Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Marathon Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Liz Stillman)

 

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

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

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

April 23, 2024 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Sports, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2024

Track Work

The “spring” semester is underway here at my school. I say “spring” because anyone who has ever been in Boston in January knows that green leaves, blue skies, and dry sidewalks are a long way off. Recently, I took an involuntary month-long vacation from my normal commute. The train that I have taken to work for many years was shut down for almost all of January for track work. Not running at all. Not going inbound or outbound. Not moving under or over ground-just not at all. So, I had to change my usual routine and take a bus to a different train line and then walk a different route to the law school. As I joked with a Bar Prep buddy, my commute went from an MEE to an MPT in terms of timing. But after four weeks of this new daily odyssey, I suppose I got used to it[1].

Today, I was finally able to take my normal route into work. I thought it would be glorious, but after a month of doing it differently, it was strange and even a little awkward[2]. Even going back to something that is very familiar is still a transition. I might even miss some of the small joys I found in the “new normal.”[3] I thought that this must be how our students feel after taking a month long break from law school and then starting up-except in reverse. I am sure a month away from school with no reading or papers or exams was lovely.

Now that we have started up again, I have been meeting with 1Ls over these past weeks. I am mainly seeing students who did not do as well on exams as they (or we) had hoped. We have spent time trying to determine the reason why things went awry during exams and try to start better habits in the place of the methods that were not effective. Yet, the abrupt jolt back into law school after a month off is not something we have discussed or given much thought.  Even if this is familiar, it is still a transition. And, to make things worse, I am asking students to try different routes to success just when they thought they knew the way after surviving the fall. It is a lot to ask all at once (with the additional stress of non-stellar grades looming).

I think articulating that I am making a big ask at a stressful time might go a long way to developing an honest relationship with students moving forward. I do them no favors by just saying, “it’ll be fine.” I can assure students that there is great relief in plotting a course and making a plan to move forward. I cannot make the train run before the track work is done, but I can help them navigate this detour.

Hopefully, they will extend the same understanding to me when I am cranky that my train is out of service again in late February to early March.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Well, most of it. I did see a fistfight on the bus that was a bit rattling and intense. Physical violence in a small moving space is not something I’d like to grow accustomed to….

[2] Although back to MEE commute times which was glorious indeed.

[3] It was faster train, there were more coffee options on the walk from the station to the law school, and I could walk through Primark on the way in or out if I needed anything….

January 29, 2024 in Exams - Studying, Orientation, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Diving into Spring...

I spent yesterday at a collegiate swim meet. It was indoors for those of you wondering just how crazy we are in Massachusetts (not quite there yet). I sat with an alum of my son’s team, and as a relative newbie (he’s a freshman), I asked a lot of questions about the etiquette and process of this kind of competition. My son is a walk-on to the team (maybe a dive-in?), and he didn’t swim in high school, so my knowledge of swim meet procedure fossilized somewhere in late middle school. My alum guide was very patient with me (she is planning a demeanor-appropriate career in clinical psychology).

As much as I was excited to see my son (he’s my youngest and college has hit me hard), swim meets are not the most pleasant spectator sport. First of all, it is hot-and humid--I could hear my hair frizzing, the “seats” in the viewing gallery are hard (and without backs), and it is incredibly loud in a space that seems intended to warp and amplify sound. Having spent time underwater in my lifetime, I was surprised at the way coaches were cheering for their swimmers although it seemed like the swimmers would be unable to hear them (as their ears were mostly in the water) or see them (as they had to look straight ahead or at the ceiling for the back strokers). I asked my kind college swim meet guru who was in that position just a few years back if the swimmers could even hear the cheering. She confirmed that you really couldn’t hear it, nor could you really see the folks on the side of the pool jumping up and down and urging you to go faster.

But, every single person on the side or end of the pool was either a current swimmer or coach (who has no doubt had competitive swimming experience) and thus must have known that the swimmers couldn’t hear or see them. To me, this is almost the team sport definition of altruism: cheering for someone who couldn’t see or hear you just because they are your teammate. It is true that everyone wanted to win the swim meet, but each individual swim was neither victory nor loss defining.

In a way, Academic Support folks are the coaches on the side of the pool. As students start to come see us (or are asked to see us) with their fall grades, we will review their performance and coach them on their form, their entry, their turns, their methods between exams (meets), and their finishes.  We will tell them that grades are not defining (and they might not believe us, and they are, sadly, somewhat right about that).

First, we will consider entry. We will go back to beginning of how students handled the competing tasks of the semester and look for cleaner and more efficient ways for them to get into the material. Then we will look at the course of the semester in terms of study methods, outlining, juggling responsibilities, and time (and resource) management. Finally, we will discuss how to push to the finish. We will work towards personal records rather than pure wins.

Getting students to understand that you are on their team in helping them succeed is pivotal in this process. Like college athletes, our students may have had other coaches who taught them differently; or may have been told that they have natural talents that will propel them through challenges. Some students will blame outside circumstances for poor grades-and while this may be true in some circumstances[1]- it is often not  a helpful mindset. Students need to see that there are things that they can control that can be tweaked (or entirely overhauled) in order to perform better. Pools may have warmer or colder water than where you practice, but you can be ready for these issues if you prepare. The issues students have can be input issues like reading, outlining, engagement in class; or output issues like exam writing or multiple choice methods. And we need to remind them that they valuable members of our community/team. Everyone in law school belongs on the team and (this one is not easy to see) we all win when we do our personal best.

In the meantime, I’ll be sweaty and frizzy and yelling my support to all the students who were hoping for better grades whether they see me or not. 

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Family emergencies, medical emergencies, mental health, financial issues, disruptions during the exam, and many other things happen-and they can change exam outcomes. However, it is very unlikely, especially in a school (like ours) that uses blind exam grading, that personal animus or even annoyance on the part of faculty is a factor in a final grade.

January 16, 2024 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2023

Ten Hours

I had a student ask for an appointment to come in and discuss their study strategies. In the email asking for the appointment, they wanted to know if I had time to meet and discuss their, “dismal (by choice) first-month performance.” Yes, I also read that more than a few times trying to decipher what it meant. I offered them a quick sliver of time that very day to come in and set up a longer appointment on a different day, but to hopefully get something jumpstarted in the interim.

