Wednesday, October 4, 2017
The hustle and bustle of day to day academic support life does not always allow for me to say all that I would like to say to the countless students who contact me to let me know that they passed the bar exam. In the moment, I am excited, I might scream, my heart and my soul are filled with joy, and I might even shed a tear as the bar passer and I recall the challenges they overcame to make it to this point. While addressed to one individual, this letter addresses most of what I would have liked to say but may not have. I am certain that I missed something so please forgive me in advance.
I am so very proud of you!!! You passed the bar exam and did it on the first try! You should be very proud of yourself and your accomplishments. I am certain that your family is very excited for you. Many of your former law school colleagues have stopped by to ask whether I heard about your success and expressed their joy, excitement, and pride. You are an inspiration, a role model, and mentor to others who will walk in your shoes very soon so please do not take that role lightly. I also look to you for support of soon to be bar takers so please do not forget to provide me with any advice you have for those who will soon sit for your state bar exam.
At this time, passing the bar might be a surreal experience but I am here to remind you that you did it. I also want to remind you of what it took for you to get here because the journey was not a simple walk in the park. You sacrificed a lot in the past three years. Was it worth it to you? I want you to take some time prior to your swearing-in ceremony, prior to the start of your job, prior to your journey to finding a job, or prior to the official start of your legal journey to reflect on your legal education journey so that you never forget what it took to achieve this success.
Remember the community you come from and what lead you to consider pursuing a law degree. Maybe you are a first-generation college student, first-generation graduate, or first-generation professional school student so you had to sort through how to navigate the necessary steps to attend law school. Maybe everyone around you said you could not make it to or through law school or maybe you had a supportive family who believed that you could achieve anything and you were slated for success. Maybe you were the only one in your community to graduate from high school and/or college. But you did it and that in itself is an achievement you should be proud of.
Remember all that you sacrificed to attend law school and how much of a toll it took on you, your children, your marriage, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your family, and all those around you. Maybe you moved from across the country to attend law school. Maybe you gave up a well- paying job to live like a college student to pursue your dream of obtaining a legal education. Maybe you left an environment you felt comfortable in to move to one where you stuck out like a sore thumb and never really understood or felt a part of. Maybe you had to leave significant others behind or become a different type of parent, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, son, daughter, brother, or sister to achieve your dream. Maybe you were not as “present” as you used to be, missed holiday celebrations, and other significant life events to obtain your law degree.
Remember the countless hours you devoted to law school studies and bar exam studies. Maybe you were admitted through a conditional admission program, alternative admission program, or simply opted to participate in a pre-law school program, early start program or jump start program. Maybe reading cases, understanding concepts, briefing, outlining, and drafting memoranda took you longer than the next person to master or at least get comfortable with. Maybe law school studies posed the first academic challenge you have ever experienced in life. Maybe you sacrificed hours on course preparation, did not yield the expected results but you kept going. Maybe you experienced many challenges during your summer bar studies. You had no idea how you would manage all of the subject matter and apply it when necessary. Maybe your scores and feedback on essays, Multistate Bar Exams (MBE), Multistate Performance Tests (MPT) and mock bar exams were subpar and you were unsure about whether you would pass the bar exam. Maybe your entry credentials did not “guarantee” law school or bar exam success but you nevertheless dispelled every single one of those myths - you PASSED!
Remember when you said that you were “over law school”, law school was not for you, and you wanted to and also planned to go back home and never return. Maybe you felt like an impostor, alienated, alone, pushed to your limit. What would have happened had you given up on your dream? Would you have experienced the success you now have? The world would have lost an amazing attorney, YOU!
Remember when you ran out of funds and had no food to eat, no means to buy books, and thought you might become homeless. You became resourceful, learned about the options available to you, and overcame each and every one of those obstacles. Your classmates, professors, friends, and family may not have known about your needs and thought you were doing alright. Remember when your grandmother passed away, when your classmate passed away, when your mother or your father told you they had cancer, and when you faced countless other tragedies. Those experiences may make you relatable to some of the clients you will encounter or at the very least will motivate you to support causes that impact various indigent, disenfranchised, and struggling communities and individuals. You are also a stronger person because of what you have experienced.
You did that! No one else! You stared fear and challenges in the eye and emerged stronger, wiser, and capable. Someone once told me: “what is meant for you is yours, and no one can ever take it away.” This statement holds true for you.
You are an amazing person! You inspire me every day and by sharing your story with me, many others will benefit. You persisted in the face of challenges when some others gave up.
My only advice is that you remember the positive things others did for you and do it for someone else if and whenever you are able to. That is the biggest reward you will ever experience. My role as your coach was to push you so that you would see your endless potential and to propel you beyond your own limited dreams and aspirations because hopefully, I saw more in you than you saw in yourself. Remember all that you are, all that you experienced, all that you accomplished and did not accomplish, and where you have been. Never be so important as to deny your ability to lift someone else up. You are done with one challenge and I am certain that you will experience countless others in the months and years to come but you are equipped for it all. Believe it!
