Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, April 19, 2018

NCBE Reports February 2018 Average MBE Bar Exam Score

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.  

February 2018 MBE Averages

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.

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).

April 19, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Quick Classroom Exercise to Jazz Up Student Learning!

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).

March 29, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fear of the End

      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)

March 14, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Congrats February 2018 Bar Takers!

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).

March 1, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The "Key" to Golden Success - Being "Super Chill?"

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.  

I know...  

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).

 

February 22, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bar Exam Positive Affirmation

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.

 

Affirmations

“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”

(Goldie Pritchard)

February 21, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Finish Strong on the Bar

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!

(Steven Foster)

February 19, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Struggling with Reading Comprehension? It Just Might Be Related to "On Line Reading!"

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).

 

 

 

February 15, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Reading, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Highest Stakes

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)

February 14, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Overcomers Needed to Combat Negative Messaging

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.

(Steven Foster)

February 5, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Diversity Issues, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Bar Exam is in Sight Panic vs Bar Exam Avoidance

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)

January 31, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Matter of Perspective...Makes All the Difference in Learning!

Howdy Bar Prep Students:
 
I am writing this note especially to those of you currently in the midst of preparing for the February 2018 bar exam.
 
If you're like me, about this time in bar prep, I felt like I was striking out...1...2...3...yikes...another swing at a question with another miss.  I didn't even come close to the right answer so many times. And, so many times I wanted to throw in the towel.
 
But, it's not the misses that count...but...rather...what you're learning along the way.  In fact, it's in our misses that we learn where we need to improve so that we can more confidently demonstrate our spectacular problem-solving abilities to our chosen Supreme Court bar.  So, capitalize on your mistakes by turning them into positive lessons learned to improve your problem-solving skills.
 
Frankly, that's hard to do...unless we realize that we all have amazing strengths as we work on preparing for bar exams.  You see, to use a baseball analogy, some of us are pitchers, some catchers, a few umpires, and some runners.  And, there's room a plenty for all of us regardless of our "playing positions" as attorneys of the state supreme court bar.  So don't give up on yourself just because you feel like you are striking out.  We all feel that way.  Rather, keep on looking at the bright side by learning through doing lots of practice problems.  That little change in perspective - turning misses into pluses - can make all the difference in your learning.  To help give you a perspective of what this might look like in action, take a quick look at this short video clip:   https://www.passiton.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest   And, good luck as you continue to learn in preparation for success on you bar exam this winter.  (Scott Johns).

January 25, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cultivating a Bar Support Community

This is the third week of classes and usually a time when many of my 3L students start thinking about the bar exam because they have either submitted bar applications, are working to complete applications, or have received materials from bar review vendors to start studying early for the bar exam. In response to articulated concerns of students I work with on a regular basis, particularly last year’s group, I decided to use this opportunity to build a bar support community among students. This is in addition to addressing fundamental questions related to bar applications and early bar study from the general population of students.

Last year we had a small group of dedicated 3Ls driven by the fear of the bar exam and who planned to sit for the exam in several different states. We had a few “real talk” segments to address fears about the bar exam, why students fail the bar exam, financial concerns during bar review and immediately after, and law school debt. This was also the opportunity to visit or revisit some of the skills and content addressed in the voluntary bar preparation course offered by the institution that not every student enrolled in. This was also a timely opportunity for me to form and solidify a better acquaintance with my students. We talked about home life and its impact on bar preparation, how students manage stress, and the financial challenges students face. These discussions allowed me to direct students to resources I was aware of or at least alert the students to other resources I heard of later. They also identified individual support system(s) for use throughout the bar study process. As a result, students checked-in with one another, encouraged each other, went to each other in moments of panic and sent encouraging messages to each other each day of the bar exam.

This year, with added work responsibilities and being the sole person responsible for academic support and bar support, I thought it impossible to offer the program again this year. However, students know how to get me on board. Several of the students who were part of the group last year and passed the bar exam appealed to me by phone and email to offer the program again this year to current students. Additionally, they encouraged current students to approach me about repeating it. Peppered with questions, I found room in my schedule and decided to repeat it this year only if a certain number of students signed-up. The threshold was met and I have a new set of students this semester.

