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.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Each summer I ask my outgoing 1Ls “what advice would you give to someone getting ready to start law school?” I compile the responses and create a Top 10 or list of Dos and Don’ts. This year, however, two students wrote such fantastic, heartfelt, and in-depth advice that I have to share them in their entirety. Here is the first one: You Only Have One 1L Year So Make it a Good One.
The summer leading into your 1L year of law school I would do one thing: relax. Spend time with family and friends, travel, and enjoy all of your favorite activities. Read a novel or your favorite book, and avoid legal treatises or cases; there will be plenty of that in the year to come. I would also avoid the law school prep books. While I did read two of these books, I found that, instead of providing solid advice and preparation, they only made me more anxious about the year ahead. In my opinion, the less time thinking about law school, before law school actually starts, the better. I learned everything those books told me, and much more, in my first two weeks at school. The books were more useful in producing unnecessary anxiety and erroneous preconceived notions of law school than actually being helpful. Some might find these guides useful, but I think law school orientation and the first few days of class provide a clearer picture of what to expect. It’s easier to begin with a blank slate and learn as you go, rather than be forced to overwrite preconceived notions. Plus, whether they show it or not, everyone starts 1L year in the same boat, naïve and intimidated, and these prep guides will not provide an easy leg up. So I say pick up a novel instead.
As far as success in law school, there is no one answer or rule that everyone can abide by and succeed. Every student is different. I can say, however, that it’s important to be yourself. Stick to the study methods and discipline that got you accepted into law school in the first place; don’t try to imitate others. Other students will inevitably brag to you about how long they spent in the library, how late they stayed up studying, or how it all just “makes sense” to them. Usually these are lies and, if not, what works for one person may not work for others. Unless they are completely deficient, do not radically adjust your lifestyle and your work habits, do what works best for you, and stick to your guns. I believe staying true to yourself and maintaining a work/life balance is absolutely essential to succeeding and staying healthy, both mentally and emotionally, your first year of law school. Make friends with your classmates, commiserate together, and blow off steam in your desired fashion when you have free time, which will still exist. Do not let life pass you by just because you have a heavy workload. Furthermore, if you find that your methods aren’t producing the results you want, speak with your professors, counselors, and upperclassmen to find successful strategies that work best for you. Along those same lines – feedback is key. Utilize your professors as much as possible, as they also want to see you succeed, and seek feedback from them whenever possible. Find out what they are looking for in your work, the things they think are important, and adjust your strategies to their class. This will pay dividends in developing your skills and knowledge. Most importantly, make sure you follow your own path, otherwise you may not be happy with where you end up.
That being said, however, the easiest way to undermine your success in law school is to fall behind. While the work may seem overwhelming at first, it’s important to complete all of the required reading before each class. Without doing so, the material in class will be much harder to comprehend and will leave you a step behind. Worse, you may be called on to answer questions about the reading. If you didn’t read, you could, at worst, lose points toward your final grade, and, at best, be embarrassed and discouraged. Over time, any backed-up work will build until you are left with an insurmountable amount of information that you now have to teach yourself. This will definitely be at a disadvantage when it comes time for the exam. Therefore, it’s important to stay ahead of your work. Even if you read the material days ahead of time, it’s critical to do the required work and be prepared for class. Leaving work until the last minute or falling behind is the easiest way to shoot your law school success in the foot.
Finally, I would emphasize all of the incredible upsides of law school. I heard plenty of horror stories coming into my first year, and generally expected to be working non-stop under constant stress. Yet, I had no idea how much fun law school could actually be. While there are certainly times of stress and feeling overwhelmed, I would highlight the other side of law school– basically, how enjoyable the experience can also be. While this is the time to buckle down and establish clear career goals, it is also a time to meet many intelligent, like-minded individuals, challenge yourself intellectually, expand your personal horizons, and make friends and acquaintances that will likely be around for life. Put yourself out there and challenge yourself whenever possible. As long as you are mindful not to overburden yourself or stretch yourself too thin, be willing to say yes to every opportunity that crosses your path. You will come out stronger and better prepared for a legal career every time. Finishing my first year of law school was an extremely proud moment for me. I felt as if I had accomplished as much in one year as I had in my entire life leading up to that point. Becoming a lawyer had seemed like a vague, distant future for most of my life, but after my first year I felt as if I could finally see where my career and my life were headed, and I could not be more excited for it. Be proud of heading into your first year of law school, and avail yourself to all of its incredible benefits. There is plenty of fun to be had. This is one aspect I wish had been more impressed upon me going into 1L year.