All of the very best,
Your ASP and Bar Coach (Goldie Pritchard)
Friday, September 29, 2017
Allie Robbins, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at CUNY School of Law, started a blog last summer for graduates studying for the bar exam. Many helpful tips are included in the posts. Allie will be adding new posts specifically for February bar studiers, so keep this blog in mind. The link to The Activist Guide to Passing the Bar is found here. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, July 27, 2017
For those of you that just tackled the bar exam this week, here's a few words of congratulations and a couple of tips as you wait for results from this summer's bar exam.
First, let me speak to you straight from the heart!
Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean!
Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Not that hard?
You know that I passed?
There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at my work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a few suggestions for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school, and tackling your bar exam. You've done something great, and, more importantly, something mightily significant. (Scott Johns).
Monday, July 24, 2017
This last week, I attended and participated in a diversity and inclusion conference hosted by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three-day conference was engaging and timely. And it included a thought provoking and informative plenary presentation on stereotype threat and implicit bias by fellow-ASPer, Russell McClain. Having seen Russell present before at various ASP conferences, I knew he would be a charming and enlightening presenter—and he certainly was! Congratulations, Russell! I know the ALWD attendees were impressed by your interactive presentation, and I am sure many of them will be reaching out to you in the future for additional ways to address stereotype threat and implicit bias.
I plan to write some more about the ALWD conference and its theme “Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us” at a later date. But, for now, I wanted to spend a little time talking about what is likely on the minds of most academic success professionals and all the recent law school graduates—the bar exam.
Exam takers: We all know you have been working hard, and we believe in you. The next few days will be beyond tough and tiring. But, you have trained your mind and body for it.
Yes. You will likely second-guess yourself. Yes. You will likely face questions that you might not feel good about. But, you are also going to see and work with a lot of information that you do understand and have encountered many times during your bar preparation. Trust yourself. Read the questions carefully. Organize your essays. And don’t let those few questions that you might not know the answers to bring you down. You don’t need to get that A+ to pass. If you spend too much time focusing on the information that you don’t know or can’t remember, you may not leave yourself enough time or energy to show the bar graders what you do know. And you do know. A lot.
A few more things . . . remember to breathe and it’ll be over soon.
We look forward to welcoming you into the profession. (OJ Salinas)
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Yearly, I ask former students who successfully passed the bar exam to share last minute advice with bar exam studiers gearing-up to sit for the bar exam. I look to individuals who have recently successfully passed the bar exam because I know that at this point, my current bar studiers “listen to me but do not hear me.” I know however that they will “listen to” and “hear” individuals who are closer to the bar exam experience than me. This is a great opportunity for me to seek out alums who are excited to share advice because they know I value their opinions and will share their opinions with others. Alums also add tidbits about their own challenges and triumphs throughout this preparatory process. Below are a few of the suggestions from my alums that a bar exam taker can implement at their own risk.
Pause from studying
“Stop studying by 12(noon) the day before the exam. 3 PM max. There is nothing that you can cram into your head past 3 PM the day before the bar exam.”
“Get your full hours sleep the night before the bar exam.”
“You should not be cramming the evening before day 2 either… light review only.”
Know your surroundings
“Get to know the area where the bar exam is scheduled to be taken, if you have time, so you’ll know where you need to be and about how long it’s going to take to get there”
“Eat a good breakfast that day.”
“Eat! But don’t eat too heavy for lunch- a good salad will do. We don’t want to be sleepy during the test.”
“You can’t do your best tired and hungry.”
“Ear plugs… [Writing day] can be pretty noisy with everyone typing.”
“Trust your instincts! Do not second-guess yourself. Move on if you’re unsure and come back to it later. Don’t waste time!”
“I started with the question I felt I knew well- it helped to build my confidence as I progressed to more challenging questions. What I couldn’t remember eventually came back to me (weird lol).”
“Sometimes you have to warm up to the exam. Meaning, if you are not sure about on the first essay topic, move on and start with one you know. For me, I got better and more confident as I answered more essays. So, do not get stumped on the first essay if you are not sure about it.”
“[After each session], don’t discuss your responses with anyone.”
“Monitor your fluid intake before and during the exam or you might make several trips to the bathroom…Please stay hydrated of course.”
“For questions you are not sure about, eliminate the choices you know are wrong and then come back later and choose between the close calls- or choose one and put a star next to it and come back later to review.”
“If you are unsure about a question, make your best guess and keep moving. This is to ensure that you have a response that can be graded and you are not losing time or points. The correct answer might come to you later on in the exam or you might have made the correct guess.”
Regroup & focus
“If you mess up or something happens, take 30 seconds to be upset, and then move on. (My first essay was deleted by [the exam software] and I had to redo it within the time between essays. I started to cry but realized crying was taking too much time.)”
“Relax- nothing good happens when you are nervous.”
“Don’t panic. However, if you do panic- stop, take 5 seconds to recompose and get your bearings and get back to the task.”
“… Trust yourself and be confident. You got this!”
See the light at the end of the tunnel
“Smile because that terrible summer will be over in about 16 hours!”
