Monday, April 22, 2019
Many students are trying to decide where they will find the time to get everything done. Here are some tips on finding more time:
- Block distractors while you study to avoid wasting time or getting side-tracked:
- put your phone into airplane mode
- turn off your message signal for email
- study where others will not stop to chat
- use one of the many apps available to block URLs
- Evaluate your class preparation time. You want to be well-prepared for class because the newer material will be tested. However, are you able to be more efficient and effective in your class preparation?
- Ask questions as you read to get more understanding during your reading which helps you to avoid re-reading sections.
- Make margin notes summarizing important points as you read so that you do not have to re-read the case to make your notes/brief.
- Read for understanding and for the case essentials, not minutia; for exams, you need to apply the law from cases, not recite the cases in detail.
- Use the weekend to prepare for Monday and Tuesday classes and then review your briefs/margin notes before classes. You then free up time during the week to study for exams.
- Evaluate your outlining time. You want to focus on the tools that will help you solve new fact scenarios on the exams.
- Avoid minutia in your outlines; focus on the important items.
- Ask yourself how an item of information will help you on the exam. If it will not be useful, then it does not need to be in the outline.
- Avoid perfectionism. Make the best outline you can in the time you have left. Next semester you can work on outlines earlier, but for now focus on utility.
- Evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of study group/partner time.
- Are you spending mega time on study group and not spending enough time on your own learning?
- Is your group staying on task or becoming a social outlet?
- Does your study group have a set agenda for each meeting, so everyone can come prepared to discuss those topics/practice questions?
- If your group is having problems, visit with the academic support professional at your law school for help in resolving any conflicts.
- Evaluate your exercise routine. Are you spending more time worrying about your abs than exercising your brain?
- Experts recommend that you get 150 minutes (30 minutes X 5 days) of exercise a week.
- Consider exercising for shorter periods of time or fewer days a week if your routine is way over the 150-minutes recommendation.
- Consider changing your exercise routine for the remaining weeks: walking some days instead of gym time that would take longer; treadmill some days rather than an elaborate multi-machine routine.
- Would exercising and a meal as one longer block for a break be more efficient than several different blocks of time during the day?
- Would exercising at your apartment complex fitness center or at the rec center for a few weeks be less time-consuming than driving to and from your usual commercial gym in town?
- Evaluate your daily life chores for more efficient and effective ways to get things done. We often waste a lot of time on chores and errands that could be avoided.
- Set aside one block of time to run all of your errands for the week rather than make multiple trips; then plan the most efficient driving route to get them done without wasted miles (and fuel).
- Do a major shopping now for non-perishable items so your grocery trips in future weeks will take less time.
- Do your shopping for school-related items now so you have everything on hand when you need it later: pens, printer paper, colored tabs, highlighters, etc.
- Do shopping and errands at off-times when the stores are less crowded and lines are shorter.
- Prepare meals on the weekends that can then be portioned out for the week rather than cooking every day. Freeze some extra portions for future weeks as well.
- Consider packing your lunches/dinners to take to school rather than wasting time commuting back and forth for meals.
Avoid getting discouraged by "larger than life" tasks such as learning Constitutional Law or writing an appellate brief. Break big tasks into sections or topics. Then break those tasks down even more. Each small task can be completed in a smaller amount of time. Focus on subtopics instead of topics. Focus on editing citations rather than all editing tasks. Take control of that small task and slip it into your schedule. Baby steps over time still lead to mastery of walking. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 18, 2019
Perhaps you've heard the phrase "Too big to fail." Well, that might be true, at least according to some, with respect to some business enterprises in the midst of the last recession.
But, at least from my point of view, that saying is not true at all with respect to student study tools and outlines. In my experience, too big of an outline can lead to less than stellar final exam results.
Here's why...There's a learning concept called "useful forgetfulness."
As I understand the educational science behind useful forgetfulness, it is in the midst of the filtering process - in which we decide to trim, shorter, collapse, and simplify our notes and outlines - that best promotes efficacious learning because the decision to leave something out of our outline means that we have made a proactive decision about its value. In short, the process of sorting the important legal principles from the not-so-important leads to active and enriching learning.
Nevertheless, for most of us, we are sorely afraid about leaving anything out of our outlines because we often lack confidence that we can make such filtering choices about what is important versus what is not important. Consequently, we often end up with massive 50 plus page outlines in which we know very little because we have not made hard reflective decisions to prioritize the important. So, here's a tip to help with trimming your outline down to a workable size to best enhance your learning.
First, grab a piece of paper and hand-write or type out, using both sides of the paper, the most important things from your outline. If you think a rule might be important, don't put it in your outline yet because you can always add to your study tool later. Instead, only put the rule down in your mini-study tool if the legal principle immediately jumps out to you as critically important.
Second, take your mini-study tool on a test flight. Here's how. Grab hold of a few essay problems or multiple-choice questions and see if you have enough on your "one-pager" outline to solve the problems. If a rule is missing, just add it. And, as you practice more hypothetical problems in preparation for your final exams, feel free to add more rules as needed. And, there's more great news. In the process of seeing a rule that might be missing from your mini-study tool, you'll know that rule down "cold" because you will have seen it applied in context. So, feel free to have less in your outlines because, with respect to study tools, less can indeed be more! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
In the busy-ness of the end of the term, it's important for all of us -- faculty, staff, and students -- to stick to the basics. And the most basic of all basics is to get sufficient sleep.
Let's just talk about the brain. Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers fame (and also author of the lesser-known but magnificent A Primate's Memoir), posits that sleep helps cognition in three major ways. First, it restores energy. The brain, it turns out, is an energy hog. While it comprises only about 2% of the body's weight, it uses about 20% of the body's energy, with two-thirds of that energy going to firing neutrons. Wonder why you feel so tired after intensive thinking? -- you are actually churning through enormous amounts of energy. This energy is restored in slow wave sleep. Second, the REM sleep in which dreaming occurs consolidates memory. High levels of the class of hormones known as glucocorticoids elevate stress and disrupt cognition. Glucocorticoid levels, however, plummet during sleep, especially REM sleep. So cognition can be enhanced simply allowing the brain to work its way through learned material when these hormone levels are at their lowest, by getting a good night's sleep. Because REM sleep consolidates memory so well, those who study, sleep overnight, and take a test the next afternoon do significantly better than those who study the morning before a test. Finally, REM sleep improves assessment and judgment, especially in complex circumstances, perhaps by exercising lesser-used neural pathways during those wild and crazy dreams. This allows the brain to establish wide networks of connections instead of simple one-lane pathways, leading to deeper, more nuanced thinking. Indeed, Berkeley neuroscientist Matthew Walker suggests that the most significant cognitive benefit of sleep lies not in strengthening the memory of specific items but in assimilating small bits of knowledge into large-scale schema.
