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Prioritize Your 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!!

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Final Exam Success Tip of the Day

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!

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Are you studies ever hampered by procrastination?

A great read that may help combat procrastination and get back on law school and bar exam success is at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2016/03/a-plethora-of-procrastinators.html

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Bar Results

Much of the country has already received results from the July 2015 bar exam.  I have received great news from many students across the country.

But Californians wait, and wait.  (And, apologies to Tom Petty, but The Waiting Is the Hardest Part.)  Hang in. Soon enough, you will know.

If you are waiting for results from the July Bar Exam, I hope you learn soon that you never need to take another bar exam, unless of course you want to be licensed in another jurisdiction.

If you or someone you are close to ends up having to retake the exam, remain as calm and compassionate as possible.  It’s a tough kick to the teeth, but one that so many great and powerful lawyers have recovered from. It is just a slight trip, not a major fall (not unless you let it take you down.)  You will be stunned, angry, sad, frustrated, and then you will figure out where you can improve, create a new plan, and get busy working for success in February.  (Keep ready to say “I will pass this February.”)

So, plan for success now, and here’s hoping November 20th will be a HUGE party for you and yours, but know that if your is success is to be yours February rather than this past July, you will be fine.  You cannot control these results but you can control how you handle them.

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July 1st is here. Don’t panic. Move into high gear!

July is here.  Get ready.  July needs to be your highest high energy month ever, in your entire life, all month long.  So…..  Five things you must keep in mind!

1) Exercise, daily.  Even if it’s walking.  Do it every day.
2) Drink lots of water.
3) Get enough sleep.
4) Limit caffeine.  (Bar prep time is not the time to make sudden changes, so don’t go cold turkey on coffee now.  Just don’t have much beyond what you normally drink as it may interfere with your sleep and ultimately drain your energy.)
5) Get excited about the work you are doing.

Let’s explore the last point —getting excited (and if not excited, at least highly motivated such that you move into and stay in high gear).

The real question is simply this: How to enjoy and/or thrive on this challenge you have undertaken?

That bar exam is just that, “a challenge.”  It is not an obstacle.  It is not a problem. It is not a stumbling block.  It is a challenge.  And, if you weren’t the kind of person who liked challenges, I doubt you would have gone to law school in the first place, let alone graduated and signed up to take the bar exam.

So, how can you make it not just a good July, but the best and most productive July ever?    The key to is make this month a time when you are fit, strong, and ready to let your intellect shine!

Some of you are still spending (wasting) great energy being pissed off that you have to take this test.  Good plan?  NOT!  Big fat waste.

If you want to be licensed, you do have to take it.  End of story.

The bar is a closed exclusive club.  You want in?  You must take and PASS a bar examination.  So, move on past wasting any time or energy being angry about that.  It is what it is.

If you want the result, do the work, pass the test, and be done with it.  When you’ve passed, if you’re still so inclined, you can lobby effectively for changes in bar admissions.

When you move past any annoyance/frustration, you are then able to allow in the potential for FUN.  Maybe that is the secret no one tells you about bar exam preparation.

Everyone says the bar exam is so hard.  They describe it as nearly impossible.  Well, it is hard, but what people don’t say is that it has many great and empowering aspects to it.

