Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Today AccessLex put on a great webinar, as part of their AccessLex Summer Webinar Series, about Bar Success. Sara Berman, of AccessLex, moderated a fantastic panel about bar success and early intervention. Some panelists included Afton Cavanaugh of St. Mary’s and Nicole Lefton of Hofstra.
Nicole mentioned that she found, in her data, that students that completed at least 80% of the bar prep program each week were most successful, and passed at a much higher rate. This has been consistent with my findings as well. This came right on the heels of seeing an email in the Academic Support Google group about “catching up” in bar review, and how to advise students. I’m also constantly seeing students on twitter ask about how much of bar prep they REALLY need to complete.
So here is my advice. To my colleagues AND to students. First and foremost, I absolutely agree that the greater percentage of your BarBri/Themis/Kaplan course that you complete, the better. The more you completely, the more likely you are to pass. But students are not statistics, and everyone is a bit different. Afton even ended his presentation with the hope that we remember that they are human beings that sit across from us, not data points. This is absolutely true! It should also be noted that there are always variations in this data. But, we ALL agree that practice makes progress. Not PERFECT – there is no perfect, and you don’t need perfect. But practice does make PROGRESS. So having said this, how do you “catch up?”
First, stop thinning of it as “catching up” and realize that it’s about making progress. Nicole mentioned that it wasn’t just 80% that did the trick, but rather a CONSTANT 80% over the weeks. So, no cramming at the end! But don’t give yourself the pressure of “catching up “ – work forward and do what you can!
Second, prioritize practice. Practice essays. Practice MBE. Practice MPT. Make sure you are doing something active. Yes, you need to learn the law – so videos, and taking notes, IS important – but you should really make active practice your number 1 priority. This means making perfect flashcards, or outlines, or “reviewing” premade outlines over and over again, are not as effective as writing essays. I even suggest that you write some essays as open note, because THAT is active review. You ca also turn multiple choice questions into “mini essays” by taking off the answer choices, and writing a paragraph long “essay.” Do this with open notes and it will help you remember the law, work on your essay skills, AND help you with multiple choice questions in general. So, even though they aren’t “assigned”, they are a great way to review law in an active way.
As a side note, there were fantastic conversations about how we, as various schools, can work together. Obviously this sometimes creates various challenges, but there are things we can do, especially in regards to advocacy.
Sunday, June 13, 2021
This is the time in bar prep when everyone emails me that their MBE scores are too low, and they aren't seeing enough improvement. I completely understand the feeling. In my early ASP days, I tried to create small gradual goals for all my students after a diagnostic test. The problem was no one followed the gradual improvement track because that isn't how improvement works. I love the image posted below. I saw it on facebook a while ago and found it again in google images.
Don't fret if you aren't seeing the improvement you want. Questions get harder as you go. Bar prep companies test different subtopics, so you probably did learn something from the last set of questions. The next set was on something different. Improvement happens in the end. You may not see it fast enough, but you are learning. Keep up the good work.
Friday, June 11, 2021
By popular demand, the ASP Writers’ Blocks will return Monday, June 14th at 11 am est/8 pst.
As a reminder: we work independently in one another’s company for 2 pomodoro cycles (25 minutes each), then briefly share what we are working on and solicit any feedback needed from our colleagues. Thus meetings usually last for about an hour and 20 minutes, though everyone is welcome to join in whatever portion they can attend.
We will regather about every 2 weeks for the next few months, and decide later whether to continue through August.
Upcoming dates will be: June 28, July 19, August 2.
The zoom link is in the google group.
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
1. Cayley Balser, Heidi Burross, Matt Charles, Katherine Cheng, Adriana Cimetta, Jessica Findley, Ran Li, Christopher T. Robertson (Arizona), JD-Next: A Valid and Reliable Tool to Predict Diverse Students’ Success in Law School.
