Monthly Archives: April 2017

Academic success requires focus; focus entails combatting e-distractions.

Combating e-Distractions

So I won’t start in with how online distractions are worse than any others.  Before computers, people doodled or otherwise drifted off while trying to study.  (That said, if you know that having a machine in front of you renders you incapable of listening to your professor, don’t bring it to class.  And, embrace it when a professor tells you “No electronics” or limits their use in class.)

I will say that because most of us study online, at least to some extent, we have to reduce or at least control, e–distractions.  It is tough!  You must go onto that website for study materials –and sometimes to listen to lectures.  It is so easy to pop open another window and just check for a minute.  That very same machine that houses our learning lures us away from studying.

Unless you have positive peer pressure or support online, most social media will not move you toward exam success.  At best, it is a distraction.  Sometimes the effects of what you read online are blatantly destructive. You freak out when blowhards say they have been studying 16 hours that day, implying you are a loser if you have not put in as many hours.  (You are not a loser, by the way.  Burnout is very real, as is the concept of “diminishing returns.”)   Some people share too generously, for example pouring out their anxiety. You likely have enough of your own! You don’t need to hear about everyone else’s.  And, social media is a haven for misinformation. (Uh, does that need any further explanation.  As Monty Python would say, “Say no more.”)

We all need study breaks.  And, of course, exercising, sleeping, and taking time to prepare and eat nutritious foods are among the most effective study breaks.

But, what if you just want to wander online a bit.  Is that so bad?  No.   Go head, let yourself a little, but a) control how much time you spend on breaks, and b) make sure your break involves a helpful  e-distraction.  For example:

-Favorite some reliable sites.  For law students taking the bar exam, that might be your state bar website and the NCBE’s website (ncbex.org).  Now, I realize that does not sound quite as relaxing as say an episode of the Simpson’s.  But, when you are studying for the bar exam, trust me, looking at anything but your bar review stuff is a break.  And, you want to see the latest info that is posted, review what you can and cannot bring into the exam, etc.

-Watch some educational video(s) on your subjects.  This gives you a “break” from your assigned materials, but keep you focused on and immersed in the world you need to master for your exam(s). The Khan Academy for example has free reliable videos on hundreds of subjects. There are Ted Talks that may dovetail with what you are studying.  And, there are numerous professors and schools who have recorded videos on nearly everything under the sun.

-View a mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or motivational video.  OK, I am from California and I know to some of you this sounds goofy.  But, I believe to my core that the attitude with which you approach your studies affects your outcomes.  (And, given that I’ve helped thousands of students to pass bar exams nationwide, I’m a pretty reliable source on that.)  The more calm and confident you are, the better you are likely to perform on exams.  

-When you absolutely need it, or, better still, as a reward for a good day’s studying, watch something funny that will take you out of your world.   (If you aren’t familiar with Monty Python reference above, check out one of those skits online.)

Now, I am not saying with respect to electronics, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  I am saying, let’s all be realistic.  Our phones, tablets, and laptops are here to stay.  Banning them generally is like, well –how did Prohibition work out?

But we must control our machines; our machines must not control us.  Saying you didn’t have time to study because you were too busy on social media is not a valid excuse to deprive yourself of the success you deserve.  (Studying is not punishment.  It’s a gift.  And, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to learn when you make up ridiculous excuses for now having time to study.)

You cannot click your heels or sprinkle magic dust on your laptop or books and expect the information you need to embed itself in your mind.  Studying requires active learning.  But, even the most effective active learner can allow for a few passive study breaks now and then!

 

 

 

Time Management Tips for Law Students who are Parents

Many students who are parents say they feel guilty that law school is taking them “away” from their kids. If your children are in elementary, middle or high-school, know that your studying is positive role modeling. You are teaching them discipline and the value of hard work through your actions. (Teaching is much more effective than preaching!)  Do not be surprised if your children do better in school when you too are studying.

