Friday, September 26, 2014
I really enjoy my students. It is a privilege to help them reach their academic potential. With new strategies, encouragement, and regular support many of the students who were struggling can make a major turn-around. When they stop by or email me to tell me about the high grade on a midterm, a positive critique on a paper, their first B grades in law school, and other triumphs, I share their joy.
Each student is unique in the combination of learning styles, personal and academic challenges, course difficulties, and more. Although there are strategies that work for most students, those strategies may not be a match with others.
I discuss with my students that the materials that I give them will pull together strategies that have worked for many students - strategies that are based on memory and learning theory as well as other research. I explain the reasons for the strategies and their relevance to grades, future bar passage, and ultimately to practice. I also encourage them that if the strategies do not work for them as individuals that we need to explore what strategies will work for them. We can work as a team to modify approaches or brainstorm new approaches that will work.
Most students are eager to become more successful learners. They readily become part of the team to improve their academics. They want to learn more deeply, to improve their skills, and to improve their later performance on the bar exam and in practice. The meetings become a dialogue seeking the strategies that work best for them as individuals. We discuss, tweak, and brainstorm together.
One challenge to a team effort is that some students are resistant to any change in their study habits even when their grades indicate that their past strategies have not been successful. Change is frightening when the consequence of not making grades is dismissal from law school. Change is stressful when they are struggling with the first bad grades in a lifetime and silently question whether other law students are smarter. Change is very uncomfortable when old habits feel so safe in comparison to new techniques.
With these students, I discuss strategies that will move their studies closer to success within their limited comfort with change. As they see positive results with small steps, they are often willing to try additional small changes. Unfortunately, because they limit the number and range of strategies, they often also limit their academic improvement compared to other students who are open to change.
Another challenge to a team effort is that some students are not invested in their academics to a level that allows them to live up to their true academic potential. For a few, the reality is that responsibilities and circumstances outside of law school limit their time for studying. Examples of these aspects would be care for elderly parents, serious medical illness in the family, personal illness, or financial problems. For other students, the extra hours that law school requires to get high grades does not seem worth the effort. They are content with studying enough hours to keep their grades above the academic standards but not more than that amount.
With these students, I work together to get more results from the time invested. Where time is being consumed by study methods that get little oomph, it can be boosted by more effective strategies. Often undergraduate study methods can be modified for law study to get more traction. These students can still improve some - though again the reality is that their improvement is likely to be less than students who have more hours to invest in effective study.
Throughout the process, I try to encourage students, to read between the lines as to what is going on with them, and to be supportive. Each student has to make a decision as to what strategies are feasible to implement within the personal framework of that student. The individual's parameters will determine the student's overall success in academics. I can be a guide and a partner in the process. The student has to make the final choices as to time and effort. I have to respect their choices even when I recognize that they will not meet their full academic potential. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The following web sites and applications have been suggested by law students to help other law students:
- Flashcard Machine: website and app that allow the making of flashcards, random sort, and temporary removal from the deck (flashcardmachine.com)
- Quizlet: website and apps for flashcards, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions; can share with others (quizlet.com)
- SelfControl: Mac app for blocking websites, e-mail, and internet for set time period (selfcontrolapp.com)
- Chrome Nanny: a Google Chrome extension to block time-wasting websites
- Facebook Nanny: another Google Chrome extension to block your Facebook access unless you have a notifications
- Blotter: app for Mac users for desktop time management schedule
If you have apps and websites that are your favorites, please send me an e-mail with the heading "Apps and Websites" at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I may share them with our readers. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
You don’t procrastinate. You perform better under pressure. This may be true but it is more likely how you justify putting things off. Admit it, just a few weeks ago you told yourself that you were going to stay on top of thing this semester. Law student: start outlining early and be prepared for every class. Professor: get the whole semester planned before classes begin, work on your article every week without fail. You would make no excuses. Then you got busy and more important things came up: moot court try-outs/practice, organizing an event for some organization (of which you are probably the president), your friend’s birthday (you only turn 23 once). Admit it, you procrastinate. Everyone procrastinates sometimes but it should not be the norm. Procrastination may be something you do (or avoid doing) but it should not define you. We procrastinate for many reasons: daunting task, fear of failure, too many options. Whatever the reason, procrastinating actually increases your stress and only puts off the inevitable. Now that you’ve admitted you procrastinate, it’s time to do something about it.
