Thursday, July 28, 2016
Part II: The “Now What” of the Bar Exam: The Waiting Period Begins – A Great Time to Thank Your Supporters!
As Goldie Pritchard pointed out in yesterday’s blog, 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 until mid to late fall.
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 keep 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 late summer and early fall) 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 in late October 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 with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears. 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. Finally, don’t give up your hopes and aspirations for your legal work. We need you, all of you, as officers of the court. And, don’t forget, as Goldie Pritchard mentioned in yesterday’s blog, to take time out today to “appreciate and enjoy your accomplishments” as law school graduates and bar exam takers! (Scott Johns).
Friday, July 22, 2016
You should walk into the bar exam knowing that you can absolutely do it! You're in the home stretch, so sleep well these next few days, eat well, exercise, stay positive, and GET PUMPED!
I'm sure you have your own idiosyncratic pump-up songs (Pavement's "Stereo" is one of mine -- mainly because I like the screaming in the chorus), and this list will clearly betray my age and inherent lack of hipness (I'm not even going to try to come up with things that might actually be popular at the moment), but I thought I would post a few music suggestions to get you pumped for test day. Really, one could do worse than spend the morning before the bar exam trying to get psyched:
Classic Rock/Positive Choice
There's a reason this song is played at every sporting event known to man. Queen's "We Will Rock You." "We are the Champions" works as well.
Classic Rock/I Need to Scream Choice
Screaming the beginning of this song is one of the most fun things in the world. Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song"
Classic Rock/Fatalism and Sarcasm Choice
Sometimes, making yourself laugh is the best thing you can do. For the morning of the bar, I might suggest AC/DC's "Highway to Hell"
The White Stripes's "Seven Nation Army"
Catchy Pop Song
After months of studying, you might feel that you have nothing in your brain anymore. Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off"
Catchy Pop Song #2
Not that it has much to do with the bar, but this song seems to make everyone happy: Beyonce's "Single Ladies"
Catchy Pop Song #3
Another one that seems to put everyone in a good mood: Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk"
My wife recently finished her second book. She began every morning listening to Eminem's "Lose Yourself"
Classic Rap/Hip Hop
LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out"
The country equivalent of a song that just seems to put everyone in a good mood: Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again"
I don't really listen to modern country, but I found this page with a song list of major league baseball players' pump up songs: MLB Country Songs
Feel like you could take on the entire galaxy! Because you can! "Star Wars"
Dance your way into the bar exam! "Polka Music"
GOOD LUCK! YOU'VE GOT THIS!
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!
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
The bar exam is next week and bar studiers are experiencing a variety of emotions. Please keep in mind that you worked hard in the weeks and days leading-up to this point. Now, it is time to take care of yourself so you can perform at an optimal level.
Rest. Sleep is a tool to help you feel refreshed for the exam ahead and to help improve your memory. With sleep, you can strengthen memories and skills you practiced while awake. Memories of incorrect answers to essay or MBE questions become memorable fact patterns.
In the alternative, do something else you find relaxing such as watching a movie or your favorite TV show, meeting-up with a non-law school friend for lunch or an activity, or just lounge around. Remind yourself that you have put in a lot of work and it is okay to rest a little.
Prepare. If you are flying or driving to the location of your exam, pack your belongings and pack your car early. Ensure that you have the essential items but also consider packing one or two things that bring you comfort.
Map-out your route to the testing site and determine how much time to allow but also consider alternative routes.
Layer your clothing in such a way that you can adjust to changes in temperature (extreme cold and extreme heat) throughout the testing period.
Have cash on hand as you might need it for parking, lunch, or other emergencies. Have a plan for where you will have lunch.
Have a plan for how you will address stress, anxiety, and stay focused prior to the exam, during the exam, and after the exam. Think of how you will refresh for the next day.
Visualize yourself sitting at the table, taking the bar exam, and passing the bar exam.
Meet the challenge. This is an exam you are likely to feel unprepared for regardless of how much time and effort you devoted to the process. Trust your process and your intelligence. You are capable of reading and following directions so you know what to do. You have completed hundreds of practice questions so you can do it. You have compartmentalized and organized information in a number of ways so you can retrieve information.
You own and only have control over your experience so stop comparing yourself to others. Be optimistic! Stay forward looking! You have the Academic Support and Bar Preparation educator(s) at your law school cheering you on. You can do it, truly. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The “practice run” through should be your priority. As a bar studier, you want to mentally prepare for the exam ahead and the best way to do this is to mimic the circumstances surrounding the bar exam. Next week is ideal for this type of activity because you are done with bar review and have a full week.
Read and Follow the Instructions
Know the policies of your exam site and the policies of the jurisdiction where you are taking the bar exam. Know what items are permitted and what items are prohibited. Ensure that you do not bring prohibited items such as cell phones, fitness trackers, or bar review books. Ensure that you bring necessary items such as admission ticket, identification card, laptop, and writing utensils. Know what type of behavior is prohibited and ensure that you comply. Review information included with your admission ticket and (re)visit your jurisdiction website for any policy updates.
