Wednesday, June 20, 2018
As we slowly approach the one month mark for the bar exam, strange things begin to happen. Bar Studiers we did not realize were in town surface in the building with questions and concerns and Bar Studiers we have seen regularly seek more and more encouragement to intensify their bar exam preparation. Interactions with Bar Studiers is normal but what is out of the ordinary are some of the things they share with us believing they are the only ones experiencing them. Bar Studiers do not realize there are other students who also experience similar series of challenges and misadventures. It is as if the universe knows that the bar exam is looming and sets up a number of obstacles along their path to test resilience, persistence, and character. Bar Studiers may not always recognize they are up for the challenge and we are here to remind them of this fact, help them strategies, and get them to their seats on bar exam day with a sense that they can tackle this seemingly impossible, yet possible obstacle.
Below are a handful of issues that surfaced this year and in the past and some of the approaches we have used, depending on an individual Bar Studier’s unique circumstances and needs.
Health Plays Games
Last week and this week, I heard sneezes in the hallways and several Bar Studiers have been missing in action for a day or two. Some notified me that they will not be around as they know that I will inquire about their whereabouts. I parted with two boxes of Kleenex and a giant bottle of hand sanitizer was in significant use. I understand that allergies are in full swing and immune systems struggle to keep up with the pace many adopted to manage bar preparation. To put things in perspective, it is better to temporarily get sick now than on exam day. In response to panic about falling behind in bar review and feeling unprepared for the exam, we discuss how to rearrange schedules, move tasks around, and use small spurts of activity with scheduled rest. I prescribe sleep and okay short naps emphasizing the importance of sleep even though it seems impossible to have restful sleep due to constant thoughts about bar preparation. We insist that Bar Studiers see a doctor if need be and fill necessary prescriptions so as not to exasperated preexisting conditions and developed new ones.
If Bar Studiers are concerned about falling behind, we suggest low-intensity activities that allow them to complete tasks, go through flashcards on an app or physical cards, and memorize information. We discuss a plan for the next day so all they do is implemented with some room for adjustment. We try to find habits that can be implemented in the days and weeks to come so they are ready for the exam. We also explore worse case scenarios and how they will manage such situations on exam day. Of course, nothing is a guarantee but it is a start.
At a bar exam program presented several years ago, a speaker announced that everything that can go wrong will go wrong during bar review and everything you have ever wanted to do will become a possibility during bar review. She continued that bar review is only a few weeks and months out of your entire life and you will likely have the opportunity to experience many of the things you miss out on at some point in the future. Over the years, I note that Bar Studiers experience a range of life occurrences including: death in the family, breakups with significant others and spouses, issues with character and fitness on the bar application, car accidents, financial challenges (even with planning), lack of food, familial demands and expectations, emotional and physical impact of socio-political events, and much more. Life does not simply stop because you are studying for the bar exam. You will have both good days and not so good days and your reaction to and feelings about everything will be amplified.
You might waste a day or a half a day attending to real life situations and that is okay and necessary but it does not mean that you will be unable to complete your preparation for this exam. If however, life completely takes over and when you assess the situation you recognize that you are unable to sustain the pace and expectations of bar review then you might want to have a conversation with someone. You want to discuss alternatives or develop a new game plan to achieve your goals. Be open and honest with yourself and those helping you.
Fear Sets In
Obsession over percentile performance on the MBE and scores on the essays breeds fear and sometimes avoidance for many Bar Studiers. As Bar Studiers compare themselves to others through grading or communication with each other. Some academically strong Bar Studiers become disappointed and recoil. Others decide not to complete essays or MBEs until they have mastered the subject area. Each score becomes a determinative factor of whether they will pass or fail this exam. This is not necessarily true but it takes a lot to convince a student otherwise. I am always more concerned about those Bar Studiers who are left to their own devices than those who communicate these concerns and communicate their plans.
Here again, it is all about perspective. We like to use the experiences and advice of individuals who recently took the bar exam and were successful. We ask them what they did, how they did it, how they felt at various points of bar preparation, and I deem this more effective than anything else. I also try to put things in perspective by reminding Bar Studiers of what they should get from completing the practice, discuss the expectations of the exam with regard to time management, and remind them that exposure adds to the knowledge and confidence with which they approach the exam.
…But We Finish Strong
Bar Studiers, compete with yourself and no one else. Do your best and ensure that you reasonably do what you need to and can do so you have no regrets on exam day. You will not know everything, you will have a working knowledge of all subjects, and you have a plan for the more challenging areas. When you need a break, take a reasonable break and remain focused on the task ahead. Many before you went into the exam feeling just like you will feel and they came out on top; they passed the bar exam! Develop a plan for the days and weeks ahead. You have time to cater to your weaknesses and build strength. You can do this! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, June 18, 2018
Father’s Day week is awesome for many reasons. I normally get to caddy a junior golf tournament with my son, spend time with family, and watch golf’s US Open. We spend the majority of our time outside enjoying activities together. This week is what summer is all about.
I love the US Open because it is normally the hardest golf tournament of the year. They play courses with near impossible putting greens and impenetrable rough. A little part of me enjoys watching the best players in the world struggle the same way I do on weekends. As I prepared this post, I watched Rory McIlroy, who reached #1 in the world rankings a few years ago, hit a shot from the right rough to left rough 20 yards short of the green. He then proceeded to hit his next shot only 10 yards out of the rough into a sand bunker. I can absolutely relate.
The US Open winner will have similar struggles, just not as many times as the rest of the field. Most winners will say this tournament is all about perspective. Par is a great score this week if everyone else is above par.
Bar prep and completing MBE questions is a similar experience. Missing question after question is like hitting from the rough, to more rough, and then the sand. Mental exhaustion increases mistakes and leads to more stress. Students hear they only need a certain percentage correct to pass, but most students aren’t near that percentage right now. The struggle is brutal. Bar prep requires the same grind as the hardest round of golf or any other endeavor.
For my students, and many others, the timing is increasing stress. Yesterday was the halfway mark between graduation and the bar exam. Time is flying by, but no one feels comfortable with the material. New subjects are still presented. Low scores and new material breaks spirits, and everyone needs high motivation to finish the rest of preparation.
