Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, February 18, 2019

Modeling Successful Behaviors

We all dream of new projects that could progress our programs, improve studying, or change our lives.  I think about the article I want to finish, but find allocating time to research difficult.  Adding more practice questions or additional study time is difficult.  Many people look to others lives and wonder how successful people achieved success.  We can model some of our behaviors from successful people to maximize our own potential.

I read an article last week from success.com titled “8 Things Successful People Never Waste Time Doing.”  Cynthia Bazin said successful people don’t:

  1. Get Sucked Into Social Media
  2. Go Through the Day Without a Plan
  3. Do Emotionally Draining Activities
  4. Worry About Things They Can’t Control
  5. Hang Out With Negative People
  6. Dwell on Past Mistakes
  7. Focus on What Other People are Doing
  8. Put Themselves Last in Priority

She proceeds to quickly discuss how each of these activities can waste time and derail progress towards our goals.

Professors, law students, and attorneys could take this advice to improve productivity.  The majority of us probably spend too much time on social media.  While those apps have some advantages, the downfall is the amount of time spent using them.  30 minutes less on an app could be another article about a research topic, a practice question, or a response to client concerns.  30 minutes at night could be reading an inspiring book or quality time with family.  Consider limiting social media, screen time, or both to improve productivity.

Creating a good plan for the day is something I need to do more.  I fall into the trap of trying to solve every problem immediately and divert my attention constantly.  A better plan could ensure I get through my research. 

Check out the article.  Pick one area to save time and the one task to insert into the saved time.  Efficiency makes a huge difference in what we accomplish.

(Steven Foster)

February 18, 2019 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Compounding Effect in Law School

If I offered you a choice between 3 million dollars today or a penny today with double the amount each subsequent day for 31 days (ie - .01 today, .02 tomorrow, .04 next days, etc.), which would you take?  In a small experiment, over 90% of people took the lump sum.  A penny doubled every day over 31 days will net over 10 million dollars.  However, that choice doesn’t beat the 3 million lump sum until day 30.  Day 31 is when it crushes the lump sum by over 7 million dollars.  The reason is the compounding effect.

The compounding effect is a common strategy for financial planning.  Starting to save for retirement at age 20 makes a huge difference.  Darren Hardy in his book The Compounding Effect applied the theory to life beyond finances to argue all of us can make dramatic changes in our careers and how we live.  He argues the small choices we make consistently are the foundation for dramatically changing our life. 

Small choices seem trivial.  One of my favorite examples in his book relates to weight gain/loss.  He illustrates the choices of 3 hypothetical people.  1 person continues to do the same thing he has always done.  He is the constant.  1 person decreases calories by only 125 calories a day.  125 calories is the equivalent of a bowl of some cereal or a can of Dr. Pepper.  The last person increases calories by 125 calories a day.  The small decisions didn’t seem to make much difference in the first 6-12 months.  Only small variations in weight.  However, from month 12-18, the first person is losing weight and the last person is gaining significant weight.  By the end of 2 years, the first person loses 30 pounds while the last person gains 30 pounds.  There is a 60 pound difference based on 1 coke a day!

The weight example and other examples in the book illustrate the difficulty of applying the compounding effect to our lives.  Choosing to not drink a coke today will not change the scale tomorrow.  Eating 1 donut or a meal at Chik-fil-a will not change the scale tomorrow.  We don’t perceive the benefits or consequences of small choices immediately, so many people choose the more fun donut.  Over time, 125 calories can snowball from weight to other areas of life, like health problems and relationships with friends and family.  The good news is the good choices snowball as well, and we should start considering what small changes to make in law school.

Law school epitomizes the problem of no immediate positive reinforcement.  Reviewing course material today doesn’t produce a grade.  Doing practice questions each week won’t have an immediate impact.  Playing the Xbox or going out with friends provides the immediate dopamine rush without the perception of consequences. 

Small changes now can make an impact at the end of this semester and future semesters.  I want to provide numerous examples and tips for improvement.  However, just as my pastor said yesterday, if I give you 4 things to do, you will do none of them.  If I give you 1, then you may do it because you can easily integrate 1 thing into your routine.  Hardy encourages the same thing.  Start small.  Pick 1 small thing to improve learning.

My suggestion is a small review each night.  Learning literature indicates we immediately begin forgetting material.  We can improve retention with immediate review within 24 hours and periodic review throughout a semester at progressively longer intervals.  Each night, review the material from that day and the previous day.  Summarize the information into your own words and think about where it fits in the outline.  Don’t spend numerous hours on this task.  Start small and move up. 

Compounding makes theoretical sense.  However, many of us make small choices that are compounding negatively.  Choose something small today to compound in the right direction.  Remember, you will not see immediately results.  Consistency is what will produce the outcome you desire.

(Steven Foster)

February 11, 2019 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bar Success Tips for the Final Two Weeks Before the Bar Exam

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

* Contracts/Sales

* Constitutional Law

* Criminal Law & Procedure

* Evidence

* Property

* Torts

 

February 7, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Use the Simulated MBE Results for Improvement

One of my favorite sports commercials is the Nike Commercial with Michael Jordan below.

 

Bar takers can learn a valuable lesson from Jordan.  Arguably the greatest basketball player of all time failed constantly.  However, he didn’t let failure define him.  He used failure to learn how to get better.  Learning from the failure of the simulated MBE will be critical for success in a few weeks.

The simulated MBE is not a confidence boosting experience for most bar takers.  Many students from around the country will feel defeated and not know what to do between now and the bar exam.  My first suggestion is to take the results as an opportunity to learn where to improve.  If you missed 100 questions, then you have 100 opportunities to get better before the next test.  The goal isn’t to be perfect right now (or ever).  The goal is to get enough correct at the end of February to be sworn in.  That goal is still achievable.