They told me that in the first 4.5 weeks of law school, they had worked for about ten hours. Hmm, I asked, is that ten hours a day (troubling because that seems like too much) or a week (too little)? “Total.” I did not gasp out loud (and I am quite proud of that). I asked them if that included the legal writing assignment that had been due the past week, and they said it did, and in fact, they had spent almost two of those hours on the paper. Another deep breath for me…

I asked a series of follow-ups after that revelation:

  1. Are you doing the reading?: Sort-of-I am skimming the cases and then we talk about them in class.
  2. Are you taking good notes in class?: Not really-It just makes sense.
  3. Have you started outlining?: Outlining what?
  4. Are you quizzing yourself after class? No.

They asked me if they were doing it wrong and when I said that it seemed to be the wrong choice, they went on to tell me about their undergraduate career that included a prestigious scholarship given to a handful of exceptional students. They told me their undergraduate GPA and how they never really worked hard at academics. I believe it. They seemed quite intelligent and quick to catch on to things. I took another deep breath and told them that law school was going to come and bite them in the ass (yes, I am a crass girl from the Bronx) if they didn’t do the reading, take notes, do practice questions, and start outlining-like right now.  And, I added that my undergraduate GPA from the very same institution was also pretty good.[1]

I explained the Dunning-Kruger effect to them: “a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills.[2]” I told them that finding out what you don’t know when it counts towards, or even accounts for the entirety of, a grade is risky, particularly in law school. In classes where there is only one assessment, you will have absolutely no idea whether you are doing it right until it is too late.

Here’s the thing though, I am not 100% certain they needed the standard “how to do law school” menu of tasks. This may not be how they learn best, but their current “method” didn’t seem conducive to the 3.0 GPA the student wanted to have by the end of 1L year in order to move into our hybrid JD program and take their final two years online. In all honesty, I was really alarmed at the idea that after this year, they might be totally remote and have no 3-D peer or faculty reminders that they are not doing the same work-either qualitatively or quantitatively until they face the bar. They seemed like an unconventional learner who was very smart and not yet excited by what they were studying. But that is an excuse that flies in 7th grade, and not before our Academic Standing Committee.

I didn’t sugarcoat my concern with this student. Gentle cajoling wasn’t going to be an effective process here. I straightforwardly laid out the unnecessary risks I believed they were taking and then sent them a series of Outlook meeting invitations to check in on their progress. We’ll see if they come to anything.

In the meantime, this kind of student prompts me to remind my doctrinal faculty colleagues that the old school one high-stakes summative assessment at the end of a semester is going to be the downfall of otherwise smart students. This will weed out students who need to have their ass (gently) handed to them early on in order to light a fire in them to get the work done as well as those who cannot genuinely succeed.  It is widening the net and letting otherwise good students fall through. We will ultimately lose students who will be world-changers this way. Is this coddling? In the first semester of law school, in particular, it is not. If our goal is bar passage, we need to make sure students can accurately self-assess by modeling what that looks like from day 1.

As for this student, while I am not absolutely sure they need to follow the regular path, I am certain that they will find the path they have taken thus far is unlikely to end in the place they hoped. I only hope I was persuasive in making that point.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Normally, I would never, ever do that, but I got the very real sense that my perceived intelligence would be a factor in whether they deemed my admonitions credible.

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dunning-kruger-effect

October 2, 2023 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2023

Recalculating

Have you ever used a navigator when you are driving? I am probably the user that navigator designers despise the most: I argue and don’t always listen to their advice--mainly because I do not have complete faith in them. I have a strange feud with one particular navigator that I swear is a trust exercise because it will take me to places I have never been to before (like someone’s backyard it seems), but when I make a mistake (or willfully disregard their advice), they just shut down altogether. I swear mine is just leading me to strange places and seeing if I trust them enough to get me out. I don’t and am thus abandoned.

We have noticed (actually, this has been an issue for a long while) that students are not engaging with our 1L study seminars or office hours. Some seem skeptical about them, and some are surprised to learn that these were even happening despite numerous weekly emails, announcements during orientation, and the billboard we erected near Fenway Park (okay, there was no billboard, but it isn’t a crazy idea…). By the time students come to see us, often they are already in some academic distress and likely behind in some aspect of successful “law studenting.” It is frustrating. We spend a lot of time developing and offering resources and yet students seem to want to follow their own path or are afraid to ask for and accept help.

And they need this help because this is a place they haven’t visited before.

So, we decided to do what my (non-trust exercise) navigator does (at least three times during every excursion) and recalculated. This year we created a “Success Syllabus” for our 1L students and posted it on our Academic Support Canvas page. It takes students through the semester-week by week- and tells them what they should be doing during those weeks to be prepared for exams. I included their legal writing assignment due dates, calendar shifts (Monday schedule on a Tuesday for the win!) as well as any already knowable midterm dates. Basically, it tells students when to begin reading and briefing for classes (right now and all semester), outlining (in a few weeks), and practicing exam questions (a week or two after that). It also refers to outside resource lists that we created for each class 1Ls take based on a conducting a survey of 1L faculty members for their recommended study sources.  We added a bold, underlined caveat that anything their professors say to the contrary should take precedence (we are lawyers).

In the end, the route is pretty simple: Prepare for class, Engage in class, Review after class (by outlining), and Practice for exams (PERP), but gaining students’ trust to follow this itinerary is the hard work ahead. If anyone would like an electronic copy of our Success Syllabus, please email me: [email protected], but only if you believe that I know where I am going with it.

Happy fall semester everyone!

(Liz Stillman)

August 28, 2023 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 8, 2023

Come as You Are

You’ve got love this time of year in Massachusetts. Last Thursday, it was around 46 degrees and rainy, and on Saturday, I got sunburnt sitting at my daughter’s college graduation. On Sunday morning, I waited outside for an hour on line to get breakfast at a new bakery that opened in my neighborhood that appears to be “insta famous.”[1] I got on line at around 7:55 a.m. (they open at 8) and it had already stretched around the corner from the storefront. It was a great vantage point for seeing everyone walking by (and their truly adorable dogs) as well as the folks on line. As I waited, here is what I saw: some folks were wearing winter coats or down vests, some were wearing quarter-zip fleeces (yes, it is New England), some were wearing workout gear, some wore shorts, some wore jeans, and some were wearing pajamas. A look down showed me Uggs, sneakers, flip-flops, crocs, and sandals. And yes, someone wearing a winter coat was also wearing shorts and Uggs. Again, it is an insta-worthy kind of place. But it reminded me that there is no objective way to “feel” the weather: how someone feels in terms of comfort and temperature is almost entirely subjective.