The critical action right now is to find perspective. Just like most of the golfers are hacking it around Shinnecock Hills Golf Club right now, the vast majority of students preparing for the bar exam are struggling right now. Almost no one feels comfortable with the material. Nearly no one is scoring great. Also, you don’t have to score great now or ever. You only need to get enough questions correct at the end of July to be above the pass line.
Many of you are halfway done with bar prep. Celebrate that success. Everyone has come a long way to this point. Get perspective on where you should be right now. I am not saying blindly keep going no matter what. Always keep in touch with your bar prep specialist, but remember, everyone is a weekend hacker on MBE questions right now. Keep hacking away with guidance to put yourself in a position for success.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
It's the time of the year when one group of graduates are taking their oaths of office while another group of graduates are preparing for the bar exam this summer. That brings me to an interesting conversation with a recent bar passer and his spouse about studying versus learning.
You see, with an introduction in hand, I asked the bar passer's spouse if she noticed anything different between her spouse's law school experience preparing for final exams and her spouse's bar prep experiencing in preparing for the bar exam.
Without hesitation, the report came back: "No. It was much the same, same hours, same long days, the same through and through."
In rapid response and without the slightest hesitation, the recent graduate - who just passed the bar exam - exclaimed that it was "totally different. No comparison between preparing for law school exams and the bar exam."
You see, according to his spouse's perspective, preparing for law school exams and bar exams outwardly seemed identical, but, according to the recent graduate, in law school he spent most of his time reading...and reading...and reading...and then learning as much as he could just a few days before final exams. In other words, he spent his law school years studying. In contrast, even though outwardly he put in similar hours for bar prep as for law school studies, his focus was on practicing...and practicing...and practicing. In other words, for law school he was studying; for the bar exam he was learning.
So, for those of you preparing for the bar exam this summer, focus on learning - not studying. What does that mean? Well, a great day is completing two tasks: working through lots of actual bar exam problems and then journaling about what you learned that very day. Yep...that very day. That's key. Learn today. Spend less time studying (reading commercial outlines, watching lectures, and reading lecture notes) and more time learning (doing lots and lots of practice problems). That's because on bar exam day you aren't going to be asked about what you read but rather asked to show what you can do. So, be a doer this summer! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 7, 2018
We're just about three weeks into bar prep. The excitement of graduation seems so long ago. We're back in the same 'ole schoolhouse setting, watching bar review lectures and working through hypothetical legal problems. Sure seems like the same old pattern as law school. But, it need not be.
But first, a bit of background...
In aviation, air traffic controllers will often query pilots about their altitude. It's a bit of a hint from the controllers to the pilots that something might be amiss. And, it almost sounds sort of polite: "Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, Say Altitude."
In response, the pilots make a quick check of the altimeter - the instrument that measures altitude (i.e, height of the airplane in the skies) to confirm that they are at proper altitude as assigned by air traffic control: "Roger Denver Approach Control, Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, level at 15,000 feet."
In between the two communications, however, you can bet that the pilots were quickly making some fast-footed adjustments to the aircraft's altitude to make sure that they would not be busted by the air traffic controllers.
That brings us back to the world of bar prep. A quick "attitude check" might be similarly helpful for your learning.
You see, as Professor Chad Noreuil from Arizona State University puts it in his book entitled "The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam," it can be mighty helpful for your learning to have what I call an "attitude check." In particular, as Professor Noreuil cites in his book, researchers have identified a positive relationship between an optimistic approach to learning and achievement in learning. Consequently, Professor Noreuil counsels bar takers to take on a "get-to" attitude rather than a "have-to" attitude towards bar prep because a "get-to" attitude improves one's chances of succeeding on the bar exam. That's what I refer to as a "get-to" versus a "got-to" attitude.
But how do you change your attitude from a "got-to" to a "get-to" attitude? Well, here's a possible approach that might just help provide some perspective about the wonderful opportunity that you have to take the bar exam this summer. You see, very few have that opportunity. That's because the numbers are just stacked against most people. They'll never get the chance that you have this summer.
Here are the details. According to the U.S. government, there are about 7.5 billion people worldwide, and the U.S. population is close to 330 million. https://www.census.gov/popclock/ Out of that population, according to the ABA, there are about 35,000 law school JD graduates per year. That's it. https://www.americanbar.org/content/ And, because most states require a JD in order to to the bar exam, very few people get to take a bar exam, very few indeed.
That brings me back to you. As a JD grad preparing for the bar exam, you are one of the very few who get to take the bar exam. So, take advantage of that opportunity this summer by approaching your bar exam studies as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to "get-to" show your state supreme court all the wonderful things that you have learned about practicing law. You've worked hard in law school for just such a season as this, so, to paraphrase a popular slogan, "Just do it...but do it with a get-to attitude this summer! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Like many of my colleagues, I am attending the Annual Association of Academic Support Educators Conference but that does not mean that work stops. Students know I am away but the panic does not subside despite leaving them with human and other resources. In between sessions and late evening into the night, I check email, respond to phone messages, critique essays, and prepare for bar exam programming. Many of the student messages I have received relate to bar exam preparation as some students have completed a week of bar review while others started bar review programs this week. Below are a few categories of student questions and concerns.
How do I learn the material?
I particularly love this question because it means that students are thinking about what they are doing while considering the long-term impact of what they do now. Furthermore, considering the depth of understanding rather than simply being able to recall information contributes to better performance on various components of the bar exam. This question often comes up when students have completed about a week of bar review and have likely covered two to three subject areas. They usually recognize the fast pace of the program and volumes of material they need to know but also anticipate what they have yet to cover. Students also recognize that simply watching lectures, reading material, and doing homework do not necessarily equate to studying for the test. In sum, students realize that passive review is helpful in the short term but they also need to retain, retrieve, and apply the information which might require active learning for long-term maximization of effort. We discuss how active work on the bar exam components until the end of the bar review period could help. We also discuss memorization, practice under timed and untimed circumstances, skill development in each of the components of the bar exam, self-care, and how to incorporate all of these things into their day to day lives.
How do I memorize the information?
