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).
Thursday, May 18, 2017
It's that time of year. In the midst of many celebrations over bar passage, let's be frank. There are many that are not celebrating. Their names were not on the list of bar exam passers. It's especially rough this time of year because it's also graduation season. And, for some, it's not the first time that they've found themselves in this situation; it's a repeat of the last time around.
For aspiring attorneys that did not pass the bar exam, most don't know where to turn. Often embarrassed, many with significant debt loads, most feel abandoned by their schools, their friends, and their colleagues. All alone.
I'm not expert in helping with turnarounds. But, I'd like to offer a few tips that have seemed to be quite helpful in helping repeaters change history to become "fresh start" bar passers.
First, as academic support professionals, reach out to each one. Make yourself available on their terms. Let them know that you care. Let them know that you are mighty proud of them, success or not. Support them, one and all.
Second, give them breathing room, lot's of time and space to grieve. Don't push them into diving back into the books. Don't lecture them. Rather, assure them that they don't need to get cranking on their studies. Help them to be kind to themselves. It's not a matter of just hitting the books again, and this time, doubly-hard. Instead, they need to take time out to just be themselves.
Third, when they are ready, set up a "one-with-one." Notice: I did not call it a "one-to-one". Rather, set up an appointment or meeting in a place of their choosing at a time that works for them in which you sit side by side, on the same side of the table or desk or cafe. They are not bar exam failures; they are real law school graduates. They earned their parchments. So, listen to them as colleagues on the same side of doing battle on the bar exam. Let them talk and express themselves as they'd like. Hear them out. How are they feeling? What went right? What's their passion? What saddens their hearts?
Finally, whey they are ready, make a copy of one of the essay problems that didn't go so well. Better yet, make two copies, one for each of you! That's because you are on the same team. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes and just ask them to mark up the question, brainstorm what they are thinking, and jot down the issues that they see. But...and this is important...tell them that you don't expect them to remember any law at all. Period. And, you do the same. Exactly the same. Don't peek at an answer key or even their answer. Instead, try your hand too; wrestle with the same question that they are wrestling with.
Then, come back together to listen, ponder, and share what you both see as the plot of the essay question, the issues raised by the storylines, and the potential rules that might be in play. Once you've done all this prep work together, now, look at their answer. This is important, just look. Ask them what do they see? What do they observe? What went great for them? Where might they improve? In short, let them see that they have "inside information" about themselves based on their own personal bar exam experience and answers that they can capitalize to their advantage. Most often in the midst of working together, graduates tell me that they realize that they knew plenty of law to pass the bar exam. In fact, most are amazed at how well they memorized the law. And, that's great news because it means that they don't need to redo the bar review lectures at all. They know plenty of law. That frees up lots of time during the bar prep season to instead concentrate on just two active learning tasks.
First, they should daily work through loads of practice problems (essays and MBE questions). Every one that they can get their hands on.
Second, they should keep a daily "journal" of the issues and rules that they missed when working over problems (to include tips about the analysis of those rules).
Just two steps. That's it. There's no magic. But, in not redoing the lectures, they will find that they have plenty of time to concentrate on what is really important - learning by doing through active reflective daily practice. Countless times, it's through this process of a "one-with-one" meeting that we have seen repeaters turn themselves into "fresh start" bar passers. Now, that's something to celebrate! (Scott Johns).
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Louis N. Schulze, Jr. at Florida International has a new article: Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline. The abstract is below, and the link to the article on SSRN is here: SSRN link.
What measures can law schools take to improve student performance and bar passage? The answer is not what you think.
Recent developments in the science of learning show that most law students learn wrong. In fact, ineffective methods of learning pervade all levels of education. We now know that widely accepted learning and study strategies that were once considered gospel are actually deeply flawed. Yet we still embrace and propagate those myths.
Meanwhile, bar passage rates and law student performance are plummeting. Everyone in legal education is asking “what can we do?” But, “what can we do?” is the wrong question. The right question is to ask how students can capitalize on the science of learning to be more effective learners.
In this essay, I discuss principles from the science of learning that law schools and students should embrace. In the context of the methods we have implemented at Florida International University College of Law, which had the highest bar passage rate in Florida for three consecutive exams, I detail the project of transforming the learning of law away from the ineffective methods of yore and towards effective strategies that can make a difference on student performance and bar passage.
And it all has to do with science, not lore.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
“I was just calling to let you know that I passed the bar exam…!” Immediately after hearing this news, I screamed with excitement. I am always overcome with joy whenever students tell me about their success on the bar exam but I am even more excited when it is a student who was previously unsuccessful on the bar exam. Repeat bar takers have a special place in my heart because they typically journey through lots of agony, sacrifices, and determination to achieve this goal.
The journey starts when students are notified and realize that they were unsuccessful on the bare exam. Many emotions accompany this news including embarrassment, sadness, frustration, anger, and disappointment to list a few. Those emotions are reawakened when students receive a message from me confirming the result, providing some direction, and offering support. Students respond by either ignoring the message or reaching out immediately. For those who respond, we discuss the current crisis, try to calm emotions, and strategize. We discuss how to interact with peers, professors, family, and friends who may ask about the bar exam. Some students choose to inform the world on social media while others prefer to remain secretive, managing questions as they arise. Whatever their preference, I always have an honest conversation with individual students.
Collectively, we devise specific strategies and draw up plans for studying, meeting challenges, and exploring fears associated with retaking the bar exam. Through an early start bar preparation program, students engage with substantive law, essays, and multiple choice. Students are typically unhappy at first but as we address how to efficiently use time, prioritize tasks, and address disappointment, students appear more at ease. Personally, I learn a great deal about students as individuals, how they handle success and defeat, keep perspective, and balance stress.
When bar review programs officially start, it is time for cheerleading and challenging. Students check-in on a weekly basis to debrief and discuss where they are mentally. Each week is a new experience which ranges from productive to challenging. There are weeks when students are on the verge of giving up and other weeks when everything that could go wrong does go wrong. My goal is to help redirect students but also encourage them to persist.
The victory, passing the bar exam, is great because it allows students to move on with their lives or start their professional lives. Their struggle with the bar exam is a part of their story but also an experience they can use to encourage and support others. My investment in them is worthwhile because they are changing their lives, their families’ lives, and their communities. Bar exam results are still trickling in but congratulations to those who successfully passed the February 2017 bar exam on their second try. (Goldie Pritchard)
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!