Tuesday, August 7, 2018
I attended the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Conference earlier this week. On Monday, August 6, 2018, the conference schedule included two bar preparation strategy sessions. Here are my takeaways from those two sessions.
The first session was a panel discussion entitled "Bar Preparation Strategies for Law Professors and Academic Support Program."
Professor James McGrath of Texas A&M University School of Law used an IF-AT quiz to frame his discussion about how spaced repetition and self-efficacy are essential components to bar exam success. Next, Professor Kirsha Trychta of West Virginia University College of Law introduced ways to mobilize students, faculty, and staff to become soldiers in both academic support and bar preparation efforts. The session concluded with Professor Patrick Gould of Appalachian School of Law demonstrating how to methodically work through a MBE practice problem and how to spot legal issues. Professor Melissa Essary of Campbell University's Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law expertly moderated the program.
After the panel presentation, attendees engaged in a lively round-table discussion focused on "Strategies for Bar Preparation and Success."
Each participant had 10-12 minutes to discuss a bar preparation related issue or topic that was of interest to them. More than 30 discussants attended the session, including academic support and bar preparation professors, commercial course providers, and deans. (The session was standing room only!) Of those in attendance, roughly half of the group raised discussion topics. While the full agenda—including the presenters’ school affiliation, contact information, and formal presentation title—is available here (Download BAR PASSAGE SPEAKER SCHEDULE Revised 3), I’ve set forth a brief summary below. If a discussion item sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to reach out to the presenter. Every presenter warmly invited questions and comments.
Bob Keuhn is authoring a research paper on the results of a recent large-scale empirical study, where he found little evidence that clinical or experiential coursework helps students pass the bar exam, contrary to popular belief.
James McGrath offered five quick tips for improving classroom teaching, including adding formative assessment activities directly on the course syllabus so that quizzes and reflection exercises become an essential and routine component of the course.
Michael Barry & Zoe Niesel outlined how they “went big” and dared to “be bold” overhauling and expanding their ASP program. They proactively asked for input from faculty, the advancement (i.e. fundraising) department, career services, and others before moving forward.
Benjamin Madison focused on self-directed learning, and emphasized the importance of incorporation skills building, especially in the first-year, to help students become better self-directed learners. He recommended Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz’s book as a jumpstart.
Ron Rychlak shared his experience with bar passage efforts at two (very) different law schools: Ole’ Miss and Ava Maria. He tinkered with requiring more bar-tested electives, increasing the probation cut-off GPA, and adding more academic support style-courses in the first two years.
Antonia Miceli redesigned her third-year bar course from an “opt in” (i.e. invitation to enroll) to an “opt out” model. All students in the bottom third of the class are now automatically enrolled, and the student must proactively petition to opt out of the course—which has positively increased her overall enrollment.
Debra Moss Vollweiler has spent the last few years as a member of a Florida bar passage focus group, and is now advancing the 3-Ms model: master in 1L, manipulate in 2L, and memorize in 3L. The 3M model aligns with her law school’s newly revised learning outcomes.
Cassie Christopher debuted her online 3-credit, graded, MBE course, which is open to all graduating students. Students watch an online video created by in-house doctrinal faculty, read the required textbook, complete practice MBEs, and engage in a discussion board each week.
Kirsha Trychta asked for attendees’ input on ways to mobilize the entire faculty in bar preparation. Discussants suggested incorporating the MPT into a clinical course, asking faculty to guest lecture, making a practice essay and MBE database on TWEN, inviting outside third-party speakers, and involving the assessment committee in programmatic decision making.
Rob McFarland highlighted a recent (and controversial) conversation online, directed at law school hopefuls, about whether an LSAT score accurately predicts bar passage success.
Laurie Zimet proposed that law schools should (1) educate the entire law school community about the bar exam and invite each person to contribute where they could, and (2) provide an opportunity for students to diagnosis weaknesses, with sufficient time for remediation.
Melissa Essary designed a new course—in just a few months—which offered academic credit for a graded, in-house faculty taught, one semester, flipped classroom MBE bar preparation course, supplemented by Barbri videos and materials.
Patrick Gould, the session’s moderator, concluded by thanking Russel Weaver for hosting us, and encouraging everyone to brainstorm about what we can do next year to make the event even better.
Well done, team!
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Attention Bar Takers:
Here's a couple of short winning tips for your final weekend flight plan checks as you prepare for success on your bar exam next week!
I. Focus on a Winning Attitude:
First, remind yourself right now why you can pass the bar exam...because, after all, you've been trained as an attorney.
That's right. Boldy recognize that out of all of the people in the world, you are one of the very few who have earned a law degree. Yep...YOU'VE earned your law degree, having successfully demonstrated that YOU know how to solve legal problems. That doesn't mean that you know it all (nor that you need to know it all for your bar exam). But, you do know how to read and ponder and analyze and write and communicate as an attorney because you've been trained - for over the course of three years - to think and, more significantly, be an attorney.
So, as Professor Chad Noreuil says, look forward to your bar exam next week as a "get-to" opportunity rather than a "got-to" threat. That's because this is YOUR moment to show YOUR state Supreme Court that YOU are professionally-trained attorney.
II. Rehearsing Your Lines:
Second, keep your focus on positive learning throughout this weekend as you...
YOUR BIG PICTURE RULES FOR YOUR BAR EXAM NEXT WEEK!
In other words, don't think of memorization as dry and dusty work.
Rather, consider memorization as theatre work.
Just like actors, carry your script (your study tool) with you in hand, personally by your side, ready to swing into your eyesight, as you walk through the major issues and rules for each subject. Move swiftly. Your goal on Saturday is to work through each subject in well under an hour or much less. Then, do the same for each subject on Sunday.
Here's a Tip - Less is More!
Stick with talking, singing, or acting out only the big picture rules. Don't dive deep. In other words, just state the rule for burglary but don't practice the definitions for each of the elements. Then, do it again...quicker. On Sunday, grab those study tools and once again work through each subject - one at a time - with freedom and abandon to peek at your study tools.
The Memory Power of Peeking!
Too many people don't want to peek. But here's the secret to memorization (based on the famous saying that a "peek is worth a thousand words").