This is another question I appreciate because yet again, students are considering the long-term access to information while possibly determining if they truly understand the information. Simply “looking at,” “reading,” and “hearing” a lot of law does not result in retention of the information. We discuss activities and tools past bar studiers used to memorize information and to revisit the information on a regular basis. Some examples include writing down all they can recall from memory for a particular topic, flash cards, random pop quizzes, and using a variety of bar review applications.
How do I use all of these resources?
This question relates to the issue of excessive bar review resources. Many well- intentioned alums who may have been successful on the bar exam the first time around, the second time around, or later feel the need to share their knowledge with current bar takers. Some of the offered advice is good, some horrible, and some does not apply to the individual shared with. The worse scenario is when one bar taker receives advice and materials from practically ten different individuals, all possibly swearing that a specific system or book is what led them to pass the bar; therefore, urging the bar taker to do the same. There are students who have materials from more than one bar vendor and numerous supplemental bar support books. They are overwhelmed and do not know what to do nor where to start. I instill in these bar takers that they paid for a bar review program and should start there. They should also have a general awareness of resources available to them, talk to me about various challenges along the way so as to collaboratively identify possible solutions, and discuss the incorporation of suitably identified resources. Simply doing everything everyone did does not necessarily help. I remind them that they are operating within a limited timeframe and most of them are pressed for time and each person needs to journey through.
How do I stay motivated?
To my astonishment and concern, this year as compared to previous years, some students have expressed a lack of motivation on day one and week one of bar review. Usually, adrenaline motivates them on day one and at least through week two but that does not seem to be the case. Several students are fatigued by the three-year law school journey while others took a vacation between graduation and bar review and both now experience difficulties getting into the swing of bar review. To address this, we discuss how to manage the upcoming three day weekend particularly since they have a “day off” (technically). This might be an ideal opportunity to rest and recoup once plans have been made for effective time management of the bar review period and also after completing assignments.
Happy Bar Review Season to all my colleagues who participate in bar review preparation! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
What do a political candidate and a bar preppper have in common? Well, this past week, the answer is a lot!
On Tuesday, political candidates all around the country were vying for their respective party's nomination in the primary election. I attended an election results watch party where several of the candidates were successful in securing their nominations, allowing them to run on the party ticket in November. The feeling in the banquet room was a strange mix of having accomplished so much, yet having so far still to go. Each successful candidate worked hard for months to secure the primary nomination, besting other qualified candidates. So, Tuesday was surely a night for celebration. But, the excitement was quickly tempered for many by the realization that securing the primary nod is just the beginning. Each successful candidate now faces a grueling twenty-six week general election campaign schedule.
That odd sense of "unfinished accomplishments" was equally present a few days later at our law school graduation ceremony. While the students were thrilled to be receiving their diplomas on stage, most were also acutely aware that their work was not done. Rather, the hard work was just beginning. The graduates now face 10 weeks of (potentially grueling) bar preparation! Despite all that the students have accomplished during law school, most could only muster a qualified sense of achievement—contingent on the bar exam.
The parallel between political candidate and bar prepper got me thinking – perhaps the bar preppers could learn some study tips from the campaign trail. (The internet is replete with strategies and tips for managing a successful campaign. To remain party-neutral in this post, I’ve omitted citations to specific sources.) Here are a few campaign suggestions that are equally applicable to bar preppers:
Get on the ballot. Make sure that you’ve properly applied to sit for the bar exam in your desired jurisdiction. Also, don’t forget that if you move residences or start a new job between now and the date that you are sworn into the state bar, you’ll have to complete an update form. To access the correct update/amendment form, you can use this directory to lookup the contact information for the National Conference of Bar Examiners or a specific jurisdiction. Please be aware some jurisdictions require you to update both the NCBE and the specific jurisdiction directly.
Get to know your electorate. If you don’t already know exactly what is tested on the bar exam, now is the time to figure it out. You need to know what topics are tested, and how frequently each topic appears on the exam. For starters, most commercial bar preparation companies provide frequency charts and review this material during the first week of class. These detailed statistics will prove invaluable in July. See my Supermarket Sweep post for more details about how to maximize the usefulness of frequency charts.
Write your campaign plan. The commercial bar preparation courses give you a good time-management template, but be sure you’ve accounted for personal events (such as weddings or vacations) and personal preferences (such as watching the lecture videos in the morning or in the afternoon). According to most research, you want to aim for at least 600 hours of bar preparation studying. To help you track your hours, Download 600 Hours to Success, an interactive excel timesheet.
Gather a good team. You are going to need support. Talk with your friends and family about your expectations (and theirs) for the next 10 weeks. Is everyone on the same page? Are you expected to visit Great Aunt June? Who will do the grocery shopping and laundry? To start the discussion, I recommend writing a letter to your team members. For a good example, see the sample letter in “Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals” by Sara J. Berman. In addition to your friends and family, utilize the resources of your law school’s academic support or bar preparation center.
Prepare for long days. You will likely be working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for the next 10 weeks. At first blush, you may be thinking: I worked 60 hours a week during law school, so what’s the big deal? The difference is what you did during those 60 hours. In law school, large sections of your day were planned and guided by professors. Plus the day was typically broken-up into varied chunks of class time, reading, clinic work, student organization events, co-curricular practices, and legal research/writing. During bar preparation, you alone are in charge of keeping everything on track, and the days can become repetitive and monotonous. In short, there is little variety and little oversight during bar preparation. Therefore, you need to create a detailed plan and rely on your team to keep you on track. (Re-read the tips above.)
If you follow these basic suggestions for navigating the campaign trail, you should be poised for bar exam success.
Monday, May 14, 2018
Congratulations to everyone earning a J.D. recently! Earning a Doctorate level degree is an amazing accomplishment. 2011 Census data indicates approximately 3% of the US population 25 and older possess a Doctorate or Professional degree. Walking across the stage and completing the J.D. requirements puts all graduate in elite company. No matter what happens this summer, know all J.D. graduates (including yourself) are elite!
While already elite, everyone knows there is still one more hurdle prior to becoming an attorney. The vast majority of graduates still need to pass the bar exam. The limited time and breadth of material requires focus for all 10 weeks. I recommend my students start preparing the Tuesday morning after graduation through the Sunday before the bar. One focus to take it one time.
