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!”
Monday, January 19, 2015
If you are a first year law student - especially - it is important to take stock of your law school learning and progress. Regardless of the results of your fall exams, there is much to be learned from your exam results.
* Get copies of your exams -- all of them -- to the extent that your law school permits. Review your exams carefully.
* Ask yourself how your best essay answers differ from the essays that you are less pleased with.
* If your professors have made rubrics or sample/model answers available make good use of those resources.
- outline the model or sample answer & look to see how it compares with your own.
- does the model or sample answer use the IRAC structure?
- does your answer follow the IRAC structure, using IRAC is a good way to ensure that you include the necessary components of legal analysis, such as the rule and use of the exam facts?
- what points of law or analysis are noted in the rubric or sample/model answer -- but not in your answer?
- did your course outlines contain the information needed to do well on the exams? If not, learn from this experience as you prepare outlines for the spring courses.
* Make appointments to meet with your porfessors -- even for courses that ended in December. Meeting with your professors helps you to learn from the exam experience. But be prepared for those meetings by thoroughly reviewing your exams - before the meetings.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I was speaking with one of my students, a 3L, about her preparation for the bar exam this summer. She mentioned that she did not take several bar tested subjects, but that she felt prepared for the core courses except for Contracts. I asked her what happened in Contracts. She said she loved her Professor; she participated in class, studied hard and understood the material, but got a C on the final both semesters. I then asked her what happened when she reviewed her exam. She replied that she did not review her exam. I asked her what her Professor said when she met with him to discuss her performance. To my dismay, she said that she did not meet with him. Why? She said she was too scared to meet with him. While I know this happens with scary Professor Kingsfield types, her Professor does not fit that description. I explained that even if she was a bit nervous about meeting with him, she should have made the effort.
After we take an exam, we have a good idea about how we performed. If, for some reason, our actual performance does not align with our perceived performance, it is best determine why this discrepancy exists. This student is now in her last semester of law school and approaching her bar review without knowing whether she truly understands Contracts. Was it merely an organizational error on her final? Did she manage her time poorly? Did she miss an essential issue? Or, did she have fundamental problems with her conceptual knowledge of contract law?
In retrospect, she realized that she should have faced her fears and made an appointment to discuss her final exam with her Professor. But, we cannot live in the past. I suggested that she make an appointment now with her 1L Contracts Professor. He may not remember her, he most certainly will not remember her final exam, and he may not be able to give her a ton of feedback. However, he might be able to provide some insights into her grade. For instance, there are likely some common trends that appear in exams that he gives a C grade. Also, he may be able to offer insights about how he grades verses what will be tested and graded on the bar exam. And, lastly, even if he does not offer much information about her particular performance, she will feel more empowered by the experience. By facing her fear and being self-motivated to ascertain why Contracts eluded her, she will be more confident moving forward with her last semester and her bar prep and will likely stop letting this moment in her past affect how she feels in the present.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Law students breathe a sigh of relief once all of their exams are over and the last papers turned in. It is such a good feeling to have the semester over! No more studying for the time being!
Alas, the relief is short-lived for some students. They begin almost immediately to worry about the final grades for their courses. For some students, the worry is caused by being too close to the GPA needed to meet academic standards. For other students, the worry is caused by wanting a certain GPA for qualifying for a certain law firm's job application cut-off or retaining scholarship aid or achieving some other standard for a law-school honor.
Whatever the reason for the worry, it can cause sleepless nights and self-doubt until the grades are finally posted. It is the lack of control over the grades that makes students anxious. Not only do they need to do their personal best, but they need to achieve a high enough score to "beat the curve" for the class.
The recommended percentages for each grade bracket of most law schools' curves mean that the overall class performance determines the grades given. Students know that if everyone in the class knew the material and performed well on the exam then just 2 or 3 points can be the difference between a higher or lower letter grade. They realize that some folks will get low grades no matter how large the break between the lowest C and the next grouping. No wonder students sign up for seminars that often do not have to conform to the recommended curve.
