July 14, 2010
Countdown to the Bar Exam: The Heartache and Challenge
The Bar Exam Saga Continues… As predicted, the heartache and challenge has begun for students studying for this summer’s bar exam. Their enthusiastic fervor has morphed into sleepless nights filled with anxiety laden nightmares and horrifically long days packed with lectures, memorization and practice bar questions. Students that heeded early warnings and sage advice from their bar providers and Professors remain steadily focused but understandably not completely carefree. No one is able to escape the overwhelming and foreboding sensation that studying for the bar exam produces.
At this point in bar review, most students have adopted a practical study routine and daily approach. Lecture attendance, while some may feel is optional, should be taken seriously and strongly encouraged. Hearing the substantive law along with heavily tested legal issues and hypos provide valuable insight into the particular subject areas. For some students, bar lectures may be the first exposure to the law for several subject areas. Therefore, missing lectures can be detrimental to their studying.
Lectures typically only consist of three or four hours daily. Most students struggle during this middle phase of bar review with how to use the unstructured portion of their day. Some bar review providers give detailed pointers but not all. Because most students feel overwhelmed with the limited amount of time remaining in their day, it is difficult for them to determine how to best use their afternoons. Inundated with new material from the lectures, creating voluminous outlines, completing scores of MBE practice questions, writing numerous and varied MPT exercises and countless essays, students are challenged beyond what feels physically and mentally possible. This fog engulfs the logical, articulate and lucid precision they once possessed. Frankly with everything on their “to-do list”, students lose sight of their ultimate goal which is to learn the law and be able to show their knowledge.
Rallying around students to give them support and passing on strategic planning guidance is essential during this phase. There are many ways to manifest such support and guidance. Depending on the resources at your law school, you could hold a MBE, MPT and/or Essay Writing workshop, offer one-on-one appointments with students who seek out help or who fall into categories with the greatest risk of failing or provide lunch or another treat during their studies.
At Seattle University School of Law, we host an “End of Bar Review Lunch” to give students a celebratory kickoff to their independent review and provide them with a chance to ask for help if they need it. The SU Bar Studies Program also holds an essay writing workshop that includes a timed writing and review. Again, this increases the likelihood that students who need either a confidence boost or additional bar prep assistance will take advantage of such assistance before it is too late.
Ultimately, studying successfully for the bar exam is about making what seems unmanageable, manageable. Students do not need a laundry list of boxes to check on a checklist. Instead they need to ascertain what they have learned and mastered verses what they still need to perfect. Ask students at this phase to prioritize and evaluate their knowledge of each subject and their comfort level with each section of the exam. Determining strengths and weaknesses will help with study schedules, time management planning for the coming weeks and lessen anxiety while increasing their confidence. If a student knows that they struggle with multiple choice questions and this struggle is reflected in their scores on the practice tests, it is best to work on a better strategy for the MBE. Alternatively, if a student consistently scores low on the essays or performance tests, it is best for them to hone their writing techniques and practice to remedy those weaknesses.
Far too many students fall into the trap of blindly following a course of action provided by their commercial bar review without considering their individual needs. That said, bar review providers should not be ignored. Instead, students should use commercial bar prep calendars and study planning ideas as guidance while focusing on ways to address their specific and particular needs.
Their happily ever after ending is not quite in sight. The light is glimmering at the end of this tunnel of bar review but for many students it is but a shadowy intimation. However, encouraging students to maintain focus, identify their strengths and weaknesses and reduce their stress levels will illuminate this tunnel and enlighten their journey during the last few weeks of this bar review saga.
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