Begin with identifying why you avoid starting a task and address it: break a daunting project into smaller tasks, allow yourself to make a few mistakes along the way, list the cons of waiting until the last minute and the benefits of starting early. The hardest part is turning your aspirations into actions. Identify a positive attribute that describes you and use that to define your actions then pick a start date and hold yourself accountable (arrange to meet a classmate and work together, set up a meeting with your professor to ask questions or get feedback, block out the time on your calendar so you can’t fill it with other things). Take it one day at a time and take back the control. Don’t wait until tomorrow, stop procrastinating today. (KSK)
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Most of you are well within your first month of law school and may have had your first quiz or a writing assignment which may have made you question your decision to be in law school. It’s understandable but don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep in mind that if you already had all of the answers, then you wouldn’t be in law school. You are here to learn, so be open to letting others (your professors, administrators, upper class men) help you navigate this new path. Below are a few tips on navigating your new path.
1) I’m sure that many of you have been told that it’s important to be active readers in law school and not just passively read the cases. In case you’re still trying to figure out what that means, here are a few suggestions to help become an active reader. Read with a purpose. Know why you are reading a particular case and how it fits within the big picture. You may want to consult the table of contents or the course syllabus to figure out what topic or issue the case will address. Once you have an idea of what to look for in a case, you may consider referring to an outside source (a study aid) to gain some general knowledge about the term. As you read your cases, keep the issue at the forefront of your mind to anchor your thinking. Ask yourself as you read the case, what does this case tell me about this issue (the anchor)? Is the court explaining the issue? Is it dividing the issue into elements or explaining one of the elements? Try to figure out what the court is doing? Is it creating a new rule, rejecting an old rule or explaining or redefining an existing rule?
2) If you have an upcoming quiz or test, I would strongly suggest that you test your understanding of concepts you covered in class prior to taking the quiz. There are several ways to test your knowledge. For example, after you’ve read a series of cases on a particular rule, try to create your own hypothetical to explain how a rule or element is applied. Include a sentence or two on the relevant facts to aid in your explanation and note which facts trigger each issue or element. Also, you can use study aids such as Examples and Explanations to find practice questions on a discrete topic. The point is you should not enter any quiz, assessment, or exam without having tested your understanding of the material and without having completed at least one or two practice questions.
3) After you’ve taken a quiz or exam, you must review your exam. If you are not happy with the grade that you received, you must make an appointment to review your answers with your professors. Before going to your professor’s office, I would caution you to review your answers first. Otherwise, you run the risk of not getting the most out of your meeting. Review your notes and your outline and determine for yourself where the weak areas are or what you could have strengthened. Then take your assessment to your professor and ask for her opinion on your work.
4) Finally, another way to work on developing a deeper understanding of the material is to talk it out with others. If you are not a study group person, consider a study buddy. There is value in discussing difficult concepts with your colleagues. Your classmate may have picked up on something in the case that you missed or may be able to explain the rule to you in a way you hadn’t considered or vice versa. Also, you are more likely to notice gaps in your knowledge when you discuss cases and rules with your colleagues. Lastly, there is safety in numbers. If you and your study buddy or study group don’t understand a particular rule you can make an appointment with the professor together and support each other. You don’t have to go at it alone.
Happy studying! (LMV)
 For more tips on case reading and genral study advice see Ruta K. Stropus and Charlotte D. Taylor, Bridging the Gap Between College and Law School (Carolina Academic Press 2001)
Monday, September 15, 2014
Even though the semester is still new, build in time to review. First year students and upper-level students, alike, should build in time for review on a daily and a weekly basis. When first year students hear that law students should aim for approximately four to five hours of study outside of class, for every one hour in class, they often ask what they should do with all of that time. Here is a top-ten list of ways to fill the time:
- 1. Read cases assigned -- once, twice, three times;
- 2. Brief the cases [yes: brief all of the cases]; do not book brief--brief!;
- 3. Get to each class five-to-ten minutes early and review briefs and class notes from the previous class --yes, this time counts, too!;
- 4. Within 24 hours after each class, review class notes and briefs that you have corrected during class;
- 5. At the end of each week review your notes and briefs for each class; clean them up and revise;
- 6. In the context of the weekly review, begin to outline concepts completed in classes;
- 7. Reread your outlines a few times each week;
- 8. Begin to work with carefully chosen practice questions
- 9. Judiciously consult study aids; and
- 10. Last, but not least, build in time to incrementally complete legal research and writing assignments.
- To master your time management and make the most of your study time, create a weekly schedule. In that schedule, block out times to study and assign tasks to each time. Create blocks of one-to-two hours and build in breaks of ten-to-twenty minutes. Keep a study journal in which you can reflect on what you've done and how well your time management and study techniques work.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
We just finished our second week of classes. The first-year students are looking a bit shell-shocked. The upper-division students are commenting on how things are already too fast-paced. Everyone is looking forward to the long weekend.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the weekend:
- Get a good start on next week's class preparation. Try to complete your Tuesday and Wednesday assignments. You will feel less stressed as the week begins again. Then review the material before class (or the night before) so you have seen it twice.