  • But people don’t often say how cool it is to work so hard at something that you are then able to enter the exam on those last days of July powerful, calm, and confident.
  • If you work steadily and push yourself and do what must be done in the next 5 weeks, you can get to a place where you will stroll into that exam room on top of the world.  (And that is nothing compared to the the incredible high of seeing you passed on results day.  Just wait.  You will be shouting and crying tears of joy! –and so will all your friends and family.  It will be awesome.  And, it is worth all this hard work.)
  • Usually in our day-to-day world, we are so multi-tasked that we don’t get a chance to give total focus to any one thing.  We are texting or checking email while eating or cooking meals, while planning the evening, while reading the headlines, while paying a bill, and perhaps doing twelve other things at once.  We don’t often have the opportunity to be single-minded and see our body and brains work together to climb to the top of an awesome peak.  Given the hectic pace of the lives of most law students, just allowing yourself to focus on the bar exam alone can be a “break.”
  • It can be a relief to say ‘No’ for a few months to everything else, to put aside all the stuff you don’t want to do, to put off people you do not want to deal with, and to give your total concentration to something you want, an accomplishment all your own.
  • Law school focused on the details –the veins on the leaves on the trees.  The Bar Exam is your opportunity to pull it together and see the bigger pictures.  That IS intellectually exciting.  You see parallels and intersections between areas of law that you never realized existed when you were studying subjects one subject at a time, in isolation.
  • The law is not isolated.  People’s problems hit all levels.  A client comes to you about a divorce, and he or she may have community property and family law issues to be sure, but there may also be bankruptcy concerns or even related criminal matters, perhaps patent or copyright issues; there are tax implications; there may be intersections with a host of administrative legal matters, social security, disability, you name it.  You don’t open one book and find “the” answer.  You will be gathering and analyzing facts galore and then learning and juggling a range of legal rules to help find the best resolutions possible. Your Bar Exam preparation, working with many subjects simultaneously, can help you on this road to “real lawyering,” to seeing how the disparate pieces fit together.  And, that, if you let it, can be very rewarding.

So, as July approaches, work on letting the energy levels fly.  Keep yourself fit and strong, ready to soar to the highest heights.  And, having some FUN along the way, will help to keep you in high gear, until that last “TIME” is called…..

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7 Tips to Prevent Bar Exam Burnout

Note: This post is relevant to everyone studying. Whether you are in high school, college, law school or any other graduate study, if you are giving it your all, you will burn out from time to time. Here’s how to re-charge!  

You are perfectly normal if you are thinking, “Not another day of this stuff!  I cannot handle any more studying.  Not another lecture, paper, or practice test.  I need to sleep.  I need a day off.  I need my life back!” You will have your life back when exams are over.  But, for now, “Another day of this” is precisely what you must do. Another, and another, and another –all in  high gear.  You must remain totally motivated, batteries fully charged, util the last “time” is called on the last day of your last exam.  For the upcoming bar exam, that is a full month away still.  So you have lots of time.  But you must make the most of it.

How to re-charge?  How does one maintain that kind of persistent motivation?   It’s not easy.  I remember the first week of July when one of my classmates said, “Just bring it on already.  I am so [expletive] sick of studying.  I just want the test now.  I’m tired.”  I have to confess at the time I felt so un-ready for the Exam that I could not relate at all.  I wanted every single day that remained to practice.  I wanted every minute to get ready.  I was happy to wait.  But, I can relate now.  Thousands of students later, I see how some people have just had it even by this time.  Others want even more time to pull it all together.  (They wish the exam were two more months later.) Wherever you fall on this spectrum, give yourself a break if you are feeling stressed and burned out. Stress and burnout are normal

Bottom line, you have no choice.  You are taking this exam at the end of this month, are you better believe with all your heart, soul, and might that you going to pass!  Done deal.  No options.  (To quote Apollo 13: “Failure is not an option.”)

What will you do on actual bar exam days?  You will go in and do your very best. That is what you owe yourself.  That is what must be done.  So, how do you get through from now until then?

Here are 7 Tips to Prevent Bar Exam Burnout:

1) Exercise. 

Most people are stressed, quite normally so.  The best way to burn off the excess stress is to burn it out, with exercise.

Do something active every single day.  Walking, yoga, biking, swimming, weight lifting, jogging, spinning, skating.  Whatever you do, don’t skip a day.  You must think of time exercising as an investment in your own success.  It is never a waste of time.  (If you simply cannot justify taking “time off” to exercise, then study while you are on a treadmill, or walk while playing a bar review lecture in headphones (or listening to a recording of yourself reading rule statements, see below.)

2) Pace yourself. 

Take breaks.  Remember even during the bar, you get close to a 2 hour lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions.  So, feel free to take long lunches now, each day.  Stop fully and relax.  Then get back into it.  And, when you’ve put in a full day of studying, take off at night to relax before you get a good night’s sleep.  And, make sure to get a good night’s sleep, each and every night.

3) Reward Yourself –daily and weekly.

Give yourself some daily reward.  At the end of each evening, do something before you go to sleep that acknowledges a hard day’s work.  (For some, that’s a mindless TV show.  For others, a glass of wine.  For others, a few minutes on social media.) And, give yourself a bigger treat to mark the end of each week of hard work.  Every Sunday night, for example, go out to a really nice dinner, or watch a movie.

