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.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
I love sports. I love to play sports, coach sports, and watch sports. Studying for the bar exam is like playing a sport, coaching a sport, and watching a sport. There are highs and lows, agonies and defeats, and setbacks and triumphs. Bar review for many law school grads has been in full force for a couple of weeks. The foggy haze of transition from law student to bar student has lifted. Now, it is time for bar students to get their heads in the game.
Like preparing for a sport, you must look at your bar preparation as you would a training schedule. You cannot swim the 500 meters, score the winning goal, or finish the race without focused, incremental, and structured training. Bar review is just that. Everyone says, "Bar prep is a marathon, not a sprint."
During your bar prep, you want to get high scores on MBEs, ace the essays, and finish the performance test with time to spare. However, this is usually far from the realities of your initial phase of bar prep. You have not fully memorized the law or mastered your test taking skills at the beginning of bar prep. However, you are laying the foundation. And, it is this foundation that will get to you game day.
Here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare for game day:
- Map out the remaining subjects that you need to review and the tasks that you need to complete. Writing this out can help you manage your stress and your work load.
- Set realistic goals for each day (or each hour). Meeting goals helps propel you over the next hurdle, builds your confidence, and shows you that you can win this!
- Give yourself time to process the information that is being thrown at you. Do not expect that you will know everything after listening to a lecture and completing 30 multiple choice questions. Bar review is a process, trust in the process.
- Make time for breaks. If you schedule a break, it is not considered procrastination. Everyone needs down time and it is important that you balance your intense study schedule with sufficient time to refresh.
- Evaluate your work. It is important to understand what you are doing right and what you still need to work on. This will help you refocus your time and prioritize improving your weaker areas.
- Play a sport or watch a sporting event (Women's World Cup perhaps). This may give you the inspiration to help you keep your head in the bar review game.
Friday, June 12, 2015
Should we encourage grads to delay taking the bar exam if we think that they will not pass on their first attempt? This is a very sensitive topic and aspects of which are currently being litigated in Arizona. Those of us who are overseeing bar preparation can easily understand the thinking behind what is happening in Arizona. We work with very diverse groups of students and we know their likelihood of success on the bar exam hinges upon several factors.
Some students are working full time as they study for the bar; some are caring for an elder or young child; and some struggled throughout law school and barely graduated. Others are less motivated to put in the necessary time to pass the bar with a traditional 8-10 week preparation window. We also understand that some students will greatly benefit from taking some time off between law school graduation and studying for the bar exam.
Because we know most of our students so well, we are keenly aware of particular students who are unlikely to pass on their first attempt (due to any number of reasons). Thus, does this mean that we should discourage them from sitting for the bar this summer? Personally, I have grappled with this notion. However, I have heard of other Professors, Law Schools, and ASPers who often dissuade (and possibly entice with incentives) grads into delaying their bar examinations.
Unless I have been directly asked by a grad for my professional opinion, I wrestle with whether it is my place to influence their decision to sit for or delay sitting for the bar exam. However, when you work so closely with grads during their bar preparation, we do not just think that they may not pass; instead, we often know that they will not pass. Bar exam performance can be predicted when you look at several factors and data points. When I have access to their scores throughout bar review, especially their simulated exams, I can predict with a high level of accuracy their performance on the actual bar exam.
Does this mean that I should encourage delaying the exam? This is the very issue I grapple with. On the one hand, when I know that they will likely fail the exam, encouraging them to wait means they do not have to experience the shame and defeat associated with failing the bar. We also know that once a student has failed the bar exam, passing it becomes a bigger psychological and emotional challenge. (As if it could be more psychologically challenging.) Dissuading them from sitting, also means that bar passage statistics will likely be more favorable for my law school; thus, the dilemma. Because of the current state of affairs in legal education, law employment, and law school admissions, bar passage matters. It matters more now than ever. Therefore, there is no easy answer.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Bar Exam Season is here.
Just a few days ago you took your last law school exam and celebrated graduation and hooding with family and friends. You’ve barely had time to open the graduation cards and now it’s time to hit the books again. Commercial bar prep has begun and it is just the beginning of a great adventure. You’ve worked hard for almost three (or four) years, 10 more weeks is no big deal. The good news is that the first week is the easy week so take advantage of any free time to do the following:
Organize your life.
- Do laundry, go grocery shopping, clean your apartment. Studying for the bar exam seems to affect your ability to do any of these things.
- Talk to family and friends about the next 10 weeks and how you will be less available. Assure them you will make time for them but studying for the bar is a full-time job.
- Find a healthy, non-law related activity to help with stress relief. It is important to relax and have a little fun. It’s good for your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Organize your study schedule.
- Go through your bar exam material and familiarize yourself with it. You will use some things more than others and it’s good to figure out your go-to sources early.
- Take a look at the prepared study schedule and modify it to fit your learning and study needs. Figure out your study approach and make sure you have all your study supplies.
- Find a place to study. Try out a few different places and figure out which atmosphere best promotes focused study (hint- it will not be anywhere in the vicinity of a tv, refrigerator, couch, bed, etc).