- Outline for each of your courses. Using this weekend to get on top of all course outlines, will put you in an advantageous position. You can then add to your outlines each week and not end up having to find huge blocks of time in future weeks to catch up on outlines.
- Set up your study space as you will use it for the rest of the semester. Have all of your school-related items in the same place to save time by not having to hunt for things.
- If you have not already made note of all deadlines and due dates for courses (paper draft due, midterm exam, court observation assignment, other projects), mark those dates on a monthly calendar so you will not forget anything.
- If you are already sleep-derived, catch up on your sleep and establish a routine sleep schedule beginning Sunday night that will give you 7 - 8 hours of sleep during regular bed and wake up times.
- Plan a few hours for fun: exercise, a BBQ with new friends, a movie, your favorite TV shows.
- If you have boxes to unpack, errands to run, or other personal items to take care of, try to complete them before classes next week. You will have less stress if you are more settled into your living space and routine.
Enjoy this slight respite. Be ready to hit the ground running on Tuesday. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, August 16, 2014
As the beginning of another school year approaches, I have been thinking about how a law student's success is so closely tied to the attitudes of the student. Here are some of my thoughts after observing law students through working in ASP and teaching elective courses.
Attitudes for success:
- Confidence in one's ability to adapt and learn is positive. It is a new educational frontier when 1Ls arrive. With flexibility and willingness to learn, most 1Ls will gain the new strategies for legal education success.
- Openness to constructive criticism coupled with hard work will turn around many of the typical 1L errors in critical analysis and writing (whether exam answer or memorandum).
- Willingness to seek help in a proactive way will overcome many obstacles. Students who use resources in a timely manner can ameliorate problems before they become intractable - whether the help is from professors, librarians, academic success professionals, deans, or other resources.
- Respect for others at all levels within the law school community will engender respectful treatment in return. Much of the tension and competitiveness of law school can be lessened when everyone in the environment remains respectful. Faculty, administrators, staff, and students are all integral to that environment being present.
- Kindness improves one's outlook about law school and engenders helpfulness rather than hostility. A student who values collegiality will lend notes to an ill classmate, explain a concept to a struggling student, and share a kind word with a classmate faced with a crisis.
- Passion for a desired professional goal will often provide motivation when the going gets tough. Examples are: I volunteered with abused children and want to represent children in need of protection. I want to be part of helping families immigrating to the U.S. As a former park ranger, I want to practice environmental law.
Attitudes detrimental to success:
- Arrogance about one's superiority in comparison to others skews reality. 1Ls who arrive resting on their laurels and smug about how special they are often figure out the differences in law school too late in the semester to achieve their academic potential.
- Refusal to take responsibility for one's learning and understanding will lead to lower grades. Students who earn grades below their academic potential are often focused on what the professor, writing specialist, academic success professional, or [fill in the blank] should have done for them. They avoid recognizing and correcting the things they chose not to do to help themselves.
- Perfectionism creates unrealistic expectations that lead to exhaustion. Students who desire to be perfect will be overwhelmed by the amount of work. They often have trouble starting or finishing tasks in a timely manner because of their standards.
- Expected mediocrity can result from self-defeating comparisons to other law students. Students who begin to view themselves as not as good as others will often settle for lower grades. Examples are: I guess I am just a C student. Everyone else is so much smarter than I am. I'll never get an A grade.
- Immaturity leads to lack of effort and frivolous time management that result in bad grades. These students overlook that law school is a professional school and stay stuck in undergraduate behaviors. Playing every evening and weekend, drinking oneself into a stupor, and focusing on socializing lead to poor academic decisions.
- Apathy can result when law school has no personal meaning to the student. Examples are: I came to law school because I did not know what else to do. All males in my family have been attorneys for the last five generations - it was expected that I be a lawyer.
Attitudes color students' ability to adapt to law school, to handle the stress, to seek help, and to reach their full academic potential. Positive attitudes need to be nurtured. Negative attitudes need to be addressed to minimize harmful results. Attitudes will affect whether students just survive or thrive. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Summer is winding down and the fall semester starts in a few weeks, which means it’s time for everyone to offer advice on law school success. Here’s my two cents on how to start the semester off right: understand, organize, analyze. That’s it. Seems simple, right? Of course there is a catch. You will be reading court decisions and reading a case is not like reading fiction or textbooks. It goes beyond understanding the material. A case is just a piece of a much larger puzzle. To put that puzzle together you start with understanding the words within the case but then you must understand the case as a whole and how it fits into the larger organizational scheme. Finally, you must analyze that information under different fact scenarios to predict outcomes and resolve client issues. It won’t be easy at first and you will make mistakes, but the concepts are foundational and it won’t be long before understanding, organizing, and analyzing becomes a part of your internal thinking process.
