Thursday, July 8, 2021
Right now, many of our bar takers are feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, despite many weeks of laboring studies, as to whether they have what it really takes to successfully pass their bar exams later this month.
In my own life, self-chatter takes up so much of my thought-time and mental efforts.
Self-doubt, lack of confidence, deep rooted feelings of not fitting in, of not having, the "right stuff," so to speak.
In short, we start to wonder if we really do belong, if we really do measure up, if we somehow didn't just happen to make it through law school but someday, we will be found out to be a fraud, to be faking it all along.
For our bar takers, let me say at the outset that, if you feel gripped by worries and fear, you are not alone, at all.
Most of us, when we took our bar exams, were worried out of our minds.
That's because - to be frank - taking bar exams is really not a natural part of life (and really has no place in the practice of law because it's totally unlike the practice of law with its over-reliance on recall and quick identification and resolution of issues). Who practices law like that? So, it's okay to be concerned, stressed, and worried.
But let me also say that the next few weeks, while important, don't have to be lived out perfectly, as perfectly studious and perfectly performed. Rather, as you prepare for your bar exam later this month, focus on just two tasks.
First, work through lots of essays and multiple-choice problems with the goal of discovering and learning and growing. That means, when you miss things, don't give up. Rather, use those opportunities as springboards to figure out how to get that sort of problem correct next time.
Second, spend time rehearing your lines, like an actor on stage, walking through, talking out, and practicing your study tools, issue spotters, and big picture problem-solving rules. Focus on the major rules. Forget the minor details. People pass based on majoring on the major rules not on those pesky minor details.
But often times we, as human beings, think we have to know it all to pass the bar exam. We don't. You don't. Rather, be confident in taking these next few weeks as opportunities to experience more practice problems and to practice rehearing the rules. That's it. Just two tasks.
That's still a lot - and that's were perspective comes in. I'm in my sixties. Just two years ago, I fractured my back in five places in a car accident, leaving me unable to walk without assistance and without a walker for a number of weeks and into several months. In fact, as I took my first steps, I recall thinking that I would never ever again be able to hike, or walk, or bike. That's because I was so focused on what I couldn't do, at present. At best, with lots of help from both sides and a walker to balance myself too, I could only muster a handful of steps. And painful steps to boot.
Last weekend, my wife and I took two days to trek about a little over thirty miles in the local mountains. In other words, although I wouldn't have believed it two years ago, I'm back on the trail. At the time, two years ago, I never saw any progress, or at least not much at all.
Bar prep is a bit like that. It just doesn't seem like we are progressing much at all, especially because we keep on missing so many issues and questions. But, in the last week, things come together, exponentially so to speak, because we've planted and watered so many seeds of learning and discovering throughout this summer that they all start to bloom, like a beautiful flower bed, all at once.
As we hiked through the mountains this week, headed uphill to a 11,700 foot plateau, I realized that I had actually grown quite a bit, as a hiker, over the past two years, so much so that I actually passed a few people, all much younger that I. Of course, I was going uphill. The hikers I passed were going downhill. But I still take good cheer that I'm hiking on my own trail.
That's all we ask of you and all that you should ask of yourself in the course of these next few weeks of bar prep. Be yourself, walk at your own pace, keep going uphill, step by step. But just like I do often on the trail, feel free to take lots of breaks throughout the day. Those breaks help you see how far you have come uphill and how much you're progressed in your learning. So trust yourself. You can do this, one step at a time. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Ah, just about the middle of the summer. It's sort of like the 7th inning stretch in baseball, a time to stand, sing, and refocus a bit. Especially with so many of us working with so many of our recent graduates as they prepare for remote and in-person bar exams. It's an opportunity for a quick breather before the final three weeks of bar prep polish and work.
Personally, this weekend is an opportunity for me to step back a bit, to take a look at what I ought to really be focused on, to ask how would others view the programs that I am responsible for delivering to our students and graduates.
Well, to be honest, I'm a bit afraid to ask others. But, as I think about preparing for the upcoming academic year, I thought I'd share the follow as food for thought about "ASP Best Practices." I'd love to hear your suggestions and comments too. P.S. Thanks to Visiting Prof. Chris Newman (DU Law) for development of this slide and his insights too. (Scott Johns).
They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words. Well, here's a picture of what I call the so-called "Learning Triangle," put together with a few words to boot, thanks to Prof. Chris Newman, Visiting Asst. Professor of Practice at the University of Denver. Let us know what you think! (Scott Johns).
According to author Jesse Singal: "Power posing, grit and other trendy concepts are scientifically unproven but have become enormously popular by offering simple solutions to deeply rooted social problems."
In particular, Singal suggests "[b]ecause they promise so much reward for so little effort, social psychology fads often win attention and resources long before there is any evidence of their effectiveness." As evidence, Singal writes "only about half of all published experimental psychological findings are successfully replicated by other researchers." Singal, J., "The False Promise of Quick-Fix Psychology," WSJ (April 10, 2021).
