Preparing for your Final Exam

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As Exams approach you will be inundated with a myriad of advice about study tips; which supplement is the best, how each professors prefers their answers, and so on, but there is one piece of advice everyone forgets to mention:

GET ENOUGH SLEEP!!!!

I know, I know, there is not enough time in the day and you have to stay up later than usual to study.  Everyone in Law School knows you don’t sleep during the exam period and you are panicking because you just realized you only have 2 weeks to get everything in your head but guess what – your brain won’t work if you don’t take care of it!

This shouldn’t be news to you.  I’m sure your parents set a bedtime (and not just because they needed adult time) because they knew getting a good night’s sleep is important.  One of the first sleep studies was done in 1896 at the University of Iowa.  The fascination with sleep and learning has been going strong ever since![1]  However, as smart as we law students think we are, we don’t listen to the experts when we are pulling all-nighters to cram for our exams.

It has been proven that sleep deprivation impedes your capacity to complete difficult cognitive tasks–  like our final exams.  Even worse, all the studying you do while super-sleepy is not going to stick, so you are going to end up restudying everything and will STILL be tired and cranky.  So just be smart – get some sleep and start fresh in the morning.

Don’t believe me or your parents?  How about Harvard Doctors:

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Learning and Performance

Another area that researchers study is the impact that a lack of adequate sleep has on learning and memory. When we are sleep deprived, our focus, attention, and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information. Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.

In addition, our interpretation of events may be affected. We lose our ability to make sound decisions because we can no longer accurately assess the situation, plan accordingly, and choose the correct behavior. Judgment becomes impaired.

Being chronically tired to the point of fatigue or exhaustion means that we are less likely to perform well. Neurons do not fire optimally, muscles are not rested, and the body’s organ systems are not synchronized. Lapses in focus from sleep deprivation can even result in accidents or injury.

Low-quality sleep and sleep deprivation also negatively impact mood, which has consequences for learning. Alterations in mood affect our ability to acquire new information and subsequently to remember that information. Although chronic sleep deprivation affects different individuals in a variety of ways (and the effects are not entirely known), it is clear that a good night’s rest has a strong impact on learning and memory.[2]

Got your attention?  Now the question is: how do I shut down and actually get some rest?  Personally, my biggest problem is turning off my brain.  I lay down and my mind just speeds up.  I found some tips and have even tried a couple, especially turning off technology (sigh).  That one seemed to work the best for me.  Check out the list below, get some rest, and get some A’s on those exams.  Good Luck!

  • 30 minutes before bed stop using all technology. Shut off the cell phone, close the laptop, and don’t even use a Kindle. The lights are keeping your mind moving, so no TV either.
  • Read a print book. It’s very old fashioned but it will help (I have found Civ Pro puts me right to sleep).  Seriously, nothing that stirs the brain, just light reading.
  • Go to sleep as soon as you start feeling sleepy. If you wait you will kick into second gear and be up for even longer.
  • Try a weighted blanket, which molds to your body and the weight actually helps your nervous system relax.
  • Try aromatherapy. I hear that lavender is the best. You can take a nice hot bath with some lavender oil, spray your pillows, or just lightly spritz the bedroom with whichever scent you prefer.
  • Cut out the sugar and caffeine before bedtime. Try to keep limit your intake after 4 pm.  I know you need the afternoon boost, but try a healthy energy snack like an apple with peanut butter or dried fruits and nuts instead.[3]
  • Get in your PJ’s and have a soothing cup of Chamomile tea (remember no sugar).
  • Really old fashioned here, but a nice glass of warm milk.
  • This is a little weird but… the a study from the University of Glasgow said to lay in bed with your eyes open trying to keep yourself awake will actually make you fall asleep faster (playing reverse psychology with your own mind… who knew?).

Put some socks on those piggies!  When your feet are cold that means the blood is not flowing to your extremities and all the heat stays in your core, so warm up those little toes and get the blood flowing.  This releases heat from your body and helps you relax

[1] Patrick, G. T. & Gilbert, J. A. On the effects of loss of sleep. Psychol. Rev., 1896, 3: 469–483.

[2] http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

[3] http://www.health.com/sleep/5-energy-boosting-snacks

Authored by Kimberly Carabotta & edited by Sarah Malkin

Holiday Cards For Jacob

 

card sign

Jacob Thompson is a 9 year old boy from Maine.  Three years ago, Jacob was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that has now moved to his head and hip.   As of late October, Jacob’s doctors gave him a month to live.