We had our first meeting and even though it will be added work to my heavy schedule, I am equally very excited and optimistic about working with this new group of students. I have already learned so much about them individually and about their families. They are an enthusiastic group and I look forward to their growth and success on the bar exam. It is my ardent opinion that we must support our students holistically as they prepare for this high stakes test that is the bar exam. Although we cannot address all challenges students experience; we can help them through some challenges which might put them in a better mental state to prepare for and sit for the bar exam. (Goldie Pritchard)

January 24, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A New Year's Resolution - That Works!

I've already fallen.  Chocolate got me.  I tried, super-hard; but try as I might, chocolate just has a magical grip on me.  

That raises an interesting question.

Are there any New Year's resolutions that I actually might keep so that they become part of my life?

Well, I've got a resolution that both you and me (whether you are a teacher or a student) can bank on for making a meaningful difference in your law school experience.  

In short, do less studying..and more learning.  

That's right, less studying.  You see, studiers study.  They read and re-read, they highlight and re-highlight, they underline and re-underline their class readings, notes, and outlines. But, unfortunately, the data shows that these common study techniques are poor ways to learn.  Don't believe me? Check this article out by Dr. John Dunlosky, entitled: "Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies to Boost Learning," in which Dr. Dunlosly surveys the learning science behind what works best for learning:  https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/dunlosky.pdf

Now, before we throw away our highlighters, please note that Dr. Dunlosky acknowledges that highlighting is "fine"...provided that we recognize that highlighting is just "the beginning of the learning journey."  In other words, to go from a studier to a learner involves moving beyond re-reading, highlighting, and underlining to become one that actually experiences, reflects, and acts upon the content.  That sounds hard.  And, it might be.  But, it is not impossible, at all.  Indeed, Dr. Dunlosky focuses on a handful of low-cost, readily-available learning strategies that can meaningfully improve your learning.  Here's just a few of them:

First, engage in retrieval practice. Rather than re-reading a case, for example, close the casebook and ask yourself what was the case all about, why did I read it, what did it hold, what did I learn from it, etc.  

Second, engage in lots of exercise with practice tests and problems.  It's never too early to start.  

Third, as you engage in learning through practice tests, aim to distribute the practice experiences rather than massing them in condensed, concentrated cramming sessions.  You see, what we learn through distributed practice sticks. What we learn through cramming, well, we just don't really learn because it quickly disappears from our grasp.

Fourth, as you engage in learning through practice exercises, try to interleave your practice with a mix of problem types and even subjects.  In other words, rather than just focusing on negligence problems in mass, for example, work a negligence hypothetical followed by an intentional tort problem and then a strict liability problem and finally back to a negligence problem.  Far better yet, interleave torts problems with contracts hypotheticals, etc.

Fifth, as you engage in learning, try to elaborate why the rule applies...or...explain to yourself what steps were needed to solve the problems that you were analyzing...or...figure out what facts served as clues that you should have discussed certain issues.

That's just a few learning strategies that you can implement right away, as sort of a New Year's resolution to you, to help you do less studying this new year...but far more learning.  So, here's to a new academic term of learning! (Scott Johns).

 

 

January 4, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Shopper's Guide to Bar Review Products, 2 of 2

In this two-part series, I hope to provide you with the information you'll need to make an informed decision when you select which commercial company (or companies) you'll use to prepare for the bar exam.  In Part 1, I introduced you to both full-service courses and supplemental specialty options.  Now, in Part 2, I'll offer some tips and suggestions on how to make your final decision and how to get the best price.

Tip 1: Try Before You Buy

All of the full-service companies offer a free MPRE course.  You should sign-up for all of the MPRE courses so that you can take a "test drive" of each company's software, digital platform, and print materials.  You may find that you really like one company's website or print materials more than the others.  For the specialty supplements, ask your academic support or bar support professor if they have any sample materials for you to review.  Most professors get free sample copies of bar preparation materials, like the Critical Pass flashcards and Rigos outline books.  And, if your professor doesn't have a copy to show you, check the law school library. 

Tip 2: Haggle for Discounts

Most would agree that if you pay sticker price for a car or any product at Bed, Bath & Beyond (20% off coupons!), then you're a fool.  The same is true for bar review courses.  You can always get some sort of discount, if you're willing to put in a little bit of effort. 