The following are a few practical pointers:

  • If you have dependent children or aging parents who must be able to reach you in an emergency, give them a code or special ring tone for an emergency call or text. You’ll know if it’s something you need to read or listen right away or if it can wait until when you decide to take the study break you have earned by completing whatever tasks were on your schedule.
  • Keep “office hours” so your family knows when you are studying and not to be interrupted, and when you are available. Even if it’s an hour a day at dinner every night, keep your commitment to them. It is even more important when you are gone a lot to be consistent and reliable. If they know when they can depend on you to give them your full attention, (and you truly follow through on that, at one certain time each day), they may be better able to leave you alone the rest of the day.
  • Be sure to include your family (children, significant other, parents) where you can productively do so. When you take “breaks,” ask them to test you with flashcards. (Just be prepared, your kids may have memorized the rules before you do!)
  • Play audio versions of your lectures while you are driving, cooking, cleaning, or playing with kids.
  • Bring flashcards (or better still have them on your smart phone) to test yourself if you are at the park or waiting in line at the market.
  • If you have young children, read your outlines or cases aloud. Infants and toddlers mostly just want to hear your voice and be close to you. Whether you are reading Dr. Seuss, Shakespeare or Farnsworth on Contracts may not matter so much!

Excerpted from Pass the Bar Exam –a must-read for all law students.

 

 

Failing law schools and failing the bar exam

Who should read Pass the Bar Exam and why?

  • Law students!!  If you are in law school, this book is written for you and to you. It is an interactive guide. Think of it as talking with a mentor or supportive professor who is sharing advice, stories, worksheets, quizzes, and other planning tools to help you pass the bar exam. The best part is that these very same professional, life, and study skills will help far beyond bar prep. They will help you achieve most any goal you invest this kind of effort in. Knowing that the effort you put into bar passage will pay success dividends for decades to come should make the study process a much more rewarding one.  Read Pass the Bar Exam and get ready for a virtuous cycle of success, on the bar exam and beyond.
  • Families, friends, spouses, and partners of law students. Many of you are or will be confused and sometimes even offended by the behavior of your son, daughter, mom, dad, husband, wife, partner or friend. He or she seems inordinately stressed out, or has virtually disappeared. You can’t help but think, ‘How hard could law school be?’  And, ‘isn’t the bar just another test?’  This book will help you “get it.” As a key player in the support network of someone taking the bar exam, your help at this stage is critical. Learn what bar takers go through and how you can lend a hand and/or back off, as needed.
  • Law school deans, professors and administrators, particularly Academic Support (ASP) and Bar Support Faculty designing and teaching both for credit and extra-curricular bar success courses, in live and distance learning settings. For you, there is also a special Teacher’s Edition Guide, with lesson plans, syllabi, and an updated section on online bar support.  For law school deans, there is no more important, indeed existential, concern to your students than bar passage.  There are deep fears among today’s law students that the deck is stacked against them.  Urge all your students to read and discuss this book and they will begin to view the entire bar preparation process as one of empowerment rather than the needlessly difficult hazing ritual that many see it as.  (How bar takers see the process often determines how engaged they are in it, and in turn how success they are in the end.) Following the many chapters filled with concrete advice such as strategies for avoiding distractions and how to enlist the support of family and friends (and knowing the difference between supporters and saboteurs) will help your students to deal with the many “life” challenges that prevent today’s students from doing the work that needs to be done to pass the exam.  The books focus on both traditional and non-traditional law students will also provide immense support, validation, and assistance to your diversity students, part-time or returning students, and students who have extensive family or work obligations outside of law school.
  • Prospective law students. This book should help balance some of the negatives you may hear about legal education so that you see that despite the great challenges there are enormous rewards. A legal education remains the standard bearer in forming minds that are capable of solving the complex problems facing society today.  When people or businesses face problems, they turn to lawyers.  In addition to practicing law, lawyers run businesses and government, they are entrepreneurs and innovators, they are called in to resolve crises (to arbitrate, mediate, and get people back on track), and they engage in countless sorts of strategic planning efforts that help avoid costly problems to begin with. Hopefully the book helps you   decide to go to law school. If you do, the text and tips will help you succeed in school as much as on the bar exam. The book will help you start good habits from day one.
  • Experienced attorneys who work with new lawyers. This book will help you understand some of the concerns facing prospective law clerks and new associates. It may assist you in becoming a stronger mentor and more effectively integrate new lawyers into law practice. Today’s attorneys face generational divides. There are challenges for Baby Boomers managing new graduates from the millennial generation. There are also more second and third career law students which means as experienced lawyers you may find yourselves supervising newbies who are older than you. The legal world is also more diverse than ever. Tolerance and the ability to see things from different perspectives will be an increasingly critical asset.
  • Students from high school to graduate schools of all varieties who are working to achieve any academic goal.  Much of the stress and many of the challenges described here are not unique to law or the bar exam. As you read, just replace the words, “passing the bar exam” with whatever your goal is and you will find useful success strategies for academic goals such as
    • Doing well on final exams or midterms,
    • Getting a high score on the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, medical boards, or other standardized test, or
    • Completing most any professional training.

