Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Threats and Challenges in Law School

Final exams.  Olympic competition.  Oral argument.  Job interviews.  The bar examination.  These are all high-stakes experiences, often competitive, in which successful outcomes depend on strong performance.  As discussed last week, in such situations the human brain can adopt different chemical and behavioral states, depending on whether the situation is perceived as a threat or as a challenge.  In a threat situation, the brain becomes hyper-alert to danger and error, processes information more deliberately, and shies away from risk.  In a challenge situation, the brain pays less attention to detail, processes information in a more relaxed and automatic way, and is open to taking risks that have sufficient promise of reward.  How can we use our knowledge of these two mental states, not just to understand our students better, but also to help them do better?

Let's start by noting that the brain can enter these different states at different times even if it is undertaking the exact same activity.  A baseball player might step up to the plate in the third inning and see his task -- to try to get a hit -- as a challenge, and the same player could step to the same plate, even holding the same baseball bat, in the ninth inning and see it as a threat.  So it's not the task itself that determines our mental state.  It's the surrounding circumstances.  Early in the game, when the outcome is still up in the air, a player may be "gain-oriented", focusing on accruing advantages (in this case, runs), and his brain will be in challenge mode.  In the last inning, though, if his team has a slim lead, that same player could shift his focus and become "prevention-oriented", focusing on maintaining his team's lead by not making mistakes of which the other team might take advantage.  In that case, his brain will be in threat mode.

In the same way, our students can undertake the same activity -- issue spotting, say, or answering multiple-choice questions -- at different times, and might find themselves in either challenge mode or threat mode.  This is a good thing, a useful thing.  After all, human brains evolved to be capable of these two modes, so each mode ought to have some beneficial qualities.

As Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman point out in Top Dog, in an academic setting there can be an optimal sequencing to these modes.  Students perform best if they start their semester working in challenge mode and end it working in threat mode. 

This makes sense in a general way.  At the beginning of a course, students don't know much about the subject, and their goal should be to try to gain knowledge and skill as quickly as possible.  A gain orientation is associated with challenge mode -- the brain plays hunches and takes educated guesses, because the risk (primarily, to grades) is low but the potential reward (flashes of insight) is high.  Towards the end of the course, though, risk increases, as the student faces more heavily weighted final exams.  At the same time, rewards are lessened, since (ideally) the student has already internalized most of the material and is not likely to learn a great deal more.  On a final exam, a student is more likely to be in threat mode -- pondering the answer more slowly and cautiously, less inclined to make risky arguments, perhaps even debating word choice as he tries to recall the exact wording of a rule.

If a student is well-prepared for the final exam, proceeding cautiously with their mind in threat mode may be quite favorable.  It can encourage methodical analysis, and help the student avoid unnecessary errors.  However, there are two potential issues to consider.

First, as alluded to above, there are two sources of risk and reward in law school.  One is the knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, and the other is the final grade in the class.  A student who downplays either source is at a disadvantage.  Reminding students to pay attention to learning the rules and how to use them, and to developing their test-taking skills at the same time, is part of what Academic Success is about.  Being able to describe these abilities as complementary sources of risk and reward may provide us with another way of doing that.

Second, while being in threat mode may help a student avoid errors, they still may not perform well if they only enter threat mode for the first time in the final exam.  Since threat mode slows analysis and limits the options the brain is willing to consider, it can change the way people behave during exams.  We have doubtless all had students who felt confident in a subject all semester and then did poorly on their final, later explaining that they thought of some of the correct responses but abandoned them because they were afraid they might be wrong, and that they spent so much time working on the first half of the exam that they didn't have time to complete the second half.  While there are several plausible explanations for such mistakes, one possibility for them to consider is that they had never practiced answering questions in that course in threat mode.  If all of their practice was under the speedier, more relaxed challenge mode, then they had never really practiced under exam conditions.

Ideally, humans would have a switch we could activate to shift from challenge mode to threat mode and back.  But, while we don't, it is nevertheless possible for professors to influence students and help shift them into threat mode.  As Bronson and Merryman explain, teachers can affect their students' brains just by changing the way they present their examinations.  If students are given a test and told that they will receive a certain number of points for every correct answer, then they focus more on the idea of gaining points, which encourages a gain orientation and thus a challenge mode.  If, on the other hand, students are given a test and told that their scores start at 100 and that they will lose a certain number of points for every correct answer, then they focus more on not losing points, which encourages a prevention orientation and a threat mode.  Even though mathematically the two scoring systems were identical, the differences in presentation caused measurable differences in performance.

