Hope and Optimism

1345598329_3dd58320f2Every year, about this time, the stress level here at the law school starts to rise.  First-year students seem particularly susceptible.  I hear the word “outline” a lot in the halls.  Students talk about how much they studied over the weekend instead of how much fun they had.  Everyone gets a little bit more serious.

Serious is fine.

Frantic is counter-productive.

I recently read a paper entitled The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades:  Law School Through the Lens of Hope. In this paper, law school professor Allison Martin and psychology professor Kevin Rand share results of their empirical study of first-semester law students’ levels of hope and optimism and how those levels correlate with law school grades and life satisfaction.  The professors differentiate between hope and optimism in this way:  “Hope is more strongly related to expectations for outcomes within a person’s control, whereas optimism is more strongly related to expectations outside of a person’s control.”  So I can hope that I will finish grading papers in a timely fashion.  I can only be optimistic about students submitting their papers on time.

Martin and Rand tested the following possible predictors for academic success:  LSAT scores, undergraduate GPAs, hope, and optimism.   They found that undergraduate GPA was the strongest predictor of first-semester law school GPA and that hope was the second strongest predictor of first-semester law school GPA.  Optimism and LSAT score were not significant predictors of first-semester law school GPA (though optimism was a strong predictor of life satisfaction for first-semester law students).

I’m predisposed to be skeptical of statistical analysis, and the authors note limitations in their study, but I think there are some good, practical insights in the article.  First, students who had measurably high levels of hope reported that they knew their grade was somewhat out of their control, but their performance on a test or paper was not.  They tackled writing and studying in methodical ways and often had a pattern or practice for studying.  Second, “high-hope students” did not set impossible goals like writing a whole paper the night before it was due or preparing an outline for a semester-long course a few hours before an exam. Third, “high hope students” did not worry much about how other students were studying.    In contrast, “low-hope students” saw their grade as well as their level of performance as out of their control.  They often focused more on earning specific grades than learning; they often did not have a plan for studying.

Things are getting more serious, but there’s still time for a plan.  Every student is different, and student plans should differ, but I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

*Set smaller goals working toward the larger goal.

*Get into a steady habit of studying.

*Remember that frustration is part of learning.

*Teach what you know to others in a study group composed of students you trust.

*Take care of yourself.  Sleep, eat well, exercise, laugh, commiserate, thank your loved ones for putting up with you.

And don’t lose hope.  I’m very optimistic that in a few years from now you will all be well-trained Marquette lawyers using your skills to help others.

(Editor’s note:  The image above was found on flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kwerfeldein/1345598329/.)

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Ron Tusler

    In my first year of law school, I was shocked that Professor Blemberg told me that she enjoyed her law school years. I wondered, “how could anyone enjoy working this hard?”

    But they can. Enjoy the little victories. Notice how interesting your classes are.

    Get a good group of friends. Be a good friend to them. Take time out for yourself. Spend more money than you should enjoying yourself.

    And, Don’t beat up on yourself, for anything. There is no one class, one day, or one test that makes or breaks you. Not even a bar exam, because you can take it again.

    Keep your chin up and graduate.

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