After putting the test into perspective, develop a plan.  All the bar review companies produce a good score report.  I suggest identifying small sub-topics within each subject to study for a few minutes each night.  Finding significant time during the day for extra studying is near impossible.  However, 15 minutes right before bed to look at a handful of rules is possible.  Identify highly tested subtopics where you didn’t get many questions correct.  Spend 15-20 minutes each night on a subtopic.  Switch subjects each day.  With 21 days of studying left, everyone can make it through 3 subtopics per MBE subject. 

My other suggestion is to add a small set of MBE questions to each day.  Many of the bar review companies have small sets of questions in the subtopics.  Do a set of questions in one of the subtopics each day.  Don’t do the set of questions in the same subtopic that you study that night.  Rotating to different areas helps with long term retention. 

I know the simulated MBE was tough, and everyone wanted to get more questions correct.  Many students get knocked down on the test.  The question is what will you do after you get knocked down.  Watch the 2008 600m Big 10 Championship below.

 

There is still a lap left in bar prep.  What are you going to do?

(Steven Foster)

February 4, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Prevalence of Neuroscience Myths in Education

I count myself as an educator.  And, as I am also a lawyer too, like many attorneys, I sort of consider myself as a bit of an expert in all things too because the law, at least it seems to me, has its hook in every field of endeavor.  As such, that means that I read and think an awlful lot, and therefore, I often see myself as an arm chair scientist, psychologist, and counselor too.  

But, could a little bit of dabbling in neuroscience and learning knowledge be a bit misleading?  Unfortunately, it seems that I'm not quite the expert in neuroscience and learning that I think I am (and, to be frank, I'm not much of an expert in most things at all).

The good news, if it is good, is that it seems like I'm not all alone, at least among educators.  Indeed, research indicates that "neuromyths" are widespread among educators.  K. Macdonald, L Germine, A. Anderson, J. Christodoulou, and L. McGrath, "Dispelling the Myth," Frontiers in Psychology (Aug 2017).  In particular, according to this research article, educators can often be susceptible to neuroscience myths concerning learning.  What's a neuromyth?  Well, "[n]euromyths are misconceptions about brain research and its application to education and learning."  Based on survey results with participants indicating whether a particular statement was true or false, "[t]he most commonly endorsed neuromyths item was 'individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic),'" with 76 percent of educators erroneously believing in the learning style myth.  https://www.frontiersin.org/dispellingthemyth

Reading between the lines of the research article, it seems that educators like me are understandably scouring websites and media sources for the latest cure-all, really, anything at all, that might help our students improve their learning.  That's because we all understand the immense value that learning brings to individuals and to the worlds in which we inhabit.  That hunger for a solution, for a salve, for a cure-all, apparently means that as an educator I am vulnerable to neuroscience myths.  Indeed, as explained in the same research article, "[o]ne characteristic that seems to unite...neuromyths together...is an underestimation of the complexity of human behavior, especially cognitive skills like learning, memory, reasoning, and attention. Rather than highlighting these complexities, each neuromyth seems to originate from a tendency to rely on a single explanatory factor, such as the single teaching approach that will be effective for all children...."  https://www.frontiersin.org/dispellingthemyth

There's actually some very good news about the neuroscience myth concerning learning styles. It seems that classroom teachers who "weave visual and auditory modalities into a single lesson rather than providing separate modality-specific lessons to different groups of children based on self-identified learning style preferences" actually enhance learning.  As such, "[a]n unintended and potentially positive outcome of the perpetuation of the learning styles neuromyth is that teachers present material to students in novel ways through multiple modalities, thereby providing opportunities for repetition which is associated with improved learning and memory in the cognitive and educational literatures."  https://www.frontiersin.org/dispellingthemyth.  In other words, although the myth itself lacks empirical evidence to justify teaching to a particular student's preferred learning style, the method of implementation ends up producing concrete empirical evidence - according to peer-review research articles - of improvements in learning outcomes.  In short, the ends end up justifying the means, so to speak.

What do to about neuroscience myths concerning learning?  Well, the article has some suggestions.  Most to the point, the article suggests that educators ought to seek out peer-review articles behind the latest media stories and internet crazes.  Those stories might not be crazy at all, but often times, there's more lurking behind the story than first appears.  So, it's important for us as educators to take time to read the research, maybe just like we teach our students to read cases, with a critical eye.  (Scott Johns).

January 24, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Guest Blogger Post 5 - Louis Schulze: "Don't Even THINK About Using Supplements" Part Three

In my last post, I expanded on my claim that blanket policies against external sources of learning are unwise.  I focused on how those policies undermine students’ metacognition by limiting the resources available to eliminate the “unknown unknowns.”  In this post, I will continue my critique by focusing on “self-regulated learning” and “autonomy support.”

Self-regulated learning and autonomy support are both positively correlated with successful learning.  Therefore, any educational practice that undermines these concepts will also undermine learning and, thus, academic success.  What are these important concepts?

Self-regulated learning involves more than just what its name implies.  While metacognition focuses on whether a student monitors what they learned, self-regulated learning deals with whether the student monitors and tweaks how they learned.  Experts on SRL describe three stages of the process:  forethought, performance, and self-reflection.  In the first stage, the learner sets goals and considers strategic plans to attain those goals.  In the second, the learner sets out on the tasks identified in the first stage and monitors her focus and adherence to the strategies.  In the final phase, the learner evaluates whether she met the learning goals, determines the cause of attaining or not attaining the goal, and then restructures her original plan based on this causal attribution so as to improve the learning cycle and provide better results.  There is a world of difference between the learner who says “I did poorly on my first midterm because I’m not good at torts” and the learner who says “I did poorly on my first midterm because I studied wrong.”