Know the Structure of the Exam
Ensure that you know the dates of your exam and what component of the exam is administered on each of the days and in each of the sessions. If you have a three day exam (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), then know what component of the exam is covered on each of those days. Know whether you have essays in the morning and performance tests in the afternoon or vice versa. Know what time each session begins and ends.
Practicing on the days and at the time of your exam a week before your bar exam is ideal. You may have only practiced one session (3 hours) of essays, performance tests, or MBE. You may have practiced a full day (6 hours) of MBE or a writing day practice but you have not done it in the same sequence as the bar exam. The goal of this exercise is to see how you maintain your stamina, how you engage with the material at the times you need to, and how you manage two or three days of testing in a row. It will likely be an exhausting process and plan to be unable to do anything each night. The focus of this exercise is not on assessing whether you will pass the exam based on your performance. Bar studiers focus on the score rather than on time management, energy, and the like. Adrenaline keeps you going on exam day but you are fighting fatigue from the past few months and you want to train your brain to engage when you need it to. This is also an opportunity to practice following the policies of your testing center and jurisdiction. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Unlike the fear of the bar exam essay, bar studiers tend to face the practice MBE exam head on. Maybe because with multiple choice questions the correct answer is included in the answer options and one has a one in four chance of uncovering it. Also, one could attribute poor performance on the MBE to the format of the exam, multiple choice questions. Either way, comprehensive information recall is not perceived as imperative because of the hope that facts might trigger recollection. The challenge is whether recollection is accurate or complete.
Post practice MBE, three categories of bar studiers emerge: (1) the Confident Conqueror, (2) the Insecure Naysayer, and (3) the Earnest Hard Worker.
The Confident Conqueror likely met or exceeded the benchmark for “success.” This person is excited and might even be arrogant about their achievement. They know that they will pass the bar exam. Social media might be where they announce their achievement or they might share their score with students in their bar review course. For some, this achievement provides confidence and energy needed to effectively continue the process. For others, this success is detrimental because laziness, procrastination, or bad study habits takeover.
The Insecure Naysayer is the polar opposite of the Confident Conqueror. This person is devastated because they failed to meet or barely met the benchmark for “success.” They previously may have been fearful and intimidated by the bar study process but they are even more fearful now. Complaining may have been a habit for this person but now they have justification for their frustration. Following the study schedule, completing assignments, and carefully following the program did not yield expected results. They are convinced that they will not pass the bar exam.
The Earnest Hard Worker is somewhere in between the Confident Conqueror and the Insecure Naysayer. This person’s performance might be in the middle of the pack or they may have failed or achieved the benchmark for “success.” Regardless of their performance, this person is working smart and not hard. They are self-aware and aware of the progression in their studies. They may have challenging moments but they can always pick themselves up or rally individuals who can help.
Whether bar studiers find themselves in one of these categories or none of them, maintaining a hopeful and positive attitude combined with hard work is necessary for success. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, June 23, 2016
With the law school terminal exam, the bar exam, about a month away, bar studiers are typically anxious and nervous for a variety of reasons. Some are overwhelmed by the limited amount of time remaining, others are fearful of not retaining and recalling information, and certain others are fearful that all the time and effort studying will not yield expected results. These are all valid fears and concerns but should not distract bar studiers from developing the skills necessary to successfully attack this exam.
One skill that bar studiers tend to avoid is writing answers to essay questions and I have heard a variety of justifications for why but the common theme is “fear.” Fear of what an answer to an essay question might reveal about knowledge of the law, ability to recall the law, lack of organization, ability to use facts effectively, ability to develop arguments and counter arguments, etc... The most significant fear is the negative impact on moral and motivation. Practice essays can be tough on moral and motivation but can help bar studiers uncover and acknowledge strengths and weaknesses. Bar studiers, you have time to learn the law, memorize it, and develop better writing skills. If you do not know what challenges you face, how can you positively progress? Below are four points highlighted in my students’ weekly messages about essays:
- Just do it. If you wait until you are fully comfortable with the law to write an essay; you will never do it. You will never be fully comfortable with all aspects of each and every subject area but you can get better by writing.
- Build your muscles. You must dive in to build tough skin when it comes to critique/feedback. When you are faced with the unknown you will develop a strategy. You do not want to face your worse fear, the essay, on the day of the exam. It just won’t work. “Remember that no one shows up for a marathon without preparation so why should you?” (Dean of Student Engagement quote)
- Keep it real. Be completely honest with yourself and the people who are trying to help you. Complete timed questions, honestly critique your responses, and start to do it closed book.
- Close the book…or you will never get the timing right and you will never memorize the rules. Only after you have made a good faith attempt and done your best should you look up rules you do not know or understand.
Friday, June 17, 2016
Many students are frightened of the MBE because they have never done well on multiple choice tests. If you fall into this category, the important thing is that you do as many practice questions as you can during bar prep. As you do them, try to figure out exactly what the problem is.
