Saturday, October 10, 2020
A colleague recently sent me an article about memory she saved in getpocket.com. I don't know much about getpocket, but the article she sent me and the few articles below it were pretty good. They are short enough students may actually read them, but they have helpful information. They were originally posted a couple years ago at different sources, but many of our current students probably didn't see them. Here are the links:
Sunday, October 4, 2020
Tiger Woods may be the best golfer ever, and he started swinging clubs when he started walking. He engaged in deliberate practice and prepared mentally as early as 6. He is the epitome of hyper-specialization. Todd Marinovich experienced similar training in football. His father was the strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders, and he started training his son when he was extremely young. His dad planned for him to play quarterback and make it to the NFL. Marinovich set many national high school football records and did make it to the NFL. However, his NFL career ended abruptly due to off-the-field issues. His intense focus did not result in greatness in the same way as Tiger Woods. Most people believe Tiger is the hard work breeds greatness story and Marinovich is the exception. David Epstein in his book Range argues Tiger is actually the exception, and his work may provide advice for our students.
Epstein compares generalists to hyper-specialists in Range. He argues the general public sees Tiger and believes specialization early is the best way to achieve success in life. He then proceeds through the book with constant examples of individuals who were generalists with multiple areas of expertise that both succeed and out-performed the hyper-specialists. Multiple stories in the book involved teams in problem solving competitions. The teams that included different specializations solved more problems and were always more accurate. He also discussed NASA's leadership. Under leaders that encouraged cross-departmental communication, missions succeeded at higher rates. Leaders who discouraged communication encountered disasters that lost lives. His argument is people who hyper-specialize only see the problem they study, the old-saying that "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Individuals with broader knowledge have more problem-solving tools and approach situations with analogies to other areas.
The book is interesting, but also enlightening for our students. This definitely helps with career advice. I tell students to intern in different offices and specialties. They can find what they like, and they will see different perspectives. This is also important for bar preparation. I encounter students every year who worked exclusively in Criminal Law or Family Law, for example, who won't approach other subjects. They don't want to practice Property, so they ignore it. Students can use other subjects' ideas or rules to help on the MBE. I always try to get students to use all the rules in their toolbox to reach the "right" answer, even when the rule is from a different subject. Hyper-specialization, or hyper-focus in law, can be a detriment when preparing for a test designed for a generalist.
Broadening our knowledge is both fun and can make us better problem solvers.
Friday, October 2, 2020
Thursday, October 1, 2020
I had a chance to spend a bit of today on the hiking trails. The forests are alive, the colors vibrant, as the winds tickle the aspen trees with the cooling approach of autumn skies.
Despite the majesty of the landscape, I spent much of the time out-of-breathe, which gave me a chance to pause. It was in the moments of rest when I saw much more than as I hiked, as my senses took in the environs, with my ears perked up with every little rustle in the leaves. It seemed as if everywhere I turned there was life on the move preparing for winter's homecoming. I was amazed, though, that the chipmunks, birds, and squirrels didn't seem to rush about their business. Instead, the animals of the forest seemed to work steadily but methodically, unhurried, as they prepared their stores of nuts and harvest foods for the winter darkness.
To my surprise, there might be something that we can learn about learning from observations of the forest animals.
According to a recent research article, the fast-paced speed of typing might not be as beneficial as the slower-paced steadiness of handwriting in enhancing learning and memory. As stated by one of the authors Prof. Van Der Meer:
"The use of pen and paper gives the brain more 'hooks' to hang your memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in the sensorimotor parts of the brain. A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write and hearing the sound you make while writing. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better." https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-kids-smarter.html.
Practically speaking, Prof. Van Der Meer suggests writing essays via typing (i.e., exam answers) but taking notes via handwriting:
"The intricate hand movements and the shaping of letters are beneficial in several ways. If you use a keyboard, you use the same movement for each letter. Writing by hand requires control of your fine motor skills and senses. It's important to put the brain in a learning state as often as possible. I would use a keyboard to write an essay, but I'd take notes by hand during a lecture." Id.
For more information: Eva Ose Askvik et al., The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults, Frontiers in Psychology (2020). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01810
Saturday, September 26, 2020
The Legal Skills Prof. Blog picked up a story from the LA Times about the difficulty of learning with Zoom and some ideas for improvement. I encourage everyone to check out the blog post here.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the mythical land where the vast majority of your productivity resides. Tomorrow is when you fully unlock and harness all of your motivation and efficiency. Tomorrow you will get everything done. In truth, tomorrow will come but the enhanced productivity, efficiency, and motivation you anticipate may not.
Putting off tasks until tomorrow is a common form of procrastination and procrastination hinders one’s ability to allocate work and manage time effectively. One of the most challenging aspects of law school (and one of the most important skills for law students) is time management. At any given time, law students may be juggling class preparation, writing assignments, extracurricular activities, networking events, interviews, personal commitments, etc. Effective time management is essential to keeping each of those balls in the air.