“Be confident! You made it through undergrad, LSAT, Law School, exams, etc.….”
“Pray, and don’t panic. You know what you know.”
In sum, everyone has an opinion and advice but your voice and your needs should be paramount. You know what you need, you studied hard, and you know how to take tests. You can do it! Cheers! (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, July 13, 2017
With a big hat tip to one of our bar takers this summer, here's a website -- The Visual Law Library -- that has some cool colorful cartoons to help brighten up your daily memorization studies.
On the website, cartoonist and attorney Margaret Hagan has created cartoons for the following subjects that are tested on most bar exams: Civil Procedure, Con Law, Contracts, Corporations, Criminal Law, Evidence, Family Law, Property Law, and Torts.
It's a rich resource to allow you to "see" some of the major rules in a colorful way. So, feel free to take a break by scoping out a few cartoons that might help you better remember some of the major rules for upcoming bar exam. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
July is in full swing, the bar exam is fast approaching, and panic has set in yet again for some bar exam studiers. Others are ready to face the beast that is the bar exam so they can become "human beings" again. What do you do with the time you have remaining to maximize your preparation? Below are a few last minute suggestions from former bar exam studiers.
Last Two Weeks
Create a plan; make a schedule for the days leading up to the exam. What, specifically, are you going to do on each day? What materials do you need to put together for test days? What materials are not permitted in the exam room? Plan to be awake and study during the times you need to be awake and alert on exam day. Consider whether you need to regulate your fluid intake. Adopt a plan and stick to it.
Inspirational Music, Movies, or Videos
Music, movies, or videos that “pick you up” or “pump you up” can motivate you to dig up that last bit of energy you know is within you when you feel depleted. These can also create a positive mindset about your ability to tackle the exam or to reenergize after perceived poor performance. You can create a playlist leading up to the exam, for each morning of the exam, or after the exam. Alex Ruskell, one of our former contributors, wrote an entry last year with musical selections for various tastes. Click here: Get Pumped for the Bar Exam!
As a bar exam studier, you want to mentally prepare for the exam ahead and the best way to do this is to mimic the circumstances surrounding the bar exam. Practicing on the days and at the time of your exam a week before your bar exam is ideal. You may have only practiced one session (3 hours) of essays, performance tests, or MBE. You may have practiced a full day (6 hours) of MBE or a writing day practice but you may not have done it in the same sequence as the bar exam. The goal of this exercise is to see how you maintain your stamina, how you engage with the material at the times you need to, and how you manage two or three days of consecutive testing. It will likely be an exhausting process so plan to be unable to do anything else each night. The focus of this exercise is not on assessing whether you will pass the exam based on your performance. Bar exam studiers focus on the score rather than on time management, energy, and the like. Adrenaline keeps you going on exam day but you are fighting fatigue from the past few months and you want to train your brain to engage when you need it to. This is also an opportunity to practice following the policies of your testing center and jurisdiction.
Create a list of individuals who will cheer you on at various points and support you in different ways. Ensure that you have a mix of individuals who understand the bar exam process and some who are completely removed. You can have a call schedule or ask them to check-in with you on various days and at various times. There are some individuals who are great at getting you pumped up for a day of testing and others to whom you can confide all of your fears prior to or after the exam. There are also individuals who can run errands for you, cook for you, bring you lunch in between test sessions and keep your company. It is vital to consider what you need and the people who can cater to those needs in the days to come.
All the very best July 2017 bar takers! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, July 10, 2017
We are just a few weeks away from the bar exam. And for many students studying for the bar, that means questions. No. I don’t mean the hundreds, if not thousands, of MBE questions that the students have taken and, perhaps, retaken. And I don’t mean questions on any practice exams. I mean questions running through our students’ heads: questions of doubt, commitment, and normalcy.
Most students studying for the bar have had to live in somewhat of a “Bar Exam Prep Bubble” for the last few months. They celebrated law school graduation in May. But, it wasn’t really a full-on celebration because they knew there was still something more to do. It’s something huge and overwhelming. And it’s something that dictates one’s true entrance into the legal profession.
The bar exam is huge and overwhelming and, in many respects, it does dictate one’s true entrance into the legal profession. This monumental exam has a way of playing mind games with our students—especially at this point in the bar prep season.
We are at a point in the bar prep season where students will start second-guessing themselves. Will I pass? Have I really done all that I should have done over the last few months? What if I freak out and can’t remember anything? Why have I put myself through this?
Despite all the work that our students have put into preparing for the exam, they will think they still have more work to do. Despite the objective results that their bar companies provide to them of their performance so far in the bar prep season, they will wonder and worry about how well they will perform on the ‘big day(s).’
As we prepare ourselves for the last few weeks of bar prep season, let’s remember that anxiety and doubt are normal for this big event. But, they don’t equal failure. Anxiety and doubt don’t mean that our students are unable to succeed. And they don’t mean that our students have not put in the necessary work to succeed.
