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)
Monday, October 6, 2014
Recent studies show that reading is good for us and that reading in print is, well, even better.
To quote a recent, ahem – online publication – “reading in print helps with comprehension.”
So, what do these studies mean for law students? Law students might consider the following:
- In your Legal Research and Writing class, print out the sources, e.g., the cases and statutes, that are relevant to your assignments and that you will use to write those memos.
- Print out your notes and outlines – if you have typed them. Put these materials in binders and read them from the printed page – not on the screen.
- Reconsider using textbooks in e-book format and favor print books.
- Build in time to read for relaxation – a print book, short story, or magazine – of course.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Multitasking is a way of life for those who’ve grown up in the digital era. You might be talking face-to-face with a friend but you are also texting or checking social media. Even those of us who grew up “b.c.” (before computers) now consider multitasking an essential skill. Why simply drive somewhere when you can drive and talk to someone on the phone? We are busy. We need to multitask. We are good at it. Well, we might not be as good as we think. Research shows that when people do several things at once, they do all of them worse than those who focus on one thing at a time. Multitaskers take longer to complete tasks, make more mistakes, and remember less. In addition, research into multitasking while learning shows that learners have gaps in knowledge, more shallow understanding of the material, and more difficulty transferring the learning to new contexts.
For many, multitasking has become such the norm that you don’t even think about it, you just do it. That’s the problem—you don’t think. However, take a minute to consider why you multitask. Is there an actual need for it? No. You do it because technology has made it possible, because you want to, because meetings/classes are boring, because you don’t want to wait. This is not to say that you shouldn’t watch tv while getting dressed in the morning. But do think twice before multitasking while preparing for and during class. You don’t need to check social media while reading cases. You don’t have to check fantasy football stats during class discussion. Although switching between these tasks may only add a time cost of less than a second, this adds up as you do it over and over again. Class requires focus and multitasking distracts your brain from fully engaging with the material.
The next time you go to class, put the phone on silent and put it away, turn off the internet or shut your lap top. Then focus on the professor and what is going on in the class. The first few minutes will be tough because your brain isn’t used to focusing on one task at a time. However, it won’t take long before your brain realizes it only has to do one thing. You will concentrate more deeply and learn so much more than your classmates who are busy tweeting how bored they are, checking fantasy football stats, and not picking up the exam tip the professor just gave. (KSK)
This idea for this post came from Sara Sampson, OSU Moritz College of Law’s Assistant Dean for Information Services. She made a short presentation on this topic at orientation and was so kind to share her notes and research. Thank you!
Monday, September 29, 2014
Time management and doctrinal classes can be challenging enough. However, when Legal Research and Writing assignments are thrown into the mix, your schedule can get even more challenging.
First, create a weekly schedule as a way to effectively manage your time. Start by penciling in your classes; then add work hours, if any, and regular appointments. Next block out study times for each class (4-5 hours for every hour that you are in class). Remember to add breaks -- every now and then. Do not try to study for hours on end -- without breaks of, say 10-15 minutes, after 60-90 minutes of study.
Next, look at your Legal Research and Writing Syllabus- note the deadlines for major writing assignments and work backward from those deadlines. When will you complete your draft? When will you outline the assignment? When will you finish the bulk of the required research? Add these tasks to your weekly schedule to maximize the likelihood that you will not be doing the bulk of the work the day before the assignment is due. Try to leave time to print out your draft and set it aside for a while (24 hours is a good goal) -- before your final proofread and edit.
If you stray from your weekly schedule once or twice, do not discard the schedule. Instead, try to get back on the schedule. Last - but not least - remember to include time for exercise and enjoyment.
Friday, September 26, 2014
I really enjoy my students. It is a privilege to help them reach their academic potential. With new strategies, encouragement, and regular support many of the students who were struggling can make a major turn-around. When they stop by or email me to tell me about the high grade on a midterm, a positive critique on a paper, their first B grades in law school, and other triumphs, I share their joy.
Each student is unique in the combination of learning styles, personal and academic challenges, course difficulties, and more. Although there are strategies that work for most students, those strategies may not be a match with others.
I discuss with my students that the materials that I give them will pull together strategies that have worked for many students - strategies that are based on memory and learning theory as well as other research. I explain the reasons for the strategies and their relevance to grades, future bar passage, and ultimately to practice. I also encourage them that if the strategies do not work for them as individuals that we need to explore what strategies will work for them. We can work as a team to modify approaches or brainstorm new approaches that will work.