When we peek, we visually see where the rule is on our study tool and how it is organized and positioned. As the learning scientists indicate, we tend to comprehend (a.k.a., remember) things better when we see them in text (whether in our set of notecards or outlines or posters) because the visual position of the words creates meaning for us. And, memorization is just about creating memories with your study tools. So, be a memory creator this weekend.
Finally, I would be remise if I didn't talk about Monday (also known as the "day before the exam").
If you can't help yourself, feel free to review your study tools. But, most certainly don't do any more practice problems. And, definitely don't work on memorizing your study tools. Just skim through them.
And, if at all possible, take the day off. I mean the whole day. From start to finish.
Recognize that brainwork - just like exercise in preparation for a marathon - requires rest and relaxation time the day before a big event in order to rejuvenate and refresh.
So, be extra kind to yourself, my dear doctor of jurisprudence, and splurge with some good old fashioned R&R. And, good luck on your bar exam next week! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
At this time, I see or hear from many panicked soon-to-be Bar Takers communicating their intent not to sit for the bar exam because they just do not feel prepared. It is unusual for me to have a conversation about skipping the bar exam with a soon-to-be Bar Taker I genuinely believe is unprepared or might not be able to manage the pressures of the bar exam. Usually, students who are so mentally paralyzed by the thought of sitting for the exam are not known to articulate their intent. Instead, they simply do not show for the exam, something I hear after the fact, or I notice once bar results are posted.
Typically, individuals who have endured life, personal, financial, work, and/or health challenges throughout bar review are not the ones looking to postpone the bar exam. Based on my communications throughout bar review with persons in this category, I find that they have already wrestled with feelings of unpreparedness throughout the summer and they have continuously adjusted and readjusted their schedules to ensure bar review progress. When past soon-to-be Bar Takers have opted not to sit for the bar exam, it has occurred very early in the process, around the first few weeks of bar review. Whenever the option was exercised later in the bar review process, it was due to familial, personal, health-related, or other emergencies. As a rule of thumb, whenever the decision not to sit for the bar exam is made, we immediately and honestly consider individual situations, explore implications of the decision, and start to discuss a plan for moving forward.
Experiencing acute levels of stress a week before the bar exam is a normal occurrence but when it becomes debilitating, then it is a critical challenge. Stress is an unavoidable aspect of the bar preparation process but it should motivate, not dominate. Recently, I observed that a larger number of soon-to-be Bar Takers have difficulty managing stress. Some who were able to navigate stress throughout law school are now experiencing difficulties preparing for the bar exam. The bar exam is a beast they are unable to tame and might need additional resources or medication to cope with the high levels of anxiety and its impact on their preparation. Addressing concerns early, if at all possible, can have a positive impact on managing stress and anxiety during bar preparation.
If you are contemplating postponing the bar exam, there is no formula you can use to guarantee success on the bar exam. I am well aware that there are percentages of bar review completion, percentages one should attain on the MBE, scores on the essays and MPTs that help set goals and gauge current performance but these are no guarantee. Quality over quantity, self-awareness of individual needs and making adjustments, and a positive and forward-looking attitude are key. It is also important to assess where you are and whether you covered all of the substantive material, whether you have an awareness (general knowledge and familiarity) or whether you understand (deeper knowledge and ability to explain and write) concepts and ideas. Assess whether you completed a majority of the assigned essays, MPTs, and MBEs but more importantly ask whether you are driven by fear or do you really not know the information. A more poignant question to ask is whether waiting longer, studying longer, and taking the exam later is the best option for you. Develop a plan.
In my experience, some students simply need more time to adjust to bar preparation, to the pace of bar review, to process the information, to dissect answers, and to revisit material. Some students just need more time to adjust to the whole idea of the bar exam and its implications on their lives. These may be valid reasons that should not simply be used as an excuse. Furthermore, over-studying and complacency are things an individual who postpones the bar exam needs to contemplate. Be comfortable with your decision and move forward. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
This past week, I uncharacteristically watched a lot of reality television show competitions—mostly, Big Brother and Project Runway. Somewhere around hour six of my binge, I had a revelation. Bar exam studiers could learn a few things from the contestants on reality TV game shows. Both reality TV competitions and the bar exam studiers cram a lot of learning and formative assessment opportunities into a very short period of time. Those who learn and adjust succeed.
- Figure out which character you are.
Many reality TV contestants fit one of a few well-defined molds. For example, there is:
- The Leader – This person believes in themselves, even when others do not. They possess a confidence that is objectively justified. In Big Brother terms, this is called “The Rachel.” Everyone loves (and loves to hate) Rachel. This person will go quite far in the game.
- The Crier – This person cries, a lot. But have no fear. They will make it to the final found. They possess the substantive skills to succeed, and will succeed so long as they can focus on the task at hand.
- The Floater – This person fails to commit to any particular side. When presented with a hypothetical, they waffle. But, as Rachel Reilly of Big Brother’s Season 12 famously said “Floaters, you better grab a life vest.” If these folks pick a horse, then they undoubtedly survive another week.
- The Fainter – This person doesn’t take care of themselves. This person fails to get good sleep, eat well, or manage their stress. They will eventually faint due to exhaustion. This person can be successful if they regroup and care for themselves, properly.
- The Middle - This person is typically forgettable on reality TV. They don't win challenges, and they don't come in last place either. They don't cause drama; instead they just put their head down and play the game. This person will do just fine--even if no one is watching.
- The Weak Link – This person fails to win any challenges. This person is constantly placed “on the chopping block” because of their sub-par performances. This person is legitimately at-risk.
Bar exam studiers are no different. The key to success is to recognize the role you are playing and adjust accordingly. Just like on Big Brother, leaders, criers, floaters, middlers, and even fainters can succeed with the proper planning. Simply be self-aware and thoughtful about how you want the season to progress.
- Learn to cut off the outside world.
Everyone on reality competitions is isolated from the outside world. The competitors do not have access to social media or the internet. They rarely speak to loved ones. They live in a bubble. While I do not recommend such an existence for most people, most days. For law students studying for the bar exam, it is a potentially glorious plan. For optimal success, most studiers should stay singularly focused on their task – the bar exam. Forget about Facebook, Google, and Big Brother. I promise you, the internet will still exist in August. So, until then, just put up an “out of office” message and get studying!
