The “Rage to Master”

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. .


(Original publication date:  August 23, 2011 (LEX))

Even More about First-Year Law Outlines

The Upside

While there is a great deal of downside to the “outline obsession” that tends to overtake first-year (1L) law school students, outlining one’s first-year topics—property, constitutional law, civil procedure, and the lot—can be beneficial.  Potential benefits from first-year law outlines include:

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 — enhanced memorization / recall of the law:  the outline can be used to help students memorize rule statements; this possibility is, of course, the main theoretical justification for making an outline at all
— increased understanding of the law:  the outline—specifically, the process of making an outline—can facilitate a person’s delving deeper into the subject matter; this possibility represents the best opportunity of all to make outlining worthwhile
— it’s something to do:  the outline can become a sort of “lightning rod” that attracts the attention of a student who would otherwise have difficulty concentrating / studying
— anxiety reduction:  some students find that, by working on their outlines, they feel more “in control” of there first-year of law school and therefore less anxious about it

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Effective Engagement—Not the Outline Itself—Is the Real Reason to Outline

Notice that all of the above possible benefits to law outlining pertain to the effect of the outline on the student, not the value of the finished product itself.  After all, as previously discussed, law students are not in the law publishing business, so a student’s outline will probably never be used again once the final exam ends.

But achieving these desirable effects does not necessarily follow from merely doing an outline.  These effects flow from effectively engaging in the process of outlining.

This effective engagement is, in short, the key to making one’s outline efforts worthwhile. Effectively engaging in the outlining process—and the learning process generally—will be the topic of upcoming articles.


(Original publication date:  August 18, 2011 (LEX))

Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam

Test-Taking Distractions Don’t Always Come from the Outside

In recent articles, the external distractions that can from from a testing center facility or a proctor have been discussed.  But these distractions can be relatively easy to handle compared to the distractions that come from within one’s own mind.

Clearing and Closing Your Mind:  Occlumency for LSAT, Law School, and the Bar Exam

Internal sources of distractions include several different types of worry, such as:

  • loose ends: the test-taker can’t concentrate during a part of the test because anxieties about not having paid the rent, not watered the plants, or not made travel or lodging arrangments
  • underpreparation remorse: as the test begins, the test-taker is overcome with regret about not having practiced and studied more
  • personal baggage:  the test-taker has under-performed on some previous test and believes that there’s something inherently “wrong” with him or her that will doom him or her to failure on the present test
  • habitual self-denigration: some test-takers have a more generalized form of baggage in which they have become perpetual—and vicious—critics of themselves, telling themselves they are dumb, a failure, a loser almost constantly; these antagonistic voices and messages can reach a debilitating pitch when a difficult task requiring a lot of concentration—such as the LSAT, a law school essay, or the MBE—is at hand

One part of the solution to all of the above distractions is essentially a real-world version of  “occlumency,” a form of magic resistance from the Harry Potter fantasy book and movie series.  Wizards in the Harry Potter world are taught to block others out of their minds rather than let their thoughts be meddles with.  Test-takers need to do the same, i.e., to treat all of the above distracting thoughts as though they were just little “curses” or “spells” that are being cast against you in order to take you away from your work.  Dispense with them accordingly.

Not Easy, But Worth It

Building up this mental resistance to distraction is easier said than done.  But the first step is recognizing that each of the above mental distractions is counter-productive.

Each one of these thoughts takes points out of final score by burning up your time and diluting your focus.  These thoughts are not friends, not teaching you valuable lessons, not helping you to develop a stronger character or to be responsible.  They’re just undermining your abilities and hurting your scores.  They are, in short, point stealers.

As such, they are not worth one moment of your time or one heartbeat’s worth of emotional energy on test day.


(Original publication date:  August 12, 2011 (LEX))

Test-Taking Mandatory “Tip”: Do Not Count on Time Warnings

The Dangers of Time Warnings

Many test preparation companies—whether for the LSAT, bar exam, or other standardized test—provide proctors who call out or write on the board how much time is left in a given section of the test.  These proctors are a pretty standard part of the landscape for diagnostic tests and timed practice exams. Unfortunately, students tend to learn to rely on these warnings, and that’s dangerous, because there might be no such warning on test day.

Thus, while professionalism may argue in favor of test prep companies providing this service, students must heed the following advice.

On the actual day of the test—LSAT, bar exam, MPRE, SAT, or whatever—, you cannot, cannot, cannot, cannot rely upon the test proctors to keep track of time for you.

If these employees of the given test-maker make a mistake and forget to warn you that there are “five minutes remaining” or “thirty seconds remaining,” you will get no sympathy from the test-makers themselves.  In other words, you will not be able to get additional points on the test for this oversight.

The Bottom Line

If you lose points that you could have gotten if you’d been apprised of the time remaining, those points are lost for good.  Don’t take that risk.  ALWAYS keep track of the time yourself, and be sure to get in the habit of doing so by practicing accordingly.