4) Plan (and book) an after-bar vacation.  For those in college or graduate school, plan something fun for Spring break and summer!

Schedule something as soon as possible after the exam, something you really look forward to.  Just thinking about that and knowing that you have something definite in August will help alleviate some of the burnout today.  It can also be a great way to reward family and a significant other for letting you have time and space to study this June and July.

5) Shake up your study routine.

If you are tired of reading quietly, read aloud to yourself.  One of my students found the way to keep motivated (and better retain the material) was to read aloud in a funny accent and record her voice reading rules.  She played them back to herself  while driving and laughed while learning.

Try charting, try flashcards, try re-typing sample answers.

Study in a different location one day.  Explain the rules/theories you are most afraid will be tested on the bar exam to a lay person.  (If you can explain something correctly to someone else, likely that means you have mastered it.)

Variety can go a long way to helping stop burnout before it drags you down.

6) Get comfortable with “practice test days.”

Practice days are critical.  They will help you train the skills to pass.  And, if your practice work has simulated the intensity of the real thing, you will be able to walk in to the actual exam with power and strength.  You will have a  ”been there, done that” attitude and confidence.

7) Above all, be kind to yourself.

This IS one of the hardest times in your life, one of the steepest mountains you will ever have to climb.  The good news is, once you get through, it’s a lifetime license.  You never have to do it again.  Just pay your yearly dues and remain ethical, and you’ll keep your license for life.

PS. Be sure to eat lots of chocolate, and ice cream!  It won’t add brain cells, but it should put a smile on your face!!!!!

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Merry Christmas to all: May today be a day of light and celebrating, of love and hope in the future.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, look at the holiday lights, gaze for a long time at the beautiful twinkling glows that adorn houses and trees.  Think of the brightness they bring.  That is you. Those lights are you.  If you are a student, a thinker, if you are engaged in learning, you are the light.  You are the hope.  You are the future.  

Take this holiday season to enjoy the lights, to soak up their brightness, to absorb the “hope” they project. Take that in.  Know that you will be our shining lights in the years to come.  You are our future leaders.  

You who are now in school, shaping your minds, learning,  growing, fall down and getting back up, taking on the challenges of our times, we are counting on you to envision the brightest of new pathways, and to guide us thoughtfully in the years to come. 

 

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Ask a Trusted Mentor how to ask your questions: Third Post in Series on Asking Questions

Recently, I found myself in a situation I’ve been in many times, a super helpful situation I thought I’d share a bit about to help others.

I had an important meeting with someone I do not know well.  So, I went to someone I know fairly well who knows the person I must meet with, and asked for a few minutes to pre-plan my upcoming meeting.  I told the person I know, quite candidly, that I was asking him for advice on the best way to approach a certain topic, and even on logistics of how and when to raise particular questions I had.  The person I met with was incredibly helpful and generous with his time and understanding about my concerns. Having the pre-planning meeting gave me a level of confidence I will now take into my next meeting.

When you need to meet with someone who is busy and important (your professor, the chairman of your department, the Dean, President or Chancellor of your school), you want to prepare before your meeting.

If you have questions, think them through carefully ahead of time, including how you will phrase them, what you want to know and why, and what you hope to get out of the meeting.  Often times, because the person is busy s/he will appreciate that you came prepared, and you will be better able to get the answers you need. (Some of the people you meet with on a college campus will get hundreds, even thousands, of emails a day and have very little time to answer questions –so preparing ahead can make all the difference!)

Sometimes, it can help you to do a trial run and/or ask a trusted mentor for help. For example: Let’s say you have to meet with your professor about something simple. It often makes sense to walk right in to office hours and ask away.  (Remember, though, in previous posts I did note that if the question is something you could easily look up, do that before asking.)  

But, let’s say you are asking for something a bit more serious, a letter of recommendation, or about a possible TA position. It might help to talk first with your current TA and get some information before approaching your professor.  You might ask your TA if s/he knows whether your professor prefers a certain time of day to talk or has a certain system for hiring new TAs.