Autonomy support is a subset of self-determination theory, whose focus is to determine the necessary conditions for optimal motivation and, in turn, optimal performance.  SDT’s first precept is that social environment matters in learning.  This “social environment” includes actions by instructors.  This means nothing more than that instructors can influence students’ success.  This can occur when a student perceives a high degree of autonomy support, i.e., an environment in which instructors support the learner’s ownership of learning.  Autonomy supportive environments conduce to powerful “intrinsic motivation,” while controlled learning environments conduce to weaker “extrinsic motivation.”  As one study put it:

    "[A]n individual in a position of authority (e.g., an instructor) takes the other’s (e.g., a      student’s) perspective, acknowledges the other’s feelings, and provides the other with         pertinent information and opportunities for choice, while minimizing the use of pressures       and demands. An autonomy-supportive teacher might, for example, provide                 students with    necessary information while encouraging them to use the information in solving a          problem in their own way. In contrast, an authority who is controlling     pressures others to          behave in particular ways, either through coercive or seductive techniques that generally             include implicit or explicit rewards or punishments.” (Black     & Deci, 2000)

Importantly, heightened levels of perceived autonomy support are correlated with autonomous self-regulation.  Self-regulation, in turn, is correlated with improved academic performance.  Therefore, if we undermine perceived autonomy support by using blanket prohibitions against extrinsic materials, we make it less likely that students will self-regulate their learning.  If we make it less likely that students will self-regulate, they will not learn optimally.  If they do not learn optimally, their performance in law school, the bar exam, and in practice will suffer.

In fact, by overly controlling students’ learning autonomy, we undermine the likelihood that they will be good lawyers.  We can all agree that a new lawyer who can act autonomously and without a supervisor’s handholding is a more valuable employee and better lawyer than one who needs constant oversight.  By controlling students’ learning methods, we inhibit students’ growth into being “self-regulated lawyers,” and we condemn them to a career of second-rate lawyering and perpetual oversight by superiors.

In my next post, I will discuss how bans on external learning sources run afoul of one of the most powerful tools students can use to improve their learning.  

 

 

January 18, 2019 in Guest Column, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Power of Performance Reviews (and Feedback) to Influence Retention & Improve Performance

As educators, we hold enormous power in our hands; power to change destinations and shape destinies.  

Last fall, at the AccessLex Legal Education Research Symposium, Dr. Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio - Chair of the Executive Leadership Research Initiative for Women and Minority Attorneys at Harvard Law School - changed the way that I think when giving "performance reviews" to my students, whether in formal feedback, informally during class discussions, or during individual student meetings.  

The best way to express what I learned is to hear directly from Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio as she describes her research on the power of performance reviews to shape career destinies:  "Let me give you an example: the annual performance review. We’ve all been through it, either as a reviewer or as a reviewee. It can be dreadful because it's time-consuming and nerve-racking. What I found is women and minorities overall, were more likely to receive different types of feedback–more critical. Their successes were oftentimes attributed to luck. Based off of that, working with an organization, we came out with a new system that required more frequent performance reviews that would take less than fifteen minutes, where four to six people could be reviewed at the same time. The result was amazing." https://mgte.thefemalequotient.com

As I recall from her keynote address (with apologies if I don't remember precisely), Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio explained that she observed the interactions between supervisors (partners) and employees (junior associates) during performance reviews.   Overall, Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio observed that performance review comments differed between male and females associates.  In general, partners provided women with feedback focused on the past (leaving recipients with the message that this law firm wasn't the place for them); while, in contrast, partners provided men with feedback that was forward-looking (suggesting to recipients that there was work to do to improve performance but that the firm was in it for the long-haul with them, as exemplified by supervisory comments such as "you might try this to better persuade the court next time," etc).    Based on these findings, Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio empowered supervisors with ways to retool their comments for all associates by focusing on the future rather than the past, regardless of gender.  The results...retention significantly improved for women associates.

That brings me back to my role (our roles) as educators.  Our comments can make a difference; our feedback can change paths.  I often recall that I had a law professor who told me, point blank, that I would never be a litigator.  I just didn't have what it took.  That feedback stuck (and still sticks) to the heart.  But, I had others who encouraged me, believed in me, and supported me.  In short, their constructive feedback - focused on improving my performance with an eye to the future - won the day.  I became a litigator.  As a result of those experiences and in light of Dr. Checchi-Dimeglio's research as a behavioral scientist, my comments can make a truly positive difference for my students. Do I do it well?  Not yet.  But, I'm learning, one comment at a time...with an eye on my students' futures.  (Scott Johns).

January 17, 2019 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Raise the Temperature to Reach Your Boil

As the winter continues, my colleagues make more and more hot tea.  The Keurig makes that process much easier, but when thinking about the upcoming semester, making tea in a tea pot comes to mind.  The way many people view success and habits is inconsistent with reality.  Success is generally like making hot tea.

To make hot tea, you fill the tea pot with water and turn on the burner.  The water looks calm and is cool to the touch.  The burner begins heating the water, but the water remains still.  The water continues to heat and reaches 150 degrees but remains still.  After more time, the water reaches 200 degrees.  Nothing happens.  The temperature rises to 211 degrees, and the water remains still.  However, in a mere instant when reaching 212 degrees, water begins to boil with bubbles bursting on the surface.  The water looks nothing like the calm from only 1 degree before.  The constant rise in temperature didn’t produce anything to see, but each degree brought the water one step closer to boiling.  Each step made a difference.

Law studying is similar to the tea pot.  Spending five more minutes looking at materials doesn’t produce immediate results.  Doing another set of practice questions doesn’t generate instant gratification.  Finding another supplement may not help answer more Socratic questions in class.  However, all of those actions raise the level of understanding in a subject.  The continued work throughout the semester raising the temperature can lead to hitting the boiling point on final exams.

The book Pounding the Stone tells a fictional story about this idea.  The book’s title refers to a poem about a stone cutter.  The premise is the stone cutter hammers away at a stone.  Each blow has an impact, but the impact is not seen.  At a certain point, the next blow cracks the stone.  Persistence, grit, and habitually doing the small things in spite of no visual feedback produced the remarkable result.

