Thursday, April 18, 2019

Useful Forgetfulness and Study Tools/Outlines: Could There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "Too big to fail."  Well, that might be true, at least according to some, with respect to some business enterprises in the midst of the last recession.  

But, at least from my point of view, that saying is not true at all with respect to student study tools and outlines.  In my experience, too big of an outline can lead to less than stellar final exam results.

Here's why...There's a learning concept called "useful forgetfulness."  

As I understand the educational science behind useful forgetfulness, it is in the midst of the filtering process - in which we decide to trim, shorter, collapse, and simplify our notes and outlines - that best promotes efficacious learning because the decision to leave something out of our outline means that we have made a proactive decision about its value.  In short, the process of sorting the important legal principles from the not-so-important leads to active and enriching learning.  

Nevertheless, for most of us, we are sorely afraid about leaving anything out of our outlines because we often lack confidence that we can make such filtering choices about what is important versus what is not important.  Consequently, we often end up with massive 50 plus page outlines in which we know very little because we have not made hard reflective decisions to prioritize the important.  So, here's a tip to help with trimming your outline down to a workable size to best enhance your learning.

First, grab a piece of paper and hand-write or type out, using both sides of the paper, the most important things from your outline.  If you think a rule might be important, don't put it in your outline yet because you can always add to your study tool later.  Instead, only put the rule down in your mini-study tool if the legal principle immediately jumps out to you as critically important.

Second, take your mini-study tool on a test flight.  Here's how.  Grab hold of a few essay problems or multiple-choice questions and see if you have enough on your "one-pager" outline to solve the problems.  If a rule is missing, just add it.  And, as you practice more hypothetical problems in preparation for your final exams, feel free to add more rules as needed.  And, there's more great news.  In the process of seeing a rule that might be missing from your mini-study tool, you'll know that rule down "cold" because you will have seen it applied in context. So, feel free to have less in your outlines because, with respect to study tools, less can indeed be more!  (Scott Johns).

April 18, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Catch Some Z's

In the busy-ness of the end of the term, it's important for all of us -- faculty, staff, and students -- to stick to the basics. And the most basic of all basics is to get sufficient sleep.

Let's just talk about the brain. Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers fame (and also author of the lesser-known but magnificent A Primate's Memoir), posits that sleep helps cognition in three major ways.  First, it restores energy.  The brain, it turns out, is an energy hog. While it comprises only about 2% of the body's weight, it uses about 20% of the body's energy, with two-thirds of that energy going to firing neutrons.  Wonder why you feel so tired after intensive thinking? -- you are actually churning through enormous amounts of energy. This energy is restored in slow wave sleep.  Second, the REM sleep in which dreaming occurs consolidates memory. High levels of the class of hormones known as glucocorticoids elevate stress and disrupt cognition. Glucocorticoid levels, however, plummet during sleep, especially REM sleep. So cognition can be enhanced simply allowing the brain to work its way through learned material when these hormone levels are at their lowest, by getting a good night's sleep. Because REM sleep consolidates memory so well, those who study, sleep overnight, and take a test the next afternoon do significantly better than those who study the morning before a test. Finally, REM sleep improves assessment and judgment, especially in complex circumstances, perhaps by exercising lesser-used neural pathways during those wild and crazy dreams. This allows the brain to establish wide networks of connections instead of simple one-lane pathways, leading to deeper, more nuanced thinking. Indeed, Berkeley neuroscientist Matthew Walker suggests that the most significant cognitive benefit of sleep lies not in strengthening the memory of specific items but in assimilating small bits of knowledge into large-scale schema.

More energy for the brain to work, better memory, and better ability to put things into a larger perspective. Sounds like a winning combination for everyone. Let's ditch the late nights and catch some Z's.

(Nancy Luebbert)

 

April 17, 2019 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Only Thirteen More Meeting Days 'Til Exam Period!

This time of year sneaks up on us like the holidays in December.  It seems like only yesterday we were welcoming students back for spring semester.  We blink, and then poof!  Final exams are less than three weeks away.  And before they start, we have so much to take care of.  Drafting final exams, for one thing.  But, at the same time, staying on top of our current classes -- in particular, at least in my case, pushing feedback on written assignments out to students so they can make use of it as they prepare for finals.  Plus the approaching end of the semester often means a traffic jam of administrative work, as committees and working groups hasten to complete projects before a big chunk of their members leave for sabbaticals, holidays, or other teaching gigs over the summer.

When it gets crazy busy like this, it is important to set aside at least a measure of our thought and energy for that portion of our student population that might otherwise get lost in the background noise.  Sure, part of what makes us so busy are the students we've developed relationships with -- those who regularly seek us out because of anxiety or confusion or a habit of pursuing every advantage -- and part of it may be required meetings with students on academic probation.  We'll see those folks without much extra effort on our parts.  But there are other students who could use our help who might not put themselves on our radar screens.  Maybe they are shy; maybe they are overconfident; maybe they are just underestimating how much they have to do to get ready for the approaching finals.  Maybe they feel so busy that they can't make time for us.  

These are often students, not currently in academic difficulty, for whom a little support, guidance, or intervention will have a far more significant positive effect this week than it would have if it were delivered when the student showed up at the threshold to our office, panicking, a few days before finals.  So, even though we are busy, making the effort to identify and check in with these students now makes good cost/benefit sense.