First, register for the MPRE course.  In addition to the benefit of the test-drive mentioned above, you'll likely get a coupon for a few dollars off their full-review course.  The emailed coupon will say something like, "Did you like the MPRE course?  If so, buy our comprehensive bar review course.  Here's a $50 coupon if you sign-up before the deadline."  You'll also get alerted to any flash-sales that the company might be offering.  (Getting too many promotional emails?  Every email comes with an "opt out" or "unsubscribe" link at the bottom, so you can choose to stop receiving the promotional emails at any time.)

Second, ask the salesperson if you qualify for any special discounts.  Students with a public interest law affiliation, bar association membership, or demonstrated financial hardship typically qualify for a discounted rate.  These discounts may not be advertised; instead, you'll need to affirmatively ask about them.

Third, ask if the company is willing to price match.  Some companies will match (or even beat) your best written offer, much like a car dealership or major retail store.

Fourth, ask for an interest-free payment plan, if you can't afford the upfront cost.  Your financial aid office may also be able to re-structure your financial aid package during your last year of law school to help you with bar-exam related costs.

Tip 3: Consider Bidding for a Course

Most students will purchase their bar review course directly from the company.  But each year a handful of students get a great deal on a course through some third-party source, such as a law school's public interest auction, student organization raffle, or scholarship program.  Before putting down any non-refundable deposit, you should investigate whether your school will be offering an opportunity to bid on a course or apply for a scholarship program. 

Tip 4: Read the Contract

Treat the bar review course buying experience like a major financial transaction.  Read all of the paperwork that is presented to you.  Negotiate.  Don't sign anything that you don't understand or agree with.  Remember, you actually have a lot of power in this buyer-seller relationship because there a lot of companies all vying for the same, small target audience (namely: you).  If you need help with the process, ask you academic support or bar support professor for guidance.

Tip 5: Wait Until, at least, 2L Year to Commit

There is very little benefit to putting down a non-refundable deposit with a company during your first-year of law school.  Just wait.  Shop around and get to know the lay-of-the-land before committing to a $1,500-$2,500 deal.  During that time you can investigate your third-party options and get quotes from all of the vendors.  You may also make a new friend or join a study group during law school.  If so, you may want to buy the same course as your study buddy to better enable you to study together during bar prep season.  In short, you really don't need to have everything ironed until the start of your final semester of school.

(Kirsha Trychta)

December 19, 2017 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Shopper's Guide to Bar Review Products, 1 of 2

In this two-part series, I hope to provide you with the information you'll need to make an informed decision when you select which commercial company (or companies) you'll use to prepare for the bar exam.  In Part 1, I'll introduce you to both full-service review courses and specialty supplemental options.  Then, in Part 2, I'll offer some tips on how to make your final decision and how to get the best price.

The three most popular companies offering comprehensive, full service bar review preparation programs are Barbri, Kaplan, and Themis.

Barbri is the oldest and most popular choice, and also tends to be the most expensive, with programs currently starting at $2,895. Barbri offers live lectures at select cities nationwide and pre-recorded online lectures for those students studying in cities without live lectures.  According to a Barbri representative, "For nearly 50 years, BARBRI has helped over 1.2 million law school graduates pass the bar exam across all 50 states, in all jurisdictions. Our courses include access to cutting-edge learning technology like our Personal Study Plan, Essay Architect, and LawMaster Study Keys. With BARBRI, you’ll have the ability to complete the course completely online or attend a lecture in a classroom setting – we’ve got all your bases covered! When it comes to your bar exam, don’t leave it up to chance and go with the most experienced and tested course!" 

Kaplan began decades ago as a multiple-choice focused company (then-called PMBR), and now offers a full-service package starting at $1,599.  According to a Kaplan representative, Kaplan Bar Review offers a comprehensive bar review course that is tailored to each student, and includes: (a) over 4,000 practice MBE questions; (b) unlimited essay grading with over 200 practice essays, each graded by barred attorneys; (c) two full-length MBE practice tests and one full-length practice bar exam under timed conditions; (d) a personalized final study plan tailored to each student’s unique strengths and weaknesses; and (e) a money-back guarantee.  Kaplan offers both live lectures in select cities and pre-recorded online lectures.  In addition, Kaplan has a Price Match Guarantee, pledging to offer their course for $100 less than the price of any other company’s course.

