Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Students have returned from Spring Break and many third year law students (3Ls) are realizing that the end is in sight. In the near future, classes will end, 3Ls will sit for their last set of law school exams, participate in the commencement ceremony, and sit for the bar exam. Some are so fearful of the anxiety associated with preparing for and taking the bar exam that they choose to avoid thinking about the bar exam. Others are so excited about completing their law school careers that the bar exam appears to be a very distant occurrence.
The past few days have been devoted to discussions of graduation and the bar exam with students who procrastinate, including some who have already missed initial application deadlines (in spite of repeated reminders) and as a result may be required to pay additional fees. Others have failed to sign-up for a bar review program, or have suddenly realized that they have insufficient savings to cover their living expenses during bar exam preparation.
As we face the second half of the semester, a student shared an interesting video with me (see video below). In this video, Samuel M. Chang, the outgoing 14th Circuit Governor for the ABA Law Student Division shared his perspective at an informational hearing of the California State Assembly Judiciary Committee last month. Chang spoke during a panel titled: “Possible Impacts of the Decline in Bar Passage Rates Upon Consumers and Different Sectors of the Legal Community: How Might the Decline of Bar Exam Passage Rates Impact Law Students, Legal Aid providers, Consumers and the Public Interest.” It is powerful to hear from students themselves about their personal experiences and those of their peers. Although the video focuses on law students in California, its content is also relevant to some law students in various jurisdictions with whom we interact and who are unsuccessful on the bar exam. Please find the link here to the transcript of his remarks. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, February 23, 2017
It’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam.
Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! 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.
Really? Not that hard?
Really? You know that I passed?
Really? 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 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 suggestion 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).
Thursday, February 16, 2017
As you make your final tune-ups in preparation for your bar exam next week, remember, anxiety is normal. So, please don't fret the "butterflies."
But, as I can attest due to my own exam stress, that is "easier said that done." So, let me offer a technique or two that I use when dealing with a question that I can't seem to figure out how to even begin to answer.
First, I don't try to get a perfect answer. Rather, I treat each exam question as an opportunity to demonstrate my ability to solve legal problems. In other words, I remind myself that I don't have to be right or correct to pass the bar exam; rather, I just have to demonstrate legal problem-solving abilities, something that we have all worked for several months to cultivate in our bar preparation work.
Second, no matter how difficult the exam, I focus on maintaining a winning positive attitude...by realizing that all of the test-takers are facing the same challenges (and therefore the same stresses). That's right. If the problem seems difficult for you (and me), it is difficult for all of us!
Third, I use a simple "3-step plan" to give me a friendly "push-start" to get my mind around how to solve a problem. So, here are the steps, steps that you might try yourself when you find yourself a bit perplexed on how to begin answering a problem:
1. Grab hold of the call of the question and re-write it as an issue statement (e.g., The issue is whether the contract between Pratt and Delta is valid.).
2. Add material facts to your issue statement (e.g., The issue is whether the contract between Pratt and Delta is valid when the defendant failed to sign the contract.).
3. Now, you are ready to organize an answer...because you see (identified the trigger facts) that constitute the big issue (i.e., a statute of frauds problem here).
Let me offer one more "stress-busting" exam tip that you might incorporate in the midst of your bar exam.
That's right. Don't spend all of your time - for hours on end - hunched over your bar exam questions.
INSTEAD, GET SOME FRESH AIR!
LEAN BACK IN YOUR CHAIR...AND BREATHE!
It's amazing but just leaning back in your chair, as the commander of your own "bar-ship" as you read and navigate your way through exam questions, can make a whale of a difference because the action of leaning back brings valuable oxygen to your body...to empower your mind...to do the work that is before you. And, if you really want to take it to the next level, while you are "leaning back," why not just put your hands behind your head to form a "soft pillow" of comfort and confidence. You can picture the move. Just visualizing the move might bring a smile to your face. And, that smile is a bit of relaxation in the midst of taking your bar exam. So, nicely done! (Scott Johns).
Monday, January 30, 2017
A number of states are banning the use of the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for the February bar exam because of issues with fully disabling the touch bar functions when using ExamSoft. ASPers at law schools may want to check out the recent chain of emails on the ASP Listserv. Some state bars have started posting official announcements on their websites. Keep a watch for what your state is doing.
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".