Bar prep should start shortly after graduation, and it must be the highest priority during the summer. However, preparing for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint. The key to success is maintaining a steady pace and not burning out early. Here are my tips for a steady pace throughout the summer:
1. Create a good daily schedule. All the bar review companies do a good job assigning particular tasks each day, but their schedules are “flexible” on when to do the work. I suggest to most students (not everyone) to sit down and create an hourly calendar, for example:
9-12:30 – Lecture
12:30-1:30 – Lunch
1:30-4 – Assigned practice questions
4-4:30 – Mental Break
4:30-5:30 – Review Lecture
5:30-7 – Dinner
7-9 – Review Previous Material
Scheduling increases the chances the majority of the work is completed. Time isn’t wasted deciding what to do.
2. Schedule Breaks. Notice my example included breaks throughout the day. Breaks are critical during bar prep. Students who try to go non-stop 7 days a week burn out quickly. The bar exam will be as much mental preparedness as it will be a test of legal analysis. Being fresh and rested increases focus, retention, and engagement. Include breaks both during the day and each week.
3. Know yourself. Create reasonable schedules and breaks. If you know you can’t study during a certain time of the day, then build a schedule around what is best for you. My only caveat here is the bar exam in most states starts at 8am or 9am, so studying solely at night may not be the most beneficial. You do need to transition to being alert by 7am at some point during the process.
4. Plan to attend the physical location. I know I will sound old with this piece of advice, but attend the location for your course. I know the online version is the same. I know many locations are showing a video, and I know your computer shows videos as good as the location. I also know through anecdotal stories and taking roll that students physically at the locations have higher pass rates, at least for my school. Being present creates habits that can lead accomplishing more during the day.
5. Create a good routine. It is true that bar prep is hard, but it is also true that most of the difficulty can be overcome with a good routine. Bad practice scores, not remembering rules, and general frustration will arise. The brain’s fight or flight response will be triggered. A good routine where you know exactly how to fight by doing more questions, finding a good resource, etc. will enable you to continue to improve. Without a routine, responding to difficulty with a round of golf instead of a round of questions becomes easy..
Bar prep is beginning. Know your awesome accomplishments. Know that getting a J.D. illustrates an ability to pass the bar. Take the time to then build a schedule and routine to put yourself in a position to succeed. The goal is to be able to walk out of the bar exam knowing you gave your full effort to pass.
Monday, May 7, 2018
“Objection your honor . . .” says any number of TV lawyers, and I immediately shout at the TV, “that isn’t the real rule.” My wife rolls her eyes while I proceed to explain to the TV how the judge made an incorrect ruling. Legal Analysis practice while watching TV. Great fun for everyone in the room, and a good learning tool.
Reading Kirsha’s excellent series comparing litigation to teaching made me consider how students could utilize summer jobs to solidify and expand understanding of the foundational courses. Context and examples help illustrate how rules operate and relate to each other. Understanding rules in a vacuum is difficult, but students can see the rules in action through real life clients. Real clients will contextualize and solidify knowledge.
Summer jobs are a great way to see the rules in action. I listed a few tips to think about during the summer to help understand bar exam courses even more.
- When summarizing or analyzing discovery documents, consider whether the evidence is admissible. Try to predict which evidence rule the opposing party would use to exclude the evidence.
- When reading a case file, identify the cause of action. Then try to recall all the elements of the cause of action.
- Try to recall a rule from the year that is relevant during every task.
- If in a transactional setting, pick one clause of a contract and think of the rule that makes that clause necessary.
- Consider why a business operator chose a certain type of business or why plaintiff’s attorney chose a particular cause of action.
- Make a conscious effort to attach any work done during the summer to specific rules either learned last year or will be in a subject next year.
Summer jobs are a great way to improve understanding. I heard too many classmates after my 1L summer say our professors didn’t teach them certain things during the previous year. I knew they were wrong because I was in class with them and learned the concepts. Many students missed the context to understand how the concepts worked in practice. Being intentional during the summer can provide the context to solidify knowledge for the bar exam.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Having just returned from a bar exam conference, I am struck by how little we know about what actually correlates to success on the bar exam. Nevertheless, for our students, it is common to jump to the conclusion that bar exam results are "preordained" based on a complex mathematical formula consisting of primarily (or indeed solely) LGPA and LSAT scores. In other words, those that pass have high numbers; those that don't, don't.
Interestingly, in our attempt to reduce the complexity of life experiences to numbers, there are always what we refer to as "outliers." People that pass (or fail) regardless of LGPA and LSAT scores. I sometimes wonder whether we are all outliers because even the best of statistical models fails to accurately predict bar passage results for our students. And, that brings me to the field of human performance.
You see, according to writer Alex Hutchinson, early on in the field of sports-based human performance, "[p]hysiologists pieced together an impressively detailed picture of the factors that - in theory - dictate our ultimate capacity [in terms of predicting athletic success]....There was one problem with this approach: It couldn't predict who would win an athletic contest....Clearly, something was missing from the 'human machine' picture of athletic limits." Alex Hutchison, The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance, Wall Street Journal (February 2, 2018), available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mental-tricks-of-athletic-endurance. That something tends to be not easily reducible to biological measurement; it tends to be what some refer to colloquially as "head games."
In other words, in an athletic competition, your body is sending signals to your brain about the current physiological state of your body, i.e., whether you are running of out of energy, or dehydrated, or overheated, etc. As interpreted by your brain, those signals then become self-fulfilling; they can serve to limit our endurance and our perseverance such that they become a barrier to improving our athletic performance. However, psychologists have begun to explore the power of motivational self-talk to reinterpret those signals so that they do not in fact have such determinative power over athletic performance. According to Dr. Hutchinson, it seems that positive self-talk can boost performance beyond what we think is possible based merely on the internal signaling of our biological markers.
That raises an interesting question with respect to bar passage. We often hear people analogize that passing the bar requires preparation akin to preparing for a marathon. As such, there's a case to be made that it might not be true that LGPA and LSAT are the major determinant signals as to who passes the bar exam. Indeed, it is much more nuanced and complex; otherwise, why have a bar exam at all if results are preordained by past testing results in the form of LGPA and LSAT scores?