From the abstract:
As one of two companion articles, this report tests the validity and reliability of a 2019 pilot test of the exam developed as the precursor to the JD-Next program: a fully-online, non-credit, 7.5-week course to train potential JD students in case reading and analysis skills, prior to their first year of law school. We recruited a national sample of potential JD students, enriched for racial/ethnic diversity, and randomized them to the course or an active placebo (consisting of television shows). We also recruited a sample of volunteers at one particular university who self-selected into the course. All participants (treatment and placebo) took a multiple-choice and essay exam, graded with a standardized methodology. We found that the course exam was a valid and reliable predictor of law school performance, comparable to other standardized tests frequently used for law school admissions. In a companion article, we report on the efficacy of the course for preparing students for law school.
2. Cayley Balser, Heidi Burross, Matt Charles, Katherine Cheng, Adriana Cimetta, Jessica Findley, Ran Li, Christopher T. Robertson (Arizona), JD-Next: A Randomized Experiment of an Online Scalable Program to Prepare Diverse Students for Law School.
From the abstract:
We sought to expose diverse potential law students to the methods of JD education and to prepare them for success in law school. This paper reports on the efficacy of the 2019 pilot test of the precursor to the JD-Next program: a fully-online, non-credit, 7.5-week course to train potential JD students in case reading and analysis skills, prior to their first year of law school. We recruited a national sample of potential JD students, enriched for racial/ethnic diversity so that less than half were White non-Hispanics, and randomized them to the course or an active placebo control group (where participants watched legal television shows). We also recruited a sample of volunteers at one university who self-selected into the course and who were propensity score-matched to non-participants, using university archival data. We found that participating in the course is associated with substantial improvement in grades for the targeted 1L course (Contracts) and overall first semester 1L GPA. We also report substantial student confidence gains and satisfaction with the course, in qualitative and quantitative terms, based on a survey at three points in time (pre-course, post-course, and post-semester). In a companion article, we report on the validity and reliability of the JD-Next exam for use in law school admissions.
3. Susan A. Bandes (DePaul), Feeling and Thinking Like a Lawyer: Cognition, Emotion, and the Practice and Progress of Law, 89 Fordham L. Rev. 1 (2021).
From the abstract:
Generations of lawyers have been taught that thinking like a lawyer requires putting emotion aside. They are warned, for example, that anger will blind them to the facts as they really are. Yet cognitive science rejects the notion that emotion and reason are autonomous, warring spheres. Recently there has been increasing recognition of the harmful consequences of the narrow conception of “thinking like a lawyer” to lawyers’ well-being, but these consequences are generally portrayed as a necessary trade-off between the well-being of lawyers and the preservation of analytical rigor. This Essay will argue that the harm the narrow conception of “thinking like a lawyer” poses to lawyers’ well-being is not simply an ancillary issue or an unfortunate but necessary collateral consequence of engaging in rigorous, logical thinking. A conception of law that attempts to cordon off emotion is poorly suited to the complexities of legal practice and is inconsistent with modern knowledge about how legal, ethical, and moral reasoning—and indeed, legal change and reform—actually occur. This Essay will focus in particular on the emotion of anger and the consequences of attempting to banish it from the realm of legal reasoning.
(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)
Saturday, June 5, 2021
You are invited to a virtual book conference—Law Teaching Strategies for a New Era: Beyond the Physical Classroom—on July 22, 2021 from 11 am EDT to 5:30 pm. You can register for the conference here: http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=y6oeipdab&oeidk=a07ehz3lyg07d8392cb. You can read more about the book here.
The abrupt move to online legal education in Spring 2020 accelerated the move to online legal education that has been slowing gathering steam in recent years. As more institutions consider the potential to expand their reach with online courses and programs, law professors must move past “pandemic teaching” and seriously consider how they can create and deliver quality legal education online. Law Teaching Strategies for a New Era: Beyond the Physical Classroom, the first comprehensive book on online legal education, explores techniques, tools, and strategies that can assist all types of law professors in that endeavor.
