Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Many of you know that the National Conference of Bar Examiners write the multiple choice questions that are on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). However, you may not realize that the NCBE publishes three MBE practice tests, Online Practice Exams (OPE), for purchase in their online store. Each OPE consists of 100 mixed subject questions that have been taken from recent MBEs. In addition to more MBE practice, these tests include an explanation as to why the incorrect answers are incorrect.* This feature helps students assess their performance and improve their understanding of the law.
In many jurisdictions, including all of the Uniform Bar Exam jurisdictions, the written scores are scaled to the MBE and are weighed heavier than each of the written components. Thus, having a solid MBE score will help applicants increase their chances of passing the bar exam. While most, if not all, of the bar review companies provide ample MBE practice questions for bar students, the OPEs can still be a great addition to their study plan.
First, the questions on the OPE are actual questions from past Multistate Bar Exams. Therefore, they illustrate a sampling of the legal issues that could be tested on a future bar exam. Next, they are written in the exact style as the actual MBE questions. This is significant because answering MBE questions requires not only content knowledge but also critical thinking and logical reasoning skills.
Understanding the testing format on the bar is just as important as knowing and understanding the law. Higher order multiple choice questions are more difficult to answer because they go beyond mere knowledge and comprehension. They incorporate evaluation, synthesis, analysis, and application.** That is why typically the mean MBE scaled score is 139-143 (which roughly equates to a raw score of 115-123 out of a possible 200). Essentially, applicants need to get approximately 60% of the answers correct to achieve a passing MBE score.
I have encouraged students who need additional MBE practice to purchase the OPEs. They have found this resource to be incredibly helpful. They receive a score report upon completion and are able to repeat the test after they have a chance to review their initial answers and the explanations.
*National Conference of Bar Examiners at ncbex.org
**See Bloom's taxonomy
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
During the final week of bar prep, memorization is paramount. Overlearning the law is the best way to conquer the bar exam. MBE success requires quick recollection and MEE success requires depth of knowledge- both of which rely on memorization.
When studying this week, above all, try to understand your learning preference(s). Listening to your inner voice and sticking with what works best for you is the best way to be successful with your memorization. However, if you are still looking for other ways to memorize, here are a few ideas:
- Find creative ways to interact with the material and keep it fresh.
- Use a study partner or significant other to test you on your knowledge with flashcards or just talk out a subject together.
- Create tables, flowcharts, or diagrams to illustrate difficult rules or concepts. Even drawing pictures can help you create a memorable visual.
- Use other memory devices such as: flash cards, sticky notes, white boards, or a tape recorder.
- Create mnemonics that have meaning to you or use ones that have been created by your bar prep.
- Explain the main points of a subject or essay to someone else (a family member, friend, or roommate). Or, talk to yourself- it's ok, you are studying for the bar!
- Color code, use different fonts, or hand-write rules over and over in order to individualize the material and make it more memorable.
- Read your lecture notes or outline/study-aid aloud, record it, play it back and listen to it.
- Study while you move- walk, ride a bike, bounce on an exercise ball, or use an elliptical.
Good luck on your memorization this week!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
It rained steadily in West Texas for three different days last week! Hooray - a dent in the drought for our gardeners and cotton growers. Lubbock even made the national Weather Channel coverage - usually only happens when we deal with sky-reddening massive dust storms. Lots of folks had forgotten the routines to deal with rain and left their umbrellas, rain hats, or raincoats home on the first day.
Why this title and mention of rain? I am talking to a fair number of bar studiers and summer school students who are feeling as though it is stormy weather for them under a deluge of material. Here are some of the reasons:
- The bar exam dates are drawing perilously close.
- Bar studiers are concerned about their scores on practice questions.
- For many bar studiers, there is still too much to learn in what seems too little time.
- Summer school students are beginning to realize how fast a 5-week summer session goes by.
- Many summer school students are juggling part-time jobs with studies and feeling stretched too thin.
- Students with spouses, children, significant others, elderly parents, or other responsibilities beyond school are pulled in multiple directions.