If we get an anxious and doubting student in our offices, let’s remember our anxieties and doubts about our bar exams. Let’s remember how we may have felt overwhelmed with the amount of material. And let’s remember that we, and every other licensed attorney out there, passed the exam.
The bar exam is challenging. But, it is doable. We are all proof that it is doable. With the right frame of mind and support from family, friends, and ASP professionals, we were all able to overcome the mind games. Our students can, too. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Straight from a recent law graduate and licensed attorney Sarah Myers, here's some exciting news that you can "sing" about as you prepare for your bar exam this summer. But first, a bit of background....
Ms. Myers serves as the clinical director of the Colorado Lawyer's Assistance Program, a confidential program for law students and practitioners alike implemented by the Colorado Supreme Court. As the clinical director, Ms. Myers successful passed the bar exam in February 2016, holds a master's degree in somatic counseling education, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed addiction counselor.
In other words, Ms. Myers knows all about the stress and strains of life, particularly in relationship to the study of law and preparing for the bar exam.
So, Ms. Myers put together a very handy survey of the research on the surprising benefits of music -- benefits that you can put to good use this summer as you prepare for the bar exam.
To cut to the chase, here's key language from Ms. Myer's summary:
"Research shows that the many benefits of listening to music, playing an instrument, dancing, or singing include:
Improved visual & verbal skills;
Increased endorphins that improve mood;
Improved cardiovascular system, including strengthening the heart, decreasing blood
pressure, and reducing pulse rates;
Better sleep patterns and more restful sleep;
Boosted immune system and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol;
Reduction in anxiety and overall stress;
Improved sound-processing ability, improved hearing.
Increased levels of oxytocin, resulting in reduced pain and improved mood;
Improved memory across lifespan; and
Increased serotonin levels that reduce depression."
So, take heart and lift up your voices, your instruments, and your heels and start singing, humming, whistling, jamming, and just overall having fun making music. And, the best music to make is that which is made with others. So, why not get a group jam session going, especially this week, to help you start getting the benefits of music within your life. And, if you just can't help yourself by taking a singing break, don't worry. You can always just make up a song or two for some of your most difficult bar exam rules. That way you'll reduce your stress and learn something valuable too! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
We often find individuals thanking others for the opportunity to do this or that but does it mean anything for a person who will sit for the bar exam in a few weeks? Maybe or maybe not. Current bar exam studiers are focused on the tasks at hand and rarely consider that they were of the few selected to attend law school and that they completed their degrees while some others were academically dismissed or otherwise forced to end their law school journey. All of the bar exam studiers' hard work, perseverance, efforts, and abilities granted them “the opportunity” to sit for the bar exam.
This blog entry was inspired by a small cohort of recent graduates who are serving as support for one another during this bar exam preparation period. I have worked with these students most of their law school career but this bar exam study period was very revealing about their character. I understand that one member of the cohort shared a bar meditation book with each member of the group, one makes motivational videos, and they collectively support each other with regular check-ins and sharing resources. This may not be unique as cohorts of friends typically do the same. What stood out for me was what a member of this cohort said to another. She said that it was “an opportunity” to sit for the bar exam so they should all treat it as such and not squander any opportunity to put forth their best effort. This “opportunity mindset” helps motivate some. An awareness and recognition of basic things that we have taken for granted create that opportunity mindset. If you are able to move and are of sound mind (just to list a few), you are able to accomplish quite a bit in a shorter amount of time to succeed in your bar studies than someone who does not possess those abilities. Even through her own struggles and challenges; this bar exam studier was able to recognize her opportunity to achieve her dream and has used it to encourage others.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “opportunity” as:
1. “a favorable juncture of circumstances”
2. “a good chance for advancement or progress”
I like both definitions for different reasons. In the first, I see all conditions being right leading to positive possibilities for success. For bar exam studiers, it simply means that everything they achieved thus far, led them to this point in time which allows them to sit for the bar exam. They would have never been afforded the opportunity to sit for the bar exam had every requirement not been met. In the second definition, given everything they have accomplished thus far, there are positive odds on their side for this next endeavor. Current bar exam studiers have good odds of successfully passing the bar exam.
As Academic Support professionals, it is our job to remind students of their achievements and ability. Defeatist attitudes and perceived inability to complete all tasks and to be successful on the bar exam are inevitable during bar study. Bar exam studiers forget all of the challenges they have overcome since May and are focused on the immediate feedback, the number (the number of MBEs and Essays they have completed and more importantly their scores on each). The number has different significance for each bar exam studier; it might show progress, achievement, or probability of success. While some are not meeting all their goals, bar exam studiers may have improved their speed and are getting more answers correct. The real question is how close are they to the target goal of putting themselves in a position to pass the bar exam on the first try and whether there is enough time to reach that goal?
The 4 min inspirational video found here aligns well with some of what was discussed above. Be excited about the opportunity bar exam studiers! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, July 3, 2017
We are less than a month away from the bar exam. Law graduates throughout the country have been working long hours trying to digest a huge amount of information. They try to stay focused and positive so that they can overcome this enormous hurdle that is only offered twice a year. But what happens when unexpected life events happen that impact a student’s focus and positivity? What happens when our students face a rough patch of water as they are sailing through their bar preparation?
