Friday, January 13, 2017
Many great students have trouble with multiple choice, and as people get geared up for the February bar, I have a lot of students come in and tell me something along the lines of "I've never been good at it." For the majority of them, the problem is that they overthink things before choosing an answer or go back and change right answers to wrong ones.
If you are as student who has never done well on multiple choice, take a run at 25 or so practice questions without ever allowing yourself to change an answer (either in your head or on the paper). See how it works out. I've had a lot of students do this and discover that they do much better on multiple choice exams if they force themselves to take the exam this way. Unless the problem with the question is that you don't know the law or didn't read the question carefully, going with your first instinct is probably the way to go. As a budding lawyer, your mind can probably see the arguments and talk its way into or out of just about anything.
And, if you are studying for the February Bar and need some cheering up, here is a video of Christopher Walken dancing to "Weapon of Choice" by Fatboy Slim.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Are you attending AALS this January? In addition to attending the programs for the Section on Academic Support, you may want to attend one of the Hot Topic Programs: Declining Bar Exam Scores, the New Bar Pass Accreditation Standard, and Ensuring New Lawyer Competence: A Perfect Storm. It is scheduled for Wednesday, January 4 at the 1:30 - 3:15 p.m. time slot.
Friday, December 9, 2016
Multiple choice questions are dumb. Even so, we've created a society where much of a person's life is dependent upon being good at coloring in computer-generated circles with graphite (PSAT, SAT, LSAT, ACT, etc., etc.). Unfortunately, one's ability to pass the bar exam and practice law falls into this category, which I've always suspected was a decision based on insidious lobbying from the #2 pencil industry.
Multiple choice questions are dumb because they don't seem to test much more than the ability to spot and repeat back a factoid. For example, imagine a multiple choice question like this on an astronomy test:
A sun is a:
A. Gigantic nuclear furnace
B. Helium-containing object
D. Ball of incandescent gas
The best answer is obviously "C," although the other three aren't wrong. I don't think picking "C" in that situation proves the student knows that a star is a "sun" if it is the center of a planetary system or any other important ideas about stars or suns. It certainly does not show the student understood anything important about suns or how to suss out what a sun is. It probably only proves that the student had the definition in his or her notes and could remember it. In fact, I would argue that picking one of the wrong answers might actually show the student understood more about suns than if he or she picked the right one.
So, why do we use the MBE on the bar exam? Being able to fill bubbles proves nothing about writing quality, critical thinking skills, advocacy, ethics, or any other skills society believes a lawyer needs.
Additionally, factoids change. In the law, there's local variations and changes in statutes and changes in interpretation. Even in non-law questions, where one would think a static answer was more likely, the same problem exists. For example,
The tyrannosaurus rex:
A. Walked upright
B. Had feathers
C. Ate brontosaurus meat
D. Was less cool than a velociraptor
The answer to that question depends on what decade the student is living in. In the 1970s, A and C would work, but now scientists don't think T. Rex's walked around like Godzilla and a brontosaurus seems to be more correctly defined as an apatosaurus. In the 1990s, after Jurassic Park, choice D looks pretty good. As of a couple of weeks ago, choice B might be a lock.
For any educational endeavor, the idea of one never-changing factoid a student should have burned into his or her brain tissue seems less than useful.
In the context of legal education, I suppose the one thing a multiple choice exam like the MBE accomplishes is proving that the person can be given a standardized assignment that is somewhat herculean and force himself or herself to put in enough work to pass it. I guess one could argue the MBE shows grit and seriousness and ability to follow directions, but except for the ability to put up with a lot of grunt work, I don't think the MBE proves much of anything as far as being a lawyer goes.
However, at least for the time being, this is the world we are stuck with (much like complaining about social media and the Williams-Sonoma catalog, complaining about the MBE is probably more quixotic than anything else). It would make much more sense for the UBE or any other bar exam to be solely comprised of MPTs and possibly some essays, but I doubt we're ever going to get there.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
As mentioned in yesterday's blog by Professor Goldie Pritchard, it's bar exam season...with results coming in throughout this fall semester.