Monday, July 14, 2014
I wish that I could say that I thought of the title to this posting myself, but I didn't. I have taken/borrowed the title of this post from my son's blog.
When we approach new and challenging tasks -- regardless of what those tasks may be -- repetition is important to mastery and, yes, to resilience. I would add one point to my son's sentiment: it is also critical that we do not always struggle in isolation as we work toward mastering new tasks.
Whether you are studying for the bar exam, whether you are a first year law student trying to master the myriad skills necessary to succeed, or whether you are, like my son, learning to use excel spread sheets, repetition is a key. But, you should also be willing to accept assistance and support that is offered to you.
For July bar exam takers, as you prepare to take the bar exam, employ repetition to achieve success (and resilience) and take advantage of all of the support and instruction offered by both your commercial bar prep class and by your law school.
For those about to enter law school in the fall, you will face new tasks. Employ repetition, but be sure to take advantage of the assistance offered to you by your law schools: attend academic support workshops and classes; meet with your professors; and meet with your law school’s academic support professionals. And remember that "nothing teaches resiliency like repetition."
(Myra G. Orlen)
Monday, May 12, 2014
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
As we get closer to finals, a lot of poor-performing students are struggling with outline and exam structure. At South Carolina, the second semester for First Years is made up of Con Law, Civ Pro, and Property, and all three of these classes seem to cause certain students to "over-write." For example, even more so than in their First Semester outlines, many students want to include all the minutiae of every case, so I have had at least a dozen students show up in my office saying something to the effect of "I have 120 pages on my outline done -- but I have a little more work to do."
A 120-page plus outline isn't going to help anyone, unless they are planning on clubbing someone with it. One thing I have found really helpful for these students is to go over practice questions geared to the bar exam (BarBri, Kaplan, Finz, etc.). These tend to be shorter than questions designed for doctrinal exams, and the idea that you can explain something like the rule for intermediate scrutiny or the Commerce Clause in three sentences is really helpful and mind-blowing. I've seen a real improvement in students' answers, especially since many of these students' exam issues were running out of time, missing issues, or spending time talking about things that were not going to translate into points.
I've also been using the longer essay questions from Emanuel's Questions and Answers for First Year. I don't know if this exactly counts as a self-serving plug since I wrote them, but I put them together specifically with this issue in mind. They are nowhere near the most detailed questions in the world, but they are good if you have a student who just needs to get IRAC together. I have a lot of these types of students -- who are bright, but write 16-page dissertations for a 20-minute question. Most of our meetings tend to revolve around focus and getting to the point.
I've also been working with these students using "Shortish Questions from the Realm of Stuff You Will Be Asked" -- so, for example, I have a question about an ordinance limiting firefighters to male citizens between the ages of 20-45 and a question about the state putting the kibosh on an individual's contract with an out-of-state company. This way, I can talk about breaking up the different levels of scrutiny and the four things that they will probably need to think about when the state messes with a private individual (commerce, contracts, privileges and immunities, due process). The weakest students have all of this in a jumble of premises and exhortations of fairness, which will clearly sink them on exams if they don't get it cleared up. (Alex Ruskell)
Monday, April 7, 2014
Remember Goldilocks in the home of the Three Bears? She did not want porridge that was too hot or too cold; she did not want a chair too hard or too soft; she did not want a bed that was too hard or too soft. She wanted everything to be just right.
I often remind my law students about Goldilocks. They do not want briefs that are too long or too short. They do not want outlines that contain too many case details or too few rules. They do not want exam answers too conclusory or too verbose. They do not want to do too little research or too much research. They want each step to be just right.
First-year students especially have trouble finding that "just right point" in their work. Second- and third-year students are not immune from the problem, however, in at least some of their tasks.
Students may obsess about the line to draw - how much is too little and how much is too much? Some become paralyzed in their work because they are looking for perfection in knowing the just right point from the get-go. They need to understand that they will learn to draw that line only by continuously repeating the tasks. The practice in doing the tasks leads in time to the ability of finding the just right point with ease.
Learning is a process and not a "given" from the start for most law students. Students can use self-monitoring to find the "just right point" over time as they repeat the various tasks. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Reviewing one's briefs after class against what the professor indicated/discussed in class. Why was the student's issue statement too broad or too narrow? What facts were included that were not needed or were left out? What policy arguments were missed or inaccurately stated?
- Comparing one's class notes after class with another student. What important points were missed from the class discussion? Did the hypotheticals mentioned by the professor get written down? Were the professor's steps of analysis delineated in the notes? Were notes taken down verbatim in a mechanical way or thoughtfully included for the salient points?