More energy for the brain to work, better memory, and better ability to put things into a larger perspective. Sounds like a winning combination for everyone. Let's ditch the late nights and catch some Z's.
Friday, April 12, 2019
It has been an exciting time in Red Raider Land! Our basketball team returned home Tuesday afternoon to a warm welcome. Although they lost in the NCAA final against Virginia, they have set school history. In fact our TTU President cancelled evening classes Monday night and all classes for Tuesday.
I will admit that I was glued to my television for both the Final Four and the Final. The first of those games was such a joyous victory. The team was amazing. The loss to Virginia was heart-breaking, especially because of the OT call giving the ball to Virginia after the replay. The team played well and gave it every ounce of effort. Chris Beard has helped these young men become a family that supports one another at all times. In true Lubbock fashion the team was given a wonderful welcome home. This NCAA championship season will be remembered forever.
In many ways the NCAA tournament is a lot like final exams for law students. The hard work to get there, the high stakes, the pressure. Each exam feels like a "will I be victorious or go down in defeat" moment for some students. Here are some exam tips we can learn from the NCAA tournament:
- Daily preparation and hard work pay off in the big game. The road to success is built day by day.
- Practice, practice, and more practice is essential to honing skills for exams. You will never practice too much.
- A team to help you reach your game-day potential can be important - a study group, a study partner, teaching assistants/tutors, professors.
- People who believe in you and your abilities - friends, family, and mentors - should surround you in pre- and post-game times.
- Staying calm under pressure allows you to stay in the game and focus on every point you can get. Breathe deeply, and calm those jitters.
- Mistakes happen. Instant (or continual) replay after a disappointing exam performance is not helpful. Move on to the next exam in the series.
- Whether you win or lose, you are still a winner if you did your best on the day. All you can ask of yourself is to do your best.
- All of us can use victories or defeats to become better players in the future. Exam review later and new strategies can show us how to improve our scores.
For all of our students who are on the downward slope of classes to exams, keep up the hard work and show them what you can do! (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, April 4, 2019
I asked my classes this question today: "How did you learn to ride a bike?"
The students then turned to their small groups and the class lit up with stories and smiles and anecdotes as they shared their memories about learning to ride bikes. Here are some of the things I heard:
• I started out with training wheels.
• No one helped me so I decided to try riding on the grass so that I wouldn't get hurt when I fell.
• I just kept getting back up, one fall after another and one bruise after another.
• Without my knowledge, someone gave me a big push and away I went!
As a class, here's what we realized about learning. Not one of us learned to ride a bike by reading about riding a bike, or watching You Tube videos about bike riding, or creating a study tool on bike riding. No. Instead, to a "T," all my students said that they learned to ride bikes, well, by learning to ride bikes. And, most of us had help along the way.
The same is true with learning the law. We don't really learn the law by reading about the law. Instead, we learn the law by problem-solving with the law. But, far too many students - understandably - don't feel ready to practice final exam problems because they feel like they don't know enough law. So, here's some tips to get you learning by doing in preparation for your final exams.
Start with training wheels and practice on the grass.
Here's what I mean.
Instead of trying to test yourself through past exam problems, open up your notes, outlines, and casebook and work through problems as best you can, untimed, with the goal of learning the law through past exam problems.
Just like learning to ride a bike, you'll experience a lot of cuts and bruises along the way as you review your answers. But, you'll get better and soon you'll be able to ride without your training wheels (notes). And, you might start doing some tricks, too, like jumping off the curb, something that a few days or weeks previously was terrifyingly trepidatious. You see, the key to tackling your fears about taking final exams is to take final exams before you take final exams. So, as you prepare for your exams this spring, make it your aim to practice final exams, slowly and open book. One pedal at a time. (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
A blank piece of paper has so much potential. It can be used to display one's ingenuity. It can be a medium for communication between two people, or among thousands. It can record data and history and memory, to be used by people born long after the recorder is dead. And yet, under certain circumstances, our stationery friend can seem to turn on us. When we are asked to answer an inscrutable question, the oppressive blankness of an empty sheet can be smothering. When we think that our reputation, our livelihood, our entire future depends on scratching the right symbols in the right order, the page can seem like a minefield of hidden threats.
When I was a kid, television seemed to be entering its golden age of public service announcements, and to me it seemed the most common subject was fire. Fire was our friend, we were told, making food safe and houses warm; but we always needed to be aware of what to do if it grew dangerous. And what we needed to know was that our natural inclinations were usually wrong. Foe example, even though we knew that water was the opposite of fire, if something caught fire in the kitchen, then we were not supposed to throw water on it, because it was probably a grease or electrical fire, and water would just make it worse. If our whole house caught fire (say, because we threw water on a kitchen fire), then we weren't supposed to hide in a nice, safe closet, because then we'd be trapped and the firefighters would never find us. If we caught fire, then we weren't supposed to run, trying to find some water to jump into. That, we were told, would just light us up like a Roman candle. Instead, we had to fight every instinct and stop, drop to the ground, and roll around politely.
What I could not understand as a child was that these PSAs really had two purposes. One was simply educational, teaching us that behaviors that made perfectly good sense in one context (dousing fire, hiding from danger, fleeing danger) might actually expose us to additional harm in a different context. They were maladaptive behaviors. Sea turtle hatchings naturally paddle towards a bright light, which helps insure they reach the ocean when the brightest object in the night is the moon reflecting off the water, but which will insure they remain stranded on land when the brightest object is the patio light behind a beach house. Infantry charging a defensive position en masse often led to an advance when the defense was armed with swords, but always led to a slaughter when the defense was armed with entrenched machine guns. The ways to counter maladaptive behaviors are either to return to the original situation (turn of the patio light) or to replace the old behavior with a new one (attack with tanks and aircraft). When Ronald McDonald sang, "Stop, drop, and roll!", he was teaching children a new behavior to replace the old maladaptive behavior.