When summer school students and bar studiers get focused on the negative deluge instead of grabbing their umbrellas, they can stress themselves out and become overwhelmed. Here are some tips to remember that the apparent deluge is really just a bunch of individual raindrops:
- Prioritize the tasks that need to be done instead of considering everything as equal.
- Decide how each task can be completed for the wisest use of time and the most results.
- Focus on one small task at a time and then move on to the next rather than getting caught up in the overview of everything.
- Remember that the goal is to learn from one's mistakes on practice questions - the learning avoids a mindless repetition of mistakes.
- Give credit for what has been learned well, is going right, and has pulled together to balance out one's negativity.
- Stop obsessing over the "should haves" or "could haves" - what is done (or not done) cannot be changed; focus on what can still be controlled now.
- Ask family and friends for patience, encouragement, and help with non-study tasks that would usually be shared (cooking, cleaning, child care).
- Get on a regular sleep schedule of at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night - life looks a lot less stormy when one is well-rested.
- If work is also being juggled, consider whether hours can be reduced for the rest of the summer session.
Whether the bar exam is the stressor or summer school, realize that perfection is not needed. One needs to do the best one can under one's circumstances. Persevere and do not get psyched out and defeated. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, July 15, 2013
The most important aspect of practicing Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) questions happens after taking the practice questions not during. Reviewing your answers after taking the practice tests is crucial to success. No matter how many questions you can access, it is not about the quantity of questions you complete. Instead, you should focus on quality. By incorporating review into your MBE practice you will figure out what you know and what you don’t know in addition to diagnosing common traps.
For the next set of practice MBEs you complete, remember to schedule enough time to review your answers. Read through the answer choices and the answer explanations. Whether right or wrong, determine why you selected your answer. You need to learn how to remedy your errors and replicate your successes.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Writing style and format is critical to successful bar exam performance. Do not fall into the trap of only memorizing the law. You must focus on your approach and your writing techniques in order to reach a passing score on the Multistate Essays and the Multistate Performance Test. Here are a few ways to ensure that you will achieve passing scores:
- Carefully read the fact pattern, call lines, and file/library. Take your time!
- Organize your thoughts before you begin writing. Use your scratch paper!
- Use only the amount of time allowed for each essay or PT task. Time your practice!
- Use an organizational model like IRAC or CRAC. Use it for every issue and sub-issue!
- Make your answer easy to read. Use short concise sentences and paragraphs!
- Remember to review what you have written. Become the grader!
- Do not get frustrated by your mistakes, get motivated and learn from them!
- Keep practicing…practice equals passing!
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
During bar prep, life for bar applicants is essentially consumed with studying for the bar exam and not much else. It is eat, sleep, and breath bar prep. However, balance, especially in times like these, is essential to maintaining health and emotional stability. In light of the need for balance, I have created a list of the top 4 ways to spend the 4th (while studying for the bar exam).
4. Sleep: Everyone is sleep deprived while studying for the bar exam. Lecture schedules dictate wake up, and study schedules often require burning the midnight oil. But, as we all know, brain research confirms that our memory improves with sleep. Sleep also makes us less grumpy and give us stamina to sustain long days of studying. Thus, sleep until noon on the 4th or take a long midsummer's nap...perhaps on a hammock or in a shady spot on the beach. You will feel recharged as you venture into the final weeks of bar prep and will repay some of your sleep debt.
3. Blow off Steam: Now, don't go crazy with this one. What I mean to say, is have some fun! Do something that epitomizes summer fun (for you). Waterski, go for a hike, play a tennis match, garden, or head to a park with friends for a game of Ultimate Frisbee (this is what I will be doing). Try to fill your spirit so that you will feel refreshed. Find moments of joy that will sustain you during the long study hours that will encompass your life in the weeks ahead.
2. Indulge: Now, if you did not find #4 and #3 indulgent enough, I have added "Indulge" on its own. When I think of the 4th, I think about food...so maybe this is a good time for you to go out for brunch with your friends, to fire up your smoker for some slow cooked ribs, or bake a berry pie with those beautiful berries cropping up at the farmer's market. Make time to indulge in things that make you happy and try to nourish yourself with fun and delicious foods.