In this same way, no student feels the same during exams. A student who has done very well all semester--has outlined, studied, and done practice questions--may be more nervous than I think they should be-and the truth is, my dismissal of their exam anxiety is not going to help. At this point in the semester, I am also weary and my patience (which was never endless) seems to be experiencing some supply chain issues. So, as much as I would like to just tell the student, “you are fine,” I need to hold back my exhausted sighs and listen. I can gently counter with the evidence I have that they will, indeed, be okay.  But my secret is that I always leave students with a task. It is something small-something they will likely excel at- and it is something to do rather than sit and stew in the feelings of being inadequately prepared for the exam. Am I giving them busy work to distract them from a self-destructive mindset? Yes, but I am also having them perform a task that will help them do better on the exam. Sometimes it is a set of multiple choice questions, sometimes it is making a Quizlet or other flashcards, sometimes it is going back and streamlining their outlines to just the headers (in a separate document-no deletions!) and use that to test themselves (added bonus: they can see that the number of possible issues on the exam is fewer than it seems). I have recommended making flow charts and/or tables.

Yet, I am careful. I always tell students that a little bit of exam anxiety is not a terrible thing, but anxiety that feels relentless or leads to mental paralysis is something that requires outside help. If I am really concerned, I will get our more specialized team to check-in with a student (Dean of Students, counselling center etc.). I am very cautious when I am walking in the territory of mental health.

The bottom line is that high-stakes summative assessments cause universal stress. There is no way around that-and for students who are seeing me because they have already hit some academic stumbling blocks, exams are even more fraught. And for students who have had nothing but academic success, the imposter syndrome can be overwhelming (“what if I was just lucky for the first exams?”). I should not be judging how students wear their exam nerves just because of the way I am looking at their forecast. How I feel about their likelihood of success carries some weight for sure, but it is not enough.

For the record, I was wearing a hoodie, shorts, and sandals; and my pistachio croissant was totally worth the wait.

(Liz Stillman)

[1] https://www.instagram.com/lakonparis.patisserie/?hl=en

*Please also remember to sign up for AASE Conference!*

Here is a final notification from our amazing host school colleagues:

We're asking that everyone planning to attend in-person register by May 8 for planning purposes.

Register here:  https://associationofacademicsupporteducators.org/events/2023-10th-annual-aase-conference/  (Make sure you're logged in for member pricing.)

Our travel and lodging advice is here:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TwitZa9gnEPLRTcOuqMmZhQIiWTZic7owCcK5yXpJ78/edit?usp=sharing

-Your colleagues at Santa Clara Law

May 8, 2023 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 20, 2023

Spring!? Break

Why was last week called spring break when it wasn’t spring yet? Technically, it was a late winter’s folly or perhaps a mid-semester break, but spring, not so much. Before we took our week off, I met with numerous students and asked them about their plans for their time away from school. They mainly responded with the following:

  1. Outlining: “I am going to catch up and make sure they are all up to date.”
  2. Reading: “I am going to get ahead in my reading so that the week we return isn’t stressful.”
  3. Practice questions: “both multiple choice and essay!”

To which I said, “fabulous, and?” They scrambled a bit to find the one aspect of studying they had not mentioned that would be what I wanted to hear. They asked, “what else should I be doing?”

I was worried that these students wouldn’t take some time to do something fun, do something restorative, or disengage from being a law student for at least a few hours. We all know that after the break, the semester has turned a corner and started running downhill to finals. There are no other breaks (except here in Massachusetts, we have one long weekend for the marathon) until exams.

Yes, outlining, reading, and practicing are exactly what students should be doing at this time in the semester, but not taking care of body and soul for at least some of this time seemed like a lost opportunity to be in the right space to start the downhill run. I prescribed some discrete fun: walk down to the aquarium and watch the harbor seals for a few minutes, take the commuter rail somewhere new for an afternoon, cook a meal/dessert or better yet, a pie for Pi day, look at the ocean, really anything. It didn’t have to be an all-day event, and there is a lot of free fun to be had in Boston if you are a student. I stopped short of making them swear an oath to loaf a bit, but I did stress the importance of a little downtime. 

Sure, I will encounter students who come in for their meetings this week tan, or on crutches from ski-related injuries, who will say they did nothing but have fun over the break. I wish them well. Me? I did class prep, grading, laundry, and baked the most heavenly fluffy peanut butter and chocolate pie[1] for Pi day. And I wore sweat pants. Every. Single. Day.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.instagram.com/p/CpvthKMp4XS/

March 20, 2023 in Exams - Theory, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 23, 2023

Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough

It is that time of year when ASP folks are inundated with students who have had an epiphany about their study habits -- usually brought on by grades that were less than stellar. It is also the time of year when students with grades that our law school is concerned about are told to come visit ASP. These students all have a few Cs and have been told that this GPA might not be good enough to continue after the first year. They are frightened, chastened, and often need the tissues and the chocolate I've stocked for this season. I have a general plan for working with these students-almost a template: go over the bad exams, let's see where the deficiencies are (not phrased that way!), and let's get started with building the skills to avoid them for the next set of exams. If the issue is output (lack of IRAC, multiple choice questions that were confusing, etc., time), I get them started on practice questions ASAP. If it is input (didn't outline, didn't study efficiently, missing classes, other distractions), I get them started on building better habits and practice. If it was a mental health issue, or some outside trauma, I ask if they are in a better place, make sure that they are getting help, and then send them to practice (but very gently). I'm sure you do something very similar. This is the bread and butter of ASP. Time-proven technology that is individualized for each student.

But (you knew there would be a but), what do you do with the students who come to you with very good grades? Recently, before I even got a chance to email the 1Ls who will be notified that they should be seeing me, another first year student asked to meet with me to discuss improving their grades. Their grades were: A, A-, A-, and the dreaded B+. I had some good advice about improving their social life--i.e., don't complain to anyone else about these grades--that I kept to myself. I also did not want to dismiss the student with a "those are great grades, whatever you are doing, keep doing it." Although, I will admit this was my first thought along with, "do you realize that there are students here who would kill for those grades????" All I could think of was that Michael Jackson song, "[k]eep on, with the force, don't stop. Don't stop 'til you get enough1." Sigh.