- Critiquing one's outlines after each topic is completed. Does the outline contain the law and policy needed to solve new legal problems? Does the outline flip one's thinking to the bigger picture and synthesis of the law or stay stuck in a series of case briefs? Is the outline skimpy without the steps of analysis and depth of understanding or is it filled with trivia that is not helpful?
- Comparing one's written practice question answers with the model answers or discussing them with study group members after everyone has done them separately. Were all of the issues spotted? Were there any rules left out or mis-stated? Were the facts used correctly when applying the law? Were all of the steps in the analysis delineated? Were both parties' arguments included?
- Reviewing low-grade exams at the beginning of the next semester to analyze what one did well or poorly. Most professors will allow students to compare their exams to anonymous A papers or rubrics or model answers. Many professors will go over the exams with students as well.
- Evaluating at the end of each semester one's progress on each study task for finding the just right point. Formulating strategies for further improvement on the tasks one is still struggling with.
If the student cannot determine strategies for further improvement after self-monitoring, then help from academic success professionals, professors, and teaching assistants should be sought out. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
If you have not discovered it yet, I recommend taking a look at the Listen Like a Lawyer Blog. Jennifer Murphy Romig from Emory University School of Law has some postings that deal with law students specifically. Here are several to look at that deal with listening in the law school classroom:
- September 30, 2013: Listening check-up for first-semester law students
- October 11, 2013: The listening technique that worked for me in law school
- February 11, 2014: Listening in law school: second-semester update.
There are other law school related postings that deal with externships, interviews, and other topics. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, February 7, 2014
Although there have been several signs of the Apocalypse lately, including a snowball fight in my South Carolina front yard and the appearance of Prince in a sitcom with Zooey Deschanel, I have been operating under the assumption that the world will continue to turn. Consequently, I have spent most of the past few weeks meeting with students who did poorly in their first semester.
There are many, many studies showing the importance of self-evaluation. The first thing I have students in trouble do is fill out a 5-page form asking them to relive the past semester. How many classes did they go to? How much time each week do they spend reading? When did they start outlines? What were there grades in each class? Better or worse than they thought? Did they go to tutoring? Did they come to my workshops? Ever meet with me? Ever meet with their professors?
Once they take a hard look at what they did, we start making a plan of improvement. Most of the time, the biggest self-reported issues are: 1. Started outline too late, 2. Spent too much time preparing for class (and no time preparing for exam), 3. Let Legal Writing get away from them, and 4. Never sought help.
When we've worked this out, I start helping them with outlines, scheduling, and we start with simple practice problems to get IRAC under control. I also make sure they meet with their profs.
While meeting with all of these students may be disheartening (and involve a large investment in Kleenex products), this semester I've had the great pleasure of having many returning, Second, or Third year students swing by my office and tell me how much they've improved (several CALI awards, many at least one entire letter grade jumps). So, I know this approach helps the vast majority of them.
Although, as always, there are the students I am extremely worried about. As I write this, the car keys of one of my in-trouble first years continue to hang on a hook outside my office. It has been three days since he left them here and I emailed him -- I haven't heard anything. How is he getting home? Is he looking for them? Did he forget he owns a car? Is he now living the movie "Badlands"? Did he steal someone else's car with his best girl by his side fleeing from one safe house to another with Boss Hogg on his tail as he tries to swing back to Columbia in time for Civil Procedure at 8 am?
At any rate, the fact his keys are still sitting here does not inspire confidence.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
It has been a hard month for some law students. The reasons vary, but the effect is the same. The weather has been bitter cold and cloudy many days. Their grades were not what they expected after all their hard work last semester. They are worrying about whether there will be a summer clerking position or employment upon graduation for them. The excitement of a new academic year last fall has faded into same old, same old. Third-year students see the bar exam looming ahead.
Motivation is dropping right now for many students. What they dislike about law school seems magnified. Students need to refocus their thoughts away from the negative in order to jumpstart their motivation. Here are some suggestions to turn around one's focus and get back the motivation:
- Remind yourself of why you came to law school. What is your ultimate goal? To serve a specific client population? To provide services to underserved populations? To impact the policy behind the law through government employment? To become a judge, firm partner, attorney general, in-house counsel? To hang out your own shingle? By reminding yourself of the end goal, you are better able to get through the process to get there.
- Remind yourself what you like about the study of law. Do you find certain courses especially interesting? Do you like the critical thinking needed to see both sides of an issue? Do you enjoy the pro bono or clinic opportunities to take what you learn and apply it? Do you like the research and writing aspects? By remembering that not everything about law study is negative, you can refocus your energies.
