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Testing Centers: Some Warnings

Original posting date: August 11th, 2011

Things Go Wrong that Are Not within a Student’s Control

As discussed in a recent article about LSAT time warnings and bar exam time warnings, test preparation companies have a commercial incentive to ensure that things go smoothly for students. But this admirable work by test prep companies can be misleading for LSAT students, bar exam students, and other people preparing for standardized tests. Many things can and do go wrong on test day that have nothing to do with the test-takers themselves, and shielding students from these difficulties may give students a false sense of security.

Test Centers

Just as proctors can have issues, the physical testing facilities and the providers of these facilities can also give rise to extra-test problems. Such difficulties include:

  • test center is too hot, too cold
  • test center has bad desks or chairs (e.g., unstable, too small)
  • test center has to change rooms and relocate students at last minute
  • test center is very close to an external noise source (e.g., nearby construction, a noisy convention event)
  • test center causes other ambient distractions and discomforts (e.g., mildewy)

The Answer: Practice Being Unflappable

Taking the bar exam, LSAT, MPRE, or a law school exam is tough enough without the addition of such external obstacles. Such obstacles are particularly disturbing when they are unique to one test-taker or a small group of test-takers rather than presented to everyone.

But getting upset doesn’t do any good. No one gets extra credit for having had to endure unfortunate testing conditions.

Part of effective preparation is, therefore, developing an unflappable mindset. Resolve that, no matter what surprises come your way on test day, you will waste no mental cycles on or offer any emotional resistance to these difficulties. Treat all such distractions as part of the test itself.

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Grammar: It’s Not Just for 8th Grade

Original posting date: August 15th, 2011

Good Writing Is Good  🙂

Law school research and writing courses rarely focus on the mechanics of writing. Instead, these courses generally devote time to discussion of law-specific material, such as legal citations and legal research tools.

Unfortunately, this approach leaves some important—very important—matters to chance.

The basics of good writing, which are (hopefully!) covered before and during one’s high school years, do not simply go away on graduation day. These basics remain fundamental to effective written communication, and, therefore, remain fundamental to law school and bar exam essays.

If It’s Not Covered, Do It Yourself

For students who do not get a basic review of good writing in their legal research and writing classes—and that means most law students—, self-help is mandatory. Self-help approaches include:

  • —undertake a serious review of basic English mechanics and style on one’s own
  • —hire a writing tutor
  • —take a class on good writing, either through the university associated with one’s law school or through a third-party provider

But skipping the basics is not the right choice—even if law schools often choose that approach.

LEX Tutoring

More on First-Year Outlines

Original posting date: August 17th, 2011

The Downside

If outlines on the major first-year topics—contracts, torts, criminal law, and so on—were dependably useful, “obsession” would not be the right word to describe the extensive efforts that many first-year (1L) law school students pour into their law school outlines. Unfortunately, for most students, the word is appropriate.

Here are some of the reasons. These reasons are, of course, no secret to anyone, but students often lose sight of these facts during the rush of first year.

  • — you get no points and no course credit whatsoever for your outline
  • — you are not in the publishing business and probably won’t ever be
  • — you can create a 100-page outline and still have virtually no understanding of the law
  • — if you are not allowed to use materials such as your outline during the exam for the given subject, then you won’t even have your outline physically available to you when you need it
  • — those students who are allowed to use their outlines during an exam generally report that they never actually did use their outlines during the exam because outlines don’t really help one’s analysis of or writing about an issue

Consider Your Goals

In light of the above, the amount of time and effort that goes into the production of extensive first-year outlines is often a bad investment. Certainly, at least a few students do benefit from their outlines, but, as will be discussed in an upcoming article, there’s usually a lot more going on than mere production of an outline when the outline endeavor actually pays off.

Thus, students are advised to consider what their real goals are—learning and understanding the law, succeeding in law school, for instance—before they choose to invest a large portion of their first semester and first year of law school in outlining.

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The “Rage to Master”

Original posting date: August 23rd, 2011

The Development of Mastery

Psychologists report that some children have an innate, self-driven desire to learn and know all there is to know about a field.  These children lock onto and pursue a topic with unusual tenacity, pouring hours of unbroken concentration into exploring this topic.  The results of this kind of concentration are not surprising:  a very high competency in the chosen field.

One phrase that is apparently in current usage as a label for this type of drive is the “rage to master.”

Not Just for Kids

While “child prodigies” appear to have attracted the most study so far, the “rage to master” is not something that is unique to children—or child prodigies.  College and law students can also catch fire with an internal desire to know, dominate, master a field.  These students are, of course, great at test preparation.

Finding the “rage to master” within oneself for a topic such as the logical reasoning or reading comprehension that is tested on the LSAT or the contracts, torts, evidence, or other law topics that are tested on the bar exam may require some soul-searching.  But it’s worth going on this journey, because that fire—the rage to master—is an incredibly powerful mechanism for improvement.  More discussion on the rage to master coming soon. . . .