With that in mind, here's some advice for all bar-takers as results are posted...from across the landscape and the oceans...from Puerto Rico to Guam and from Washington State to Florida.
First, if you passed the bar exam, congratulations! What a wonderful accomplishment! As you celebrate your success while waiting to take your oath of office, here's a quick suggestion. This a great time to reach out to your support team (family, friends, colleagues, mentors, etc.) and personally thank them for their encouragement and inspiration. And, with respect to your law school colleagues that did not pass, its important that you reach out to them too. Send a quick email. Invite them for coffee. Let them know that you personally stand behind them and for them no matter what. Most importantly, just listen with kindness, graciousness, and compassion. In short, be a friend.
Second, if you did not pass the bar exam, please know that the results are not a reflection of who you are as a person....period. Lots of famous and successful people did not pass the bar exam on the first try (and some after a number of tries). Yet, they are some of the most outstanding attorneys and successful leaders. So, be kind to yourself. Take time to reflect, cry, and ponder. Most importantly, just be yourself. Then, in a few days or a few weeks, reach out to your law school. Make sure you order your exam answers if they are available in your state because looking at your exam answers can give you inside information on what you did that was great and where to improve too. Contact your bar review company for a one-on-one chat. Overall, though, the most important task at hand is to be kind to yourself, and please remember, your value comes from who you are and not from the bar exam at all. Period. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Bar results are trickling in from various jurisdictions. Students who sat for the bar exam in July 2016 are impatiently waiting for their results to arrive. Some who have received results are excited because they have accomplished their goal and are steps away from being licensed attorneys. Others are devastated by their results and are not quite ready to regroup and re-strategize. For everyone else, this is a tense period of time filled with uncertainty and unease until official bar results are in. Academic Support Professionals who focus on bar preparation are on edge, awaiting results for each and every one of their former students. We share in the joy of student successes, sit with the tears, listen to the disappointment and frustration, and help our students refocus and face the bar exam challenge, hopefully, one final time.
Students who are now 2Ls and 3Ls are hearing from their former schoolmates who sat for the bar exam. At the very least, they are lurking on various social media outlets to see if their friends and former colleagues have passed the bar exam because they are uncertain about “bar exam result etiquette.” Needless to say, this is an uncomfortable time for everyone.
This is, however, an ideal time to discuss the bar exam, bar exam preparation, and bar exam success. Students have “real life” people whom they know either passed or were unsuccessful in passing the bar exam. This is an opportune time to demystify the bar exam and debunk myths about the bar exam. As Academic Support Professionals, we can discuss fears, concerns, and planning for the bar exam. We can also address how to study for the exam and things that students can do now in anticipation of sitting for the bar exam. This is a time when students are more willing to listen and have good intentions, mostly motivated by the fear of being unsuccessful on the bar exam.
Congratulations to all who were successful on the bar exam. Hang in there, to those who were unsuccessful. Cry and be upset for a little while but regroup and work with the bar exam experts at your institution. We are crossing our fingers for you if you are still waiting for results. Good courage to all the Academic Support Professionals who work in bar exam support as you empower students, develop new strategies and use new resources for student bar exam success. (Goldie Pritchard)
Saturday, September 10, 2016
If your copy of the September 2016 ABA Journal has landed in your mailbox, you may want to turn to pages 48-55 to read the article by Mark Hansen entitled "Bar Fight." The online article appears here.
In the same issue, you will find on page 67 a brief article written by Stephanie Francis Ward about the ABA's problems with the Department of Education. The online article appears here
In an article found in Inside Higher Education, an update on UNT and Ave Maria and accreditation is found here.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
A hot topic on the ASP listserv has been the NCBE change in the number of scored questions (175 instead of 190 out of 200) starting with the February MBE. Hat tip to Russell McClain (Maryland) for notice of the Above the Law column: Big Changes Coming.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
There's been a lot of talk about "growth mindset" and for good reasons.