Friday, August 7, 2015
Across our nation, new 1Ls are concluding their preparations for the start of school. By the end of August, almost every new 1L will have crossed the threshold of a law school to begin the journey to a J.D. In these last days, there are a number of things that these 1Ls-to-be can do as final preparations:
- Read your emails and announcements from your law school every day. Read them carefully. You will be responsible for any instructions, first-day assignments, and other announcements that your law school sends out.
- Complete as many law school tasks and details as early as possible. Stay on top of instructions from your law school about computer access, email addresses, parking decals, billing accounts, and more. By completing as many steps on-line or on-campus before the first day, you can avoid a lot of last-minute hassles.
- Get moved in and unpacked as soon as possible. You need to hit the ground running from the first day of your orientation. By settling into your new space beforehand, you will have time to focus on law school instead of waiting for the cable guy, searching through boxes for necessities, and wasting time shopping for room decor.
- Complete a dry-run. At least the weekend before orientation starts, decide the best route to school by driving the options, check out where the correct parking lot is, give yourself another tour of your law school building, and scope out the neighborhood surrounding your law school for restaurants and other services. You will be more comfortable if you are familiar with the terrain.
- Prepare your elevator speech. You will be asked to introduce yourself a thousand times. Be able to do it in a minute or less. Avoid bragging, boasting, and self-adulation. You are now one in the impressive echelon of high achievers who enter law school. Stay confident, but be humble.
- Realize that you begin your professional career the first day you enter law school. Your classmates are your future professional colleagues. How you act and how you treat others during law school will determine your reputation as a lawyer for those classmates. Negative character traits and behaviors in law school can haunt you for years to come. Consider how you want to be remembered in the future.
- Spend some quality time with family and friends. Have fun with the significant people in your life in these last weeks. Law school will keep you very busy. Most full-time law students need to study 50 - 55 hours per week to get their best grades and gain an in-depth legal foundation for the bar exam and legal practice.
- Start a good sleep routine. Proper sleep will give your brain cells the boost they need. The study of law is heavy lifting. If you get 7 - 8 hours of sleep each night, you will be more alert, absorb information more quickly, be more productive with your time, and retain more information. And research tells us that a nice bonus of sleep is that you are less likely to gain weight compared to the sleep-deprived.
All of us in legal education look forward to your arrival at our law schools. Enjoy the last part of your summer as you prepare to become a 1L. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Yesterday evening I received a two sentence email from a student asking for advice on how to become a more detailed-oriented person because she is struggling in an internship, and she cites her big-picture orientation as a significant contributor to her struggle. As a member of the constantly connected gadget-net generation I read this email on my phone, and immediately began composing a list of free association ideas to help the student "fix" the problem while resisting the urge to comment further on the missing detail of a signature so that I would know who was asking the question. But I stopped myself from hitting send on that response, rationalizing the decision as "well, that's not what a detail-oriented person would do" and "do you really know what you're talking about because you're about to try to answer a really complicated question via smartphone email."
Today my time in the office has included internet searching for collective advice about becoming more detail-oriented. I also searched for inventories out there to assess comparative detail-orientation because maybe this student is generally sufficient at detail-orientation but is just working for a hyper-perfectionist. There have also been a few minutes where I'm wondering if maybe I am spending too much time attending to omitted details. And thinking that maybe I should be writing a post about productive-procrastination instead. But really, all of this has led me back to the free association list I drafted last night. While it lacked a certain amount of detail, it was probably a good starting place for this student if she is serious about changing her habits of thought and becoming a more detail-oriented person. The student is having a crisis moment and probably wants a list of concrete actions and just needs an immediate starting place to feel some relief as soon as possible. But, I personally would much rather provide the map of cognitive restructuring this student can follow to experience long term relief several months or years down the road.
