Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Academic support professionals at law schools have noticed that new law students are often coming in to the study of law without the same basic study habits and critical reading and thinking skills that we would have seen previously. Although the knee-jerk reaction would be to blame it on the falling number of applicants and those applicants' credential erosion, I think that would be a mistake. The lack of study habits and skills is not just limited to those with the lowest credentials. It is prevalent across entering classes and cannot be explained just by LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs.
A number of factors in undergraduate education (and no doubt earlier education) seem to be linked to students coming into law school without the background study habits and skills that we have long expected entering law students to have. Here are some of the things that students who did very well in college commonly tell me about their undergraduate experiences:
- Most students studied only 15-20 hours per week at the most. Many will tell me that they made As and Bs with even less studying.
- The course examinations often required them to memorize information and merely regurgitate it onto the paper to get high grades.
- Examinations were not comprehensive over the semester's entire course material; exams typically covered no more than 2-4 weeks of material.
- Because examinations covered limited material, cramming was the successful study method for high grades. Students did not study to retain information for long-term memory and later use, but rather to dump it and forget it.
- Students often took courses and had majors that they never planned to use the information from in the future. Thus, cramming for high grades had few or no long-term effects for many of them.
- Students often were allowed to drop the lowest grade among the 4 or 5 tests they took for a course.
- Students often commented that professors rarely graded papers for punctuation, grammar, word choice, or style. "They just wanted to know my ideas."
- Many students mention they had never written a paper longer than 5 pages in college. Some had never written anything longer than 2 pages.
- Students delayed any work on papers until a few days before they were due because they could get high grades on first drafts.
Although students are warned throughout orientation programs about the differences in law school, students who end up in academic difficulty often state that "I thought they were talking to everyone else." It is often difficult for students who have been successful on little studying and cramming to change their habits.
The students who listen to the warnings that law school is different and "up their game" with more study hours often choose study habits that focus only on class survival and required papers. They do not always realize the importance of regular review and long-term memory for comprehensive semester exams, the future bar exam, and practice. They do not realize the importance of practice questions to apply concepts. They may miss the importance of building skills across classes that will be used every day in practice.
Professional practice as a lawyer requires a different approach toward education by law students. Our dilemma is to determine how to provide the study habits and skills not attained in lower education so that law students can be successful in law school and ultimately in practice. (Amy Jarmon)