Students who do not like multiple choice exams usually go back and change answers. Whenever I have my students take a look at their work later, it usually turns out that changing answers only hurt them. If you have the tendency to go back, study your exam and see if this helped you even once. Usually, people are only hurt by going back, or at least hurt more than they are helped. Do the next few sets of practice questions promising yourself that you won't go back. You'll probably discover you did better.
Some students do poorly on multiple choice exams because they read too fast and miss important words. If you go over your answers and discover that you are doing this, slow down your reading.
But, some students have a problem with running out of time. For that, the only thing you can do is do as many practice questions as possible until you have the cadence of the questions down and you naturally want to move when 1.8 minutes are up (the time you have for each MBE question). It's fine (actually, I think a fantastic idea) to do the same questions more than once, so the materials you have now will be plenty.
Don't skip questions to come back to the harder ones later -- you will run out of time, and likely screw up the Scantron sheet, which is a disaster. Just answer the questions as they come, and give each 1.8 minutes.
In working to improve student scores, the thing that seems to help the most is doing the questions, then going over them and creating a list of "Things I Did Not Know" -- either the reason you missed the question, or the wrong reason that still lead you to the right answer. Keep the things you did not know short. For example, "Did not know the amount in controversy has to be over $75,000." Study that list. Multiple choice questions are designed for you to be able to spit out one particular factoid. If you have a list of all the ones you didn't know memorized, you'll never miss questions based on those factoids again, and the same ideas tend to repeat themselves. (Alex Ruskell)
Friday, June 3, 2016
As the dulcet birdsong of spring gives way to the blistering Hades of summer in South Carolina, I spend a lot of time working with students as they prepare for the essay portion of the bar exam.
Students struggling with this portion of the bar exam seem to fall into one of two groups. For one group, the problem is that they are writing too little. So, for example, if there is a question involving the UCC and a sailboat, they won't write down what the UCC is, what it covers, or why a sailboat might fall under the UCC rules.
For the other group, the problem is that they are writing too much. In that case, if the question involves what happens when a guy calls up his attorney and tells her to toss his will in a fire, this group will start with "A will requires two signatures ..." and eventually write down absolutely everything they know about wills.
Either way, even if the student actually knows the applicable law and how to apply it, the exam grader can't tell. If the exam grader can't tell, the exam grader is not going to award points. I've seen students fail bar exam essays for both of the above reasons.
Consequently, when evaluating essays, I remind the student to write essays as if he or she is speaking with a client. A client is not an expert in the situation, and the student needs to explain to him or her what rules apply and why those particular rules apply. On the other hand, if the student hits the client with a firehose of information, he or she will have no clue as to what things are important, what the rule actually is, or why that rule applies, even if the actual information is buried in there somewhere.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Scott Johns, Professor of the Practice and Director of the DU Bar Success Program, at University of Denver has written an article on bar exam program interventions which can be found here on SSRN: Empirical Refections: A Statistical Evaluation of Bar Exam Program Interventions. The abstract of the article is below:
Thursday, March 17, 2016
It is the time of the year when 1Ls are anxious as they face their second set of finals, 2Ls are overwhelmed with the rigors of the 2L workload and the pressure to line up a job for the summer, and 3Ls are feeling antsy to graduate and anxious about the approaching bar exam. Whether you are working with 1Ls, 2Ls, or 3Ls, academic advising can help students feel empowered instead of crazed. What exactly is academic advising? Academic advising helps students understand educational options and opportunities that are available to them, and shows them how to develop a plan that will help them achieve their educational and career goals.
When I meet with students for academic advising, I first ask them a series of questions. These questions help me to understand who they are as a learner, as well as, get a sense of their future career goals. Here are a few questions to help guide your conversations regarding academic advising and course planning.
- In your first year, which class was your favorite? Why? Did you like the style of teaching, the content of the material, or the classroom dynamic?
- Which class was your least favorite? Why? Did you dislike the style of teaching, the content of the material, or the classroom dynamic?
- Why did you want to go to law school? Have your goals shifted since beginning law school?
- Which classes that are being offered next year seem most interesting to you?
- Where do you plan to take the bar exam?
- How did you perform on your final exams? In legal writing? Have you determined ways to improve your future performance?
- Consider the sequencing of courses and prerequisites if applicable.
- Also, consider how often certain courses are offered. For example, some courses are only offered in the fall, while others are offered every other year. If certain courses are a priority for you, incorporate this into your plan.
- How did your upper level classes compare to your first year coursework?
- Do you feel more engaged with the material in your current courses? Why or why not?
- Do you still have requirements to fulfill? Courses? Pro bono hours? Experiential credits? Writing credits?
- Have you taken Professional Responsibility? If yes, have you registered for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam? If not, when do you plan to take it?
- How many bar tested courses have you taken? Which ones do you plan to take before graduation?
- How can you plan for your bar study in advance even if you are not taking all of the bar tested subjects as a law student?
- Create a few alternate plans just in case certain courses are overenrolled, not offered, or conflict with your other choices.