While I haven't yet had a chance to dive into Singal's book, as a trained mathematician, I have my doubts regarding any research results making make singular claims about human nature because human nature, it seems to me, is just too complex to nail down to one variable of influence. Singal, J., The Quick Fix, Macmillian (2021).
That being said, I do share with my students research about growth mindset and grit, for instance, and the empirical claims about associations with learning effectiveness.
Nevertheless, I'm not sure that growth mindset and grit is something that you can just call upon on command. Rather, I see our roles as educators to come along side our students, in community with them and with others, to help them see themselves as valuable members of our educational community. In sum, I sense that growth mindset development is more the result of a sense of well-being and belonging within the academic community, which for many of our students, is often felt lacking.
So, rather than focus on pep talks about growth mindset and the power of grit, I think that it might be more valuable for our faculty and staff to get to know our students, to hear them out, to let them express themselves. With summer well in swing, one possibility for beginning that project is to form a one-evening book or movie club this summer with a handful of staff and faculty members and a few entering law students, current law students, and alumni members too.
Closer to home, with bar prep in full swing, this past week, I've been hosting a number of zoom chats focused on reviewing mock bar questions with them. My first questions, almost without exception, are about their passions for the law and about how they are doing. With close to 200 students this summer, I sometime feel like I just don't have time for the so-called "niceties," But without the "niceties" of life, there really is not much to life because it's the "niceties" of life, the opportunities to learn, grow, and discovery together, that really make life well-lived. And, I'm not so sure that my role as as an educator is to fix people but rather to live with them in community, something that has seemed to be particular difficult in the midst of this pandemic.
So, as we appear to be turning a page on the pandemic, I am looking forward to meeting and working with students, faculty, and staff together again, and in person, too! And, I look forward to seeing you again at a conference or other event! Cheers! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 17, 2021
According to a recent article, research suggests that changing the way curriculum is presented and taught can improve retention of underrepresented minorities in STEM programs. Berman, Jillian, How to Get More Women Into Technology: A Number of Programs Have Tried to Steer Women Into Step--Here's What Works, WSJ (Jun 1, 2021)
The article focused on a number of programs within the STEM fields in trying to increase representation and graduation in STEM majors of women and underrepresented minorities. The overall trends are not promising. For example, the percentage of women earning computer science degrees has decreased in the 20 year period from 1998 to 2018, and the percentage of Black women earning computer science or engineering degreee has likewise decreased during the same time period 1998 to 2018. Nevertheless, one comment in particular caught my eye and it has nothing to do with programs but with a person - a person making a difference.
In the article, Dr. Cara Gomally laments that courses, particularly introductory biology courses, are often taught as a "march through content with no connection of why you should care." Id. Sounds a bit like some introductory law school courses to me.
That lack of connection, of a nexus to purpose, the article suggests, leaves some people behind, particularly in the STEM fields. To remedy the deficit, Dr. Gomally is designing curriculum to focus not just on content but on the broader connections and uses one can make with the content, such as exploring questions with students as to how antidepressants work or whether students should participate in genetic testing. Id.
Those sorts of "why-questions" are filled with life; they create space for people to see how what they are learning can make an impact for them and for their communities and the world at large. It's in those opportunities in exploring the why of what we are learning that we start to see ourselves, as I understand the article, as valuable participants in the enterprise of, in this case, science. Id.
This summer, we are working with a number of recent law school graduates preparing for next month's bar exams who, for the most part, will not practice constitutional litigation or contract law or the law of future interests or defensible fees. Consequently, much of bar prep seems like rote memory and regurgitation, without making connections or exploring meanings to something greater than the mere content and skills in which they are tested by bar examiners.
To the extent that our graduates fail to make such connections with what they are learning to their future lives as legal practitioners, I think we are doing a disservice to them. Because many of our graduates want to practice immigration law, I like to explore connections to the word of immigration law within the midst of the bar exam content and skills. Let me share a few examples.
First, take the definition of a refugee - one who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected characteristic with the government unable or unwilling to protect them.
That sounds a lot like a type of tort, perhaps both an intention tort and also a bit like negligence with the state unable or unwilling to protect the person fleeing persecution.
Second, take an article this week from the southern border about the U.S. government's decision to ask non-governmental organizations (NGO's) to designate some asylum applicants as especially vulnerable and therefore eligible to enter the U.S. to proceed with their asylum claims while leaving others behind.
That raises at least two constitutional issues, both of which are tested by bar examiners. First, there's a question as to whether vulnerability determinations by the NGO's constitute state action. Second, there's a question as to whether vulnerability classifications used by individual NGO's violate the equal protection principle. That's just getting started. What about procedural due process and substantive due process considerations?
