It’s easy to get discouraged when studying. Mountains of materials make it all overwhelming. But please remember that education is a treasure; it is an endless gift to be able to spend time learning. Confront challenges and problem solve to dissipate road blocks. And, try hard to put a smile on your face when you are working. It is amazing how inner positivity can have a productive ripple effect.
How tense are you right now? How much learning is blocked from coming into and staying in your brain because of nerves.
My constant refrain that I ask bar takers and other students getting ready for exam to tell yourselves is: “Turn Panic into Power and not Paralysis.” That power phrase appears in my books and articles and in most every talk I give to students preparing for high stakes exams.
There are many steps for turning panic into power. Step one is always to breathe. We’ll talk about next steps in future blog posts.
Many students share that as midterms and finals approach, and during bar prep, they find themselves unusually eager to clean their homes, review and delete old emails, clip their toenails. You get the idea – anything other than studying!
Here are tips if this is your situation:
- Know that procrastination is normal. Lose the self-criticism.
- See some procrastinating as a positive. Sometimes, it does serve a useful purpose – helping re-charge your batteries so that you are all-in when you are studying.
- If your procrastination is paralyzing, rather than positive, seek help from reliable, expert resources.
- Think of an academic goal as a series of finite projects. It is more tempting to avoid something that feels like a huge challenge. Identifying tasks as doable parts of a project makes them more approachable.
- Once you identify the various tasks, ask yourself if any of them feel overwhelming, and see if you can get some help with those pieces of the puzzle.
- List what you tend to do when you procrastinate and schedule specific, limited time slots for those things. Don’t make them guilty pleasures. Make them a controlled part of your day. For example, if you procrastinate with social media, you may find yourself losing many hours. If you know that every day, you have social media “office hours,” you will be less apt to use that as an escape.
- Study first, then take your time “off.”
- Adopt a routine. Being on a schedule will help your body and brain “accept” that you just do particular tasks at certain times. You just do.
- Talk to yourself about how good you feel when you accomplish what you set out to do. And, if it’s helpful, remind yourself how icky it feels when you don’t. Simple example: many people have a habit of never going to sleep with dirty dishes in the sink. No matter how tired they are, they just don’t procrastinate on that one. Why? They find it pleasant to wake to a clean sink and very unpleasant to wake to dirt. They also realize that the task gets more difficult the longer food sticks to dishes. And, they know that a sink for of dirty dishes attracts bugs.
- Articulate why your big goals are important and valuable. And give yourself props for all the hard work you are doing.
#studysuccess, #academicsuccess, #lawschool, #lawstudent, #ASP, #barsuccess
To all, may the year bring hope, happiness, and health!
To upcoming bar takers, and all facing great challenges, may you embrace that which is difficult knowing that your effort is worthwhile, your courage is great, and your persistence will be rewarded.
I attended a lovely graduation ceremony this past week, as I’m sure many of you did. Huge smiles from graduates, their families, faculty, and administrators. It’s all seems worth it on this big day. And, it is. Do not be put off by the fact that there is more work ahead. (For law students, your biggest test (the #barexam) is yet to come. Embrace that as good news –as an opportunity to learn more and rise to the challenges ahead.)
Do not let the idea of further effort diminish all that you have done to get to this point. Those of us who have work to do are lucky! Incredibly lucky.
I just learned about a college graduate who walked this past week and will never walk again. She died in an accident –while her family was visiting for graduation festivities. She was and will remain a shining star in the hearts of all who knew her. I cannot believe that I will never have the chance to hug her again, to follow her career and see her shine. She will never have the chance to work. Her career was taken from her, as was her life, at 22.
I don’t have the right words. I doubt there are any. My heart goes out to her family and friends. She will be missed dearly.
So, to all my students and readers, to anyone facing a bar exam this summer, to those studying in summer school, to the many engaged in summer jobs or internships, to all who just graduated and are looking for jobs –let us collectively be thankful that we face work ahead. The fact that we get to work means we are alive. And let us support one another in the process.
Tragedies remind us that the road ahead may be cut short at any moment; let’s make sure that each step we take is filled with purpose and gratitude. And, let none of us be discouraged by the fact that some of those steps will be challenging. How lucky we are to be here to face challenges….