- Develop a “showmance.”
On reality competitions, “showmances” and “bromances” are common. Showmances are formed when two contestants bond together—sometimes romantically—during the show’s short production. Two challengers lend support to one another for the purposes of mutual success in the competition. While showmances are sometimes mocked by the viewing audience, they do offer numerous strategical benefits to the competitors. Similarly, when studying for the bar exam, forming a deep, mutually beneficial relationship with another bar studier is advisable. The two studiers can help keep each other on task, and offer a sounding board for test-taking ideas and substantive rules. In short, look for a friend or significant other with which to commiserate and cerebrate.
Best of luck competitors! (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, July 16, 2018
This is the last lap, final stretch, 4th quarter, and any other sports metaphor that indicates you are almost finished! Everyone is burned out now. Use the last week to practice and get mentally ready.
Most students have 1 of 2 feelings right now. Half my students want another 2 weeks to study the material. The other half want to take it right now. Those are normal feelings. Either way, take a deep breath and proceed to put in one more week of quality effort.
Here are my few tips for the last week:
- Spend time practicing. I talk to students each summer who think they need to memorize just a little more law. I understand the feeling, but no one can memorize all the material for the exam. Keep doing MBE questions each day to maintain scores, and also, look through essays. My suggestion is to write out an essay answer for each subject. After that, issue spot and read the model answer for a handful more.
- Get your body on the exam schedule. I suggest waking up at the exact time when you will wake up on exam day. Get ready just like the exam and eat food at the break times of the exam. Getting a good body rhythm can make a huge difference. You don’t want your brain to be used to waking up at 10am if the essays start at 9am. Don’t miss points trying to wake up.
- Tell yourself every morning, “I will pass the bar next week!” Write notes on mirrors, refrigerators, or anywhere else you will ready daily. High self-confidence can increase scores by a handful of points. I see scores right above and right below the pass line every summer. A handful of points makes a huge difference.
- Lastly, don’t study past noon the day before the exam. My suggestion is to take the whole day off. Enjoy time outside or a bad movie. The mental recharge is better than the last few hours of studying.
The marathon is almost over. Keep up the hard work for one more week.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
As we enter the final days of bar preparation, emotions run very high. Students who appeared to manage stress well are falling apart and the realization that the bar exam marks the end of their education career engenders fears of “adulting”. Other fears, concerns, and physical manifestations also seem to permeate day to day bar preparation. As a Bar Support office, we are keenly aware of student panic and stress about the bar exam and are equally sensitive to both expected and unexpected personal and other concerns. Below are a few issues students can contend with:
• Family and friends interfere. Well-intentioned family members and friends think this is an ideal time to conduct internet searches about the bar exam and share all of the scary details they uncover with the person studying for the bar exam. Shared information relates to bar pass rates, horror stories about preparing for the exam, and countless comments from students on various blogs and discussion groups. Some students studying for the bar exam are able to dismiss this information while others obsess over it and are derailed. This usually leads to mornings spent dispelling myths, putting information in context, and/or reminding individuals studying for the bar exam that they still have control over their fate. Moreover, if family and friends are a source of stress and panic then this probably is the time to stay away from them but also tell them what you need and don’t need.
• My body hates me. I have to admit that lately, I have heard many gruesome stories about physical manifestations of stress and negative physical reactions to food. I will not share all of these here but students should be aware of what is going on with them physically. Certain ailments or discomforts might require you to take immediate action, others might require you to live with them until the exam is over, and yet others may only be address after the bar exam.
• I hate you right now. As individual meetings with students end and we complete the final essays, mini-Multistate Bar Exams, or Multistate Performance Tests together, I try to select areas or things that particular students have expressed challenges with. A few students I have worked with throughout most of their law school careers often say: “no disrespect but I hate you right now.” I laugh and usually say: “I am here for that.” If our goal is to make weaknesses strengths then I will prey on all of the student’s weaknesses because it is possible that those very things will appear on the bar exam. It is also a good time to discuss how to manage areas of limited or no knowledge but still be able to focus enough and move on to the questions they are confident in.
• Unconquerable fatigue. I hear more and more about chronic fatigue, sleep/rest that does not seem to result in refreshing energy, and insomnia all this results in lack of focus, feeling overwhelmed, and inability to be efficient or effective in completing tasks. Students appreciate when I affirm the difficulty of getting true rest and acknowledge productivity challenges but I also remind students that they are not alone. Students cannot perform to their optimal ability until they rest. I admonish them to tap into all the knowledge stored up and to do this, they might want to get some rest now because the day before the bar exam might be a significant challenge.
Every challenge makes you stronger! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
With two weeks left until the bar exam, it is time to start getting your "game day" materials together. I've created a packing checklist template to help you get started. (See one sample below) To begin, Download Bar Exam Day Packing Checklist. Then compare my list to the official rules provided to you by your selected jurisdiction and make adjustments to the chart, if necessary. Once the list is complete and accurate, start packing. Make sure to double check everything before you actually leave for the exam. If you are in doubt about something, bring it and leave it in your (or a friend's) car. You can always return to your car later, if needed. (Kirsha Trychta)
Monday, July 9, 2018
Bar Prep is in the stretch run. The finish line is near. Congratulate yourself for making it this far. You only have 2 weeks left!
I know most students are burned out by now. However, don’t let that feeling take over. Work hard for the next couple weeks to fully prepare for the exam. You can still get more points the next couple weeks.
Don’t worry if you get tired. Everyone is exhausted at this point. Stay positive the last couple weeks. Positive thinking will help you learn the material better and is the only way you can beat the stress of the last few weeks. Everyone is stressed right now, and you are not alone.
In the last couple weeks, I have a few suggestions:
- Take a break this week. You need to take it. Your brain cannot go non-stop for 14 straight days and retain everything. You need to relax so that your brain will catch up to all the studying.
- These last couple weeks focus on memorizing the law and practicing questions. You will study each subject 2-3 times in the last couple weeks. Memorize as much law as possible, and then, do practice essay questions. Also, keep doing practice MBE questions to increase your score through the exam. You want to peak on exam day, so continue to improve up to the exam.