(Original publication date:  August 3, 2011 (LEX))

Things that Make Law School Cool

Invisible Strings

Experiencing a great novel (I’d recommend Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) for the first time can be very exciting.  Each plot twist fuels a need to turn the page and find out what happens next.

But once a person has had that first-time experience, he or she may have hard time recapturing that thrill by re-reading the same book.  All those invisible strings that tied the plot together have now been revealed.  The mystery, the illusion, and the naïvete have been stripped away.

One reason why law school is cool is its inherent process of similarly stripping away illusions and revealing how things really work.  The invisible strings that attach to each and every person are made plain, never to be re-concealed to those who have been initiated.

Constitutional rights are a good example.  Before law school, one’s next-door neighbor appears to be just a person who likes to grow tomatoes and to play with her three cats.  But after law school, her appearance has changed:  she wears  plates of armor and carries a sword and a shield wherever she goes.  The law student asks himself or herself, “How did I never notice all that stuff before?”

That formerly invisible armor includes a right to free speech that was designed by some of the brightest thinkers of the last millennium; was embodied in a document that describes one of the longest-running, still-active governmental structures on the planet; has been defended by millions of soldiers, guns, tanks and planes; and is excercised every day of the latest political campaign, protest, demonstration, or debate.

Other such armor includes a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by police; to trial by jury; and so on.  These mechanisms—just abstract and theoretical to the student entering law school—have become palpable, real, and unmistakable to the student exiting law school.  He or she can never go back to the way things were, back to viewing his neighbor in the same way, any more than he or she can re-readHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the first time.

And that’s one thing that makes law school cool.


(Original publication date:  July 19, 2011 (LEX))

More Things that Make Law School Cool

Idea Wars

Philosophizing can be fun.  As undergrads, perhaps through a philosophy class or maybe just during a night out, we often entertain far-fetched ideas and discuss them at length just for the fun of it (“What if our whole universe is just a single atom in another universe?” seemed to be a favorite with some of my friends).  Such talks not only provide entertaining social exchanges but also mind-expanding exercise, enhancing both the flavor and substance of a good liberal arts education.

In law school, those discussions still happen.  But there are major differences.  Because law is like philosophy that matters.

That line always gets the biggest laugh at the “Introduction to Law School” talks that LEX hosts, but it does so because it’s true.

Let’s discuss why.  Arguing about Thomas More’s Utopia or Plato’s Republic can be challenging and interesting, but it won’t get anyone out of prison or regain custody of a child.  Law does.  And when a medical malpractice victim has suffered a traumatic injury at the hands of an incompetent hospital staff member, she doesn’t call a philosopher.  She calls a lawyer.

Law is where a society embodies its highest philosophical notions regarding truth, justice, freedom, choice and human dignity into tools that have hard-core, real-world consequences.  Law calls upon all the intellectual powers that go into a philosophical discussion, but it doesn’t end there.  It matters.

Accordingly, during law school, students are confronted with issues that require each individual to stake out some sort of philosophical basis for his or her point of view.  Issues like abortion, capital punishment, same-sex marriage, drug use.  Both in and out of the classroom, the idea wars get hotly debated.  And that debate is all the hotter this time around,  because—unlike that night out with the college friends—this time the full significance of those ideas is being brought to bear on the lives of actual human beings.  A real person with a real name and a real face will live or die; a couple will marry or not; a child will or will not be born—all these human lives will be forever and fundamentally altered  on the basis of which idea carries the day.

And that’s another reason why law school is cool.


(Original publication date:  July 19, 2011 (LEX))

Law Reviews and Law Journals | Law School Insights

Making the Most of One’s Time in Law School

Many students have heard about “making law review” without really knowing what that means.  Some insights ahead of time may help one make better decisions before and during law school about this topic.

What Is Law Review?

Law reviews may be described as sort of the academic equivalent of a magazine.  Most law schools publish their magazine—their “law review”— between four and eight times per year. The magazine is edited by students.  This editing process includes both article selection (i.e., deciding what articles to publish in the magazine) and article proofreading, fact-checking, and polishing.

The authors of the articles in the magazine are usually law professors, but the authors are not necessarily from the school that publishes the magazine in which the articles run.  In other words, UCLA Law Review may publish articles that are by UCLA professors, but they may also publish articles from law professionals who have no formal tie to UCLA.

What Does It Mean to “Make Law Review”?

When a student “makes law review,” he or she is invited to be part of the magazine’s staff.

How Does One Make Law Review?

The process of being selected to join a given school’s law review staff depends on the institution.  One can typically be accepted by achieving a certain academic standing during one’s first year of law school, by being in the top 10% of one’s first year class, for instance.  One can also “write on” to law review at many schools by prevailing in a writing competition.

Check this blog again soon for more discussion of law reviews and law journals.


(Original publication date:  July 15, 2011 (LEX))