The stone cutter is another good analogy for law school.  Many students don’t understand the big picture of a subject until the end of the semester.  The large outline is not clear until delving deeper into the material to determine how topics relate to each other.  Reading cases doesn’t seem to produce much understanding outside the holding of the particular case.  Professor questions are hard to relate to previous classes.  The feedback for whether students understand the material doesn’t happen for months.  Pounding the stone is difficult but necessary for success.

Approaching this semester, I urge students to “pound the stone” as the book dictates.  Make sure to do the fundamentals of studying and practice to reach the boiling point.  Read every page of the assigned readings carefully, which may require many students to slow down.  Brief every major case.  Create a comprehensive outline, chart, or other study tool.  Meet with faculty regularly to clear up misunderstandings.  Complete practice questions and receive feedback.  Craig Groeschel said it best, “Successful people do consistently what normal people do occasionally.”  Results won’t be immediate.  Finals don’t happen in February.  Be consistent and pound the stone this semester to be prepared for finals.

(Steven Foster)

January 14, 2019 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Starting the Day Off Slow Might be the Right Step to the Fast Track

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  

(Scott Johns)

January 10, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 7, 2019

New Year, New You?

The ball dropped, fireworks exploded, and 2019 began!  In the following days, did you make a resolution to drastically change this year?  Many people decide, usually haphazardly, that (insert year) will be the turning point.  For law students, grades will improve at least 1 full letter grade, studying will begin at 8am with perfect briefs, and completing practice questions are all on the list.  While admirable, are those resolutions achievable?

New Year’s resolutions are generally ineffective.  Numerous studies over the years looked at how many people actually complete his/her resolution.  One recent study found 35% of people fail by the end of January.  Another study found even more dire results with 92% of people failing by Valentine's Day.  In a short amount of time, a large number of people fail.  Should we ignore resolutions as a result?  Absolutely not.  The better alternative is to make well informed and focused resolutions that are attainable.

One of the initial problems with resolutions is the focus on the outcome.  Similar to previous posts, this is essentially results based goal making.  How many people resolved to lose X number of pounds, quit smoking, exercise more, get healthy, or any number of other generic result based ideas?  Results don’t provide a map for completion or a tool to evaluate progress.  How would someone know if they were “getting healthy.”  The same is true for law students trying to achieve “an A.”  How does a student know in March whether what he/she is doing is “A” material?  The lack of a road map and easy evaluation makes the better grades resolution impossible to achieve.

More concrete resolutions can lead to success.  Process based thinking and planning is better.  Breaking down each day resolving to complete a brief for every major case or resolving to start outlining after the 3rd week of class provides concrete systems that are easy to follow and evaluate.  The process of achieving short term goals and checking off items from the list can build momentum for improvement.  Paraphrasing a quote from my pastor last weekend talking about habits, he said individuals don't rise to the goals, they fall to the level of their systems.  Basically, our daily processes and decisions will determine whether we fulfill our resolutions.

Many people, especially high performers like law students, also set unrealistic goals.  We want to conquer the world, end all suffering, spend time with all our friends, and relax, which are all great aspirations, except probably not possible.  Make resolutions that are challenging but attainable.  Try to focus on a small number of resolutions.  Anything more than a couple will probably be overwhelming.  I am not a morning person, and I could not possibly start studying in law school by 8am.  Any resolution to start earlier would have failed in week 1.  Know yourself and create resolutions that will encourage improvement while also being realistic about what to change.

Deadlines also help encourage meeting resolutions.  Deadlines shouldn’t be too distant because the deadline won't create an urgency to start working.  Set a timetable to get tasks done.  Catching up on outlines by the end of week 4 is good or submitting a practice question to a professor each week create short term deadlines to encourage completing the resolution.  The idea is to create both a timeline and another tool to evaluate progress.

New Year’s resolutions and new goals for the semester are great.  However, most people fail to meet the goals because they are generic and unrealistic.  Spend extra time developing a good process with specific tasks and deadlines to set up your semester for success.

(Steven Foster)

January 7, 2019 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Bar Takers: Better Learning via Linear Studying or Recursive Studying?

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).  

 Figure 1  

Linear Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)

Fullsizeoutput_cba

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.  

Figure 2

Recursive Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)

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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)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Finals Are Over!! Now What?

First semester finals are over.  Joy, fear, anxiety, or some combination of all of those feelings are setting in.  I send my 1Ls an email providing some guidance for the next few weeks.  My email does tell students to ignore finals, but as Nancy’s post last week suggested, taking 10 minutes to cry over the final is also good advice.  After that 10 minutes, my biggest suggestion is to relax and enjoy time with family.  The relevant portions of the email are below.  Do your best to enjoy your break!

“As you learned this semester, law school is extremely rigorous and stressful most of the time.  Staying disciplined, studying, and taking exams is an accomplishment.  Most people could not endure law school, so you should commend yourself.  The art of overcoming stress and moving on to the next challenge requires positive reinforcement from both others and yourself.  Every time you make it through a difficult task, overcome an obstacle, or reach a goal, celebrate your accomplishment.  Many of you may not believe me for a few years, but law school only begins your difficult career.  Taking the bar exam crams the stress into a short amount of time.  After passing the bar, you get to practice law, which is even more time consuming and rigorous than law school.  Everything you do now to create work/life balance, manage stress, and maintain sanity will be invaluable when you enter the legal profession.  So, CELEBRATE (safely) and CONGRATULATE YOURSELF!!! 