- Do you have any requirements that still need to be fulfilled before graduation? Courses? Pro bono hours? Experiential credits? Writing credits?
- Do you plan to work during your last year? How will you manage your course work and your job responsibilities?
- Are there particular areas of law the interest you? Take at least one class that is not required, but that interests you, you are curious about, or it just seems like fun.
- Are there common trends in your class or exam performance that can be remedied before graduation and bar study?
- Have you determined where you plan to take the bar exam? If yes, have you reviewed the bar application and calendared important dates and deadlines?
- Have you researched the available options and signed up for a commercial bar review course?
Monday, December 21, 2015
Report from the New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Conference December 7, 2015
Kudos to the Executive Board of NECASP for putting together a terrific slate of presentations for its December 2015 conference. The morning sessions focused on “Innovative Strategies to Prepare our Changing Students for the Bar Exam”:
First, Camesha Little presented on Texas A & M Law School’s holistic bar exam program. The program objectives include managing anxiety, maintaining study schedules, and identifying outside issues. The program brings in folks from outside the ASP program, including alumni, faculty, the legal writing center, campus administration, and community partners.
Next, Leah Plunkett presented on the University of New Hampshire Law School’s relatively new use of a required preliminary bar exam to assess students' substantive knowledge of selected first year courses in connection with bar readiness. The presentation focused on how UNH is exploring the role and value of the preliminary Bar Exam. Though required, students’ scores on the preliminary bar exam are neither made part of their transcripts nor factored into their GPA’s.
In the last morning session, Sabrina DeFabritiis of Suffolk University School of Law presented on her pre-graduation course designed to prepare students before they prepare for the bar exam
The afternoon sessions provided a series of varied an informative presentations:
Elizabeth Bloom of New England Law School presented on designing courses that propel student learning outcomes to make learning happen. Professor Bloom’s presentation was very timely in light of the ABA’s shift in focus from teaching to learning and from curriculum to outcomes.
Chelsea Baldwin, of the Appalachian School of Law presented on her current work aimed at creating a framework for interacting with students and arriving at solutions to problems. Professor Baldwin’s presentation was entitled: TREATS Affects Performance – Six Categories of Intervention for At-Risk Law Students
Antonette Barilla of Elon University School of Law, presented on “Promoting Self-Awareness in Legal Education.” Her presentation drew on the work of Michael Hunter Schwartz, Barry Zimmerman, Jason Palmer, and others. She focused on common attributes of the millennials who inhabit our classrooms and strategies that can promote self-awareness and learning in the classroom.
James McGrath, of Texas A & M Law School spoke on “Integrating Effective Cognitive Learning Techniques into First Year Doctrinal Topics – Torts.” Professor McGrath drew on works such as Making it Stick, Peter Brown, et. al., and How We Learn, Benedict Carey. Professor McGrath discussed his implementation of “spaced practice” in his Torts syllabus to promote long-term learning.
(Myra G. Orlen)
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Our guest post today is by Louis N. Schulze, Jr., Assistant Dean and Professor of Academic Support at Florida International University College of Law. He served on the faculty of Suffolk University Law School (2004-07) and New England Law | Boston (2007-14), earning tenure at the latter in 2012. He is a former Chair of the AALS Section on Academic Support.
Outsourcing Academic Support is a Problematic Proposition
I have been intrigued recently by the discussion occurring on the Academic Support listserv. One member of our community posted a request for information about whether, and to what extent, schools partner with and/ or outsource bar preparation and academic support to bar prep companies. Some schools have dabbled with partnering, and other schools report full-scale immersion. What I took from all of these reports (and my own discussions) was that bar prep companies seek not only to have a hand in for-credit bar prep courses but also in the area of traditional academic support. This troubles me.
I write to express my belief that the wholesale outsourcing of academic support to bar prep companies, though perhaps an attractive proposition for some deans, is a questionable one when viewed through the lens of assessing what is best for our students, our institutions, and the legal profession.
I. Some Preliminary Matters.
First, I think a dichotomy exists between bar prep companies’ role in curricular bar preparation during law school and bar prep companies’ role in academic support during law school. Unsurprisingly, bar prep companies are quite good at bar prep. For reasons explained infra, I believe that bar prep companies are less able to meet the unique goals of academic support.
Part of my thesis relies on this distinction; while I am somewhat more optimistic about partnering with bar prep companies for curricular bar preparation during law school, I am far less sanguine about the increased presence of bar preparation companies in the area of academic support. I think this dichotomy is a crucial one for deans and academic support professionals to digest, as there is a material difference between these two realms.
Second, I think a distinction exists between “partnering” with a bar prep company and the “wholesale outsourcing” of courses or programs. Unlike the bar prep/ academic support dichotomy I posit above, I see this distinction more as a spectrum than a binary choice. The lightest form of “partnering” would likely be adopting a bar prep company’s materials and questions in a course, while the opposite end of the spectrum (the “wholesale outsourcing”) would entail having a bar prep company fully teach and administer some facet of a law school’s offerings.