If you have not already done so, consider taking some time over the next few days to:

  • Go through your calendar or appointment records from the fall and early spring and make note of any students who have sought help in the past, but from whom you have not heard for a while.  Send them quick e-mails, asking them how they are doing and inviting them to drop by or make an appointment if they'd like to talk about preparing for the end of the semester.
  • Check in with faculty (especially those teaching 1L courses) to ask if there are any students they have concerns about whom they haven't already referred to you.  At this point, spring midterms are probably all completely graded, and those professors may have information they didn't have at the start of the semester.
  • Remind the students (again, especially 1L students) in class or via social media or your school's information portal how close they are to the end of the semester, how busy your office gets at this time of year, and how wise it is to come to see you sooner rather than later if they have any concerns.

When we are this busy and things are moving towards a close so quickly, reaching out to students in the grey area can demand a bit of mindfulness.  But even one fruitful meeting with a student now might be more effective than a flurry of desperate conferences the week before finals.  That would be time well spent.

[Bill MacDonald]

April 16, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Meetings, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 8, 2019

Audiobook Pitfalls

Students telling me they listen to audiobooks, youtube, and outlines increased the last few years.  I completely understand the urge.  Commute times are long in many metro areas.  The time seems wasted if not listening to something impactful.  I listen to books every day that relate to learning and motivation.  I listened to bar outlines on CDs, which were not mp3s, on my commute during bar prep.  However, there are problems with relying exclusively on audio materials.

I read an article a month or two ago that indicated audiobooks don’t provide structure when only listening.  I experienced this first-hand recently.  The book I am listening to right now has a specific structure that is similar to law school outlines.  There are a handful of main points, and within each main point, there are subsets of information.  However, I don’t remember the structure at all.  I can’t piece together how the information fits.  I remember parts from the book with tips and information about being more productive, but I can’t recreate the main points just from listening.  Listening and driving (or doing anything else) makes it difficult to create schema.

Cognitive schema and mental models are critical for law school.  Understanding the big picture and how concepts relate to each other is the foundation for analyzing new legal fact patterns.  Without the steps of the analysis, answers will miss sub-issues or concepts professors allocate points to.  Missing the structure is missing the foundation to legal analysis.

The problem is exacerbated by our own beliefs.  Some students believe they should only study using their preferred learning style, and if they identify as auditory learners, they may listen to outlines or books without doing much else.  Listening to books can also provide a false sense of confidence.  I heard information from the audiobook, and I can even recite some of the productivity tips.  I have a false sense of true understanding.  Spending time working through the material with a clear structure is critical to organize the information.

I can’t write this whole post from an audiobooks bad perspective though.  I do enjoy listening to books on my drive, and as I have written before, I incorporate information from those books into my classes.  I think audiobooks or listening to outlines can be helpful.  The key is to use them as a supplement to structural learning.  Creating an outline, flowchart, or other studying device that represents the steps in the analysis creates the schema or mental model for legal analysis.  Listening to information can then be beneficial by thinking about where the information fits into that schema.  Using different tools to complement each other will work best preparing for finals. 

(Steven Foster)

April 8, 2019 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Exam Prep Tips From Learning to Ride A Bike!

I asked my classes this question today: "How did you learn to ride a bike?"

The students then turned to their small groups and the class lit up with stories and smiles and anecdotes as they shared their memories about learning to ride bikes.  Here are some of the things I heard:

• I started out with training wheels.

• No one helped me so I decided to try riding on the grass so that I wouldn't get hurt when I fell.

• I just kept getting back up, one fall after another and one bruise after another.

• Without my knowledge, someone gave me a big push and away I went!

As a class, here's what we realized about learning.  Not one of us learned to ride a bike by reading about riding a bike, or watching You Tube videos about bike riding, or creating a study tool on bike riding.  No.  Instead, to a "T," all my students said that they learned to ride bikes, well, by learning to ride bikes. And, most of us had help along the way.

The same is true with learning the law.  We don't really learn the law by reading about the law.  Instead, we learn the law by problem-solving with the law.  But, far too many students - understandably - don't feel ready to practice final exam problems because they feel like they don't know enough law.  So, here's some tips to get you learning by doing in preparation for your final exams.

Start with training wheels and practice on the grass.  

Here's what I mean.  

Instead of trying to test yourself through past exam problems, open up your notes, outlines, and casebook and work through problems as best you can, untimed, with the goal of learning the law through past exam problems.  

Just like learning to ride a bike, you'll experience a lot of cuts and bruises along the way as you review your answers. But, you'll get better and soon you'll be able to ride without your training wheels (notes).  And, you might start doing some tricks, too, like jumping off the curb, something that a few days or weeks previously was terrifyingly trepidatious. You see, the key to tackling your fears about taking final exams is to take final exams before you take final exams.  So, as you prepare for your exams this spring, make it your aim to practice final exams, slowly and open book.  One pedal at a time.  (Scott Johns).

April 4, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Paper and Fire

A blank piece of paper has so much potential. It can be used to display one's ingenuity. It can be a medium for communication between two people, or among thousands. It can record data and history and memory, to be used by people born long after the recorder is dead. And yet, under certain circumstances, our stationery friend can seem to turn on us. When we are asked to answer an inscrutable question, the oppressive blankness of an empty sheet can be smothering. When we think that our reputation, our livelihood, our entire future depends on scratching the right symbols in the right order, the page can seem like a minefield of hidden threats.