- Get yourself organized with a structured study schedule. Take the guess work out of what you should be doing. If you use only a "to do" list for the day, it drains your motivation. Human nature is to waste time because we say, "I have all day to get these things done." If your day is structured in a routine schedule, you do not decide what to do but instead know it is Tuesday at 3 p.m. and this is where you do class prep for Tax or it is Friday at 11 a.m. and this is where you outline PR. Supplement your structured schedule with your "to do" list to decide what specific tasks to complete for that designated time block.
- For paper or assignment deadlines, set an artificial deadline two days earlier and work toward that deadline. On a monthly calendar, put down the deadlines (real and artificial) and then lay out the tasks to complete each day to meet the deadline. The artificial deadline allows you some cushion for final edits, a printing disaster, or other problems. Consistently working on a larger project over more days, allows the tasks to be less daunting.
- Break down tasks into small pieces to provide motivation. Your 40-page reading assignment in Criminal Law becomes eight 5-page blocks. It is easier to get motivated to read 5 pages than 40 pages. You get that small task crossed off quickly which motivates you to go on to the next 5 pages. And, if your motivation is really low, tell yourself you will just read 1 page. It is hard to convince yourself that you cannot read 1 page! The getting started is the problem - you will likely continue beyond the 1 page.
- Realize that, if you get your work done rather than procrastinate, you will feel so much better. Instead of feeling guilty about what you should be doing or feeling stressed that you should have started something sooner, you will be able to enjoy down time after completing tasks and will be less stressed because you distributed your work rather than waiting until the last minute.
- Avoid people who suck you into low motivation and procrastination. If you hang out with other law students who are moaning and groaning and avoiding their work, it will be contagious. Instead seek out students who exhibit positive mindsets and get their work done in a timely fashion.
We all get down in the dumps and falter on motivation at times. The secret is to stop the cycle quickly rather than letting it become a downward spiral. Talk to someone if you are unable to get yourself motivated again. Do not just let it continue until you are overwhelmed. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, January 13, 2014
Alex and Rebecca have made very valid points in their posts regarding grades and reactions to grades last week. I would like to add some additional observations.
Our law students with few exceptions have always beeen at the top of the heap. A and B grades have come easily to them during their educational lives. In addition they have been campus leaders, successful athletes, officers in community youth groups - and for the non-traditional students, community leaders and exemplary employees. Whether their grades are good for law school (but just not good enough for them) or in the great middle of the class (those ever present C grades) or at the bottom of the heap for law school (probation or dismissal), the shock is there when their expectations are not met.
To be very honest, I find that many law students have not learned good study habits in prior educational settings even though they got excellent grades. A variety of factors play into that situation:
- grade inflation (one study showed that 75% of college grades are As and Bs),
- multiple-choice "just recognize the right answer" exams,
- no papers or only short papers written,
- papers that focus on just ideas and not writing style/grammar/punctuation,
- spoon feeding of what will need to be regurgitated on the exam,
- multiple exams that allow for cramming pieces of a course rather than comprehensive understanding of material,
- grading that allows for the lowest grade on exams/assignments to be dropped,
- group work that allows slackers to coast for the same grade as the others who did the work,
- and many more aspects.
When students are suddenly confronted with the amount of material in law school courses and the one-grade phenomenon of many courses, their old study habits no longer work. This reality is especially true if they came from educational backgrounds that were not competitive for grades and handed out accolades for basically showing up and doing the minimum.
The good news for all law students is that solid study strategies can be learned and make a difference in one's grades. More efficient and effective reading, briefing, note-taking, outlining, and exam-taking can all boost grades. Time management and organization are key skills that can also be learned.
Attitude is critical as well. Realizing that one can change and improve is important to future success. Willingness to work hard and change one's habits are major steps. Some law students get discouraged and settle for being average or below average as though their destiny is fixed after grades come out.
Do not give in to that mindset! Students can change their academic study strategies and reach their academic potential. Students can improve their grades wherever they currently fall in their classes. All students can change their strategies and gain greater learning with less stress.
Why do I believe this? I work weekly with a number of probation students each semester to help them find more efficient and effective ways to study. Look at some statistics for grades this past semester from probation students who met with me regularly, changed their study strategies, and worked smarter. Some made greater strides than others, but improvement resulted. (I have not included information for 3 probation students whose grades for one course are still unreported.)