- Switch study methods every 45 minutes to an hour. Doing one thing for too long gets boring and retention decreases. Passively reading an outline for 3-4 hours won’t work. Memorize for 45 minutes. Do a set of MBE questions. Spend time reviewing the questions. Memorize more material, etc. Active engagement of the material is critical, especially the last couple weeks.
- Lastly, know you can do this. This is a hard exam, but you have a JD, which is a huge accomplishment. Tell yourself every morning, “I will pass the bar in 2 weeks!”
The marathon is almost over. Keep up the hard work through the end of the exam.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
“I am very discouraged by the process of preparing for the bar exam!” “I do not know if I can keep going, I work so hard but I have hit a plateau.” “I seem to regress rather than progress. I do not think I will be ready to take this exam. Maybe I am not supposed to be a lawyer.” These are some of the comments I hear from recent graduates as the bar exam approaches. It is not uncommon for recent graduates to experience these types of feelings, as long as they do not stay stuck in a rut.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “discourage” as:
(1) “to deprive of courage or confidence: dishearten”
(2) “to hinder by disfavoring”
(3) “to dissuade or attempt to dissuade from doing something”
Bar preparation can be a challenge to the very courage recent graduates mustered up to face the bar exam as well as a huge blow to confidence. The challenges they encounter can dissuade them from progressing but the strength they have within, that brought them thus far will carry them through.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “dishearten” as:
“to cause to lose hope, enthusiasm, or courage: to cause to lose spirit or morale”
This definition encapsulates all of the negative emotions felt but I would imagine that very few individuals, if any, are enthusiastic about sitting for the bar exam. I view my role as the bar support individual who reminds students of their hopes and aspirations coming to law school. I am here to encourage and remind them of the challenges they overcame, some of which were unique to them. I also attempt to remind them of the need to rest, consider their mental health, and necessity to take an occasional break.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “courage” as:
“mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty”
Recent graduates typically lose sight of the fact that the mental strength they need to face this difficult task that is the bar exam is already within them. Courage does not mean that the task does not seem insurmountable or that you possess all of the confidence in the world. It simply means that you see the difficulty, are unsure of the possible result, stare it down, move forward, and see what happens. You are as prepared as you can be, you face the unknown but you know that your preparation will empower you to face and overcome various obstacles. You can do it! Remember, you do not need to ace the bar exam, you simply need to pass it.
Now please take a break on this 4th of July! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, July 2, 2018
For most students, the bar review simulated MBE was last week. Many students walk out of that test discouraged. They don't receive as many correct as they wanted and wonder if the passing percentage is attainable. It is a rough test and a hard feeling, but you do still have time to raise your scores above the pass line.
Here are a few pieces of information from my experience. You should get more correct on the test in July than you did on the practice test. Every year, I see students make significant improvements (20 questions or more) by the end of bar prep. Also, the goal isn't to have the highest score in the country. You just need it high enough to pass. The national average on simulated tests right now is normally about 55-56% correct, but if you are in the 45-53% range, you can still make up the points. An 80% first time taker pass rate means you only need a higher score than 20% of people, not 50%. Even if you aren’t above 20%, you can still get there.
The key is to use the feedback to improve. I highly encourage everyone to sit down with the Academic Support or Bar Support person at your law school. Bring the score analysis from your bar review company. Create an improvement plan for July. You can absolutely improve 20 questions by getting 3 more questions correct in each subject. Everyone can learn enough law for 3 questions per subject.
Efficient studying in July gets the 3 extra questions per subject. Most of June focused on the MBE, so much of July will be spent on essays. Most students worry about how to find time to improve. I agree that no one has time to add in an extra 2-3 hours memorizing outlines for each MBE subject, but you don’t need to. My biggest suggestion is to spend 10-15 minutes at the end of the night on the most important sub-topics. Use the score report to identify 1-2 small topics you struggled on that are highly tested in each MBE subject (ie – hearsay, duty of care, etc.). Spend 10-15 minutes right before bed looking at flashcards, an outline, or even practice questions on only that sub-topic. Switch subjects every day between now and the bar. The focused study on only areas needing improvement will help gain the couple questions per subject. Focused studying is the key in July.
I want everyone to watch this video. It is only about 3 minutes. Most students feel like what happened 1 minute 17 seconds into the video. It is normal to feel that way. What matters is what you do next. Get back up and sprint to the finish to conquer the bar!
Thursday, June 28, 2018
It's sweltering in much of the USA. And, the heat is only getting hotter for the many recent law school grads preparing for next month's bar exam.
So, I thought I'd offer a few "hot" tips on how to enhance one's learning this summer based on a recently published study entitled: "Smarter Law School Habits: An Empirical Analysis of Law Learning Strategies and Relationship with LGPA," by Jennifer Cooper, adjunct professor at Tulane University, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3004988
As detailed in the article statistically analyzing study tactics and learning, Professor Cooper found that two particular study strategies are positively correlated with law school grades.
The first is elaboration, i.e, explaining confusing concepts to others. So, be a talker this summer as you prepare for your bar exam. In short, be a teacher...be your teacher!
The second is the use of practice questions to learn. So, grab hold of every opportunity you have this summer to learn by doing. Take every mock bar exam you can. Work through every bar exam practice problem available. Be tenacious in your practice. Learn by doing!
Finally, as documented by Professor Cooper, beware of reading and re-reading. It might make you feel like you are learning, but there is little learning going on...until you put down the book and start working on problems for yourself. And, that particularly makes sense with the bar exam...because...the bar exam is testing the "practice of law" not the "theory behind the law."
So, throughout this summer, focus less on reading and more on active learning - through lots and lots of practice problems and self-taught elaboration to explain the legal principles and concepts - as you prepare for success on your bar exam next month. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
This one is for the “Bar Studiers”! The bar exam is a little less than a month away so it is time for soon-to-be “Bar Takers” to evaluate where they are with their bar preparation and how they feel about the fast-approaching exam. At this time, some “Bar Studiers” have completed a simulated Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) while others anticipate this experience in the near future. All “Bar Studiers” must consider what to do with the feedback from this simulated MBE and assess the overall experience. While “Bar Studiers” tend to focus on the overall score and where they stand in relation to others, it is equally important to assess issues such as: the environmental conditions under which they took the MBE, whether they completed each 100 question set in one sitting, whether they completed the simulated MBE under timed circumstances, whether they completed the simulated MBE at all, their ability to implement their approach to MBE questions and their overall plan of attack, how fatigued and focused they were throughout the practice, and how fatigued they were after the process, etc. are just a few things to consider. Self-evaluation in various areas mentioned above and beyond can be helpful to strategize for future performance when it counts.