In my view, as a law school’s choices increase from “partnering” towards “wholesale outsourcing,” those choices become more questionable. While there are no doubt many acceptable points along the spectrum, law schools ought to think carefully about crossing the threshold between partnering and outsourcing, especially in the area of academic support.
II. My Arguments.
My thesis is that law schools should not outsource academic support, per se, to bar prep companies. I am less concerned about partnering/ outsourcing law school bar prep courses. I am even only mildly concerned about partnering with bar companies in the area of academic support. But what I fear is that bar prep companies, in the name of diversifying product lines and increasing profits, will seek to dominate not only the bar prep market and the law school bar prep course market, but also the field of academic support. In my view, such a result would do more harm than good to our students.
But why is this so?
1. First, one-on-one academic support is the most effective academic support, but it is not the most cost-efficient. Anyone who teaches law school academic support has had the experience of watching a student’s eyes light up as they have the big “ah ha!” moment. Some call this “the law school click.” It occurs when a student suddenly makes multiple connections, all at once, and realizes exactly what her professors are getting at – why we use cases to teach law; why creating outlines is important; why we test the way we do; why one must “argue both sides”; why all these methods make students better lawyers.
Usually, this moment occurs in an office with both student and ASP professor huddled over a desk, reviewing an exam, a paper, or some other work product. This moment is usually preceded by other less fruitful in-person moments, but the point is that the “ah ha” moment is one that happens over time and in a one-on-one setting. While it’s true that our ASP classes facilitate these moments, and give the framework and coursework for the moments of enlightenment, I’ve found that the “ah ha” moments happen in-person.
This is much less likely to happen if academic support is provided by bar prep companies. Why? Bar prep companies are corporations, and as such they owe fiduciary duties to their investors. They do not owe fiduciary duties to the students they are teaching. As a result, if they can cut costs by reducing costly endeavors they can and must do so. The first item on the chopping-block would be the costly method of one-on-one, individualized meetings.
2. Academic support is not one size fits all, but one size fits all is cost-efficient. Each law school’s academic support methods differ significantly from the methods of others. This has a lot to do with the differences in administrations, faculties, students, and missions of each law school. Applying the methods of one school to that of another would be ineffective because academic support must be tailored to the environment of the law school. An approach to the contrary waters down the effectiveness of the program, plain and simple.
But, one size fits all is cost-efficient. If a corporation could fashion an academic support program that could be installed as-is into multiple law schools, such a program would increase the profit margin of the endeavor. By contrast, tailoring an academic support program to the unique needs of individual schools (let alone students) would be cost-inefficient. Changing aspects of the curriculum to account for differences in faculties, students, and other stakeholders would require person-hours, and person-hours come with a price tag. As a result, because bar prep companies are corporations, and corporations have a fiduciary duty to the bottom line, academic support would likely become one size fits all.
3. There are many purposes for academic support, but bar passage is the ultimate purpose of any bar prep company. Law schools provide academic support for myriad reasons: to decrease dismissal rates; to support students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds; to humanize the law school environment; to communicate performance expectations more expressly; to increase bar passage rates; and to make students better lawyers. Each institution may emphasize these purposes differently, but at the very least each of these is likely on the table in terms of justifying expenditures for academic support.
But, the purpose of a bar prep company is solely to promote bar passage. While this purpose might coincide with some of the other purposes, it likely subordinates them to a “lesser” status. Moreover, setting bar passage as the sole or primary purpose of academic support could actually be antithetical to the other goals. For instance, one could argue that to increase bar passage rates, a law school should actually increase its dismissal rates. That way, only the strongest students “count” in terms of bar passage rate. An academic support program focused solely on bar passage, therefore, might spend little time on saving 1Ls and all of its time on those who managed to get through. Although this approach might increase a school’s bar passage rate, it would utterly fly in the face of schools’ duties to the students they admit.
4. Successful academic support relies heavily on an ASP faculty’s engagement with other faculty. If academic support is outsourced to bar prep companies, whose employees would not be embedded in the institution full-time (under the proposal with which I am familiar), the academic support program would lack the crucial element of connection to the institution’s faculty.
This point relates to “buy-in,” and a successful academic support program must have it from both faculty and students. Students buy in to an academic support program if they know that there is a regular and positive collaboration between their doctrinal faculty (who will grade their work) and their academic support faculty. Meanwhile, doctrinal faculty buy in to an academic support program when they know, among other things, that the academic support faculty will help students with more than just passing the bar and that the academic support faculty will not re-teach the doctrine or teach in a way that conflicts with their course. Because a cost-efficient bar prep company academic support provider must pop around between multiple law schools, neither students nor faculty can be assured that the support program will embody the type of multi-stakeholder synergy necessary for success.
5. Another crucial element of successful academic support is knowledge of one's students’ strengths and weaknesses and providing counseling that helps enhance the former and mitigate the latter. This happens over time and requires a great deal of relationship building. The level of trust required to develop these relationships seems unlikely to exist if the academic support provider is not imbedded within the institution.