Many students ask what to do during the break to prepare for next semester.  I generally suggest a few things.  First, FORGET YOUR EXAMS.  It doesn’t matter what you wrote now.  You can’t change them.  Don’t talk to other students about them.  No one wrote a perfect answer and many students find “phantom” issues.  Even if you completely missed an issue (which EVERYONE does), you can still get a decent grade.  You turned in your test and can’t change your answers, so move on to my second suggestion.  My second suggestion for the break is RELAX!!!  You had a long, tiring semester.  Spend time with family who haven’t heard from you in months.  Spend time with your kids that haven’t seen you since finals started.  Turn your cell phone back on and watch recorded episodes of your favorite TV Show.  You need energy next semester, and now is the time to recharge.  Lastly, you can read a book to help next semester.  You can either choose a book about learning or a book about writing exams for law school.  I don’t suggest trying to read them all because you will burn out before next semester starts.  Try to just pick one.  You have many options depending on what area you want to improve in.  Books that I like for learning/general improvement are:  Make It Stick, How We Learn, and Grit.  There are numerous law school specific books for each of the different skills needed for success.  I like How to Succeed in Law School, Expert Learning for Law Students, and Reading like a Lawyer.  You have more context for those books now that you have been through a semester.

You accomplished great things over the past 4 ½ months.  Enjoy your accomplishment (safely), and I can’t wait to see all of you again in January.  Enjoy the break!”

(Steven Foster)

December 17, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Pineapple Charts - A Community Way to Improve Teaching!

Some say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, perhaps a chart might be a way to improve classroom teaching...with the help of dozens of other teachers.  

Take a quick peek at the photo below.  What do you see?

image from www.cultofpedagogy.com

First, you might notice that the chart has a silhouette of a pineapple.  

As indicated by teacher extraordinaire Jennifer Gonzalez, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality.  This photo is taken from her wonderful blog posting entitled: "How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional Development." https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pineapple-charts/  (The photo itself, on the blog "The Cult of Pedagogy," comes from Gator Run Elementary School in sunny Florida.)  As used in educational circles, the pineapple serves as a welcoming invitation to host other teachers to visit classroom spaces for informal observations of your teaching.

Second, the pineapple chart invites teachers to share in a community of teaching by learning in connection with each other.  The pineapple chart represents one week's worth of classes.  Teachers who are interested in opening up their classroom spaces for informal observations simply fill out one of the available spots with name, subject, time, and classroom location (and even sometimes a description of the agenda),

Third, find a common location for the pineapple chart.  Even better, make it a heavily trafficked prominent location.  You might consider locating the pineapple chart in your mailroom or student affairs office or even on the walls of one of the main corridors of your law school building.  In short, make it easy for people to sign up.

Fourth, participate.  We are all members of learning communities.  

Now, I realize that it takes great courage to open yourself up to others, especially to others to observe your teaching.  But, I often find that it's in the courageous things of life in which I grow best.  So, let go of being all alone in your teaching and instead invite others to participate with you in improving your classroom teaching.  And, for the rest of you yet to sign-up for observations, make yourself available and present to observe your colleagues as they freely open up their workspaces to you.  That takes courage too.  And, please know that we all have so much to learn from each other.

Let me be frank.  I suspect that this simple pineapple chart might radically change your learning community for the better, or, in the words of blogger Jennifer Gonzalez, might "revolutionize" your professional development.  That's something worthy of sharing with others.  (Scott Johns).

December 13, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

You've Messed Up on Exams -- Now What?

It's inevitable. Coming out of any law school exam, someone will know they messed up -- or feel like they've messed up. The list of things that can go wrong in an exam seems endless, from random quirks of fate to "I knew better than this but did it anyway" scenarios. Sometimes folks already have the sinking feeling coming out of the exam; others are filled with confidence over their performance until they start discussing the exam with others.

If the person who messed up was you, what do you do?

Unlike a lot of people, I'm not going to tell you to ignore that sinking feeling. You want a pity party? -- go ahead and throw it. Whether you know you messed up or whether you merely feel bad about your performance, it's disingenuous for those of us on the outside to tell you not to worry. It's like someone sitting in a warm dry house advising you not to panic when you get lost in the woods. So feel free to wallow in your misery, as long as you follow these ground rules:

  • Only one person is invited to the pity party. You.
  • You have ten minutes to wallow. Period.

Your ten minutes is up. Feel better? I thought so. Your emotions may still be running high, however, going in one of two directions:

  • It's not really my fault. The professor / the proctor / the tech person  /  the ________ (fill in your favorite scapegoat) messed up. I shouldn't have to pay for their mistakes.

OR

  • I am such an idiot. I don't belong here. I deserve to be thrown out. I should just disappear and not come back next semester.

Whichever is the case, now is your time to act like a lawyer. Be calm, be analytical, and spend your energy on solving problems, not on brooding about them.

Let's say the problem was caused or exacerbated by another person's actions. Was it a problem that's likely to recur? If by speaking up you can help prevent it from recurring during this exam period, by all means speak up, recognizing as you do that intelligent persons of good will can make mistakes. So focus not on blame -- "S/he did this which messed up my exam!" -- but on identifying a problem which might affect you or other test-takers in the future and on suggesting ways to prevent the problem.

Can you identify something discrete you personally did wrong? ("I skipped Question 5 but I didn't skip the scantron bubble for that question, so all my multiple choice answers are off by one"). After you have finished the exam, there will rarely be a chance of fixing the problem for that particular exam, but don't hesitate to calmly explain your problem to the exam coordinator in case there is a solution you hadn't considered. Communicate only with the exam coordinator -- writing a direct note to the professor, either in the exam itself or by a message after the exam, is never fruitful and may actually constitute an honor code violation by violating anonymity. Knowing that you made mistakes, accept yourself as a human, learn from the mistake and vow to not repeat it, forgive yourself, and move on.

In addition to things you know you messed up, you may feel you messed up based on your emotional reaction coming out of an exam ("I just flailed around and did awfully") or based on hearing others talk about the exam ("I didn't spot the same issue everyone else saw in the second essay"). Especially for 1Ls, neither one of these is an especially reliable way of analyzing your performance. Group post-mortems often get off track and usually freak people out unnecessarily, and your subjective reaction to an exam is rarely reliable. Step back from your own emotions (your pity party is already over, remember?) and view your reaction from the vantage point of a sympathetic outsider. Acknowledge that your very emotion shows that you care deeply about what you're doing. and practice self-compassion.