The conference will feature five panels that explore the future of the legal profession and offer practical tips on creating effective online courses:
- Panel 1—The Future of Law Practice: Moderated by noted legal blogger David Lat, this panel will feature practitioners and judges discussing the future of virtual law practice.
- Panel 2—Becoming the Law School of the Future: This panel will discuss how law schools can prepare for long-term online learning.
- Panel 3—Designing the Law Courses of the Future: This panel will offer attendees practical tips for designing courses for online delivery.
- Panel 4—The 1L & Doctrinal Curriculum in a New Era: This panel will offer tips from professors who successfully converted their 1L and large doctrinal classes to an online platform.
- Panel 5—The Upper-level Curriculum in a New Era: This panel will offer tips from professors who successfully converted their experiential classes to an online platform.
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)
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
It was great to see so many of you at the 8th Annual AASE Conference. I'd like to thank Joni Wiredu, and her team at American University Washington College of Law, as well as Afton Cavanaugh, for putting together such an amazing conference! They even made sure we had fantastic virtual socializing opportunities.
I'd also like to thank our executive board members that ended their term last week - Twinette Johnson, Goldie Pritchard, Joni Wiredu, and Antonia Miceli - they are currently working hard to help transition the new board members, and they will be missed.
And now, it's time to introduce the 2021-2022 AASE Executive Board
DeShun Harris, Past President
Britany Raposa, President Elect
Yolonda Sewell, Vice President of Diversity
Paulina Davis, Secretary
Laura Mott, Treasurer
Megan Kreminski, Treasurer Elect
Afton Cavanaugh, Host School Representative
I look forward to working with this fantastic team!
(Melissa Hale, AASE President)
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Tiger Woods won over 25% of tournaments he entered in his prime. No one in his era came even close. Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian. Tom Brady won the most Super Bowl titles for a quarterback. As a society, we celebrate the best/most/greatest. Society goes even further to denigrate those who aren't the best. The last player picked in the NFL draft is called Mr. Irrelevant. A controversy erupted this week about a former basketball player who was picked #1 in the draft and then never played well. Those players are still elite athletes making it to the highest stage in their profession. Unfortunately, a multi-billion dollar industry exists that basically talks about relative strengths of elite athletes. Elite becomes the standard that no one can live up to.
The norm permeates through to everyone, including our kids. I was talking to my son a couple weeks ago about golfers. Like many kids his age, anything less than perfection and winning is unacceptable. I asked him whether the 2nd place PGA Tour golfer was good, and he said yes. That is obvious because he is second. I then asked him about a few middle of the pack PGA Tour golfers. He said they weren't good. I was shocked. The players I named are top 100 golfers in the world. They make a few million dollars a year and play a game for a living better than 99% of the population. In his eyes, they aren't #1, so they aren't good.
The elite perspective is impossible to live up to, and we all set that as the standard. There will always be someone better. Someone who makes us feel not as good about our own performance. I don't want anyone to take that attitude into bar prep. I hear it every summer. Someone graduated higher in the class. Someone completed more practice questions today. Someone's simulated MBE score is higher. Someone did something better, and thus, I am on the wrong track.
Continued comparisons are crippling. Don't let it stop you from achieving your goals. Someone may have done more, but that doesn't mean you can't also pass the bar. You can put the work in to succeed. Don't compare yourself to the Tiger Woods of law school. No one will get to that standard. 2nd, 3rd, and even 103rd still have J.D.s with the opportunity to become a practicing attorney. Focus on the work you put in, and you will walk into the bar exam prepared. Worry about what you can control, and you will be in a great position to succeed.
Everyone compares our own performance to others. The comparison steals the joy of our accomplishments. Stop the comparison and enjoy your opportunity to become an attorney.
Friday, May 28, 2021
This has been a year (and a half!) of teaching while sitting down. It has been 18 months of waist up business attire and knowing what our neighbors are up to 24/7. It has been so many things, both good and bad, and I hope it is just about over so we can go back into the sunlight.