Habit change requires sustained effort, particularly when we are seeking to change dominant preferences that have become entrenched through repeated practice. For the next few sentences, I'm going to assume that there is a documented and empirically validated scale of detail and big-picture orientation that exist on a continuum like extroversion and introversion on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. People who live at the extreme ends of the spectrum between detail and big-picture orientation are going to struggle during the first phases of new habit development because these new thought habits will start out as exercises of the imagination since there is limited personal experience with the non-preferred thought habits. Indeed, it may require finding someone who has the desired habits and is willing to demonstrate them to begin developing context of where change in the thought process needs to start. The closer to the middle of the spectrum someone is indicates fluency which allows them to adopt the set of habits that is most suited to the task at hand.
The concrete behaviors someone with strong big-picture preference can adopt to initiate change generally fall into a broad category of systems of accountability such as to-do lists, reminder programs on phone and computer, accountability partners, workflow checklists, create automatic detail inclusion when available (e.g. email signature blocks), etc. The concrete behaviors that someone who is strongly detail-oriented can implement is scheduled times for reflection on the big picture, a list of big picture assessment questions to use during those scheduled times, and assessment of the priority level of the project because perfectionism and detail-orientation are at least cousins, if not siblings or the same thing.
I will now reply to the student and provide the list I drafted last night, links to a couple of worthwhile online resources, and an invitation to meet and discuss in greater detail. In these circumstances that's probably the best approach for this student. But if I'm wrong, she'll know she can come back and help me find a better way to help her. (CMB)
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Schools around the country have entered the exam zone. For the next 2-3 weeks campus are overrun with students walking shuffling around in clothing that has seen better days. They will be unkempt and a bit unclean. They will stay up all hours of the night, chugging energy drinks to keep going. All in the name of studying. This is what it takes to get an A. I say it is time for change. Don’t just follow the crowd. Be your own person and do your own thing: take a shower, go to bed at a decent hour, and still get an A. This is possible if you follow one simple rule: treat studying like a job. You don’t have to wear a suit but would it be so bad to wear clean clothes and not smell like stale sweat? I know it’s a radical concept but it’s worth considering.
First, make a schedule. Create a weekly and daily calendar where you plan out what you want to accomplish that day and that plan should be more than just, “study.” Break an overwhelming task into smaller, more specific chunks: complete 1/3 of outline, review notes for 15 minutes, answer and review one practice question. You also need to schedule time for life. Make an appointment with yourself to do laundry, make dinner, talk to mom. Scheduling these activities means you are more likely to do them. Being able to keep up with day to day tasks will make you feel better and more accomplished.
Second, protect your study time. Just because you spend 12 hours in the library doesn’t mean you actually studied 12 hours. The first step is the hardest but most important- go off the grid. Turn off the phone. Not on silent. Not on airplane mode. Turn. It. Off. It’s ok if you need to take baby steps: start with a 2-hour block without social media and texting. Both are times sucks and every time you go off-task, you lose time (Check out my October 1 post for more on multi-tasking). Devote a solid two hours to studying. You will be amazed at how much work you get done. It’s fine if you want to chat with friends or wander around the library but this is called a “study-break” and you don’t get one of these until you’ve studied.
If the idea of making and following a schedule, and not texting or tweeting for a whole two hours seems a bit daunting, try it out for a day and see how it goes. I doubt you’ll revert back to your old ways. Not only will you do well on your exams but you’ll have clean laundry, too.
Friday, April 24, 2015
When I meet with students to assess exam performance and the topic of multiple choice questions comes up, oftentimes the student says, “I thought I was good at multiple choice but apparently I’m not.” Although I don’t like that the student has given up on himself, I use this as an opportunity to work on multiple choice strategies.
The theme I use for teaching multiple choice is control: you need to stay in control of the question, not the other way around.