It is important to put grades into perspective while waiting for the outcomes:
- You cannot change anything about the exam that is already completed or the paper that is already turned in. Stewing about the misread fact pattern, the forgotten rule, the missed issue, the skimpy case analysis, and more will not change anything. We are not perfect, so it is inevitable in law exams and assignments that perfection will not be reached. All of us remember "the ones that got away" in our law school experiences.
- A final exam grade reflects one's performance on one set of questions on one day at one time. Any student who was sick, tired, stressed, or unfocused during the exam can know that the grade reflects those less than optimal circumstances and not just knowledge/application.
- Over the full spectrum of a law degree, students benefit from the curve as often as they get hurt by the curve. It evens out over time. The break in the curve gives you a higher grade on one exam but may catch you with a lower grade on another.
- A low grade does not mean you are less intelligent, less worthy, or less talented than the day you walked across the threshold of your law school for the first time your 1L year. It merely means that you need to implement some new strategies and forge ahead. Do not allow grades to undermine your self-worth.
- Grades indicate opportunities for improvement rather than just measures of performance. There are lots of ways to improve on test-taking whether the exams are true-false, multiple choice, short answer, fact-pattern essay, or some other variation. ASP professionals can assist students in evaluating their problem areas and work on strategies with them.
After the initial angst of grades that are less than you hoped for, pull yourself together. You can do this with assistance. Review your exams or papers with your faculty members to get feedback on what you did well and what you need to improve. Then make an appointment with your academic success professional to implement a plan for that improvement. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, December 5, 2014
I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Walter Mischel, who is known for administering “The Marshmallow Test” to young children as a researcher at Stanford. As many of you are aware, the test consisted of children sitting in a room with a single marshmallow (or another sweet treat) while being asked to delay eating it. If they delayed their gratification, the child would get a greater reward at a later time (typically two marshmallows). The experiment produced interesting and, at times, comical responses from the children being observed. You can check out some Marshmallow Test videos on YouTube to watch the eye rolling, seat squirming, and general agitation exhibited by the children.
While the underlying experiments were amusing to watch, the conclusions drawn from the initial experiments and the long term studies were quite insightful. Essentially, by understanding our impulses and how we can retrain ourselves in order to have greater willpower, we can make better choices and be more productive. Many of us believe that human nature rules whether the child would take the marshmallow instead of waiting (or whether the student would study for another 2 hours before watching an episode of their favorite show or checking their Facebook page). While some are more inclined to eat the marshmallow right away, many are able to resist for a limited amount of time.
As Dr. Mischel pointed out, we can all learn how to control our impulses (kids with marshmallows or adults with other enticements). For example, if you know that when you go to holiday parties, you rush the dessert table and do not leave that table until you have sampled two of each type of dessert, you can put a plan in place in order to limit your dessert intake. If you have no plan in place or if you arrive to the party hungry, you are more likely to fall into the dessert vortex. If plan ahead, to first spend some time at the crudité and also allow yourself a bite from three different sweets over the course of the event, you are more likely to be successful in limiting your impulses. Alternatively, if you instead plan to abstain completely from eating dessert at the party, you will likely fail. Thus, deliberate and premeditated change in small increments helps create a new practice that is easier to successfully adopt and sustain.
How does this apply to law students? Law students often succumb to and/or are ambushed by procrastination. It is difficult to delay gratification no matter what age. I learned from the marshmallow studies and from Dr. Michel’s presentation that we can all learn how to control our impulses if we understand what drives our impulses and if we are committed to making one small change at a time. In my example above, an individual knows that they struggle with overindulging in dessert. The willpower is harder to maintain without a clear and doable strategy in place. However, recognizing the temptation, adopting a realistic alternative, and planning ahead create a method for success. If law students try to more fully understand their impulsive triggers, they are better positioned to generate a plan to resist or avoid them.
Thus, law students can follow this strategy to use their time more effectively and more efficiently. Here are a few ideas:
- They can begin by writing out typical time stealers and creating targeted goals to reduce them. (Examples: When I study in groups, I am easily drawn off topic. When I turn on the television, I end up watching it for longer than I expected. If I turn my phone on while I am studying, my social media becomes a huge distraction.)