When I was a kid, television seemed to be entering its golden age of public service announcements, and to me it seemed the most common subject was fire. Fire was our friend, we were told, making food safe and houses warm; but we always needed to be aware of what to do if it grew dangerous. And what we needed to know was that our natural inclinations were usually wrong. Foe example, even though we knew that water was the opposite of fire, if something caught fire in the kitchen, then we were not supposed to throw water on it, because it was probably a grease or electrical fire, and water would just make it worse. If our whole house caught fire (say, because we threw water on a kitchen fire), then we weren't supposed to hide in a nice, safe closet, because then we'd be trapped and the firefighters would never find us. If we caught fire, then we weren't supposed to run, trying to find some water to jump into. That, we were told, would just light us up like a Roman candle. Instead, we had to fight every instinct and stop, drop to the ground, and roll around politely.

What I could not understand as a child was that these PSAs really had two purposes. One was simply educational, teaching us that behaviors that made perfectly good sense in one context (dousing fire, hiding from danger, fleeing danger) might actually expose us to additional harm in a different context. They were maladaptive behaviors. Sea turtle hatchings naturally paddle towards a bright light, which helps insure they reach the ocean when the brightest object in the night is the moon reflecting off the water, but which will insure they remain stranded on land when the brightest object is the patio light behind a beach house. Infantry charging a defensive position en masse often led to an advance when the defense was armed with swords, but always led to a slaughter when the defense was armed with entrenched machine guns. The ways to counter maladaptive behaviors are either to return to the original situation (turn of the patio light) or to replace the old behavior with a new one (attack with tanks and aircraft). When Ronald McDonald sang, "Stop, drop, and roll!", he was teaching children a new behavior to replace the old maladaptive behavior.

But even the dimmest of my childhood friends got the gist of Ronald's commands after the third or fourth viewing. Why were we hearing these messages so frequently, from so many different sources? That went to the second purpose of the PSAs. Education is a good start, a necessary start, but the problem is that being on fire, or at least near fire, is an inherently stressful situation. And psychologists know that "Under stress, we regress." That is, under difficulty situations like panic or sensory overload or fear of consequences, humans naturally fall back on older patterned behavior. Most drivers, for instance, know intellectually that if their car loses traction in a skid, they should pump the brakes and steer into the skid to regain control. But the first time they actually hit a skid, most drivers stand on that brake pedal. Only if they live someplace wacky with snow, like Buffalo, do they get enough practice with the skid to develop the new adaptive behavior.

Even television executives were able to recognize that it would be unethical to light kids on fire over and over again until they learned to stop, drop, and roll. So they did the next best thing: they repeated the message over and over again, and encouraged children to try practicing the moves even when they weren't alight, to ingrain the new behavior as much as possible. The more familiar a behavior became, through repetition and feedback, the less likely a person would be to regress away from it under the actual stress of combustion.

At this time of year, I am seeing work from a lot of students who seem to be regressing under stress: 1L students using tactics in their spring semester midterms that appear to be drawn from their most basic legal writing classes, or from college composition classes; 3L students trying to mechanically apply CREAC format to early MEE and MPT practice questions. Even when we know we have shown these students the more advanced strategies they should be using as they progress through their development as attorneys, we have to keep in mind that that blank piece of paper or computer screen can just as easily be a threat as a blessing. Under the stress of self-doubt, or of novelty, or of high ambition, or future consequences -- sometimes of all of these at once -- the amiably clean page can transform into an incandescent hazard. Repetition and feedback are important not just to help our students improve their use of the more advanced strategies they need, but also to make them comfortable and familiar enough to be able to use those strategies at all.

[Bill MacDonald]

April 2, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Connected Student & Success

Perhaps you are like me (or your students).  As I confessed to my own students in class today, I spent three years in law school never making eye contact with professors.  I was just too scared to be called on.  I didn't feel smart enough (and I certainly never really understand the professors' questions.).  So, I hid...for three years.  

That experience left me feeling lonely and isolated, as not part of the profession. Looking back, I realize now that most of my fellow students felt the same.  Oh how I wish that I had opened up, just been a bit human instead of machine-like, and shared from the heart.  But, to be honest, I wasn't willing to reveal my deep-felt fears.  Consequently, I now try to share with my students about my own experiences as a law student and what I've learned in order to better help them.

That brings me to a thought.  In my early days as an academic support professional (ASP), I spent much of my time focused on teaching skills (reading, case briefing, preparing for class, taking notes, time management skills, synthesizing course materials into outlines or study tools, and exam writing, etc.).  I still teach those skills, but my focus is much broader now because the skills by themselves do not make for learning.  Rather, it seems to me that there is a social/emotional component to learned that is equally important.  And, the research seems to back up my hypothesis.  

In particular, as recently reported by Dr. Denise Pope, a researcher and cofounder of Challenge Success at Stanford University, it seems that student engagement is the most important factor correlated to academic success, future job satisfaction, and overall well-being. Saturday Essay, Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2019.  According to Dr. Pope:  "The students who benefit most from college, including first-generation and traditionally underserved students, are those who are most engaged in academic life and their campus communities, taking full advantage of the college’s opportunities and resources. Numerous studies attest to the benefits of engaged learning, including better course grades and higher levels of subject-matter competence, curiosity and initiative." Id. 

So, what is student engagement? In short, according to studies by Gallup-Purdue as reported by Dr. Pope, there are several key experiences of engagement that can make a lifetime of difference for our students.  Here's the list, as published in Dr. Pope's essay:

"• Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting

• Working with professors who care about students personally

• Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals

• Working on a project across several semesters

• Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning

• Being active in extracurricular activities". Id.