The first step is to read with a purpose. Read the call of the question for the expected outcome: “What is P’s best argument?” “If D wins, what is the basis?” “How should the judge rule?” This sets up the framework for the best answer choice. Next, read the fact pattern and identify the central issue. Then recall the relevant rule. Don’t look to the answer choices for help in figuring out the issue or the rule. Three are written to distract you away from this. Only look at the answer choices after you know what you are looking for. The best answer choice will address both the central issue and the correct rule. If the issue raised in the answer doesn’t match the issue raised in the question, it is not the best choice. If the legal basis for each answer choice isn’t relevant or completely correct, then it is not the best answer choice.
Just as writing an essay response is a process, so too is answering a multiple choice question. The difference is that with an essay your response must demonstrate the process and with multiple choice you demonstrate the process by choosing the best answer. Knowing the material is not enough to get a question correct. You have to work through practice questions and master the process in order to get the correct answer. Take the time, practice the process, and stay in control.
Friday, April 10, 2015
It’s almost time for exams which means students across the country will put healthy lifestyles on hold in order to spend more time studying. Yes, studying is important but if you want your brain working at optimal capacity, then feed it right. Junk food isn’t good for your body or your brain. Fuel yourself with food that enhances your brain function, mood, and memory. Instead of reaching for chips, candy, or an energy drink, try one of these brain foods. Broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Blueberries and strawberries are effective in improving short term memory. Peanut butter has fat but the good kind- it keeps the heart and brain healthy and functioning properly. Unlike grains like rice and pasta that cause energy levels to peak and crash, leaving your brain exhausted, whole grains provide a steady flow of energy. Dark chocolate in moderation improves blood flow to the brain which improves cognitive function. Not only will your brain thank you but when exams are over you’ll still be able to fit into your clothes.
Monday, February 16, 2015
Law students spend hours and hours studying. A 60 hour week is the norm. The law school study standard is 3 hours of prep for every hour of class. This means actual study time, not time spent in the library. You may think you are productive but are you? Of those 4 hours you spent in the library last night, how much of that time was spent on actual studying? One way to measure it is to track your “billable hours.” Make note of the time you start studying and use the timer on your phone to track how long you are on task. Stop the timer every time you stop studying. Even if it’s just a few seconds, stop the timer. How many times did you stop to read a text, send a text, check twitter feed or facebook updates, talk to someone, get up and stretch, re-organize your materials? This adds up and you are probably not as productive as you think. Once you realize how much time you waste, use the timer to keep you focused. If you plan on studying for 3 hours, you know that reading and responding to a text means stopping the timer and 3 hours can turn into 4 or 5. Would you rather spend that time at your desk or in the library, or would you rather spend it doing something you enjoy? The choice is yours. (KSK)
Friday, January 23, 2015
Law school is a challenging endeavor. The LSAT, application process, and transition to law school are hurdles that arise before students are even asked to write their first legal memo, participate in their first round of Socratic torture, or face the fierce competition exhibited by their new peer group. These are daily challenges for new law students. Why then would I suggest that they (and we) seek out more challenges?
When we are challenged, we sometimes feel deflated or weaker. We are out of our comfort zone; we are troubled, worried, stressed; and we are overwhelmed. This does not seem like a state of mind to encourage. However, I firmly believe that it is when are challenged, that we are able to grow, transcend our self-doubts, and establish mechanisms to better prepare for future challenges. Unfortunately, challenges, obstacles, naysayers, and competitors exist. They exist in law school, in life; and, they certainly exist in legal practice. Therefore, we need to face them head-on and become better at overcoming them.
The more often we are challenged, the more empowered we become. Thus, take on an extra project, or register for an intensive course on a complex topic, run a race or climb a peak, participate in moot court, apply for a competitive job, or do something really scary (caveat: do not break the law, remember to wear safety glasses, and always read the fine print).
Undoubtedly, there will be failures, mistakes, and defeats; but, the learning and self-growth is an incredible silver lining. Whether success is elusive or easily achieved, the experience builds resilience and a new level of self-confidence. As the FM dial frequently reminds us, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”