Here are a few strategies to avoid procrastination and make the hypothetical productivity, motivation, and efficiency of tomorrow a reality today:
- Commit to timeliness. Commit to being on time to class, work, events, etc. Commit to timely completion of assignments. Set deadlines and keep them.
- Start today. Starting is often the hardest part. If you find yourself waiting or searching for the “perfect” time to start, remember that there is no perfect time. Since procrastination involves delaying doing something, the most direct way to stop procrastinating is to start. By starting today, you will put the most difficult part of the task behind you.
- Find your motivation. If you’re searching for motivation to complete a task, try reminding yourself why the task is important and how it connects to your goals.
- Break large projects into smaller pieces. This practice enables you to better allocate your workload and makes those larger projects seem less intimidating. Think of these as mini-goals and create deadlines for completing each smaller task. The feeling you get from accomplishing these smaller tasks can motivate you to keep going.
- Convert items on your to-do list that are likely to induce procrastination into blocks of time on your calendar. Blocking time for these tasks on your calendar transforms them from the indefinite to the definite and represents a commitment to yourself that you will “show up” to work on those tasks. It also serves as a visual cue and a reminder of your priorities as you navigate your daily schedule.
- Make the tasks you need to complete more fun. For instance, if you need to clean and only have 20 minutes, set a timer for 20 minutes and see how much you can get done before the timer sounds. You may not get it all done, but the process becomes more fun and you will probably come away with ideas about how to be more efficient the next time you clean.
- Reward yourself for creating and meeting your deadlines. Reward yourself when you resist the urge to procrastinate, complete one of your mini-goals, complete a task on your calendar, etc. Rewards help reinforce the behavior you want to repeat.
- Find an accountability partner. Choose someone you like and trust (and who likes and trusts you) to fill this role. Share your goals with that person, discuss the specifics of your partnership, and plan accountability check-ins.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Thursday, September 10, 2020
First Year Law Students:
It's not too early (or too late) to start creating your own personal handy-dandy study tools.
But, you ask, how?
Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just 6 easy steps!
But first, let's lay the groundwork.
Why should you create a study tool especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand your attention in law school?
There are at least two reasons.
First, the process of creating your own study tool creates a sort of "mental harness" for your thoughts. It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past few weeks or so. And, that's important because your final exams are going to ask you to ponder through and problem-solve hypothetical legal problems based on the readings, conversations, and your own post-class thoughts that you can bring to bear on the subject.
Second, the process of creating your own study tool develops your abilities to synthesize, analogize, and solve problems….skills that YOU will be demonstrating on your final exams (and in your future practice of law too). In essence, your study tools are an organized collection of pre-written, organized answers in preparation for tackling the hypothetical problems that your professor might ask on your final exam.
So, let's set out the 6 steps:
1. Grab Your Personal Study Tool Kit Support Team!
That means surrounding yourself with your casebook, your class syllabus, and your class notes. They are your "team members" to work with you to help you create your own personal study tool. Here's a tip: Pay particular attention to the topics in the table of contents and your syllabus. The casebook authors and your professors are giving you an organizational tool that you can use to build your own study tool. And, in a pinch, which I have often found myself in, I make a copy of the table of contents, blow it up a bit, and then annotate it with the steps below. Voila!
2. Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!
That's right. It might look like a skeleton. Not pretty at all. That's okay. Remember, it's in the process of creating your study tool that leads to learning. So, relax and enjoy the mess. My outlines were always, well, miserable, at least from the point of view of others. But, because I created them, they were just perfect for my own personal use. Here's a tip: Use the table of contents and class syllabus to insert the big picture topics and sub-topics into your study tool.
3. Insert the Rules!
Be bold. Be daring. Be adventuresome. If you see something that looks like a rule, whether from a statute or from a common law principle, for example, such as "all contracts require an offer, acceptance, and consideration," just put it into your study tool. Bravo!
4. Break-up the Rules into Elements (i.e., Sections).
Most rules have multiple-parts. So, for example, using the rule stated above for the three requirements to create a contract, there are three (3) requirements! (1) Offer; (2) Acceptance; and, (3) Consideration. Over the course of the term, you will have read plenty of cases about each of those three requirements, so give the requirements "breathing room" by giving each requirement its own "holding" place in your study tool or outlines.
5. Insert Case Blurbs, Hypos, and Public Policy Reasons!
Within each section for a legal element or requirement, make a brief insertion of the cases, then next the hypothetical problems that were posed in your classes, and finally, any public policy reasons that might support (or defeat) the purpose of the legal element or requirement. Here's a tip: A "case blurb" is just that…a quick blurb containing a brief phrase about the material facts (to help you recall the case) and a short sentence or two that summarizes that holding (decision) of the court and it's rationale or motive in reaching that decision. Try to use the word "because" in your case blurb…because….that forces you to get to the heart of the principle behind that particular case that you are inserting into your study tool.