I was on a vacation with my family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few weeks ago. After six years of living in North Carolina, we still had not made it out to this beautiful and most Eastern part of the state. The beaches, food, and lighthouses were all great. Here's a pic of one of the lighthouses:
So, we were at a seafood restaurant getting ready to drive back to Chapel Hill after a wonderful time in the Outer Banks. I was about to pay our bill when I got a short and unexpected text message. A close family member had been in a car accident.
Many of us have likely received similar messages. You feel like you should do something, but you are so far away that you cannot do much. So, you try calling family members. But, no one answers. The text message did not include much detail. So, you call again. You text. And you wait. And the anxiety and the unknown take over until someone responds to your text or answers your phone call. And you hope so mightily that the response or phone call is a positive one.
Fortunately, despite a pretty scary car accident, no one was seriously hurt. My family member, who took the brunt of the accident, was able to thankfully walk away. Thoughts start circulating through your head. Soreness and bruises will subside. Vehicles can be repaired or replaced. Life is precious.
Things soon began to settle down as best they could. But, as many folks have likely experienced, it was difficult not to think about how things could have been worse. This got me thinking about what our students experience if a similar, or even worse, unexpected life event happens while they are preparing for the bar exam. How do we help them? Can we help them?
The answers to these questions are difficult, and they should be. Law school and passing the bar exam are large parts of our students’ lives. But, they are not the only parts of our students’ lives. How a student deals with an unexpected life event obviously depends on what this life event is. It may also depend on what type of support system this student has in place or can put into place. It may also depend on how much time a student has left to prepare—physically and mentally—for the exam, and whether or not the student wishes to try to persevere through this life event or wait until the next test date for the bar exam.
As academic success professionals, we know that we are likely part of the support system for our students. We know that we can offer a listening ear to our students and refer our students to additional resources when needed. Our listening ears are particularly helpful and appreciated during difficult times for our students. Sometimes, just talking about a challenge can be therapeutic and provide some assistance. We can also try to empathize and understand what our students may be going through. And we can, in a nonjudgmental way, try to have honest conversations with our students about their goals, bar preparation, and ability to maintain focus and some positivity.
Bar prep companies often place some extra time in their planning calendars for our students. But, this extra time may or may not be enough for our students. Are they on schedule with the suggested bar preparation calendar? How are their practice results so far? Can they afford another several months before they are licensed attorneys? How are they simply feeling right now? And how do they think they will be feeling in a week or two?
These are all questions that we might have with any of our students. These questions become even more significant for students who have experienced some unexpected life event. I lost some focus and positivity during that short time that I was unable to find out what was happening with my family member. As we enter the last stretch of bar preparation, let’s try to remember that unexpected life events often happen, and we may need to be there to help our students plan and persevere. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, June 29, 2017
With just under a month to go for many bar takers (and after numerous weeks of intensive studying), let's face the facts:
We are plain downright exhausted. And, we should be. But, given what seems like the insurmountable pressures to learn so much material for the bar exam, it just seems like we can't let up with our daily grinding regiment of bar studies. There's no time for a day off. There's too much to learn.
However, let me offer you a way to "let up" so that you can feel mighty good about taking a real day off. A whole day. A day of rest and relaxation to boot. In fact, please feel free to live it up. And, there's no better time to take a day off from your studies than on a national day of celebration - this upcoming July 4th holiday.
I find that Independence Day is one of the best days of the year to see bar exam problems in living color.
That box of fireworks bought at a big top tent stand. That was procured through negotiation by you (or one of your friends) of a UCC contract for the sale of goods (and the seller most certainly had a secured transaction agreement in order to bring the goods to sale to your area).
That box of fireworks that didn't work as advertised. Well, that might just blossom into a breach of contracts claim or even a tort claim for misrepresentation.
That box of fireworks that were lit off in the city limits. In most cities, that's a strict liability crime, plain and simple.
You see, even when we take a day off from studies, we live in a world of bar exam problems. In fact, we are surrounded by bar exam problems because the bar exam tests legal situations that are constantly arising among us. So, it's a good thing to get our heads of the books occasionally to see what's happening around.
That means that you can completely feel free to relax and celebrate on this upcoming national holiday. Take the day off - the whole day off! Go have some fun! Celebrate...because even while taking a day off you will still be learning lots about the law from just living in the world. You can't help yourself but to see legal problems everywhere...because...you have be trained as a professional problem-solving attorney.
