that has tasks prioritized by most important, important, and least important.
- Aspect: Finish tasks right before the deadline. Strategy: Set a deadline two days earlier than the real deadline. Work to meet that new deadline. Use the extra time to edit or rewrite as needed.
- Aspect: Waste time with my electronic devices. Strategy: Install one of the apps that blocks Facebook, games, or other electronic distractions for set time periods.
- Aspect: Worry constantly about all sorts of things. Strategy: Schedule a worry time slot at the end of the day. Tell yourself when you start to worry that you have to wait until that time and must get back on task. (This sounds strange, but it works for many people.)
- Aspect: Spend hours on chores or cleaning to avoid other tasks. Strategy: Once a month schedule a serious chore/cleaning half-day. The rest of the month spot clean, pick up, and do only urgent chores.
There are many good books on procrastination and how to avoid it. Take control of your procrastination now - don't wait until tomorrow. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Many law students are focused on drills and practice questions right now as they see exams looming in the not too distant future. Here are some favorite tools that students are recommending:
Quimbee.com: Watch the short video demonstration. A variety of resources are available depending on the level of package chosen. Bronze, Silver, and Gold options with a 7-day trial for each level. Given the time of the semester, many students would opt for the gold level to get the practice questions
Spacedrepetition.com: SeRiouS is a flashcard software. Depending on the version you choose, you can create/share your own flashcards with progress reports (and have access to other users' flashcards), use flashcards developed by law professors in various MBE/1L subjects, or use the MPRE flashcards (free).
Quizlet.com: Choose to make your own flashcards or use law school flashcards developed by others at a variety of law schools. Also available as a mobile app.
CALI.org: Do not forget Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction for practice questions. CALI has expanded its lessons beyond 1L courses to a number of upper-division courses. If you do not know your sign-in, contact one of the librarians at your law school. Most law schools are members of CALI.
There are many other software products available. Let me know through a comment if you have a favorite and why you recommend it. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
We are in the stretch when most law schools are having or about to have Spring Break. Remember the good old undergraduate days when every student headed out for fun in the sun or ski slope heaven depending on interests? Most law students are unable to be that carefree for the entire break from classes.
Here are some thoughts on having both free time and productive study time during the Spring Break:
- Make a list of all the study tasks that you must accomplish during Spring Break. These are the tasks that have deadlines after the break (midterms, paper drafts, etc.).
- Make a list of the study tasks that you should accomplish during Spring Break. These are the tasks that will make your life so much easier on the downward slope of the semester if they are finished (catching up on reading/briefing, finishing outlines up to this point in the semester, reading study aids for difficult topics, etc.).
- Make a list of three things you want to do for yourself during Spring Break. These may be personal (sleep, workout), relational (spend time with parents, siblings, significant other), or fun (see a movie, go dancing, work on a tan).
- Now take a calendar and map out a plan for yourself. If you plan ahead, you are more likely to be productive.
- Be realistic in your planning. Do not under- or over-schedule yourself. Look for a balance.
- On your plan you want to include all of your must-accomplish tasks, most (if not all) of your should-accomplish tasks, and all of your things-for-me tasks.
- To fit everything in, consider that each day has three parts: morning (8 a.m. - noon), afternoon (1 - 5 p.m.), and evening (6 - 10 p.m.) Divide each calendar day into thirds.
- If you are traveling, you need to designate the parts of days as "travel" when you will be able to accomplish no studying - or just a little (flashcards, listening to law CDs).
- Next fill in any parts when you have family obligations that are definite (Auntie Em's birthday party, promise to take your little brother to see Zootopia on the Wednesday).
- Now think about the rhythm of each day as you fill in other parts with productive study tasks. Consider when family will be at work, when you are most focused, the difficulty of the task, and when you want some down time.
- The proportion of study parts to fun parts that you will need during the break will depend on your task lists and your goals for overall exam studying. A head start on exam review during the days off can make a huge difference in how stressed you are for the remainder of the semester.
If you are going to be with family and friends, you may want to share your study plan with them. If they understand how important it is for you to have productive time, they can be more supportive. And, when they see that you have built in time for them as well, they can be more patient in waiting for you to surface from your books.