6. Take Your Study Tool for a Test Flight!
Yes, you might crash. In fact, if you are like me, you will crash! But, just grab hold of some old hypothetical problems or final exam questions and - this is important - see if you can outline and write out a sample answer using your study tool. Then, just refine your study tool based on what your learned by using your study tool to test fly another old practice exam question or two. Not sure where to find practice problems? Well, first check with your professor and library for copies of old final exams. Second, check out this site containing old bar exam questions organized by subject matter:
Finally, let me make set the record straight. You don't have to make an outline as your study tool. Rather, your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a set of flashcards. And there's more great news. There are no perfect study tools, so feel free to experiment. Indeed, what's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork. So feel free to let your artistic creative side flow as you make your study tools.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Back in the day (2019 and earlier), the first few weeks of law school was a time of intense bonding among classmates. Shared feelings of excitement, tinged with fear of embarrassment and workload-motivated shock, served to turn strangers into friends in a matter of days. These friendships would last throughout law school and beyond, and to good effect: Students would always have at least a couple friends in each course from whom they could borrow notes if they missed class due to illness. Friends, and, okay, sometimes mere acquaintances, would form study groups to share and test ideas. Soon, 2L and 3L students would introduce themselves, visiting classes or tabling in the hallways for various organizations, broadening the new students' networks of connections to include those with similar interests or backgrounds. After law school, these connected students would be connected lawyers, and would do what lawyers do in the real world: provide referrals, share expertise, give moral support. Part of learning to be a lawyer is learning to be part of a legal community.
This year, to varying degrees across the country, the first few weeks of law school have a different texture. In my school, as in many others, only a portion of classes are being conducted live, in a classroom, and those usually the smaller classes. Larger classes are being conducted online, where commiseration over an awkward cold-call response is much more difficult, and where, with no one sitting next to you, idle introductory chit-chat is almost as hard. Representatives from student organizations will probably still visit Zoom classes to introduce themselves and their groups, but with mostly empty hallways, opportunities for getting to know new students in conversation will be less frequent.
In short: it is going to be harder, and in some ways less natural, to make the kinds and numbers of connections that twelve months ago we all would have taken for granted. If you have lecture classes that are entirely online, or even asynchronous, it would be all to easy to think of those classes as a kind of enhanced television program, something that grabs your attention but does not feature you in the cast. Resist this temptation! Instead, make developing your social network one of your goals this semester:
- Join and participate in GroupMe and Facebook groups when invited, or form them yourself.
- Speak up in class, whether orally or in the chat box, and when possible, respond directly to classmates whose views interest you.
- Ask your professors or student life directors to help connect people interested in forming study groups.
- Seek out and contact the leaders of student organizations that interest you.
- Visit your professor's office hours -- real or virtual -- and chat with the other students who attend.
- When you find other classmates who share something in common with you -- an alma mater, a hometown, a hobby, etc. -- use that as a reason to approach them and perhaps get to know them better.
Although all this will take some additional effort, at a time in which you may already feel you are working harder than you have ever done before, that effort is an excellent investment. Later in the semester, as you start preparing for final exams, you will find the community you have made will make your work easier. Your law school experience will be enriched by the support, perspective, and opportunities provided by your network. And that network, and the skills you will develop in forming relationships within the legal community even under trying circumstances, will benefit you throughout your career.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Have you ever been reading and your mind wander? Have you read the same sentence a few times without knowing what it said? Has your mind ever drifted when in conversation with someone? If you answered yes, then you are normal. We all lose focus and attention during tasks. The risk is even greater when the person talking to us isn't in a face-to-face conversation. Taking active steps to stay engaged will be even more important with online learning to prevent losing focus.
Online classes provide a different learning environment. Whether you have the autonomy to complete the course at your own pace or you participate in video conference (zoom, teams, etc.) classes, staying engaged will be critical to retaining information. I provided a few tips below for staying engaged while participating in different styles of classes.
Zoom, Teams, etc.
1. Turn your video on if possible. Some professors require this. The video creates accountability because the professor can see whether you are playing on your phone, watching TV, or at least nominally listening to the lecture.
2. Take notes in a notebook instead of your computer. Many students take notes on computer while in class. However, your laptop is now the medium for instruction. Decreasing the screen size or minimizing it will effect what you see and learn. Handwritten notes adds the benefit of retyping notes into outline format, which improves retention.
3. Fully brief cases and print out the briefs. Students migrate to book briefing as soon as they feel comfortable, but I don't think that is the best strategy in general. The printed out case brief is a good place to then take class notes, including highlighting important information and adding in the professor discussion. One benefit of this strategy is both reading and class discussion information is in 1 place.
4. Volunteer to answer questions. Volunteering is more engaging than passively listening to class.
5. Answer hypos and questions on your paper or in your head. The last 2 pieces of advice aren't unique to zoom, but the online environment is easier for mind wandering. Answering every question will prevent losing focus.
6. Use the chat function to ask questions. This is another engagement tool, and you don't need to speak in class.
1. Fully brief cases and print out briefs. Similar advice to above. Pre-recorded classes are even easier to lose focus, so any tool that helps is important.