At this time, some “Bar Studiers” have completed a half or full day of essays and Multistate Performance Tests (MPTs). Here again, all must consider what to do with the feedback and assess the overall experience. Furthermore, “Bar Studiers” tend to focus on the overall score but it is just as important to assess other things namely, the environment where they completed the essays and MPTs, whether they completed them under time constraints, whether they completed them at all, their ability to implement their essay and MPT strategies, their ability to process the feedback and make adjustments, their ability to implement the feedback on future practice and the bar exam, their ability to assess what is realistically possible to complete within the time constraints, their organization, their ability to self- critique their answers, their ability to select new sub-topics to review, and how fatigued they were after completing the essays and MPTs particularly if they had a full day practice. These are just a few things to consider.
This might also be a great time to assess proficiency and comfort level with the various subjects tested on the bar exam. Assess ability to recall distinctions between state and MBE topics if applicable. It is helpful to have a scale or category system and use that to determine how much time to spend reviewing and memorizing various areas of law. “Bar Studiers” should use their time efficiently rather than simply review information that they already know or have a significant level of mastery of. It is likely that what “Bar Studiers” avoid will be on their exam so why not face it now so they can succeed when it counts.
Finally, “Bar Studiers” might want to take some steps to plan for the week of the bar exam and the weeks leading up to it. They should ensure that they include various wellness checkpoints so they are physically and as mentally prepared as one can be for the bar exam. “Bar Studiers” should pay attention to food intake, how much sleep they get, and how rested they are going into the exam. Associate with human beings but avoid those studying for the bar exam if it will be detrimental to a “Bar Studier’s” well-being but keep in mind that on exam day, it is inevitable that one will be around others and subjected to what they say or do so now is the time to determine how to cope. Plan a weekly lunch or dinner or simply some TV vegging time. Help you help yourself. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
As we slowly approach the one month mark for the bar exam, strange things begin to happen. Bar Studiers we did not realize were in town surface in the building with questions and concerns and Bar Studiers we have seen regularly seek more and more encouragement to intensify their bar exam preparation. Interactions with Bar Studiers is normal but what is out of the ordinary are some of the things they share with us believing they are the only ones experiencing them. Bar Studiers do not realize there are other students who also experience similar series of challenges and misadventures. It is as if the universe knows that the bar exam is looming and sets up a number of obstacles along their path to test resilience, persistence, and character. Bar Studiers may not always recognize they are up for the challenge and we are here to remind them of this fact, help them strategies, and get them to their seats on bar exam day with a sense that they can tackle this seemingly impossible, yet possible obstacle.
Below are a handful of issues that surfaced this year and in the past and some of the approaches we have used, depending on an individual Bar Studier’s unique circumstances and needs.
Health Plays Games
Last week and this week, I heard sneezes in the hallways and several Bar Studiers have been missing in action for a day or two. Some notified me that they will not be around as they know that I will inquire about their whereabouts. I parted with two boxes of Kleenex and a giant bottle of hand sanitizer was in significant use. I understand that allergies are in full swing and immune systems struggle to keep up with the pace many adopted to manage bar preparation. To put things in perspective, it is better to temporarily get sick now than on exam day. In response to panic about falling behind in bar review and feeling unprepared for the exam, we discuss how to rearrange schedules, move tasks around, and use small spurts of activity with scheduled rest. I prescribe sleep and okay short naps emphasizing the importance of sleep even though it seems impossible to have restful sleep due to constant thoughts about bar preparation. We insist that Bar Studiers see a doctor if need be and fill necessary prescriptions so as not to exasperated preexisting conditions and developed new ones.
If Bar Studiers are concerned about falling behind, we suggest low-intensity activities that allow them to complete tasks, go through flashcards on an app or physical cards, and memorize information. We discuss a plan for the next day so all they do is implemented with some room for adjustment. We try to find habits that can be implemented in the days and weeks to come so they are ready for the exam. We also explore worse case scenarios and how they will manage such situations on exam day. Of course, nothing is a guarantee but it is a start.
At a bar exam program presented several years ago, a speaker announced that everything that can go wrong will go wrong during bar review and everything you have ever wanted to do will become a possibility during bar review. She continued that bar review is only a few weeks and months out of your entire life and you will likely have the opportunity to experience many of the things you miss out on at some point in the future. Over the years, I note that Bar Studiers experience a range of life occurrences including: death in the family, breakups with significant others and spouses, issues with character and fitness on the bar application, car accidents, financial challenges (even with planning), lack of food, familial demands and expectations, emotional and physical impact of socio-political events, and much more. Life does not simply stop because you are studying for the bar exam. You will have both good days and not so good days and your reaction to and feelings about everything will be amplified.
You might waste a day or a half a day attending to real life situations and that is okay and necessary but it does not mean that you will be unable to complete your preparation for this exam. If however, life completely takes over and when you assess the situation you recognize that you are unable to sustain the pace and expectations of bar review then you might want to have a conversation with someone. You want to discuss alternatives or develop a new game plan to achieve your goals. Be open and honest with yourself and those helping you.
Fear Sets In
Obsession over percentile performance on the MBE and scores on the essays breeds fear and sometimes avoidance for many Bar Studiers. As Bar Studiers compare themselves to others through grading or communication with each other. Some academically strong Bar Studiers become disappointed and recoil. Others decide not to complete essays or MBEs until they have mastered the subject area. Each score becomes a determinative factor of whether they will pass or fail this exam. This is not necessarily true but it takes a lot to convince a student otherwise. I am always more concerned about those Bar Studiers who are left to their own devices than those who communicate these concerns and communicate their plans.