This point relates to the murky intersection of academic support and counseling. While ASP faculty are (mostly) not trained psychological counselors, a great deal of our most effective work occurs on the personal level. An outsourced academic support program might be able to determine that a student is weak on essays, but a true academic support professional will know WHY the student developed this weakness and how to help work the student toward mastering the problem – both on the academic and personal level. An outsourced academic support program simply will not have time to work on this holistic (but critical) endeavor. In short, an outsourced program teaches students; a true academic support program teaches people.
6. Subtle conflicts of interest. ASP faculty are often called upon to be unofficial advocates for the student body. Because we know our constituency so well, we provide robust input in institutional conversations that could impact students. Because we have certain employment protections (and this is just one reason why ASP professionals should be eligible to earn tenure and long-term contracts), we can advocate for students in ways that outside contractors cannot. Because bar prep companies will likely have their own pecuniary interests in mind, they likely will not advocate for students in the same way as ASP faculty.
For instance, many ASP professionals serve on their law school’s Academic Review Committee or provide data to those committees when they decide whether to readmit dismissed students. Student petitions for readmission often paint the rosiest picture for the students’ readmission, while grades and LSAT scores provide only a limited picture of a student’s potential. ASP professionals who have worked closely with the dismissed students can provide information that paints a clearer and more objective picture of whether a school should take a chance on readmitting dismissed students.
Outsourced academic support programs cannot possibly provide that level of objectivity and nuance. First, it is doubtful that an Academic Review Committee would permit an outside contractor ever to serve on such a committee. But even if the committee accepted data and observations from such a source, how could the committee ever trust that the information is objective when the outside contractor has a vested interest in ensuring that no “borderline” student ever sits for the bar and possibly harm the school’s bar passage rate? Why would an outside contractor ever take such a chance when their future contractual relations rely on bar passage? As a result, law schools lose an opportunity for clearer information about their students when they outsource academic support.
Law schools should not outsource academic support to commercial bar prep companies, a proposal that at least one company is marketing. At many schools, in-house academic support programs provide a genuine and effective source for student support. Partnering with such companies in the area of academic support and even outsourcing curricular bar prep courses might be reasonable, but the wholesale abrogation of a law school’s fiduciary duty to prepare its students for success is deeply problematic. Should law schools follow this slippery slope, they slide one step closer to outsourcing clinical, legal writing, and even doctrinal teaching.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Our Guest Blogger this week is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Norman Otto Stockmeyer, who retired last year after teaching at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School since 1977. He also taught as a visiting professor at Mercer University Law School and California Western School of Law. Otto taught principally first-year courses (Contracts, Criminal Law, and Research & Writing) as well as Remedies. He received the top teaching award at Cooley Law three times and was voted National Outstanding Professor by Delta Theta Law Fraternity International.
Multiple-Choice Question Guidelines
Law school professors and academic support professionals should use multiple-choice questions for assessment and testing purposes. After all, our students will have to take and pass a bar exam with a full day of multiple-choice questions. It stands to reason that their chances of passing will be enhanced if they have successfully taken myriad multiple-choice tests in law school.
Going one step further, I submit that our multiple-choice questions should reflect the style and format used on the Multistate Bar Exam. The MBE professionals know more about multiple-choice methodology than we do. And if we want our tests to mirror the MBE, we should adopt the MBE’s question-drafting practices.
The following guidelines are derived from a 2008 article in The Bar Examiner, published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, and an examination of MBE questions released since the examination was redesigned in 2005.
- Use one question per fact pattern. Do not piggyback multiple questions on a single fact pattern.
- Make fact patterns as concise as possible. Do not include extraneous facts unless fact discrimination is the skill being tested by that particular question.
- Make fact patterns realistic and free of bias. Use genderless characters to the extent possible; otherwise equalize the number of men and women in your questions.
- Identify characters generically, rather than by names or letters. (“A buyer agreed with a seller…” rather than “Able agreed with Baker….”).
- Include all facts in the fact pattern. Answers should not introduce additional facts.
- Provide four answers for every question. More choices add complexity with little appreciable improvement in reliability.
- Avoid compound answers (“A and B, but not C”). (Besides, students hate these.)
- Do not use “all of the above” or “none of the above” answers. (Ditto) Every question should have one, and only one, indisputably correct answer.
- Distribute correct answers randomly. Amateur testers tend too often to place the correct answer in the C or D position. Savvy students pick up on this.
The overall goal of these guidelines is clarity, making sure that we are assessing substantive knowledge and legal reasoning, rather than reading comprehension. Making questions easier to read does not make them any easier to answer. It just makes them better questions.
In conclusion, multiple-choice tests can be a reliable way to evaluate knowledge and analytical skill. And researchers have found that test familiarity improves student performance on standardized tests. So using MBE-style questions can heighten the effectiveness of our tests, as well as enhance the performance of our students.
(Readers interested in Professor Stockmeyer's use of multiple-choice quizzes in a first-year course are invited to read his article on “Using Multiple Choice Quizzes” in the January 2011 issue of The Learning Curve. It is available through SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1736670.)