2. Pause the video at a reasonable break if you mind wanders. Get a drink, snack, or anything else that will improve focus.
3. Plan when to complete the work. Asynchronous (online autonomous) courses are difficult because you have the autonomy to complete the work on your schedule. If you don't create a plan for when to complete the work, you will get behind. Catching up is hard, so create a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule for your work.
4. Complete activities or questions as if you are in class. Yes, the lecture is pre-recorded, and yes, the professor will give the answer after a short pause. However, don't let that lull you into not working on each practice problem. Treat each activity as an opportunity to engage the class.
The online environment will take adjustment, but you can learn as much in this environment as a regular class. The learning may be difficult. However, deliberate actions during each meeting or recording can actively engage in the process. The engagement will lead to the long-term learning needed for success.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Hat Tip to Adjunct Prof. Alan Blakley....
In light of the ongoing pandemic, here's a free online program created by Harvard Law School for possible consideration and/or adoption by law schools as we move towards the fall start for entering law students. According to the introductory video, Zero-L is a free online program focused on helping entering law students develop confidence and competence in thinking like law students: https://online.law.harvard.edu. Specifically, Zero-L indicates that it is designed as an "onramp" for law school students, regardless of background and experience. For more details, please see the syllabus, available at the following link: https://online.law.harvard.edu/Zero-L_HLS_Course_Syllabus.pdf.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
I keep getting asked about memorization for the bar exam. Specifically, “How on earth am I supposed to memorize all of this?” and “Do you have any tips on memorization?”
So, here we go!
First of all, memorization is a bad word. I hate it. You want to remember, or recall, but not memorize. Why do I make a big deal about this? Well, for a couple reasons.
First, our brain is awful at memorization. Briefly, we have short term memory, long term memory, and memory retrieval. Short term memory can also be called working memory. It’s like a short picture that only lasts minutes. Next is long term memory, where memories are stored. And finally, memory retrieval, which is what you are concerned with for the bar exam. This is also the most difficult to achieve. So, your aim isn’t really to “memorize”, but to remember and recall.
Also, if you focus on memorization, instead of learning, you will get overwhelmed and stressed. So, reframe the idea in your mind for more success.
So, what CAN you do?
The power of Story and Emotion
Memory is often tied to stories, and strong emotions. This is why our autobiographical information is easy to recall. We might smell a certain food, and fondly remember a lovely family celebration we had as a child. These memories are typically vivid and strong. That’s because we process them as stories, not facts. If you are at a party, you don’t focus on individual details to remember, like the color of the walls, or the music playing, and consciously try to memorize it. You remember it because it’s happening to you, it’s a story. In addition, you are more likely to have a vivid memory of that party if you are feeling a strong emotion, usually intense happiness. (Carey, 2014) or (Tyng, Amin, Saad, & Malik, 2017)
So, how do you make this work for bar review? The act of studying doesn’t make for a good story, and you aren’t likely to feel very strong emotions. Maybe frustration, or stress, but those actual have a counterproductive impact on memory. So, it’s up to you to manufacture stories and happiness. Don’t just stare at outlines, or black letter law. Do more and more practice questions, which are stories. Or, even better, make up new hypotheticals of your own, the more ridiculous the better. If you’ve seen me lecture on any bar topic, you know I love crazy stories. I’m sure my students often roll their eyes, and wonder why I’m being ridiculous. But it’s to help with memory. The more absurd or ridiculous my examples, the more likely you are to remember the law.
Also, manufacture happiness, as much as you can. Studies have shown that test subjects that are placed in a room with simple smiling faces do better on memory. So, surround yourself with happy photos or pictures of your pets. Call one another on zoom and make up ridiculous hypotheticals until you are all laughing.
Speaking of stories, practice! Each MBE fact pattern, and each essay hypothetical, are stories! So, not only will practice make you better at tackling the essays or MBE questions, but practice gives your brain
stories to hold on to. The examples will help your memory! If you are trying to memorize the rule for parol evidence, doing 10 MBE questions, and really learning from each question, will serve you better than reviewing your outline over and over again.
In cognitive psychology, chunking is a process by which individual pieces of an information set are broken down and then grouped together in a meaningful whole. The word chunking comes from a 1956 paper by George A. Miller, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information". This was because the brain can typically only remember 7-8 items at once.
So, what does chunking information mean for you? Well, let’s think of a grocery list.i
So, you have to buy the following:
You might want to chunk by meal. For example, Bread goes with turkey and cheese, and maybe tomato. Milk goes with Cereal, and maybe those go together with orange juice. As I’ve listed it, the items are random, so there is no way to remember them. Or there is, but it’s very difficult. But grouping by the meals will help your memory.
Alternatively, you can group by where the items are in the store. It is likely that the orange juice and milk are together, and the so are the bread and cereal, and the turkey and cheese.
So, the first step in chunking is to think about how you will need to use the information. This is one reasons I place practice so highly. When you go to memorize the law, you can’t memorize it in a vacuum. You have to think about how you will be using it, and then chunk from there.