Here again, it is all about perspective. We like to use the experiences and advice of individuals who recently took the bar exam and were successful. We ask them what they did, how they did it, how they felt at various points of bar preparation, and I deem this more effective than anything else. I also try to put things in perspective by reminding Bar Studiers of what they should get from completing the practice, discuss the expectations of the exam with regard to time management, and remind them that exposure adds to the knowledge and confidence with which they approach the exam.
…But We Finish Strong
Bar Studiers, compete with yourself and no one else. Do your best and ensure that you reasonably do what you need to and can do so you have no regrets on exam day. You will not know everything, you will have a working knowledge of all subjects, and you have a plan for the more challenging areas. When you need a break, take a reasonable break and remain focused on the task ahead. Many before you went into the exam feeling just like you will feel and they came out on top; they passed the bar exam! Develop a plan for the days and weeks ahead. You have time to cater to your weaknesses and build strength. You can do this! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, June 18, 2018
Father’s Day week is awesome for many reasons. I normally get to caddy a junior golf tournament with my son, spend time with family, and watch golf’s US Open. We spend the majority of our time outside enjoying activities together. This week is what summer is all about.
I love the US Open because it is normally the hardest golf tournament of the year. They play courses with near impossible putting greens and impenetrable rough. A little part of me enjoys watching the best players in the world struggle the same way I do on weekends. As I prepared this post, I watched Rory McIlroy, who reached #1 in the world rankings a few years ago, hit a shot from the right rough to left rough 20 yards short of the green. He then proceeded to hit his next shot only 10 yards out of the rough into a sand bunker. I can absolutely relate.
The US Open winner will have similar struggles, just not as many times as the rest of the field. Most winners will say this tournament is all about perspective. Par is a great score this week if everyone else is above par.
Bar prep and completing MBE questions is a similar experience. Missing question after question is like hitting from the rough, to more rough, and then the sand. Mental exhaustion increases mistakes and leads to more stress. Students hear they only need a certain percentage correct to pass, but most students aren’t near that percentage right now. The struggle is brutal. Bar prep requires the same grind as the hardest round of golf or any other endeavor.
For my students, and many others, the timing is increasing stress. Yesterday was the halfway mark between graduation and the bar exam. Time is flying by, but no one feels comfortable with the material. New subjects are still presented. Low scores and new material breaks spirits, and everyone needs high motivation to finish the rest of preparation.
The critical action right now is to find perspective. Just like most of the golfers are hacking it around Shinnecock Hills Golf Club right now, the vast majority of students preparing for the bar exam are struggling right now. Almost no one feels comfortable with the material. Nearly no one is scoring great. Also, you don’t have to score great now or ever. You only need to get enough questions correct at the end of July to be above the pass line.
Many of you are halfway done with bar prep. Celebrate that success. Everyone has come a long way to this point. Get perspective on where you should be right now. I am not saying blindly keep going no matter what. Always keep in touch with your bar prep specialist, but remember, everyone is a weekend hacker on MBE questions right now. Keep hacking away with guidance to put yourself in a position for success.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
It's the time of the year when one group of graduates are taking their oaths of office while another group of graduates are preparing for the bar exam this summer. That brings me to an interesting conversation with a recent bar passer and his spouse about studying versus learning.
You see, with an introduction in hand, I asked the bar passer's spouse if she noticed anything different between her spouse's law school experience preparing for final exams and her spouse's bar prep experiencing in preparing for the bar exam.
Without hesitation, the report came back: "No. It was much the same, same hours, same long days, the same through and through."
In rapid response and without the slightest hesitation, the recent graduate - who just passed the bar exam - exclaimed that it was "totally different. No comparison between preparing for law school exams and the bar exam."
You see, according to his spouse's perspective, preparing for law school exams and bar exams outwardly seemed identical, but, according to the recent graduate, in law school he spent most of his time reading...and reading...and reading...and then learning as much as he could just a few days before final exams. In other words, he spent his law school years studying. In contrast, even though outwardly he put in similar hours for bar prep as for law school studies, his focus was on practicing...and practicing...and practicing. In other words, for law school he was studying; for the bar exam he was learning.
So, for those of you preparing for the bar exam this summer, focus on learning - not studying. What does that mean? Well, a great day is completing two tasks: working through lots of actual bar exam problems and then journaling about what you learned that very day. Yep...that very day. That's key. Learn today. Spend less time studying (reading commercial outlines, watching lectures, and reading lecture notes) and more time learning (doing lots and lots of practice problems). That's because on bar exam day you aren't going to be asked about what you read but rather asked to show what you can do. So, be a doer this summer! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 7, 2018
We're just about three weeks into bar prep. The excitement of graduation seems so long ago. We're back in the same 'ole schoolhouse setting, watching bar review lectures and working through hypothetical legal problems. Sure seems like the same old pattern as law school. But, it need not be.
But first, a bit of background...
In aviation, air traffic controllers will often query pilots about their altitude. It's a bit of a hint from the controllers to the pilots that something might be amiss. And, it almost sounds sort of polite: "Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, Say Altitude."
In response, the pilots make a quick check of the altimeter - the instrument that measures altitude (i.e, height of the airplane in the skies) to confirm that they are at proper altitude as assigned by air traffic control: "Roger Denver Approach Control, Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, level at 15,000 feet."
In between the two communications, however, you can bet that the pilots were quickly making some fast-footed adjustments to the aircraft's altitude to make sure that they would not be busted by the air traffic controllers.
That brings us back to the world of bar prep. A quick "attitude check" might be similarly helpful for your learning.
You see, as Professor Chad Noreuil from Arizona State University puts it in his book entitled "The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam," it can be mighty helpful for your learning to have what I call an "attitude check." In particular, as Professor Noreuil cites in his book, researchers have identified a positive relationship between an optimistic approach to learning and achievement in learning. Consequently, Professor Noreuil counsels bar takers to take on a "get-to" attitude rather than a "have-to" attitude towards bar prep because a "get-to" attitude improves one's chances of succeeding on the bar exam. That's what I refer to as a "get-to" versus a "got-to" attitude.
But how do you change your attitude from a "got-to" to a "get-to" attitude? Well, here's a possible approach that might just help provide some perspective about the wonderful opportunity that you have to take the bar exam this summer. You see, very few have that opportunity. That's because the numbers are just stacked against most people. They'll never get the chance that you have this summer.