Well, to be frank, we have a bar exam precisely because we know that LGPA and LSAT scores do not determine bar pass results. And, as in athletic competitions, I have a hunch that one's self-talk has much to do with one's success in overcoming the nagging self-doubts that are common to most of us ("I don't fit in the law; I can't pass the bar exam; there's way too much to learn to pass the bar; I just don't have the time needed to pass the bar; I wasn't much of a success in law school so I'm not going to be successful on the bar exam; etc."). Although there is no "magic cure-all," and of course LGPA and LSAT scores indicate something, it is important to recall that "something" doesn't mean "everything."
And, that's where we come in. Our bar exam destiny is not predetermined. It is something that we can positively and concretely influence and improve by acting upon positive self-talk as we work - problem by problem and question by question - to train ourselves for success on the bar exam. Those two things go hand-in-hand - "practice and talk" and "talk and practice." So, whether you are preparing yourself for final exams or getting ready to study for the bar exam, pay attention to your self-talk. Indeed, ask yourself today "What am I telling myself and is it really true or not?" (Scott Johns).
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has indicated that the national average MBE multiple-choice scaled score for the February 2018 bar exam declined once again. As illustrated in the chart below, the MBE score has declined from near-term highs of 138 to 132.8 in just the span of a few short years.
According to the NCBE, "[r]epeat test takers comprised about 70% of those who sat in February 2018 and had an average score of 132.0, a 1.7-point decrease compared to February 2017. This result drove the change in the overall February 2018 MBE mean." http://www.ncbex.org/news/repeat-test-taker-scores-drive-february-2018-average-mbe-score-decline/.
In contrast, the NCBE reports that the February 2018 average MBE score for first-time takers remained relatively flat, 135.0 for February 2018 first-time takers as compared to 135.3 for February 2017 first-time takers. There have been several changes to the MBE exam over the last few years. In February 2015, the NCBE added another subject to the scope of the multiple-choice exam with the addition of Federal Civil Procedure. And, in February 2017, the NCBE changed the number of pre-test (otherwise known as experimental) questions from 10 to 25, resulting in the 200 point scaled score calculated out of a total of 175 graded questions rather than previous MBE exams which graded 190 questions. In addition, for the February 2018 MBE exam, the scope of Property Law was expanded to include some new sub-topics.
For those of you taking the July 2018 exam, there are several take-aways. First, the MBE exam is a difficult exam. Second, you can't learn to pass the exam without practicing the exam. Third, statistics don't determine your destiny; rather, your destiny is in your hands, in short, it's in the reading, the analyzing, and the practicing of multiple-choice questions that can make a real positive difference for your own individual score. So, please don't fret. It's not impossible...at all.
Finally, let me be frank. In my own case, as I work through practice MBE questions, I am NEVER confident that I am getting the answers correct. And, that is REALLY frustrating. In fact, when I get a question right, I am glad but often surprised. So, I try to NOT be confident that I have chosen the correct answer but rather be CONFIDENT that I am reading CAREFULLY and that I am METHODICALLY puzzling through the answer choices to step-by-step eliminate incorrect choices to help me better get to the correct answers.
So, for those of you taking the bar exam this summer, take it slow and steady. Ponder over every multiple-choice question you can. Eliminate obviously wrong choices. And, you might even keep a daily journal of your multiple-choice progress, perhaps by simply creating a spreadsheet of the issues tested, the rules used, and a few helpful tips as reminders of what to be on the lookout for as you approach your bar exam this summer. In short, make it your aim to be a problem-solver learner. (Scott Johns).
Thursday, March 29, 2018
Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference. Being exhausted from grading numerous writing assignments into the wee hours of the morning, Prof. Katherine Lyons and Prof. Aimee Dudovitz (Loyola Law School - Los Angeles) caught my attention with the title of their talk: "Integrating Quick Classroom Exercises that Connect Doctrine and Skills and Still Allow You (and Your Students) to Sleep at Night."
Frankly, this was a presentation that spoke directly to me. It was medicine for my tired heart and my hurried mind. I needed sleep (and lots of it)!
My favorite tip was what I'll paraphrase as the "one-moment question."
Just pop on the screen a one-moment research question and ask your students to get to work researching, drafting, and writing a quick 5-10 minute email answer. That's right. Start with researching. As the professors made clear, don't let them blurt out an answer. Instead, make them work. Tell them to start looking on the internet, digging into the legal research engines for their answers. Then, based on their own research discoveries, direct your students to write out short emails to provide you with precise answers to that particular question. Once submitted, now you can open up the classroom for a well-researched and informed conversation about the answer to the one-moment question. And, because the answers are super-short, it shouldn't take much time to at least make a mark or two on each answer as follow-up feedback.
As an example, Professors Lyons and Dudovitz suggested that one might ask - in the midst of a civil procedure class discussing the propriety of "tag" jurisdiction for instance - whether a plaintiff could properly serve a corporate defendant by serving the summons and complaint on an out-of-state corporate officer just passing through the local airport of the plaintiff's forum state. As a tip, the professors suggested that you pick out a question that has a bright-line answer based on jurisdictional precedent (and one that can be easily researched). And, as they suggested, as a bonus have the students keep track of their research trails in arriving at their answers.
That got me thinking. In my own teaching this semester, perhaps I should ask my students - in the midst of our studies of constitutional law - whether a state such as Colorado could hypothetically prohibit out-of-state residents from being licensed as Colorado attorneys and, if not, why not. To confess, I'm pretty sure about the answer but not exactly certain of the reason. But, I think it has to do with the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause. So, I better take heed of the professors' advice and start researching for myself. In the process, I think that I might just become a better learner (and teacher too)! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
In our created bar support group (link here), candid conversations evolved into the development of two primary camps. Group A includes those who absorb all information and have countless questions. Group B includes those who seem to panic each and every week as new information is presented. Even with the development of these two camps, all students support one another.
Group A students plan to sit for the bar exam in jurisdictions that administer the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and several non-UBE jurisdictions. These students are excited to discuss questions they either asked but did not receive what they consider satisfactory answers or to reaffirm knowledge or concerns. These students take notes, ask a number of great questions, anticipate concerns that I have not even thought about, and appear eager and grateful each and every week. Our pre and post session discussions are vibrant and these students extend the discussions to involve other students who did not opt to join their sessions. This enables me to reach more students without additional programming.