1. Spend time with Friends and Family: This is a no-brainer. Our relationships with our family and friends help us maintain balance and help support us when times are tough. Studying for the bar exam is one of those times. Take the 4th as a day to be with your support system and to renew the bonds you have with your family and friends. This time together will rejuvenate your connections and fill your spirit.
Happy Fourth of July!
Friday, June 28, 2013
One of the most difficult aspects (I admit there are many) of bar review, is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Many of us hate being wrong and we try to avoid failure at all costs. However, making mistakes is the only way that you will fully understand what you know and what you don’t yet know when studying for the bar exam. I actually begin each semester by telling my students that I expect and want them to make a lot of mistakes. This especially rings true when they are studying for the bar.
Instead of being in denial about their mistakes, they should abandon their perfectionist tendencies and force themselves to own up to their missteps. Much like when we are children and told to learn from our mistakes, bar students need to embrace their mistakes and find lessons within them. Deeper learning will occur if students focus on improving their knowledge instead of being hung up on a score.
For example, many students who are studying for the MBE have difficulty reaching passing scores on their early practice tests. Instead of throwing in the towel, I suggest that they keep going. Continued practice and self-evaluation will help their scores improve.
After assessing their progress on their practice questions, students should begin to diagnose their mistakes. In order to determine their weaknesses, they can ask themselves a series of questions to help them pinpoint areas to improve upon. Are they reading the facts too quickly? Did they misinterpret the law? Did they have an inadequate grasp of the legal concepts being tested? Did they get seduced by the seducer? If yes, why did they get seduced? Did they incorrectly identify the central issue?
In asking questions such as these, students are reflecting on their learning. Diagnosing their mistakes is the most important step in the learning process. Their progress will become apparent and they will gain confidence in the process. Therefore, I encourage you and your students to keep making mistakes!
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
5. Clean your house/apartment/living space. Create a positive and productive work environment. Think about where you will study and how you can ensure that it suits your needs for bar review. Also, this may be the last time you have time to clean until August, so think about doing a deep clean and clear the clutter. Having a tidy work and living space will positively impact your studying.
4. Calendar! Print a blank summer calendar. (I like to see it on paper, but you can also use an online program.) Put all essential items on your calendar: bar review classes, exercise, child /elder care responsibilities, etc… Try to structure each day in order to create a realistic routine. Free time should also be on your calendar: meals, sleep, downtime, recharging activities, etc… Fill each hour of the day with either bar study/practice or a free-time activity. Doing this will help you to avoid procrastination and will help you use your time effectively during bar prep.
3. Talk to your family and friends. Show them your summer plan (and calendar). Better yet, send them copies of your calendar. Offer ways for them to provide you support (dinner, encouraging emails, childcare). Informing your significant others will keep them from hindering your success this summer and will provide you with a strong support system. You will need it!
2. Do something fun, spontaneous, and slightly wacky. Why? Since you will not have the luxury of being spontaneous this summer during your bar prep, having a madcap adventure can help satiate that desire until August. Nothing too crazy…but something memorable! (Seattle ideas: ride the wheel at sunset; go kayaking on Lake Union; stay out really late and then sleep in until noon; take a day hike with friends; ride the train to Portland to see the Rose Festival firework show; or check out a local concert, art show, or museum.) Take pictures and post them near your study space or on your fridge. These memories will help get through the long monotonous days of summer bar study.
1. Take time to reflect. Celebrate the end of your law school journey and reflect on how far you have come in the last three years. Write down your many successes and what you have learned about yourself and your learning style. Understanding what worked for you in law school and what challenged you will benefit you during your bar prep. And, reflecting on your past will help you transition to bar prep with a renewed sense of purpose and inner strength. You can pass the bar exam- believing in yourself is the first step!