Recently, I talked with a graduate, heading into criminal defense work as a public defender, who shared that they were not doing very well on contracts multiple-choice questions. As to why, the content just didn't excite the person; it seemed irrelevant - totally unconnected - to their future practice as criminal defense counsel.
In reflection, I asked whether there might be any connections b between contracts and the person's future work as a public defender. It's just a hunch, we surmised, but we suspected that guilty pleas are contracts, which would ostensibly be governed by common law contract principles, such that if a government withheld exculpatory evidence, that would not only be a constitutional violation but also a contract defense of unconscionability.
To cut to the chase, the graduate said that in some ways contract law might actually reinforce the person's future clients' constitutional protections.
In short, there can sometimes be more to the content than just mere rote learning. Perhaps one day, somehow and someway, something from bar prep will lead to a new way of looking at how the law applies, really applies, to best protect rights and freedoms. And, in the course of exploring those possible connections with our students and graduates today, we might just be able to help them see that they belong in the legal field, that their experiences count, that they have more than what it takes to be attorneys. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 3, 2021
As Professor Elizabeth Stillman comments in an excellent blog post entitled "Jazz Hands," we've been making the best in the midst of the pandemic in learning to engage in "pandemic teaching." E. Stillman, "Jazz Hands," (May 17, 2021).t.
That made me think about our pandemic conversations, which so many of us have hosted, shared, and participated in through Skype and zoom and other technological mediums of expression.
It's brought us together but at what cost, if any?
Well, according to an article by writer Joanna Stern, there can be a lot at stake in making the choice as to the method of communication that we use with others. Unfortunately, Stern suggests, we too often turn - too quickly - to zoom and other such innovations without realizing the cognitive loads that visual chats can impose upon us all. J. Stern, "Stop with the Video Chats Already. Just Make a Voice Call," WSJ (May 26, 2021)
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Like you, I've been approached - many times over - by companies and publishers trying to sell resources to our law school, whether 1L materials, study tools, some sort of 2L assessment, or bar exam materials. And, it rattles me because I start to think that I might need them. That's sales for you.
But our law school has not taken the dive into buying academic success or bar exam materials from commercial companies for one primary reason - none have yet asked about our students, our community and our goals.
It seems to me that purchasing tools without knowing how the tools fit a particular educational community is like trying to hit a nail with a banana.
It makes for an entertaining video clip but lacks purpose and promise. It's assuming that the problem, whatever the problem is, is one-size-fits-all. But, at its root, many academic skills issues have less to do with content or skills and more than ever to do with learning to learn, well-being, and belonging.
I'm not saying that skills and content are not important. They are. And, I'm not saying that schools shouldn't partner with companies for tools. After all, we do all the time, whether it's casebooks or a LMS platform like Canvas, or catering graduation receptions (at least before the pandemic).
But focusing on all skills and content without a co-commitment to developing the heart, mind, and spirits of our students leads to mechanical robotic lawyering. Cut and paste lawyering, if you will. And that's not what our communities need or expect.
Rather, society is desperate for the intervention of creative, compassionate attorneys, grounded in justice, who think big about the law, who know not just how the law shapes society but how they can shape the law. That takes more that knowing the so-called black-letter law. It requires understanding it, seeing its weakness and strengths and probing its contours. In short, the black-letter law is the start but not the end.
So, with the end of the academic year upon us, a year like no other, take time out to reflect on your goals, your law school community, and your students, faculty, and staff. Let this be a chance to learn from what you've experienced with your students and in the midst of your educational community.
Then, based on what you learn, build your academic support program around those core observations with core principles. Think big. Act big. But thinking big and acting big doesn't always require us to do more, to look for the next tantalizing possibility to help our students. Rather, it starts with knowing ourselves and our students as learners, filled with passions and hopes and aspirations, as participatory partners in our educational communities.
Navigating the 2021-2022 Law Faculty Hiring Cycle
The University of Denver Sturm College of Law’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT), and LatCrit (Latina and Latino Critical Legal Theory Inc.) collaboratively present a workshop series,“Navigating the 2021-2022 Law Faculty Hiring Process” to be held virtually during summer and fall 2021.
Here's the link to learn more and to sign-up to participate in one of more workshops, with the first workshop on June 8, 2021:
Thursday, May 13, 2021
As relayed by Elizabeth Bernstein in an article entitled "New Ways to Calm Pandemic Anxiety," psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer suggests "two surprising strategies to combat [worry]: Curiosity and Kindness. Bernstein, E., Health & Wellness, Wall Street Journal, p. A10 (Mar. 2, 2021).
Let me say at the outset that I am plagued by anxiety, stress, worry. I won't go into the gory details but, at its heart, I suspect is a sense that I don't quite fit, don't quite measure up to what it takes to serve as an educator, and that someday I will be found to be lacking. I suppose I often label my successes, to the extent that I see them, as just the products of serendipity and good luck.