Have safe, productive, and fun days off from law school. Get some rest. Laugh a lot. And make progress on your studies, so you return less overwhelmed. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, February 26, 2016
During the past few weeks, I have been meeting with our students who are on probation. As part of these meetings, we always discuss the students' initial thoughts on their performance. (We will do lots of more specific assessment, but I am interested in their reactions and perspectives shortly after getting their grades.) The responses tend to fall into several general categories; individual students may fall into several of these categories
1: Outside circumstances that impacted them. Examples in this category would be serious personal illness, death or serious illness in the family, victim of a serious crime, or sudden change in financial circumstances.
2: Circumstances during the final exam that impacted them. Examples in this category would be illness during the exam, panic attack during the exam, or computer crash and loss of answers.
3: Poor academic decisions throughout the semester. Examples in this category would be reading only when they knew they would be called on, taking the maximum number of absences, surfing the web in class, or depending on canned briefs/others' outlines/class scripts.
4:Poor exam preparation. Examples in this category would be cramming at the very end, outlining right before exams, completing no practice questions, or skipping the professor's exam review session.
5: Poor exam strategies during the exam. Examples in this category would be not reading the instructions ("do 3 of the 5 questions"), ignoring the allotted time for sections of the exam, not organizing answers before writing, including insufficient analysis, or spending time on rabbit trails.
6. Others at fault for the performance. Examples in this category would be the professor's exam was too hard, the exam covered material not discussed in class, my section was the hard section, or my study group was not good.
No doubt, I could come up with other categories or parse these categories differently. However, I think these six categories would cover most of what I have heard over the years. Here is my take on each of these categories in isolation:
Category 1: These types of circumstances are usually unavoidable or outside of the control of the student. They are the serious "life happens" category. It is easy to see how these circumstances would impact a student's ability to study and focus on law school. If the circumstances have resolved, then the student can focus on their studies more. If circumstances are ongoing, then the student needs referral to resources to help (examples, student health services, counseling center) and strategies to work within the life parameters they are faced with while in school. Some students decide to take a leave of absence and return after the circumstances have resolved themselves.
Category 2: These types of circumstances may be "one off" situations or they may have continuing implications. Referrals may be needed (example, to deal with panic attacks). Discussion about procedures to avoid the situation in the future may be needed (example, if you are unwell, request an exam reschedule under the school's procedure). Hopefully, many of these types of circumstances will not reoccur.
Categories 3 and 4: These types of circumstances can usually be addressed effectively through new study strategies. Motivation problems, procrastination, and life circumstances may be part of this category's impact on grades. If so, then those aspects will also need to be addressed.
Category 5: This type of problem can be addressed with specific exam-taking strategies. Strategies will vary somewhat depending on the type of exam (essay, short answer, multiple-choice, true-false, mixed). The problems are often correctable. Practicing the new strategies will be important to success.
Category 6: In many ways, this category of student explanations is the most troubling. If students are still at the stage of blaming others for their performance, they are not yet ready to work on strategies to improve their performance. Students need to get beyond disappointment, anger, embarrassment, and finger-pointing - the reasons for this category's viewpoint are varied. If they are going to take control of their academic performance and strive toward improvement through implementing new strategies, they need to get beyond the emotional reactions. It often takes several weeks to work with these students to get past their discontent and unwillingness to evaluate any personal responsibility for their performance.
Assistance to students will be most effective if the ASP and student efforts are part of a team approach. The student needs ASP support and input. But, ultimately, the student has to implement changes and do the work. Most students welcome being part of a team and will succeed. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, February 8, 2016
Now that you have had some time to settle into your courses, you can evaluate your plan of attack for each course. Here are some things that you want to consider:
• Re-read your syllabus yet again to make sure you understand everything that you need to know about the course: the learning objectives, suggested supplements, assignment details, deadlines.
• What amount of time do you need for really good class preparation in each course?
Really good class preparation means that you are focused on learning and understanding the material and not just skimming it.
Really good class preparation means that you are taking responsibility for learning and understanding the material and not expecting the professor to spoon-feed the information to you as many undergraduate courses do.