But even the dimmest of my childhood friends got the gist of Ronald's commands after the third or fourth viewing. Why were we hearing these messages so frequently, from so many different sources? That went to the second purpose of the PSAs. Education is a good start, a necessary start, but the problem is that being on fire, or at least near fire, is an inherently stressful situation. And psychologists know that "Under stress, we regress." That is, under difficulty situations like panic or sensory overload or fear of consequences, humans naturally fall back on older patterned behavior. Most drivers, for instance, know intellectually that if their car loses traction in a skid, they should pump the brakes and steer into the skid to regain control. But the first time they actually hit a skid, most drivers stand on that brake pedal. Only if they live someplace wacky with snow, like Buffalo, do they get enough practice with the skid to develop the new adaptive behavior.
Even television executives were able to recognize that it would be unethical to light kids on fire over and over again until they learned to stop, drop, and roll. So they did the next best thing: they repeated the message over and over again, and encouraged children to try practicing the moves even when they weren't alight, to ingrain the new behavior as much as possible. The more familiar a behavior became, through repetition and feedback, the less likely a person would be to regress away from it under the actual stress of combustion.
At this time of year, I am seeing work from a lot of students who seem to be regressing under stress: 1L students using tactics in their spring semester midterms that appear to be drawn from their most basic legal writing classes, or from college composition classes; 3L students trying to mechanically apply CREAC format to early MEE and MPT practice questions. Even when we know we have shown these students the more advanced strategies they should be using as they progress through their development as attorneys, we have to keep in mind that that blank piece of paper or computer screen can just as easily be a threat as a blessing. Under the stress of self-doubt, or of novelty, or of high ambition, or future consequences -- sometimes of all of these at once -- the amiably clean page can transform into an incandescent hazard. Repetition and feedback are important not just to help our students improve their use of the more advanced strategies they need, but also to make them comfortable and familiar enough to be able to use those strategies at all.
Sunday, March 31, 2019
We have four weeks of classes left in our semester. Midterm exams, quizzes, paper draft deadlines, presentations, group projects, and many other law school assignments have clustered in the last several weeks with more of the same to come. Grades on that myriad of items are now emerging - for many law students, not as high as they had hoped.
The level of stress and anxiety among the students has risen along with these events and deadlines. Many students are worried about how much they still need to do before the end of classes and start of exams. A number of students are focused on self-negatives: "I should have outlined sooner." "I didn't work hard enough over Spring Break." "I didn't complete enough practice questions." "I didn't study enough for the midterm." Some students are focused on other-negatives: "The prof didn't allow enough time for that quiz." "The midterm wasn't fair." "The multiple-choice questions were too picky." "The prof took off too many points for citation errors." In either version, the negativity abounds.
It is easy for stressed students to become totally self-focused and intense during this point in the semester. People irritate one another, become curt in conversations, and behave rudely perhaps without realizing it. Tempers flare. Hurt feelings increase. Anxiety and stress escalate. Before long, the environment becomes toxic.
Each student has the capacity to de-escalate the tension around the law school. Each individual can nurture a calmer law school environment through words and deeds. To do so, it requires focusing on community instead of self. It requires focusing on the positive instead of moaning. It requires kindness instead of conflict.
Small acts of kindness not only make the recipient feel better, but also make the actor feel better. Here are easy ways for an individual to impact the law school environment through random acts of kindness:
- Make eye contact and smile at others. Your smile may be the only one a person sees today.
- Say "please" and "thank you" more often than you might normally remember. You will acknowledge others' help, and notice your blessings more.
- Hold open the door, offer to carry a box, or help pick up dropped books for someone. Etiquette is never out of fashion.
- Compliment another student on the good answer given in class today. Everyone can use a boost after dealing with the Socratic Method.
- Offer a copy of your class notes to a fellow student just back to class after an illness. Or suggest you meet with them to go over missed material.
- Take time to say an encouraging word to a classmate who is obviously working hard, but struggling. Better yet, offer to chat about the current class topic.
- Tell your study group members that you appreciate them and why they are important to your law school success.
- Share your personal study aid copy with a fellow student who cannot afford one. It's not very hard to agree a sharing schedule.
- Refuse to participate in or pass on gossip about a fellow student. Gossip hurts.
- Buy a soda or a bag of chips for the person behind you in line at the law school canteen - whether or not you know them.
- Unexpectedly offer to share your law school pizza delivery with a fellow law student without dinner. Free food is always appreciated.
- Bake cookies on the weekend, and share your goodies with those who are studying nearby - even if you do not know them.
- Write a thank-you note (not an email or text) to a classmate who did something nice for you recently or who needs encouragement.
There are many other ways to show kindness. Most of them will cost you nothing - except your heartfelt gesture and a bit of time. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Perhaps you are like me (or your students). As I confessed to my own students in class today, I spent three years in law school never making eye contact with professors. I was just too scared to be called on. I didn't feel smart enough (and I certainly never really understand the professors' questions.). So, I hid...for three years.
That experience left me feeling lonely and isolated, as not part of the profession. Looking back, I realize now that most of my fellow students felt the same. Oh how I wish that I had opened up, just been a bit human instead of machine-like, and shared from the heart. But, to be honest, I wasn't willing to reveal my deep-felt fears. Consequently, I now try to share with my students about my own experiences as a law student and what I've learned in order to better help them.
That brings me to a thought. In my early days as an academic support professional (ASP), I spent much of my time focused on teaching skills (reading, case briefing, preparing for class, taking notes, time management skills, synthesizing course materials into outlines or study tools, and exam writing, etc.). I still teach those skills, but my focus is much broader now because the skills by themselves do not make for learning. Rather, it seems to me that there is a social/emotional component to learned that is equally important. And, the research seems to back up my hypothesis.
In particular, as recently reported by Dr. Denise Pope, a researcher and cofounder of Challenge Success at Stanford University, it seems that student engagement is the most important factor correlated to academic success, future job satisfaction, and overall well-being. Saturday Essay, Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2019. According to Dr. Pope: "The students who benefit most from college, including first-generation and traditionally underserved students, are those who are most engaged in academic life and their campus communities, taking full advantage of the college’s opportunities and resources. Numerous studies attest to the benefits of engaged learning, including better course grades and higher levels of subject-matter competence, curiosity and initiative." Id.
So, what is student engagement? In short, according to studies by Gallup-Purdue as reported by Dr. Pope, there are several key experiences of engagement that can make a lifetime of difference for our students. Here's the list, as published in Dr. Pope's essay:
"• Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting
• Working with professors who care about students personally
• Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals
• Working on a project across several semesters
• Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning
• Being active in extracurricular activities". Id.