Group B students generally plan to sit for the bar exam in non-UBE jurisdictions and one UBE jurisdiction. Obviously what exam a student takes is of no consequence because fear is fear. My goal is not to generate fear unless it is motivating for individual students. I encourage students to prepare and anticipate various scenarios throughout bar review so as they arise; students are not shocked but have a plan of attack. With this group of students, after each session they communicate how overwhelmed they are by new information and questions posed. We then discuss why the information may or may not relate to them and how to manage and compartmentalize the new information received. We typically end on a good note.
For example, a discussion addressing the pros and cons about where to study during bar review, to my surprise, significantly overwhelmed one of the students. Because I am very familiar with the student, we discussed choices she made 1L year and the impact those choices had on her academic performance. We also discussed her transition from undergraduate studies to law school, how ineffective it was for her to study back home over breaks, and highlighted some of the positive choices she made and their impact on her academic performance. She left the conversation with a plan she was comfortable with and we collectively decided it might be helpful for us to check-in after each session to discuss her individual circumstances.
As a bar support group, we have met seven times thus far and have five more meetings. As students pick-up their caps and gowns and start to receive books and schedules for their bar review program, these are all signs that the end of their law school career is upon them. This leads to a number of conversations about the excitement of graduation, the fear of bar review, and the true end of an educational journey. Education was predictable for many and serves as a safety net but now the realities of “adulting” are quite overwhelming and is probably the source of most of the fear that students in the bar support group experience. Whenever we have candid conversations, the fear of the end of what is familiar and facing the unknown is overwhelming for many. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Congratulations Feb 2018 Bar Takers!
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. Or, Instagram them. 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 22, 2018
As described by reporters Sara Germano and Ben Cohen, Norway might have a secret weapon in winning so many gold medals at the Winter Olympics in Korea this month, namely, being "super chill." https://www.wsj.com/mostchillnationiscrushingit
Surprisingly, even just a few hours before a big competition, the Norwegian athletes are still living life, speaking freely with reporters and chatting & laughing it up. Indeed, the Norwegians are even taking time off to, well, to play video games, have fun, and to socially relax with others. Yep, they watch TV, they play jigsaw puzzles, and they even have a day or two prior to their big events to be completely "100% free." You see, according to Norwegian coach Alex Stöckl: "It's important [in achieving success that the athletes] can turn off their minds."
There's an important message here for those of you taking the bar exam next week. It's A-okay for you to take Monday off before your big event next Tuesday and Wednesday in sitting for your bar exam.
It's REALLY hard to take anytime off, let alone all-day Monday. But, as illustrated by the success of Norway's athletes, rest strengthens us, rest empowers us, rest restores us. So, take a lesson from the Olympians and feel free to give your mind a day of rest before the bar exam. You've earned it...and...you've got golden proof that it works, especially in preparation for high stake events. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Every year, I am aware of the stress that bar studiers experience the week before the bar exam but I continue to be surprised by its various forms of manifestation. Some bar studiers are so fearful of the exam ahead that they consider sitting for the bar exam at a later date, some anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, while others simply doubt their ability to pass after all the time and work they have invested. It is perfectly normal to have concerns and be nervous about the bar exam but when they ignore progress they have already made throughout the bar review process and when self-doubt, fear of failure, and a defeatist attitude dominate then momentum and progress made thus far could hinder the last few days of bar exam preparation. It is heartbreaking to be aware of the obstacles a bar studier has overcome to get to this point in bar preparation then see every bit of confidence they built up seemingly disappear. Worse of all is when the bar studier who served as the support system for other bar studiers breaks down. Fear is contagious and particularly when those who have relied on the strength of another become overwhelmed and scared when that person is overcome by fear and doubt.
If we are what we think then we must derive words that manifest our intentions and hopes. Even if we do not completely believe all that we say, we can at least state a desire we might like to see manifested and propel ourselves into making it a reality. Similarly, a change in attitude and a positive outlook on a situation may well become reality. I encourage bar studiers to have a few positive affirmations they can read out loud, say to themselves, or say with others. I ask them to think about something other than: “I will pass the bar exam.” I ask them to be specific with their choice of words to counter negative thoughts.
Below are some of the affirmations bar takers have shared with me over the years. Each is unique to individual bar taker’s state of mind and concern.
“I am capable of passing the bar exam because I have done everything necessary and in my power to ensure that result”
“I have been given endless talents which I can utilize to tackle unanticipated subjects on my essays and tasks on the MPT”
“I have a process for tackling MBE questions and when I panic, I will go back to my process”
“I have prepared for whatever comes my way (proctor failing to give 5-minute warning, others getting sick, others discussing issues I did not identify, etc..) on each exam day”
“I will stay away from people who create additional stress until the bar exam is over in order to surround myself with positivity”
“When I panic about my surroundings on exam day, I will remember that I have done this before (completed 200 MBEs in 6 hours) in bar review and get into my zone”
“I am capable, I made it through law school and can make it through this exam”
“I was very focused in my preparation for the bar exam so I am prepared”
“I will turn my nervous feelings into productive and positive energy to maximize my performance on this exam”
“I know most of what I need to know and what I don’t know I have a strategy for”
“Every day I got better at the tasks and will be my best on bar exam days”
“Passing the bar exam is not ACING the bar exam, it is achieving the passing score and I can do that. I reject the spirit of perfectionism”
“I succeed even in stressful situations”
“Today I release my fears and open my mind to new possibilities”
“Whatever I need to learn always comes my way at just the right moment”
Monday, February 19, 2018
Bar preparation is in the stretch run. Everyone is turning the corner and trying to finish strong. The goal is to keep up the pace for another week to maximize points on the exam. Understanding the law is important, but the bar exam is as much a test of mental freshness as it is knowledge of the law. Make sure to plan for the next week to be as fresh as possible walking into the exam.
Unfortunately, for a certain percentage of the population, every point matters. I see a decent amount of scores within only a handful of MBE questions of the pass line each administration. Every choice makes a difference. Intentionally make choices for the next week that set you up for success.