Thus, one way to encourage our students to practice for final exams (and oral arguments, bar exams, etc.) in threat mode is to explain, in advance, that you will be scoring their practice work by subtracting points from a pre-determined maximum score.  Conversely, students who fall into threat mode too early in the semester, perhaps because they are disproportionately worried about grade risk, might be coaxed towards challenge mode by being given exercises for which they will receive a certain number of points for every plausible point or argument.  Even though the tasks the students are undertaking remain the same, we can help their brains approach them differently.

October 16, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Raising the Bar Newsletter

Have you seen the new publication from AccessLex Institute titled Raising the Bar? The first issue includes a mix of articles on conferences, publications, tips, grant information, resources, program profiles, and more. If you missed the first issue, the link is here.  (Amy Jarmon)

October 14, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tips for Turning Bar Exam Sorrow Into A Successful Fresh Start

It's that time of year.  In the midst of many celebrations over bar passage, let's be frank.  

There are many that are not celebrating.  Their names were not on the list of bar exam passers.  And, for some, it's not the first time that they've found themselves in this situation; it's a repeat of the last time around.

For aspiring attorneys that did not pass the bar exam, most don't know where to turn.  Often embarrassed, many with significant debt loads, most feel abandoned by their schools, their friends, and their colleagues.  All alone.  

I'm not expert in helping with turnarounds. But, I'd like to offer a few tips that have proven quite helpful in helping repeaters change history to become "fresh start" bar passers:

First, as academic support professionals, reach out to each one.  Make yourself available on their terms.  Let them know that you care.  Let them know that you are mighty proud of them, success or not.  Support them, one and all.

Second, give them breathing room, lot's of time and space to grieve.  Don't push them into diving back into the books.  Don't lecture them.  Rather, assure them that they don't need to get cranking on their studies.  Help them to be kind to themselves.  It's not a matter of just hitting the books again, and this time, doubly-hard.  Instead, they need to take time out to just be themselves.

Third, when they are ready, set up a "one-with-one."  Notice: I did not call it a "one-to-one".  Rather, set up an appointment or meeting in a place of their choosing at a time that works for them in which you sit side by side, on the same side of the table or desk or cafe.  They are not bar exam failures; they are real law school graduates.  They earned their parchments. So, listen to them as colleagues on the same side of doing battle on the bar exam.  Let them talk and express themselves as they'd like. Hear them out.  How are they feeling?  What went right?  What's their passion?  What saddens their hearts?  

Finally, whey they are ready, make a copy of one of the essay problems that didn't go so well.  Better yet, make two copies, one for each of you!  That's because you are on the same team.  Set aside 15 or 20 minutes and just ask them to mark up the question, brainstorm what they are thinking, and jot down the issues that they see.  But...and this is important...tell them that you don't expect them to remember any law at all. Period.  And, you do the same.  Exactly the same.  Don't peek at an answer key or even their answer. Instead, try your hand too; wrestle with the same question that they are wrestling with.  Then, come back together to listen, ponder, and share what you both see as the plot of the essay question, the issues raised by the storylines, and the potential rules that might be in play.  Once you've done all this prep work together, now, look at their answer.  This is important, just look.  Ask them what do they see? What do they observe? What went great for them? Where might they improve?  In short, let them see that they have "inside information" about themselves based on their own personal bar exam experience and answers that they can capitalize to their advantage.  Most often in the midst of working together, graduates tell me that they realize that they knew plenty of law to pass the bar exam.  In fact, most are amazed at how well they memorized the law.  And, that's great news because it means that they don't need to redo the bar review lectures at all.  They know plenty of law.  That frees up lots of time during the bar prep season to instead concentrate on just two (2) active learning tasks.

So, here are the two activities that bar re-takers should be prioritizing to successful pass the bar exam:

1. First, they should work daily throughout the bar study period through lots and lots of practice problems (essays and MBE questions).  Every one that they can get their hands on.  Open book is fine.  It's even better than fine; it's perfect because they should be practicing problems to learn because we don't get better at problem-solving by guessing.

2. Second, they should keep a daily "journal" of the issues and rules that they missed when working over problems (to include tips about the analysis of those rules).  