So, rest assured that in the midsts of your celebrations you'll be learning helpful legal principles that you can bank on preparation for success on your upcoming bar exam. And, as a bonus, you'll get some mighty needed rest to recharge your heart and mind too! So, enjoy your day off; you've earned it! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
About three years ago, I hosted a practice Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) session for bar exam studiers who were enrolled in online bar review programs. Practically speaking, these bar exam studiers did not have opportunities to interact with others preparing for the bar exam. Moreover, I did not want bar exam day to be the first time they experienced being in a room with others. This MBE practice provided bar exam studiers with an opportunity to be in a room with other bar exam studiers as bar study can be even more isolating for individuals opting to study independently. It also motivated bar exam studiers to complete a full-length MBE and honestly experience the challenges associated with sitting, reading, processing, and sorting through answers to MBE questions. My physical presence in the room was motivation because under my watchful yet non-authoritative eye bar exam studiers felt compelled to sit through the end of the testing period. Students were appreciative because they commiserated with others and recognized that they were not alone in experiencing the challenges encountered thus far in the preparatory process. In sum, the practice MBE session afforded bar exam studiers and me a rare opportunity to address stamina, fears, successes, strategies, and perseverance during the break between sessions.
A colleague in another department suggested that we offer the bar exam studiers lunch during the break and invite various administrators (Academic Support, Diversity Services, Library, and Student Affairs) who were already a part of their support system. My colleague used money in her budget to pay for the meal and students were so grateful. Other bar exam studiers who were non-participants in the practice MBE found their way to the lunch; apparently, food draws individuals out of their study spaces. Offering lunch was a wise and timely idea as it enabled bar exam studiers to mingle with familiar faces, feel supported by the institution, and receive comfort and reassurance. Bar exam studiers naturally gravitated to administrators they felt comfortable with, requested advice and suggestions, and shared ideas freely. Ironically, the lunch break experience appeared more meaningful to bar exam studiers than the practice MBE.
This year, we tried something different. We hosted a bar exam study break during the lunch hour and a few days before most bar exam studiers were scheduled to take their mock MBE in their bar review programs. We found affordable and healthy food options and accounted for a few additional bar exam studiers as we knew that some may have missed our message but would show up. A relaxing atmosphere to encourage wellness, stress relief, camaraderie, and fun was created and included music, plenty of natural sunlight, informational posters, stress balls, pencils, and other goodies. Once everything was set up, we waited and it seemed like no one was going to show up. Gradually, bar exam studiers emerged and found their way to the room. We did not recognize a few of our former students; it was like we were in Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video or any Zombie movie or television show. It was then that we realized that this event was timely! These individuals needed a few moments to reflect and refocus. We saw bar exam studiers we did not realize were in town and thought had long since commencement returned home. At some point, chatter took over the room and bar exam studiers seemed to come alive. We spoke with bar exam studiers but mostly left them alone. What an amazing and priceless opportunity for former students to see us (administrators) and other bar exam studiers to commiserate, to encourage one another, to fellowship over food, and to ask questions about bar studies. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The intense anxiety created by the bar preparation process leads bar exam studiers to take on habits and processes that they have often avoided in the past and that they know do not benefit them. The overflow of advice, particularly from peers who have recently sat for the bar exam, is a “must-do” for bar exam studiers whether the advice provided serves the bar exam studier or not. All advice might be great advice, independently, but the question is whether implementing all advice simultaneously is helpful.
Bar exam studiers develop anxiety simply by seeing their bar review schedules and materials and that anxiety becomes stronger as they complete assignments and at times fall behind. Anxiety further intensifies as bar exam studiers accumulate resources suggested by others. They become overwhelmed by the volume of resources at their disposal and question when and how they will use resources to maximize their potential for success on the bar exam.
My advice to bar exam studiers is to supplement bar review by selecting one or two supplemental bar review resources that cater to skill weaknesses. When I say this, bar exam studiers look at me perplexed by the suggestion that I would expect them to selective about available resources. If you have researched, selected, and paid for a bar review program then you should use all aspects of the program. Moreover, the bar review program should be adequate enough to prepare you for all aspects of the bar exam. However, if multiple choice questions are a challenge, then it might be helpful to determine why it is a challenge and consider using supplemental materials to build strength. The same applies to essays and performance tests. If access to additional practice questions for various components of the bar exam is limited then supplemental resources can be helpful and should be used solely for that purpose. If bar exam studiers are seeking alternative delivery modes of substantive law then supplemental materials are helpful. If memorization and recall are challenges and the bar exam studier is seeking mechanisms to compartmentalize, manage, recall, and/or memorize information then supplemental resources might be helpful as well. Bar exam studiers should always have a basic idea of what they need, why they need it, and how they will use supplemental materials. This is fundamental. Overall, bar exam studiers might need specific components of a supplemental resource, all aspects of a supplemental resource, or might not need it at all because what they seek is already contained in their bar review materials.
Time is very precious so bar exam studiers should ask themselves if they will actually have time to use what they spent money on, their bar review program and/or supplemental resources. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, June 15, 2017
Just the title of this blog might seem sacrilegious. But, in the midst of the daily work in bar exam preparations this summer, I've come across an interesting trend. It seems like no one preparing for the bar is convinced that they can write a passing essay answer, particularly when comparing practice answers to the multi-page point sheet or the line-by-line perfect answers often provided by commercial bar review companies.