Class preparation can include a variety of tasks depending on the course; some of those tasks may be the following:
Reading and briefing cases
Reading code/rule sections
Answering questions at the end of chapters
Answering study questions handed out by the professor
Completing worksheets or problem sets
Preparing practice-like documents (contracts, business plans, interrogatories, closing statements, wills, etc.)
Class preparation should include answering the questions that you know your professor always asks every class period.
Class preparation should include thinking about the material on two levels:
In-depth understanding of the separate cases, articles, etc.
Synthesis of how separate cases, articles, code sections, etc. work together and give meaning to the subtopic/topic
Look ahead in your syllabus to see if future assignments will get longer and in your casebook to see if future topics look more difficult – plan accordingly for the time you need to add for class preparation.
• What level of difficulty are you having with the course material at this point?
If you are concerned about a course, talk to the professor about specific study strategies and supplements that might help you with the material.
Evaluate how well you are understanding the course material.
Look through your class notes and briefs to determine where you have gaps in your understanding.
Determine how you will fill in any gaps: study aids, talking to the professor, talking to classmates, or other methods.
Outline all of the material that has been covered so far and ask these questions:
Does my outline just cover the gist of the material without any depth of understanding?
Does my outline help me inter-relate cases/code/etc. into the subtopics and topics?
Am I too bogged down in detail and irrelevant material?
Will my outline help me solve new legal problems (example, fact scenarios) that I have never seen before?
If you outline is incomplete and unrelated to problem-solving, fix the problems now.
Plan on-going strategies that you can implement to improve your understanding for each course.
• What resources do you have for the course that will help you apply the material that you are learning throughout the semester as you review topics or subtopics? Remember to increase the difficulty of practice questions as you review topics more thoroughly.
Study aids with practice questions
Practice questions on the professor’s course website
Problems or hypotheticals in the course materials
For 1Ls, tutoring practice questions
Draft-and-swap question opportunities with friends
Exam database for your law school
• For paper courses, plan out your research and writing and begin tasks now rather than procrastinating.
What deadlines are required by your professor: topic approval, paper outline, initial bibliography, drafts.
Break down larger tasks into small steps so that you do not get overwhelmed.
Set an artificial deadline two days before each deadline and work toward that earlier date. You will have more time for edits and rewrites if necessary rather than last-minute panic.
• Look ahead at your calendar and plan how you will get work done beforehand if you have weekends out-of-town, team or BOB competition weeks, or family events to attend.
Evaluate how well your plans are working periodically during the semester. Tweak or rework as needed. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Spring semester is a new beginning. You can repeat the strategies that worked. You can modify strategies that need some tweaking. You can implement new strategies to replace bad strategies. Now is your opportunity to make changes where needed!
Here are some things you want to consider:
- Start a serious study routine now. Too many students waste the first half or two-thirds of the semester before they get down to consistent hard work.
- Prepare for class with your focus on learning and understanding. Doing time over pages is not learning. Understanding before class has real advantages:
- You can follow the discussion better and not wonder what is going on.
- You can answer questions better if called on by the professor.
- You can take better notes because you know what you already have in class preparation materials (briefs, worksheets, problem sets, etc.).
- You can ask questions that you know are relevant and important because you know more about the material.
- Review before you walk into class to allow yourself to have seen the material twice. If the topic is a continuing one, read the notes from the prior class to gain context.
- Review your class notes after each class for 15 minutes some time during the same day to reorganize, fill in gaps, add examples, note down questions to ask, and summarize the essential take-away points.
- Outline each week for each exam course. You will gain insights and context more quickly. You will be outlining while material is still fresh. You will build your master study document easily and be able to start exam review.
- Distribute your learning throughout the semester. That is, front-load exam study rather than wait to cram. Here are four reasons for doing this:
- You will recall, understand, and apply information more easily if you have seen it multiple times during review throughout the semester.
- Long-term memory is built over time and allows you to retrieve information later (on the exam, during an advanced course, bar review, or practice).
- Cramming equals mere brain dump without any longevity of memory; you will need to relearn everything later.
- You will decrease your stress if you spread exam learning over 15 weeks (the usual semester length) rather than a few weeks at the end.
- Include multiple levels of review in your weekly schedule to front-load exam study:
- Prevent forgetting 80% of what you learn within 2 weeks: Read your outline front to back page each week to keep everything fresh.