Nevertheless, as Dr. Pope relates, few students report experiencing that sort of engagement with only 27 percent of students experiencing strong support from professors who cared about them and only 22 percent having a mentor to encourage them.  In other words, most college students, in my own words, feel disconnected and disembodied from school.  That was certainly me throughout much of law school. Nevertheless, there was one professor, later in my law school studies, who took an interest in me.  That professor ended up writing my letter of recommendation for my first job as a lawyer - a law clerk in court.  In other words, looking back, I made it through law school because someone believed in me...even when I didn't believe in myself.  

That gets me thinking about our roles as academic support professionals.  Much of learning can seem mechanical (case briefing, memorization, IRAC, etc.), but the stuff that sticks only sticks when it's socially experienced in an emotionally-positive and engaged academic community.  So, as we build our programs, I try to remember my purpose is not to create an award winning program but rather to help people believe in themselves as learners and experience the wonderful thrill of being part of something that is greater than themselves.  At least, that's my ambition, one student at a time.  (Scott Johns).

March 28, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Outside Expert

Several years back, our school's Career Development Office brought in Kimm Walton (of Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams fame) as a guest speaker.  I vividly remember the reaction after her talk. As students filed out, they were buzzing excitedly. "It's nice to know I can get a job even though I'm nowhere near the top of the class." "I'm going to try talking with people I meet like she suggests." "I think I'll join a section of the bar after all: it seems a good way to connect with lawyers." "I'm not going to worry about on-campus interviews: it seems like I can find a firm that's more in line with what I want to do." Walton's presentation could be boiled down to a simple message: law students could create their own employment opportunities by figuring out their own interests, looking for positions to fulfill their interests, and talking to people. That was it -- know yourself, do your homework, and connect (dare I say "network"?). It will come as no surprise that our career development office constantly conveyed the same message through presentations, written materials, career counseling meetings, and informal interactions. But it took bringing in an outside expert to make that message convincing and compelling.

While informally chatting in the hallway with some 3Ls last week, I inadvertently became an outside expert for our school's bar prep course. One student fretted, "I wish I had known the doctrinal law subjects we would cover in advance so I could have reviewed them during winter break. I did really poorly on the first few tests because I didn't understand Sales well enough." "How well do you understand it now?" I asked. "I've got it nailed. After I got those questions wrong, I went back and worked my way through the outlines and did more problems, and now I'm on top of it." When I explained the concept of using testing as a mechanism that increases engagement and learning, the student "got it" and felt more positive about the course. I knew the instructors explained this repeatedly to the bar prep class but somehow their explanations washed over the student without making an impression. My position as an "outsider" made it easier for the student to understand s/he was learning through the process of writing and reviewing exam answers.

More often than I care to think, students will happily report that they have changed their approach to law school based on something they learned by visiting a web site or talking with a lawyer. When we're lucky, what they have discovered is a differently-worded repeat of messages we work hard to convey throughout law school -- typically practices such as starting to outline early in the semester, reviewing notes after class, talking with their professors after class, getting regular exercise, or setting aside personal time each week for rejuvenation. When we're unlucky, the outside expert will transform their law school experience for the worse by suggesting they stop briefing, stop reading cases, or study "efficiently" by limiting their review of each subject to a three-day clump before the final exam (yes, I've heard a very vocal, passionate speaker espouse this approach to 1Ls). 

It's a constant challenge to figure out how to manage the "outside expert" phenomenon to our students' advantage, especially since the outside experts with the greatest influence seem to be those the students find on their own. Ideally, we'd all have budgets that would allow us to bring in dynamic outside speakers to inspire and enthuse our students with positive messages. Certainly it's important to ally with doctrinal and legal writing instructors, law librarians, and upper-division students so our messages will complement and not contradict each other. At my law school, I'm considering a few modest steps: conveying pithy academic messages (perhaps credited to an outsider?) to our law school's digital signage board to take advantage of a more visual medium; and using a discussion board or other sharing mechanism in our Skills Lab for 1Ls to share what they've learned from the web so that their discoveries can benefit from open discussion. Perhaps the most important lesson for me personally is to set aside my ego. While I may be bemused by a student who credits the web for the discovery that it's helpful to practice writing answers to hypotheticals throughout the semester, what ultimately matters is what the student learns and practices, not who the student perceives as the expert.

(Nancy Luebbert)

March 27, 2019 in Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Wise Interventions": Improving Performance by Altering Subjective Meanings

One of the most stimulating -- though, at times, overwhelming -- aspects of working in Academic Success is the necessity of performing in all the rings under the law school circus tent. In the same day, we can be teaching substantive law, providing feedback to help improve a student's writing and legal analysis, coaching another student on skills like time management or effective study, and counseling other students who are anxious, unmotivated, discouraged, or overconfident. To me, the counseling portion seems to be the most draining. Even when it is not taking up the greater part of my week -- and that is not always the case -- working with students' emotions, their self-awareness, their conceptions of what they are capable of, and their unrecognized assumptions requires high levels of energy and attentiveness. Anything that might make that part of the job easier without shortchanging my students would be gratefully welcomed.