Themis, is the newest of the three companies, and has quickly made a name for itself, with comprehensive on-demand courses starting at $1,845, before applicable discounts.  Unlike its competitors, Themis does not offer any live lectures; all the lectures are pre-recorded.  Themis representatives boast that "Themis is built around learning science to help you study for the bar more efficiently and effectively.  Themis is the only company that releases their pass rates, which are almost always better than students who choose to take another course.  And with Themis, the course schedule adapts as you fall behind or work ahead, helping to keep you focused on what you need for exam day.  Also, Themis lectures are broken up into manageable chunks, allowing students to spend more or less time with a particular topic as needed."

In addition to the three juggernauts, numerous other companies offer a variety of a la carte services.

Adaptibar focuses exclusively on the multiple-choice component of the bar exam, offering 1,745 practice questions, most of which were obtained through a licensing agreement with the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The MBE course cost $395.

AmeriBar is lesser-known than some of it's full-service competitors, but offers a full course starting at $1,365.  AmeriBar also sells each exam component separately (e.g. $695 for the multi-state section), for those who want to create their own study package.  According to their website, AmeriBar's full review program includes "3,000+ pages of hard copy books; 1,000+ learning questions; 1,400+ actual released MBE questions; and 200+ essay questions."  

Critical Pass sells pre-printed flashcards covering the multiple-choice subjects. The 380 cards are color-coded, cross-referenced, and organized by subject and sub-topic, including indexes for each subject. Currently retailing for $149, the price includes free shipping and access to a companion mobile app.

Strategies & Tactics for the MBE, part of the Emanuel Bar Review, offers advice on how to analyze multiple-choice questions, including details on how to handle each MBE subject, step-by-step strategies for analyzing different question types, tips about how subtle differences in wording can completely change the meaning of an answer, and strategies for "rewording" questions in your mind to make them easier to analyze.  The 6th edition of this workbook currently retails on Amazon for $75.

Rigos offers several different packages ranging from outline books ($400 for the set of 5) to a full UBE course ($2,495).  Rigos is perhaps most popular for its creation of acronyms and mnemonics to help you easily memorize elements covering frequently asked legal concepts.  Rigos also offers a free MPRE course and a free 30-question multiple-choice assessment.

(Kirsha Trychta)

December 12, 2017 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Fresh Start" Steps for Bar Exam Repeaters!

'Tis the season, they say.  

But, for many law school graduates, the month of December seems like a herculean challenge because a number of graduates are preparing to retake the bar exam next February...after receiving devastating news that they did not pass.  

So, let me write directly to you...to those of you who did not pass the bar exam this past summer.

First, you do not have to be a repeater.  Repeaters repeat, with the same outcome likely to result.  Instead, it's time to take advantage of the information and the experience that you had and turn it into a "fresh start."  You see, you have "inside information," so to speak, that first-time takers lack.  You know what it's like to sit for the exam, and, in most states, you have concrete information about what you did that was great along with inside scoop about where you can improve.

But, where is this inside info?  

It's in the scores that you received along with your answers.  The first step on your "fresh start" journey takes incredible courage but is key...grab hold of your exam questions and answers and work through them, one by one, reading the questions, outlining answers, writing solutions, and reflecting on what you learned through re-writing the exam. In the process, you'll be able to see firsthand where you can improve.  That's important information that is not available to first-time takers.  So, take advantage of it.

Second, don't focus on studying but on learning.  You see, success this time around on the bar exam is not a matter of working harder but rather working differently.  [That's why I’m always reluctant to call it studying because the focus should be on learning.].  From a big picture viewpoint, as Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emerita of Teaching and Learning at Penn State University describes, learning involves three overlapping activities focused on (1) content; (2) experiences; and, (3) reflection.

Let me be frank about the content phase of learning.  We often feel so overwhelmed by the content, particularly because it comes to us from bar review companies in the form of massive detailed lectures and equally massive detailed outlines, that we never move beyond the content.  In short, we don't feel like we know enough to practice.  Consequently, we tend to be immobilized (i.e., stuck in) in the content stage.  Instead of experiencing problem-solving first hand, we tend to re-read outlines, re-watch lectures, and in general create gigantic study tools before we have had sufficient experiences with the content to know what is really important in the big scheme of things.  

