Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending LexCon2021 - or LexCon Home! It's a disappointment we aren't all in Nashville together - I believe we could have been at the Grand Ole Opry last night - but it's still lovely to gather virtually and share ideas.
The conference kicked off with a great introduction by Christopher Chapman. He talked about many things that AccessLex is currently working on, including lobbying for student debt reduction. The first keynote speaker was Sally Hogshead of "Fascinate", to talk about why "Different is Better Than Better", or why your unique personality is your greatest advantage, and how to lean into that. Essentially "It's good to be better, but it's better to be different."
The day was lovely, but I want to focus on one particular breakout session on test taking anxiety. I think all of us constantly help our students try to overcome test taking anxiety, or anxiety in general, so this was a particularly exciting panel! It was led by Christine Zellar Church of Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. (Side note - I'm Michigan born and raised, and went to Central Michigan University for undergrad. Western is our biggest rival - but despite that, she was a great presenter!)
Christine first mentioned that law students had a higher rate of anxiety than medical school students and other graduate students. This doesn't shock me, but it's a depressing and sobering thought. She reported that 96% of law students experience significant stress, compared to 70% of med students and 43% of graduate students. Again, sobering but not shocking. This is mostly attributed to "doing things the way we always have", such as cold calling and one final exam.
Christine also stated that a significant cause of test taking anxiety is fear, but also identity. Grades are a large part of identity, if grades define who you are or your worth, of COURSE you will have test taking anxiety. Students also receive the message that being a law student means being concerned about grades. So, the first question, as law professor and administrators, is how do we change that narrative? Sure, those of us in ASP can say that grades don't define you, but we also know they do matter for things like law review, internships, and first jobs. So we end up being just one person saying "Grades don't matter or define you", but the entire system is telling them otherwise. So, that needs to change.
In the meantime, what are some strategies to combat this anxiety? Again, it seems to me that Christine is of the opinion that most of these things need to be institutionalized, and i don't disagree.
1) Self Care is not Selfish: And again, this needs to be messaged from the institution. Students need sleep, and they need nutrition. One suggestion from Christine was being aware of what food and snacks we give to students, and how nutritious they are. She also gave a great example - if a lumberjack is constantly chopping, and never stops to sharpen their axe, they become less effective at chopping. The same goes for our students - if they don't stop to sharpen their axe, so to speak, they are not studying effectively. Students need to take breaks and find balance. Again, this needs to be messaged from the top down.
2) She also suggests asking students to write down one thing that brings them joy, one thing that they find comforting, and one thing the find relaxing. Sadly, when she asked us to complete this exercise, I couldn't think of anything quickly - which is very telling. Christine said that it's good to ask students to complete this exercise, and then ask them "When is the last time you've done any of these things?" Have them look at their calendar - are they scheduling time for these things? Are they overscheduled?
3) This is one of my favorites. Christine described a study done at the University of Chicago with two groups of test takers. In all aspects the demographics were the same. One group was asked to take 5 minutes and write down every negative thought, crumple it up, throw it away – when they did that – that group test scores went UP – between half and a full grade. Why, because the negative thoughts take up part of your working memory- when you put it on paper, it doesn’t have to stay in working memory. Then you have the physical effect (throwing it away) of getting rid of those negative thoughts. This frees up working memory. I would love to implement this.
4) Celebrate successes
5) Mindfulness and mindfulness apps, such as headspace. Students can get discounts on headspace, and the calm app.
5) Last but not lease, one of my favorites. Ayurvedic Breathing, or 5-2-8 breathing. Essentially breath in while slowly counting to 5, hold it for 2, breath out while counting to 8, longer than you breathed in. Have students do this 3 times. I plan to encourage my students to do this during exams!
I'm excited to learn more from LexCon at Home today, and hope this helps some of our students!