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
First, no matter what you hear, the urban myths, tales from judges, friends, and fellow students, or articles such as the one in the ABA Journal, every bar exam is difficult. Or, possibly better stated, the hardest bar exam is the one you are taking… If there was a bar exam that was “easy”, wouldn’t everyone flock to that particular jurisdiction? If the bar exam was “easy”, wouldn't that particular state have problems with the competency levels of the attorneys that they license? If the bar exam was “easy”, what would be the point of administering it? Is it not a tool to protect consumers of legal services?
Next, what if the Washington bar exam is actually the third hardest bar exam in the country? What does that mean? Is this a deterrent to future bar takers? Is this an ominous warning to steer clear of imagining your legal career taking flight in WA? I hope this is not the case. Instead, I believe this is simply a result of generalizing. Comparing WA State’s bar exam, which was an essay only exam, to other state bar exams is like comparing apples to oranges.
Washington State was an outlier with regard to their testing format. (Note: WA will administer the UBE for the first time this summer.) Generalizing bar exam difficulty based on limited quantitative data, even when a regression methodology is employed, could lead to less external validity. Variables such as the specific testing measures and format, state bar association grading standards, student’s qualitative characteristics, and state bar associations internal set pass rate all affect pass rates; and, thus could skew rankings. As an Academic Support Professional, I find that a student’s qualitative characteristics and/or psychological factors more strongly influence a student’s ability to pass a bar exam. Quantitative factors are more easily calculated but are not always predictive.
Bar exams are difficult. Yes, some applicants struggle more with multiple-choice questions than with essay writing. Other applicants cannot stand the time and attention to detail required to achieve a high score on the performance test. Some applicants fear arcane legal concepts or nuanced legal theories that are not practical or relevant to their interests. However, the bottom line is that the bar exam requires extreme focus, months of studying, repetitive practice, and strong internal motivation. High stakes exams do not get more intense than the bar exam.
Focusing solely on statistics, whether you are a student or a teacher, is the wrong way to approach the bar exam. Remember, as attorney’s we read between the lines and pay attention to the fine print. Avoid the hyperbole in articles and blog posts such as the ones mentioned above. Instead, focus on what it takes to pass the bar...determination and hardwork.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
As Amy stated in her post regarding Academic Advising, thinking about whether a course is bar tested is an important aspect of registration planning. Often, I am asked, “Should I take all of the courses that are bar tested?” My answer (as it is in many situations) is: “It depends…”
Therefore, when confronted with this question from students, I ask them a series of questions in return. This self-assessment helps students to become experts in their own learning and helps them to set appropriate learning goals for their future. Here are a few sample questions for your students to consider:
- How have you performed in your first year?
- Was legal writing difficult?
- Do you prefer multiple choice exams or essay exams?
- Can you identify characteristics you valued in your first year professors?
- Can you identify characteristics you disliked or did not work for your learning style?
- Did you have closed book, timed exams in your first year? If yes, how did you perform?
- Do you prefer large classes or small seminars?
- If your first year was (extremely) challenging, have you been able to assess why?
- What areas of law interest you most?
- Do you have a clear career plan? Practice area/job prospects/jurisdiction?
- What would be your ideal law school schedule?
Once these questions have been answered, I can more specifically address whether students may need to take certain bar tested courses or whether they need to work on other skills to help them succeed in law school and beyond. Taking bar tested courses merely for the bar exam is unwise. However, there are situations where taking more bar tested courses may be helpful.
If you do not have time to meet with students individually, you can give them a list of questions like these to review on their own. Once they have taken some time to reflect, you can post general advice regarding the skills necessary to pass the bar exam, how specific courses may help build those skills, and the specific subjects tested on the bar exam in your jurisdiction. This will help guide their course selection and will give them a better idea of what to expect on the bar exam.
Friday, March 15, 2013
The National Conference of Bar Examiners has announced upcoming changes to the Multistate Bar Examination. Civil Procedure is being added as the seventh content area on the MBE. Many of us knew that this addition was being contemplated, but we did not anticipate that this change would be implemented so quickly.