And, in my experience, most often when people don’t pass the bar exam on the first time around, it is almost always NOT because they didn’t know enough law but rather because they wrote answers that didn’t match up with the questions asked.  They were stuck in the content stage, spending too much time learning answers rather than experiencing questions.  As mentioned above, that's because we are so naturally focused on trying to learn and memorize the law.  But, I can’t EVER recall someone not passing because they didn’t know sufficient law.  It’s almost as though we know too much law that the law becomes a barrier...because we write all of the law that we know in our answers...even if it is not relevant.

That’s why the second stage is so important – experiencing the content through active open book practice.  

And, the third stage is critical too – reflection – because that is where we dig in to see patterns in the bar exam questions over time.

With that background in mind, let me offer a few suggestions so that you are not a repeater but a "fresh start" taker on your bar exam next February.

1.  Avoid the Lectures!  I would not redo the bar review commercial lectures.  At the most, if you feel like you must, feel free to listen via podcasts while exercising, etc.  In other words, just get them over and done with so that you can move quickly into the experiencing stage using the content of actual practice problems to solve problems for yourself. In other words, the least important thing in successfully passing the bar exam on the second go is listening to the lectures or reading outlines.  Rather, as you work through practice problems, take the time to dig in and understand whether you really understood what was going one...that's the sort of experience in practicing along with the sort of reflection that makes a huge difference.

2.   Daily Exercise!  Establish a schedule so that you exercise consistent learning every day.  The key is to be on a daily regimented schedule because it’s in your daily actions of experiencing and reflecting through actual bar exam problems that leads to big rises in bar exam scores.

3.  Practice Makes Passing Possible!  Right from the "get go," take advantage of every practice exam you can.  Most of your days, from the very beginning of your studies, should be engaged in practicing actual bar exam problems and reflecting on what you learned.  Don't try to learn the material through reading the outlines.  Dig in and use the outlines to solve practice problems.

4.  Reach Out To Your Law School!  Meet once per week, on a schedule, with someone at your law school to talk out your work. Bring one of your written answers or a set of MBE question that you have done or a performance test problem that you just solved.  You see, according to the learning scientists, when we explain to someone the steps that we took to solve a problem, it sticks with us.  So, take advantage of your local ASP professionals on your law school campus.

5.  Make Your Learning Work Count!  Skip the commercial bar review online homework and drills.  If the problems presented by your commercial course are not formatted like actual bar exam problems (essays, MBE questions, or performance test problems), don't do them. Period.  That's because the bar examiners don't test whether you did the drills or the online homework; rather, they test whether you can communicate and solve hypothetical bar exam fact pattern problems.  So, focus your work on the prize. Only do bar exam questions.

6.  Two-Thousand!  Okay...here's a number to remember.  According to a recent successful "fresh start" taker, the number is 2000.  That's right.  A recent taker said that she/he did just about 2000 MBE questions.   That's really experiencing the content.  You see, it’s important to work through lots and lots of bar exam problems because that helps you to see fact patterns that trigger similar issues over and over.  And, if you do that many questions, you don’t really have time for commercial bar review online homework or making gigantic study tools or re-watching the lectures over and over.  Instead, you’ll be using your time...wisely...for what is really important, learning by doing.   In particular, focus your learning (not studying!) on probing, pondering, and reflecting through every available essay and MBE question that you can.  Unfortunately, we often hear of people slowing down in the practice arena during the last two weeks to make big study tools and to work on memorization. But, memorization doesn’t work without content...and content doesn't work with out experiencing lots and lots and lots of practice problems. In other words, by practicing every possible problem that you can get your hands on you are actually memorizing without even knowing it. 

7.  The Final Two Weeks!  In the last two weeks, while you are still spending the bulk of your time practicing problems, for an hour or two a day, start to run through flashcards, or your old study tools, or posters, or your subject matter outlines.  But, do so in a flash.  It doesn’t matter whether you use commercial flash cards, your own note cards, or your own short subject matter outlines, etc., just pick something and use it to reflect on your learning. Here’s a suggestion:  The learning science experts say that it is important to “elaborate,” i.e., to explain and talk through what you are learning and ask why it is important, etc.  In other words, as you run through your study tools, put them into your own words, e.g., vocalize them, sing them out if you’d like, or even dance with them or put some “jazz” into them. In short, make your study tools live!  However, always remember that the best way to make your study tools come to life is to use them to work through lots of bar exam problems throughout the last two weeks of bar prep.