- They can purchase or create calendars in order to plan and track their time. Hard copy calendars visualize their priorities much better than a computer version.
- They can turn off their electronic devices while they study for a continuous block of time. (Example: I will study Torts for 3 hours in the library and leave my computer and phone in my locker.)
- They can disable their Wi-Fi while in class or while reviewing notes on their computer.
- They can establish a reward system that motivates this continued behavior. (Example: If I complete my stated study goal, I will get a night off or an extra hour of sleep, or more time for a special activity.)
Once an effective time management plan is established and the inherent benefits are apparent, students are more apt to fully adopt these new strategies by continuing to buck their impulses. After all, two marshmallows later are better than one marshmallow now.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Winter has arrived. Just as the temperatures are dropping and daylight hours are getting shorter, students are gearing up for longer study days and less sleep. During exam period, students tend to over-consume caffeine and junk food and cut back on sleep and exercise. This combination often leads to fatigue and illness. Getting sick is the last thing you want to happen during exams. Exam period is when you need to be at your best so don’t underestimate the importance of healthy habits. Keep your body strong in order to keep your brain strong. Study for those exams but also eat a vegetable, go for a brisk walk, and get some sleep.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Across the country law students are studying for semester exams. This is not the first blog post about staying healthy, managing time, and staying organized and motivated during exam prep. There is a reason for that. Law students tend to get distracted by what you are doing for exams that you forget to understand why you are studying for exams. It’s because you want to be a lawyer. Well, I’m a lawyer, too. Yes, I went to law school a long time ago and but exam prep hasn’t changed much. Law students still consume way too much caffeine, don’t shower or shave often enough, and stay up until the wee hours of the morning and then crash until noon. I don’t recommend doing any of these things. Law school is the bridge to the profession of law so treat it as such and start studying like a professional. Get up at 7-7:30, shower, eat breakfast, and be ready to study by 8-8:30. Put in 4 good hours in the morning (with a short break) and then take an hour for lunch. Not only do you need to feed your body but you need to give your brain a break and a chance to re-charge. After lunch, it’s time for another 4 focused hours of studying. It’s now 5-5:30 but you aren’t starving because you ate a decent breakfast and lunch. You take a 30-minute break (have a snack, get some fresh air), and are good for another 2 hours. Now it is 7-7:30 and you are hungry and tired. You’ve put in 10+ hours and it’s time to call it a day. You prepare and eat dinner and catch up on email and social media. Before going to bed, you review all you’ve accomplished and make a plan for the next day so when you get to your study spot you are ready to go and don’t have to waste time figuring out what to do. If this sounds too easy to be true, it’s not. It just requires you to stop thinking like an undergrad and start thinking like a lawyer.
Monday, November 24, 2014
For most people, the end of November means Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season. It means family, food, and football. For law students, it means the start of exams. It is a time for writing papers, creating outlines, and studying. A lot of studying. For 1Ls especially, it can be stressful and quite overwhelming. This is the first set of exams they will take and success is not guaranteed.
I recently had breakfast with a group of 2Ls and as the conversation turned to exams, I asked them to share some advice: what do 1Ls need to know about law school exams? Here are their wise words:
- Make your own outline and start with 20 minute blocks to overcome beginner’s inertia.
- Focus on what is important, including the non-school aspects. Don’t let finals take over your life.
- Don’t mistake organizing for studying. You make the perfect outline and not know a thing on it.
- Know the terms of art and use them when answering questions.
- Many people study in different ways. Trust your methods. Don’t feel like you have to be white knuckle the whole finals period.
- Studying is key, but you need to know when to stop. If your outline is done (and it should be) stop the night before the final and do something else: anything else. Especially near the end of your finals, you need to give your brain a break.