Here are the details. According to the U.S. government, there are about 7.5 billion people worldwide, and the U.S. population is close to 330 million. https://www.census.gov/popclock/ Out of that population, according to the ABA, there are about 35,000 law school JD graduates per year. That's it. https://www.americanbar.org/content/ And, because most states require a JD in order to to the bar exam, very few people get to take a bar exam, very few indeed.
That brings me back to you. As a JD grad preparing for the bar exam, you are one of the very few who get to take the bar exam. So, take advantage of that opportunity this summer by approaching your bar exam studies as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to "get-to" show your state supreme court all the wonderful things that you have learned about practicing law. You've worked hard in law school for just such a season as this, so, to paraphrase a popular slogan, "Just do it...but do it with a get-to attitude this summer! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Like many of my colleagues, I am attending the Annual Association of Academic Support Educators Conference but that does not mean that work stops. Students know I am away but the panic does not subside despite leaving them with human and other resources. In between sessions and late evening into the night, I check email, respond to phone messages, critique essays, and prepare for bar exam programming. Many of the student messages I have received relate to bar exam preparation as some students have completed a week of bar review while others started bar review programs this week. Below are a few categories of student questions and concerns.
How do I learn the material?
I particularly love this question because it means that students are thinking about what they are doing while considering the long-term impact of what they do now. Furthermore, considering the depth of understanding rather than simply being able to recall information contributes to better performance on various components of the bar exam. This question often comes up when students have completed about a week of bar review and have likely covered two to three subject areas. They usually recognize the fast pace of the program and volumes of material they need to know but also anticipate what they have yet to cover. Students also recognize that simply watching lectures, reading material, and doing homework do not necessarily equate to studying for the test. In sum, students realize that passive review is helpful in the short term but they also need to retain, retrieve, and apply the information which might require active learning for long-term maximization of effort. We discuss how active work on the bar exam components until the end of the bar review period could help. We also discuss memorization, practice under timed and untimed circumstances, skill development in each of the components of the bar exam, self-care, and how to incorporate all of these things into their day to day lives.
How do I memorize the information?
This is another question I appreciate because yet again, students are considering the long-term access to information while possibly determining if they truly understand the information. Simply “looking at,” “reading,” and “hearing” a lot of law does not result in retention of the information. We discuss activities and tools past bar studiers used to memorize information and to revisit the information on a regular basis. Some examples include writing down all they can recall from memory for a particular topic, flash cards, random pop quizzes, and using a variety of bar review applications.
How do I use all of these resources?
This question relates to the issue of excessive bar review resources. Many well- intentioned alums who may have been successful on the bar exam the first time around, the second time around, or later feel the need to share their knowledge with current bar takers. Some of the offered advice is good, some horrible, and some does not apply to the individual shared with. The worse scenario is when one bar taker receives advice and materials from practically ten different individuals, all possibly swearing that a specific system or book is what led them to pass the bar; therefore, urging the bar taker to do the same. There are students who have materials from more than one bar vendor and numerous supplemental bar support books. They are overwhelmed and do not know what to do nor where to start. I instill in these bar takers that they paid for a bar review program and should start there. They should also have a general awareness of resources available to them, talk to me about various challenges along the way so as to collaboratively identify possible solutions, and discuss the incorporation of suitably identified resources. Simply doing everything everyone did does not necessarily help. I remind them that they are operating within a limited timeframe and most of them are pressed for time and each person needs to journey through.
How do I stay motivated?
To my astonishment and concern, this year as compared to previous years, some students have expressed a lack of motivation on day one and week one of bar review. Usually, adrenaline motivates them on day one and at least through week two but that does not seem to be the case. Several students are fatigued by the three-year law school journey while others took a vacation between graduation and bar review and both now experience difficulties getting into the swing of bar review. To address this, we discuss how to manage the upcoming three day weekend particularly since they have a “day off” (technically). This might be an ideal opportunity to rest and recoup once plans have been made for effective time management of the bar review period and also after completing assignments.
Happy Bar Review Season to all my colleagues who participate in bar review preparation! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
What do a political candidate and a bar preppper have in common? Well, this past week, the answer is a lot!
On Tuesday, political candidates all around the country were vying for their respective party's nomination in the primary election. I attended an election results watch party where several of the candidates were successful in securing their nominations, allowing them to run on the party ticket in November. The feeling in the banquet room was a strange mix of having accomplished so much, yet having so far still to go. Each successful candidate worked hard for months to secure the primary nomination, besting other qualified candidates. So, Tuesday was surely a night for celebration. But, the excitement was quickly tempered for many by the realization that securing the primary nod is just the beginning. Each successful candidate now faces a grueling twenty-six week general election campaign schedule.
That odd sense of "unfinished accomplishments" was equally present a few days later at our law school graduation ceremony. While the students were thrilled to be receiving their diplomas on stage, most were also acutely aware that their work was not done. Rather, the hard work was just beginning. The graduates now face 10 weeks of (potentially grueling) bar preparation! Despite all that the students have accomplished during law school, most could only muster a qualified sense of achievement—contingent on the bar exam.
The parallel between political candidate and bar prepper got me thinking – perhaps the bar preppers could learn some study tips from the campaign trail. (The internet is replete with strategies and tips for managing a successful campaign. To remain party-neutral in this post, I’ve omitted citations to specific sources.) Here are a few campaign suggestions that are equally applicable to bar preppers:
Get on the ballot. Make sure that you’ve properly applied to sit for the bar exam in your desired jurisdiction. Also, don’t forget that if you move residences or start a new job between now and the date that you are sworn into the state bar, you’ll have to complete an update form. To access the correct update/amendment form, you can use this directory to lookup the contact information for the National Conference of Bar Examiners or a specific jurisdiction. Please be aware some jurisdictions require you to update both the NCBE and the specific jurisdiction directly.
Get to know your electorate. If you don’t already know exactly what is tested on the bar exam, now is the time to figure it out. You need to know what topics are tested, and how frequently each topic appears on the exam. For starters, most commercial bar preparation companies provide frequency charts and review this material during the first week of class. These detailed statistics will prove invaluable in July. See my Supermarket Sweep post for more details about how to maximize the usefulness of frequency charts.