8. Be Kind-Hearted To Yourself! Realize its okay to have melt-downs.  Note, I said meltdowns not just a meltdown.  Everyone has them, and they happen more than once.  That's being human.  So, be kind to yourself.  Feel free to take time off for short adventures.  The important thing is to take some time to rest and to rejuvenate, in whatever form works for you.  My favorite is ice cream followed by a close second with hiking and even watching Andy Griffith shows (you’re too young to know what that is!).

Well, with that learning background as a foundation and these steps in mind, I wish you well as you prepare for success on your upcoming bar exam!  (Scott Johns).

 

December 7, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Everyone Passed The Bar Exam But Me

As bar results from various jurisdictions continue to trickle in, July 2017 bar takers are either filled with excitement and relief or are sorely disappointed and devastated. As those who were unsuccessful on the exam sort through their emotions and decide what to do next, they cope with the results in different ways. There are those who know they did not put forth the effort necessary and are therefore disappointed with the result and even mad at themselves as they see friends elated to have passed the bar exam. On the other end of the spectrum are those who put forth every effort but did not yield the expected result. These individuals are distraught, directionless, overwhelmed and apprehensive about embarking on the bar study journey all over again. As individuals who were unsuccessful on the bar exam regroup, some will sulk in their emotions, sadness, and fear of failing the bar exam again. The reality is that some will continuously be haunted by the fear of failure throughout their bar preparation period. Others will be motivated to succeed by the fear of failure and make significant strides toward passing the bar exam.

The most challenging aspect for bar support professionals is working with students who were unsuccessful on the bar exam but their entire ‘friend group” passed the bar exam. It is even more difficult when the unsuccessful individual overwhelmingly put in their best possible effort and was the very source of encouragement and support for the entire group of friends who passed. It is also difficult in an era when everyone posts every life event on social media so one is constantly faced with the successes of others and one’s perceived failure. Where then do we even start?

As a bar support professional, we have a general idea about the probability of success on the bar exam for those law students we have regularly engaged with throughout law school. Of course, students defy the odds and my goal is to ensure that students beat the odds against them each and every time. When one has worked with a student who struggled throughout law school, helped that student build the mental fortitude to overcome defeats in small battles throughout law school, seen the student master various skills and work diligently during bar studies, it is difficult to see the student not attain their goal of passing the bar exam. How do you uplift the encourager?

My approach to working with any student who was unsuccessful on the bar exam is twofold. First, address the mental coping mechanisms then second, address the practical aspects of preparing for the bar exam. Individuals usually want to avoid discussing how they feel about the bar exam, how it is impacting their day to day life, and how it will affect their bar preparation process but these are conversations bar preparation professionals should never shy away from. It might involve tears and maybe even require a break but strategizing about how to manage interactions with former classmates, professors, family, and employers, just to mention a few, are all very important. Also realizing that they are not alone in having these emotions and that others who were also unsuccessful feel the same way and may have coping mechanisms that might be helpful to adopt. This is also a time to build a relationship with the bar studier which might encourage them to have the conversations with you about their fears and moments of doubt and concern throughout the bar preparation process. However, there might be situations when we might need to encourage students to obtain other professional help.

Although we aim to adequately address the practical aspects of preparing for the bar exam, it is the mental fears that typically make this process daunting. The voice students hear ringing in their ears, “you are going to fail the bar exam again” or the frustration of not immediately getting all questions correct might awaken the fears that all of their hard work may not yield the result they long for. Students can learn how to write better essays and performance tests with strategies and individualized and consistent feedback. Students get better at multiple choice with strategy, practice, and specific techniques to critique their process. Students can build time management skills with progressive time management drills. Students can build knowledge and memory by developing techniques to study and retain material and adequately applying those techniques. The one thing we cannot do is get into the minds of our bar takers to block all of the negativity they might tell themselves.