As the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dr. Carol Dweck relates in a June 21, 2016 commentary on the website Education Week, "...my colleagues and I learned things we thought people needed to know. We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset)." http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html
But, with the bar exam looming next week for many law school graduates, as the saying goes, "sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words" to hep you and your graduates "catch" hold of a growth mindset in the midst of bar exam stressors. So, at the risk of minimizing the science behind the growth mindset, here's a quick video clip that just might spark some positive vibes of optimism as you and your graduates focus on final tune-ups in preparation for the bar exam next week: http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest
In particular, just like the baseball player, we don't all have to be great hitters…or runners…or pitchers…to be successful on the bar exam. But, right now, most of us working through bar exam problems feel like we don't even know enough to play the game, to run the bases, to hit the ball, in short, to pass the bar exam. However, it is not about knowing enough that is key to passing the bar exam. Specifically, I try to place my confidence NOT in getting right answers on bar exam problems but rather in learning and demonstrating solid legal problem-solving abilities. It's just not an exam in which one can always be correct. So, don't worry about what you missed. Instead, focus on just being the best possible problem-solver player that you can. (Scott Johns).
You Can Do This!
Friday, July 15, 2016
When I took the Texas bar exam, a woman sitting next to me spent the entire first day crying. Really, it was closer to wailing. I didn't know her, but I felt very sorry for her. On the second day of the bar, she returned, still crying. She stared bullets at my lucky R2-D2 watch, which I put away because I could see that somewhere in her head she was blaming this entire experience on the fact I had an R2-D2 watch. The third day, she returned to cry even more.
If I hadn't been as prepared for the bar exam as I was, something like that could have thrown me. But I had studied to the point that I believed that even if I literally caught fire during the bar exam, I was still prepared enough to make it through.
There are all kinds of horror stories from bar exams -- people throwing up on other people, computer systems crashing, people peeing into their pencil bags, windstorms making the roof bang like a coffee-addled Tito Puente, air-conditioning outages, live target practice happening in the room next door, oil spills that make it impossible to get to the test center, open sewage, wild dogs, etc., etc. Perhaps all the student stress built up over the last few weeks attracts the weirdness, like bugs to a lamp.
Consequently, study enough so that even if something terrible happens, you'll be OK. Set multiple alarms so you will wake up on time. Leave SUPER EARLY for the exam. Be mentally prepared for your computer deciding test day would be a good day to die. Tell yourself that no matter what happens, you've got this. Get mentally prepared and strong in case something goes wrong.
And if nothing goes wrong, great! Just set yourself up so you don't need everything to be perfect on test day. (Alex Ruskell)
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Thank you to Jamie Kleppetsch for sharing the link to Louis Schulze's post on PrawfsBlog regarding NCBE's missed opportunity regarding cognitive load and adding Civil Procedure to the MBE. The link to the post is here: Adding Civil Procedure to the Bar Exam.
Friday, June 3, 2016
As the dulcet birdsong of spring gives way to the blistering Hades of summer in South Carolina, I spend a lot of time working with students as they prepare for the essay portion of the bar exam.
Students struggling with this portion of the bar exam seem to fall into one of two groups. For one group, the problem is that they are writing too little. So, for example, if there is a question involving the UCC and a sailboat, they won't write down what the UCC is, what it covers, or why a sailboat might fall under the UCC rules.
For the other group, the problem is that they are writing too much. In that case, if the question involves what happens when a guy calls up his attorney and tells her to toss his will in a fire, this group will start with "A will requires two signatures ..." and eventually write down absolutely everything they know about wills.
Either way, even if the student actually knows the applicable law and how to apply it, the exam grader can't tell. If the exam grader can't tell, the exam grader is not going to award points. I've seen students fail bar exam essays for both of the above reasons.