Most students are eager to become more successful learners. They readily become part of the team to improve their academics. They want to learn more deeply, to improve their skills, and to improve their later performance on the bar exam and in practice. The meetings become a dialogue seeking the strategies that work best for them as individuals. We discuss, tweak, and brainstorm together.
One challenge to a team effort is that some students are resistant to any change in their study habits even when their grades indicate that their past strategies have not been successful. Change is frightening when the consequence of not making grades is dismissal from law school. Change is stressful when they are struggling with the first bad grades in a lifetime and silently question whether other law students are smarter. Change is very uncomfortable when old habits feel so safe in comparison to new techniques.
With these students, I discuss strategies that will move their studies closer to success within their limited comfort with change. As they see positive results with small steps, they are often willing to try additional small changes. Unfortunately, because they limit the number and range of strategies, they often also limit their academic improvement compared to other students who are open to change.
Another challenge to a team effort is that some students are not invested in their academics to a level that allows them to live up to their true academic potential. For a few, the reality is that responsibilities and circumstances outside of law school limit their time for studying. Examples of these aspects would be care for elderly parents, serious medical illness in the family, personal illness, or financial problems. For other students, the extra hours that law school requires to get high grades does not seem worth the effort. They are content with studying enough hours to keep their grades above the academic standards but not more than that amount.
With these students, I work together to get more results from the time invested. Where time is being consumed by study methods that get little oomph, it can be boosted by more effective strategies. Often undergraduate study methods can be modified for law study to get more traction. These students can still improve some - though again the reality is that their improvement is likely to be less than students who have more hours to invest in effective study.
Throughout the process, I try to encourage students, to read between the lines as to what is going on with them, and to be supportive. Each student has to make a decision as to what strategies are feasible to implement within the personal framework of that student. The individual's parameters will determine the student's overall success in academics. I can be a guide and a partner in the process. The student has to make the final choices as to time and effort. I have to respect their choices even when I recognize that they will not meet their full academic potential. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The following web sites and applications have been suggested by law students to help other law students:
- Flashcard Machine: website and app that allow the making of flashcards, random sort, and temporary removal from the deck (flashcardmachine.com)
- Quizlet: website and apps for flashcards, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions; can share with others (quizlet.com)
- SelfControl: Mac app for blocking websites, e-mail, and internet for set time period (selfcontrolapp.com)
- Chrome Nanny: a Google Chrome extension to block time-wasting websites
- Facebook Nanny: another Google Chrome extension to block your Facebook access unless you have a notifications
- Blotter: app for Mac users for desktop time management schedule
If you have apps and websites that are your favorites, please send me an e-mail with the heading "Apps and Websites" at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I may share them with our readers. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
You don’t procrastinate. You perform better under pressure. This may be true but it is more likely how you justify putting things off. Admit it, just a few weeks ago you told yourself that you were going to stay on top of thing this semester. Law student: start outlining early and be prepared for every class. Professor: get the whole semester planned before classes begin, work on your article every week without fail. You would make no excuses. Then you got busy and more important things came up: moot court try-outs/practice, organizing an event for some organization (of which you are probably the president), your friend’s birthday (you only turn 23 once). Admit it, you procrastinate. Everyone procrastinates sometimes but it should not be the norm. Procrastination may be something you do (or avoid doing) but it should not define you. We procrastinate for many reasons: daunting task, fear of failure, too many options. Whatever the reason, procrastinating actually increases your stress and only puts off the inevitable. Now that you’ve admitted you procrastinate, it’s time to do something about it.
Begin with identifying why you avoid starting a task and address it: break a daunting project into smaller tasks, allow yourself to make a few mistakes along the way, list the cons of waiting until the last minute and the benefits of starting early. The hardest part is turning your aspirations into actions. Identify a positive attribute that describes you and use that to define your actions then pick a start date and hold yourself accountable (arrange to meet a classmate and work together, set up a meeting with your professor to ask questions or get feedback, block out the time on your calendar so you can’t fill it with other things). Take it one day at a time and take back the control. Don’t wait until tomorrow, stop procrastinating today. (KSK)
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Most of you are well within your first month of law school and may have had your first quiz or a writing assignment which may have made you question your decision to be in law school. It’s understandable but don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep in mind that if you already had all of the answers, then you wouldn’t be in law school. You are here to learn, so be open to letting others (your professors, administrators, upper class men) help you navigate this new path. Below are a few tips on navigating your new path.