Our brain learns more effectively if we space out information. So, this is more support for my theory that breaks are magic! Think of it like this, if you are building a brick wall, you need to let the motor in between the bricks dry before you stack too high. Similarly, you let one coat of paint dry before you put on another. You get the idea.
So, while studying for the bar, space out your studying. While it might feel like you don’t have time, you need the space to solidify your knowledge.
Take breaks! I wrote an entire blog about this last week. But your brain can only process and remember so much at once. Essentially, if you are reading 50 pages of outline, without a break, you are only likely to remember the first and last few pages. That’s a waste of time! Take frequent breaks, and break up what you do. The more active you are, the better.
Write an essay with open notes. Do a set of 5 MBE questions, and then review the applicable law. Mix up subjects. All of that will help with memory.
General Mental Health
Finally, I mentioned before that if you are frustrated or stressed, that doesn’t help with memory. That means you have to take care of yourself mentally while you are studying. This is going to vary for everyone, but make your mental health a priority. And if you feel yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, see above and take a break!
Finally, remember that your aim is to learn, not merely memorize! Also, this is just meant to be a primer, and is already too long for a blog post. There is so much more to be said about various memory techniques.
Carey, B. (2014). How We Learn: The Suprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. New York: Random House.
Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M. N., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frong Psychology.
i I completely took this idea from Paula Manning at the 2015 AASE Conference in Chicago, and have been using it ever since!
Thursday, May 28, 2020
That might be an overreach. But not by much. I only witnessed - at the most - 3 different flowers along the nearby hiking trail. Another hiker, who I met along the way, exploded with joy that she had spotted 44 different flowers along the same identical path, many of which were rarely seen during the short Colorado spring season. Same path; different eyes.
That experience left me wondering what else I am missing in this journey of life. Much, I suspect. Especially in these times with much of my face hidden behind a bandana. You see, I had a different purpose in mind on the hiking trail. And that resulted in a different pace and a much different outcome.
My fellow hiker's words hit home with respect to bar prep. Much of the colloquial wisdom is to practice testing yourself, constantly, as you prepare for your bar exam. Watch the clock, and my oh my, certainly don't take a timeout to research a bit of law when you are stumped. But, if in your bar prep you are driven by working the clock, you'll miss much. And what you miss is the opportunity to learn to improve critical reading and problem-solving skills because developing those skills takes lots of time and concentration - just like my fellow hiker spotting 44 flowers in beautiful bloom along the trail.
Let me share a secret. Rare is it that people run out of time on the bar exam. Oh it happens. But it's not because they didn't practice with the clock. Rather, it's often because the gambled with proven strategies to tackle their bar exams. They grabbed hold of the essays and then spent precious time looking for their favorites. Or, they hit the multiple-choice bubbling along the way while leaving many answer choices blank, with a long list of questions that they'd like to come back to, in the event that they have more time left at the end. On the bar exam, you don't have time to look at questions twice (or even more). Rather, just solve them one-at-a-time as they appear in the materials.
I know, you're saying, "Well, how am I going to get faster if I don't practice with the clock?" I'm not saying never practice with the clock, but the time to do so is much later, mostly only with mock bar exams, and mostly only in the last two weeks or so. In my experience, if you work on getting faster, you'll be super-fast but also often super-wrong because you haven't worked on seeing the patterns and observing the commas, the phrases, and the many nuances that are the heart of doing well on the bar exams.
Let me make it concrete. I have never seen a person fail the bar exam because they didn't know enough law or weren't really speedy enough. Rather, when people do not pass the bar exam, they tend to write about issues that weren't asked by the problems. That's because they worked mostly for speed through as many problems with goal of constantly testing themselves. "Am I passing yet? Is that good enough? I've got to get up that trail, so to speak, as fast as possible."
Instead, let go of the clock. Spend time in the midst of the problems. Question the questions. Puzzle over them. Ponder and probe the language, the phraseology, the paragraph breaks, and the format of the questions. In short, for the first six weeks of bar prep, practicing problems to learn with just an occasional check-in mock bar exam to see how you are doing. That way you'll be sure to see what's hidden in plain sight. And, that's the key to doing well on the bar exam. To locate and expose, what one of my recent students brilliantly called the "undertones" of the problems...that are really in plain sight...if only we take the time to learn to see.
(Scott Johns - University of Denver).
Thursday, May 7, 2020
I once had a teacher tell me to never read good books. Never ever. And why not?
Because if I spent my time reading good books (or doing good things), then I wouldn't have time left to read the really great books (or do the really great things of life).
That's a lesson that has never left my side.
In bar prep, I'm convinced that too many are trying to do too much, and, in the process of doing good tasks, they aren't doing the great things that are really important for success on the bar exam. Let me be frank. You don't have time in bar prep to do good things. But, you have plenty of time to do the really great things, the things that produce fruitful learning.
With that in mind, here's a few tips:
- Do less reading and more pondering the law, how it works or doesn't, and what it means to you as a person.
