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!!

The Power of Peers: Network with those who are a year or two ahead of you.

In school, it can be most helpful to talk with –and network with– those who are just a year or two ahead of you in school. For juniors or seniors in college, and for 2L and 3L law students, talking to recent graduates can give you a leg up on what to expect, and how best to prepare for success. If someone survived freshman year successfully, they may have great advice for you who are now in your first year.

Why?  There’s a good chance, you are not the first person to struggle with whatever challenges you are currently facing.  And, a peer who is just a slight bit ahead of you may seem more credible than a professor who may have been where you are decades prior.  (I happen to believe that with age comes wisdom and thus seeking advice from those who are much older can be tremendously valuable.  But I do understand that many of my students find recent graduates particularly credible.)

I sponsor an Alumni Speaker Series in a number of my classes, hosting recent graduates to come back and share their bar exam and professional challenges, and wisdom.  Their stories help current students see what troubles may be lurking and provides advice on how to avoid the pitfalls and potholes in the road just ahead.

Recent graduates empower current students to believe that they too can navigate the rough waters and prevail.

If your have formal opportunities to meet and network with recent graduates seize them.  Ask questions!  Make your own plans based on what you hear worked and did not work for others.  Do adjust the advice of others to fit your own needs.  (“One size does not fit all” in life, law, or college.)  But, do listen.  Why repeat mistakes that just spending a few minutes hearing someone else might help you avoid?

If there are no formal opportunities, go on your own and seek out recent graduates or students in classes ahead of you.  Ask your ASP faculty or your favorite professor or Dean for the names of recent graduates they would recommend you talk with.  Ask a former leader of an organization you belong to, to sit and share his/her experiences.  Talk with someone who has just started working in a field that interests you.

And, be sure to send a Thank You after meeting with someone.  You will be surprised at how your networking opportunities expand your current successes and your potential for success in the future!

Time Management Tip of the Day: Study Before Taking that “Time off”

How many times have you said:  “I’ll just stop by that party for a couple of hours, then I’ll study.”  Or, “I’ll study after work.”  Or, just generally, “I’ll study tonight.”  Then, when the time comes to pull out the books, you are too tired to focus well and end up either not studying at all or not studying effectively. (Ever read that same sentence six times only to realize you still don’t know what you are reading?)

I have worked with hundreds of students who re-claim control over their study schedules by a pointed strategy to start studying earlier, before partying, before work, or before the day takes its toll and makes us too tired to absorb what we are studying.

“Work before play.”  Sounds like just another old person lecturing at you, right?  Well, don’t view it that way!  Consider it as a power tool strategy to do more of what you want, effectively.

It’s one thing to “do it all” then see mediocre results.  It’s another thing to “do it all,” do it well, and have fun!

Note that at some points in time, you simply cannot “do it all.”  There are legitimate “crunch times,” for example during midterms, finals, or while studying for the bar exam, where everything but studying must take a back seat.  More on times when you must “hibernate” and do nothing but study in another Time Management Tip post.  But, for much of the academic year, a more strategic balance of study and extra-curricular, and more strategic timing, can propel you to achieve greater success and enjoy the process!

If you are in school, college or law school, you likely want to succeed. Let’s make that assumption!  You want to get high grades on papers and exams, you want to do the reading and come to class prepared.  You also want to party with your friends, to go to all the organization events you care about, and you likely need to work (paid jobs and internships).

So, try this for a bit.  Try putting in at least an hour of studying first thing in the morning, right when you wake up.  Try also studying at or around noon.  (While others may be eating, just grab a quick (healthy) meal and head to the Library for a couple of hours.)  And, then, after your day time commitments, before any evening activity starts, find a quiet place and study for an hour or two more.  Even if you get there a few minutes late, you will enjoy yourself much more at an evening event,  party, or socializing with friends if you arrive after having finished a concentrated study block, and after having completed whatever is due the next day.

The other way around, trying to work late at night after the evening activities is often a no win: you go out feeling at least a little guilty about the fact that you did not complete your work.  Result?  You don’t get your work done and you don’t have as much fun.

Some readers may be thinking, “I don’t feel guilty.  I just do ‘all nighters’ after going out.  Studying all night may be something one must do on occasion, but hopefully it is not a habit.  Even occasional all nighters are typically not as productive as regular study blocks at times when you are most wide awake and alert.  And repeated all nighters take an eventual toll on your health as well as your productivity.  (They can be especially dangerous for students who commute and drive to and from school on no sleep.)

Instead, try fitting studying in earlier in the day.  See what happens.  I often meet with students who tell me their dedicated study time is between 9pm-midnight.  I ask them to just *try* for one month studying at least one hour in the morning, one hour at noon, and one hour between 5-7pm. Almost always, people come back at tell me that they feel more in control, and they retain what they are studying much more effectively. Give it a try!

What is your Time Management Tip of the day?

 

IRAC or IRPC?

WHAT IS IRAC?   An acronym for Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion.

HOW IS IRAC USED?  IRAC is a template for logical writing, most helpful on law exams, specifically on bar exams. But the IRAC terminology often confuses people, particularly the word “analysis.”  A better term for many may be IRPC: Issue, Rule, Proof, Conclusion.

Some people hear the word “analysis” and think of the complex and varied wrinkles in legal theories and reasoning; they picture lengthy, detailed exchanges in law school classes, breaking apart and trying to understand case law.  Others hear “analysis” and think of a layered literary analysis in a college English class, reflecting on the meaning, style, and value of a novel or poem.