Yet, I would never turn away a student who asked for help-even if my knee jerk reaction was that they did not need it. So, I followed the protocol-I told them to go talk to the professors and ask what was good, what might have been better on the exams,  and then to come back to me so we can start working on those things. I warned them that the professors might be seeing students with lower grades first so that they would need some patience.  I'm guessing I'll see them again by late February-hopefully.

In a way, I respect this student's drive, and in another way, I am a little concerned about it as well. So rather than act as a surly gatekeeper to the ASP resources in this situation, I thought it might be a good idea to keep an eye on this student to remind them every now and then that the goal is learning. I fully understand that if their grades are worse in the spring, I might be considered the reason. 

Academic support is more than academic. We all know it, so while this student may not need academic help, they do seem to need support. So, if I am their personal Stuart Smalley2 who helps them see that they are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, they belong in law school, maybe that will be enough.

(Liz Stillman)

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yURRmWtbTbo
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Smalley#:~:text=%22I'm%20good%20enough%2C,%2Ding%20all%20over%20yourself.%22

January 23, 2023 in Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Manage Expectations

Almost everyone in my family is a massive sports fan.  College football Saturdays are a tradition, so we talk non-stop about the current rankings and debate the what-ifs.  A couple weeks ago after another fun Saturday, my 8-year old concluded Alabama football isn't very good this year.  While many people in Tuscaloosa might agree with him (and want to fire every coach on the team), the statement is absurd.  For non-college football readers, Alabama football has been the most dominant team over the past 15 years.  They expect to win every game.  My son made this pronouncement after they lost their second game this year.  They are still ranked in the top 10 out of 130 teams, which is extremely good.  However, since expectations required perfection, they fell short.

I want to remind all of us to manage our expectations going into the winter season.  For students taking exams, no one writes perfect exam answers.  Professors intentionally construct hard exams.  You will probably miss a few (or more) small nuances.  Everyone will.  You can also still be successful on the exam while missing those nuances.  Also, don't expect perfect grades.  I understand most law students obtained great undergraduate grades.  However, very few people graduate with all A's in law school.  My suggestion for exams is to focus on preparation.  Create a good plan that includes understanding the material, completing practice questions, and seeking feedback.

To our amazing future attorneys (February Bar takers), you will make mistakes.  No one answers every MBE question correct.  The vast majority of students don't start bar preparation with a passing score.  Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.  Work as hard as you can within your program, but also, give yourself grace.  When you miss an assignment, pick it up tomorrow.  It is easy to miss a day, but don't let it snowball to 2.

For my ASP colleagues, you can't be perfect.  You probably want to hold extra final exam workshops while meeting with every student who needs help and provide non-stop individual feedback.  Unfortunately, there isn't enough time in the day to do everything you want to do.  Your school probably asks you to do more than you can reasonably accomplish in 8-10 hours.  Give yourself grace if you can't get to everything.  Talk to a few faculty members for extra help providing feedback to students.  Encourage students to meet with their doctrinal professors.  Use time blocking strategies to focus on specific tasks long enough to mark things off your to-do list.  Lastly, walk through your law school and smile at students studying.  Your time is limited, but some students just need to see you pulling for them.  A smile could make their day.

The end of the semester is a sprint.  Most of us (students and professors) are in law school because we continually push ourselves beyond our limits.  While I encourage everyone to push yourself to new heights, I also want to remind you that you are Alabama football.  Very few people get an opportunity to go to law school (<2% of population), and even less are ASPers.  Don't expect perfection over the next couple weeks.  Instead, focus on studying or helping students each day.  Try to enjoy the spring through the next couple weeks.

(Steven Foster)

November 20, 2022 in Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 7, 2022

Midterms and Midterms

After last week’s onslaught of students with legal writing questions (and some tears), I was hoping to be less busy this week. Yet, this morning I received several requests for appointments from students who just got back their first midterms as 1Ls, so a calmer week is not in the cards here. I have to admit that I spent some quality time this morning trying to decipher why a doctrinal professor wrote question marks on some parts of an exam answer, but check marks on others. I did this without a grading rubric to look at-and to be honest, it was, at best, purely speculative. So here are some things you can do with students when discussing their midterms that does not involve the use of a crystal ball or calling your psychic friends (you can save these resources for determining what might be on the final…):

  1. Send the student from whence they came: not to their parents, but to the professor who placed the check and question marks on the exam. They might know what they meant-and most likely have a better idea than you do. Or even the TA, who most likely speaks the professor’s language fluently. Tell them to ask for the rubric-or even to just see it.
  2. Remind students about IRAC. Sometimes the reason a student got a B- on an exam that the rest of study group got an A on is (hypothetically) because they didn’t outline any rules upfront but rather let them accumulate throughout the answer.
  3. Remind students that we are not mind readers. Yes, your professor knows the rules they are testing, but no, they don’t know what you know unless you tell them. So, tell them, even it is seems obvious, or they think it should “go without saying.” Nothing should go without saying.
  4. A corollary of the prior rule is do not leave any analysis in your head. Yes, the answer is clear sometimes, but again, explaining why it is clear is where the points come from. The journey > destination.
  5. Be sure to tell students that midterm exams are a gift. A midterm means that the stakes are lower than just having a final for the entire assessment of the course and understanding what your professor is looking for is a huge amount of helpful information. This also makes the doctrinal professors who give them (and grade them!) incentive to continue this important practice.
  6. Be sure to remind students where they can find practice essay and multiple-choice questions. Law School exam success is like getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice! A reminder of where the exam helpful resources are is always helpful. We have a hidden place on our law library website that is honestly full of great resources, but finding it is a little like looking for the room of requirement in Harry Potter. Since everyone needs these resources, be sure to share the links you know about with students!

As to the other midterms, please go vote. Or be proud that you already have.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- Martin Luther King, Jr

(Liz Stillman)

November 7, 2022 in Current Affairs, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, News, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Manifold Ways of Reaching Law Students - A Blog Post by Louis Schulze (FIU)

In late August, ASU Law Professor Charles Calleros wrote a guest post calling for essay submissions describing different law schools’ academic support programs.

As described before, the purpose of this project is to assemble a number of those descriptions to demonstrate the many ways law schools can commit to their students’ success by investing genuinely and substantially in a robust academic support program. A Short Series of Blogs.  He noted that future contributions to this project would include guest posts by Jacquelyn Rogers (Southwestern) and Louis Schulze (FIU), and he invited others to contribute towards a larger piece. Those interested in contributing to the project should send a draft to me at [email protected]

In the meantime, Louis Schulze’s description essay can be found HERE.