Congratulations. Get Ready for Graduation!

This morning, I saw one of my students with his cap and gown, and we were both beaming.  I am so excited for all of you who are graduating.  It’s a huge milestone. Congratulations to you if you will soon have earned your J.D.

But as you well know, graduating from law school is uniquely anti-climactic.  Maybe you get to toss your mortar board in the air, have a few drinks and a nice meal or two with family and friends.  Then what?   Another test!   Crazy, right?  You accomplished perhaps the biggest goal you have ever achieved and you hardly have time for congratulations.  Would be nice in a way if you could take the Bar first and then have the big party and festivities. But, for most people it doesn’t work that way.

So, acknowledge this graduation with your one or two days of celebrating.  Then, gear up again, this time in the highest gear you’ve ever been in for your July bar exam.  Trust me, the joy you will feel when you learn that you that you pass this bar exam will more than outweigh the delayed gratification of waiting to really and fully celebrate your graduation.

In just a few weeks, you will walk into Bar Review classes.  You will deal with yet again with ridiculously heavy outlines. (You thought carrying casebooks would kill you!)  You will spend two months review more than a dozen subjects.  But you will do it.  And, in about July you will feel so strong, so empowered.  Everything that may have seemed vague in law school will come clearly into focus. You will be ready to answer any question the examiners throw at you.

So, after finals, clear your calendars of everything that is not essential between now and the exam.  No more distractions, no more errands, parties, etc.  Eliminate or reduce obligations unless they are absolutely essential.  Read Pass the Bar for success on the exam.

And, one more thing.  As soon as possible, if you haven’t done it yet,  plan the most fun thing you can think of for August!

Practical tips to help your focus during finals

Some of you will soon face final exams.  How do you concentrate when not everyone around you is as serious as you are about doing well on exams?  It’s hard to motivate with the sunshine out, and especially if anyone around you seems to be playing or having fun while you’re “stuck” studying.  Remember, it’s only a couple of weeks.  (Well, if you happen to be studying for the bar exam right after finals, it’s a little bit longer stretch.  But, even the two months will fly.  Read Pass the Bar Exam for all the tips you need!)

Most important, try to see the “study glass” as half full.  You are not “stuck” studying; you get to study.  It’s an incredible gift to be able to sit quietly in a safe place and learn.  It sounds corny, but it’s really true.  You are on the path to help yourself to do well and to do good.

Here are some practical tips to help your focus during finals:

1. Pick a study spot. Maybe it’s the library, maybe it’s s a coffee shop, maybe it’s your home.  Wherever it is,  make sure it’s a place you can concentrate where people will not bug you.

 Try studying in a different spot once or twice to see if you are more productive in a different setting.  (For example, some people study in the library but spend more time socializing with friends than studying.  It may be that an office, a home, a public library, or even library in another school at your university may be where you need to hide during finals.)