Just two steps.  That's it.  There's no magic.  But, in not redoing the lectures, graduates will find that they have plenty of time to concentrate on what is really important - learning by doing through active reflective daily practice.  Countless times, it's through this process of a "one-with-one" meeting that we have seen repeaters turn themselves into "fresh start" bar passers.  

Finally, I want to write directly to those of you who find yourself in the situation of having to re-take the bar exam.  You really aren't alone.  Need proof?  Here's a short video clip put together by the Colorado Supreme Court about re-taking the bar exam to include a few tips from some jurists and practitioners that have been in your shoes.  (Scott Johns)

 

October 11, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Threats and Challenges in the Brain

In the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, the Japanese ski jumping team was having a very good day. After seven jumps, it had racked up a score so high that no one believed they could lose. The team’s final jumper, Masahiko Harada, who had already landed a jump of 122 meters on his first jump, only needed to jump 105 meters on his second to clinch the gold medal. But Harada faltered. His jump was not well executed, and he only managed to get to 97.5 meters before his skis touched the ground. The Japanese team ended up with the silver medal, finishing behind the German team.

Four years later, the Winter Olympics were being held in Nagano, Japan, and, once again, Masahiko Harada was on the team. He and the team were hoping to redeem themselves, and, of course, all eyes were on them as the home team. Harada was no longer the team anchor, so it was hoped that, without the pressure of having to be the final jumper for the team, he would perform at the Games as well as the team knew he could in practice. The first two jumpers did extremely well, putting the Japanese team in first place. But then Harada . . . did even worse than he had at Lillehammer, achieving a distance of only 79.5 meters on his first jump. The team fell to fourth place.

Things looked bad until Takanobu Okabe landed an Olympic record-setting 137-meter jump on his second attempt, bringing the Japanese team back into contention. They weren’t back in the lead, but at least they had a chance for a medal. And now it was Harada’s turn again. In his last two Olympic jumps, when he just needed to not screw up to keep the team in position, he screwed up. Now, if he wanted to help the team get a medal, he had to do more than not screw up. He had to excel.

And he did. He tied Okabe’s record, making his own 137-meter jump, and sending the Japanese team into first place. They would go on to win the gold medal in the event.

How did all of that happen? Why did Harada jump poorly in his last jump in Lillehammer, and his first jump in Nagano, but then manage to jump exceptionally well in his second Nagano jump? The stakes were high – Olympic gold – all three times, so surely there was always enormous pressure on him. What made the difference?

It might be easier to explain the difference if we consider, not the stakes, but the positions in which Harada found himself. In his second 1994 jump and his first 1998 jump, his team was in first place. He knew he had to perform to a certain level to maintain his team’s position. Expectations were high, but he didn’t have to do unusually well. He was just focusing on not making a mistake, because this situation was a threat to his (and his team’s) position.

In contrast, by the time he’d reached his second 1998, his team was no longer in first place. They weren’t expecting to win, but, thanks to Okabe’s big jump, at least they had a chance. Harada had less to lose, and good reason to allow himself to take risks, because there was more upside than downside to doing so. This situation was not a threat to his position; it was a challenge.

In their book Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain that there are physical differences between the way our brains react when we view a situation as a threat and the way they react when we view a situation as a challenge. In a threat situation, there is an increase in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is associated with more deliberate and less automatic decision making. At the same time, the parts of the brain that watch out for external dangers (the left temporoparietal junction) and for internal errors in judgment (the anterior cingulate cortex) also become more engaged. Also, as activity in the amygdala increases, the brain becomes more sensitized to avoiding risk than to seeking reward.

In a sense, your brain starts paying closer attention to everything you see and do, and it clamps down on behaviors it perceives as potentially risky. In playing it safe, though, your brain limits the scope of the choices you feel comfortable making, which in turn shrinks the range of performance of which you are capable. When Harada was going for the 105-meter jump for gold in Lillehammer, his brain was subconsciously refusing to allow him to take actions – picking up more speed, jumping off closer to the end of the ramp – that would have given him great distance, but also would have carried an increased risk of falling.  The cumulative effect of all those refusals made him, in a very real sense, incapable of performing anywhere near his best.  In other circumstances, this would have been of little consequence -- 97.5 meters was by no means the worst jump in the Olympics that year, and it was probably several dozen meters longer than you or I could have managed.  But in high-level competition, seeing the jump as a threat robbed Harada of the ability to show the world what he was capable of, and left him and his team wanting in comparison to the Germans.