In response to a GoFundMe page for Jacob’s funeral expenses, people began sending Jacob and his family holiday cards.  Jacob was delighted by the cards, especially those containing penguins – his favorite animal. On a CNN News story, Jacob said that he wants people to celebrate the holidays with him by sending him cards.  Because of Jacob’s request, a  national grassroots holiday card campaign has begun.  On November 2, even TV personality Jake Tapper got into the effort by tweeting the address where people could send cards.

tapper

Georgia State College of Law student Honey Shaw approached the library to ask if she could set up a card making station. The library obviously agreed, and cards are flying out the door! The card station will be up until the end of this week. Many thanks to Honey Shaw and the SBA for their support of this wonderful idea.

cards

Get rid of the distractions and make the most of your study time

Sign that says Social Distraction

by Daniel Lobo

As we get closer to exams you may be wondering how to make the most of your study time. One of the biggest distractions can be the constant barrage of new text messages, emails, and social media posts. Studies have shown that every time you check email or look at social media you lose 23 minutes. However, there are some things you can do to create a distraction free study space.

  1. Turn off the notifications on your phone, tablet, laptop, etc. You can control when you take a break from studying instead of being at the mercy of notifications.
  2. Install an anti-distraction app. See some suggestions below.
  3. If your phone is the problem, set it on airplane mode while you are studying

Anti-distraction apps:

Freedom – Mac, iOS, Windows – You can use Freedom on your devices, computer, iPhone, and iPad. An Android subscription to (OFFTIME) Pro (see below) is included with purchase. Freedom allows you to block specific websites and apps or the entire internet. You can schedule specific times for the blocking to start and even put your device in locked mode. However, Freedom is not free. (See what I did there?) You can get unlimited access on a month by month basis for $6.99/month. If you commit to a year, it is $29/year.

(OFFTIME) – Android and iOS ((OFFTIME) Light) phones – (OFFTIME) allows you to block apps, calls, text, and notifications. The Android version allows you to select people who can still get through. The app has some other interesting features such as analytics of your phone usage and the ability to invite others to a shared (OFFTIME). The less robust (OFFTIME) Light is $2.99 for iOS devices. The Android pricing is somewhat unclear. It appears that you can download the app for free and upgrade to (OFFTIME) Pro for a suggested payment of 3 Euro.

SelfControl – OS X – SelfControl allows you to block email and websites for a period of time that you choose. Caution: Once it is started you can not turn it off until the timer runs out. It is Free Software under the GNU General Public License (GPL). If you know how to code, you can make changes to the sourcecode posted on Github.

Focus Lock – Android – Lock out selected apps for a set period of time. The default setting is for 25 minutes of work and a 5 minute break. Free.

Focus – Mac – Block websites and apps for a set period of time. Focus also allows you to schedule blocked times. A license for one Mac is $19.99.

Looking for other options? Try search anti-distraction apps to find what works best for you.

Now, stop being distracted and get back to studying. Good luck on exams!

Criminal Background Checks: Georgia Law

by Zain Haq

Georgia’s New (ish) Expungement Laws

Compared to other states in the country, Georgia has some of the strictest laws regarding expungement of criminal records. Arrests resulting in convictions can only be taken off your criminal record in very limited circumstances. This makes it extremely difficult for people who have committed even minor crimes to gain access to housing, employment, and education. That being said, Georgia has taken some big steps toward ensuring that those with criminal records have some recourse. This article will give you a brief overview of what can and cannot be taken off a criminal record. Moral of the story is this: Do your best to keep your record clean, because Georgia law is not very forgiving!

Employment

Record Restriction (aka Expungement)

Georgia’s new law, effective July 1, 2013, does not use the word “expungement.” Instead, the process is now referred to as “record restriction.” Restriction does not mean that your records are deleted or destroyed, but rather that criminal history information maintained by the GCIC is unavailable for all purposes except law enforcement and criminal justice. The GCIC (Georgia Crime Information Center) is Georgia’s state entity that manages and disseminates criminal record information. Record restriction ONLY impacts those records maintained by the GCIC, and does not affect records maintained by the Clerk of Court (this process is referred to as sealing, which is discussed later in this article).

Georgia’s record restriction statute is O.C.G.A. 35-3-37(h).  Automatic restriction usually only occurs if your arrest is not prosecuted. Generally, cases closed with no conviction qualify for restriction (including charges that are nolle prossed, dead docketed, and verdicts of not guilty).

It is important to note that while Georgia’s new restriction laws are a big step in the right direction, convictions still are not eligible for restriction (unless you are sentenced as a youthful offender or first offender, which is discussed below). This includes pleas of nolo contendere (no contest).

Restricting your record is only half the battle. Employers, housing authorities, and other interested parties do not usually go to the GCIC for criminal record information. Rather, they will go directly to the Clerk of Court to obtain court records. These records can only be disposed of by petitioning the court to “seal” the record.

Record Sealing

In order to seal your records and ensure that the Clerk of Court no longer disseminates information about your case, your records must first qualify for record restriction. O.C.G.A. 35-3-37(m) governs record sealing, and states that the petitioner must show the court that the harm suffered by the clerk’s record remaining public (denial of jobs, housing, licensing, etc.) outweighs the interest in the record being publicly available. Sealing your record is crucial to ensuring that arrests not resulting in a conviction are inaccessible by members of the public and other interested parties.