October 28, 2022 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Impervious to Facts

"Too often facts around me change, but my mind doesn't.  Impervious to new information, I function like a navigation system that has missed a turn but won't re-route,"  writes attorney Mike Kerrigan in a story about "A Sweet Lesson From Pie," WSJ (Sep. 8, 2022).

I suspect that is true of most of us.  But why?  In my own case, my stubborn mind clings to the facts as I know them because, to admit that facts have changed and a new course of "navigation" is required is in someways to admit that I'm a human being, frail in more ways that I wish to admit.

I think that is especially a challenge in legal education and for bar exam authorities.  We cling to the past because that's all we know and, to be frank, sometimes all we want to know.

Take legal education.  We know that learning requires much from our students and from us.  But many of our classes go on despite the new facts that have emerged from the learning sciences. Louis N. Jr. Schulze, Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline, 68 J. Legal Educ. 230 (2019)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2960192

Take the bar exam.  The best available data suggests that there is a dearth of evidence to support a relationship between bar exam scores and competency to practice law.  Yet we cling to the past. Putting the Bar Exam on Constitutional Notice: Cut Scores, Race & Ethnicity, and the Public Good (August 31, 2022). Forthcoming, Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4205899

I've made lots of wrong turns in my career, my work, and in my life.  To keep on going in the wrong way gets me no closer to where I should be going.  So let's give ourselves and each other the freedom to be changed, the freedom to travel a new path, the freedom to, in short, be curious, creative, and courageous about our work in legal education, on the bar exam, and in life in general.  (Scott Johns).

 

September 8, 2022 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Defending Self-Critique

Law schools have not yet fulfilled the Carnegie Report’s call for more formative assessment.  One reason for falling short is conflicting narratives about what is “good” formative assessment.  One specific narrative seems particularly troublesome:  That the only legitimate method for providing formative assessment is for the instructor to sit down with each student and explain their errors.  This post pushes back on that narrative.

  1. Self-critique is more effective than we appreciate.

Most would agree that individualized feedback from an instructor, the expert both on the subject and the way the student will be graded, is most effective.  But especially when using a model answer or quality student answer,[1] allowing students to compare their work against the ideal version, doing so not only assists with doctrinal comprehension, legal writing, and exam skills, but also builds metacognitive abilities.[2]  Having the capacity to determine one’s own weaknesses is crucially important, as demonstrated by countless studies showing the performance-enhancing effect of improving metacognition.[3]

The assumption that all feedback must come from the instructor certainly undercuts the mission to improve students’ metacognition.  When students find themselves professorless during bar study, they will scramble around helplessly if they have absorbed the legal education fable that only professor knows best.  Moreover, new lawyers will certainly struggle in the early years of practice when they need to run to the partner/ division chief/ client to do the metacognitive work for them.

Although some students certainly will do a poor job of self-critiquing (“I mentioned res ipsa loquitur just like the model did!  I should get full points!”), this is no reason to underappreciate self-critique.  First, in my experience, most students DO figure out their weaknesses from this process.  While before the self-critique process they think their C-minus should be an A-minus, seeing the student essay that booked the course tends to leave them thinking otherwise.  Second, even if the student still does not see the problems, this is where academic support faculty come in.  In partnering with doctrinal faculty, academic support faculty can meet with underperforming students and comment not on the law but on the student’s metacognition.  This method distributes personnel resources in a way that makes robust feedback more possible, fosters metacognition, demonstrates to students the valuable connection between doctrinal and academic support faculty, and frees up time for doctrinal faculty.

  1. Calcifying the status quo.

A particular danger with the solely instructor-based feedback narrative is that it preserves the status quo.  We all know that formative assessment is lacking in legal education.  The principal argument against remedying that problem is that individualized feedback is so time-consuming that one can accomplish little else.  When those inclined to pursue efficient formative assessment are then met with the chorus of voices claiming that self-provided feedback is inadequate, they throw the baby out with the bathwater, dismiss formative assessment, and turn back to the same one-final-exam process used since 1877.  Therefore, creating this strict dichotomy between individualized feedback and self-provided feedback makes the perfect the enemy of the very good and leaves students with nothing instead of at least something.

Final thoughts.

None of this is meant to say that instructor-led feedback is unnecessary or inferior.  Feedback from course instructors is crucial.  But when that type of formative assessment is not feasible, self-critique is a solid option.  

There is a lot more to discuss on this subject.  Unlike almost all other graduate programs, why do we think that TAs providing feedback is an unspeakable heresy?  Why do we almost never use summative assessment as formative assessment by improving the process of post-semester self-critique?  (FYI, simply letting students see their exam answers does not accomplish this goal.)  Why do we see testing only as formative and summative assessment but not as a learning tool in-and-of itself? 

Unfortunately, the time constraints on writing about the time constraints of formative assessments are such that I have to stop tying now.  Ironic.

 

Louis Schulze, FIU Law

--------------

[1] Self-critique without a model answer is possible, too, but I concede that having a model answer is preferable.  To those who would avoid providing such an answer because doing so would take time to write or risk being imprecise, I would argue that a simple solution is to release the strongest student answer.

[2] Metacognition is the process of assessing one’s knowledge:  Do I really know the felony murder rule, or do I just think I know it?  As I tell my students, it is like hovering over one’s knowledge and objectively scrutinizing one’s real comprehension.

[3] See generally J.A. Gundlach & J. Santangelo, Teaching and Assessing Metacognition in Law School, 69 J. LEGAL EDUC. 156 (2019) (reporting on empirical study of first-year law students, finding that students who demonstrated strong metacognitive skills were more likely to perform well).

April 26, 2022 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Exams are coming!! The exams are coming!!