Cramming all night, studying while tired, and getting hungry while practicing can all affect performance on an exam. Studying during the wrong time of day or studying while tired decreases cognitive function. The best advice is to get on the same schedule as the bar exam. If you haven’t already, start studying at least 30-45 minutes prior to when the exam will start. You don’t want your brain to start working on essay 2 or 3. Get all the points possible from the start.
Start eating and resting during the same times as the exam. Bodies tend to get on cycles. People like eating near the same time every day. Think about the day that you eat just a few minutes later than normal. Stomachs start to rumble and are distracting. On one of the most important tests in your career, don’t let your stomach get in the way of answering questions correct. Get your body ready for the normal eating cycle. For example, Oklahoma’s essay section starts at 8. Students receive 4 essays with 2 hours to complete them. At the end of 2 hours, there is a break. A similar schedule proceeds throughout the day, with a lunch break in the middle. I tell students to be mentally ready to study by 7:30, eat any quick snack around 10:05, be ready for lunch around 12:15, have another snack at 3:35, and they will finish around 5:45.
Be ready for exam day is important. However, anything that could go wrong, may go wrong on exam day. If you get hungry all of a sudden, be ready with whatever your bar examiners allow in the room. Oklahoma’s essay day schedule is nothing like the MBE schedule, so students adapt a little on day 2 with snacks during the exam. Having a backup plan is always helpful.
The bar exam will be as much a test of mental endurance as it will be knowledge of the law. The best way to be mentally ready for the endeavor is to specifically plan how the day will go and start building study days to mirror exam day. Preparing nearly every detail will put you in the best position for success. Good luck on the exam!
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Are your students struggling with reading comprehension difficulties?
Well, it might be just related to something quite surprising...the ever-increasing emphasis in on-line reading over paper-based reading.
You see, according to educational researchers in Norway, even controlling for learning differences in student populations, on-line readers statistically underperform in comparison to paper-based readers (as ascertained by test results concerning reading comprehension). Anne Mangen, et al, "Reading Linear Texts on Paper Versus Computer Screen: Effects on Reading Comprehension," International Journal of Educational Research, 58:61-68 (2013), available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com
According the article, at least based on my own reading of the article, there are several possible reasons for the disparate tests results between on-line readers versus paper-based readers such as:
First, on-line reading often requires scrolling, which seems to negatively impact spatial orientation of the text because it disrupts our abilities to mentally represent and recall the material.
Second (and closely related), on-line reading lacks the visual certainty of knowing where to re-locate material that one is struggling with because on-line text is fluid (with different parts of the text never occurring preciously on the same page of the screen) in comparison to paper-based texts (in which we often visually recall a certain passage from its spatial position, for example, in the upper-left hand-side of the page in the text book). In other words, paper-based readers might perform better in comparison to on-line readers because paper-based readers can more easily reconstruct a mental image, leading to more efficient recall during assessment of the material previously read. Those same clues are often lacking in on-line text presentations.
Third, on-line reading seems to impair our overall metacognition abilities (our abilities to monitor and assess our own learning) because on-line reading tends to be perceived by us -- at the outset -- as a familiar way to glean information quickly (and almost effortlessly). In contrast, paper-based reading tends to be perceived by us -- from the get-go -- as requiring much more effort on our part in order to make sense of the text, which by implication suggests that paper-based reading pushes us to better monitor whether and to what extent we are learning through our reading as we move back and forth through the text. In other words, in on-line reading, we tend to overestimate our reading abilities.
If the article's conclusions are true, then that leads us to wonder whether, the next time we see one of our students struggling with reading cases, dissecting statutes, or analyzing multiple-choice or essay problems, perhaps we should first ask about their reading. Are they primarily reading using on-line text or paper-based text? The answer to the question might just lead to a memorable breakthrough in one's success in law school.
That leads me to one final thought.
I wrote this blog trying, as best I could, to read the Norwegian article online. So, please take what I've written as a grain of salt...because...I might have well have overestimated my own metacognition of the research findings.
In fact, writing this blog has been mighty hard work on my end because it's required near-endless multi-tasking as I switched screen shots between the article and the blog. In short, I very well might have demonstrated the merit of this research based on my own, perhaps mistaken, paraphrases of the research findings. I'll let you be the judge. Just make sure you print out the article before you read it! Oh, and if you're not sure if you can recall how to read old-fashioned paper text, here's a funny video clip that'll serve as reminder: https://www.youtube.com/medevialreadinghelpdesk (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
The bar exam is slightly less than two weeks away and as academic support professionals, we can feel it even though it is business as usual in the law school.
One way we are reminded that the bar exam is approaching is through hearing from bar study mentors and bar support individuals. Some mentors are discovering that their mentees failed to take full advantage of resources and support available to them in preparation for the bar exam. Most likely, they are concerned about their mentees’ ability or simply excited about progress and wish to check-in. Whatever the cause, it is always great to hear from supportive individuals who have rallied around bar takers. These individuals usually serve as secret weapons, giving bar taker the extra boost of confidence necessary to bring them closer to passing the exam.
Another way we are reminded that the bar exam is fast approaching is through countless expressions of fear and panic from bar studiers through phone calls and email messages seeking advice on how to improve essays, Multistate Bar Exam questions, and Multistate Performance Tests. Bar studiers are also simply seeking last-minute advice and pep talks as they take the final preparatory steps for the bar exam.
Most students in the law school building appear unaware that the bar exam is this month, let alone a few days away. They are mainly focused on their day to day activities and academic endeavors. Students who are aware that the February bar exam is upon us are either currently completing their bar exam applications or students with friends who are former classmates who will sit for the February bar exam. Current 3Ls who anticipate taking the July 2018 bar exam have some familiarity with fears and challenges bar studiers experience and are therefore attempting to minimize those concerns, ask more questions, and strategize for their bar exam.
The fear of being unsuccessful on the bar exam is equally a motivating force and a source of stress. Lately, 3L students are alluding to having nightmares and awaking in a panic consumed with thoughts about the bar exam. In my opinion, it is too early to exhibit these emotions. I advise them that although the bar exam is a high stakes test as employment, opportunities, and livelihood are all at stake; nevertheless, many other students before them have successfully survived the journey and made it to the other side. I am confident they can too.