Have you ever gone through a series of tunnels when driving? Here in Boston, when you are going to the airport, your route may take you underground (where we buried the highway) and then outside-- for a brief moment --before you are plunged into another tunnel that goes under Boston Harbor. The tiles on the inside of the tunnels are coded to let you know what you are under: brown for under land and blue for under water. Or to put it in Paul Revere: brown if by land and blue if by sea and the airport on the other end of the second tunnel will be…
But, last year when we were all pivoting to teaching remotely, it was like entering the first tunnel. It took a bit of time to get our eyes adjusted to the dark and we may have lost our navigator for a few minutes, but we looked at the walls, figured out what we were under and hoped to settle in for the ride. For any of you who have ever driven to the airport in Boston, you would not be surprised to know that there was, of course, bumper to bumper traffic in the tunnel. And for further frustration, you entered the tunnel in the left lane and your exit was four lanes over on the right. So now, you cannot tell how much longer you will be in this tunnel or when your exit is coming up. I think that sums up pandemic teaching: you are plunged into darkness, you need to recalibrate your bearings, people are a bit panicked and all trying to get to the same place, and you don’t know how much longer the journey will go on in this lane before you need to move over and get out.
So, we learned how to teach remotely; we did it quickly and mainly in fits and starts. Then we re-started in the fall as masters of breakout rooms, shared screens, and the elusive polling feature. We learned how to write online quizzes and exams. We saw students at times and on days we ordinarily would not be available, because, honestly, where were we going? We got used to seeing our students in class as if they were a grandmother’s wallet full of school pictures. It seemed fitting that this part of the journey was tiled in brown. And then, there was talk of a vaccine and we emerged from the first tunnel into the light. It was a brief respite from the crowded darkness and we blinked because the light was a big change.
It was, however, like the trip above, just a moment before we entered the next tunnel. We had left the one that had us buried underground and moved onto the one that is underwater. It has more clearly marked exits and will get us to our destination more smoothly. It is newer and brighter than the one we just left, but it is still tiled in blue. Blue for people who didn’t make it there, blue for the students who didn’t have the experience they were anticipating, and blue from the isolation of all this time underwater. I think we all have some fear of being blinded a bit when we leave this tunnel as my esteemed colleague Steven Foster mentioned in his last post here. He raises the issue of how much time will we need to get readjusted to our surroundings? Even good changes are hard.
I know that in time, we will forget the feeling of being in these tunnels—and I also know that today is not that day-- but it will come. As we look in the rearview mirror, we will have glimpses of this tunneled life—something we see or hear that brings us back to the tunnel—and for me I think it will be saying goodbye with jazz hands instead of a casual wave. And I’ll sigh and be glad we made it to the airport and on to the next journey.
(Elizabeth Stillman - Guest Blogger)
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
With apologies for a second post today, the following just came to my attention:
AccessLex Institute, Analyzing First-Time Bar Exam Passage on the UBE in New York State.
From the Executive Summary:
This report is the culmination of three years of work to collect, analyze, summarize, and interpret data on the experiences and outcomes of first-time and second-time New York State Bar candidates....
[The Executive Summary then lists six findings]:
1. “The key ingredient to first- and second-time bar passage is extensive time dedicated to bar exam preparation.”
2. "The quality of time spent on bar preparation is equally paramount to the amount of time spent studying for the exam." [Importantly, the report noted that this includes working on weak areas instead of blindly re-studying all material just to keep up with a bar company schedule. In other words, metacognition and self-regulated learning were important.]
3. "[In-exam] time-management is a key bar passage strategy. Running out of time on multiple-choice and essay items negatively impacts bar exam performance for first- and second-time takers."
4. Positive law school experiences can have a lasting influence on candidates, possibly improving their bar exam performance.
5. "Completing courses in bar-tested subjects was not strongly associated with first-time or second-time bar passage." [But the study found that taking Evidence and Business Organizations was positively correlated with bar passage.]