I suspect that many students also feel that way. Unsure about how to succeed in law school, on the bar exam, or on job interviews, students often try to mold themselves into someone who they are not. In short, they act the part, which only exaggerates the worries, not realizing that law schools admitted them, not for the purpose of sculpting them into robotic works of mechanical lawyering, so to speak, but rather as creative, curious, compassionate people aspiring to do great things for others by serving others in the midst of some of their most difficult moments.
For me, anxiety is a product of not giving myself the liberty to be myself. For our students, it's not giving them the platform and opportunity to let them shine, to succeed even when they make mistakes, to work out with them their own path forward, to help them develop their own sense of place and perspective and voice in the law. In short, I sense that many students feel disembodied and disempowered in the midst of their law school experiences. The remedy - empowerment.
Let me make this concrete. What might this look like for academic support educators?
Let me ask you a question first. Before the "zoom-age," tell me about your office. What's it look like? How is it structured? What do you share and make visible to your students?
For many, I suspect that the office looks a bit like a jailhouse interrogation room, cold and inhospitable, squaring off in direct face-to-face accusatory positions, student sitting across from teacher, often in a low set chair, with the teacher in a high backed chair.
In this world of online teaching and conferencing, I suspect that "zoom" accentuates the face-off posturing of the traditional office meetings with enlarged faces and less opportunities to glance away, pull back, and facilitate conversation with non-verbal signals.
In the physical world of coaching, I coach. What I mean by this is that, when I met with a learner, I get up out out of my chair, move in front of my desk, welcome the person to my office, and move to a circular table, set with two chairs, with each of us facing the middle of the table. In that way, we can focus together, for example, in reviewing exam results, by placing exam answers where we can both read them and work through them together.
As Dr. Brewer -referenced earlier in this blog - indicates, curiosity and kindness are two of the most important perspectives that we can take in order to help turn the anxieties of our students into positive concrete actions for improved learning, well-being, and growth. Id.
One way to help our students in dealing with their academic anxieties is to center our activities with them as adventures together in learning to learn, curiously and with compassion. And that can start with just how we position ourselves with them. Rather than as adversaries or critics, we can work with out students to be problem-solvers together. That's a great way to help overcome anxiety, both for our students and ourselves, too. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
This is the time of year where I see this question popping up all over; from my students, on twitter, probably elsewhere. And the answer is complicated, mostly because everyone is a bit different. So, with that being said, I can give you a few tried and true things that work.
How much time should I put in?
Conventional wisdom, as well as research and data, shows that those that pass spend at LEAST 500 hours on bar review. It also shows that the more you complete of your commercial prep course, the better.
However, students are not statistics. People are not statistics. So, there is going to be variation and exceptions.
I tell my students to spend 10 weeks (Mid May-July) treating bar prep like a full time job. This means 50 hour or so a week, so a taxing full time job. However, this doesn't mean you aren't eating or sleeping, or doing anything else you enjoy. Think of studying like 8-5 days, with some weekend work. that gives you evenings free - go to the gym, eat good dinners, talk to your friends. I binged Buffy the Vampire Slayer AND Angel. It was worth it.
That being said, not all of my students can do this. Some have families, and it's generally frowned upon if you ignore your kids all day for 10 weeks, or so I've been told. I don't know, my cats enjoy being ignored. Some of my students have full time jobs already, meaning an additional 50 hours a week is just not possible. Some of my students have both, or other things known as "life" that makes a 50 hour week of studying impossible. So, adapt. I tell my students with full time jobs to start early - as early as Feb or March. Or, you just learn to study more efficiently, and do the best you can.
But, what about life and breaks?
So, having said that you should aim for a "full work day", know that your brain is more likely to retain information if you take breaks. So, your day might not be 8-5, it might be 8-10, and 11-1, and 2-4, and 5-7 and so forth. That's ok, and it's actually encouraged. Give your brain a break to let the information sink in.
Also, if you are overtired, or frustrated, or feeling ill - take a break! If you are frustrated or anxious, you won't retain information, and that will make you MORE frustrated and anxious. Also, if you are ill or tired, the same thing will happen. I get migraine, and it has taken me YEAR to learn that no matter what, I can't just "push through" a migraine, even if I somehow manage to do so physically, the work I do while "pushing through" will not be stellar. Plus, it takes that much longer for my migraine to go away.
If you are frustrated with one topic, move on to another. Switching it up can be great.
The point is - give yourself breaks, and don't work to the point of frustration.
What about time for myself?
Yea, you need that. You need to take care of your mental health. This means different things to different people, so I can't tell you exactly what will work. I just know that, as stated above, the more anxious, tired, or frustrated you are - your brain stops learning.