1) I’m sure that many of you have been told that it’s important to be active readers in law school and not just passively read the cases. In case you’re still trying to figure out what that means, here are a few suggestions to help become an active reader. Read with a purpose. Know why you are reading a particular case and how it fits within the big picture. You may want to consult the table of contents or the course syllabus to figure out what topic or issue the case will address. Once you have an idea of what to look for in a case, you may consider referring to an outside source (a study aid) to gain some general knowledge about the term. As you read your cases, keep the issue at the forefront of your mind to anchor your thinking. Ask yourself as you read the case, what does this case tell me about this issue (the anchor)? Is the court explaining the issue? Is it dividing the issue into elements or explaining one of the elements? Try to figure out what the court is doing? Is it creating a new rule, rejecting an old rule or explaining or redefining an existing rule?
2) If you have an upcoming quiz or test, I would strongly suggest that you test your understanding of concepts you covered in class prior to taking the quiz. There are several ways to test your knowledge. For example, after you’ve read a series of cases on a particular rule, try to create your own hypothetical to explain how a rule or element is applied. Include a sentence or two on the relevant facts to aid in your explanation and note which facts trigger each issue or element. Also, you can use study aids such as Examples and Explanations to find practice questions on a discrete topic. The point is you should not enter any quiz, assessment, or exam without having tested your understanding of the material and without having completed at least one or two practice questions.
3) After you’ve taken a quiz or exam, you must review your exam. If you are not happy with the grade that you received, you must make an appointment to review your answers with your professors. Before going to your professor’s office, I would caution you to review your answers first. Otherwise, you run the risk of not getting the most out of your meeting. Review your notes and your outline and determine for yourself where the weak areas are or what you could have strengthened. Then take your assessment to your professor and ask for her opinion on your work.
4) Finally, another way to work on developing a deeper understanding of the material is to talk it out with others. If you are not a study group person, consider a study buddy. There is value in discussing difficult concepts with your colleagues. Your classmate may have picked up on something in the case that you missed or may be able to explain the rule to you in a way you hadn’t considered or vice versa. Also, you are more likely to notice gaps in your knowledge when you discuss cases and rules with your colleagues. Lastly, there is safety in numbers. If you and your study buddy or study group don’t understand a particular rule you can make an appointment with the professor together and support each other. You don’t have to go at it alone.
Happy studying! (LMV)
 For more tips on case reading and genral study advice see Ruta K. Stropus and Charlotte D. Taylor, Bridging the Gap Between College and Law School (Carolina Academic Press 2001)
Monday, September 15, 2014
Even though the semester is still new, build in time to review. First year students and upper-level students, alike, should build in time for review on a daily and a weekly basis. When first year students hear that law students should aim for approximately four to five hours of study outside of class, for every one hour in class, they often ask what they should do with all of that time. Here is a top-ten list of ways to fill the time:
- 1. Read cases assigned -- once, twice, three times;
- 2. Brief the cases [yes: brief all of the cases]; do not book brief--brief!;
- 3. Get to each class five-to-ten minutes early and review briefs and class notes from the previous class --yes, this time counts, too!;
- 4. Within 24 hours after each class, review class notes and briefs that you have corrected during class;
- 5. At the end of each week review your notes and briefs for each class; clean them up and revise;
- 6. In the context of the weekly review, begin to outline concepts completed in classes;
- 7. Reread your outlines a few times each week;
- 8. Begin to work with carefully chosen practice questions
- 9. Judiciously consult study aids; and
- 10. Last, but not least, build in time to incrementally complete legal research and writing assignments.
- To master your time management and make the most of your study time, create a weekly schedule. In that schedule, block out times to study and assign tasks to each time. Create blocks of one-to-two hours and build in breaks of ten-to-twenty minutes. Keep a study journal in which you can reflect on what you've done and how well your time management and study techniques work.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
We just finished our second week of classes. The first-year students are looking a bit shell-shocked. The upper-division students are commenting on how things are already too fast-paced. Everyone is looking forward to the long weekend.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the weekend:
- Get a good start on next week's class preparation. Try to complete your Tuesday and Wednesday assignments. You will feel less stressed as the week begins again. Then review the material before class (or the night before) so you have seen it twice.
- Outline for each of your courses. Using this weekend to get on top of all course outlines, will put you in an advantageous position. You can then add to your outlines each week and not end up having to find huge blocks of time in future weeks to catch up on outlines.
- Set up your study space as you will use it for the rest of the semester. Have all of your school-related items in the same place to save time by not having to hunt for things.