GRADE POINT PRIOR SEMESTER'S COURSES GRADE POINT FALL SEMESTER COURSES
(last enrolled regular semester GPA; not cum GPA) (fall semester GPA; not cum GPA)
- 1.321 2.666
- 1.428 2.750
- 1.571 3.045
- 1.607 2.678
- 1.642 2.607
- 1.642 2.678
- 1.714 3.000
- 1.733 2.250
- 1.750 2.650
- 1.857 2.500
- 1.892 2.785
- 2.107 3.384
- 2.250 2.333
And here are the statistics for 2 other probation students:
- 1.642 1.857 (cancelled many ASP appointments; up for dismissal)
- 1.866 3.600 (did not meet with ASP)
Intervention by the Office of Academic Success Programs is not the only variable that determines improvement as can be seen by the last example. The number of strategies implemented, the number of hours studied, motivation, individual appointments with professors for help, personal circumstances, sleep/nutrition/exercise, and other variables also have impacts.
The point is that for all of the students who implemented more efficient and effective study strategies, improvement happened. Once all the grades are in for the remaining 3 students, will all of the students I met with meet academic standards? Maybe not, but 13 probation students have already exceeded the standards they needed and are on the road to future success. By honing their new study strategies, they should be able to continue at their new academic levels and beyond.
The take away from this post: Put last semester's GPA behind you and move forward by seeking assistance from ASP and your professors so that you can implement new study strategies to help you improve your grades and live up to your academic potential. There is no magic bullet or guarantee, but there is hope. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Sometimes, timing is everything. Law students need to learn to use their time wisely to effectively manage the demands of law school while balancing jobs, families, and self-care. Being at the right place at the right time makes a significant difference for law students who are networking for job opportunities and seeking support systems. Also, timing and pacing during a final exam (or the bar exam) can mean the difference between a passing grade and a failing one. In this post, I have referenced song lyrics that incorporate the theme of time while relating them to the law school experience.
“If I could save time in a bottle…” I know I may be dating myself with this one, but I had to begin with this classic line from Jim Croce’s hit love song “Time in a Bottle”. Ask your students what they would do if they could save time in a bottle. Are they making the most of each moment? Are they being intentional with how they plan their schedules, spend their time, and balance their commitments? We all want more time (especially law students), but instead of focusing on the lack of time we have, highlight ways to use time more efficiently and encourage your students to be present when free moments avail themselves.
“I’ve got too much time on my hands…” This classic rock song by Styx was written as a reflection on the unemployment crisis in the 70’s. The underlying theme in the lyrics rings true in many respects for today’s law students. They are worried about their careers, finding a job, and performing well on exams. They may not be able to tighten their focus when they actually do find that they have “time on their hands." Time management does not always come naturally. Providing students with tools and resources to help them manage their time will help them prioritize, use their free time wisely, and establish effective routines.
Similar to the melancholy quality of Styx’s lyrics, Otis Redding hits a few low notes when he croons about… “sitting on the dock of the bay…wasting time….” Students sometimes sit and feel like they cannot catch a break. Redding’s hit resonates with students who are feeling like they have left the life they knew only to find that law school is challenging, competitive, and sometimes disappointing. When they feel like “nothing's gonna change”, we step in to give them hope. Providing the tools for success to law students empowers them to make necessary changes to ensure their success. Especially at the close of the semester, we need to recognize that law students are exhausted, overloaded, and feeling lost. As Cyndi Lauper so aptly sings in “Time After Time”, when law students "are lost, they turn and they will find [us]", Academic Support Professionals. We catch them and lift them back up.
After exams or a when facing a rough patch during the semester, students may need to turn to ASP for this lift or for help with creating a new plan for their upcoming semester. If their study strategies or exam performance are subpar, they begin humming, “If I could turn back time” (with Cher’s iconic diva-ness echoing in their minds). Reflecting on study habits, legal analysis skills, and exam performance are key components to succeeding in law school. Everyone has moments in their past that they wish they could replay (or delete). Using these moments as opportunities for growth instead of moments of failure, helps students see beyond their initial shock, shame, or disappointment.
Like the Stones, we want our students to sing (and feel) that "time is on my side, yes it is...." While this may not always be realistic, there are many ways to get closer to that dream. Here are a few ideas:
- Create sample study schedules for your students
- Give them calendars and checklists to help them plan their time
- Ask them to keep a journal that tracks how they use their time during a typical day or week and then ask them to reflect on their time management
- Provide a time management workshop or webinar
- Have them draft a to do list at the start of each day and evaluate their progress at the end of each day
- Pair 1L students up with a 2L or 3L mentor to discuss how to effectively schedule their time
- Challenge students to unplug for a block of time each day (This is a good one for all of us!)
- Teach students the art of delegation
- Encourage students to take time each day to recharge.
By establishing routine time management practices, students will feel more balanced and be more productive. Because as Pete Seeger so aptly wrote, there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance." We should all spend more time dancing.