So continue to meditate, see your friends (safely, pandemic and all), go for runs or go to the gym, binge a vampire related show from the late 90s, paint, dance, play video games, or whatever it is that's going to keep you sane.
Stay hydrated and well fed too. I'm serious on that one. And finally, remember it's a marathon - train accordingly. It's a well used cliche for a reason!
Friday, May 7, 2021
The phrase caught me eye; it's something I've never heard before. To be frank, I'm not sure I believe in it or even know what it means. But, according to writer Elizabeth Bernstein, research suggests that "[p]eople who endure adversity or trauma - such as an illness or accident, a death of a loved one or a natural disaster - often feel more confident, resilient and brave afterward. Psychologists call this 'post traumatic growth.'" Bernstein, E., "Hard-Earned Lessons in Endurance," Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2021, A11.
In the article, Bernstein shares lessons learned by endurance athletes as to how they overcome adversity in their punishing training regiments to achieve great successes. Id. One story features open-water swimmer Naji Ali, who trains alone in the frigid waters of the Bay Area. Id. During a storm, unable to breathe and concerned about being washed out to sea, Ali shares that "he stopped to tread water and get his bearings. Then he made a plan. He mapped a way back to land, telling himself to swim boat to boat anchored in the cover. He focused on taking just one stroke at a time." Id.
One stroke at a time. That seems like good advice to me. Whether taking a final exam, or preparing for an interview, or trying to make sense as academic support professionals about why some people pass their bar exams and others don't, take one step at a time. But, prior to that, as Ali states, stop, tread, get our bearings, and make a plan. Then initiate that plan, one moment at a time.
For us in the world of academic support, it's easy to be overcome by the many challenges and the waves and currents that seem to so often to be pushing us out to sea, so to speak. But, we don't have to go it alone. Like Ali, who mapped a way back, swimming from boat to boat, we can learn from each other, we can swim with each other, we can even tread with each other. You see, even for Ali, he wasn't quite alone. Did you catch it? There were boats in the harbor.
The lesson that I learn is that I try, so often, to be strong in myself. But strength is not my strong suit. And that's okay. Rather than swimming alone, we can swim together.
That's one of the things that I so appreciate about our profession as academic support educators. We learn and share and swim together. So, as I end this little post, I wanted to say a big thank you to each of you, for your encouragement, inspiration, your lessons that you've freely shared, and your compassion and kindness. For our strength, I think, lies not in overcoming the storms of life alone but in our community swimming together, one stroke at a time, in movement together. (Scott Johns).
P.S. In the same Bernstein article, we also learn from endurance athlete Alexi Pappas about the "Rule of Thirds." I had never heard of that term either.
But, as Pappas relates in learning from one of her Olympic coaches, "When you are chasing a big goal, ...you're supposed to feel good about a third of the time, OK a third of the time and crummy a third of a time. If you are feeling bad all the time you're fatiguing....If you are feeling good all the time, you're not working hard enough." Id. Pappas relates that this advice made a world of difference in her training because it changed her perspective about how to train. Id.
I'm not yet sure how to weave the "Rule of Thirds" into my work as an academic support professional but perhaps it might just encourage our students to find the right balance as they struggle in their learning to be learners. And maybe the right balance for us too.
Thursday, April 22, 2021
As one of my colleagues Visiting Prof. Chris Newman mentioned, "reading week" is a bit of a misnomer (at best) and a disaster (at worst). That's because preparation for final exams requires, well, lots of preparation with lots of activity and engagement in learning and doing.
With that in mind, I asked my students to share one thing they learned this semester.
Here's a sample of the many suggestions from my students to you that can help you engage in successfully preparing for your final exams too:
"Practice even if you think you don't need it."
"Practice makes perfect."
"Re-reading is not the best way to study."
"When you eliminate the impossible, whatever's left has to be right."
"Practice and don't be afraid to fail."
"Keep the hope high and practice!"
"Believe in the growth mindset!"
"Embrace failure and learn from it."
"Because, Because, Because!"
"Failure is a part of learning."
"Start with the call of the question."
"Making mistakes and getting things wrong helps you learn even more."
"Do vs. Memorize."
So, good luck to all of you as you put these sorts of tips into action in preparing for your final exams! (Scott Johns).
P.S. For more information along with concrete strategies and action items, please see Prof. Steven Foster's blog post, entitled: Foster, S., Effective Finals Preparation (Apr. 18, 2021). Not sure where to find practice problems, here's a resource of old bar exam problems, organized by subject matter (and they are available free of charge!): Practice Essay Exams.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
So You Failed the Bar?