Next Monday is Patriot’s Day here in Massachusetts. I used to think that since it was the day of the marathon, we all got the day off because getting anywhere in Boston can be fraught when you cannot cross Beacon Street. However, there is a revolutionary war meaning behind the holiday (it is Massachusetts, right?). Patriot’s Day commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the colonists’ fight for independence from Great Britain on April 19, 1775.[1] And we all know the story of Paul Revere, who warned the colonists here in the Commonwealth the day before-- if for no other reason than because we all had to memorize Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” which starts with,

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.”[2]

I think some of my students might actually believe that I do remember that famous day and year-sigh. But, more importantly, I think at this point in the semester students are starting to hear the warning about exams coming and are looking to Academic Support to hang a lantern aloft[3] to help illuminate their approach to the battle ahead. Here is what I would be crying into the night as I rode through the towns where my students live:

Outlining: students who heard and followed through on our earlier admonition to start outlining in January (or even catch-up during spring break in March) have more munitions in stock here in April. But for those who did not, there is still time to outline-either in the standard or other useful formats-like annotated flowcharts or Prezi[4].  Outlining is both a review and the creation of a document to study from. It is what I like to call a two-birder,[5] it is useful to do and useful to have when you are done.

Practice: at this point in the semester, doctrinal professors are handing out and going over old exam questions. This is a gold mine, because it lets students know how a professor will raise an issue and the depth that is required to answer it appropriately. Even students who have already been through multiple sets of exams need this because knowing your audience is a good writing tactic no matter what type of legal writing you are undertaking. Also, practicing multiple choice questions daily, from multiple sources (because slight changes in terminology can really throw you off unless you’ve seen them before) is key. At this point in the semester (or year for yearlong classes), students can look to bar questions or even scramble around other sources because they have finally encountered most of the material (if done too early, students may panic at what they don’t already know even though it hasn’t come up in the class yet).

Planning: students should sit down with their exam schedule and work backwards to today to plan their study. An examplan™[6] is a REALISTIC plan that includes time for finishing up the outlines, practicing essay and multiple-choice questions, studying from your outline, and (please!!) remembering to attend to your personal hygiene, physical and mental health. I advise students to remember to preview for the exam that is after the one they are currently studying for-you need to stay mentally nimble and not have to relearn all of Torts or Con Law in the two days before that exam.  Having a plan has the added bonus of helping students feel more in control of the situation. Control is comfort in stressful situations.

Study groups: yes, but…every year I meet with a student on academic warning who assures me that they were the expert in their study group and all their “students” got better grades than they did. Remind students that if they are teaching the group everything, that the group is not putting anything they need on the table for them. I tell students that community, camaraderie, and shared circumstances are all important, but you cannot bring anyone else’s brain into the exam with you.[7]

So, while exams are indeed coming, and they will bring some panic and chaos into the lives of our students, there is a lot we can do to prepare them for the onslaught-more than I have listed certainly. All we can hope is that our students will hear our cry and know that it is,

“A cry of defiance and not of fear,

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,

And a word that shall echo forevermore!”[8]

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.history.com/news/what-is-patriots-day

[2] https://www.paulreverehouse.org/longfellows-poem/

[3] Id.

[4] https://prezi.com/

[5] I am really hoping this phrase catches on, but like “fetch” I am afraid it will not be a thing after all.

[6] Ok, I haven’t really registered this trademark, but if I see you all wearing t-shirts that say this, I’ll be pretty upset.

[7] This is what I am always thinking about when I say this to students (Gary Larson, 1986):

Pin on Humor of the Crooked Sort

[8] https://www.paulreverehouse.org/longfellows-poem/

April 11, 2022 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 7, 2022

Let's Face the Music

I have spent the last few weeks working with students who did not perform as well as they (or their doctrinal professors) thought they should on exams. While information on what went wrong on multiple choice exams is scarce (other than not choosing the correct answer), determining where things went awry on essay questions is diagnostic gold. So, like I am sure we all do, I tell students to go talk to the professors about their exams. This isn’t a novel idea to the students, but often the reaction I get is abject fear.  Here are some things you can tell students about the necessary post-mortem conversation:

  1. The Professor isn’t going to lower your grade. There is a lot of paperwork and sometimes even a faculty vote involved, so it is extremely difficult to change a grade in any direction. You are more likely to have the U.S. Supreme Court grant certiorari on an appeal than for a professor to change your grade based on this conversation.
  2. The Professor is very, very unlikely to raise your grade unless there is a clear mathematical error. See above (less paperwork and no votes when it is math).
  3. There may be some fiery hoops to jump through to get to this conversation. There are no three-headed dogs guarding the gates, but you may need to pick up your exam, check the class-wide comment sheets, check your individual grading rubric, and read any posted sample answers before you even attempt to sign up for an appointment.
  4. Jump through the aforementioned hoops and then make the appointment.
  5. Keep the appointment. Trust me, there is someone who could have used this appointment and by making it and monopolizing this time, you have an obligation (unless it is an emergency) to not waste it.
  6. Prepare concrete questions for the appointment-not, “what did I do wrong?” but more, “I see the rubric indicated that you were looking for a different restatement section here, can you explain why that one was more applicable than the one I mentioned?” Write these questions down because you will get flustered. Also, write down the answers because your relief that this meeting is over will erase the answers from your memory.
  7. This is going to be hard. There is no way (and no need) to sugarcoat it. Facing the reality that you did not do well is really hard and hearing the details is even harder.
  8. It is worthwhile-because the information from this meeting will form the basis of the plan that we will work on together to prevent the issues from reoccurring. The emphasis is on “we,” because you are not alone in this journey. ASP is with you.
  9. It is also worth noting that while the Professor is very unlikely to yell at you, belittle you, mock you, or tell you to leave law school altogether, you may see it that way in the heat of the meeting. Try to distinguish your inner voice from the comments and critique they are giving you. If you have done this and realize that the call is not coming from inside the house, please come tell me and we will make a plan to address it.
  10. Someday you will laugh about the fear you had going into this meeting. I recognize that today is not that day.

So, as Irving Berlin said in 1936[1], “Before the fiddlers have fled; Before they ask us to pay the bill; And while we still have the chance, Let’s face the music and dance.”

(Liz Stillman)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let%27s_Face_the_Music_and_Dance

February 7, 2022 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Managing Responses

I enjoy watching golf tournaments with my kids, and WHOOP sponsors a new fun feature.  WHOOP is a  wearable that monitors certain health data.  The focus is on physical strain and recovery.  Users start an activity, and the band tracks heart rate along with other data.  The fun part is some golfers allow the TV broadcast to show their whoop data before certain shots.  Viewers can see in real time what Rory McIlory's heart rate is walking up the fairway to win.  The astonishing thing I see is many players hearts either maintain or even slow during pre-shot routines immediately preceding the shot.  They maintain calmness, and then their heart races watching the result.  Justin Thomas' heart rate skyrocketed watching an eagle putt drop and when one of his tee shots came too close to the water.  However, his heart rate slowed during his pre-shot routine, which is when I am most nervous hitting a golf shot.

