Category Archives: Student Success

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!!

Reach out to Mentors, Especially While You Are in School

A colleague told my students to go to observe court proceedings, and introduce themselves to judges. He said that most judges love to speak with and advise students (while they are still in school and still “cute”).  Ironically, just days after my colleague’s remarks, a  judge friend of mine offered to speak in my class. Without any sort of compensation, simply out of his generosity of spirit, this judge drove hours to give of his time to a group of future lawyers.

A few days ago I read that the great drummer Charlie Watts, visited students at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. According to the University of Miami News and Events, “Watts, one of the founding members of the Rolling Stones, spent an hour afterward graciously talking one-on-one with students, posing for selfies and photos, and talking shop about drum gear, life on the road, and his love of jazz.” http://news.miami.edu/stories/2016/03/rolling-stones-legend-jams-with-frost-students.html  I can’t imagine a greater honor for any music student!

If there is anyone you are interested in talking with, anyone whose life or work you want to learn more about, try. Ask to meet someone for coffee, or invite an accomplished person to come speak to your class. The worst someone can say is that he or she is busy. And, you would be surprised at how many super stars (famous or otherwise) would be delighted to share their experience and wisdom.

Set yourself up for success. Start on finals preparation now!

Many law students and college students are in the home stretch now, with final exams in the next two months.  That seems like a long way off.  It is not.  Now is the time to start thinking about finals –not the week before the exam.

It is an empowering feeling to walk into a final exam ready and prepared to the best of your ability.  It is an uncomfortable destructive feeling to go into an exam knowing you are winging it.  The choice is yours.  Start now!

How to take advantage of the lead time?

  • Prepare a timeline.  Note when any papers or other assignments are due between now and final exams.  Note when each of your exams will take place.  Write what each exam will test and in what format.
  • Try to clear your calendar as much as possible to prioritize your studies in these last laps. Tell people (family, friends, etc.) you will see them more in June (or after your exams are completed) and lay the groundwork to declining all social invitations when you need to prioritize studying.  Say No to any new commitments such as with organizations, clubs, and internships.
  • Plan a study schedule that allows you to spend time on each course respectively –paying attention to factors that allow you to determine which finals (which courses) will demand more of your time and energy to adequately prepare.

Future posts will provide other final exam preparation tips, but, for Today’s Tip of the Day, as part of your slow and steady final exam preparation:

  • Find out if any of your professors have released any of their former exams and if so, get copies of those exams.  Exams given by your professor(s) in the past will often give you insights into how particular professors test, what might be covered on the exam, etc.  In addition, it can be helpful try to obtain “practice exams” from other professors who have taught the same course.  It can be helpful to take past exams as practice exams, under timed conditions, to prepare.

Set yourself up for success.  Start on finals preparation now!

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?

 

Success is built by slow and steady hard work, not miracles.

Yesterday, I posted about the tortoise and the hare in connection with bar exam study and success. (http://www.passlaw.com/taking-the-july-2016-bar-exam-think-tortoise-and-hare/).  Today, thinking about how that bar exam advice applies in so many other places. Here are just a few:

-Mastering a sport, or an artistic talent.  Sure, natural ability helps.  But ask any determined, successful athlete or actor just how many times he or she made a mistake, got back up, and built their success, slowly and steadily, and you will find that nature was greatly assisted with practice. This Michael Jordan quote comes to mind, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

-Getting into a good college.  This is a process –slow and steady.  For many people, it involves years of building a background worthy of being accepted into a great university: years of studying for classes and pursuing good grades; years of participating in (and serving as a leader in) student groups; months if not years of studying for admissions tests; weeks if not more of working to write effective entrance essays and complete complex applications.

-Building a Successful Professional Identity.  This does not happen the day you get your first job, or the day you become a college graduate or a lawyer. This involves years of proving oneself, showing colleagues by coming through day in and day out successfully, proving that you are reliable and smart, networking, publishing, speaking or otherwise publicly demonstrating your skills or ideas, and much more.

-Raising children. This is surely a slow and steady endeavor, with a need to be there, every day –strong and consistent, to provide, nurture, and support.

There is no shortcut for most great things in life. Pete Seeger’s Maple Syrup Song perhaps sums it up best: “Everything worthwhile takes a little time….”