The point of this post is not to stifle your desire to go talk with people and ask questions. After all, I’ve been writing a series on asking questions and even issued a throw down challenge that you ask a question a week.  Rather, this is to help you see that you can ask for help even in how you go about asking questions.

 

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Asking for Help is a Good Thing: Second Post in Series on Asking Questions

NOTE: This is one post in a series on asking questions.

Many new students, whether new to undergrad, law school, or any course of studies, are afraid to ask for help.  Why?  What are you thinking when you hesitate:

  • They will think I am stupid for asking this;
  • I should know the answer;
  • I should not need help.

So, let’s take these in order, as to the first point, rarely will someone think less of you for asking for help, be it from a professor, your financial aid office, the career center, registrar, student health services, or any number of campus facilities.  The whole purpose of these offices is to help you, students!  People who work on your campus are also particularly aware that some of you are new to the school and may be lost.  They want to help.  And, most often, what you ask is something others before have asked about, so the person you are asking will not be surprised or put off by your asking.

On the second point, you “should know” the answer.  Well, let’s explore that.  If it is a question that is easily answerable on a school or professor website, then, Yes, definitely look it up before going in to ask a question, emailing, or calling.  Or, if you do ask, then phrase your question as “wanting to confirm” what you found online.  That way, the person you are asking will see that you tried to find the answer yourself, but that you want to be certain you got it right.

Confirming information is incredibly useful.  You feel reassured that you are on the right path.  And, it often leaves open an opportunity for the person you are asking to give you additional, related, and helpful information that you may not have known about either.  (Making contacts with people who can help you later on when you have other questions is also a critical step on your path to future success.  Note the names and contact info for people who help you in your phone and keep a quick note on what you asked and when to remind you of who the person is should you need to follow up down the road.)

On the last point, you “should” not need help.  Re-think that one.  Every success story had, has, and will continue to have a great deal of support.  Help is not doing something for you, but assisting you.  Receiving help does not make you less than, it makes you stronger in the long run.  Teamwork in nearly every professional endeavor also requires that you ask questions and listen to the answers and use the information wisely, so getting in the habit now, while in school, of inquiring is great.

Asking questions is such an important part of your educational experience that I would actually issue a throw down challenge: once a week for this first semester find someone new to ask something of.  Keep “Notes” in your phone every time you think of a question you want to ask, then find the right person to ask.  (You may need to ask one person who the best person is to answer another question.)

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Should I Take the February Bar Exam or the July Bar Exam? Help me Decide!

Was talking with a student who is graduating law school in December and deciding: February or July?

Generally, I recommend taking the bar exam as close after finishing law school classes as possible.  But, sometimes, in some cases, certain people benefit from taking a more wide-angle approach and waiting a few months to prepare slowly and steadily.

If you are facing a February or July Bar Exam choice, some things to consider:

  • Can you take time off to study, for two months solid in January and February? (Think 8-10 hours per day, seven days a week)
  • Have you been a full time or part-time student in law school?  Will you be working while preparing for the bar exam? (If so, you may simply not be able to work at the intensive pace noted above. You may be better off planning to study 4-5 hours per day for 4-5 months.)
  • Can you start now, begin your “early bar” preparations between September and December to get ready to make the most of January and February?   (In order to make bar review really a review and not bar learning, you’ll want to go over all the testable subjects,  fill in holes, learn any areas you never studied in law school, etc.
  • Will this Fall and Winter be less busy than the Spring and Summer?  When do you have fewer other commitments (other than studying)?
  • How many bar related courses are you now taking in this last semester of law school?
  • Is your head in the game or do you need some time off to re-group?  This last point is a two-edged sword.  Momentum and fire in the belly will help you succeed, but if you are too burned out to focus, you may need some time off.  Only you know: are you on a roll?  Or are you on a roller coaster that has made you so tired you cannot think?

You still have some time left to consider your options.  Timely filing for the February bar exam is not yet for a few months.  (Check your state bar’s website for deadlines.  California bar deadlines @  http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/Examinations/DatesDeadlines.aspx

Make an appointment with your ASP faculty.  Talk this over.  It is a big decision and you want to be sure you have considered the pros and cons and are ready to do what it takes. Look at your law school GPA and get a realistic sense of how much you have to do and the time you have to do it, and then commit to success.  Get motivated and prepared now with Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals.

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