In short, bar exam studiers often feel like they missed the mark (and aren't even close to earning a passing score). That can lead to a frustrating cycle of trying the next time to write an answer that resembles the massive point sheet, only to learn once again that one didn't quite get all of the points (or even half of the points). Unfortunately, over time, essay answers start to look like point sheets rather than the written work of professional attorneys, and, no wonder.
But, in most states in which graders assess answers based on holistic relative grading, point sheets miss the mark, too. That's because in holistic grading the Supreme Court graders are not looking for points but rather are reading answers for the substantive quality of your writing and legal problem-solving. So, here's a tip.
Instead of practicing to write for points on your bar exam this summer, try to write to substantively impress your reader with the qualities of your professional writing and the substance of your well-thought out argument. In other words, write to impress...because...in holistic grading, that's exactly what the graders are looking for. Of course, the impressions must have substance, i.e., demonstrating the work of an attorney. So, with that in mind, here's a technique to assess and perfect your essay writing. Instead of calculating whether your practice answer got all of the points, take a look at the much-shorter outline rubric provided by many bar review companies. Then, glance through your answer to see if you hit the major issues and if your writing professionally flows. In holistic grading jurisdictions, that's really meeting the mark, and meeting it well. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
A lot of what I heard last week was: “I fell behind in my bar studies so I spend all of my time trying to catch-up only to fall even further behind.” It is not uncommon for bar studiers to fall behind at some point during bar study. Studiers get tired, take longer to complete tasks, or encounter difficult/unfamiliar topics. How a person manages such situations may determine whether or not that person succeeds in catching-up or endures added stress throughout the remainder of the study period. Below are a few things one may wish to consider if ever in such a predicament.
1. Consolidate it and Write it. Create a gigantic to-do list (because everything seems impossible during bar review) by jotting down on a sheet of paper everything you have failed to complete. It is easy to feel overwhelmed thinking about all of the things you have not completed or seeing assignments listed under multiple days in various locations. Assignments and to-dos may appear more abundant than they actually are; therefore, it is helpful to collect everything in one place.
2. Prioritize it. Determine how and where to allocate and prioritize most of your time and energy. Create and label 2 columns: "critical" and "not-so-critical." In the critical column include tasks such as reviewing substantive law which is foundational to all other assignments and tasks. Consider the “80/20 rule” (in moderation of course) so you maximize your use of time to yield the most productive result and not waste time on tasks that are not benefiting you given time constraints. Determine when, in the remaining days, you can insert the not-so-critical tasks to ultimately complete all tasks without compromising future tasks. It is not advisable to spend all the remaining time catching-up. Instead, focus on what is currently due and gradually insert past due tasks in the remaining weeks so all tasks are complete by the end of bar review.
3. The Process. Keep your eye on the prize, passing the bar exam, but develop process oriented goals - steps that it will lead you to succeed on the bar exam. Often time, focus is placed on passing the bar exam which may appear impossible and overwhelming rather than considering individual steps and taking them on one at a time. Be cognizant that some of your steps might be very different from other bar studiers. You may have to warm up to sitting down for 100 Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) questions in 3 hours while others might require be able to do this fairly quickly. Knowing this about yourself, you may wish to initiate and implement frequent and consistent steps to achieve the ultimate goal. Being strategic and process focused will provide you with momentum, help you quickly develop good habits, and allow you to chip away at seemingly impossible tasks.
4. Start With Application. It is a given that substantive law is covered in lecture or some other method so we can check that off the list. For some bar studiers, completing a small number of MBE questions or an essay prior to lecture might be helpful to assess what they know, don’t know, or are familiar with. Also, their strengths and weaknesses in directing focus as they engage with the material. First instinct is to learn all the material completely and in depth prior to ever looking at a question although most programs encourage students to dive-in early. It might be helpful to redirect focus and time on things one needs to learn rather than things one already knows; and the only way to know what falls in what category is to practice. Do not focus on every minute detail and unique aspects of concepts but rather on what is needed to answer a typical question on the topic.
5. Select an Implementation Day. If you have tasks that are critical and require significant concentration such as completing a timed mock exam, clear your calendar off for a day to complete the task or tasks, schedule a study marathon. Set specific time limits for completing each task to ensure your productivity otherwise you may not get very far and may be faced with the adage: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” For your implementation day, find a place where you cannot be disturbed. This might require going to another town to avoid running into people you know, find a distraction free zone. It is important to note that while your implementation day might allow you to catch up, you are sacrificing a study day or day of rest and you will be exhausted at the end of this process. Furthermore, you will likely sacrifice depth of learning for breath of coverage. Plan a reward following the implementation day so you have something to look forward to as you are working because you will be exhausted. (Goldie Pritchard)
Friday, June 9, 2017
Over on Paul Caron's Tax Prof Blog is a posting regarding a Wall Street Journal article on law school deans pushing for a lower pass score and a new study that indicates lawyers with lower scores are more likely to face discipline and disbarment. You can read the Tax Prof Blog posting here.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
While we are still in the early stages of bar preparation, around this time, bar studiers tend to hit the panic button. The realization that we are in the month of June is overwhelming because the bar exam is in July which does not seem very far away. Bar studiers fail to recognize that they are only about three weeks into bar review and although it is June, they still have time until the bar exam comes knocking at the door. They also fail to realize that even if they had a year to study for the bar exam, they would not feel prepared when exam day arrives for this is the nature of bar preparation.