Many college and graduate school students must work while studying. A couple of thoughts.
- When you get your syllabus, calendar midterms and finals, and ask your employer if it’s possible to work fewer hours (or take off entirely) during the weeks prior to those exams in exchange for working additional hours once exams are over.
- Don’t wait until after work when you might be too tired to study. If you have to work while in intense study mode, put in an hour or two in the morning before work, an hour at a lunch break, and an hour or two after work. You will get 5 hours a day in this way, without having them all crunched in when you are perhaps too burned out to focus.
- Use “work” as time off from studying and studying as time off from work –at least during finals. During those high gear weeks before finals (or months if studying for the bar, boards, or a big standardized test), eliminate or reduce if possible any responsibilities other than work and studying. Obviously if you are the sole caretaker of young children or elderly parents you cannot “eliminate” those responsibilities –but try if possible to get someone or hire someone to help out or act as your “relief pitcher.”
- Though work and studying will (and should) take nearly all your focus, continue if at all possible to exercise, sleep, and eat well. Brain work takes a great deal of energy. Your focus, your ability to learn and retain information and to think clearly will all be enhanced by effective self care.
These simple few suggestions in no way imply that juggling work and studies is easy, especially if you also have familial responsibilities. But hopefully these tips will help make the trying task a bit easier. Keep up the good work and hard work, and draw on your internal motivations to rise to this admittedly very tough challenge.
So around finals time, we frequently find students asking for extensions, make-up exams, or other special circumstances. I don’t know about others, but I have four criteria for what I consider a legitimate excuse:
- a reasonable excuse,
- supported by evidence,
- delivered politely,
- in a timely manner.
Let’s look at these.
- What is reasonable? A medical emergency, a death in the family, that sort of thing. A leisure tip is not a reasonable excuse in my book, nor is being tired or overwhelmed. Read the syllabus on day one and calendar everything that is due well ahead of time. (Note: some professors are OK with other excuses; different people have different rules
- Supported by evidence? Bring a doctor’s note or other document that backs up your excuse. Not that we don’t trust you, but we may have to support our decision to grant you some exception to a rule that others have to follow. It’s much easier for us to answer administrative concerns if you provide a doctor’s note, documents to prove the death, etc.
- Delivered politely? When I shared my list of four recently with school administrators, they were surprised. Why? So many people are rude and/or demanding. But, this is an essential element of a valid request. Say “Please.” Address your professor as “Professor” –not “Hey” or “Dude” or “Mr.” or “Ms.” And, ask, do not demand.
- Timely? The earlier in advance the better. Students who come in as soon as something happens, or in advance if it’s something that can be planned, are well served. A student who comes in weeks or even months after a midterm, let’s say, and only then asks for a make up exam, loses all credibility.
When I shared my list of four recently with certain school administrators, they were surprised, especially by my insistence on respect. But, asking politely to me seems the minimum when speaking to or writing to a professor.
The best plan, as always, is to calendar all deadlines at the beginning of the semester and comply with them. But, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. What is within your control is how you handle them.
Follow these rules and you are on the road toward a successful request for an exception to the rules.
Interesting piece in the NY Times that made me think about the sorts of fears and other road blocks that get in between students and exam success. (“Time to Be Honest about the Fear that’s Getting in Your Way” by Carl Richards, April 17, 2017)
Let’s look at some possibilities:
- I really do not love what I am studying and would rather spend time doing ________ [FILL IN THE BLANK] than studying.
Fear? [For college students]: Maybe there is no major for me. [For graduate students: Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong field. But what then? I’ve put in so much time and money, how do I turn back or change things now? I will incur more costs, more time, I’ll disappoint others….] This is an issue, no doubt. A couple of thoughts. What do you love? Can you articulate it? Is there training to get a job that would involve doing what you love? Also, remember, even work one “loves” is often hard. If you are well into a course of study, think carefully before deciding something “isn’t for you” solely because you may be struggling. If you are now just first deciding what to study, research what people do professionally with the degree you are seeking and see if any of it sounds appealing. Go on informational interviews. Talk with people. Research. You might find you were on a good path all along, or you might conclude that you do need to make a change. Bottom line here, the more strongly you believe you are on a positive path, the more likely you are to succeed in the various steps along that path.