- Intensely review sections of your outline for deep understanding: grapple with the concepts; synthesize those concepts; know how to use them to solve new legal problems.
- Apply the material on as many practice questions as possible. Choose questions similar to the exam if you know the type of exam. Practice does make perfect.
- Spend time on memory drills to learn the black letter law over time, so it comes to you quickly through repetitive study.
- Get assistance early and often. Ask your professors questions. Get feedback on practice questions if possible. Read study supplements if needed. Visit with the academic support professional at your school.
- Adopt a mindset that you can improve! Last semester was last semester. Focus on what you can do this semester.
You have more control over your semester and exams than you realize! You need to use learning and memory to advantage. Take charge of your semester from the beginning rather than dawdling. Go for it! (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Students learn in many different ways. Memory work is no exception; students need to choose the techniques that work for them. Here are various memory techniques that can be used:
Examples appealing to verbal learners:
- Acronyms: Students take the first letters of a series of words to be memorized to make a common word. A non-law example: HOMES (the Great Lakes - Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eire, and Superior).
- Nonsense acronyms: The same technique is used, but the letters form a nonsense result. The verbal trick is to turn the result into something meaningful. A non-law example: EGBDF (the musical scale - Every Good Boy Does Fine).
- Drilling with flashcards by reading them silently over and over.
- Writing/typing out a rule 15 times.
Examples appealing to verbal and aural learners:
- Rhymes spoken aloud: The tempo of the rhyme helps to remember the words. Non-law example: 30 days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31 except for February.
- Sayings spoken aloud: A wise statement to connect ideas. Old law example: Assault and battery go together like ham and eggs.
- Reading flashcards aloud over and over.
- Reciting a rule aloud 15 times.
Examples appealing to verbal and visual learners:
- The peg method: The pegs are the numbers 1 through 10 with rhyming words of the student's choice; the pegs always stay the same. Example: one-bun; two-shoe; three-tree; four-door; etc. Visuals are then added to the pegs to assist in memorizing a list. Law example: learn the 9 U.S. Supreme Court justices; one is a gooey sticky bun with C.J. Roberts stuck in the middle and yelling to get out; two is a polished wingtip shoe with Justice Scalia standing in the middle with his arms crossed ; three is a tree with Justice Ginsburg sitting in its branches; etc.
- The story-telling method: The items are linked to a story to remember the list. Law example: same task; C.J. Roberts walks out of the law school. Just as he steps into the parking lot, Justice Scalia races up in shiny red sports car. Justice Ginsburg gets splashed with water as the car drives through a rain puddle. Etc.
Examples appealing to visual learners:
- Method of location: The student chooses a familiar building (parents' house perhaps) and four rooms in that building (living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen perhaps) and five items in each room (couch, recliner, coffee table, TV, and floor lamp in the living room perhaps). The person walks through the rooms and views the items in exactly the same order each time. Images are connected to the location to remember the items on a list. For long lists, the student walks through the rooms more than once. Law example: for negligence, a soldier is standing at attention on the couch - duty; a tank is ramming through the center of the recliner - breach; etc.
- Memory palace: Like method of location except the student builds a more elaborate and imaginary palace with many rooms to tie the list locations. Because the palace is imaginary, the student needs to spend ample time getting acquainted with each room to aid memory.
- Visual organizers: Drawing a spider map, Venn diagram, or other visual organizer to represent the rule/concepts. This method is especially good for remembering concepts with multiple layers.
Often law students forget memory techniques that were successful for them in earlier educational experiences. If a technique worked in middle school, it may also work for law school or may work if modified. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 20, 2015
In this post, I am defining non-traditional as based on age and the resultant experiences with age. So, I am thinking about the 30 to 70-year-old students. (Yes, 70-year-olds are applying to law school.). Why do I care passionately about the NT law students? Because I was one; I went to law school at 40 after completing a first career. As an NT law student, I loved learning the law - though law school held some definite surprises for me. NT law students have some advantages and some challenges when attending law school.
First, let's consider the advantages that are part of the NT law school venture:
- Most NT law students are good at time management. They worked 40-hour weeks - many held exempt positions that required even more hours on the job. The rule-of-thumb that the average, full-time law student needs to study 50-55 hours per week outside of class to distribute exam learning all semester long seems less daunting to them.