- Do less note-taking and more puzzling through problems to learn the law.
- Do less testing and more practicing, feeling free to work problems over slowly, reading them out loud if you'd like, as you develop confidence and competence in your own voice as an expert problem-solver.
That's just a few suggestions.
But, rather than hear it from me, a teacher, I thought I'd share the wisdom of a recent successful bar-taker in that person's own words. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words (but the wise words from the heart & mind of a recent bar taker -- who wants to share with YOU what she/he learned through re-taking the bar exam -- is worth a priceless fortune).
Advice for First-Time Bar Takers:
- Practice way more than you think! If you are wondering whether you should watch a lecture or do a practice question, do the practice question.
- Let go of memorizing everything. It is impossible. Learn what your weak areas are and spend more time with those subjects.
- You will feel like you know nothing until approximately the last week of bar prep. Somehow, magically, it does come together. I promise.
- Do all the bar prep practice tests.
- Think really hard about who you want to study with. This is not the time to do something different from how you handled law school.
- Come up with a plan and stick to it. The bar prep calendar is really helpful for this. Decide how many practice questions you want to do everyday and do it. But if you are starting to burn out, be OK with taking breaks. It's a marathon!
Advice for Fresh Start Re-Takers:
- First, I am so sorry that you have been dealt this card. There is no question that it hurts. Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy.
- As you begin planning your next round of bar prep, make sure to work with the law school to identify the weak aspects of your exam answers. This will help define ways you can “work smarter” instead of “work harder.”
- Also work with the law school to identify new ways to study. It might be changing up your study tool or how you review your answers. For me, studying ALONE the second round vastly improved my scores. I think studying alone boosted my confidence because it required me to look up answers to my own mistakes. I also stopped comparing myself to friends.
- Ditch the bar prep lectures. Use that time to practice WAY MORE MBE and MEE practice questions. I probably tripled the amount of practice questions I did during my second round of bar prep.
- Log your progress. I was way more intentional about compiling lists of rules I kept missing on MBE questions. This helped me to keep track of weak areas so I could spend more time learning the law in specific subjects.
- Spend timing thinking about any testing anxiety you might have. Adding mindfulness meditations to my study plan helped a ton!
That brings me back to the start of this little essay. How do you know what are the really great books to read (or the great things to do)? That's were wisdom comes in. Reach out to a person you trust, on your faculty or staff or from a colleague or mentor who knows you as a person from head to toe. The advice that I've shared in this blog is from such a person, who, although he/she doesn't know you, knows you, because she/he has cared enough to share with you the lessons learned through the process. So, you have a friend who is rooting for you (and that includes me too!).
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Everyone is dealing with a new normal during the crisis. The world faces significant challenges, and I do not want to ignore the very real struggles others are going through. My family and I are blessed to be healthy during the crisis. For us, the new normal includes no live sports. That is small compared to other's struggles, but I spend significant quality time with my boys playing on baseball fields and watching spring football. Since we have seen many of the replayed sports airing right now, we are watching some re-runs of American Ninja Warrior for the first time. I feel like the show is a good analogy for law students' upcoming final exams.
Traditional sports have clear rules, objectives, and expectations. Football games will include kickoffs, runs, passes, and field goals. Basketball games will have a player attempting to put a round ball in a slightly larger round hoop. Anyone can train to throw to a running receiver or take jump shots. The expectations of the games are relatively predictable. American Ninja Warrior is different. Contestants know their strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance will be tested. They can watch previous seasons to understand the possible obstacles. However, every new seasons brings a new course with new challenges. Contestants can train generally, but they can't train for the very specific challenge that will be in front of them. This year, that happened to law students.
Virtually all law school final exams this year will be open book. Most states implemented stay-at-home orders requiring schools to shut down for the semester. Shut down schools mean students will take finals at home with access to every material in the house. Examsoft may shut off the internet, but it doesn't close casebooks or printed outlines. Every student will have access to the rules for the final. Open book finals occur sporadically in law school, so many students have not experienced this type of exam. The general training in each course and legal analysis will help with the final, but this is a new test for most students. Students were only recently aware that is the new normal for finals.
Open book finals are the equivalent of a trap game (the easy opponent all the players overlook on the schedule). Students have their book and outline at their disposal, so students believe the exam should be easy. Some students won't prepare as well, and will end up performing below expectations. Don't fall victim to this mentality. One reality is that if students have access to all the rules, the professors will not allocate as many points to knowing the law. Even more points than normal will be allocated to application. Knowing open book finals are different will help create a plan for those exams.
I suggest a few strategies for open book finals:
- Prepare as if the final is closed book. The best piece of advice is to be prepared for a closed book final. I encourage everyone to make an outline, review the outline, test knowledge of the outline, practice essays, etc. just like a regular final exam.
- Print an outline (if possible) and tab it. Rummaging through a casebook won't help. The casebooks doesn't have concise rule statements. An outline is critical, and then, create tabs to quickly find the rules.
- Practice writing essays. I know I give this advice for all finals, but practice with feedback is always critical.
