Category Archives: College Student Success

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.

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!

Want to Make a Change? Go to Law School!

We are and must remain a nation of laws. It is more important than ever for good, smart, motivated, energized people to go to law school, study hard, and learn to appropriately and effectively use the tools of our democracy for justice, equality opportunity under law, and to preserve and protect the rights of all people.

Think about “the man (or woman!) in the mirror” and ask yourself what you want to do to make a difference.

Studying during Thanksgiving Weekend

Finals are just around the corner.  Now is the time for the big push.  Pull the semester together, take practice tests, sleep well, eat right, exercise, and get ready for “battle” (fighting as hard as you can to do well on your exams.)

But everyone around you is watching sports, shopping, eating, or sleeping off the food comas from the delicious meals.  How to motivate?

  • Take a walk.  Exercise stimulates your brain.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Make a list of everything you have to do between now and your last final.  Schedule the time you need to study, complete papers, etc.  And, allocate about 3 times as much time for each task as you think it will take. Then chunk projects down into component parts.
  • Pick one work project on today’s schedule and complete it.  Cross it off the list.  Don’t think about the 12 things you have to do today.  Start with one thing.  Complete that and move on to the next item.
  • If you cannot focus on another project right away, take another short walk, or a short nap.  Then, pick up the next project.
  • Find a comfortable place to read, without distractions.  Avoid multi-tasking.  Set social media “office hour” —only checking once a day or once every other day.
  • Lose the FOMO.  Everything you might miss out on in the next couple of weeks is nothing compared to what you might miss out on later if the results of your distractions are a lower GPA.
  • Keep handy the phrase, “Great!  Let’s plan that in January” as a reply to anyone who asks you to do anything before finals.
  • Plan something fun to celebrate when finals are over.  It’s only a couple of weeks away.

Turn “set backs” into leaps forward: what did you want last semester that you did not get. Seize it now!

Today I blogged for readers who just found out that they failed the bar exam. The same sad, angry, and frustrated feelings occur when we experience other kinds of “set back” and the same opportunities to learn from the past and succeed going forward present themselves. Seize them!

  • Did you get lower grades than you wanted this year?   Get on a mission to figure out how to get better grades going forward.  Talk to professors, classmates who did well, review your old exams.  Figure out what you did and did not do and how to change your patterns to achieve better results next time.
  • Did you not get a job or internship you wanted?   Ask people on the hiring committee very politely if you could have just a few minutes of their time to find out how you can improve your resume, cover letter, or interviewing presence.  Find out what they were looking for and see how that differs from what you gave them.  Talk with experts in your career services center.  Show them your resume.  And, begin applying for other jobs implementing some of the new strategies you are learning.  
  • Did not get on that fitness routine you promised yourself?  Problem solve.  Figure out what stopped you.  Did you just not make time?  Calendar time to exercise as if it were a date with the person you want to see more than anyone on the planet, or as if it were an appointment with a specialist that you waited months to see.  Or did you expect too much, do too much at first and feel sore and defeated?  Start slowly. Just find time for a short walk today.  Then, build up to a longer more robust routine.
  • Did not get to dabble in online learning tools. Perhaps you are a professor and just finished a great semester where you taught many wonderful things but did not get to the learning you had been wanting to do about online tools you have heard might supplement your teaching in new and innovative ways.  Make this summer your time to learn a bit about distance learning, and how today’s students learn best.

So, if you are a law student, read this post as is.  But if you are not a law student, substitute the words “failed bar exam” for any other “set back” you recently experienced and problem solve about turning that into a powerful step forward in the future.  The same sorts of struggles and potential triumphs will most likely apply in some important ways to you.
Failed the bar exam? Re-frame this “set back” as an empowering opportunity to learn to succeed going forward.)

Bottom line, we all know the phrase turning “lemons into lemonade,” let’s try today to turn last year’s “set backs” into leaps forward for next year!

Prioritizing Time during Finals

You have one final on Monday, another on Thursday and then two the following week.  Oh, and in between you have a paper to finish, you have to pack to move back home for the summer, and a bunch of other commitments.  What to do first?  Do you ever feel paralyzed??   This is perfectly normal.  Finals are stressful, and tough!  No one can tell you exactly what to do when for success, but here are some thoughts and strategies to help you make an effective game plan:

  • First, and perhaps counterintuitive, get enough sleep, exercise, and good healthy food in you to sustain “high gear” concentration during final exams.  Your instinct may be exactly the opposite: burn the midnight oil.  But, to work super efficiently, many of us need the sleep, sustenance, and energy producer that is exercise.  (Working out also burns off stress that distracts us.)
  • Next, during all of finals period, reduce (try to eliminate) distractions including social media, people who are not supportive, and any commitments you can put off until after exams. Put your phone away altogether while you study for a final exam.  (This may be something you have never done, but trust me when I say you will learn more when you are not checking social media sites every few minutes.)
  • Then, consider which subjects are more difficult for you.  Study subjects that you find most challenging when you are most awake and alert.  Work on subjects that come more easily when you are “taking a study break” from a more difficult subject, or when you are not quite at your peak performance times.  (Let’s say you are a morning person. Study the toughest subject when you first wake up.  Tackle one that is easier later in the after or evening.)
  • Try to get a sense of how much time each task will take.  If you have a paper to write and it’s a 15-20 page paper, you will likely need much more time than if it’s a 5-7 page paper.  Obvious point, I know, but many students leave only a relatively short amount of time for any paper, regardless of its length or complexity, and then get frustrated with themselves when it is hard to “knock out” quickly.  (Note: I say “likely” in the previous sentence because sometimes it is not the length of a paper that makes it difficult to write, but rather how much you like or are interested in the subject, how easy it is to find references if it is a research paper or some other factor.  To effectively estimate how much time a paper will take, think about those types of concerns and how much time a previous, similar task took you to complete.)
  • Study generally, and particularly for difficult subject,  in long enough blocks to really learn well, and retain information.  You may need to read a concept several times to master it. You might need even longer if you need to memorize something.  I know the trend is to spend just minutes on something before changing thoughts.  Our brains are used to clicking on a new link every few minutes, if not every few seconds.  But for college, graduate school, or law school, you may need more focus than for reading a typical blog.  Expect to spend more time initially on concepts so that you can learn them more thoroughly.
  • Be in one subject at a time.  Do not study for your first exam while worrying about the others.  But all the “worry” in a box, and forget about everything else while studying each  particular subject.  Resist the temptation to let you mind wander.
  • Carefully review any instructions, hints, or other information your professor has given you about the exam.  Know the format.  Know how much the exam is worth, and if it will be broken into components, how much each component is worth. This can help enormously in strategizing about how to allocate your time and energy, and knowing what to focus on, during your preparation before the exam and on the exam itself.
  • Take practice tests.  See if your professor or another professor teaching the subject of your class has any old finals on file anywhere and study them.  This will help you master the material in the subject but also the form of testing that your professor will use.
  • Take a break after each exam, even if it’s a meal and a walk, but do something to make a physical demarcation between the end of one exam, and getting ready for your next exam. This will help you mentally shift focus.

These are a few strategies for success.  Write in and share your favorite exam time tips!!