Per the NCBE memo, Civil Procedure will be added to the MBE beginning with the February 2015 bar examination. Thus, the number of questions per topic area will decrease. Once Civil Procedure is added, there will be 28 questions covering Contracts, and 27 questions covering each of the six remaining topics (Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Evidence, Property, and Torts).
For some students, four less Property questions is a reason to celebrate! While for others, taking an advanced Civil Procedure class may be a wise option. Stay tuned for more information regarding the coverage for the Civil Procedure MBE questions. The Civil Procedure content outlines will be updated by June 30, 2013. However, for now, you can review the Civil Procedure MEE content outlines to get an idea of what to expect.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
If you have not already, it is important to think about signing up for a commercial bar review course. In these economic times, many students ask me if taking a bar review is really necessary. Resolutely, my answer is always yes, a bar review is necessary to achieve success on the bar exam. Take your time to determine your options and how they will suit your individual needs. Bar prep courses are an investment, but one that is wholly worth it. Here are a few things to consider when selecting your bar review course.
- Determine your learning style. This may sound odd but I believe that knowing how you learn will help you select your bar review course. There are a few resources online(VARK and An Index of Learning Styles) or you can purchase a KOLB inventory and complete it on your own. Once you understand your learning style, you can ask the right questions and know what to look for when researching the bar review options in your jurisdiction.
- Figure out where you want to be licensed. Some bar review companies only offer courses locally, while others are available nationwide. Once you have decided where you want to take the bar exam, contact the bar review providers that offer courses in those areas. Contacting their offices directly will allow you to find out where, when, and how their course are delivered. This will also familiarize you with the specific individuals that you will be working with during your eight week bar prep course.
- Bar prep is a customer service industry. It is expensive and you want to make sure that you are getting what you pay for. Take note of the interactions you have with the representatives of the company. Are they responsive to your questions, do they provide examples of their product for you to review, do they want to accommodate your needs, and are they friendly and accessible? You want to have a good, no great, relationship with your bar review provider since you will be relying on them to help you take the most difficult exam of your life.
- Speaking of cost, do not jump at the course with the lowest cost before truly considering whether it will be a good fit for your individual needs. Yes, the price of the bar prep course is a consideration, but it should not be the only factor you consider. Remember the saying, “You get what you pay for.” Think about this when you research your options. When you call their office to find out about the specifics of the course, you can also ask about whether they offer scholarships, payment plans, or cost saving employment opportunities.
- Look at the actual materials and schedule that you will be using during your bar review. This will help you decide whether their philosophy and pedagogy will meet your needs. It will also give you a heads up on what to expect during bar prep. (Sometimes this is a huge eye-opener.)
- Consider signing up earlier, rather than later, for a bar prep course. I am treading lightly here because I know there is some debate about whether 1Ls should even be considering bar review but hear me out. Bar review companies are very competitive. By the nature of this competition, they offer promotions and extras to students when they sign up early for their bar review course. These extras can prove to be helpful study aids during law school and can help students get a jumpstart on their bar preparation. I advise students to take advantage of as many of the free extras as they can and only put a deposit down on a course when they have considered many of the above mentioned factors.
Monday, January 21, 2013
An important piece of your bar exam preparation has nothing to do with Torts, Family Law, or Criminal Law. It has to do with planning ahead to ensure that you have a budget in place to pay for the expense of taking the bar exam.
A few ideas to get you started with your Bar Study Financial Plan:
- Create a budget that incorporates your bar review expenses. Make sure to include your bar review course fee, your bar exam application fees, examsoft fees if applicable, MPRE registration fees, your hotel/transportation during the administration of the bar exam, and living expenses while studying for the bar exam.
- Save a designated amount of money each month for your bar review. Put this money in a separate account or a “cookie jar” so that you do not unintentionally (or intentionally) spend it on something else. Try to make sure that you have scheduled enough months of saving to cover your projected expenses.