The best in the world create a routine to stabilize their body in important moments.  All of us can do the same thing.  As faculty, we can create routines immediately prior to class to optimize our teaching effectiveness.  Their heart rates during golf are higher than regular activity, but they stabilize and drop them during the most important moments.  That provides the physical and mental clarity to do their best.  Our activities may not seem as physical as sports, but we need mental clarity to create the best educational environment.  Techniques to stabilize heart rates for performance can help our teaching.

Stabilizing heart rates can have massive impacts for students taking exams.  The last minute studying 5 minutes before the exam starts with the anxiety of a single test contributing the majority of the points to final grades would cause anyone's heart to race.  Professionals find a way in the stressful environments (with shots worth millions of dollars) to stabilize heart rates.  Many strategies exist to help any of us during these situations.  Here are a few I heard about:

1.  Lemon Squeeze - Ball up the hands to control blood flow.  Some people feel more in control thinking they are controlling blood flow.

2.  Imagining a non-distracting place - Picture having fun in a place that is not the current situation.

3.  Deep breaths from the diaphragm.

I am not a specialist in controlling my heart rate, but these techniques were recommended to me when I feel my heart racing.  I recommend reading and asking specialists about different ways to maximize our performance in teaching and on exams.

(Steven Foster)

February 6, 2022 in Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 10, 2022

Rebuttable Presumptions

When I was in high school, and college and law school, I would tell my parents when I was nervous about exams like SATs, midterms, finals... And they would always answer, “you’ll be fine.” I’m not complaining about the faith they had in me, but even after I explained the reason for my extra concern, the answer remained the same. I was dismissed. It didn’t help me feel better in any way and certainly didn’t help me prepare for what was ahead.

Grades were released last week at my law school, and it has been…a lot. I can hear a lot of you nodding in agreement right now. In between extremely interesting AALS sessions, I spent hours speaking with students towards the end of the week. And like most of you, I met with students at all positions on the grade spectrum from, “I don’t know how I got an A-“ to “Am I going to get dismissed?”

Our list-serv has also been full of amazing emails and messages we [1]send students to get them through this time-all starting with the basic idea that “your grades do not define you.” I wholeheartedly agree that students are more than their grades and that their grades do not define them. Collectively, in the next few weeks, we will help students make study plans, assure them that they have more exam experience going forward, and remind them that we are here to help. We will give advice to talk to professors about exam performance, diagnose the issues or types of questions that plagued their exam, and offer practice materials. We will take action.

Yet, there is an elephant in the room: how can I tell students that they are not their grades and at the same time fail to acknowledge the reality that until they have some legal work experience, they may, in fact, be defined by their grades. I am telling them to transcend the grades at the same time I am helping them make plans to get better ones. They know, and they know that I know, that potential employers do care about class rank even I don’t agree with that as a bright line rule for granting interviews (and trust me, “don’t agree” is an extremely diluted way to express how I feel about that)[2]. I worry that I am being dismissive if I say it shouldn’t matter-or even worse-misleading some students to blame circumstances (or people) they cannot control for the grades they received. I absolutely know that some students are laid low by circumstances outside of their control (I had a student whose house burned down last year), but frequently students need to own (or adversely possess) the bad grades to make positive changes.

I think some of the hardest work I have done these past few days (and I assure you, my dance card is full today as well) is speaking to students who need to plead their case to a committee to be allowed to stay in law school (after one seemingly catastrophic semester). There is, per our academic rules, a presumption of dismissal (albeit rebuttable). We advise our students to share all the distractions, traumas, and circumstances that led to this situation. No doubt, this pandemic will be the underlying cause of trauma and academic distress long after we box up our masks and hope they get moldy in the basement from non-use.  More importantly, students need to tell the committee about the plans they have made to deal with these issues. I remind them to tell the committee that they are taking control over what is in their power to control and talk about their plans to ask for help when what is uncontrollable becomes too much. I assure them that asking for, and receiving, help is a sign of maturity and resilience-not weakness. And we should not forget that the next time these students take an exam, they will have an extra layer of stress added because they need to do better and are still frightened by how things went last time.

I will definitely tell students that things are going to be okay (and more often than not, they will be)-but it cannot be the only thing I tell them. I know students need to hear those words in my voice, but I also need to be certain that they will benefit from hearing it more than I will.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Thank you to Melissa Hale, Susan Landrum, and Kirsha Trychta!

[2] I don’t even agree with ranking them, but that will be another post.

January 10, 2022 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Meetings, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 29, 2021

Idle Times

Every summer, our family rents a (dog friendly) house out on Cape Cod. Recently, we have been renting bicycles when we get there at a bike rental place called Idle Times. It isn’t fancy, but it is friendly--the name is welcoming and seems to be assuring us that we need not race or even labor much to get around on the bicycles. It is the kind of place where an old black lab lies in the overgrown seagrass and seems to will the kids trying out bicycles to go around him rather than move from his shady spot. It is idyllic-no false advertising involved. This past weekend (that started on a Wednesday-shouldn’t they all?) was also gloriously idle (aside from the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and latkes). I removed my laptop from the table (yes, the new one for those of you who have been following these posts) and didn’t return it to its spot until yesterday. And here I am on a Monday morning trying to jump start my professional brain after this lovely idleness.

Today is the last day of classes for us. While many might think that this is the beginning of a nice break for all academics, it is absolutely crunch time for ASP folks. There are students panicked about finals. They seem shocked that exams are almost upon us despite all the warning signs. I agree that by the time we develop our fall mojo, it is already Veteran’s Day-which was less than three weeks ago. Fall seems like a slow walk uphill to a sudden cliff, while spring semester seems like a cold, dark walk through a cave into the light. 

Nonetheless, we are about to begin our "reading days." I’m not sure how much time between classes ending and exams beginning is just right; I don’t think there is a one size fits all time period, but our 1L students have around 2.5 days.