In contrast, when you see something as a challenge, your brain takes on an entirely different set of characteristics.  Hormones are released in the brain that dampen the activity in the left tempororparietal junction, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the amygdala, so you expend less energy and attention watching out for dangers, errors, and risks.  Instead, your decision making starts to flow more easily and automatically; you rely on expertise and habit rather than stopping to deliberate over every choice.  And when risks are perceived, they are not automatically shunned; instead, your brain attends to both the potential losses and the potential gains, and is open to taking the risks when the gains are great enough.  When Harada was preparing to take his second jump in Nagano, he was no longer trying to protect his team's first-place position, so he didn't see the jump as a threat.  He was able to look at it as a challenge -- Let me see how much I can obtain from this -- and, subconsciously, that freed up his range of behaviors to choose from.  Only when his brain allowed him access to all the skills and knowledge he had acquired was he able to achieve the exceptional result he hoped for.

* * * * *

No doubt you smart people have already noticed the resemblances between Harada's performances and those of some of our law students, especially the ones who sometimes seem not to perform to the level of which they are capable.  Whether students view tests, oral presentations, and other ordeals as "threats" or as "challenges" can have powerful effects on their performance.  As we will see next week, though, threat stances and challenge stances both have a place in legal study, and there are ways that we, as teachers, can help students take the right stances at the right times.

 

October 9, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bar Preparation Begins Now

The most recent bar results are reverberating throughout the country. The data collected and distributed by Nancy Reeves the past week is illuminating. From what I can tell, only 2 states currently have first-time pass rates at or above last year. The national MBE average is the lowest since the 80’s. Another round of complaints and accusations aimed at the MBE are starting, especially since scaling essays to the MBE magnifies the impact of the dropping score. My advice to students, ignore the chatter and start preparing now.

I love to complain about the MBE. I think the NCBE’s monopoly on bar licensing tests makes them unresponsive, and the lack of statistical specialists in testing at law schools makes combatting their perceived experts difficult. Supreme Courts’ skepticism of law schools’ motivation amplifies the problem. I believe the NCBE through changes to the MBE (25 non-scored questions, subject matter changes, Civil Procedure addition, style changes, etc.) have made the test harder than it has ever been, and they continually ignore well-established scientific principles (ie – cognitive load theory) that call into question the validity of current MBE scores. My beliefs could be 100% correct, but the reality is alumni still have to take the MBE on February 27th or July 31st.

If MBE complaints are valid, students should respond by starting preparation. In general, changes to legal education and bar exams take forever. The complaints of Deans, Law Schools, and alumni will most likely not change the upcoming exams. The arguments could be correct, which means the upcoming MBE administrations will continue to be difficult with possible lower scores. Students will need more questions correct to pass. I highly encourage starting now to prepare for a much more difficult test.

The MBE requires unique skills to pass the exam, but the foundation for passing the test is still knowledge of the law. Without an understanding of the law, getting to the right answer is more difficult. Both February and July takers can start now refreshing memory of the law. I suggest trying to get a big picture 10,000 foot view of each MBE subject. Knowing the organization or schema for each subject will provide the context to help memorize rules. I then suggest looking through material in highly tested sub-topics for each subject (ie – Negligence, Hearsay, Free Speech, etc.). Many bar review companies will provide early start lectures or outlines or both. Use the material to identify areas to work through.

Additional work throughout the semester is important for February takers. I suggest focusing on 1 subject per week by looking through the material suggested above, completing a few practice MBE questions, and issue spotting 1 practice essay question. The key is to get some of the law and see how it is tested.

July takers shouldn’t spend as much time this semester, but refreshing the law is a good start. My suggestion is to watch the short lectures or look at highly tested material for a short amount of time. The goal is not memorization that lasts for 10 months. The goal is refreshing memory of already learned law and understanding the schema.

The current tasks may be different for February and July takers, but my advice for both is the same. Now is the time to start preparing. If the MBE will be as hard as we all predict, then don’t wait to prepare for the test. However, don’t overwork and burn out now. My suggestion is only for 2-3 hours a week, but 2-3 hours over 7-8 weeks left in the semester can make a huge difference.

The hype and complaints may be true, but students will still be taking the bar in February and July. One ingredient for overcoming the difficulty is early preparation with hard work. To finish using a sports analogy (I couldn’t do a post without it), leave it all out on the field. Anything can happen on the bar exam, but if you can walk out of the room and say you did everything you could reasonably do to prepare, then that is what matters. Start that preparation now, and you can pass the bar!