First Offenders

As previously stated, arrests resulting in convictions generally cannot be taken off your record. One exception to this is Georgia’s First Offender statute, 42-8-60 (also known as Georgia’s “second chance” law). If you are sentenced as a first offender and successfully complete your sentence, your record will not show a conviction, and your case will be sealed by an Order of Discharge. The intent of this law is to give first time offenders a second chance and allow them to move on with their lives without suffering the collateral consequences of a conviction.

To qualify as a first offender, you must have never been convicted of a felony in the past, and never have been sentenced as a first offender. Moreover, certain convictions preclude you from being sentenced as a first offender (DUI’s, serious violent felonies, sexual offenses, and child pornography charges). Receiving a First Offender sentence is not automatic. You or your attorney must ask the judge to be sentenced under the First Offender Act.

The sealing of your record pursuant to a first offender sentence is conditioned on your complying with the terms of your sentence. If you violate any of the terms of your sentence, or commit another crime, the judge can revoke your first offender status and convict you of the crime you were arrested for.

Youthful Offenders

The Youthful Offender law (O.C.G.A. 35-3-37) is another exception to Georgia’s rule against restriction of arrests that result in convictions. Certain misdemeanor convictions that occurred before you turned twenty-one years old qualify for restriction. To qualify as a youthful offender, you must successfully complete your sentence and you cannot have been charged with any other offense. There are a number of exceptions to the Youthful Offender law, mostly for serious traffic offenses and sex crimes.

Pardons

Lastly, pardons provide a method for those convicted of a felony to minimize the collateral consequences they face as a result of their conviction.  While a pardon does not take a conviction off of your record, it is an order of official forgiveness from the State, and may help in receiving employment, housing, licensing, etc. Pardons are granted by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. In Georgia, less than 40% of pardon applications are approved.

To sum it all up…

Georgia has made some big changes to help those who arrested receive a second shot without suffering the severe consequences that come with having a criminal record. Unfortunately, those with convictions on their record are still facing an uphill battle when it comes to finding jobs, housing, licensing, and educational opportunities. While a good amount of progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.

 

Note:  This post is an update to 2012’s post on the same subject https://theblackacretimes.com/2012/03/20/criminal-background-checks-and-georgia-law/

Library Puzzles

In case you missed the puzzles being assembled at the library circulation desk: the Harley-Davidson is complete, the Harry Potter is under way, and the Pollock has been moved out of sight (due to deflating puzzle morale).

Puzzle

 

Outlining 101

Worried about outlines? What are they? Should you write your own or use someone else’s? When should you start putting one together? The whole thing can seem overwhelming, but with just a few tips, you’ll be an outlining pro.

Although you may have outlined during your undergrad career, law school exams are much different than any other exam you’ve ever taken, so you need to adapt your outlines likewise. Throughout the semester, you learn the black letter law and concepts through case analysis. However, your exam will not be a resuscitation of this. Instead, most of your exams will include a fact pattern in which you will need to apply the legal principles you have learned to identify and analyze the situation in order to reach a legal conclusion.

Outlines are nothing more than a condensed, organized version of your notes. A good outline will include only those critical topics you will be tested on and should include relevant case law and statutes. You should not include every single word you wrote down, but should instead be a synthesized version of your notes, briefs, reading, and secondary sources in one document.

It is important to start outlining at the right time. If you start the first week of classes, it’s too soon. You don’t have a good enough grasp on the material to know what’s important and the substantive law. But if you’re thinking about waiting until the week before exams, you’ll find yourself struggling to remember the nuances from the first half of the course. The ideal time to start is after finishing a significant topic in the course. Try taking a look at your syllabus – professors often break the semester down into large subsections that they cover over a few weeks. Use this is a guide to setup your own outline.

What should a good outline look like? Well, it should be easy to read. Although that means different things to different people, the better ones usually have clearly defined sections, use bold or italics to emphasize definitions, caselaw, or statutes. Underlining and different font sizes and colors help draw the eye to specific topics. Make sure to include broad categories and then start to narrowly define them using various source elements.

business, learning, meetingNow to the great debate – should you create your own outline or use an existing one? To be honest, there are pros and cons to both methods. Creating your own will far and away provide you the best review of the course material. You will be forced to critically think about each topic in a logical and efficient manner, which is exactly what you want your mindset to be during an exam. However, the creation process can be time consuming and cumbersome, so many students find themselves resorting to using someone else’s outline from previous years. Upperclassman often share their outlines with 1Ls and many student organizations maintain outline banks. Although I would discourage relying 100% on an existing outline, if you have decided you just don’t want to do it yourself, take an existing outline and adapt it to what you’ve learned. Course material often changes from year to year, so a course outline from last year may not include all the same cases or material as this year. Ensure that you go through the outline line-by-line to make sure everything included is relevant. Also, don’t be afraid to add to it! Use your own sources to make it better or reorganize it in a way that makes more sense to you.

Lastly, make sure to constantly review your outline for missing elements and accuracy. Talk with other students in your study group or schedule some time with your professor to go over topics. This will provide an opportunity to not only review the material, but also to find gaps, misinformation, or just add clarity to your outline.

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