Nevertheless, as Dr. Pope relates, few students report experiencing that sort of engagement with only 27 percent of students experiencing strong support from professors who cared about them and only 22 percent having a mentor to encourage them. In other words, most college students, in my own words, feel disconnected and disembodied from school. That was certainly me throughout much of law school. Nevertheless, there was one professor, later in my law school studies, who took an interest in me. That professor ended up writing my letter of recommendation for my first job as a lawyer - a law clerk in court. In other words, looking back, I made it through law school because someone believed in me...even when I didn't believe in myself.
That gets me thinking about our roles as academic support professionals. Much of learning can seem mechanical (case briefing, memorization, IRAC, etc.), but the stuff that sticks only sticks when it's socially experienced in an emotionally-positive and engaged academic community. So, as we build our programs, I try to remember my purpose is not to create an award winning program but rather to help people believe in themselves as learners and experience the wonderful thrill of being part of something that is greater than themselves. At least, that's my ambition, one student at a time. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, March 21, 2019
I'm a "deer in the headlights" type of person, or, at least that's what I feel like when someone asks me a question. In fact, at a recent conference, I embarrassingly just stared blankly when someone I've known well said "hello."
And, as you can imagine, I spent much (well, all) of law school in the "quiet mode," never speaking unless directly called on in class and often times with my eyes cast downward to avoid making what seemed to me "dangerous eye contact."
You see (and perhaps you are like me), I just never thought I had much of anything to say in law school. And, I still often feel sort of out-of-place in the midst of so many learned scholars, educators, administrators, and students.
That's when I came across an encouraging article by columnist Sue Shellenbarger entitled: "Overcoming the Terror of an Impromptu Speech" The column provides handy concrete steps that one can take to help overcome fears in both conversations and in responding to questions, something that I suspect many law students (and faculty, administrators, and community members also fear).
Here are a few of the tips and observations that I found most helpful. First, that many of us fear speaking publicly, whether in front of a large group or with a supervisory figure (such as a professor or senior administrator or boss). In other words, it's human to be afraid of speaking in public. Second, that being spontaneous in conversations and in responding to questions actually takes preparation and practice, which is something that we can all develop. In fact, the article provides helpful steps and guidance for handling questions and conversations. Finally, the tip that has been most helpful to me is to use self-talk, namely, to tell myself that "I'm excited for the opportunity to speak, for the chance to have a conversation with you, for the opportunity to respond to your question, etc."
In my own case, rather than waiting for people to say "hello" to me, I'm trying to make the most of every encounter, whether by saying "hello" to someone I don't know as they join me in the elevator (and asking them about what they are learning), or whether, as one of my colleagues tonight challenged me, saying "great job" to one of my students or colleagues in recognition of their accomplishments. You see, for me personally, it's in the midst of just taking these little steps that is helping me to no longer feel like the "deer in the proverbial headlights" but rather joined into and belonging to a vibrant community of learners. And, if you happen to fear conversational encounters and public speaking as I do, I hope this helps you too (and for your students also). (Scott Johns).
Thursday, February 28, 2019
For those of you that just tackled the bar exam this week, here's a few words of congratulations and a couple of tips as you wait for bar exam results.
First, let me speak to you straight from my heart!
Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean!
Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Not that hard?
You know that I passed?
There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example...
Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over. But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam experience. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough to get a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts.
I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were to become publicly available later that day, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at my work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a few suggestions for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of the enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school and tackling your bar exam.
You've done something great; something mightily significant! Congratulations to each of you! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Next week, thousands will be headed to convention centers, etc., to show case the handy-work of their bar preparation efforts for the past two months. In preparation, bar takers have watched weeks of bar review lectures, worked hundreds and even thousands of bar exam problems, and created myriads of study tools, checklists, and flashcards.
Nevertheless, with one weekend to go, most of us feel like we aren't quite ready, like we don't really know enough, with all of the rules - to be honest - tangled and knotted up in a giant mess in our minds.
Yet, let me say this up front. Despite how most of us feel, this weekend is not the time to learn more law. Rather, it's time to reflect on what you've learned, to let it live in you, to give it presence within you. But, how do you do that?
Well, as I heard in a recent talk about medical education, I think we've got something important to learn from the medical schools that just might help with bar prep, too. You see, apparently, despite all of the massive amounts of information available from the learning scientists, the philosophy of training doctors boils down to just three very simple steps: "See it--Do it--Teach it."
Here's what that means for the upcoming bar prep weekend: For the past several months, you've been focused on "seeing it" and "doing it." You've been watching lectures, taking copious notes, reading outlines, and working problems. In short, you've been busily learning by seeing it and doing it.
But, for most of us, despite all of that work, we aren't quite sure (at all!) whether we are ready for the real bar exam because we haven't yet taken the last step necessary for cementing and solidifying our learning; namely, we haven't yet "taught it."
So, that's where this weekend comes in.
Throughout this weekend, grab hold of your notes or study tools or checklists or flashcards, pick out a subject, and teach it to someone. That someone can be real or imaginary; it can be even be your dog Fido. But, just like most teachers, get up out of your seat, out from behind your desk, and take 30 minutes per subject to teach it to that someone, from beginning to the end. Then, run through the next subject, and then the next subject, and then the next subject, etc. Even if you are by yourself, talk it out to teach it; be expressive; vocalize or even dance with it. Make motions with your hands. Use your fingers to indicate the number of elements and wave your arms to indicate the next step in the problem-solving process. Speak with expertise and confidence. And, don't worry about covering it all; rather, stick with just the big topics (the so-called "money ball" rules).
What does this look like in action? Well, here's an example:
"Let's see. Today, I am going to teach you a few handy steps on how to solve any contracts problem in a flash. The first thing to consider is what universe you're in. You see, as an initial consideration, there's the UCC that covers sales of goods (movable objects) while the common law covers all other subjects (like land or service contracts). That's step one. The next step is contract formation. That means that you'll have to figure out if there was mutual assent (offer and acceptance) and consideration. Let's walk through how you'll determine whether something is an offer...."
I remember when I first taught. I was hired at Colorado State University as a graduate teaching assistant to teach two classes of calculus. But, I had a problem; I had just graduated myself. So, I didn't really know if I knew the subject because I hadn't yet tried to teach it to someone. As you can imagine, boy was I ever scared! To be honest, I was petrified. Yet, before walking into class, I took time to talk out about my lesson plan for that very first class meeting. In short, I "pre-taught" my first class before I taught my first class. So, when I walked into the classroom, even though I still didn't quite feel ready (at all) to teach calculus students, I found myself walking in to class no longer as a student but as a teacher. In short, I started teaching. And, in that teaching, I learned the most important lesson about learning, namely, that when we can teach something we know something.