Friday, November 8, 2013
For the past several years, every student that found themselves in academic jeopardy told me that they hadn't done any practice questions. Consequently, this year I have been hammering them with constant exhortations to "Do practice questions! Do them early, do them often!" Of course, questions from their profs are the best, but if those are not available, they should look at commercial outlines, other profs, or bar materials.
But what to do with the questions? Besides valuable practice and insight into how a question may be asked (because, in the grand scheme of things, there are only so many scenario variations an exam can have -- for example, a Contracts exam would have to have someone offer someone something, a Torts exam would have to have someone behave negligently in some way), perhaps one of the most helpful things practice questions can do is to help create a "Monster List."
When I was in law school and taking the bar exam, I used to do practice questions for a course and then go over my answers, both right and wrong, and write out on a legal pad all the points of law I didn't know -- something like, "1. Person called 'Evil person' -- circumstantial evidence, does not assert person committed crime, 2. Reputation can be hearsay, 3. Dying declaration applies in civil case or homicide prosecution and statement must concern the cause or circumstances of impending death." I would continue to add to and study this list as I went along, and it would be the last thing I looked at before I sat for the exam.
I had a lot of success with this, and I have seen many students do so as well. In fact, for some students, it becomes the "Attack Outline" that they go into exams with. (Alex Ruskell)
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Here are a few more study tips from students and others:
- Consider putting your outlines on your Kindle for ease in carrying them with you - especially if you are leaving for the Thanksgiving Break.
- For first-year courses, you might want to consider purchasing the maps at picjur.com: Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law are all available in visual versions.
- If you rather listen to text rather than read it, you might want to consider two options: Dictation and Speech for Macs reads text that can be converted with iTunes for your iPhone; Outlines Outloud is an app that syncs your computer outlines with your iPhone for listening.
- Check out the website for the Board of Law Examiners in your state to see if they post old exam questions for your state-specific courses; practice questions are sometimes hard to find for state-specific topics, and old bar questions can be a plus.
- Remember to check your own law school's exam database for past exams in a course; even if they are for a different professor, the exams may provide good practice questions.
- Use a table to help you easily see the variations of the same rule (common law, restatement, uniform code, majority jurisdiction, minority jurisdiction, etc.) that you have to learn for an exam.
Exploring solutions that others have already found successful saves you time at a critical point in the semester. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Along with decorative gourds and tiny sociopaths demanding candy, the end of October brings an uptick in study group formation as we get closer to finals (I saw what looked like three new ones in the lobby on my way into work).
Several years ago, this annual rite resulted in some major kerfluffles, ados, and foofaraws -- so-and-so is cheating on one group with another, so-and-so doesn't do any work, s0-and-so always brings an enormous bag of potato chips, so-and-so's non-lawyer biker boyfriend enjoys attending -- and everyone ended up in my office for advice on how to work things out.
In response, I found an earlier posting from Amy Jarmon about the things study groups need to keep in mind, and I turned it into an actual contract, which I printed out and passed around to the First Year class.
A few days later, I saw several completed and signed contracts sticking out of bookbags, books, and binders, and all the complaining stopped. Since that time, I have mentioned the contract (repeatedly) and the concerns and complaints disappeared.
Many, many thanks to Amy, and below is the contract (Alex Ruskell) --
non in legendo sed in intelligendo legis consistent
STUDY GROUP CONTRACT
1. New members will be added only if _____ members agree.
2. New members will not be added after _________ (a certain point in the semester).
3. A member may/may not belong to more than one study group as long as all members are informed of the decision to do so.
4. A member will not be “fired” unless:
A. The group has talked with the person about problem behaviors (eg. argumentativeness, slacking on commitments, lateness, dominating the group discussions, etc.).
B. The person has had ____ chances to improve on the problem behavior after discussion.
C. The group unanimously agrees that the member will be told to leave and as group discusses the decision with the member.
5. A member who decides to leave the study group must tell the other members that he or she intends to do so and not just “disappear.”
6. The study group will have a rotating facilitator who is responsible for setting the agenda and keeping the group on track each week. The order will be: _________________, ___________________________, ______________________.
7. The study group will meet ________ times per week at _______________________.
8. Study group members may/may not bring food -- certain types of food are banned: ________________________.
9. Each member is to show respect for other members and their opinions.
10. All materials developed by the study group together are not to be shared outside the group unless __________________of the members agree.
11. All matters discussed in the study group are to be confidential and are not to be used for “gossip.” (The exception would be if the group is concerned about the physical or mental well-being of a member so that the appropriate action would be to talk to a dean, counselor, etc.)
12. Study aids purchased jointly should be equally available for use as a matter of courtesy. If the group agrees to share study aids purchased by individuals, then rules may be needed.