Here is (some of) what I advise students to do now and during these days and the exam period:

  1. Get out of the law school building (we are all in one building here). The air is thick with stress and every little whisper will make you think someone knows something you don’t about a class you are in. I point out to our students that we are (in the fall at least) out of sync with our undergraduate and business schools, so their libraries might be a better place to study if a library is your preferred spot. At least the din there won’t make you feel unnecessarily inadequate. In pre-COVID times I would also recommend a coffee place (away from school) or even my favorite, the café at the Museum of Fine Arts (excellent place to study and wonderful place to be when you need a break from it).
  1. Make an exam plan. Work backwards from your last exam and plan reasonable study schedules for each day. Remember to add a teaser of the exam after the immediate one into your plan-so if Civ. Pro is on Thursday, you can take an hour and review a little Crim because that is next and so on.
  1. Attend to your hygiene and health! Seriously, this is going to be a marathon, pace yourself and be sure to stay hydrated. Don’t take unnecessary pandemic risks right now. Showering is important even if the alternative can help with social distancing.
  1. Practice writing answers and doing multiple choice questions: while reading carefully will be an important part of your exams, you will still need to produce an answer. You should practice essays often enough that IRAC is a muscle memory. Do enough multiple-choice questions that you are not confused by slight changes in terminology (because…gasp…sometimes doctrinal professors do not write their own questions). Remember, a good way to be prepared for exams is to be a PERP: Prepared for class, Engaged in class, Reviewing after class and Practicing. Ok, now I can see why this didn’t catch on, PERP is just not going to happen. But there is still hope for fetch.
  1. Handle different subjects with different strategic approaches: Civil Procedure is linear and chronological; Contracts is transactional; Torts and Criminal law just beg for making a chart with all the people and causes of action involved and so on…
  1. Just get started: if you are lost on the exam, start with something you can answer to get the brain engaged and then go back. However, do not go back and change any multiple-choice answers if you have already made a choice-it will not end well.
  1. Get out again-after the exam, leave the building. Do not discuss it with other people. I know that talking about a shared trauma can be therapeutic, but this will not be. I promise. Think about what you have done well on this exam and then move on with your plan. As Timon famously says in The Lion King, “You gotta put your past behind you.”
  1. When all the exams are over, enjoy the idle time.

(Liz Stillman)

November 29, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Common Mistakes at the End of the Semester

The semester is almost over, which means final exams are right around the corner.  I wanted to pass along a handful of mistakes to avoid when preparing for finals.

  1. Don't ignore the last couple weeks of class.  Some students think professors won't put material from the last couple weeks on the exam.  That is not the case in most classes, and some professors will intentionally test that material if they perceive the class is showing up ill prepared.  
  2. Don't wait until after Thanksgiving to update, start, edit, etc. outlines.  This advice would apply to early in the semester as well, but don't wait until the last minute to update outlines.  Keep adding in material to maximize study and practice time later.
  3. Don't stay up all night studying.  I engaged in this conversation a few times already this past week.  Staying up all night studying is not ideal.  Sleep is critical for the brain to rest and retain information.  Losing sleep equals losing information.  One student responded saying some students like to study at night and sleep during the day.  I understand that happens, but your body needs to be ready to take the exam during the actual exam time.  Learning and performance is impacted by the time you do it.  This is one reason why West Coast NFL teams play worse when traveling to the East Coast for games.
  4. Don't Constantly re-read outlines.  The most common study mistake is repetitive reading of an outline.  Re-reading passively attempts to learn the material and is inefficient.  Most people feel more comfortable reading when studies show it doesn't work as well.  The best way to study is retrieval practice.  After reviewing your outline, try to write your outline down from memory.  Issue spot and outline practice questions.  Complete multiple choice questions.  Try to talk through your outline out loud.  The key is to add in attempts at recalling the information.
  5. Don't try to memorize every case name at the expense of understanding the big picture doctrine.  Final exams include stories of individual's actions.  The goal is to determine whether the individual action resulted in a Tort, Contract, etc.  Cases help in the process, but not the way most students think they help.  Professors may give bonus points for case names, but name dropping cases while not understanding how the rules fit together will not lead to high scores.

Finals induce significant stress.  My advice is to work both hard and smart.  Use the most efficient study techniques, especially practice.  The end of the race is near.  Good luck!

(Steven Foster)

November 14, 2021 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 18, 2021

Hitting the Wall

In the musical Hamilton, Eliza tries to persuade her husband, Alexander, to take a break, “Take a break…Run away with us for the summer. Let's go upstate…There's a lake I know…In a nearby park. I'd love to go.”[1]  Alexander refuses to go and, no spoilers beyond this, it doesn’t end well.

Two weeks ago, on the first Monday in October, I asked my undergraduates why this time of year was so important, and one student said, “It’s spooky season.” I was trying to get at the Supreme Court getting back to work (on what very well may a spooky season of cases), but it is also, as ASP folks know, that scary time of year when our 1Ls hit a wall. I’ve stockpiled candy (easy this time of year), tissues, and some advice.

We all know that 1Ls have a moment of crisis when they lose their altruism about helping the world with their law degree and become caught up in a smaller world of grades, midterms, legal writing assignments, outlining, and the overwhelmingness of just showing up for class. Students lose sight of why they even came to law school to begin with. Surely, masochism wasn’t the reason mentioned in their application personal statements. Sometimes, students need to be reminded of their initial reasons for being a lawyer. A gentle reminder might be enough for some students. It never hurts to tell them that no one really comes to law school to be a law student, they come to become a lawyer. Being a law student is temporary. And while it seems counterintuitive to advise taking a break, that is the advice I often give them at this point in the semester.

This may be a perfect time for a student to take a small break (hours, not days). Midterms are over, legal writing is less intense (for the moment) and they have been doing the reading, briefing, and outlining for long enough that it isn’t all consuming. Honestly, if Boston was a drag queen, this time of year would be its death drop in terms of the weather and natural beauty. Soon enough, everything will ramp up again and often with larger consequences, but at this very moment, a few hours spent away from law school is doable.

To that end, I have “prescribed” a drive to a beach town about 40 minutes north of here with saltwater taffy, a giant rocky sea wall that is both walkable and climbable, and just sitting at the edge of the ocean and getting perspective. Need something closer? Walk down to the aquarium, smell the ocean, and watch the harbor seals frolic in the outdoor (free!) exhibit. Even closer? Walk the Freedom Trail (it is right outside the doors to our law school). Really, anything can be a break; the only rules are no books, no laptop, and no regrets. Time spent rebuilding yourself is priming the pump for students (and faculty). The investment will pay off.

So be on the lookout for students hitting the wall. Be their Eliza. I would always prefer my students took a break than get broken.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] © Lin-Manuel Miranda

October 18, 2021 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)