- Did you budget your time well? If not, watch the clock more carefully and limit your time per question.
- Were you tired after lunch? Perhaps you can eat a bit less and take some of that lunch hour to walk a bit and burn off some stress or listen to some motivating music.
- Did you “blank out” on any questions? If so, get a plan ready to work through a temporary “brain freeze” should one occur during the exam!
- Most important, do not get psyched out. Simulated exams help you by providing an opportunity to make necessary adjustments before the real thing. Simulated exams are not necessarily a referendum on how you will actually perform next week. They are, however, an opportunity to get lots of useful information. Use that data wisely, and use these two weeks to improve!
It’s here. This month that you looked forward to from the first day of law school is finally here. You may be feeling dread or fear or fatigue. Likely you are not yet excited.
Notice the word “yet.” Trust that you will be. Give bar prep your full attention, focus fully for the next three weeks, and you will most likely come to the point when you feel if not downright excited then certainly empowered by all the knowledge in your head.
Picture yourself as a runner finishing those final laps. You will be ready to cross that “finish line.”
You will be ready to write intelligently on any topic they throw at you. You will be ready to say, “Bring it on, Examiners. Bring any topic and I have something to say. I can break the issues down, recite the main rules, and, based on a careful reading of the facts determine a logical outcome to each issue presented.”
You will be ready to read each multiple choice question carefully, with curiosity, delving in to the call to figure out precisely what the question is, then seeking the facts to match up to law that is in your head so that you can rule out the wrong answers and bubble in the best one.
You will have more law memorized than at any other time in your life. And, if you let it, that feels good. Threads of legal rules that seemed to be picky irrational details finally make sense. You see how it all fits together. You see parallels between legal rules and policies in numerous areas of law that previously had been “siloed” in your brain in only own course, associated with only one professor.
Stay focused these next three weeks, though. This is not the time to let up. Today is. Take today, July 4th, off. Recharge your batteries. Then, get in and soak up every bit of knowledge you are now ready to learn. You are primed. The rules have context now, so they will stick. Memorize. Know key rules just as well as you know your favorite passwords. (Say them out loud, sing them, write them out 20 or 50 times.)
Think of how much you learned in three days before certain final exams. These three weeks are the bar exam parallel to those three days. Embrace them and enjoy this process. You are strong and getting stronger. You will go in there and be prepared to do your best. And, that is a great feeling.
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….
New law students often raise their hands in class to share their personal opinions about cases. I’ve heard professors respond ruthlessly, “I don’t care what you think.” I will sometimes explain, “What matters, for class discussion and exams, is what the court decided and why, and not what your personal views are.” (I frequently tell my law students that I don’t want see anything written in the first person –not on law school exams and not on bar exams.)
So how to stay engaged when your opinion doesn’t matter?
- Your opinion does matter, just not for class or exams. My classmates and I argued outside of class for hours every day, about what we thought about cases, about how we might have decided them if we’d been the judges –you name it. So, talk with classmates –before and/or after class!
- Go to office hours. Ask your professor his or her opinion of the court’s decision in a particular case, and discuss yours.
- Teach what you are learning to a friend or family member who is not in law school and share your feelings about what you are learning.
- Write in the margins of your casebook what you think of a case. Don’t just “book brief” in the margins. Add your reactions, in your own words. (Read a fabulous case tonight with students about the foreseeability of a particular injury. One of the court’s splendid lines reasoned that simply because an injury had not previously resulted from the particular action in question did not mean the injury was not foreseeable. I told the students that I wrote in my margins something like, “Yup. Makes sense to me. Just like when we tell kids not to play with matches. They may not have gotten hurt before, but it’s totally foreseeable that they’ll get burned one of these days.” My students who were parents especially appreciated the editorial.
- Read newspaper and law review articles that critique the area you are studying. You will find this stretches your brain and helps you see even beyond the thoughts or reactions you had. You may find support for your own views. You may find arguments that oppose your opinions. You may find you see things in an entirely new light altogether. Whatever you discover content-wise, the process itself will help train your critical reading and analysis skills.
Bottom line, your opinions and your feelings may have no place on law exams, but they are vital to your humanity. Keep them alive. Just keep them in context!
Gave an Intro to Law School of sorts recently. I illustrated the difference in credibility of a baseless “feel-good” statement and an analysis that explicitly shows how provable facts support each part of a rule leading to a logical conclusion.
Think about these examples. You don’t need to be a lawyer or law student to see the differences. They don’t purport to prove elements of rules; they simply help demonstrate how using facts as opposed to fluff helps support credible logical conclusions:
Friend A says, “You are great! ”
Friend B says, “You are great because you are loyal, reliable, and funny.” First, I say you are loyal when I recall the many times you defended me even when lots of others did not. You have never once doubted me. Second, your reliability is clear; you are always on time. When you say you will do something; you follow through on your promises. And, I can always count on you to answer my calls or texts. Third, you are funny. You tell jokes that make me laugh out loud. You make silly puns that bring smiles to my face. You have a quick and clever wit. Everyone enjoys your sense of humor. To sum up, as I said before, you are, “GREAT!”
OK –aside from the fact that Friend B is a bit long-winded, isn’t Friend B more credible?? Don’t you feel like Friend B is not just blowing hot air but actually means what he or she is saying?
Restaurant Critic A writes: “Nouveau Resto that just opened on Main Street is fantastic. I am the best restaurant critic in town and I say New Resto rocks. Go eat there.”
Restaurant Critic B writes: “Nouveau Resto that just opened on Main Street is fantastic. I rated the restaurant on 1) the taste of the food, 2) food presentation and decor in the restaurant, and 3) on service. On all counts, I gave Nouveau Resto 5 stars, the highest rating on my newspaper’s restaurant rating scale. I gave the taste of the food a 5 because every dish was made with fresh ingredients, seasoned well, and cooked to the correct temperature. Myself and the five people dining with me all ordered different dishes and each of us found our selections to be delicious. No one had any leftovers. As to food presentation and decor in the restaurant, both were clean and inviting. There is no clutter at Nouveau Resto –not on its plates, nor in its dining room. The plates are all solid white with the colors of each dish creating a work of art on each plate. The napkins and table cloths –mostly a crisp white, with a minimalist border of beautiful blue accents that match a lovely blue theme in stylish artwork on the walls. The lighting is modern and bright. Last but not least, the service is impeccable. The waiters did not hover, but they were there to answer every question, refill drinks, and check in to see if we were satisfied and/or needed anything more after every course was served. The were polite and knowledgable about the ingredients in every dish and about the wines on the wine list. As I said, Nouveau Resto is fantastic –an excellent addition to the cuisine in our city.
Again, a bit longer to read, but isn’t the review of Restaurant Critic B more believable?
These are two simple illustrations, but I hope they make a point: conclusions that are well grounded in fact are typically more credible than baseless or unfounded claims. And, credibility counts –especially for new lawyers-to-be!
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.