- Most NT law students are also good at organization. They organized complex work projects regularly and may have led project teams for their employers. They often had experience working on multiple projects with identical deadlines.
- Life experiences of the NT students may relate to the material they study in classes: they have leased apartments, bought houses, filed income tax forms, signed employment and other contracts, worked in business organizations, been observers/part of family wills disputes, been observers/part of marital breakups, and so much more. Associating new learning to prior learning and experience is one of the essential links for memory and learning.
- Experience as problem solvers in a variety of situations helps NT students. They are used to processing the information, facts, rules, dynamics, and much more that go into problem situations. The idea of solving legal problems on exams seems commonsense to them.
- Typically NT students know for certain that law school is the next step for their lives. For many of them, law school has been a goal that was a long time coming. They have negotiated family, financial, career, and personal logistics to get here. Few of them are in law school because they do not know what else to do.
- The NT students have a record of success in many other endeavors. They have succeeded in work settings, raising families, and service to their communities. Some have graduate degrees. Most have accolades from another career. Many have held volunteer positions as board members, committee chairs, fundraisers, coaches, or other roles.
- NT law students are often more assertive in new situations. They are willing to ask questions in class, stop by professors' offices for discussion, make suggestions to improve the law school, volunteer for committees, and more.
As we all know, our greatest strengths sometimes also cause our challenges. Here are some of the challenges that NT law students may face:
- NT students may have major family or other responsibilities that compete for their time: time needed for a spouse, childcare, or elder care. Some NT students arrive with continuing obligations for their small businesses, consulting duties, or service in the military reserves. These important obligations require them to manage their time in unique ways.
- Sometimes NT students get distracted from the narrow question addressed by an edited case or in a practice question because they realize all the additional issues and complications that occur in real life. A limited fact scenario expands in many directions as they apply prior knowledge that causes them to miss the specific focus at hand.
- NT students may solve problems too quickly or become wedded to one side's arguments because prior experience led them to right answers or a one-sided perspective of their employer. They need to adjust to the analysis needed for "it depends" scenarios.
- Some NT students lose confidence when they suddenly feel incompetent. Before law school they were the leaders and understood everything. Now they may feel lost as they wade through cases and deal with the Socratic method. Not knowing the answers to hypotheticals or getting low marks on writing assignments can be discouraging.
- NT students may feel that they are dinosaurs when dealing with classroom learning and younger classmates who seem quick with new ideas and technology. The hiatus from classroom education can seem daunting to overcome.
- A few NT students become resistant to change when confronted with new ways to study, think, or write. Their own strategies and techniques have been right and successful before. As a result, they may view professors' formats, perspectives, or other requirements as trivial, or even wrong.
NT law students who approach the law school experience with the attitude of lifelong learners will usually adapt better. Lifelong learners tend to be flexible in implementing new styles of learning while evaluating what of the old remains applicable. If NT law students can focus on the excitement of learning new things while recognizing the likely discomfort of change, they can balance the advantages and challenges of being NT students. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 30, 2015
Here are suggestions from law students on some of the software/apps they like:
For flashcards/spaced repetition:
- Flashcardlet (a variation of Quizlet)
- Flashcard Machine
For visual organizers:
For to do lists:
For blocking distractions:
- Cold Turkey
Do you have favorite apps for law school, time management, avoiding procrastination, or organizing your life? Add a comment to this post with your suggestions. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
It is the time of the semester when law students are getting tired. However, now is the time that focus and seriousness of purpose are even more important. Here are some tips for persevering in your studies:
- Vary your study tasks to break the monotony. Switch between tasks for the same course: read for class; update your outline; memorize some flashcards; complete a practice question. Or switch between courses every hour.
- Become more actively engaged in your study tasks. Ask questions about what you are reading. Read aloud to use inflection and tone to stay focused. Explain aloud what you just read to quiz yourself.
- Break your study tasks on your to-do list into small pieces to prevent being overwhelmed. Thirty pages of reading becomes six five-page chunks or the separate cases that are more manageable. Writing a paper becomes writing separate sections or two-page chunks. An hour of practice questions becomes separate questions to complete.