Consequently, when evaluating essays, I remind the student to write essays as if he or she is speaking with a client. A client is not an expert in the situation, and the student needs to explain to him or her what rules apply and why those particular rules apply. On the other hand, if the student hits the client with a firehose of information, he or she will have no clue as to what things are important, what the rule actually is, or why that rule applies, even if the actual information is buried in there somewhere.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Scott Johns, Professor of the Practice and Director of the DU Bar Success Program, at University of Denver has written an article on bar exam program interventions which can be found here on SSRN: Empirical Refections: A Statistical Evaluation of Bar Exam Program Interventions. The abstract of the article is below:
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Hat tip to Katherine M. Bender at The Dave Nee Foundation for sending a link to a video yesterday (Law Student Mental Health Day) that the State Bar of Washington has launched to openly discuss the mental health questions on many bar applications. The video can be found here: Questions of Discrimination. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
The above title is from a February 5th posting Dean Richard Bales (Ohio Northern) on the Law Deans on Legal Education Blog. The post considers the Mount Saint Mary College's President's controversial remarks on struggling students and the pressure that law schools are under to increase bar pass rates. The link is here: Glocking Bunnies.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
I was catching up on my reading of posts on other blogs within the Law Professor Blog Network and came across a November 3, 2015 post by Michael Simcovik on Brian Leiter's Law School Reports. Simcovik's post contains a link to Noah Feldman's post on Bloomberg View that cautions against denying applicants admission based on low LSAT test scores and their challenges in passing the bar. Simcovik's post makes a case that even though those who have low LSAT scores on admission to law school may fail to meet the gold standard of first-attempt-bar-exam-passage, they statistically may ultimately pass the bar exam and practice. The post is found here: Failed the Bar Exam? Try Again. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 24, 2015
"Is the Bar Too Low to Get Into Law School?" is the headline in today's New York Times "Room for Debate" section. It posed the question: Why are so many law students failing the bar exam? This is a complex issue and as the different responses make clear, there is no simple answer.
The debate started more than a year ago. The July 2014 bar exam was one of the most exciting (and not in a good way) and controversial bar exams in recent history. It is widely known as Barmageddon or Barghazi due to a nationwide debacle on the first day of the exam. The first day is the written portion; test takers pay a fee ($100-$125) to use laptops and then upload responses through an outside company. Most jurisdictions use ExamSoft. Last year ExamSoft experienced a system-wide failure and test takers across the country were not able to upload responses. ExamSoft eventually fixed the problem but not until thousands and thousands of test takers had stayed up most of the night trying to submit their responses. To say it was stressful is an understatement.
By the time day two started, many test takers still did not know the fate of their responses- were they uploaded? would the jurisdiction accept them after the deadline? Day two of the bar exam is the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE)- the multiple choice portion of the test that every state (except for LA) uses. It is created, scored and scaled by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and although it is only one part of the overall score, jurisdictions use it to scale the other portions of the exam. In other words, the MBE score is a big deal. The rest of the bar exam was uneventful. Until jurisdictions started posting results. Almost every jurisdiction reported historically low bar pass rates. This is when the finger-pointing began: Many law schools blamed the MBE, saying the test was flawed. The NCBE fired back, claiming takers were "less able" than in past years. Not many seemed to see any connection between Barghazi and bar scores.
Fast forward to July 2015. The NCBE added a seventh subject to the MBE but the exam itself is uneventful. No system failures. No Barghazi, part II. Then results started trickling out. Pass rates are lower than last year and so is the national median for the MBE. You have to go back more than twenty years to see a median score this low.
So, why are so many students failing the bar exam? Is it because law students are "less able?" Is it the addition of more material? Are law schools not adequately preparing students? Is the bar exam itself a flawed test? There is definitely "Room for Debate".
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Spoiler: I'm into rhetorical questions, so I'm not going to answer the one I asked above in this post.
A little over a month ago, I sat for a 200 multiple-choice question exam to determine whether I would cross a hurdle necessary for professional licensure. The readership of this blog is probably a little confused because the bar exam was a little less than a month ago. So to answer the obvious question, no, I was not sitting for yet another bar exam. But I have sat for the bar exam in two jurisdictions, so I was comparing the ordeal for licensure in this new profession against that “golden” standard.