Write your campaign plan. The commercial bar preparation courses give you a good time-management template, but be sure you’ve accounted for personal events (such as weddings or vacations) and personal preferences (such as watching the lecture videos in the morning or in the afternoon). According to most research, you want to aim for at least 600 hours of bar preparation studying. To help you track your hours, Download 600 Hours to Success, an interactive excel timesheet.
Gather a good team. You are going to need support. Talk with your friends and family about your expectations (and theirs) for the next 10 weeks. Is everyone on the same page? Are you expected to visit Great Aunt June? Who will do the grocery shopping and laundry? To start the discussion, I recommend writing a letter to your team members. For a good example, see the sample letter in “Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals” by Sara J. Berman. In addition to your friends and family, utilize the resources of your law school’s academic support or bar preparation center.
Prepare for long days. You will likely be working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for the next 10 weeks. At first blush, you may be thinking: I worked 60 hours a week during law school, so what’s the big deal? The difference is what you did during those 60 hours. In law school, large sections of your day were planned and guided by professors. Plus the day was typically broken-up into varied chunks of class time, reading, clinic work, student organization events, co-curricular practices, and legal research/writing. During bar preparation, you alone are in charge of keeping everything on track, and the days can become repetitive and monotonous. In short, there is little variety and little oversight during bar preparation. Therefore, you need to create a detailed plan and rely on your team to keep you on track. (Re-read the tips above.)
If you follow these basic suggestions for navigating the campaign trail, you should be poised for bar exam success.
Monday, May 14, 2018
Congratulations to everyone earning a J.D. recently! Earning a Doctorate level degree is an amazing accomplishment. 2011 Census data indicates approximately 3% of the US population 25 and older possess a Doctorate or Professional degree. Walking across the stage and completing the J.D. requirements puts all graduate in elite company. No matter what happens this summer, know all J.D. graduates (including yourself) are elite!
While already elite, everyone knows there is still one more hurdle prior to becoming an attorney. The vast majority of graduates still need to pass the bar exam. The limited time and breadth of material requires focus for all 10 weeks. I recommend my students start preparing the Tuesday morning after graduation through the Sunday before the bar. One focus to take it one time.
Bar prep should start shortly after graduation, and it must be the highest priority during the summer. However, preparing for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint. The key to success is maintaining a steady pace and not burning out early. Here are my tips for a steady pace throughout the summer:
1. Create a good daily schedule. All the bar review companies do a good job assigning particular tasks each day, but their schedules are “flexible” on when to do the work. I suggest to most students (not everyone) to sit down and create an hourly calendar, for example:
9-12:30 – Lecture
12:30-1:30 – Lunch
1:30-4 – Assigned practice questions
4-4:30 – Mental Break
4:30-5:30 – Review Lecture
5:30-7 – Dinner
7-9 – Review Previous Material
Scheduling increases the chances the majority of the work is completed. Time isn’t wasted deciding what to do.
2. Schedule Breaks. Notice my example included breaks throughout the day. Breaks are critical during bar prep. Students who try to go non-stop 7 days a week burn out quickly. The bar exam will be as much mental preparedness as it will be a test of legal analysis. Being fresh and rested increases focus, retention, and engagement. Include breaks both during the day and each week.
3. Know yourself. Create reasonable schedules and breaks. If you know you can’t study during a certain time of the day, then build a schedule around what is best for you. My only caveat here is the bar exam in most states starts at 8am or 9am, so studying solely at night may not be the most beneficial. You do need to transition to being alert by 7am at some point during the process.
4. Plan to attend the physical location. I know I will sound old with this piece of advice, but attend the location for your course. I know the online version is the same. I know many locations are showing a video, and I know your computer shows videos as good as the location. I also know through anecdotal stories and taking roll that students physically at the locations have higher pass rates, at least for my school. Being present creates habits that can lead accomplishing more during the day.
5. Create a good routine. It is true that bar prep is hard, but it is also true that most of the difficulty can be overcome with a good routine. Bad practice scores, not remembering rules, and general frustration will arise. The brain’s fight or flight response will be triggered. A good routine where you know exactly how to fight by doing more questions, finding a good resource, etc. will enable you to continue to improve. Without a routine, responding to difficulty with a round of golf instead of a round of questions becomes easy..
Bar prep is beginning. Know your awesome accomplishments. Know that getting a J.D. illustrates an ability to pass the bar. Take the time to then build a schedule and routine to put yourself in a position to succeed. The goal is to be able to walk out of the bar exam knowing you gave your full effort to pass.
Monday, May 7, 2018
“Objection your honor . . .” says any number of TV lawyers, and I immediately shout at the TV, “that isn’t the real rule.” My wife rolls her eyes while I proceed to explain to the TV how the judge made an incorrect ruling. Legal Analysis practice while watching TV. Great fun for everyone in the room, and a good learning tool.
Reading Kirsha’s excellent series comparing litigation to teaching made me consider how students could utilize summer jobs to solidify and expand understanding of the foundational courses. Context and examples help illustrate how rules operate and relate to each other. Understanding rules in a vacuum is difficult, but students can see the rules in action through real life clients. Real clients will contextualize and solidify knowledge.
Summer jobs are a great way to see the rules in action. I listed a few tips to think about during the summer to help understand bar exam courses even more.
- When summarizing or analyzing discovery documents, consider whether the evidence is admissible. Try to predict which evidence rule the opposing party would use to exclude the evidence.
- When reading a case file, identify the cause of action. Then try to recall all the elements of the cause of action.
- Try to recall a rule from the year that is relevant during every task.
- If in a transactional setting, pick one clause of a contract and think of the rule that makes that clause necessary.
- Consider why a business operator chose a certain type of business or why plaintiff’s attorney chose a particular cause of action.
- Make a conscious effort to attach any work done during the summer to specific rules either learned last year or will be in a subject next year.
Summer jobs are a great way to improve understanding. I heard too many classmates after my 1L summer say our professors didn’t teach them certain things during the previous year. I knew they were wrong because I was in class with them and learned the concepts. Many students missed the context to understand how the concepts worked in practice. Being intentional during the summer can provide the context to solidify knowledge for the bar exam.