To that end, I've been reading an interesting article called Wise Interventions: Psychological Remedies for Social and Personal Problems, written by the psychologists Gregory M. Walton and Timothy D. Wilson (Psychological Review (2018), 125(5), pp. 617-655). The authors explain that much of what either restrains or enhances our achievements does so because of how we perceive it, ourselves, and/or our place in the world. For example, a student who perceives her professor's probing Socratic questioning as demonstrating confidence in the student may learn more, and feel more confident about what they have retained, than another student who perceives the professor's intense questioning as disdain or ridicule.  Much depends on the subjective meaning that a person has assigned to himself ("I am clever/I am stupid/I am not good at math"), to his environment ("The professor doesn't like me/This subject is useless in the real world/That law firm only hires students in the top 5%" ), and to the interactions between the two ("I always screw up on multiple-choice questions/There's nobody in this class who would be willing to share notes with me/If I go to office hours the professor will think I can't handle the material.") The article points out that many of the techniques that have been demonstrated to produce lasting behavioral change with comparatively little effort on the part of coaches or intervenors do so because they help to change ineffective subjective meanings that the student had used previously into meanings that are naturally more likely to produce good results. For example, incoming African American college students participated in a one-hour discussion section at the start of the school year, in which stories told by former students were used to convey the idea that it is normal to feel, at first, that you "don't belong" in college, and that after a while that feeling goes away. Participating students had higher grades over the next three years than did similar students who did not join the discussion session. Walton and Wilson call these techniques "wise interventions" because those who used them are aware of ("wise to") the maladaptive meanings that some subjects have adopted, and therefore can more successfully change those meanings.

This is a dense and rich article, one I will have to return to a few times here, but today I wanted to point out three of the five general principles the authors suggest characterize a "wise intervention".  These three principles are all about how to effectively change maladaptive assigned meanings, and I think they can help us in Academic Support as we try to find new ways to help our students make the most of themselves and their environments.

The first principle is that in order to effectively alter ineffective perceptions, the explanations we offer in exchange have to be detailed and specific.  It was not enough, for example, to say to incoming college students, "College is tough on everyone.  You'll get over it." Instead, researchers used the detailed stories of former students to illustrate the specific feelings that incoming students often experience, and the journey that those students went through, so that the incoming students could more clearly relate to and remember those stories when they encountered similar feelings.  Similarly, in law school, it may not be enough just to tell 1L students that law school is going to be harder than any educational experience they've had in the past. Instead, we need to tell our own stories, and the stories of other law students and alumni, to better illustrate some of the specific obstacles that were faced and then overcome. Having those details to recall can help insure that 1L students will interpret their setbacks and difficulties as part of the usual law student experience.

Another principle is that, once we help students to generate more useful interpretations of themselves and their environments, these interpretations can lead to further recursive change in the future. A student introduced to the concept of the "growth mindset", for instance, may at first only accept its existence in a certain context, like the ability to memorize content.  However, as the student experiences success in that context, it becomes more likely that she will start to apply the growth mindset concept in other realms, such as making oral presentations or writing effectively under time pressure.  This is one of the chief benefits of a wise intervention: because of the possibility of recursive change, a comparatively small effort on the part of a counselor or coach can produce a lifetime of benefits.

However, the possibility of such recursion depends in part on a recognition of a third principle: the fact that the meanings that people assign to themselves and to their worlds all operate within complex systems of past experiences, present conditions, and future expectations.  In practical terms, this means that merely changing a student's meaning-making is not likely, by itself, to take root and produce extensive future benefits; there must also be some kind of change to the system in which the student operates.  It is not enough, for example, to get students to see that they have the analytical tools they need to respond properly to multiple-choice questions, and that such questions are not simply an opaque collection of "tricks", unless we also provide those students will access to practice questions upon which to apply their new view of the genre, along with answer explanations so the students will be able to confirm that the analytical approach is indeed the most effective. Changing your students' interpretation of themselves or of the law school environment should always be either in response to, or accompanied by, some kind of practical change to the rest of the system in which they operate, in order to give the students the opportunity to test and cultivate their new understandings.

This last bit is the part I want to incorporate more into my own teaching and advising. Whenever something seems to click for a student and they seem to recognize a possible new way of interpreting the world, that's a spark. Academic success depends not just upon generating such sparks, but also upon providing kindling so that the spark doesn't go out.

[Bill MacDonald]

March 19, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Program Evaluation, Science, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Learn to Overcome Obstacles to Help in Practice

March is a great time for sports.  College Basketball brackets are out, and the tournament will start soon.  Baseball spring training is finishing up, and golf just had its first huge event of the year.  So many lessons to learn that we can apply to our everyday lives.

I couldn’t help but think of law students last weekend during the golf tournament.  During the second round on Friday, Tiger Woods played really well, except for 1 hole.  The famous island green at TPC Sawgrass.  He hit a reasonable shot onto the island that trickled off the back and into the water.  His next shot included a little adrenaline from frustration, and it too went into the water.  He was 5 under par the rest of the round, but with 2 shots in the water, he was 4 over par on that hole alone.  However, Tiger went on to play reasonably well in the 3rd and 4th round to place 30th out of over 120 players.  He could have given up on Friday, but didn’t.

The eventual winner, Rory McIlroy, went through a similar mental struggle.  He was at or near the lead most of the 4 days, and on Sunday, he started 1 shot back of the leader.  He proceeded to play the front 9 terrible.  He could have let frustration boil over, but he regrouped and played the last 9 holes with 4 birdies and 1 bogey to win.  His resolve led to his success.  John Rahm, the leader going into the 4th round did the opposite.  He had a few bad holes and let his frustration affect numerous subsequent shots.  His emotions probably cost him the tournament.

As law students, you all will face similar difficulties.  Nearly everyone receives at least 1 bad grade in law school.   The grade may be on a final exam or just a mid-term.  The grade isn’t what matters though.  The response to the grade is what determines success.  Take the feedback and determine how to get better.  The goal should always be how to get better.