My experience leading up to the test was as follows. I filed my application to undergo supervision as a precursor to becoming a licensed professional counselor in the state of Oklahoma in the summer of 2014. The Board did what it had to do with my application which seemed to consist of a verification of education, a background check, confirmation of a relationship with a suitable supervisor and place of employment, and payment of the fee. After about five weeks, they sent me two letters. One notified me that I could begin accruing supervised hours and the other that I was eligible to take the licensure exams. I have two years from the date of that letter to schedule and successfully complete my examinations. It’s a two-part exam, the already mentioned MCQ exam and then a brief, separate law and ethics exam. I looked at my calendar and said, “I think I’ll take it next summer while my students are preparing for the bar exam; I need a reminder of the misery so that I can be sufficiently sympathetic to their ordeal.” A school year goes by during which I continue working as an academic support professional and I accrue supervised client-contact hours in my spare time.
In early May, I pulled out the letter to find the procedure for registering for the exam. I had to apply with a third party administrator to take the exam. I sent in the application with a check and a copy of the Board’s eligibility letter. While waiting to hear back from the third party administrator, I procured my materials to prepare for the exam. I bought them new (which most of my fellow graduates did not), and I combined several different providers resources. They cost less than buying the books alone from most of the bar prep providers.
By the end of May I received an email with my approval and instructions to continue. I went to their website. I entered my zip code. I chose a geographically convenient testing center. It then showed me a calendar with available appointment times. I selected a convenient and feasible date and appointment time to take the exam. Because mornings aren’t my friend, I choose a noon appointment.
I won’t bore you with the details of my study plan (or my study reality) and I’ll go straight to test day. On test day, I had a leisurely breakfast and ran a couple of low brain-power errands, e.g. buying moving boxes. I reported to the testing center 20 minutes before my appointment with two forms of ID in hand. The receptionist checked my ID, confirmed my appointment, created a palm scan to verify identity should I need to exit and then return to the test. I put my hair in a ponytail because a hair tie on my wrist is a threat to test security while one in my hair is not. All of my belongings except my picture ID went into a locker, and I was escorted into the test room to my testing station. The proctor pulled up the test on the computer, gave me a brief orientation, and then left me to the test.
The format of the exam is a 200 question test in a multiple choice format, given in what someone who has taken the MBE considers an overly generous amount of time (I believe it was 240 minutes). It covers eight different content areas as well as five different types of work behaviors. Only 160 of the 200 questions are live questions; they are testing 40 items on every single administration of the exam. And I received my results within 60 seconds of hitting the submit button. Had I failed, it would be three months and another registration fee before I could attempt again. I exited the room, and they used my ID and palm scan to verify that I was still the person who entered the room to take that test. They gave me an unofficial copy of my test results and I was on my way within 90 minutes. No BS belief that finishing the exam early indicates I’m compromising exam security.
Moving to the point I really want to draw with this post - many other professions, some that are arguably more aligned with the practice of law than counseling, use an examination format closer to the counseling model than the law model. Some CPA candidates are encouraged to focus on their exam one segment at a time rather than try to pass all sections at once because they can stack scores from multiple testing dates to get the passing score for each component of their exam. Nurses receive an adaptive computer-based test in facilities like the one I was at. Moreover, the GRE is now, mostly, a computer-based test that is administered in centers like the one I went too. And it’s administered to more than 300,000 people in the United States each year. I’m sorry, I know I jumped from licensing to entrance exams, but let’s compare the number of times the GRE is administered in a year with the almost 81,000 people who took bar exams in 2014.