So, as you prepare for success on your bar exam next weekend, focus your work this weekend on teaching each subject to another person, whether imaginary or real. And, in the process, you'll start to see how it all comes to together. Best of luck on your bar exam! (Scott Johns).
February 21, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Law school is nutritionally disruptive. This was common knowledge at my law school, where my classmates and I joked about having gained 15 pounds while we were getting our JDs. We all felt we understood what had happened. For three years we had chained ourselves to our desks, abandoned physical exercise in favor of mental anguish calisthenics, and frequently resorted to fast food or prepared meals to minimize time spent in the kitchen. Some of us still managed to blow off some steam in a bar from time to time, but otherwise, culinary matters took a back seat to our studies. The resulting excesses -- weight gain, or manic caffeine intake, or bingey sugar highs -- were seen almost as a badge of honor, like pulling an all-nighter to get a memo in on time.
As far as I can tell, things are still the same today. Law students beset with too many tasks and not enough time have to find ways to make time or to soothe stress, and meals and snacks offer convenient opportunities to do so. Not every student makes unhealthy choices, and many of those who do face few ill effects beyond the need for a new wardrobe. But now, watching from the other side of the lectern, I can better see that food issues can have noticeable or even serious impacts on some students' academic performance:
- While gaining weight often seems to be no more than a nuisance, to some students, such changes can be associated with actual effects on mental state, such as decreased stamina or alertness, or negative moods. The weight gain may not be the cause of these changes -- it can sometimes be an effect of lifestyle changes in diet and exercise that can be the source of changes to mental state.
- Sometimes dietary changes specific to certain substances -- such as increased intake of alcohol, caffeine, or sugar -- can have particular effects on behavior or mental state, such poor judgment, fatigue, agitation, or distractibility, that can have negative impacts on critical reading, time management, attention to detail, and other keys to success in law school.
- Sometimes the problem is not so much too much food or the wrong kind of food, but too little food. Students facing shaky finances may find their food budget the easiest thing to cut. Other students may not eat enough food -- or at least not enough healthy food -- because of loss of appetite due to stress. Food deprivation can lead to distraction, disrupt blood sugar levels, and affect memory and attentiveness.
When we work with students, especially one on one, we have opportunities to observe whether some of them are perhaps inordinately affected by dietary issues. In some cases, we may need to enlist the help of others. For example, if financial insecurity is manifesting in a poor diet, a referral to Financial Aid may be appropriate. Encouraging students to seek help from physicians or mental health professionals may also be wise when food issues are leading to serious primary health concerns. But sometimes our students just need a little grounding, a little reminder that they have to take care of themselves while they take care of their studies. A few helpful tips can include:
- Eating smaller meals (or healthy snacks) over the course of the day, rather than pigging out on one big meal at the end of the day after classes are over, can help moderate calorie intake and lessen variations in blood sugar levels.
- Planning ahead for the day or even the week can help to insure steady, healthy eating while minimizing time spent in preparing or obtaining food.
- Buying and carrying around healthier snack alternatives can help forestall binge purchases of high-sugar and high-fat snacks during breaks between classes or study periods.
- Scheduling meals with classmates (for study purposes) or friends and family (to stay connected) can be a good way to make efficient use of the time that you have to spend eating anyway, so that good food doesn't seem so much like an expendable indulgence.
When they are stressed out about studies and papers and exams, taking care of themselves may be the last thing on students' minds. Helping them see how beneficial and easy healthy eating can be may help some students' academic performance.
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Recently, I heard a discussion suggesting that bar passers do things differently in the final two weeks than those who are not successful on the bar exam. That got me thinking about what I've been seeing, at least anecdotally, in my 10-plus years working with students in preparing for their bar exams.
First, both groups tend to work extraordinarily hard in the last two weeks before their bar exams. So, what's the difference? It must be in the type of work that the two groups are doing. In short, during the final two weeks, it seems to me that bar passers tend to ramp up their practice with lots and lots of MBE questions and essays [while also creating super-short compact homespun study tools (2-3-page outlines, flashcards, or posters)]. In contrast, people who find themselves unsuccessful tend to focus on creating extra-bulky study tools and trying to memorize those study tools with very little continued practice of MBE questions and essays. In brief, one group is continuing to practice for the exam and the other group is focused on memorizing for the exam.
But, here's the rub:
It’s a perfectly natural feeling during the final two weeks of bar prep to want to focus solely (or mostly) on creating perfect study tools and trying to perfectly memorize all the law.
But, according to the educational psychologists, there’s something called “useful forgetfulness.” You see, when we jam packet our study tools with everything, we aren’t learning much of anything because we haven’t had to make any hard decisions about what to let go (what to “forget”). We’re just typing or handwriting or flowcharting like a scribe. But, when we purposefully decide that we are only going to make a super-short “starter” study tools (knowing that we can always add more rules as we work through more questions during the next couple of weeks), our decisions about what to put in our super-short study tools (and what to leave out) means that we actually empower ourselves to know both what we put in our study tools (and what we left out).
As a suggestion, tackle two subjects per day – one subject that is essay-only and one subject tested on both the essay and the MBE exam. Starting with one subject in the morning, using the most compact outline that your commercial course provides (and referencing the table of contents for each subject), create a super-short study tool with the goal of completing your study tool in 2 hours or less.
Here’s a tip:
If you think that you need a rule, don’t put it in because you can always add more later. Instead, only add a rule that you’ve seen countless times over and over. Just get it done. Move quickly. Don’t get stuck with definitions of elements, etc. Stick with the big picture umbrella rules. Think BIG picture. For example, be determined to get through all of contracts in 2 hours (from what law governs to remedies). As a suggestion, have just one rule for each item in the table of contents for your commercial bar review outline. Don't go deep sea diving. Stay on the surface. Then, in the remainder of the morning, work with your study tool through a handful of practice essays. In the afternoon, repeat the same tasks using a different subject (creating a snappy study tool and working through a few essays). Finally, in the evening, work through mixed sets of MBE questions.
In the last week before the bar exam, with most of your starter study tools completed, focus on talking through your study tool (for about one hour or so) and then working through lots and lots essay problems and MBE questions. As you practice in the last week, feel free to add rules that come up in practice essays and MBE questions to your study tool. As I heard one person explain it, your study tool becomes sort of a "bar diary" of your adventurous travels through essays and MBE questions (thanks Prof. Micah Yarbrough!). In short, you've created a study tool that has been time-tested and polished through the hard knock experiences of working and learning through lots of bar exam hypothetical problems.