- Cross off each small task on your to-do list when it is completed. You will see progress more quickly which will motivate you more.
- If the small piece you have broken a task into still seems too overwhelming on a particular day, break it down even more: one page to read; one paragraph to write. It is getting started that is the hardest; once you start you will usually be able to keep going.
- Take short breaks to regain your focus. After 90 minutes, take a 10-15 minute break to give your brain a rest. Our brains continue to work in the background even as we take a break - think of it as their catching up on filing things away.
- Move around during your breaks: walk to the water fountain and back; walk around outside; stand up and stretch. Sitting and texting does not get your blood flowing.
- Give your brain a boost by eating an energy snack on your break if you are starting to slump. Think healthy snacks rather than sugar or caffeine: fruit, nuts, celery and carrot sticks, yogurt, granola bars.
- If you hit a wall mentally and cannot absorb anything else, take 2-3 hours off and do something that will give yourself a total break during which you cannot think about law school: go to the cinema; play racquetball; play with your children. Afterwards return to your studies with a fresh start.
- Agree with another law student to be an accountability partner. Help each other stay on track and make good decisions about priorities and time management. Support each other in positive study and life habits.
- Exercise 30 minutes for 3-5 times a week. It does not have to be a long gym workout to benefit you: walk, jump rope, run in place. By combining exercise with a meal break afterwards, you give your body and brain some extra time to revive.
- Watch your sleep routine. The temptation is to cut back on sleep to get more studying in. But when you are tired, you absorb less material, retain less material, and are overall less productive. Get 7-8 hours of sleep regularly.
- Avoid loading up on junk food. Your brain and body need healthy meals. Buy prepared foods in your grocery store. Use a slow cooker on the weekends to make entrees for multiple meals. Prepare a week's worth of mixed fresh fruit and other healthy snacks on the weekend.
Take one day at a time. Do the best you can with the circumstances that you have each day. Once the day is over, let it go. Do not dwell on "should haves," "could haves," and the like. Move on to the next day. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, September 28, 2015
It is very easy for law students to get overwhelmed with the wide variety of study aids that are available both in hard copy and electronically. Here are some points to consider when choosing a study aid:
- What specific tasks do you want to accomplish with the study aid? You want to be clear about your purposes. Study aids fall into categories:
- commentaries explaining the law in depth
- outlines explaining the law with less depth
- very condensed summaries explaining the law with even less depth
- visual organizers to depict the law pictorially
- practice questions in various formats with answer explanations
- memory aids to learn rules and definitions
- combination study aids that include multiple categories of material
- How often should you use study aids? Some guidelines include:
- Choose the depth of explanation to match your depth of confusion. With more confusion, you need more detailed explanation.
- It is typically better to read a commentary at the time you are confused and not wait until later in the semester.
- It saves time to read just the topics or subtopics about which you are confused rather than everything covered in a semester course.
- Reading more than one commentary is usually inefficient because you gain little additional knowledge/understanding. Only read a second commentary if you are still confused after the first one.
- Complete as many practice questions as possible. Very easy practice questions may help you as you learn the material. However, you want to complete harder practice questions as you learn material more deeply.
- How closely does the study aid align with your professor's course? Study aids are typically written for a national audience and include topics that a specific professor will not cover. State-specific courses may not have as many study aids available - CA and NY being the exceptions that publishers seem to favor.
- Does your professor recommend specific study aids? Some professors list in their syllabi the study aids that they think match their course material or test questions best.
- What sources of study aids may be useful to you for lower costs? You may have more aids available than you realize:
- Your law school may have a study aids library for short-term circulation.
- Your law school may have a subscription to one of the publisher's electronic study aid collections.
- Upper-division students may have study aids to lend to you - be careful about the edition in case the law has changed.
- Your professor may have worksheets, practice questions, and other materials on a course website.
- Your law school may have an exam database with professors' released exam questions.
- Your state board of bar examiner's may post on its website various past exam questions for the state's bar exam subjects.
- Do other students who have had the course previously have suggestions on study aids? There are a few things to consider when they make suggestions:
- Their learning preferences may vary greatly from your own learning preferences.
- A professor may have changed books or the emphases in a course since they had the class.