- If you have not already made note of all deadlines and due dates for courses (paper draft due, midterm exam, court observation assignment, other projects), mark those dates on a monthly calendar so you will not forget anything.
- If you are already sleep-derived, catch up on your sleep and establish a routine sleep schedule beginning Sunday night that will give you 7 - 8 hours of sleep during regular bed and wake up times.
- Plan a few hours for fun: exercise, a BBQ with new friends, a movie, your favorite TV shows.
- If you have boxes to unpack, errands to run, or other personal items to take care of, try to complete them before classes next week. You will have less stress if you are more settled into your living space and routine.
Enjoy this slight respite. Be ready to hit the ground running on Tuesday. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, August 16, 2014
As the beginning of another school year approaches, I have been thinking about how a law student's success is so closely tied to the attitudes of the student. Here are some of my thoughts after observing law students through working in ASP and teaching elective courses.
Attitudes for success:
- Confidence in one's ability to adapt and learn is positive. It is a new educational frontier when 1Ls arrive. With flexibility and willingness to learn, most 1Ls will gain the new strategies for legal education success.
- Openness to constructive criticism coupled with hard work will turn around many of the typical 1L errors in critical analysis and writing (whether exam answer or memorandum).
- Willingness to seek help in a proactive way will overcome many obstacles. Students who use resources in a timely manner can ameliorate problems before they become intractable - whether the help is from professors, librarians, academic success professionals, deans, or other resources.
- Respect for others at all levels within the law school community will engender respectful treatment in return. Much of the tension and competitiveness of law school can be lessened when everyone in the environment remains respectful. Faculty, administrators, staff, and students are all integral to that environment being present.
- Kindness improves one's outlook about law school and engenders helpfulness rather than hostility. A student who values collegiality will lend notes to an ill classmate, explain a concept to a struggling student, and share a kind word with a classmate faced with a crisis.
- Passion for a desired professional goal will often provide motivation when the going gets tough. Examples are: I volunteered with abused children and want to represent children in need of protection. I want to be part of helping families immigrating to the U.S. As a former park ranger, I want to practice environmental law.
Attitudes detrimental to success:
- Arrogance about one's superiority in comparison to others skews reality. 1Ls who arrive resting on their laurels and smug about how special they are often figure out the differences in law school too late in the semester to achieve their academic potential.
- Refusal to take responsibility for one's learning and understanding will lead to lower grades. Students who earn grades below their academic potential are often focused on what the professor, writing specialist, academic success professional, or [fill in the blank] should have done for them. They avoid recognizing and correcting the things they chose not to do to help themselves.
- Perfectionism creates unrealistic expectations that lead to exhaustion. Students who desire to be perfect will be overwhelmed by the amount of work. They often have trouble starting or finishing tasks in a timely manner because of their standards.
- Expected mediocrity can result from self-defeating comparisons to other law students. Students who begin to view themselves as not as good as others will often settle for lower grades. Examples are: I guess I am just a C student. Everyone else is so much smarter than I am. I'll never get an A grade.
- Immaturity leads to lack of effort and frivolous time management that result in bad grades. These students overlook that law school is a professional school and stay stuck in undergraduate behaviors. Playing every evening and weekend, drinking oneself into a stupor, and focusing on socializing lead to poor academic decisions.
- Apathy can result when law school has no personal meaning to the student. Examples are: I came to law school because I did not know what else to do. All males in my family have been attorneys for the last five generations - it was expected that I be a lawyer.
Attitudes color students' ability to adapt to law school, to handle the stress, to seek help, and to reach their full academic potential. Positive attitudes need to be nurtured. Negative attitudes need to be addressed to minimize harmful results. Attitudes will affect whether students just survive or thrive. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Summer is winding down and the fall semester starts in a few weeks, which means it’s time for everyone to offer advice on law school success. Here’s my two cents on how to start the semester off right: understand, organize, analyze. That’s it. Seems simple, right? Of course there is a catch. You will be reading court decisions and reading a case is not like reading fiction or textbooks. It goes beyond understanding the material. A case is just a piece of a much larger puzzle. To put that puzzle together you start with understanding the words within the case but then you must understand the case as a whole and how it fits into the larger organizational scheme. Finally, you must analyze that information under different fact scenarios to predict outcomes and resolve client issues. It won’t be easy at first and you will make mistakes, but the concepts are foundational and it won’t be long before understanding, organizing, and analyzing becomes a part of your internal thinking process.