- Still write down the rules. This may seem contrary to the statement in the last paragraph, but still write in the IRAC format (or whatever format your professor prefers). The professor may not allocate many points to rules, but there are probably some points. Not only that, but the IRAC format is a way to ensure you do good application in the analysis section. I emphasize to my students that IRAC isn't a magic pill that rains points. IRAC is a method to systematically go through a problem discussing rules with specific facts applied to the rule. If the rule isn't there, students sometimes forget to apply facts to that element/step/etc.
- Follow the timing of the exam. I give this general piece of advice for open book finals, and it may not apply right now. However, I always tell students to take note of the time for each question and follow it. This is advice I give for closed book exams as well, but some students become too focused on getting everything perfect on open book finals. They end up spending too much time in an outline and don't finish the test.
Many students have not practiced for open book exams and others become overconfident. You can overcome this new obstacle with the right training and application on test day. You are ready for this. Now, practice and execute.
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Law school and the bar exam require immense mental toughness during regular preparation periods. Online learning combined with the stress from uncertainty magnifies that difficulty. Dr. Travis Bradberry wrote an article for Success magazine in 2016 describing 15 qualities mentally tough people exhibit. The list includes:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Neutralizing toxic people
- Embracing change
- Saying no
- Fear leads to regret
- Embracing failure
- Not dwelling on mistakes
- Others won't limit joy
- Won't limit the joy of others
- Get enough sleep
- Limit caffeine
- Relentlessly positive
All those qualities may not apply to law school or the current situation, but many of us could benefit from doing more of a few of them. Most of us should be more confident, say no more, embrace failure, not dwell on mistakes, exercise, get sleep, forgive, and stay positive. Check out the article for advice in each one of these areas. Most of us are trying to do much more now than a couple months ago. Be reasonable and take steps to stay mentally fresh.
Sunday, March 29, 2020
I know the transition to online learning is tough. The obstacles are different for each person, and the online format is more difficult to engage. My advice to all students relies on 2 major themes, planning and engagement. Planning is similar to the advice I give throughout the year, but planning for online learning is a little more difficult especially with additional responsibilities for many law students. Evaluating whether the plan works and what adjustments to make is critical. Engagement focuses on doing specific actions to ensure you are engaged in every lecture.
Planning and engagement come in many forms. Numerous sources of information flooded the market lately. Use the advice that will help you plan and engage. The 2 articles I liked recently are The National Jurist's Coronavirus Survival Guide and The Law School Playbook's 30 Day Challenge. Don't try to dramatically change how you study. Pick a couple tips that will improve your planning and engagement.
Don't try every resource you find. Find what works for you, and give the last month of class your best effort. Everyone knows this is a difficult time. All you can do is put in your best effort. Everyone's best right now will be different based on circumstances, so focus on doing what you can in your circumstances to succeed.
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Dave Johnson bellowed "and down the stretch they come" during the Kentucky Derby from 1978-2017. I watched the Derby with my grandparents for years, so every time something is nearing a finish line, I always think of that line. That line also makes me think of another sports cliché I love, which is to finish strong. The current changes to online learning may have distracted many from the reality that the semester is in the final turn, and we are about to be in the stretch run.
The end of the semester is only a few short weeks away. My school is coming back from Spring Break this week, and finals begin at the beginning of May. Some schools will have a reading period, so many places only have 3-4 weeks of instruction left. Finals are closer than most think.
With finals so close, I encourage everyone to begin testing knowledge and receiving feedback. If finals start in 5 weeks, then everyone can get feedback on 3-4 practice problems in each subject. Try to complete 3-4 problems a week. Pick the most likely tested topics in each of your classes, starting with the material early in the semester, and write an answer in timed conditions. Send your answer to your professor or Academic Support person. The goal is to both work on essay writing and knowledge of the material. Do that every week through the end of the semester.
Distractions abound in the world right now. Most of them are very serious and need attention. Everything changing makes it easy to forget critical components for finals preparation. Don't forget to continue to prepare for finals because they will be here in just a few furlongs.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Some people wonder if "e-learning" is real. I poked around the internet and it looks like there are plenty of studies on both sides of the coin.
But I have to say from firsthand personal experience that I know that e-learning is real...and that it works. Here's the details (but please don't tell anyone because I'm embarrassed to tell the story):
Prior to my start in academic support, as a practicing attorney, I had a video-conference hearing in a courtroom in Colorado. I liked to be in the courtroom early, so, as I sat in the courtroom awaiting the judge, I noticed that the opposing party and her counsel were not present.
At that point, the judge came in, and, with the hearing set to momentarily start, the judge asked the courtroom clerk on the video-conference to go out and look for the opposing party and counsel. Before waiting for the clerk's response, I bolted upright and blurted out loud, "I'll go look for them. They might just be in the waiting room."
At that, the judge remarked: "Mr. Johns, you do know that Salt Lake City is a good 500 miles away from Denver, and that, while appreciating your willingness to help today, it might just be a touch too much to drive to the courthouse in Utah before the close of today's court session."