Unfortunately, I see too many students alter focus from learning to other activities when grades don’t meet expectations.  I encounter students who feel his/her grades aren’t what they have always been, so they lose focus on studying.  They start paying more attention to extracurricular activities instead of what will prepare them for practice and the bar.  Tiger wasn’t going to win, so why not focus on something else.  30th place (and the thousands of dollars that came with it) still provided great mental practice for when he is closer to the lead.  30th place prepared him for future difficulties and shots.  His reactions lay the foundation for acting exactly like Rory going into the back 9.  Every response to unmet expectations has an impact on future responses.

Bob Rotella wrote a book titled Golf is not a Game of Perfect.  I believe the practice of law is the same.  Legal practice is an exercise of mental toughness because litigators fail nearly daily.  Losing motions, failing at trial, and making mistakes happens routinely.  Practice now how to handle the mistakes when the stakes don’t include client’s livelihood.  You can build the ability to overcome obstacles.  Now is that time.

(Steven Foster)

March 18, 2019 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Managing Spring Break

Thoughts of Spring Break conjure images of beaches, tropical paradise, and non-stop fun.  Family and friends think the break requires no studying or school work.  For many 1Ls, the reality is setting in that Spring Break is nothing like undergrad spring break.

Spring Break for 1Ls can be daunting.  Many schools have one of the large LRW assignments due at the end of March or first of April.  Classes have mid-terms, and outlines begin lagging behind.  The number of tasks seems overwhelming.  I will suggest a few ideas to ensure the most effective Spring Break.

  1. Rest. I know everything I just listed makes Spring Break seem like another non-stop week.  However, this is the last major break of the semester.  For 1Ls, you won’t get another long break until May.  If you have class on Fridays, then you have a 9 day break.  I suggest taking 2-3 full days off.  Enjoy friends and family.  Do non-law related activities.  Depending on your location, enjoy the weather.  Just don’t worry about law school.
  2. Catch up on outlines. Spend 1 day on each substantive law course outline.  The 1Ls at my school only have 4 substantive law courses because they have LRW II.  Wake up early and treat the day like a normal law school day with approximately 8 hours of work.  Complete 2 tasks when working on the outline.  Create the large synthesized outline with the case illustrations, and begin the small skeletal or attack outline that shows the process for analyzing each issue.
  3. Work on the major LRW assignment. Students should definitely plan to spend time on the LRW assignment.  Creating a good research plan and starting the process is great.  However, the mistake I see many students make is to spend 7-9 days delving deep into LRW.  While I believe LRW is one of the most practical classes in law school, the time tradeoff may not be beneficial.  7-9 days on 1 class probably won’t have as big of a statistical impact on GPA as spending time on each class.
  4. Complete practice questions and seek feedback. Either spend a full day or the hour at the end of each substantive law day writing answers to practice questions.  Contact your professor or Academic Support person to get feedback on the answers. 

Spring break is a great time to catch up.  My suggestion is to spend time on each class getting ready for the stretch run.  You can make adjustments based on how far along you are in each class.  If you are already caught up on some (or all) your outlines, then spending more time on LRW would work.  Be flexible, but make sure you are ready for each class going into the last month.  Hopefully, you can catch some of the fun as well.

(Steven Foster)

March 4, 2019 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 1, 2019

Good News about Learning to Learn

All of us in academic support spend a large portion of our time helping law students learn how to learn. We offer orientation sessions, workshops, and entire courses to help students. Students confide regularly that they received A and B grades in prior education without having to study. For many of them cramming and memorization were the main staples of those study hours. So, it is good news that some colleges and universities are beginning to focus on the science of learning and making sure their students learn how to learn. The post on  Inside Higher Ed is Teaching the Skill of Learning to Learn.

March 1, 2019 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Golden Ten Minutes

One of my colleagues, a lawyer with impressive credentials and accomplishments, claims that one simple practice helped him move from mediocrity to excellence in law school. "I started reviewing my notes every day after class."

What??? It can't be that simple. Wouldn't it be better to read a hornbook -- or two or three -- to thoroughly understand the nuances of the subject? And to follow up with a few law review articles, integrating their insights into the notes that you spend all Saturday retyping? If something intervenes this Saturday to interrupt this deep dive into doctrine, you're sure to catch up next Saturday, or certainly by the next weekend. Except that, for most of us, life intervenes continually. We rarely, if ever, have the time to to accomplish our over-ambitious goals. So that makes it important to follow the KISS principle my engineer father taught me ("Keep it simple, stupid"). As Steven Foster noted earlier this month in his post, Compounding Effect in Law School, small, easy-to-implement practices can yield impressive results over time. So I'm a big fan of reviewing class notes using the technique of "transforming notes" that Dennis Tonsing sets out in 1000 Days to the Bar.

Here's my approach, which adds some tweaks to the method Tonsing describes.

First, commit to reviewing your notes for each class every day before you leave the law building. Making the commitment to staying in the law building to do the review reinforces how important class review is -- in essence, it makes the review a short continuation of class. In addition, it's a great practice to review all today's classes before starting to prepare for the next day's classes.

Second, commit to spending 5-10 minutes for every class you attended each day. That is, you will never spend less than 5 minutes per class, and you will never spend more than 10 minutes per class. Why no more than 10 minutes per class? Because if you stretch out the process of reviewing notes, it will become a chore: the perfectionism monster will rear its ugly head, you'll try to make things perfect, then you won't be able to review the notes before you have to pick up the kids or the dry cleaning, and you'll fall off the wagon. Consistency is more important here than perfectionism. In addition, this keeps the total time devoted to daily review manageable on even the heaviest of class days.