First and foremost, this does not define you. Trust me, we have all heard stories of prominent lawyers, judges, and politicians that have failed the bar, sometimes multiple times. I could make you a list of all of the successful lawyers that were unsuccessful on the bar exam their first time. But I won’t, because failing the bar does not define them. If you try to make a list, you won’t find “failed the bar” on Wikipedia pages, or official biographies, or resumes. It’s not because it’s some secret shame, but because no one cares. In 5-10 years, no one will care how many times it took you to pass the bar. In fact, they won’t care in 6 months or a year. It seems like a defining moment right now, but it isn’t. Your defining moments come from the way you treat clients, the way you treat colleagues, and what you choose to do with your license once you have it.
I write this twice a year, every time results come out, because I think the message is that important. So let me repeat, this does NOT define you.
Having said that, it’s ok to take a few days to be upset. Do what you need to do. But then dust yourself off, and start looking towards the next bar. Also, remember that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success. Every successful lawyer has failed – on the bar, at trial, in a negotiation, not getting a job. Every failed politician has lost a race. Every failed Olympian has lost a game or a match. That failure is a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure.
So how to learn from this?
Step 1: Request your essays back. Many states allow you to request, or view, your essays. There are often deadlines for this, so make sure you do it right away.
Once you have your essays, I want you to do a couple things. Review your answers. Now that you are removed from the day of writing, what do you notice? Then, if possible, compare them to the sample answers. See if you can pick out patterns. Don’t just focus on the conclusions, or the issues spotted. Did the sample answers use more facts? Or have a more in depth analysis? Be honest with yourself. Also, if you have a varied set of scores (one essay is a 1, while another is a 5) compare the 2. What is the difference? Don’t just shrug it off as you know one subject better. Pay attention to the writing in both.
In addition, here is a CALI lesson on assessing your own work. It may seem geared towards law students, but it can help you assess your essays: https://www.cali.org/lesson/18101
Assessing your essays is the really important first step. I have seen so many students that know the law, and know it well. But they don’t put enough explanation in their essays, and that costs them. So really take that time to be critical, and see what you need to work on.
Step 2: Analyze your score How close or far away are you from passing? Did you do better on a certain subject? Is your written score considerably better than your MBE score? This is an excellent place to start. Some things to keep in mind:
- If your essay score is higher than your MBE, it may be tempting to place most of your energy into MBE practice, and forget about essays. This will only result in your score “swapping.” So, while it is good to note that you might need more work on the MBE, don’t forget that you aren’t carrying the score with you so you still need to practice essays. The reverse is true if you did better on MBE than the essays.
- Perhaps you did really well on the torts MBE, but your lowest score was civil procedure. Again, do not just focus on civil procedure, and forget other subjects. Your scores will just swap places, and not improve overall.
- You might be only 2 points away from passing. Great! However, your score is still starting from scratch. Meaning, in one sense, you only need 2 more points, but that’s not how the bar works, obviously. You have to still work to get the points you already got AGAIN, and it is likely you forgot things, and are out of practice.
Step 3: Think about external things Did something unrelated to the bar impact your studying? Perhaps a health issue, physical or mental? Perhaps a family emergency, or ongoing family issues?
Have you suffered from anxiety in general or related to exams? If you do, are you being treated for the anxiety?
These things can and will impact your studying. Not matter how much time and effort you put in, if you are not physically and mentally healthy, you won’t process the information correctly.
Not to mention, if there is something in your life that is distracting you, that will also impact how you process information.
And again, we were in a pandemic. This likely impacted your ability to study and focus. That’s ok, and that’s normal.
Step 4: Accommodations If you were entitled to accommodations in law school, did you use them on the bar exam? If not, make sure you apply for them this time around. If you were denied accommodations, still try again. They likely need more recent testing, or paperwork.
Step 5: Think about your Study Habits. The most important thing you can do is practice. Many bar students get caught up in trying to memorize every sing law, or master every subject. While this is admirable, and takes quite a bit of time and effort, it's not a surefire way to find success. This is because mastering the bar is a SKILL. You need to practice. When I work with repeat takers, I often find that they knew the law, and they studied hard, but didn’t practice enough essays or enough timed MBE.
This matters for a few reasons. One is timing. You can know all the law in the world, but if you can’t write an essay in 30 minutes, you will struggle to get the scores you need. Similarly, doing 100 MBE questions in 3 hours is not easy, even if you DO know the law. You need to practice the timing, and practice for the stamina.
Secondly, the skill being tested on the bar is applying the law to the unique set of facts. Yes, you need to know the law to do this, but knowing the law is not enough. You need to practice the application. The application is typically where you will get most points.
This means that writing essays, fully out, not just passively reading sample answers or issue spotting, is key. It has to be a priority in studying.
In fact, all of your studying should be active. Don’t focus on rewriting, or reviewing, outline after outline. Again, yes, you need to know the law, but you are also more likely to remember the law if you apply it – in MBE questions, writing essays, and so forth.