6. "Managing non-academic factors such as debt, unemployment, mindset, and significant life events is a critical aspect of bar exam preparation."
(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)
Aaron N. Taylor, Jason M. Scott, and Josh Jackson, It’s Not Where You Start, It’s How You Finish:
Predicting Law School and Bar Success (AccessLex Institute Research Paper No. 21-03, April 21, 2021).
National Report of Findings for the AccessLex/LSSSE Bar Exam Success Initiative. From the abstract:
The AccessLex/LSSSE Bar Exam Success Initiative is the first multi-institutional investigation into the factors that help predict law school academic and first-time bar exam performance. Mixed effects linear and logit modeling techniques are used to analyze pre-admission data; law school transcript data; and bar exam performance data for almost 5,000 Spring 2018 and 2019 graduates from 20 law schools that participated in this study. Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) response data were also analyzed for a subset of about 2,000 graduates.
Our modeling techniques allowed us to localize the impact of the factors of interest, while also accounting for other factors. For example, our analyses of the impact of various student engagement factors on bar exam performance account for other potentially relevant factors such as law school grades.
We find that:
• LSAT score and undergraduate GPA (UGPA) are modestly associated with law school GPA (LGPA). LSAT score and first year (1L) LGPA yield the strongest association. Across our sample, a one-point increase in LSAT score is associated with a 0.04 increase in 1L LGPA. A one-tenth point increase in UGPA is associated with a 0.03 increase in LGPA (Figure 2).
• LGPA is the strongest predictor of bar exam performance, even at the early stages of matriculation. For example, a one standard deviation increase in 1L LGPA is associated with a 402 percent increase in the odds of bar passage (Figure 3).
• Positive growth in LGPA between the end of the first semester and graduation is associated with greater odds of passing the bar exam, particularly among graduates who struggled early on. Graduates with below average first-semester grades who experienced no LGPA growth had a 25 percent chance of passing the bar exam, compared to 43 percent among their peers who experienced average growth of about 0.17 grade points (Figure 5).
• Graduates who spent more than 21 hours per week on responsibilities such as caring for dependents or working a non-law-related job had lower third year (3L) LGPAs and bar passage odds than their peers who spent 0 to 5 hours on these activities (Figure 12).
• Graduates who worked in law-related jobs while in law school (Figure 9); graduates who felt that their law school experience contributed “very much” to their skills development (Figure 10); and graduates who regularly participated in class (Figure 11) were modestly more likely to pass the bar exam than other graduates.
Collectively, our results suggest that academic and bar exam success are driven by what happens in law school, not just early on, but throughout the experience—and the greatest opportunities for impact exist among those who struggle the most early on.
(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)
Sunday, May 23, 2021
The spring semester included many of the same precautions as last fall. Social distancing, masks, and some online classes. Last week, all that changed in Oklahoma. Nearly every major University announced new guidelines which included no masks on campus for vaccinated individuals (some campuses no masks at all) and no social distancing in classrooms. The message is go back to normal, but is that possible? Should we?
I am having trouble describing my feeling with the sudden back to normal message. Many summer classes are following the new protocols. The message seems to ignore 18 months of tragedy that changed the way we delivered education and interacted with the world. We should turn the clock back to 2019 and proceed as if the pandemic never happened. Businesses and schools seem to be in a rush to claim everything is normal. I am not sure the community members feel the same way.
I cannot speak for those who experienced unimaginable tragedy the past year. However, I can imagine some feeling the sudden dismantling of the vast majority of regulations as ignoring the last 18 months. The sudden change doesn't feel sympathetic to our communities. I also believe the insatiable drive to be back to normal ignores progress we made delivering education. We should take advantage of new innovations. We can use the new tools to help students learn. Within our Universities, the message should be to utilize the best forms of all the delivery methods to reach all our students. Some students thrived over the last 18 months. We should help them continue to thrive by teaching them how to use their new forms of learning in their "normal" classes. They shouldn't go back to former ineffective techniques. We should help others get back to their better studying techniques because they didn't do as well. They will also require help recalling what worked best prior to last fall. Students and professors will need time process how to proceed going forward.