- I do not believe that the price I’d have to pay to get the best grades possible is worth it. Everyone says that no one in my generation will get jobs unless they are in STEM, so why bother.
Fear? I won’t get a job. True may of today’s college grads, and even law school grads, are having a harder time than in previous generations finding good jobs. But there are still jobs. And, the better your grades are the you are more likely to get one of them. Instead of deliberately putting your head in the sand, or sabotaging yourself, make yourself the best possible stand-out graduate you can be. (Make an appointment with someone in your university’s career services center.)
- If I really put in every ounce of energy and an immense amount of time and I still don’t do as well as I’d like, the “truth” will come out that I’m just not as smart as people think I am. If I don’t put in that much, I can blame B’s, C’s, or D’s on something other than my own intelligence.
Fear? I am not smart enough. OK, this is a layered and nuanced concern. Some people are not suited for certain studies. But being admitted to a degree program is at least one objective measure that you are capable. Your grades are another measure. But, sometimes grades are an indicator that you have to try a different approach or seek a different explanation. Haven’t you ever had something just not make sense at all until that one moment when someone explained it in a different way, and “click,” -you got it?
Don’t let the fact that you haven’t yet figured something out push you into an imposter syndrome –where you fear you are not cut out for whatever you are seeking to accomplish. Instead of fearing you are not smart enough and falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy, try believing you are smart enough and find ways to live up to your high expectations. Seek help. Try different ways to studying. Experiment with different places to study. Research learning science techniques. Harness all the tools out there to help you become and stay your absolute best. Look for articles, books, videos, professors, TA’s, tutors, academic support or writing centers to see if any of them can help you get it –maybe with a different approach. There is a really good chance that persistence will pay off!
- If I put in my all, I will do better than [FILL IN THE BLANK – perhaps this might include friends, siblings, or even parents.] My success will make them jealous.
Fear? I won’t be as well liked or loved if I show how smart I really am. OK, if the last point was nuanced, this one is even more complex –but oh so real for many people. There are jealous people and those who are not supportive. We could spend hours, days really, strategizing about how to handle this. For now, think about it this way –no one has the right to diminish your potential. And, certainly don’t let anyone into your head to keep you down before you’ve even given yourself the chance to soar.
Put this fear on hold. (Hit the pause button.) Do your best, succeed to the best of your ability, then deal with the fallout afterward. What’s the worst that can happen? You might lose friends. (If you lose a friend because he or she is jealous of your success, decide if you were best served by keeping such a person in your life anyway.) You might alienate family. (Ok, maybe. Sometimes people close to you are jealous or resent the time that your success takes you away from them. But you can find tools to repair such relationships, especially if they are truly grounded in love. Sometimes people need time and reassurance to know that your success will not diminish them or your relationship.) And, you may be surprised and find some or all of those you thought would not be supportive are. You may find people you thought would be jealous are immensely proud of you.
Is there something standing between you and doing your best? What is it? Break it down. Look closely to see if there are underlying fears, and if so, can you work through them without sabotaging yourself. Bottom line, struggling to do the best you can, in whatever you are studying at the moment, will give you more choices –even if you end up making a change.
Many of my students have been asking me how to best prepare for success on their final exams. My advice differed when I spoke with those who asked a month or more before exams. With them we talked about slow and steady working through the material, outlining, completing many practice tests under timed conditions, etc. To those who ask what they can do just days before their exam, we talked over the best strategic use of the remaining time. One common thread emerged — go in to the exam in peak form –or, well, as close to peak as possible.
For law exams especially, and certainly in many other disciplines as well, you must be alert enough to read carefully, and critically, to do well. I give the same advice to people who want to stay up all night the night before the bar exam: don’t. (“The guy sitting next to you may know a bit more content than you but if cramming that into his head came at the price of being so bleary eyed that by the afternoon session, Ps and Ds all start to look alike, that extra knowledge won’t help at all.”)