- You want to test run a study aid if at all possible before purchase to see if it works for you - see the above point for some options to do so.
Study aids can be a valuable resource to law students. However, care is needed in the choosing so that the timing, task, and specific content are all considered. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 24, 2015
One of my students made me laugh today. We have been talking over the weeks about optimal study habits, her learning styles, her procrastination styles, the types of courses that are harder for her, organization and time management skills, and how to apply all of that knowledge to her studying to select strategies for each course to improve her skills for better grades.
She commented that she has so much more appreciation of how she has to learn in order to conquer the obstacles to her success. As she left, she declared, "I am getting in touch with my inner study nerd."
Have you gotten in touch with your inner study nerd?
A variety of aspects go into that concept:
- How you prefer to absorb new information
- How you manage new information presented in non-preferred ways
- How you prefer to think about and organize information
- How you manage new information organized in non-preferred ways
- How you expand your thinking to encompass different legal perspectives
- How your written and oral communication skills and styles mesh with legal communications
- How you manage your time for wise use of that time and the most results
- How you manage your environment to promote learning
- How you support your brain and body: sleep, nutrition, and exercise
- How you respond emotionally to challenges or lackluster performance
- How you approach/avoid asking for assistance from classmates, professors, or others
- How you find ways of procrastinating on your tasks, work, and decisions
- How you cope when life happens: illness, financial problems, etc.
If you are not sure you know your inner study nerd, visit with the academic support professionals at your law school. Chances are good that they can help you "get in touch" with assessments, strategies, and advice. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
We are now in our fourth week of classes. Professors have gone beyond introductions and have picked up the pace. When talking with my students, I find that those who have not become savvy about their individual courses and professors are much more anxious about the semester than their colleagues.
Each professor and course needs to be evaluated for information that can help the student prepare for class and approach the course with more confidence. Here are some tips for students who want to become "experts" on their professors' courses:
1. Read your syllabus again for more information about the course than you may have noticed on the first reading. The information gleaned can help you construct a framework for your learning. Your professor may not include all of these items, but many of them will likely be there:
- Does the professor indicate a particular approach or perspective that will be taken on the material?
- What are the learning outcomes or objectives for the course?
- What does the grading rubric tell you about emphases if there are multiple assignments or tests?
- What information is provided about specific assignments or tests you may have in the course so you can anticipate methods of preparation, time commitments, and expectations?
- What study aids or supplements are recommended by the professor for the course?
2. Consider your professor's classroom format carefully. Understanding how the class will unfold each time will help you prepare better for the classes.
- Does your professor format the class the same each time so that you can anticipate the coverage?: Example, starts with context from the last class, proceeds through each case separately, asks policy questions, discusses how the cases work together, asks hypotheticals.
- Does your professor have a template of questions used for each case discussion?
- Does your professor have other types of questions that are always asked? Example, policy, trends in the law, tracking justices' votes.
- Does the professor emphasize common law, restatements, codes, model rules, your own jurisdiction's law, or a combination of these?
- Does your professor emphasize notes and comments, questions at the end of cases/chapters, hypotheticals or problem sets in the casebook?
- Does your professor use Socratic Method, take volunteers, or some combination?
3. Consider your professor's teaching style carefully. Understanding the teaching style will assist you in preparing for class and using your learning styles appropriately for what you are responsible to learn outside of class.
- Does your professor preview material when you begin a new topic or summarize material at the end of topic - neither or both?
- Does your professor focus on individual cases at depth or discuss cases more broadly?
- Does your professor provide clear statements of law for you or expect you to extract them from the cases?
- Does your professor synthesize material across cases or subtopics or expect you to do so?
- Does your professor want you to understand the policies behind cases/statutes and the evolution of the law?
- Does your professor use PowerPoint slides, handouts, worksheets, visual organizers, video/audio clips, or other techniques to supplement the class?
- Is your professor willing to give feedback on your course outline or several practice questions?
You will be able to take more control over your studying as you gain greater understanding of your course and your professor's expectations. By being an expert on the professor's course, you build a framework within which to learn the material. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, August 31, 2015
This is the third and final installment of how to succeed in law school, advice from students. Below is advice compiled from my 1Ls from last year.