All the very best to all the students taking the bar exam this February! You can do it! To the current 3Ls, you still have time. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, February 5, 2018
While I don’t consider myself old, I am starting to tell stories about “the good ole’ days.” Days where I was taught to ride a bike by being pushed down the street and then my uncle let go. I crashed, got up, probably cried about not wanting to continue, and then was forced to get back on for the next attempt. My mom recalls that she was taught to swim by being thrown in a lake and told to swim back to survive. Those are terrible parenting strategies (and probably exaggerations), but I do find myself telling my kids “we don’t say I can’t in this house” right before a huge meltdown struggle. A key message was to overcome obstacles.
Now is the time in both bar prep and the semester where I see students psychologically disadvantaging themselves with the wrong perspective. Bar takers are struggling with recent simulated MBE results. My last semester 3Ls are struggling through their MBE homework. The pain of multiple choice is high right now. Many students will shy away from more work that illustrates they are not doing well.
Despite the current despair, my hope is everyone possesses a get back on the bike attitude, even if they are wailing. Unfortunately, I am concerned we (including myself) are not teaching perseverance as well at all levels of education. I fear our students aren't getting back on the bike due to their perspective of their own ability.
Students constantly receive messages from society, law school, and peers about their ability. If students don’t receive instruction on how to overcome those obstacles before law school, schools should start overtly teaching how to overcome very real obstacles. Some law schools’ demographics include students who constantly receive messages that they are not good at certain types of questions. Research is clear that girls at young ages are as capable, if not better, at math than boys. As kids grow up, societal messages and images tell young women they are not good at math. This results, along with many other factors, with less women in STEM fields. Many of our students experience the same phenomenon. Schools with lower credentials have a student body who were told by the LSAT that they aren’t good at multiple choice tests, and many of those students were subsequently told by some law schools, through rejection letters, that they weren’t good enough on multiple choice tests to attend. Limited options to unranked law schools sends messages of inferiority before students are even in chairs.
Students of historically marginalized groups attending those schools face even greater challenges. Stereotype threat, not seeing many peers like themselves, and discovering statistics about group performance sends additional messages of limited chances of success. The explosion of easily accessible information through social media and the internet only exacerbates this problem.
My anecdotal perspective is that some students receiving these messages are ill-equipped to navigate the negative environment, which in many ways is not students’ fault. Between helicopter parenting and YMCA sports (only half-joking), some law students haven't faced real challenges or losing before law school. They haven't been exposed to the need for a Growth Mindset. I always talk about improvement and the goal is to get better, but anecdotally, I have heard more students say they aren’t good at multiple choice questions over the last few years. I try to tell students about a growth mindset, but I don’t think it registers to them that saying they are bad at a certain type of question is a form of the fixed mindset. The confirmation of certain classes from law school make overcoming this idea difficult.
Overcoming failures is critical to success in law school, the bar exam, and the practice of law. Not only do we need students to acquire persistence for success now, we are doing a disservice to them if we let them practice law without the ability to handle defeat. I am committing to be more overt about my messaging on improvement and growth mindset. I specifically tell students the statement “I am bad at multiple choice questions” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and hurts their scores. I plan to continually talk about the obstacles in practice and how to learn to handle them now. I will show them how they improve and how improvement is the goal. I want my students to enter the profession with the ability to continue to advocate for their client in spite of continuously losing motions. Hopefully those skills will help them be more professional lawyers.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Annually, between the end of January and early February, I manage two groups of students with different concerns and stressors. The first group is comprised of recent graduates who plan to sit for the February bar exam and the second group includes current 3Ls completing their bar applications and gearing up for the end of the law school journey. Of course, I work with several students who do not neatly fit into these two groups but at this time, these are the students who require my immediate attention.
The Bar is in Sight
As February approaches, recent graduates appear completely panicked. February means the bar exam is fast approaching and students have a few weeks before they sit for the exam, the event they have anticipated since completing law school.
Some grads are questioning whether or not they should have started studying earlier, doubting their ability to recall information studied thus far and pessimistic about passing the bar exam. This group of individuals regularly calls or emails me in the mist of any meltdown, primarily sharing their concerns about dropping scores on practice MBE questions, inability to answer essay questions on subject areas they once felt comfortable with and fear that time is rapidly running out. In response, we collectively strategize how to purposefully use the remaining weeks and days. In addition to reassuring them and giving them permission to feel all of the emotions, they might possibly feel, I encourage them to get back to work.
Other graduates simply call or email for a last-minute pep talk and a few words of encouragement. I find it quite easy to do so as these graduates are practically ready to face the final stretch.
Another group of individuals that usually starts to engage with me at this time is those I never met throughout their law school careers or those who disappeared for extended periods of time. Typically, my final advice to these students is: “Take some deep breaths, keep your eye on the ultimate goal, get some rest, and keep working. You can do this!”
Bar Exam Avoidance
For current 3Ls slated to graduate at the end of this semester, the concerns are a little different and mostly relate to the unknown. For a few students, bar application deadlines have passed so they have already experienced the range of emotions that accompany that experience. For many others, application deadlines loom and the reality of the demands associated with completing a bar application is overwhelming. The Boundless time they once thought they had, is now very limited. Fitting application tasks into daily and weekly class and work schedules is tedious. I usually seize this opportunity to remind them of the routine messages they received from me each and every semester and prior to summer break encouraging students to read the bar application instructions, survey the application, and start compiling vital information such as addresses, employment history, and supporting documentation. Those who did not heed the advice articulate regret about not initiating the process sooner and some even acknowledge that they just could not face the process; therefore, delayed it until the very last minute.
It would not be me if I did not inquire about why they avoided starting early. I find that their responses vary. For some students, revisiting residential history and work history awakens familial history that they have shelved or tried to forget about. For others, revisiting financial debts and obligations awakens stressors that they once set aside. It is amazing how what appears to be a very simple process such as answering a number of questions, producing documentation, and completing tasks can lead one to revisit a significant part of one’s life history with a critical eye. While this is regarded by some students as a very emotional process, for others it is a mere formality. Although we see students and regularly interact with them, often we are unaware of the multiplicity of adversities and challenges they overcame just to make it to law school and/or to get to this point, the precipice of completing their law school journey. (Goldie Pritchard)