- Don’t neglect relationships.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
With Thanksgiving week coming up, law students everywhere are thinking about spending time with family and friends and taking a few days off to relax. However, the long weekend is also a great time to begin thinking about final exam preparation. Therefore, in between the pumpkin pie and leftover turkey sandwiches, law students, especially 1Ls, will benefit from creating a study strategy for upcoming finals. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Create a detailed study plan. Calendar the next month so that you are able to incorporate your study agenda with all of your other responsibilities. Don’t forget to calendar your down time including: exercise, veg-out time, and the basics...like sleep.
- Think about what you covered thus far this semester in class. Did you spend more time on particular areas of law or on certain cases? If yes, make sure you have a solid understanding of those areas. In addition to reviewing your notes from class, go back and reread the important cases again and take detailed notes.
- Prepare to begin memorization. Depending on when your finals are scheduled, you may not be ready to begin the memorization process. However, this is a great time to prepare for memorization. Create study aids (see below) and/or mnemonics as you begin reviewing the material.
- Consider your learning style. Are you a visual learner? Then, try creating a flowchart or mind-map. Use a whiteboard and color-code your checklists. Are you a kinesthetic learner? Make flashcards or record yourself talking about the law or reciting the elements. Think outside the box, not everyone learns from “outlining.” Instead, I encourage you to create a “study aid” that is tailored to your needs as a learner.
- Review the big picture. Having an understanding of the law or the overarching legal theories will help you as you begin your memorization and intensive studying. A good way to effectuate this understanding is to create a one page schema or mind-map of the main ideas or concepts from the course. This will help you see the big picture without getting bogged down in the minutia and will help you see how connections can be made between the many parts. Chunking the material into sections will also help you make these connections and allow you to have a deeper understanding of the law.
- Look over sample outlines and study guides. These can help you get started, but try not to rely solely on them for your exam study. Also, many of the bar review companies provide 1L study guide material, which may include traditional outlines, on-line lectures, and practice questions. These are great resources and are typically free!
- Ask for your Professor or Academic Success Office for past sample exams. These exams are extremely valuable study tools. You can use them to identify the issues being tested, the rules to apply, and, more importantly, to understand your Professor's expectations.
- Take practice tests. You can also simulate a final exam with past exams or hypos and practice questions found in various study aids. The more exam writing you practice, the more proficient you will become. This is the most effective way to study for final exams! It is not only what you know, but also being able to apply what you know in a timely and logical manner.
- Lastly, Thanksgiving is about being thankful. If you are not happy, well-rested, self-confident, and balanced, the rest of your life (especially exam prep) will not be productive. Use this time to reflect on what you are thankful for, catch up on your sleep, and build up your spirit.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
(Lisa Bove Young)
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Mid October means time for mid-terms. In addition to preparing for the substance, you should also prepare for the exam experience. Here are a few tips for getting and staying focused during an exam.
- Before the exam begins: Sit calmly and do not think about anything or anyone else. Listen carefully to instructions. Do not worry about any other part of the exam. Focus solely on what is right in front of you. Take it one step at a time.
- When the exam begins: Look at the first question and take a second to remind yourself that you can do this. Start smoothly, work efficiently, and remain focused and calm.
- If you get stuck: Take a breath and take it one step at a time. (1) Identify the issue. This will help you regain your composure and lead you back to the process of thinking like a lawyer. (2) Look at the facts, starting with the nouns: identify parties and legal relationships. Then look at the verbs: what are the parties doing? Identify acts or omissions. Next, look at the adjectives and adverbs, dates and sequence of events. Your professor included them for a reason. Identify the connection to the nouns and verbs. (3) Develop a rule using legal terms like reasonable, intentional, foreseeable, exceeds the scope, etc. (4) Stay calm and continue to work through the question.
- After the exam is over:Put it behind you. You did the best you could and (over)thinking about perceived mistakes or perfection only leads to a false sense of performance. Don’t discuss it with your classmates. This is the cardinal rule of exams. Invariably someone will bring up an issue that you didn’t see (or vice versa) and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it and will convince yourself that you bombed the test. If someone asks you how you did, just respond with, “I did the best I could.”
Go into the mid-term ready to handle the substance, manage your time, and keep your cool. If you can do this, you will surely succeed. (KSK)