Step 6: Change it Up. Different study habits work for different people. If you studied at home and found that you were easily distracted, find a space at the library or nearby coffee shop to study. If you did go the library/school/coffee shop every day, maybe try studying at home.
Finally, if you can, reach out to your school's bar prep person!
And good luck!
Thursday, April 8, 2021
With just a few more weeks of classes for most law students, many of us are afraid. Sorely afraid because we know that we've got a lot to do and a lot to learn.
Facing those fears is key. I recall when I was growing up that parents constantly told me to be "careful." "Watch your step." "Play more gentle."
Sometimes I wish that the advice was instead: "Be courageous!"
You see, without bruises there can be little growth and thus little learning.
Nevertheless, it need not be all hard-knock lessons. After all, you as law students are paying valuable consideration to earn your law degrees. So take advantage of the resources that are available to you.
Let me give you a suggestion based on a column that I saw from a behavioral economist in response to the question "[w]hat's the best way to get useful feedback and make the most of...conversations?" D. Ariely, Dear Can Column, Wall Street Journal (Feb. 4, 2021).
The short answer is don't ask for feedback.
Instead, "...research shows that in general, looking at the past isn't the best way to figure out what we should be doing differently in the future. Instead of asking for feedback, which is backward-looking and usually vague, try asking your [professor] for advice. That will encourage them to look ahead and give you concrete suggestions and actionable items." Id.
So, be courageous. Seek out advice. Ask for concrete action items to improve future performance. Skip the feedback and instead ask for "feed for the future," i.e., advice. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Let me ask a question. What's one thing you learned today? Often times, I move so fast through my day that I learn very little. Maybe you're a bit like me.
Unfortunately, class can be like that too.
I often find that in a rush to teach I sometimes leave little time for my students to learn. It's sort of like I feel as though my students' learning is dependent on me filling them with all that I know. Stuffing them full of legal jargon, techniques, and principles. In short, mush.
But that's not learning. Learning takes time, practice, trial, thoughtfulness, experience, creativity, struggle, rest, pursuit, and failure, just to list a few of the sensations and practices that we go through as we are learning.
In order to help me gauge what my students are learning in our class meetings, I try to end each online zoom class with a one-minute reflective chat. All participate because I use this chat as a chance to take attendance. I ask my students to post one thing that they have learned in class today. Just one thing.
Most of the time the comments are related to what we covered in class, but not always. But all of them are valuable, not just for me, but for the rest of the class too, because the responses are visible to all.
It's one way - in this world of online teaching - for me to learn from my students. Because, truth be told, learning is a two-way street, filled with bustling activity as we learn together with, through, and from each other.
So next time you end class, ask your students what they have learned today.
That's not just a great way to end class; it's also a great way to honor and respect your students as learners. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, March 18, 2021
It might seem a bit late in the learning curve. To welcome our students, again, to class.
But, I suppose I'm in a habit of doing so because each class I start with an enthusiastic "Welcome!"
Nevertheless, do I, do we, really mean that? Do we really "welcome" our students? And, if so, what do we mean and how do we go about "welcoming" our students?
It seems to me that the word "welcome" suggests something like "being present to embrace my students, coming along side them to create a place of graciousness wellness."
So, taking the inspiration from a presentation by Prof. Katie Jones (Lincoln Memorial University) about how to incorporate online corporate drafting exercises in law school spaces, I tried my hand at a very brief mini-exercise with the goal of helping my students welcome each other.
As Prof. Katie Jones explained, the first step was to craft a discussion question requiring group responses. Dividing the class into 12 to 20 small groups of students (and using google docs), the students - working in teams - drafted answers to the following question:
"What are three things that you share in common with your group outside of law school and legal education?"
Hard at work, the groups came up with lists, often times with more than 3 things shared.
Back together as a whole, I asked one group to share what they had learned about their group. The lists were fascinating, welcoming, and embracing, even if some of the things that they shared were things such as "We are all so fully spent and exhausted."
In short, they learned, at least a bit, that they weren't alone.
I next asked the group of students to share how they had learned the things that they shared in common.
That's where it got really interesting because the key to learning about group members was in asking questions, lots of questions, sometimes questions that led to dead ends and then other questions that led to sparks of commonness.
The questions required curiosity and creativity and openness. As they questioned, they learned. In fact, as one of my students at the end of class responded to the question from me about what they had all learned today, the student remarked that she learned that "asking questions is a form of learning."
How true! How well said!
So, rather than having students read research articles about how to learn to learn, you might try this simple exercise, courtesy of Prof. Kate Jones, in exploring in real-time how to learn. After all, sometimes the best lessons - the lasting lessons - come from within. (Scott Johns - University of Denver).
P.S. Asking questions, being curious, and engaging in creativity seem like the same tools that can make law school learning bloom.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
You've most likely heard the expression that "there's a method to our madness." I'm not so sure that's true in much of legal education, at least when it comes to teaching and learning.