I like using 3X5 or 4X6 notecards for transforming notes. With one card for each class, you immediately get a visual confirmation of how much you're learning, instead of your class review being buried in a thick, over-burdened notebook. Notecards force you to handwrite, which is time-effective and engages the visual, oral, and kinesthetic senses. They are wonderfully tactile and great for kinesthetic learners. Going through a stack of them is an easy way of incorporating spaced repetition into one's study. Perhaps most importantly, the limited space helps reinforce the limited time and limited scope of the review. There's room for fun, too: many of my students have used different colored cards for each class, or use stickers to reward themselves for a job well done.

Now, set your timer (using your favorite technology) and start.

Spend about 2 minutes reviewing your raw notes from class. If you've left gaps, fill them in; if you've written something wrong, correct it.

Now spend 2-3 minutes summarizing your class on the front of your notecard. On the top, write your header: the class date and a sketch outline of where you are in the subject. This helps make sure that you're always putting things into perspective instead of just learning random rules in a vacuum. So, for example, I might write "3/2 -- Crim/Defenses/Excuses/Duress" or "11/17 -- K/Remedies/Legal/Reliance." This visual header also helps later as you build outlines.

Use the rest of the front of the notecard to summarize the most important things you learned in class, including terms of arts, important policies, rules, and exceptions. Think of this as your elevator speech or preparing to answer the question of friends or family, "What did you learn in school today?"

Five minutes to go, and you still have lots to accomplish. Flip over the card -- you'll use the whole back. Draw a line down the middle, leaving a little space on the top. In your remaining time, you'll be asking yourself 3 questions:

How does this connect to something I already know?

What don't I understand?

What ambiguous fact scenario could the professor use to test my understanding of this material?

First, it's time to strengthen your neurological connections to this new knowledge by making a connection and writing it down -- this takes only a few seconds. Make a conscious effort to think about how what you learned today connects to something you already know -- from a previous class in this subject, from another subject, or from something you've experienced or read about. For example, you might think "Duress reminds me of all those old gangster movies where the crook has his gun in somebody's back;" at the top of the page, you might jot down "James Cagney" or "old gangster movie." Your connection doesn't have to be deep or profound at this point: you're just building extra pathways in your brain to what you learned today.

Next, move on to "What don't I understand?" Give yourself several minutes here: it's common to think at first that everything is perfectly clear, then on deeper reflection to realize you have points of confusion. Jot down these questions now, while class is fresh; chances are you'll forget them later. For now, writing the questions is all you need. You can return to them later to get answers -- from the casebook, from a peer who made a good observation in class, from a secondary source, or from the professor. But you can't get the questions answered later if you don't remember them.

Still two minutes to go! Now tackle what for most students is the hardest part of your class review. "What ambiguous fact scenario could the professor use to test my understanding of this material?" It's tempting to give yourself a pass by sliding into rules: "Oh, she'll want to know if we understand the difference between duress and necessity." But you can best test your understanding of the material and flex your analysis muscles by trying to come up with an actual fact scenario. For example, you might think "Duress requires unlawful and imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to person or third party that a reasonable person wouldn't be expected to resist. So gunpoint = duress, squirtgun ≠ duress, what about a cast iron skillet? Or what if the bad guy is threatening to post information on Facebook that could put the victim's friend in danger of being shot by a gang?" Your hypo doesn't have to be perfect -- it just requires you to engage the class material to try to figure out nuances and hard cases.

That's it! Think of all you've accomplished in ten minutes: you've put the day's class into context, summarized the most important points, connected it to your existing knowledge or experience, identified your points of confusion, and started problem-solving. That's a lot! The first few days of reviewing like this are deucedly hard, but if you stick with it, you will find this daily review sharpens your mind and helps you understand and use the law you've covered in class.   

(Nancy Luebbert)

February 27, 2019 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Big Picture Perspectives for The Final Weekend of Bar Prep: "See It--Do It--Teach It"

Next week, thousands will be headed to convention centers, etc., to show case the handy-work of their bar preparation efforts for the past two months.   In preparation, bar takers have watched weeks of bar review lectures, worked hundreds and even thousands of bar exam problems, and created myriads of study tools, checklists, and flashcards.  

Nevertheless, with one weekend to go, most of us feel like we aren't quite ready, like we don't really know enough, with all of the rules - to be honest - tangled and knotted up in a giant mess in our minds.  

Yet, let me say this up front.  Despite how most of us feel, this weekend is not the time to learn more law.  Rather, it's time to reflect on what you've learned, to let it live in you, to give it presence within you.  But, how do you do that?

Well, as I heard in a recent talk about medical education, I think we've got something important to learn from the medical schools that just might help with bar prep, too.  You see, apparently, despite all of the massive amounts of information available from the learning scientists, the philosophy of training doctors boils down to just three very simple steps: "See it--Do it--Teach it."

Here's what that means for the upcoming bar prep weekend:  For the past several months, you've been focused on "seeing it" and "doing it."  You've been watching lectures, taking copious notes, reading outlines, and working problems.  In short, you've been busily learning by seeing it and doing it.  

But, for most of us, despite all of that work, we aren't quite sure (at all!) whether we are ready for the real bar exam because we haven't yet taken the last step necessary for cementing and solidifying our learning; namely, we haven't yet "taught it."

So, that's where this weekend comes in.  

