Don’t forget to Breathe!

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.

Ten tips to manage procrastination

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:

  1. Know that procrastination is normal. Lose the self-criticism.
  2. 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.
  3. If your procrastination is paralyzing, rather than positive, seek help from reliable, expert resources.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Study first, then take your time “off.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

Are you on a 2022 Roll ?

It is easy to feel stuck in pandemania, but there will be a future, and the time is now to prepare yourself for it. The time is now to push through the challenges, to seek and receive assistance if you need it, and to follow your vision – one step at a time.

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Happy New Year

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.

In the Age of Corona: online skills lessons –a dream come true

AALS 2016, after CALI’s early morning breakfast meeting, I found myself in the elevator with Deb Quentel.  CALI’s newly released set of skills lessons trace back to that elevator!  Deb and I talked then and then at length when I returned to South Florida.  I shared how excited I was about the lessons, tracking and assessment opportunities. I incorporated CALI lessons right away into 2L and 3L courses in the ASP department I directed at NSU, and I spoke with Deb about ideas to create skills lessons –for all law students including 1Ls. I did not have the bandwidth then to develop them, but I held on tightly to the ideas.

Fast forward to the CALI annual conference in 2018. I sat  with John Mayer and we talked at length.  I suggested CALI consider developing law school ASP skills lessons, and encouraged CALI to apply for an AccessLex Grant to fund the effort. The rest, as they say, is history. The Law School Academic and Skills Lessons are live! Thank you, CALI. And, thank you, AccessLex!

These lessons will allow ASPers nationwide to expand their reach and their offerings to students. As all of us who are or have been in the ASP trenches know just how important it is to have quality resources for our students. These are also all online so perfectly adaptable to the shift to online learning that the pandemic forced on us and that you all have embraced heroically. And, as if all of that were not enough, what I am most proud of is that these are not only the highest quality (and editable by faculty who use them), they are free to law students in CALI member schools. This project thus serves the invaluable purpose of democratizing reliable supplements. Already stretched financially to intolerable levels, with the negative economic ripple of this pandemic, the importance of free quality study and skills resources simply cannot be overstated.

So again, thank you John, Deb, Sara, and everyone at CALI. Thank you Allie, Laura, Nicole, Courtney, Renee, Melissa, and Steven — the faculty authors.  Thank you to all the peer reviewers. And, thank you AccessLex for supporting this project.

And, thanks to legal educators across the country. Our collective support of law students is vital, now more than ever, to maintain our nation as one governed by the rule of law.

The Age of Corona Virus –One Week In and the World has Gone Online

Blog post is my own and does not represent any institution.

I began blogging a decade ago when I was a senior faculty member and assistant dean at the nation’s first fully online law school, founded with legal education pioneers just before the turn of the 21st century. I taught law school online and online bar review for two decades before migrating to more traditional law schools and to the nonprofit world.

My early blog posts centered around helping law students to form and maintain positive growth mindsets, preparing for and achieving success during law school and while studying for and passing the bar exam.  Eventually, they became the foundation for what is now Bar Exam Success: A Comprehensive Guide, (Bar Exam Success: A Comprehensive Guide (for law students with audio book) –a book I hope will continue to infuse optimism and a host of practical tools to help students succeed in the face of the today’s many great and unforeseen challenges.

This past week, thousands of law professors began a crash course in online teaching.  I have never been more proud of legal education –and I have been an unapologetic advocate for legal education my entire career.

Law faculty nationwide have joined teachers the world over, adapting overnight, bringing content, energy, wisdom, and collaborative spirit to shaken students. In many instances, faculty are teaching much more about survival, connectedness, and how to stick together during times of crisis than they are even about their individual subjects.  Learning is hampered (understatement) when students are consumed by fear; thus, professors stepping up to provide reassurance will continue to be an essential part of teaching in our new world.

And, how law faculty have united in supporting one another!  Last week, law faculty were posting detailed instructions on Zoom, voice-over power points, and even how to conduct moot court and oral arguments online.  They answered each other’s questions at all hours of the day and night, freely sharing tips and strategics for success. They were each other’s moral support and tech support –on top of the extraordinary work being done by actual law school and university IT departments and law librarians (often tech experts in their own right).  Everyone pitched in.

The word “heartwarming” doesn’t begin to express the depths of my admiration and appreciation.  Law schools are essential to a nation governed by the rule of law.  We will need new lawyers more than even in the months and years to come. Lawyers will need to step in to help individuals, small and large businesses, and government agencies to rebuild.

As we move through this crisis, into entirely uncharted waters, let us strive to continue full support for one another, and pledge an unwavering commitment to education and the arts (more on that in future posts), which have persisted even in the most heavily war-torn societies.

We need education more than ever in our time of crisis.  Let us do whatever is necessary to continue supporting those who are teaching our future workforce.  We will need today’s students (tomorrow’s leaders) to be as informed as possible –and we will need them to be nimble and ethical critical thinkers.

All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.

Bar Review begins this week; Seize this moment as a Opportunity

So proud of all my students. It’s hard to dig in, after graduation, and get ready for yet another exam. But, this is the last one. And, it’s so worth all the effort.

You CAN do this. You can pass the bar exam. Dig in and embrace bar review. It is an opportunity to get to do this kind of intense learning.

Don’t view it as torture or hazing.  Throw yourself in.  Think of the bar exam as a photo that right now is blurry and out of focus.  But each week as you get closer to the exam, you learn more and more, you refine your knowledge and your command of each subject, and that blurry photo comes more and more into focus.  By July it will be crystal clear.

July is your exam to pass!

PS. I know I wrote about this days ago, but I just learned of a dear friend — a beautiful, vibrant, smart, and talented college grad whose life was taken from her at age 22.  If there is a lesson in this loss it is to make the most of every moment we have.  Don’t view study as torture.  Don’t waste a moment feeling bitter, or angry, or sad.  Embrace the studies.  Learn all that you can. And, know that you are on a road to not only do well but do good.  Your future is bright. Embrace it!

Juggling Work and Finals: a few practical tips to rise to this tough challenge

Many college and graduate school students must work while studying.  A couple of thoughts.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.

How to Ask for an Extension

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:

  1. a reasonable excuse,
  2. supported by evidence,
  3. delivered politely,
  4. in a timely manner.

Let’s look at these.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3.  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.
  4. 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.

Preparing for Success on Final Exams: Sleep enough to read and think clearly!

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.