The infrastructure exists in this country to change the way we do the bar exam, while still maintaining the quality of the test in regards to assessing our graduates' core legal knowledge and reasoning skills. In future weeks, I hope to discuss some of the further ramifications of this idea. This change would create some benefits for examinees, state bars, the public at large, and others. There would also be burdens to those same entities, as well as some others, if this thought experiment were to become a reality. (CMB)
Friday, August 14, 2015
The ABA (finally) adopted a resolution that encourages state bar licensing entities to eliminate questions about mental health on bar applications. Many of us have advocated for such elimination for years due to the potential damaging effects that these types of questions may have on law students. The stigma that these questions produce may discourage law students from seeking much needed mental health treatment or therapy while they are in law school. By eliminating these questions, law students do not need to fear the character and fitness/bar application process if they do decide to seek mental health treatment.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The bar exam is the last test you will ever take. You’ve been preparing for it since the first day of law school. The foundation is built and these weeks of focused study help solidify what you’ve learned over the past 3-4 years. You will pass if you put in the time to learn the material and master the skills. Friends and family believe you will pass. Professors believe you will pass. Your employer believes you will pass. So, why do you doubt your ability to pass? One reason is that you don’t really know what to expect: Will you get an essay on intentional torts or premises liability? How many future interest questions will be on the MBE? Will you remember all the rules for all the subjects? Did you write enough? Too much?
Human beings seek stability. We like rules, routines, and goals. However, the bar exam does not fit nicely into what we’ve always done. You cover a semester a day and even though you spend 8, 10, 12 hours learning material, it doesn’t quite stick. If you could just hold things still, you’d be able to remember the material. Since everything is always changing, this doesn’t work. This is why you worry you won’t be able to learn everything in time and why you doubt your ability to pass. You are trying so hard to control things that you actually lose control.
It is July and the bar exam is at the end of the month. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Accept that you cannot learn everything and that you don’t need to in order to pass. At the end of each day, reflect on what you did and know that it is enough. It is not about whether you checked off every task assigned by the commercial bar prep company. It is about working solidly and steadily and moving forward. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about everyone else. Stop discussing what you’ve done (or didn’t do) with your friends and family. If they are studying for the bar exam, it will just be a stressor for both of you. If they aren’t studying for the bar exam, they don’t care.
Instead of looking at all those unchecked boxes, make a list of everything you have done over the past 7 weeks. Look at all you’ve accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back. Add to the list every day and look through it a few days before the bar exam. This is proof that you have done enough. This is why your friends, family, professors, and co-workers know you will pass. It is why you should believe it, too.
Need a little motivation? Check out my all-time favorite inspirational speech (it will be the best 60 seconds of your day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c47otcg13Z8
Monday, June 29, 2015
Some suggestions for friends and family supporting someone through the bar exam.
Bar Taker: I’m going to fail.
Wrong: Keep up that negative attitude and you certainly will fail.
Right: You are a brilliant, wonderful, hard-working person who is going to win the bar exam!
Bar Taker: I’m getting fat/so out of shape.
Wrong: You do look a little fluffy. And your clothes are a little tight. You need to work out.
Right: No you’re not. You look fantastic. In fact, your arms are so buff from lugging around all those commercial outline books it looks like you’ve been doing Crossfit.
Bar Taker: sniffing the air around him/her Do I smell?
Wrong: You don’t smell but that t-shirt you’ve worn for 3 days in a row sure does, and I could fry okra with all the grease from your hair.
Right: You sure do! You smell like someone who is going to pass the bar exam.
Bar Taker: My house/apartment/room is such a mess.
Wrong: Funny you should say that. I just submitted an audition tape to Hoarders.
Right: You poor dear! Please let me help you. You go to the library and study while I clean up.
Bar Taker: Ugh. I am absolutely exhausted from studying all day.
Wrong: Studying all day? You’ve got to be kidding. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about studying is not the same as actually studying.
Right: Studying like that is just so draining. You just relax right here on the couch and let me wait on you for the rest of the evening.
Bar Taker: I’m just so stressed. I can’t do this anymore.
Wrong: Stressed? You think this is stressful? Insert one of the following:
Mother- Try being in labor for 36 hours like I was with you. Now that is stress.
Sibling- You are such a big baby. No wonder Mom loves me best.
Significant other- Stress is trying to deal with you and your incessant whining. By the way, I’m breaking up with you.
Right: I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of stress you are dealing with. This is the most difficult experience anyone has had to go through. Ever. Let me make an appointment for you to get a massage. My treat.