Filter Your Listening But Don’t Be Afraid to Talk:
Do not listen to other 1Ls. This will not be an easy task, many 1Ls think they are qualified to give advice to other 1Ls. They do not have any more experience than you, no matter how much they think they know. It will be very hard to tune out other 1Ls, but it is worth it. Instead, seek out 2 or 3L and professors. They literally have the roadmaps to success.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people when you’re stressing out ;) they will be able to help, and sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Talk to the people sitting next to you in class, they may become your best friends. Talk to 2Ls about professors, test-taking, law school life, anything. They are a great resource!
Be willing to put in the work:
There are a lot of new concepts, which can be overwhelming, but try to stay on top of it all. If you don't understand something, ask your professors. And do this throughout the course, rather than waiting to the end. But the tricky part is that knowing the material is really only the first step. Knowing a rule isn't enough, you have to be able to apply the rules to tough fact patterns.
Everyone will walk out, mostly, knowing the material. Because of the curve (yes, the dreaded law school curve - yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) you need to be able to articulate the material and apply it better than your classmates. The only way to make that happen is through time. Realistically, the individuals who sink the most time into law school are going to be the ones with the best grades. Of course there are other considerations, work life balance, general test taking ability, etc. These also play a role, however the general trend is the more time, the better the results. You have to be the most dedicated and committed to come out on top.
Be Prepared for Class and Pay Attention:
Course supplements aren’t nearly as important to your performance on the final as is your ability to pay attention in class. Each professor teaches the material a bit differently, so it’s important to figure out the certain areas that your specific professor emphasizes.
If you really want to get good grades, do all of the reading, go to all of the classes, and pay attention in those classes. It seems like these things are so obvious, but I was really surprised last year by the number of my colleagues who didn't consistently do them.
I think if students are able to find the discipline to really make sure they always do what they're supposed to do, there's a good chance they'll do very well. Personally, I tried to think about law school as if it were a job. Showing up and doing the work was something I had to do, not something I could just blow off.
Do What Works for YOU:
There are a lot of extremely smart and well-spoken people in law school. During the first semester, I spent way too much time stressing myself about other peoples’ study habits and progress. I also wasted a lot of time trying to imitate some of their study habits, such as study groups and listening to audio recordings. I had never studied in this manner before, and it simply did not work with my learning style. Once I tuned out the other students, I was able to make more productive use of my time. Everyone learns differently! Find what works for you and stick with it.
At the end of spring semester one professor reminded us we are all incredibly special people who have rare and highly sought-after skills. For me this stood out because it's easy to forget this when you are constantly surrounded by other law students with similar skills. We are all incredibly gifted and we need to remember that.
Just because someone says to do something doesn't mean you should do it. Follow your gut and always do what is right for you. It is incredibly difficult to not feel obligated to do the traditional 1L activities like moot court competition journal write-on, but do your best to ignore these nagging feelings. Everyone is different and different approaches and experiences benefit different people in unique ways. Do not be afraid to go against the flow, but also don't be afraid to follow it.
Law school is demanding, and sometimes I found it difficult to maintain a healthy school-life balance. Although it is important to dedicate adequate time to learning the material, I think it is equally important to step away and allow yourself time to recharge! When I neglected to do this, I found I was much more stress and retained less information. There is no need to pull extreme hours in as long as you keep a consistent schedule throughout the semester and plan ahead. Do not feel guilty about taking a day off to catch up with your old friends or going home to visit your family for the weekend!
Take necessary breaks. Law school is extremely manageable, if you just use your time efficiently. With that being said, if you aren't focusing while doing work, take a break and do something fun. It is more efficient to work when you are focused than to half-work/half-text/facebook/browse online/shop online, etc. Taking breaks is important (as long as they aren't too often).
Your physical health helps your mental and emotional health. Pack your lunch more often with healthy things and eat the pizza in moderation. Bring your workout clothes to school and schedule time for exercise. Working out is usually the first thing to go because you think you don’t have time for it. That is just an excuse. Yoga pants are really stretchy and you don’t realize how much weight you gained until you can’t fit into any of your real clothes. 30 minutes at the gym or a run through campus was a great stress relief and helped me get back into my suit in time for interviews.