So, for those of you taking the February 2019 bar exam, focus on practice first and foremost because you aren't going to be tested on your study tool. Rather, you're going to be testing on whether you can use your study tool to solve hypothetical problems. And, good luck on your bar exam! (Scott Johns).
P.S. For those taking the Uniform Bar Exam, there are 12 subjects as grouped by the bar examiners (I think there are 14 subjects in California, depending on how you count subjects):
* Business Associations (Corporations, Agency, Partnership, and LLC)
* Secured Transactions
* Federal Civil Procedure
* Family Law
* Wills & Trusts
* Conflicts of Law
* Constitutional Law
* Criminal Law & Procedure
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Watching the Super Bowl on Sunday made me think of my students. By no means am I implying any similarity between football and the legal profession. After all, one is a grueling slugfest, featuring breathlessly intense clashes between aggressive competitors on behalf of highly partisan, sometimes even fanatically tribal, stakeholders, with pride and sometimes lots of money at stake. The other is just an athletic contest.
No, the reason I thought of my students was the sudden shift in the game in the fourth quarter. Through the first 50 minutes or so of play, the scores remained unusually low and very close. Neither team could gain a clear advantage, and with less than ten minutes remaining, the score was still only 3 to 3. Across the country, spectators were complaining about how stagnant and boring the game seemed.
Suddenly, within a minute or so of game time, everything changed. The Patriots called a play in which a receiver wound up open in the middle of the field, just beyond the Rams' defensive line, and Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady deftly passed the ball to him and gained several yards. By itself, the play was only mildly exciting, and then only because it provided comparatively more action than most of the preceding gameplay. But the Patriots realized right away that the Rams' defense, which up until that time had been pretty successful at confining the Patriots' forward motion, had not had anything in place to keep that lone receiver from appearing unguarded behind the defensive line. So for the next few plays, the Patriots ran essentially the same play, except for choosing a different receiver to run up the field each time. In the space of four plays, the team moved all the way down the field and set up the winning touchdown run.
From the Rams' point of view, everything was fine, until suddenly it wasn't. They were basically evenly matched with their opponents, in a game that looked like it might go into overtime -- and then, in less than a minute, everything fell apart. One weakness was exposed -- one play that they had no planned defense for -- and before they could adjust to it, the other side had taken advantage of that weakness and taken a significant lead. And the fact that they were in that distressing position left the team vulnerable to more trouble. They rushed and ran riskier plays, hoping to score their own tying touchdown in the short time they had left, and under this pressure the Rams' quarterback Jared Goff accidentally threw the ball into the hands of a Patriots defender, leading the Patriots to score an additional three points. The Rams went from having an even chance of winning to having no chance, all because of one weakness that wasn't addressed quickly enough.
In his fascinating book How We Die, the physician Sherwin B. Nuland explained that human death often follows a similar trajectory. Laypeople often imagine that those suffering from serious injury or illness usually experience a long but steady decline until they pass away. However, Nuland pointed out that at least as often, if not more so, the afflicted person manages the illness (or injury, if it is not so catastrophic that it simply kills them right away) fairly handily, with only slight decline or sometimes even with improvement, for days or even weeks. If nothing bad happens, then they might even make a full recovery. But if one thing goes wrong and isn't corrected quickly enough, it can cause significant damage, which itself leads to additional life-threatening complications, and in a short time the patient may spiral down past the point where any medical intervention will be enough to save him. An infected wound, for example, if not treated quickly enough, can lead to a generalized blood infection, which can cause a patient's kidneys, liver, and other organs to stop working properly, and the patient, who otherwise might have almost completely recovered from his initial injury, will die of multiple organ failure.
We see the same phenomenon in other realms than just sports and medicine, such as business and politics. In any complicated system, there can be long, steady declines, but the sudden drastic reversal, attributable to one or a small number of neglected infirmities, is often more likely.
And the life of a law student is pretty complicated. New information to learn, new ways to think about it, new tasks to perform, all while juggling stress and ambition and self-doubt and mountains of practicalities like housing and relationships and (painfully often) finances. We all know that a few students struggle right from the start, but very often students will be managing -- holding their own, even if not excelling -- and then they run into one tribulation they can't fix, and they can't handle. A course they can't wrap their head around. A romantic breakup. Lack of funds to buy textbooks. A death in the family. An extracurricular activity that takes up too much time.
It almost doesn't matter what the problem is, because it's just the trigger. It starts the landslide that could pull the student down. Struggling in one course, for example, could pull the student's attention away from his other courses, leading to anxiety about not maintaining his GPA . . . and what started as one problem spirals into multiple problems.
The response, from an Academic Success perspective, has to be twofold. First, we need to be able to detect these kinds of issues as early as possible, before they turn into the equivalent of a touchdown by the other team or a raging blood infection. We need to have direct interaction with the students most at risk (incoming students, first-generation students, those in danger of financial difficulty, etc.), so we get to know them and encourage them to be forthcoming. We also need to develop strong networks among those in the faculty and student services who might pass along observations of possible distress.
Second, we need to have systems in place to help these students address these issues quickly, before they do become intractable. We are expected, of course, to handle purely academic issues on a moment's notice. But we should also be familiar with other means of support on campus and in the community, to be able to quickly refer students who need help in financial, psychological, spiritual, and other realms.
Time sometimes really is of the essence. None of us want to end up being Monday-morning quarterbacks, lamenting that if we had just changed our defense one play sooner, we could have saved the game.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
I believe in the power of words. As the journalist and economist Henry Hazlitt wrote, "The richer and more copious one's vocabulary and the greater one's awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one's thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together." If we didn't already recognize this truth before law school, certainly our legal education inculcated this understanding of the immense power of language.
The power of naming applies not only to factual and intellectual concepts but also to management of our emotions. "[T]he greater one's awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning" of our emotions, the more capable we are of coping with the slings and arrows of our emotional lives. This is the concept behind the term "emotional granularity," as recently featured in a public radio story about controlling anger.
Emotional granularity boils down to naming emotions (whether positive or negative) with specificity. The more precise the language we use to describe our emotional states, the more likely we are to understand that emotion, and the greater our success in controlling it. Based on research begun in the 1990s and continuing into the present, Northeastern University psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett and her colleagues have found that persons who use more specific terms to describe their emotional experiences actually experience those emotions more precisely. Instead of being "stressed" by a low grade or negative evaluation, for example, they may be furious, or indignant, or wearied, or despondent, or crestfallen, or disconsolate.
