Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Marathon Tuesday

Classes end here later this week[1] and while this date was on the academic calendar for well over a year at this point, this is news to some students. To be fully honest, I was taken by surprise as well. In fact, I was taken by surprise that yesterday was Monday and I should have written and posted this blog entry then. To be fair, there have been many distractions in the past week: protests, Passover, and here in Boston, a marathon coupled with some sports teams getting to the play-offs. It has been a lot.

I have to wonder (because if you know me, you are fully aware that I have never run a marathon and would have no direct experience), if the Boston marathon feels the same way the spring semester does: slow and steady at first, a bit of energy depletion at the 1/3 mark, regained momentum at the half to 2/3 mark, and then a feeling of going uphill[2] with no reserved resources left until you crest that hill and then have even more running to do before it all ends somewhat abruptly. The giant slope slightly after mile 20 of the Boston Marathon is literally called Heartbreak Hill.

Our students are closing in on the foot of Heartbreak Hill today. Exams loom over them and look huge and insurmountable from where they stand. Their race strategy has to change at this point because classes will end and then they need to approach, climb, and get over the exam hill to get to finish line. If there were only one exam our students needed to take, then this would be the point where we distribute the shiny blankets and medals and send them on their sweaty way, but they often have still more exams to take. Too often students prepare for exams as if the one hill were the end of the race, or worse yet as if it were an entire series of Heartbreak Hills. In Boston, there are more than 5 miles to go once you have survived Heartbreak Hill.

I think approaching exams the same way you would approach a marathon might be helpful, so here is what I suggest to students:

  1. Have the right equipment: do the case briefing and outlining. Go to class, take notes, go the TA review sessions. Gather your materials and synthesize them. Test some different strategies out early in the semester to see if they can withstand the task.
  2. Start training early: do hypos, practice exams, and multiple choice questions early and often. But don’t over train by trying questions that you haven’t covered in class yet, you will strain and panic. Study what you have learned.[3]
  3. Be organized in your training: plan out your studying. It may seem like there is a lot of time for studying (hopefully), but unplanned time can be easily squandered. Make to-do lists (not too long), and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off of them.
  4. Build stamina: by starting to time yourself on answering the training questions about ½ through the semester.
  5. Know your route: make an exam plan that is a calendar of what exams you have when and how you plan to prepare for them.
  6. Take care of your body and mind; before, during, and after exams. This is not a good time to not feel your best. Eat, sleep, exercise, and breathe.
  7. Warm up before you start, and cool down after you finish: otherwise you will be very, very sore the next day. I’ve seen some Boston runners on the Tuesday morning after the marathon wearing their medals but unable to walk down the stairs to the subway. For students this means taking some mental space to enter and exit the exam zone.

Reminding students that exams are not a series of sprints but rather a cohesive marathon of tasks is one way of making sure they look at the big picture and plan ahead. Planning is everything.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Well, law school classes end, but my undergraduate classes go for a week longer. The lack of sync amongst academic calendars just baffles me.

[2] The Boston Marathon Route: https://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/enter/course-information

[3] Or think you should have learned but didn’t quite get in class. Not ideal, but it could be foundational material you need to move forward.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2024/04/marathon-tuesday.html

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