If you have a tendency to mull over your mistakes, real or imagined, now's the time to learn the lawyerly skill of harnessing those feelings toward improved performance. If you are still in the middle of exams, think about how you can apply what you learned from your mistake towards doing better on the next exam. If your semester's exams are over, practice empathetic self-reflection where you identify the type of mistakes you tend to make during exams and brainstorm ways of preventing those mistakes. Realize that worrying cannot help your grade: it will only distract you from paying attention to those ideas, experiences, and relationships you should be concentrating on now. Know that your both your successes and your mess-ups have the potential to move you along the path of becoming a better lawyer.  (Nancy Luebbert)

December 12, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Guest Blogger Post 4 - Louis Schulze: "Don't Even THINK About Using Supplements" Part Two

In my last post, I took up the issue of “blanket policies forbidding supplements.”  I argued that such blanket policies squander an opportunity to influence students and that they re-entrench socio-economic hierarchies.  In this post, I will continue to contend that such policies are generally unwise, but I will focus now on arguments arising out of the science of learning.

  1. Killing Metacognition. If Donald Rumsfeld taught us just one thing it is that the “unknown unknowns” are the biggest problems.  That is, the biggest problems are the ones we do not even know that we do not know.  This is true in learning the law as well.  After underperforming on an exam, a student might say “I knew that course backwards and forwards.”  The problem, though, is that she only knew what she knew … she was blissfully unaware of the things she did not even know she did not know.  How does a student fix this problem when she does not even know what she is missing?

The answer is metacognition.  Roughly speaking, metacognition the practice of skeptically monitoring one’s own knowledge, learning, and progress.  That skepticism – always pushing back on that “illusion of mastery” – compels the student to explore her learning assumptions and root out the things she did not even know she did not know.  If, for instance, she takes a practice problem and gets it wrong due to a doctrinal misunderstanding, she just discovered a misunderstanding that otherwise might have hurt her performance on an exam.

Students need extrinsic sources to support metacognition.  If the knowledge they have gained from the traditional sources has left them with (unknown) learning gaps, it is patently illogical to guide them back to those same sources.  By imposing a blanket policy against the tools of metacognition (tools like Joe Glannon’s questions in his fantastic E&E series), the professor has just undercut one of the most powerful tools of learning.

But, what about the problem of conflicting sources?  Each professor likely has certain nuances that differ from the sea of supplements out there.  I would rebut this argument on two grounds.  First, this is why we should lead students towards “hornbooks” and not “supplements.”  Focusing on hornbooks, i.e., sources written by professors who are experts in their fields, reduces the chance that multiple sources will lead to doctrinal discrepancies.  I also lead students away from “supplements,” sources not written by professors, because I have observed doctrinal errors or difference in nuance in these sources.

Second, I think it is key not to let the perfect be the enemy of the very, very, very good.  Although slight distinctions might exist between one professor and another, it is entirely rational to believe that the law in required courses is settled to the degree that any doctrinal distinctions between faculty and quality hornbooks will be limited in number and de minimus in scope.  The benefits of metacognition are so great that we should not undermine metacognitive practice just because of slight differences in nuance.  See generally Preston, et al., Teaching 'Thinking Like a Lawyer': Metacognition and Law Students, 2014 BYU L. Rev. 1053 (2015) (noting the importance of teaching law students the skills of metacognition).

Banning outside sources undermines the crucial skill of metacognition and, in turn, leaves students without these important skills as they become practitioners.  They become dependent on the “sage on the stage,” which after law school takes the form of the law firm partner who has little time to lecture to a neophyte lawyer who lacks the skills to find answers herself.

In my next post, I will continue to line up arguments that push back on the practice of banning outside sources. 

 

December 9, 2018 in Guest Column, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Power of Brain Breaks - The Heart-Mind-Body Connection to Empowered Learning

Want to power up your learning to improve your final exam performance?  Well, counterintuitively, that means that you just might need to take a break - a brief respite for your brain - by working out your heart instead.

You see, research shows that vigorous exercise, even if just for 10 minutes right prior to an exam, improves academic performance.  And, there's more great news.  The research also shows that exercise boosts your mood and optimism, and that, in turn, leads to more resiliency in learning, which, in turn again, improves academic performance.  In short, exercise is in the center of a great big circle of connections between your body, your heart, and your mind.  

So, rather than just focusing all of your energies in preparation for exams on your mental work, let your body and heart take up some of that cognitive load as you sweat it up a bit.  Feel free to hit the trail, or the bike, or just run up and down the stairs at your law school every hour or so.  Indeed, as the research shows, even just a 10 minute exercise brain break right before your next exam can increase your exam performance.  Not convinced?  We'll, here's a handy article by Marcus Conyers, Ph.D., and Donna Wilson, Ph.D., entitled "Smart Moves: Powering up the Brain with Physical Activity." http://www.kappancommoncore.org  

So, why not follow the evidence to help boost your learning by taking frequent exercise brain breaks - breaks that tap into the power of your whole self  - your mind, body, and heart - to best optimize your learning.  And, rest assured as you take your brain breaks while exercising, the science is behind you.  (Scott Johns).

December 6, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Finals Jeopardy

At this time of year, I am working mostly with two groups of students: 1L students preparing for their first set of law school final examinations, and recent and soon-to-be graduates who are planning to take the February bar examination.  While these two cohorts are about as far apart as students of law can be, there is at least one common element to their experiences: the peril associated with reaching a goal.