Recently, I have spent quite some time quailing fears and concerns associated with the perceived lack of time. A primary concern I have heard voiced is an excessive focus on what other Bar Studies are doing and completing rather than focus on individual progress, accomplishments, and milestones. Let us consider fictional bar studiers Whitley and Denise. Simply because Whitley BarStudier uses flashcards she purchased and swears by their effectiveness in helping her master the information and efficiency in covering volumes of materials does not necessarily mean that Denise BarStudier should do the same or would generate similar results. Particularly if Denise tried flashcards at various points in law school and failed to yield significant results. If Denise examined Whitley’s flashcards and was still skeptical about their effectiveness, yet purchased them anyway, isn’t that counter intuitive? Each time Denise attempts to use the cards, she is filled with anxiety because she is unable to absorb the material and is reminded that she does not comprehend the material. Denise knows for a fact that checklist outlines and self-created and handwritten outlines work best for her memorization, recall, and learning of rules and key buzzwords. So then, why doesn’t Denise do what she knows works for her? Why would she go against everything that worked for her and do something that has proven to be ineffective? These are questions I often ask bar studiers. While it is great to be aware of available resources, their availability does not always mean they are right for you. Why work against your process and waist time, knowing that you may eventually have to revert to what you know to be effective? Simply because the masses said it helped them pass the bar exam does not mean that adopting the same approach will yield the desired result.
Another primary concern is passively doing and checking things off the “bar study to do list.” Let us consider fictional bar studier Dwayne. Dwayne BarStudier is very attentive to what professors and recent bar passers have told him about preparing for the bar exam. The key piece of advice he has received is to strictly follow the bar review schedule and he is guaranteed to pass the bar exam. Dwayne is doing just that but gets sick over failing to complete some assignments and therefore stays up all night to complete them. He monitors his daily and weekly progress in completing his bar review program and is for the most part on task. However, Dwayne is unable to answer questions about basic elements and requirements for simple concepts and has significant difficulty issue spotting or starting an essay randomly selected from subjects recently covered in his bar review program. Dwayne is also unable to give a good broad overview or synopsis of major topics in any subject area thus far. He has not thought about what this means as he is simply following his bar review program. He may wish to think about what he is doing, be self-regulated about his process and not simply “do-to-do.” Why shouldn’t Dwayne reflect on the tasks he is completing and the justification for completing them? Why shouldn’t Dwayne assess his performance in individual subject areas and individual types of tasks? Why shouldn’t Dwayne ask himself whether he is expanding his knowledge, storing information in his memory, and able to access that information when needed? Completing all the tasks may or may not be beneficial to Dwayne but he is unable to determine this if he simply completes his assignments without reflecting or truly critiquing his progress.
The best news that I can deliver to bar studiers is that we are still early in the process so there is room to make mistakes, adjustments, and to be confident adopting and sticking to systems that work for each individual as they study for the bar exam (Goldie Pritchard).
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Thursday, June 1, 2017
In contrast to the promotional tourism slogan of a famous gambling city in Nevada, what happens in bar review lectures...ought never stay in lectures.
Here's what I mean. Too often what we learn during bar review lectures is never really put to the immediate test. Rather than diving into practice essay and MBE multiple-choice problems that very day of a bar review lecture, we often tend to whittle away precious time by reviewing our lecture notes, re-reading bar review outlines, or, worst yet, re-watching lecture videos (because we are worried that we didn't catch every fine point made during the course of a four-hour bar review lecture). In short, we continue to stay in the lectures by staying in a passive "lecture-like" mindset.
However, that's not the way to learn to prepare for the bar exam because the bar examiners don't ask us to recite bar review lectures or demonstrate that we memorized our lecture notes. Rather, the bar examiners demand that we show that that we can engage in active problem-solving. So, if you are preparing for the bar exam this summer, get activated; get moving; get going by tackling lots of bar exam problems right after you complete each bar review lecture. You become the master rather than watching others demonstrate mastery in solving bar exam problems. It will be challenging. That's because learning is incredibly difficult. It takes all of our heart and mind. It means making lots of messy mistakes. It requires being comfortable with ourselves in realizing that it is not natural to know how to do things. In short, it takes lots of work and perspiration in straining and stretching ourselves to tackle things that we couldn't previously do. That's why we call it learning.
So, instead of spending most of bar prep watching others solve legal problems, get into the action, the real action of learning, by breathing life into the bar review lectures as you work step-by-step through lots of bar exam essay and MBE multiple-choice problems. Although it will feel mightily uncomfortable, you'll be mighty glad you did when you take your bar exam because you'll be ready to demonstrate to the bar examiners that you are an expert legal problem-solver, "bar none." (Scott Johns).