Those who can more precisely identify what they are feeling are better at regulating and coping with their emotions. In contrast, people who have trouble distinguishing whether they are "angry" or "anxious" or "depressed" or "afraid" have trouble finding the tools to deal with their experience, just like wailing toddlers may not be able to identify whether their distress comes from hunger, overstimulation, sleeplessness, loneliness, or fear.
Emotional granularity is, fortunately, a skill that can be learned, not just an attribute of persons blessed with sensitivity. Sometimes we think that the analytical skills we develop as lawyers have negative emotional effects, but here is an instance where the ability to consciously step back and analyze our emotions can have positive effects. (Indeed, research indicates that persons with high emotional granularity are not only happier but also healthier than the general population.) Moreover, building our emotional vocabulary can assist in and of itself. The more emotional concepts we learn (whether from perusing a trusty American/English dictionary or from exposing ourselves to concepts originating in other languages and cultures), the more our brains are primed to apply the concepts we know. And as Dr. Barrett notes, "The bigger your tool kit, the more flexibly your brain can anticipate and prescribe actions, and the better you can cope with life."
Friday, January 25, 2019
One of my students just showed me his Legal Board which creates shortcuts for common legal symbols, words, and more. You can buy either a full keyboard that includes the Legal Board function keys or you can buy the smaller Legal Pad version that includes just the function keys and can be plugged into your laptop. The student sang the praises of the product for the time-saving on footnotes, citations, and more when he is writing papers. The website is:Legal Keyboard. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Perfectionism is often prevalent among our law students. It is not surprising that so many law students strive to be perfect. Our society goads them on. When they were in high school and college, they were the cream of the crop. They were taught that they needed to get all A grades, excel in athletics/debate/other activities, and be the president of organizations to get into the best college and the best graduate school. From the time they were very young, their parents pushed them into a plethora of after-school and weekend activities to pad their future resumes.
In their lives before law school, they could aim for perfection because they were typically heads and shoulders above their competition in getting good grades, garnering awards, and more. Now that the best and the brightest are among the best and the brightest, perfectionism can undermine their efforts and exacerbate a lot of negative traits. Perfection is impossible. Missing perfect leads to self-criticism, fear of failure, unrealistic expectations of self and others, and misery.
I wrote about the dangers of perfectionism in my October 20, 2018 post entitled Are you being sabotaged by perfectionism? The January 2019 issue of Law Practice Today has an article on Reining in Perfectionism showing the negatives of this trait when practicing lawyers fall into its grip. The personal and professional toll can be devastating.
We need to help our students achieve their academic potential, but we need to help them excel rather than aim to be perfect. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, January 11, 2019
We have blogged about this issue in the past. Although most of the conversation in higher education centers on undergraduates, we all know law students who struggle financially and have had to choose other priorities than eating.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office published a new report on food insecurity on college campuses for low-income students: GAO Report on Food Insecurity. Articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education have recently published stories on food insecurity. The links for The Chronicle are here: 3 Takeaways and Student Stories. The link for Inside Higher Ed is here: Federal Report on College Students and Hunger.
Although there is a focus in the report on how to get more eligible students lined up with the SNAP benefit, the truth is that there are a number of students who are ineligible for government programs and who have food insecurity. They are above the financial cut-offs, but do not have enough loan or other income to make ends meet every month. These are not students who do not know how to manage money or who live frivolously. They live very frugally, and juggle rent, utilities, tuition, fees, books, gas, prescriptions, and perhaps child care. The dollars run out before the days in the month do.
I can empathize. I well-remember end-of-the-month shortfalls waiting for the next stipend check during graduate school. I would spend the last week eating crackers and hot tea at my graduate assistant desk. I only bought essentials, paid bills, and ate a lot of soup, pasta, and stir fry the rest of month to stretch my dollars. Students these days are Ramen-noodle pros - no wonder the noodles are a bulk item at the food warehouses. (We won't even get into the good nutrition versus poor-nutrition foods debate.)
It is hard to study and focus your mind when you are hungry. So how do we help our students?
Certainly if they are eligible for SNAP, then information should be available to them to get them to sign up - despite the stigma they feel. In a few cases, they may be able to work with the financial aid office to review their aid budget for an increase - but if that just means increased loan eligibility, then students are often reticent to go that route. Some law schools have emergency loan funds with low or no interest. Our university has a food pantry available for students. Students comment that speakers and meetings where food is provided allow them to get some extra meals that week.
Maybe one of the best ways ASP'ers can help is to be more on alert to the possibility that some students are going hungry. Some gentle questioning and listening may provide us with previously overlooked opportunities to help our students get assistance in this area. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, January 10, 2019
At my law school, we're in the midst of the first week of classes after the long break. It seems like there's no time to pause. Everyone's busy and bustling; places to go and people to see. In fact, sometimes I wonder if we are moving so fast that we might be missing out in one of the best things in life - the present.
That's when I got a bit of startle while reading the newspaper. It seems that there's value in staring the day-off slowly, without the frantic rush. According to a Norwegian think tank (as referenced in a newspaper article this past week), "staring the day with intentional slowness helps spark creative thinking," and that's something I sorely need, especially as an educator. E. Byron, "Wellness: What's the Rush? The Power of Slow Mornings," The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2019, A22.
Unfortunately, too often, I start my day with my phone, checking email. And, let me be frank. With apologies to my email senders, I've never yet received any creative impulses or stirring messages from my dash to check my email at the start of each day. Instead, it seems like starting with email has left me chasing circles, getting nowhere fast. It's not that emails are not important; it's that emails should not dictate my priorities. People should.
Nevertheless, I seem to have this overwhelming habit to have to check my phone. And, apparently, I'm not alone. According to the same article, "[M]ore than 60% of [people] say that they look at their phone within 15 minutes of waking and check their phones about 52 times a day." Id. That sure seems like a lot...and a lot of wasteful checking, too.