Thursday, September 24, 2015
"Is the Bar Too Low to Get Into Law School?" is the headline in today's New York Times "Room for Debate" section. It posed the question: Why are so many law students failing the bar exam? This is a complex issue and as the different responses make clear, there is no simple answer.
The debate started more than a year ago. The July 2014 bar exam was one of the most exciting (and not in a good way) and controversial bar exams in recent history. It is widely known as Barmageddon or Barghazi due to a nationwide debacle on the first day of the exam. The first day is the written portion; test takers pay a fee ($100-$125) to use laptops and then upload responses through an outside company. Most jurisdictions use ExamSoft. Last year ExamSoft experienced a system-wide failure and test takers across the country were not able to upload responses. ExamSoft eventually fixed the problem but not until thousands and thousands of test takers had stayed up most of the night trying to submit their responses. To say it was stressful is an understatement.
By the time day two started, many test takers still did not know the fate of their responses- were they uploaded? would the jurisdiction accept them after the deadline? Day two of the bar exam is the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE)- the multiple choice portion of the test that every state (except for LA) uses. It is created, scored and scaled by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and although it is only one part of the overall score, jurisdictions use it to scale the other portions of the exam. In other words, the MBE score is a big deal. The rest of the bar exam was uneventful. Until jurisdictions started posting results. Almost every jurisdiction reported historically low bar pass rates. This is when the finger-pointing began: Many law schools blamed the MBE, saying the test was flawed. The NCBE fired back, claiming takers were "less able" than in past years. Not many seemed to see any connection between Barghazi and bar scores.
Fast forward to July 2015. The NCBE added a seventh subject to the MBE but the exam itself is uneventful. No system failures. No Barghazi, part II. Then results started trickling out. Pass rates are lower than last year and so is the national median for the MBE. You have to go back more than twenty years to see a median score this low.
So, why are so many students failing the bar exam? Is it because law students are "less able?" Is it the addition of more material? Are law schools not adequately preparing students? Is the bar exam itself a flawed test? There is definitely "Room for Debate".
Friday, August 14, 2015
The ABA (finally) adopted a resolution that encourages state bar licensing entities to eliminate questions about mental health on bar applications. Many of us have advocated for such elimination for years due to the potential damaging effects that these types of questions may have on law students. The stigma that these questions produce may discourage law students from seeking much needed mental health treatment or therapy while they are in law school. By eliminating these questions, law students do not need to fear the character and fitness/bar application process if they do decide to seek mental health treatment.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The bar exam is the last test you will ever take. You’ve been preparing for it since the first day of law school. The foundation is built and these weeks of focused study help solidify what you’ve learned over the past 3-4 years. You will pass if you put in the time to learn the material and master the skills. Friends and family believe you will pass. Professors believe you will pass. Your employer believes you will pass. So, why do you doubt your ability to pass? One reason is that you don’t really know what to expect: Will you get an essay on intentional torts or premises liability? How many future interest questions will be on the MBE? Will you remember all the rules for all the subjects? Did you write enough? Too much?
Human beings seek stability. We like rules, routines, and goals. However, the bar exam does not fit nicely into what we’ve always done. You cover a semester a day and even though you spend 8, 10, 12 hours learning material, it doesn’t quite stick. If you could just hold things still, you’d be able to remember the material. Since everything is always changing, this doesn’t work. This is why you worry you won’t be able to learn everything in time and why you doubt your ability to pass. You are trying so hard to control things that you actually lose control.
It is July and the bar exam is at the end of the month. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Accept that you cannot learn everything and that you don’t need to in order to pass. At the end of each day, reflect on what you did and know that it is enough. It is not about whether you checked off every task assigned by the commercial bar prep company. It is about working solidly and steadily and moving forward. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about everyone else. Stop discussing what you’ve done (or didn’t do) with your friends and family. If they are studying for the bar exam, it will just be a stressor for both of you. If they aren’t studying for the bar exam, they don’t care.
Instead of looking at all those unchecked boxes, make a list of everything you have done over the past 7 weeks. Look at all you’ve accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back. Add to the list every day and look through it a few days before the bar exam. This is proof that you have done enough. This is why your friends, family, professors, and co-workers know you will pass. It is why you should believe it, too.
Need a little motivation? Check out my all-time favorite inspirational speech (it will be the best 60 seconds of your day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c47otcg13Z8
Monday, June 29, 2015
Some suggestions for friends and family supporting someone through the bar exam.
Bar Taker: I’m going to fail.
Wrong: Keep up that negative attitude and you certainly will fail.
Right: You are a brilliant, wonderful, hard-working person who is going to win the bar exam!
Bar Taker: I’m getting fat/so out of shape.
Wrong: You do look a little fluffy. And your clothes are a little tight. You need to work out.
Right: No you’re not. You look fantastic. In fact, your arms are so buff from lugging around all those commercial outline books it looks like you’ve been doing Crossfit.
Bar Taker: sniffing the air around him/her Do I smell?