Regretfully, some of those preparing for the February bar exam, at my school and elsewhere, are graduates who have already taken the July bar last summer and did not pass.  Every year, people who find themselves in this position include some strong law school performers, people with GPAs and other indicators that suggested that they should not have had any problem passing with their classmates.  Sometimes, their disappointing performances can be explained by extenuating circumstances, like illness.  But other times, it just appears that the new graduate only put in a fraction of the effort needed over the summer to prepare for the bar exam -- e.g., having signed up for a bar preparation course, they completed less than half of the assignments.  Few people would stand a chance of passing the bar with so little preparation.

Observers of such misguided lack of effort might attribute it to overconfidence -- good students mistakenly believing their law school performance was preparation enough.  Maybe it seems like that even to the disappointed graduates, shrugging their shoulders and otherwise unable to explain just how they had let 10 weeks get away from them without applying themselves to their studies as they had in the past.  But perhaps for some there is another, less self-condemnatory element at work.  Consider this: in the two or three weeks before bar studies were to begin, these students had just completed probably the most grueling three years of study of their lives, and it had all culminated in proud marches across the graduation stage.  They had reached the finish line at the end of a very demanding course.  But, as Gretchen Rubin notes in her book Better Than Before, "A finish line marks a stopping point.  Once we stop, we must start over, and starting over is harder than continuing. . . . The more dramatic the goal, the more decisive the end -- and the more effort required to start over."

We see examples of this all the time.  People who exercise scrupulously to lower their weight to a target goal -- and then stop exercising and gain back the weight.  Writers who work diligently every day to complete a long-term project, but then lose the daily habit once the project is complete.  Surely at least some portion of those capable law school graduates who did not put in the effort they might have made to prepare for the bar had at some level seen their final final exams and their pompously circumstantial degree conferment as manifestations of a very dramatic conclusion, and then found themselves at a psychological disadvantage in trying to start, in bar preparation, what seemed to them a brand new test of willpower, tenacity, and capacity.

This suggests that one way to help some of our 3L students prepare to jump right into the huge bar preparation undertaking is to message it not as a novel ordeal, but as just one more step toward the ultimate goal of practice.  We might also downplay the significance of their spring final exams -- liberally reminding our students that those will not be the last exams they ever take -- and even minimize the ceremony of law school graduation, by pointing out to them that the real endgame is the swearing-in ceremony.  The more psychological continuity that students cultivate between law school and the bar examination, the more likely they will be able to carry over their habits of diligence and fortitude into the bar study period.

This kind of messaging might also be helpful to some of our 1L students right now.  They are not yet near graduation, but no set of final exams before the last seems more momentous and conclusive than the first set at the end of the fall semester.  Students who have the perspective to see this first set of exams as just one of six may be less like to feel that they are psychologically starting over again in the spring.  Conversely, those who more explicitly see these exams as a finish line -- students who tell themselves, "If I can just get through these . . .", or those who seem to focus on the weeks off between semesters as a sort of quasi-retirement -- may not have as much momentum going in to classes in 2019, and may struggle to bring themselves back to the same level of diligence they had reached in the fall.  Bringing to these students' attention the long-term effort required in law school, and the expectation that what they learned in that first semester will be needed again and again through graduation, the bar exam, and practice, may help them find getting back into reading, briefing, and studying in January is just that much more achievable.

[Bill MacDonald]

December 4, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Practice Tools for Approaching Law School Final Exams

As indicated in yesterday's wonderful post by Professor Nancy Luebett, one of the key steps for successfully preparing for final exams is to practice final exams. https://lapproaching-your-first-law-school-final.html. And, the best sources for practice exams are your professors' past exams.

But, what if your professor is new to the law school or there simply aren't many old exams available?  

Well, there are a number of sources for free practice essay problems.  

Here are a few to get you going:

First, you might dig into essays published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).  The NCBE maintains links for a number of retired past essay questions that are available free of charge (the more recent are only available by purchase).  I recommend sticking to the free materials.  Each essay question packet also contains analysis of what the examiners were looking for in good quality answers, so the materials are quite helpful in assessing and improving your own problem-solving abilities.  Unfortunately, the essays are not easily identified by subject matter.  It requires a bit of trial and error to match up the subjects that you are taking as a first-year law student with the essays asked in the past on that subject.  But, below is subject matter table that can help.  Just find the subject and the bar exam month and year that it was tested and then find the bar exam question and answer packet for that particular bar exam using the following link: http://www.ncbex.org/exams/mee/preparing/

Second, if you want to work through a number of shorter hypothetical essays, the University of Denver maintains - free of charge - a repository of retired Colorado bar exam essays.  But, please be careful as the law might have changed.  You'll notice that the essays are arranged by exam date and then again by subject matter.  And, there's more great news.  The essays contain point sheets with short answer discussions to help you assess your own learning.  Here's the link for the old Colorado essays: https://www.law.du.edu/coloradoessays

Finally, I like to look through past California bar exam essays.  California provides both past bar exam essay questions (with good passing answers) along with first-year law student exam questions.  The first-year law school questions cover contracts, torts, and criminal law.  But, please be aware that the answers provided are not model answers.  Here's the link for past California first-year exam essays and answers: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/pastfirstyearexams. In addition, here's the link for past California bar exam essays and answers: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/pastbarexamessays 

One last thought...

No one learns to fly or play the piano or dance...without practice...lots of practice.  

Similarly, to prepare for final exams takes practicing final exams.  So, instead of re-reading your notes or memorizing your outlines, focus first and foremost on taking your notes and outlines for practice test flights, using them as your "go-to" tools to work through lots of past exam questions.  And, along the way, guess what?  You'll actually begin to memorize your notes and outlines because you've been using them as learning tools rather than rote memorization tools.  Good luck on your final exams! (Scott Johns).