So, here's some ideas to help you (and me) get our days started out strong. First, don't dare sleep with your phone. Rather, put it far away from you. Indeed, use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake up in the morning, instead of putting your phone within arm's reach right at the beginning of your day. Second, turn it off. That's right. You be the pilot of your phone; take command. Let your phone work for you. You decide when it's time to turn on your phone to check your email, text messages, or social media accounts. Third, relax. Take deep breathes. Appreciate life. Take the opportunity at the beginning of the day to express gratitude. In short, start the day right by living in the present, fully alive and fully present. In my own case, that means that I'm choosing to turn out much of the noise in my life. And, interestingly, that's leading to more productive days, less fretting, more creative teaching ideas, increased opportunities for spontaneity in learning with my students, more time to listen to and be present with others, and just in general enjoy the moment. So, here's to starting out slower each day as the key to actually getting more done.
P.S. For more information about how smart phones impact our cognitive lives as learners, our emotional well-being, and even our biological and physiological selves, please see an article that I recently wrote based on a previous blog: http://www.dbadocket.org/wellness-corner-smart-phone-dilemma
Thursday, December 20, 2018
Congratulations December 2018 graduates! What a herculean achievement! Simply put, outstanding!
Nevertheless, I know that for many of you, right now it feels like a bit of a let down because you find yourself right back right back in the classroom as you prepare for your bar exam in February 2019.
That's exactly how I felt. Simply put, graduation felt a bit disingenuous as I had so much work left to be done to earn my law license. However, let me be frank. As you approach your bar studies, you are no longer a law student but a law school graduate. It may not feel like much of a difference, but its important to recognize - throughout these two months of your bar review learning - that you are a new person with a new professional identity, trained and well-seasoned to think through, analyze, and communicate solutions to vast arrays of legal scenarios.
Despite such remarkable progress as demonstrated by your law school graduation, many bar takers stumble in the first few weeks of bar prep, finding themselves increasing at odds with how to best learn and prepare themselves for the bar exam. I sure did. I spent much of the first few weeks trying to learn the law by, well, listening to professors talk about the law and watching professors talk about solving legal problems with the law. Big mistake! Cost me a lot of valuable time! That's why I write to you, dear law school graduate and now bar taker. Instead of focusing on learning the law, focus right from the get-go (i.e, that means right now, today!) on working through lots of practice problems each day. In short, I was, unfortunately, a "linear learner," as Professor Catherine Christopher says in her wonderful book entitled Tackling Texas Essays (Carolina Academic Press 2018): https://cap-press.com/books/
I. Linear Learning
Let me explain a bit about the difference between linear learning and recursive learning. As depicted by Professor Christopher in the diagram below from her book on successfully preparing for the bar exam , linear studying has a defined path. And, as a bonus, it sure looks nice and orderly, leading to the illusion of a direct straight-line path to success. Indeed, right now, many of you are focused (solely?) on watching videos, reviewing your notes, reading your commercial outlines, and making gigantic study tools. But, if you are like me, you aren't yet taking practice exams (or are only doing very few of them at the most).
Linear Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)
However, as explained by Professor Christopher, that's a big problem. Here's why. You'll end up spending most of the 8 - 10 week bar prep period doing very few practice problems, trying instead to master the law so perfectly so that you'll have enough confidence in the last few weeks to do well on practice problems. In short, you are afraid (I sure was!) to tackle practice problems because there's so much to know (and so many ways to make mistakes).
However, that's a big problem because it's in our mistakes that we learn best. We don't really learn by watching others. Who ever learned to play piano, play soccer, dance, or even litigate a case without practicing (which means "rehearing" and "acting out") what you hope to accomplish in the future with polish? No one prepares to become an expert without first being a novice.
But, as Professor Christopher comments, it feels really terrible, really terrible, to practice problems so early on because we make so many mistakes. But, if we delay practicing problems until the last few weeks possible, we make that practice much more of a high stake experience, in the words of Professor Christopher, such that there's no wiggle room for errors in our practicing experiences (so that there is no room for learning, either). In my opinion, linear studying leads to disappointment and frustration.
But, there's good news ahead, for those of you who engage in recursive learning.
II. Recursive Learning
Now here's a bit about recursive learning. As depicted in the diagram below from Professor Christopher's text, successfully preparing for the bar exam involves learning in a circular recursive process rather than a straight-line linear process.
Recursive Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)
As Professor Christopher explains, the first step - "reading and reviewing" - involves watching lectures, taking lectures notes, and reading outlines [about 4 hours or so per day].
But take note of second step in the circular process: "work to understand." That means that we get involved in the learning, we take center stage, so to speak, in our own learning by "work[ing] to understand the material" so that it becomes real to us. Just like learning a language, in which we start to start learning to speak and write a language by...speaking and writing a language! For bar takers, that means in this second stage that we make our own personal condensed notes or flashcards or other study tools to "help...get the information into [our] head[s]." (Here's a snappy suggestion: Just take hold of one (1) blank piece of paper, and, referencing your lecture notes in hand, write down, scribble, flowchart, and doodle the major take-aways from that day's lecture. Note: Don't let yourself get bogged down by trying to re-write your entire lecture notes; rather, focus only on big picture concepts because people pass the bar based on the big picture principles rather than the nitty picky details.). [about 1 hour or so per day].
The last step takes real bravery, discipline, and honesty too. And, it's vital for your learning. Start right away that very day, each day, by digging into actual bar exam questions, working through them one by one, using notes and outlines freely, and then reviewing practice answers afterwards to assess what went well along with concrete ways to improve with future practice problems. Here's a key tip for your practice sessions: Be super-curious when you miss a question; poke back around to the fact pattern - like a detective - to figure out whether you missed the question because you missed a rule or, more likely, you missed an important trigger fact in the fact pattern. So, for example, if you write a picture-perfect IRAC essay but then notice that the problem didn't involve that rule, go back and figure out where in the facts the correct rule was triggered. In short, don't just test yourself through practice problems but rather use the opportunity to learn through practice problems. [about 3 to 4 hours or so per day]. (Then, as illustrated by Professor Christopher's diagram, the next day we begin again with another bar review lecture.).
The great news is that throughout this process, while you might not feel like you are doing much learning, you are really dancing with the materials, making them your own, developing and finessing your critical reading, organizational, and writing skills. In short, you are productively on the path to successfully preparing for your bar exam.
So, in the midst of this bar review season, take courage. Indeed, be of good cheer, as the holiday saying goes, because true learning takes its shape in you - step by step - through the daily process of recursive learning - (1) reviewing, (2) working to understand, and (3) then testing yourself through practices problems. To be personal, I wish I had known this at the outset of my bar prep season. So, feel free to step out of the "line" and learn! Oh, and congratulations again on your graduation from law school! What a wonderfully momentous accomplishment! (Scott Johns).
December 20, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)