Monthly Archives: October 2015

Seven Simple Success Steps for Improving Reading Comprehension and Effective Writing.

The following are steps you can take without any special tools, without spending any money, and without enormous amounts of time.  Learn to fit at least some of these into your regular study routine.  They will help build your success foundation.

  1. Read opinion pieces in the editorial section of a national national newspaper and summarize in one-three sentences.  (Log in at the same time each day and read at least one editorial.  Gives you practice reading on a variety of topics because people editorialize about every subject under the sun.)  This is not only a great life habit but a tremendously useful way to prepare for standardized tests that involve reading comprehension sections.
  2. Write a letter each week.  Fine to email but may be even better to slow down and handwrite at least once a month.  Include at least 3-5 short paragraphs in each letter you write.  The extra added benefit is that if you actually send these to people, you will build your network (and maybe make your mom smile!).
  3. After reading each page of your homework (your cases in law school, and your textbooks in college), stop and put into your own words what you just read.  (This sounds much more time-consuming than it is.  It may take time at first but you will get practiced at it and be able to do it in less than a minute.)
  4. Look up the meaning of words you don’t understand, or do not see why they are in this particular context.  (Maybe they have more than one meaning.)
  5. Read difficult passages with three senses: eyes, ears and hands.  Do this by touching each word as you read it aloud (or mumble it quietly under your breath if you are studying in the library.).  Law students: this technique is a must for reading statutes.
  6. Exchange your written work regularly with a friend (a first draft of something, a case brief, etc.) and critique each other’s work.  (Of course, be attentive to do this in such a way as not to violate any honor codes about work sharing.  You can even show someone your weekly letter and see if you are conveying your thoughts accurately, or exchange a resume or cover letter, or some other extra-curricular document.)
  7. Read a novel.  Try to read one every month, but at least read one each semester.  (If you don’t like fiction, read non-fiction.)

Bottom line: the more you read, the sharper your understanding of what you read will be. The more you write, the easier it will be for your words to flow in a clear and articulate manner.

Teaching with Performance Tests during law school.

Just published, “Getting Extra Practical Training out of Performance Tests with Spin-Off Exercises,” from The Learning Curve, September 2015 at 13, (A publication of the AALS Section on Academic Support). Looking forward to the publication in 2016 of my ABA book on teaching and learning with Performance Tests during law school, and, most important, looking forward to engaging in a wider discussion about teaching with performance tests during law school.

Do you have a five-year plan? A one-year plan?

In Chapter 2 of PASS The Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals, I wrote about developing your Plan for Success.  That plan for success, I said, starts with looking at the timeline of what must happen between where you are now and your goal in order to achieve what you desire.

I wrote about how to get the most out of every step on your way to achieving your goal –sorting out what is critical and what may be distracting.  The choices you make along the way can make achieving your goal much easier or much more difficult.

Then, after looking at that big-picture timeline, I recommend drilling down and looking at two months prior to achieving your goal, and taking a week-by-week snapshot. Often times where people get derailed or give up is just prior to achieving success.  Those last few weeks are critical.

 

A mentor of mine once suggested that at all times, one should have a one-year plan (with one or more goals), and a five-year plan.  I have taken this advice to heart myself and talked with many of my students about the same.

As a college student, law student or graduate student, it’s fairly easy to develop these plans around your curriculum while you are in school.  At the beginning of school, when you start in your first year, your longer term plan may be to graduate from the program of study doing your very best. But, do you stop and look at each year, one year at a time?

If not, I urge you to give it a try.  What do you want to accomplish each year of school?  (If you are having difficulties setting these goals, picture yourself one year from now talking with someone who asks you how last year when and what you accomplished.  What will make you happy to look back on and describe for that person?)  Do you want to be able to say:

  • You got good grades,
  • You were accepted for a certain internship,
  • You volunteered for a cause you believe in,
  • You networked (made lifelong friends with classmates, got to know professors, met professionals in the field you intend to pursue).

Then, consider a five-year plan.  Where would you like to be working?  What work environment would you like to be in?  What would you like your personal life to be like?  Do you have health or fitness goals?  Do you have community service goals?

A well-known driving safety tip is to keep your eye both on the immediate road ahead and at the same time on what is in the distance and surroundings ahead.  The same principle applies in goal-setting and achieving success.  Focus on today.  Knock off as much as you can on today’s To Do list.  But develop both a one-year and a five-year plan.  Even if they change radically (which is fine as unforeseen opportunities may come into your path at any moment!) it will still help you steer the vehicle that is you safely and successfully toward your destination.

 

Brevity is the soul of wit!

Brevity is the soul of wit, a saying taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and adopted by many since.  I grew up with brothers and was often reminded of this saying when I went on, even slightly too long, in making any sort of point at the dinner table.

A student in a recently wrote me and asked how to speak in a concise and yet powerful manner, saying, “I’ve struggled with being able to get my point across, and do so in a very basic, and simple manner. I have all of these great ideas in my head but they seem to get stuck in translation from ideas to words. Do you have any advice on how to hone those communication skills and become a more concise and eloquent speaker?”

Among the advice I shared with this student, a college student, was to:  consider taking a public speaking course.  I took one in college and it was not only fun but one of the most helpful classes I have ever taken.  If you can’t fit in time for a class, or your school does not offer one, take a theater class (that involves performing), or join Toast Masters.

As to consolidating ideas, I suggested writing them out (in as long a form as necessary), then re-writing and condensing over and over until  you have something concise that still conveys your thoughts.  It may be helpful to keep a journal, and or write a blog.

For law students, speak up in class.  Responding to professors’ questions in class is a superb way to gaining practice in public speaking. Go to office hours and ask your professors questions.  (Even articulating your thoughts to one person will help you learn to speak concisely.)  And, participate in Moot Court.

There is no doubt that speaking is an important “power tool” for any leader.  Hone your skills now, while in school  And, then continue working on them forever.