You've got 10 weeks of studying ahead of you. There's no getting around it so you might as well make the best of it. (KSK)
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
After considerable debate and several public hearings, the New York Court of Appeals has adopted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Uniform Bar Examination and in July 2016 New York will administer the Uniform Bar Examination. The New York State Board of Law Examiners has proposed that New York set the passing score for the UBE at 266. In other jurisdictions, the UBE passing scores range from 260 (Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri) to 280 (Alaska and Idaho). The bar exam landscape is changing. Will this move create a "domino effect?" Will other states change their passing scores? Will New York see an influx of applicants? Only time will tell.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
In a surprise move, the National Conference of Bar Examiners has announced that Latin will be tested for the first time on the July 2016 MBE. A couple of representative questions have been released, with correct answers but no explanations:
1. Assiduus usus uni rei detius et ingenium et artem saepe vincit.
A. Sane, paululum linguae latinae dico.
B. Id legi modo hic modo illic.
C. Vero, latine loqui non est difficilissimum.
D. Heu, modo itera omnia quae mihi nunc nuper narravisti, sed nunc anglice.
2. Quidquid excusatio prandium pro.
A. Caveat emptor!
B. Vini vidi vici.
C. Vino veritas.
D. Caveat depascor!
3. Audaces fortuna iuvat.
A. Adversus solem ne loquitor.
B. Disputandi pruritus ecclesiarum scabies.
C. Corpora lente augescent cito extinguuntur.
D. Dura lex sed lex.
I'll be interested in learning how schools and their bar prep programs will react to this new development. I'm sure students will be perfectly fine with it.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Hat tip to Katherine Silver Kelly for sharing the link to this post on the Summer 2014 bar exam results. This article is a must read for anyone interested in the decline in the MBE scores from the July 2014 bar exam. Deborah Merritt, on the Law School Cafe blog, explains the scoring process of the MBE and shows how the ExamSoft debacle could have caused bar results to suffer in more ways than one.
Friday, March 20, 2015
The New York Times has addressed some of the recent (and not so recent) criticisms regarding the Summer 2014 bar examination results in their article, Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire. While this article does not unearth new information for many of us, it does legitimize the problem. Because, as we know, there is a problem. The NCBE essentially has a monopoly on bar licensure. They have moved from releasing a limited amount of data to an almost complete lack of transparency. Without this crucial data there is no accountability, which leads to less confidence in the examination and what it purports to assess. This lack of confidence is highlighted in the Times piece and has been echoed in a similar fashion since the summer results were released.
In order to validate the bar exam as a viable assessment tool, the released score results should be detailed, transparent, and effectively communicated. At this point, it appears that complete transparency is the only way to restore credibility in the bar exam and the work of the NCBE.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Call for Proposals
AALS Section on Academic Support
January 2016 Annual Meeting in New York, New York
Raising the Bar
As law schools react to a changing bar exam landscape, many schools have adapted new and different programming to meet the current needs of students. Bar exam support and preparation is no longer something that begins post-graduation, and its influence can be felt from admissions through curriculum planning and beyond. This program will explore how schools strive to stay ahead of trends, analyze data and out-perform their predictors in order to help their students succeed on the exam.
Topics might include, but are not limited to: statistical analysis of bar exam data and results; innovative programs for preparing students for the bar exam; curricular changes based on exam results and preparation; criteria for selecting students to participate in bar preparation programming and identifying at-risk students.
Preference will be given to presentations designed to engage the workshop audience, so proposals should contain a detailed explanation of both the substance of the presentation and the methods to be employed. Individuals as well as groups are invited to propose topics. The Committee would prefer to highlight talent across a spectrum of law schools and disciplines and is especially interested in new and innovative ideas. Please share this call with colleagues—both within and outside of the legal academy and the academic support community.
Proposals must include the following information:
1. A title for your presentation.
2. A brief description of the objectives or outcomes of your presentation.
3. A brief description of how your presentation will support your stated objectives or outcomes.
4. The amount of time requested for your presentation. No single presenter should exceed 45 minutes in total. Presentations as short as 15 minutes are welcomed.
5. A detailed description of both the substantive content and the techniques to be employed, if any, to engage the audience.
6. Whether you plan to distribute handouts, use PowerPoint, or employother technology.
7. A list of the conferences at which you have presented within the last three years, such as AALS, national or regional ASP or writing conferences, or other academic conferences. (The Committee is interested in this information because we wish to select and showcase seasoned, as well as fresh, talent.)
8. Your school affiliation, title, courses taught, and contact information (please include email address and telephone number).
9. Any articles or books that you have published that relate to your proposed presentation.
10. Any other information you think will help the Committee appreciate the value your presentation will provide.
Proposals will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so please send yours as soon as possible, but no later than Wednesday, March 25th at 5pm to Danielle Kocal, Pace Law School, email@example.com. If you have any questions, please email Danielle Kocal or call 914-422-4108.
The Section on Academic Support Program Committee:
Danielle Kocal, Chair
Goldie Pritchard, Past Chair
ASP Section Chair: Lisa Young
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Many schools have students who graduate in December. To help them transition from the whirlwind of finals, graduation, and holiday celebrations to bar prep, here are a few things for them to consider:
- Create a realistic, yet rigorous study schedule. Begin after graduation, but make space to savor the end of law school before jumping into your bar prep.
- Communicate your study plans. Make sure that your significant other, family, and co-workers know that your priority is passing the bar exam. They will be your support system through this journey and they need to understand what you will need to be successful. (Perhaps a meal delivered now and then, or help with childcare...)
- Use Spaced Repetition to study instead of focusing on only one subject at a time.
- Remember to stay healthy- exercise, eat well, and get a full night of sleep. This will increase your focus and efficiency.
- Ask for help! When you are feeling overwhelmed, or have a question about your performance or a particular area of law, ask someone. You can ask your bar review provider, a classmate, or your Academic Support for assistance.
- Find balance. You will always feel like you should be doing more- more studying, more MBE practice, more essay and PT writing, and more outlining. However, you also need to know when to say when.
- Give yourself mini-rewards for reaching your daily goals and bigger rewards for reaching your weekly goals.
- Keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with positive people. Believing in yourself is the key to your success!
Congratulations to all of the December law school graduates and best of luck getting started with your bar prep.