I sometimes wonder if there's not much of a method, beyond the Socratic method, which means that there might be a just a lot of plain madness without methods. If so, then I suspect that we are leaving a lot of learners behind. And our world needs each of them, each of their voices, their experiences, and their skills.
Big picture wise, I have a hunch that the method of legal education might be summarized as "outside-in" teaching. By this I mean that our teaching practices seem to suggest that we believe that the best way to teach our students to learn is to have them hear from us, to listen to us, to watch us, and to emulate us. "Outside-in."
But research on legal education suggests that much if not most learning takes place outside of the classroom. It's "inside-out." It's the work that our students undertake within themselves to make memories with the materials, to create new connections to what they've learned before, and to experience and grow as creative thinkers and critical problem-solvers.
Everyday I skim the news and learn nothing.
Why not? Because I don't act on it. By my actions (or rather lack of actions) I seem to think - erroneously - that just by taking the news in that I am in some way learning something new about the world around me. After all the word "news" is derived from the singular "new."
But nothing new happens to me unless I take another step, unless I change something about me and how I view the world, in short, unless I act upon what I read.
That takes resolve, work, time, reflection, passion, commitment, and patience. That's because, if I were to brainstorm possible words that might serve as synonyms to learning, I think that the word I would choose would be "growing." Learning means growing. So as you work with students, you might ask them how they view learning. Better yet, ask them what they are doing to learn...today. In fact, you might ask them to share examples of "inside-out" learning (and how that helped them learn). (Scott Johns).
Thursday, March 4, 2021
I just read an article suggesting that learning to learn is the latest fad in higher education. Something that will pass, sooner or later, much like the buzz a few years back about learning styles. I'm not so sure.
Now I do have my doubts about the efficacy of lectures featuring talking-head presentations about how to learn to learn. That doesn't seem like learning how to learn. Rather, that seems like a good way, especially on zoom, to lull a class into a nice dreamlike state of slumber.
But, I've shown a few of the charts from the research reports to my students. When I show graphs to my students, I don't' talk. I wait. I wait some more. And I ask them what they see. I ask them what they learn from that chart about learning. I ask them how they might apply what they are learning to their academic work as law students. In other words, I have them act and create something personal from what they are witnessing so that what they are learning becomes part of them, becomes true to them.
So is learning to learn the latest craze? I can't say for sure. But it sure seems to be helping my students develop confidence in actively learning and diving into their studies, not as students, but as learners instead. And that's something to say, fad or no fad. (Scott Johns).
You've heard the quip about "the chicken or the egg, which comes first?"
Well, as the joke goes, "I've just ordered one of each from Amazon, so I let you know tomorrow!"
That got me thinking about memorization.
My students are really concerned about memorization, particularly because most of their law school exams, unlike bar exams, are open book/open note exams. But take a look at the word "memorization." That's a word of action, of a process, of recalling something previously learned. In other words, at its root core the word "memorization" derives from creating "memories." So how do you create memories when it comes to learning rules of law?
Or, to ask it another way, which comes first, memorization or memories?
Well, I think that the answer to that question is in the question because it's memories that we memorize. So the key to memorizing is to work through lots of problems, to test yourself with your study tools, in short, to create lots of memories with the rules. You see, memorization is just a fancy word for the process of experiencing memories through distributed and mixed practice over time. So, instead of worrying about memorization, make a memory (and lots of them). (Scott Johns).
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Sometimes I wonder if being a teacher is a bit of an act. If so, or at least if that's how I am playing my role in academic support, I might not be doing it quite right. I might not be really serving my students but myself instead.
You see, I love to be seen. In fact, when working with students, I find myself too often trying to mold them to think like me, to work through problems like me, to learn like me. In short, to watch me. But, that's a big problem because none of them - not one - is like me. We are all remarkably and marvelous and wonderfully different.
That means that my job is really not to be seen but to see, to observe, to listen, and to respond to my students. In short, I'm not the star; they are. And that makes a world of difference in how I approach academic support as a teacher, a coach, a facilitator, a mentor, and an encourager.
To put an emphasis on it, if I am only wanting to be seen, then I'm falling up short in my obligations to my students as an academic support professional. But if I am seeing them, like much in life, that's the beginning of understanding, learning, and growth, for my students and for myself.
Let's make this honest. Too often I do all of the talking, teaching, and coaching that I end up crowding out much of the learning.
To be frank, that's because I have "relationship" issues. I'm not confident enough in my abilities to actually help them, to listen to them, to respond with them.
But, as many have pointed out, the best solutions for overcoming learning difficulties come from within not without. So, as I move forward in my role as an academic support professional, I find myself trying to move a little out of the way so that my students can take center stage.
After all, it's for them that I serve. It's for them that we serve. (Scott Johns).