For many exams, particularly essay exams, there is simply nothing more effective than walking in well rested, calm and confident –enough to focus closely on every word. Read the essay thoroughly before you begin writing. Read the question two or three times to make sure you understand it. Then, outline your answer. Only then, after reading carefully and organizing your thoughts should you begin writing and completely address the full question.
Being nice pays off. (Maslin Nir, NY Times 4/17/2017) . When we disagree profoundly with others, especially about existential or deeply personal issues, it can be hard to be nice. With college campus issues surrounding free speech swirling, complex issues albeit, how about we start by encouraging students (and all of us) to learn to disagree, politely and respectfully? It is not easy or always intuitive to disagree politely, especially when issues run to the core of one’s values. So we have to practice, in and outside of the classroom.
I have been thinking about this lately because I am considering adopting ground rules for classroom dialogue –wanting to encourage students to critique each other but at the same time insisting they do so thoughtfully and in a civil manner. Can we all practice that? Can we train ourselves and, professors, can we train our students, to re-phrase our words to “respectfully dispute” the other’s points? The key is this –dispute the other’s points, while remaining respectful of the other him or herself.
Sometimes, having a stock phrase in our heads that we can call up in tense situations helps us to pause, take a breather from the temptation to overreact, and instead to choose a thoughtful reaction –in some instances, choosing to remain silent and just letting the other air his or her views without reply. (Note: I was reminded of the importance of civil discourse and of sometimes just remaining silent in a recent and most thoughtful sermon given by Rabbi Andrew Jacobs.)
What do I mean by stock phrases? Here are examples. I know, they are a silly, but they are catchy on purpose, for easy recall. And, remember, you can say them, or they can serve as internal tools to keep them in your own head to remind yourself to pause before reacting.
- “You engage, you enrage.” A wise lawyer gave this advice to certain clients involved in terribly tense litigation: “Keep this phrase in your back pocket so that we can work together to diffuse and resolve the situation.” Essentially, she was saying “don’t add fuel to the fire.” She urged her clients to simply say to themselves, “You engage you enrage” every time they were tempted to even speak directly to the opposing party, and thus to help them hold their tongues. [Note: most litigants can still sit together to work out settlements, even in tense litigation, but occasionally, things have just gone too far and parties must let all “oxygen” out of the situation for the fire to subside.]
- “I respectfully disagree.” Just using that phrase as a preface, especially if you follow it with a deliberate pause, can disarm the person you are disagreeing with, and buy you a moment to reflect and choose your next words more carefully than had you simply blurted back a retort.
- “That is a very interesting point.” We all know this as the hedging comment that often means “You are way off.” But it doesn’t have to be dismissive or rude. And, remember, this post is about phrases you can say or keep in your own head. If you say it aloud, mean it genuinely. (Even blatantly offensive comments can be interesting. ‘Why did this person just say that? What is behind the remark?’) Think about how just that one line can diffuse a situation. You can shorten this to simply nodding to acknowledge you have heard the other, saying nothing aloud, and murmuring “Interesting, interesting” to yourself in your own head while you decide what if anything to say in response.
- “I need to think about that for a bit.” This is a stock phrase to say aloud to buy yourself time. (Of course this is not an appropriate apply to a blatantly immoral comment. But in many situations that could otherwise escalate because of a reaction, it can be entirely appropriate and useful.)
- “People are for hugging, not for hitting.” OK, this last one is ridiculous right? Let me put it in context. This phrase was given to parents of toddlers who were in a stage where they hit, pulled hair, bit, etc. To avoid getting angry and yelling at the child, or worse, parents who mechanically but calmly recited this refrain bought themselves a moment to gather their thoughts and decide upon an appropriate response or consequence.
The bottom line, respectful discourse as we see on a daily basis is not intuitive and perhaps it has ceased to be the norm. All the more reason to train ourselves, our students, and our children to engage in thoughtful, civil dialogue, and to know how to disagree with someone’s views without attacking the person we disagree with. Stock phrases can be useful tools in this endeavor to encourage civil discourse.
If you have “stock phrases” you use to create a “thought pause” in tense situations, please comment so I can share them with readers.