2. Let your friends and family know you are in finals mode, and tell them when to expect you will be free.  Say “No” to all plans, social invitations, and even to family obligations unless absolutely necessary during the couple of weeks before exams.

If you are a working student with a job outside of school, see if there is any way to take some time off before exams.

 If you have young children or aging parents, plan well ahead of time, think about whether it is possible to arrange for someone reliable to provide the care you usually give, at least to free up some time for you to study.

Saying “No” ahead of time to social invitations frees you up to decide if you feel like you have time to socialize.  If you have put in a good day or evening and want to drop by that party you were invited to, go ahead.  But only after your work is completed.

If after studying you just want to go to sleep, let yourself.  Brain work takes much more energy than most of us realize.  A good friend of mine who was appointed to the bench told me she had never been more tired than in her first months on that job.  There was nothing physically demanding, but she was certain that she was using more brain power than she ever had before.

3. Plan something special to look forward to after finals  –either by yourself or, if you have family or a special someone who will miss you during this intense study time, plan something fun for them to look forward to doing with you after finals are done.

4. Take a social media break, and, don’t answer texts or phone calls while you are studying. Pick a set time (a short break time) in the evenings after studying is over for the day to read messages.

        Again, good luck on finals!  And best wishes for a great summer after exams.

Time Management Tips for Students

As you prepare for finals, consider these tips. .

***Create a Written Schedule. Write out a study plan at the beginning of every month of the semester, and stick to it. Try to plan in at least 3 hours prep time for each hour of class. The three to one ratio is what is often recommended, and can be what you need to really “get it.” Plan in time to write practice exams.

***Be Aware of Your Most productive and Least Productive Hours. Make your active study hours when you are the most awake and alert, and choose more passive tasks when you less productive.  For example, work on completing practice tests when you are wide awake. Listen to recordings of lectures or outlines when you are not as wide awake. Don’t try to read complex material when you are already burned out.  What are these hours?  Depends on your, your body and your schedule.  Your most productive time may be the morning or, for you it might be midnight. Only you know.  Working students: consider getting up an hour earlier and study one hour before work, one hour at lunch, and one hour right after work rather than trying for work 3-5 hours straight after dinner and a full day of work.

***Use Better Materials not just More Materials. Do not buy every outline or study supplement you see. Too much info will distract you, and some of that material is not from reliable sources. Do read a good supplement.  Or watch a reliable video lecture. (For law students, reading through one good hornbook before and after studying your cases and you may find you save time and increase comprehension.) In addition to talking with your professors, you can consult your Library faculty and your Academic Success faculty for suggestions about reliable supplemental materials.

***Flexibility. If your study plan isn’t working (meaning, if you are not learning what you need to), change it. Think about whether the times you are studying are effective.  Is the place conducive to focus?  And, are you working in the most efficient time blocks on each subject your will be tested on?

***Focus. Reduce Distractions. Limit time spent on other things in your life to make more time for studying. Ask yourself what you can give up, and give up some other things.

***Capturing time. Use commute time (for ex., listen to podcasts, make recordings of yourself reading rules from your own prepared outlines, etc.,) and listen to them in the car, train or bus.  Use exercise time -listen to lectures on a walk or run or bike ride.  Use family and friends time –write flashcards and have willing family members or friends help quiz you. (Younger kids love to quiz their parents!)  Use meal time –form study groups with classmates and talk cases over lunch or dinner, i.e. combine studying with a meal).

***Sleep. Eat well. Exercise.  Do not cheat yourself out of too much sleep. More sleep will make your study time more efficient. Chances are you don’t absorb or retain what you try to “read” when your eyes are half shut and glazing over. Stay alert, and be efficient.  Eating healthy foods will keep your brain on high power.  And, exercise will provide a release valve for your stress while boosting energy for your studies.

***Consistency. Better to give one hour to studying every day than to try to do a seven hour Sunday and nothing all week. Do not plan on just cramming for finals; prepare consistently all semester.

Good luck on finals and throughout your education!