Wrong: You don’t smell but that t-shirt you’ve worn for 3 days in a row sure does, and I could fry okra with all the grease from your hair.
Right: You sure do! You smell like someone who is going to pass the bar exam.
Bar Taker: My house/apartment/room is such a mess.
Wrong: Funny you should say that. I just submitted an audition tape to Hoarders.
Right: You poor dear! Please let me help you. You go to the library and study while I clean up.
Bar Taker: Ugh. I am absolutely exhausted from studying all day.
Wrong: Studying all day? You’ve got to be kidding. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about studying is not the same as actually studying.
Right: Studying like that is just so draining. You just relax right here on the couch and let me wait on you for the rest of the evening.
Bar Taker: I’m just so stressed. I can’t do this anymore.
Wrong: Stressed? You think this is stressful? Insert one of the following:
Mother- Try being in labor for 36 hours like I was with you. Now that is stress.
Sibling- You are such a big baby. No wonder Mom loves me best.
Significant other- Stress is trying to deal with you and your incessant whining. By the way, I’m breaking up with you.
Right: I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of stress you are dealing with. This is the most difficult experience anyone has had to go through. Ever. Let me make an appointment for you to get a massage. My treat.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
I love sports. I love to play sports, coach sports, and watch sports. Studying for the bar exam is like playing a sport, coaching a sport, and watching a sport. There are highs and lows, agonies and defeats, and setbacks and triumphs. Bar review for many law school grads has been in full force for a couple of weeks. The foggy haze of transition from law student to bar student has lifted. Now, it is time for bar students to get their heads in the game.
Like preparing for a sport, you must look at your bar preparation as you would a training schedule. You cannot swim the 500 meters, score the winning goal, or finish the race without focused, incremental, and structured training. Bar review is just that. Everyone says, "Bar prep is a marathon, not a sprint."
During your bar prep, you want to get high scores on MBEs, ace the essays, and finish the performance test with time to spare. However, this is usually far from the realities of your initial phase of bar prep. You have not fully memorized the law or mastered your test taking skills at the beginning of bar prep. However, you are laying the foundation. And, it is this foundation that will get to you game day.
Here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare for game day:
- Map out the remaining subjects that you need to review and the tasks that you need to complete. Writing this out can help you manage your stress and your work load.
- Set realistic goals for each day (or each hour). Meeting goals helps propel you over the next hurdle, builds your confidence, and shows you that you can win this!
- Give yourself time to process the information that is being thrown at you. Do not expect that you will know everything after listening to a lecture and completing 30 multiple choice questions. Bar review is a process, trust in the process.
- Make time for breaks. If you schedule a break, it is not considered procrastination. Everyone needs down time and it is important that you balance your intense study schedule with sufficient time to refresh.
- Evaluate your work. It is important to understand what you are doing right and what you still need to work on. This will help you refocus your time and prioritize improving your weaker areas.
- Play a sport or watch a sporting event (Women's World Cup perhaps). This may give you the inspiration to help you keep your head in the bar review game.
Friday, June 12, 2015
Should we encourage grads to delay taking the bar exam if we think that they will not pass on their first attempt? This is a very sensitive topic and aspects of which are currently being litigated in Arizona. Those of us who are overseeing bar preparation can easily understand the thinking behind what is happening in Arizona. We work with very diverse groups of students and we know their likelihood of success on the bar exam hinges upon several factors.
Some students are working full time as they study for the bar; some are caring for an elder or young child; and some struggled throughout law school and barely graduated. Others are less motivated to put in the necessary time to pass the bar with a traditional 8-10 week preparation window. We also understand that some students will greatly benefit from taking some time off between law school graduation and studying for the bar exam.
Because we know most of our students so well, we are keenly aware of particular students who are unlikely to pass on their first attempt (due to any number of reasons). Thus, does this mean that we should discourage them from sitting for the bar this summer? Personally, I have grappled with this notion. However, I have heard of other Professors, Law Schools, and ASPers who often dissuade (and possibly entice with incentives) grads into delaying their bar examinations.
Unless I have been directly asked by a grad for my professional opinion, I wrestle with whether it is my place to influence their decision to sit for or delay sitting for the bar exam. However, when you work so closely with grads during their bar preparation, we do not just think that they may not pass; instead, we often know that they will not pass. Bar exam performance can be predicted when you look at several factors and data points. When I have access to their scores throughout bar review, especially their simulated exams, I can predict with a high level of accuracy their performance on the actual bar exam.
Does this mean that I should encourage delaying the exam? This is the very issue I grapple with. On the one hand, when I know that they will likely fail the exam, encouraging them to wait means they do not have to experience the shame and defeat associated with failing the bar. We also know that once a student has failed the bar exam, passing it becomes a bigger psychological and emotional challenge. (As if it could be more psychologically challenging.) Dissuading them from sitting, also means that bar passage statistics will likely be more favorable for my law school; thus, the dilemma. Because of the current state of affairs in legal education, law employment, and law school admissions, bar passage matters. It matters more now than ever. Therefore, there is no easy answer.