Wednesday, July 14, 2010
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.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Alas, it is conference season. I know many ASPer's are just getting back from Elon Law School and LSAC's conference on counseling. I wish I could have joined everyone, but sadly, I am still in a travel freeze. After 5 years, and countless conferences, here are some tips for making the most of the experience:
1) Be social, even if you are an introvert
Yes, sadly, ASP can be sort of clique-y. It's not intentional; many of us have known each other for many years, and some of us worked together for years before we switched schools, moved, etc. However, it is worth remembering that 90% of us where the uncool kids in school growing up (we were way too smart) so we welcome everyone as adults. We are not mean girls (and boys), I promise. Say hi. If you are shy and uncomfortable, let us know. Most of us were uncomfortable at our first conferences as well. The only way to get the advice and help you want is to break into the cliques and start talking to people. Really, we are like a congregation of kindergarten teachers once you know us.
2) Be a joiner, even if you are not a joiner.
You need exposure. To get exposure for your program, school, etc, you need to join things. AALS, LSAC, Institute for Law School Teaching and Learning, Humanizing Legal Education. When you are at those conferences, be a joiner. Go to the (sometimes stupid and quirky) social functions. Join subcommittees. When you join things, be social and let people get to know you and what is great about your program. The legal academy is a tiny place, so everyone knows someone at your school. This is instrumental for your career. You never know when you may need a phone call placed on your behalf to your boss/dean, letting her/him know what a great job you are doing. the only way to for that to happen is to be social, and be a joiner.
3) Ask questions
We tell our students there are no stupid questions, and then we are afraid to ask questions as conferences for fear of sounding stupid. As someone who has presented a ton, I don't think I have ever heard a stupid question. We completely understand that people new to the profession need to ask basic questions. We want to help. Conferences are places where you should be asking questions.
4) Toot your own horn. No one else will.
While being social, be sure to mention your accomplishments. If you feel like you don't have any accomplishments, then just tell people what you are doing. No one else is going to let others know the great things you are doing at your school. ASPer's are the modest, non-competitive ones in the legal academy, which is self-defeating at times.
5) If you are would like to present at a conference in the future, tell somebody
The powers-that-be (that change from year to year, conference to conference) don't know if you would like to present unless you let people know. ASP is unlike other areas of the legal academy, in that you don't necessarily have to write a paper in order to present something that you are doing. While we are a many-talented group, I haven't encountered any mind readers among ASPer's as of yet.