To those who had a practice run and are going to get back on the bar study schedule, LET’S DO THIS!!!  You CAN do it.  You are not the first and you are not alone.  Your bar support professionals are there to support you with this round.  Be courageous! (Goldie Pritchard)

November 1, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Decision for Now: California Supreme Court Maintains Current Bar Cut Score

Hat tip to Professor Mainero at Chapman...

In a recent new release from the California Supreme Court, the Court set out its reasons for not adjusting that state's current minimum passing bar exam score of 144 (1440 or 72 percent):  

https://newsroom.courts.ca.gov/news/supreme-court-issues-letter-relating-to-in-re-california-bar-exam

In the release, the Court discusses the following major points.

  1. The California Bar Exam has seen wide fluctuations in first-time pass rates since the state first begin using the current cut score of 144 (1440 or 72 percent) in 1987, and that more recent bar exam pass rate declines mirror bar exam pass rate declines across the nation based on published NCBE research findings.
  2. The Court acknowledged that the current cut score was "not established through a standard setting study," i.e., whether the bar exam's cut score measures minimum competency, and that most if not many states similarly lack such research studies.
  3. Thus, using July 2016 answers and scores with a panel of court-appointed subject matter experts, an independent psychometrician largely concluded that the a score of 139 (1390) [69.5%] was the baseline value for measuring minimum competency (though the study was questioned by two independent researchers and by many in the legal education community).
  4. Based on largely on the lack of data, the Court at this point in time is not convinced that the cut score needs adjustment based on either the independent psychometrician's research nor based on the numerous amicus letters the Court received.
  5. The Court will revisit the issue based on any "appropriate recommendation."

For those of us in the ASP community, we were hopeful.  But, even though at least for now the Court did not amend the cut score, perhaps there is still a glimmer of sun shining through this news release right into our domain of expertise.  

That's because the Court then goes on to "encourage[]  the State Bar and all California law schools to work cooperatively together and with others in examining (1) whether student metrics, law school curricula and teaching techniques, and other factors might account for the recent decline in bar exam pass rates; (2) how such data might inform efforts to improve academic instruction for the benefit of law students preparing for licensure and practice; and (3) whether and to what extent changes implemented for the first time during administration of the July 2017 exam — that is, adoption of a two-day exam and equal weighting of the written and multiple choice portions of the exam — might bear on possible adjustment of the pass score. 

Speaking plainly, the Court is reaching out to each of us in the field to provide the evidence as to what have actually been the factors in the most recent declines in bar pass rates (and how to improve legal education and the licensure exam).  At least based on our own research study, it's not due to LSAT declines.  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2842415.  That's because we have seen dramatic swings in bar passage rates with very little fluctuation in LSAT scores at the 25 percentile and the mean.  In other words, it seems like LSAT scores have, at least in our case, played very little (to no) role.  If not LSAT, then what?

Well, here's a possible list of some of the factors:

  1. Increases in student debt loads.
  2. Increases in the numbers of bar takers studying largely or solely through online bar review learning platforms despite years of experience primarily as classroom learners.
  3. Changes in the bar exam subjects matter scope or format.
  4. Changes in the way(s) that we teach students to learn (and perhaps changes in the way students learn).

That's just a few possible other factors.  But, without evidence, at this point in time the California Supreme Court will not adjust its bar exam cut score.  

So, the time is ripe (or, to use a bit of contrast law terminology, "time is of the essence") in providing the Court, legal educators, the bar, and the public with what might be the appropriate cut score to measure minimum competency and whether the bar exam itself is actually up to the task.  So, make your voice known today; share your thoughts and inspirations.  Put it down perhaps in a draft SSRN article or essay or your own blog.  But, make a record of what you know because what you know might make a real difference down the line in empowering people to succeed on the bar exam and as professional attorneys too!  Simply put, there's no time to waste.  (Scott Johns)

 

October 26, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bar Tips to Check Out

Robbins

Allie Robbins, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at CUNY School of Law, started a blog last summer for graduates studying for the bar exam. Many helpful tips are included in the posts. Allie will be adding new posts specifically for February bar studiers, so keep this blog in mind.  The link to The Activist Guide to Passing the Bar is found here. (Amy Jarmon)

September 29, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)