We all had a good chuckle, and I was mighty glad that no one but the judge (and the courtroom clerks in Denver and Salt Lake City) knew about my impulsive offer to leap to help.
Here's what I learned.
You see, even though we were having a video-conference courtroom hearing, it was as real as life to me. So real that I completely forgot about the geographical expanse - not to mention the massive Rocky Mountain ranges - that separated me from the opposing party and counsel on the other side of the case.
So is "e-learning" real learning?
Well, it sure can be. But it all depends on our willingness to perceive it as such, to make it work as well or even better than in-person learning, to actually be in the moment relating with our students in order to reach them wherever they are.
In my opinion, learning is a relational social experience. But, that doesn't mean that we need to be physically present in the same classroom with our students. Indeed, as I learned through my experience in "online" litigation, what happens online can be just as powerful as what happens in the presence of each other.
P.S. Please keep this story just between you and me!
P.S.S. Still doubting the efficacy of e-learning? Here's a quick blurb from a Penn State blog about one student's perspective on using zoom this week:
"Someone in my bio class with more than 300 students accidentally started talking about the professor, not realizing her microphone was on, so that made things a bit awkward. The chat feature is enjoyable. I have seen conversations ranging from Jesus to nicotine. I also received an email from my English professor reminding us to wear clothes. Of course Zoom isn’t ideal, but it is pretty effective given the circumstances." C. Nersten, Reviews: Zoom Classes, Onward State Blog, https://onwardstate.com/2020/03/17/os-reviews-zoom-classes/
...Reading between the lines, e-learning can be very effective, but it takes careful planning and curating by us, just like regular classes do...
Friday, March 13, 2020
The vast majority of law schools are transitioning to online environments for the foreseeable future. Online learning presents unique challenges for both faculty and students. Students must find ways engage in the virtual interactions, which can be difficult when sitting behind a screen. Natalie Rodriguez from Southwestern Law School sent her students the below email to help them stay engaged and learn efficiently over the next few weeks.
"As we go through this transition together, I would like to provide you with some guidance on how to set yourself up for success with online classes. Some of you already have experience with online classes, but for some of us, this format is new. Either way, we will all need to lean into our self-directed learning skills - students and faculty alike. Luckily, many of the same habits that served you well for traditional classroom learning will also serve you well with online learning. . . .
You are still in school
This is more of a reminder for your friends and family than it is for you. For those that live with others, they may be tempted to expect more from you since you are not going to campus. Remind them that you are still in school and have the same academic commitments you previously had.
Keep a schedule
That you are not physically in a classroom does not change the amount of time it takes to do well in law school. You will still “attend” just as many class time hours and will still need to devote as many hours outside of class time (per ABA Standards, 2 hours outside of class for every hour in class). The only difference some of you may see is if you had a long commute. If that is the case, think back to all those times you thought to yourself, “If I only had more time I could get in more outlining and practice.” Now you do, so use it productively. Time management is still an important skill, whether the class is online or on-campus.
With online learning, potential distractions are everywhere – on your computer and even around you. Some of you have made the choice to not use a laptop during class time. This new format will require you to use a laptop or some other device to access class lecture. Using laptops comes with its own set of temptations. Then there is your personal space. After all, a pile of dirty dishes is never as tempting as when you have important work to complete. For internet distractions, consider installing online tools for better attention and focus. Around your home, set up a space you will use for “attending” class. Keep it organized and to the extent you can, keep it separate from common areas in the home. Sitting with a wall directly behind you is less distracting for the other participants. Remember, professors and peers alike will be able to see what is behind you.
Stay focused and engaged during class lectures
This can be a bit more challenging because there is more distance between you and your professor. There is also a lack of eye contact. Minimizing distractions will help (see above), but you will need to prepare yourself to follow along with the lecture. Taking breaks between classes to move around also helps. Use the opportunities presented by your professor to answer questions. Take class notes just as you would if you were sitting in a classroom. In other words, treat it as much as possible as if you were in class with the professor in front and surrounded by your classmates. Practicing active participation and holding yourself accountable for your own success during this time will help you stay on track.
Some tips for using Zoom
Here are some best practice tips for participating in a Zoom class:
- Consider using good on-line etiquette. Do not eat during class lecture and be mindful of your attire. In addition, everyone will be able to see your facial expressions, even those who ordinarily would be sitting behind you in class.
- Mute your mic when you are not talking. This will lead to a better audio experience for all participants.
- Pay attention to the chat feature on the right hand side of the screen. Your professor may pose questions there for you to answer.
- In case I have not emphasized this enough, everything the camera can capture will be on display for all participants to see. Make sure they are seeing what you want them to see, or more importantly, not seeing what you would not want anyone to see.
- In a traditional classroom setting, I can often tell if a student seems confused by material and will make an effort to reach out to the student. Over Zoom, it is difficult to pick up on these same non-verbal cues. Make sure you reach out to your professors for help if you need it."