The pandemic affected everyone, but ASPers can be at the forefront of the transition to a new normal. You will help some people cope with what happened over the past year. You will help others try to utilize those great new study techniques. Faculty may ask you how to integrate new technology or teaching techniques into classes. The last year was extremely hard on students, so ASPers will be tasked with helping those catch up to be ready for the bar exam. ASP can and will be at every step of the oncoming transition.
The last 15 months has affected everyone in a myriad of ways. No one experienced the pandemic the same. Everyone will need a little different help, and ASPers (all of us) have the unique opportunity to impact people. We can help individuals and entire communities. Also know, that we (all of us) will also need similar help transitioning back to our jobs. I encourage everyone to do 3 things. Help your law school community, help other ASPers in your state/region, and seek out help from someone in your area. For some, the change will come fast. Let's all seek the help we need so we can keep helping others.
Friday, May 21, 2021
The Learning Curve is soliciting articles for the Spring/Summer 2021 edition. Please send your submissions by June 1 to email@example.com.
This is a great opportunity to publish. You are also helping our community continue to improve.
If you have any questions, you can email the editors at the above address.
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:
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Congrats to everyone graduating across the country. Obtaining a J.D. is an amazing accomplishment. You should celebrate your victories, but for most of you, the J.D. is not your final hurdle. You still have 10 more weeks of preparation and one more test. Don't get distracted now. Finish strong on this last obstacle.
I know many students looked at their bar prep schedule and saw a little time before full time studying begins. My advice is to start bar prep early. Every major course pre-recorded all the lectures, so you can start the full course right after graduation. Don't wait until June. You need to study 400-500 billable hours. Spreading it over 10 weeks increases the likelihood of completing the work. You can also spend extra time on your weak areas later in bar prep if you are ahead.
I hope everyone enjoyed graduation. Congratulate yourself on your accomplishment. Also know, you have the grit to pass the bar. Most of you completed 3 semesters of school online or in a hybrid format. You experienced social upheaval while navigating a pandemic. You already overcame obstacles for the opportunity to take the bar exam. Seize your opportunity and finish the summer strong. Good luck!
Thursday, May 13, 2021
I recently had lunch with one of my colleagues from across town - Professor Denise DeForest at the University of Colorado.
As we talked through our thoughts on learning, legal education, and bar prep, Prof. DeForest explained something to the effect that she teaches students to expect the unexpected in bar prep, that nothing will every quite feel right, at least not until the very end, because bar prep is just difficult preparation indeed. In Prof. DeForest's words, bar prep is "going from one disaster to another disaster." That's because bar prep is about learning to solve problems, which means making lots of mistakes and wrong turns along the way.
Sometimes I wonder if bar prep can be too slick, with too many "learning" tools and pithy lines that serve to blur one of the most blunt facts of life, that learning involves challenging ourselves, finding out what we know and what we don't know, and then working on ways to learn what we still have to learn. In short, it's hard work. Not impossible work. But difficult work.
As Prof. Melissa Hale at Loyola University Chicago reminds us, bar prep is "a taxing full time job." Hale, M., How Do I Study for the Bar Exam? (May 12, 2021). But, as Prof. Hale also points out, that means treating bar prep as a job, nothing more and nothing less. Id. Just like work, take breaks. Id. Even take mini-escapes because they can rejuvenate your mind and uplift your spirit. In short, "it's a marathon - train accordingly." Id.
For our graduates soon to be embarking on bar prep, this is a time to remind them that they can do it, that they can succeed, and that success hinges - not so much on feeling well-prepared - but rather in facing the challenges of learning head on, with adventurous curiosity, recognizing that mistakes are the valuable stepping stones to success, real success, not just on the bar exam, but throughout life, too. (Scott Johns).
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!