MEE Essay Subjects List

November 29, 2018 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 26, 2018

3 Ways to Work Your Plan

AT&T sponsors a huge college football game each year in Dallas.  During the breaks in the game, they have celebrities, including the coaches from each team, take the pledge to not text and drive.  They blast their “it can wait” slogan.  AT&T’s campaign has over 20 million supporters.  However, data from dmv.org indicates 1 in 4 car crashes are the result of texting and driving, and 9 people die every day from distracted driving.  We know we shouldn’t text and drive.  Many of us even pledge to make changes, but in the end, many people still succumb to the same bad habits, even when they are extremely dangerous.

Students fall into similar traps as distracted drivers.  They make plans and pledge to study more.  Some even incorporate more practice questions into the plans.  However, many students fall back into the same bad habits of re-reading outlines and studying throughout the night.  If distracted driving is a hard habit to break when the dangers are serious, then changing study habits will be near impossible without mechanisms in place to ensure quality studying.

My wife has a great quote on her wall in her office.  It is “dreams don’t work unless you do.”  I write often about how to plan for finals and the bar exam.  I believe planning is critical for success, but I always tell students in my bar prep class that students must plan and execute the plan.  Execution is critical.  Plans only work when followed.  The key is to figure out how to follow your plan.

The first step after creating the plan is to remove distractions.  Plans are great until a Kardashian posts a new Instagram story that is breaking news or when a friend sends a text.  After chasing rabbits for an hour, you may get back to studying.  Too many rabbit holes and you studied half the planned time.  When sitting down to study, get rid of distractions.  You can put your phone in another room or under some papers.  Print out your outlines and turn off your computer.  Study in the library so you can’t see the clutter in your house.  Removing distractions is the first step to successful studying.

After removing distractions, chunk your studying to improve execution and motivation.  Studying for long periods the same way without breaks is exhausting.  When reviewing material, look at outlines in chunks.  Understand the big picture skeletal outline.  After understanding the big picture, look at information within sub-topics.  Then, complete a few practice multiple choice questions or issue spot an exam.  Switching between tasks helps improve focus because the tasks aren’t monotonous.  Also, completing a task is rewarding.  Finishing a chunk marks something off our list, which many people find satisfying.  We are then more motivated to completed the next chunk.

The last step to executing your plan is constant evaluation.  In theory, plans are great.  However, sometimes we make bad plans.  I make bad plans all the time.  I overschedule myself by underestimating how much time a task will take.  I think leaving the house each morning should only take 5 minutes, but my 8 and 4 year old tend to double that amount of time, on the best days.  Studying is the same way.  You may think it only takes a couple hours to study agency (or any other topic), but after 6 hours, you may be off schedule.  Evaluate your progress at each major break, which is normally lunch and dinner.  Make adjustments as needed.  Evaluation and modifying your plan can help improve how much you accomplish.

Making plans is a great first step to studying.  Work your plan to accomplish more by eliminating distractions, chunking studying, and evaluating progress.  Those steps will put you in a good position on exam day.

(Steven Foster)

November 26, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Procrastination and Perfection

Procrastination reigns supreme during this time of year, in the last few weeks before the first set of finals. It's relatively easy to recognize procrastination in some of its forms, as when suddenly it becomes critical to clean behind the refrigerator and under the kitchen sink. Long "study breaks" for games, TV, or social media are another obvious sign of procrastination. But the most insidious form of procrastination is using law study itself to procrastinate from learning and practicing legal analysis.

During fall break, it's not unusual to find that outlining has become a form of procrastination, usually taking one of these forms:

  • The student focuses on one outline to the exclusion of all others. Their torts outline, for example, is close to done, and once they have finished that they will start working on their other subjects.
  • The outline becomes a detailed compendium of every case and every pearl of wisdom coming from the professor, rather than being a useful guide for how to approach a legal problem.
  • The outline goes into excruciating detail on minor topics but fails to show a coherent approach to major issues. 
  • The student is working exclusively on outlines, vowing that once the outlines are "done," they will turn to doing practice problems.

When students are getting bogged down in creating perfect outlines, this can be a symptom of depression or self-doubt, an honest but misguided attempt to master the material, or both. Depending on the situation, here are some approaches to consider:

  • Self-care. Even more than the rest of the semester, self-care is critical during the time approaching and taking finals. While the student may feel strapped for time, they can get some exercise and fresh air: walking briskly around the block is the best possible study break. Especially when students feel they don't have time to rest, it's vital to remember that getting a full night's sleep will help their academic performance better than pulling an all-nighter to study.
  • Self-confidence and goals. It's helpful for students to reflect on their strengths, especially the times that they have shown mastery of material in their law school classes. Finals is also a good time to reflect on their motivations for attending law school to give them the incentive to do work they might be avoiding.
  • Big-picture focus. Sometimes students need to back away from their outline to determine if they understand the major issues and the rules that govern them.  A useful exercise is to give 30 minutes to handwrite the major rules covered by the course in a logical sequence. This helps cement major concepts and structure. And if they are afraid to work on an outline in a subject where they perceive they are weak, focusing on the big picture can give them confidence to step forward.
  • The outline as pre-writing the exam. The most useful outlines essentially function as pre-writing the exam. A great outline will reflect in what order the student will tackle issues on an exam, and it will contain the rules the student will use to address those issues in words that the student can remember and recreate on the exam paper. Paraphrasing rules in the outline is far more useful than pasting in rules that come word-for-word from a case or Restatement, because the student can remember and write their own paraphrased rule on the exam far more easily than the arcane words of another.
  • Rotate subjects. While it is tempting to work on one outline until it is "done," students should consistently rotate the subjects they work on, addressing at least two subjects a day, so they can better master the material, remember the material, and catch errors before the last minute.

Finally, and most importantly, at this point in the semester it is vital to work on problems every single day, even if -- and especially if -- the student has not mastered all the nuances of the subject. Doing problems helps the student understand the issues that must be addressed in an exam, pinpoint their areas of strength and weakness, and practice writing in a clear, easy-to-follow order.  (Nancy Luebbert)

November 21, 2018 in Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)