Throughout this weekend, grab hold of your notes or study tools or checklists or flashcards, pick out a subject, and teach it to someone.  That someone can be real or imaginary; it can be even be your dog Fido.  But, just like most teachers, get up out of your seat, out from behind your desk, and take 30 minutes per subject to teach it to that someone, from beginning to the end.  Then, run through the next subject, and then the next subject, and then the next subject, etc.  Even if you are by yourself, talk it out to teach it; be expressive; vocalize or even dance with it.  Make motions with your hands.  Use your fingers to indicate the number of elements and wave your arms to indicate the next step in the problem-solving process.  Speak with expertise and confidence.  And, don't worry about covering it all; rather, stick with just the big topics (the so-called "money ball" rules).

What does this look like in action?  Well, here's an example:  

"Let's see. Today, I am going to teach you a few handy steps on how to solve any contracts problem in a flash.  The first thing to consider is what universe you're in.  You see, as an initial consideration, there's the UCC that covers sales of goods (movable objects) while the common law covers all other subjects (like land or service contracts).  That's step one.  The next step is contract formation. That means that you'll have to figure out if there was mutual assent (offer and acceptance) and consideration.  Let's walk through how you'll determine whether something is an offer...."

I remember when I first taught.  I was hired at Colorado State University as a graduate teaching assistant to teach two classes of calculus.  But, I had a problem; I had just graduated myself.  So, I didn't really know if I knew the subject because I hadn't yet tried to teach it to someone.  As you can imagine, boy was I ever scared!  To be honest, I was petrified.  Yet, before walking into class, I took time to talk out about my lesson plan for that very first class meeting.  In short, I "pre-taught" my first class before I taught my first class.  So, when I walked into the classroom, even though I still didn't quite feel ready (at all) to teach calculus students, I found myself walking in to class no longer as a student but as a teacher.  In short, I started teaching.  And, in that teaching, I learned the most important lesson about learning, namely, that when we can teach something we know something.  

So, as you prepare for success on your bar exam next weekend, focus your work this weekend on teaching each subject to another person, whether imaginary or real.  And, in the process, you'll start to see how it all comes to together.  Best of luck on your bar exam! (Scott Johns).

February 21, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Food for Thought

Law school is nutritionally disruptive.  This was common knowledge at my law school, where my classmates and I joked about having gained 15 pounds while we were getting our JDs.  We all felt we understood what had happened.  For three years we had chained ourselves to our desks, abandoned physical exercise in favor of mental anguish calisthenics, and frequently resorted to fast food or prepared meals to minimize time spent in the kitchen.  Some of us still managed to blow off some steam in a bar from time to time, but otherwise, culinary matters took a back seat to our studies.  The resulting excesses -- weight gain, or manic caffeine intake, or bingey sugar highs -- were seen almost as a badge of honor, like pulling an all-nighter to get a memo in on time.

As far as I can tell, things are still the same today.  Law students beset with too many tasks and not enough time have to find ways to make time or to soothe stress, and meals and snacks offer convenient opportunities to do so.  Not every student makes unhealthy choices, and many of those who do face few ill effects beyond the need for a new wardrobe.  But now, watching from the other side of the lectern, I can better see that food issues can have noticeable or even serious impacts on some students' academic performance:

  • While gaining weight often seems to be no more than a nuisance, to some students, such changes can be associated with actual effects on mental state, such as decreased stamina or alertness, or negative moods.  The weight gain may not be the cause of these changes -- it can sometimes be an effect of lifestyle changes in diet and exercise that can be the source of changes to mental state.
  • Sometimes dietary changes specific to certain substances -- such as increased intake of alcohol, caffeine, or sugar -- can have particular effects on behavior or mental state, such poor judgment, fatigue, agitation, or distractibility, that can have negative impacts on critical reading, time management, attention to detail, and other keys to success in law school.
  • Sometimes the problem is not so much too much food or the wrong kind of food, but too little food.  Students facing shaky finances may find their food budget the easiest thing to cut.  Other students may not eat enough food -- or at least not enough healthy food -- because of loss of appetite due to stress.  Food deprivation can lead to distraction, disrupt blood sugar levels, and affect memory and attentiveness.

When we work with students, especially one on one, we have opportunities to observe whether some of them are perhaps inordinately affected by dietary issues.  In some cases, we may need to enlist the help of others.  For example, if financial insecurity is manifesting in a poor diet, a referral to Financial Aid may be appropriate.  Encouraging students to seek help from physicians or mental health professionals may also be wise when food issues are leading to serious primary health concerns.  But sometimes our students just need a little grounding, a little reminder that they have to take care of themselves while they take care of their studies.  A few helpful tips can include:

  1. Eating smaller meals (or healthy snacks) over the course of the day, rather than pigging out on one big meal at the end of the day after classes are over, can help moderate calorie intake and lessen variations in blood sugar levels.
  2. Planning ahead for the day or even the week can help to insure steady, healthy eating while minimizing time spent in preparing or obtaining food.
  3. Buying and carrying around healthier snack alternatives can help forestall binge purchases of high-sugar and high-fat snacks during breaks between classes or study periods.
  4. Scheduling meals with classmates (for study purposes) or friends and family (to stay connected) can be a good way to make efficient use of the time that you have to spend eating anyway, so that good food doesn't seem so much like an expendable indulgence.

When they are stressed out about studies and papers and exams, taking care of themselves may be the last thing on students' minds.  Helping them see how beneficial and easy healthy eating can be may help some students' academic performance.

(Bill MacDonald)

 

 

February 19, 2019 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Food and Drink, Science, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 (1)

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)