(Steven Foster)

September 24, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Lowest in Years - The July 2018 MBE (and a Call to ASP Action!)

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), citing to Law.com and TaxProfBlog editor Dean Paul Caron, the national average score on the MBE multiple-choice portion of the July bar exam dropped to its lowest level in 34 years.  https://www.abajournal.com; https://www.law.com;  https://taxprof.typepad.com.  The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) reports that the July 2018 MBE average score was just 139.5, while for the July 1984 exam, Law.com reports that the MBE average score was likewise low at 139.21.  https://www.ncbex.org/newshttps://www.law.com.

In an article by Law.com, the President of the NCBE - Judith Gundersen - is quoted as saying that "they [this summer's lower MBE scores] are what would be expected given the number of applicants and LSAT 25th percentile means of the 2015 entering class." https://www.law.com. In other words, according to the NCBE, this summer's low score average is the result of law school admissions decisions based on the NCBE's appraisal of 25 percentile LSAT data for entering 2015 law students.

Nevertheless, despite the NCBE's claim, which was previously theorized by the NCBE back in 2015 (namely, that bar exam declines are related to LSAT declines), previous empirical research found a lack of empirical support for the NCBE's LSAT claim, albeit limited to one jurisdiction, one law school's population, and admittedly not updated to reflect this summer's bar exam results.  Testing the Testers

As an armchair statistician with a mathematics background, I am leery of one-size-fits-all empirical claims.  Life is complex and learning is nuanced.  Conceivably, there are many factors at play that might account for bar exam results in particular cases, with many factors not ascribable to pure mathematical calculus, such as the leaking roof in the middle of the first day of the Colorado bar exam.  https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ceiling_leaks_pause_colorado_bar_exam.  

Here's just a few possible considerations:

• The increase to 25 experimental questions embedded within the set of 200 MBE multiple-choice questions (in comparison to previous test versions with only 10 experimental questions embedded).

• The addition of Federal Civil Procedure as a relatively recent MBE subject to the MBE's panoply of subjects tested.

• The apparent rising incidences of anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities found within law school populations and graduates.

• The economic barriers to securing bar exam testing accommodations despite longitudinal evidence of law school testing accommodations.

• The influence of social media, the internet age, and smart phones in impacting the learning environment.

• The difficulty in equating previous versions of bar exams with current versions of bar exams given changes in the exam instrument itself and the scope of subject matter tested.

• The relationship among experiential learning, doctrinal, and legal writing courses and bar exam outcomes.

• Etc....

Consequently, in my opinion, there's a great need (and a great opportunity) for law schools to collaborate with bar examiners to hypothesize, research, and evaluate what's really going on with the bar exam.  It might be the LSAT, as the NCBE claims.  But, most problems in life are much more complicated.  So, as a visual jumpstart to help law schools and bar examiners brainstorm possible solutions, here's a handy chart depicting the overall downward trend with respect to the past ten years of national MBE average scores.  (Scott Johns).

July National MBE Average Scores

September 20, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Bar Prep Conversation at SEALS

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."  

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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." 

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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!
(Kirsha Trychta)

August 7, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Meetings, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Final Weekend Bar Exam Preparations for Your Bar Exam!

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...

DANCE

&

TALK

&

VISUALIZE

&

ACT OUT

 &

REHEARSE

&

PRACTICE

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)

July 19, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

When It’s Time To Say NO To The Bar Exam

      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.

image from media.giphy.com

      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)

July 18, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Big Brother, Bar Exam Edition

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. 

  1. 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.    

  1. 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!

  1. 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)

July 17, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Last Week of Studying

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

(Steven Foster)

July 16, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I Am Here For That But…Wow

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)

 

July 11, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Packing Checklist for the Bar Exam

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)

Bar Exam Day Packing Checklist
 

July 10, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 9, 2018

2 Weeks Left of Studying for Bar Exam

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

(Steven Foster)

July 9, 2018 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

I Am Discouraged By Bar Preparation

“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)

July 4, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Simulated MBE Struggles

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!


(Steven Foster)

July 2, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Hot Tips for Cool Learning - Based on the Latest Empirical Research

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).

 

June 28, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Checkpoints for the Fast-Approaching Bar Exam

      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)

June 27, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Inevitable Roller Coaster: Bar Review

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.

Life Happens

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)

June 20, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Perspective for the MBE

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.

(Steven Foster)

June 18, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)