As you will see below, a more useful mental picture for effective bar writing may require a flashback to geometry in middle school (or “junior high”) and the simple logic in a basic “proof,” rather than thinking of college or law school.  Why?  The term “analysis,” for many, conveys a more complex and often longer written discussion than is required for most passing bar answers. However, the word “analysis” may well represent what law professors expect on law school midterms and finals. Many law professors wish to see students weave relevant cases into their discussion, analogizing and/or distinguishing the facts in the exam to facts from cases and/or hypotheticals studied throughout the term to reason to thoughtful conclusions. Your professor may also expect a rich policy discussion in your law school exam answers, possibly noting relevant implications the issues you are discussing might have on third parties, society at large, past precedent, or future evolution of the applicable law. Bar writing is often much simpler, and heavily dependent on straightforward logic.

Let’s look at the following example as an albeit over-simplified but useful analogy to bar writing style, what I call and will explain below as “IRPC.”

       An IRPC example in math

Picture a triangle, then read the passage below:

  • What sort of figure does the shape above represent? ISSUE
  • Three sided figures with sides coming together in three corners are generally known as “triangles.” An equilateral triangle is a three-sided figure where all three sides are equal in length and all corners have the same degree angle. RULE
  • Here, side A measures x inches, side B measures x inches, and side C measures x The three sides are touching and meet respectively in three corners. And, each angle measures y degrees. PROOF (or “analysis”)
  • Therefore the figure represented above is an equilateral triangle. CONCLUSION

This logic may sound more mathematical than legal but it is highly instructive for bar writing. Let’s consider another IRPC example, this one using an everyday driving scenario, and you will see the same sort of logic but in a situation that more closely resembles a law-type fact pattern. Note here we will also add a policy consideration to our logical writing (“IRPPC”). Policy concerns, while not essential in bar writing, can be helpful in improving your score. As long as you have written about all the discussable issues, using the basic components of an IRPC correctly for each, and you finish answering the entire question, adding policy considerations may indicate a further mastery of the application of the rule of law that a grader may appreciate.

The defendant and his passenger, Witness X, both testified that the defendant’s car was in the left turn lane, the green arrow was blinking and it was 3:00pm when the turn was made. Did the Defendant’s turn from Elm Street onto Main Street on December 1st violate traffic regulations?

Now let’s say you know (because you have learned the relevant rule of law) that left turns are permitted at the intersection of Elm and Main from the left hand turn lane, when the green left turn arrow is blinking, at times other than 4pm-7pm weekdays. (From 4pm-7pm weekdays such turns are not permitted even if the arrow is green.) How would we logically deconstruct the validity of the turn in question?

       An IRPC example in law and daily society

Did D’s 3:00pm left turn at Elm and Main violate any traffic laws? [ISSUE]

Left turns are permitted at the intersection of Elm and Main from the left hand turn lane, when the green left turn arrow is blinking, at times other that 4pm-7pm weekdays. [RULE]

D was in the left turn lane (so in the proper location for the turn). D saw the turn arrow blinking (so D had a signal that it was safe to make his turn). D made the turn in question at 3:00pm (thus the timing was appropriate for this type of turn). Note: since it was 3pm, it did not matter which day of the week as the only bars to turning are from 4-7pm. [PROOF or analysis] Last but not least, policy would dictate that even if D had followed the technical requirements for turning, D must also confirm that it was generally safe to make the turn –i.e. there were no other obstacles, emergency vehicles or unanticipated conditions that would make the turn unsafe. Assuming D did so confirm there is no reason to indicate that the turn was unlawful. [POLICY]

Therefore, D’s turn from Elm onto Main appears to have been lawful.[CONCLUSION]

      IRPC works!

Are you starting to see why IRPC makes sense?  If IRPC is clearer and more helpful for you than IRAC, think IRPC.  They mean the same thing, but IRPC may just make the idea a little clearer.

One of my professors once explained bar exam writing something like this: “Many of you came to law school from lofty colleges where you theorized, you studied literature and history and the like. You read poetry and wrote beautiful essays. You sought to include metaphors and alliteration in so your words would flow. You want to continue that sort of writing now, in law school. Your minds are creative. You want to think, ‘Well, I’ll start by discussing A, but then let me foreshadow Z, then I’ll get back to B, maybe then toss in a bit of H and J to make things more vibrant.’” He then hollered, “No!” Everyone in class jumped. “Cut that out right now! From here on, instead of flowery prose, it’s “A+B+C=D. Period.”

Bar writing, in many ways, is indeed A plus B plus C equals D.

IRPC for bar writing is straightforward.   IRPC makes sense. It is not mysterious or intriguing. IRPC is not eloquent. It is simple and direct.  It is mathematical, likeA+B+C=D.  IRPC works!  Try IRPC as you write practice bar exam essay answers.

This page is excerpted from:

Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional GoalsPassTheBar_COV2

For more on IRPC and all sorts of tips on bar exam and law school success, read PASS the Bar Exam.

Bar Results: Some of the Toughest News to Receive….

Passed the July 2015 bar? Congratulations!!  Hope you are still celebrating!!

If you did not yet pass, the February bar exam is yours to pass.  Say that to yourself.  Don’t even use the word “fail.”  Just say “I will pass the exam this February.”

Still waiting for results, good luck!  Stay calm and get yourself ready so that you will be fine whatever the website says.

 

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.

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.