- Reduce your current spending (forgo that extra latte, brown bag it for lunch, or take the bus instead of paying for parking). Cutting out the extras can be a bummer but in the end, you will be happy to have saved enough to get through your bar preparation without having to work. It is unnatural to give up every luxury. Pick one or two things that help you feel good and that are good for you. If you enjoy your yoga classes or gym membership, keep those. If you like to get a smoothie or fill up at the salad bar once a week, you should continue. These are healthy choices that also make you feel good. Keep the treats that nourish you and pass on the rest.
- Discuss bar loans and/or bar scholarships with your law school’s Financial Services Office. If your finances will require you to apply for a bar loan, do not wait to research your options. Scholarships are numbered and due to the economic times there will be a great deal of competition. Learn about the opportunities in your State or City and apply early.
- You do not want to hear this but you could move back in with your folks. I know this may be a bitter pill to swallow. On one hand, you are an adult and you do not want to move back in with your parents. However, on the other hand, it is best to think about how you can save money while you are studying. Check to see if your relatives or friends have an apartment, cabin, or summer home that will be unoccupied or ask around to see if someone you know needs a house sitter for the summer.
- Graduation is around the corner. While you would rather use a gift of cash on a trip to Hawaii for after the bar exam, using graduation money to fund your bar study is a smarter and more fiscally responsible idea.
Although they are a costly endeavor, bar review courses are essential if you want to be successful on the bar exam. Planning ahead for the costs associated with the exam will lessen your stress and help you cope with the potential financial strain.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Not taking the bar exam until summer but curious about what to expect? Thinking about ways to get a head start on your bar prep over the break? Want to have a better idea of what is required in your state when applying for the bar exam? Great! Advance planning is an essential ingredient in your bar exam preparation. Here are a few ways to get started without causing anxiety, taking too much time, or causing you to feel overwhelmed. In fact, these helpful ideas will help reduce the brewing stress that the bar exam produces and will help you feel more in control when you are studying for the bar exam this summer.
1. Plan financially for the bar exam. This could mean stocking away money every week reducing your current spending (forgo that extra latte, brown bag it, or take the bus instead of paying forparking), or creating a budget that incorporates your bar review expenses. Taking the bar exam can be an expensive endeavor. So even if we avoid the fiscal cliff, a substantial expense is still in your future. You should anticipate spending approximately $2000-$6000 for your bar preparation.
2. Make your hotel reservation. It may seem too early to call the hotel closest to the bar exam testing center, but it is not. Hotels book quickly and you want to have a choice as to where you stay when you take the most important exam of your life. Find out where your state bar will take place and research the hotels in the area. Once you have made your selection, call them directly and ask for the group rate, use your AAA discount (or other discount), or search online for the best deals.
3. If you have not already, sign up for a commercial bar review. In these economic times, many students ask me if taking a bar review is really necessary. Resolutely, my answer is always yes, a bar review is necessary to achieving success on the bar exam. Take your time to determine your options and how they will suit your individual needs. Bar prep courses are an investment, see item #1 above, but one that is wholly worth it.
4. Check out The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) web page at www.ncbex.org. You will find information regarding the MBE, MEE, MPT, MPRE, and UBE. There are also helpful articles and resources regarding every aspect of the bar examination process from bar exam application information, character and fitness issues, and psychometrics and scoring of the bar exam. Even if you have a limited amount of time, I highly suggest becoming familiar with the NCBE’s website.
5. Similarly, think about where you want to sit for the bar exam. Once you have thought through where you want to be licensed, determine the jurisdictional requirements in that state. Contact the licensing entity and review the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admissions published by the NCBE and the American Bar Association. In this document, you will find information regarding every aspect of the bar examination and contact information for state bar admission agencies.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
When repeat bar takers come to me for assistance, there are many facets to my strategy to help them. In previous posts, I discussed how to lend support and encouragement, how to help them diagnose their weaknesses, and how to destroy their self-doubt. Now, the next and final phase is to start planning for their next (and final) attempt at the bar exam.
A strong plan will make a huge difference in their preparation. I ask them to map out the next two to three months. They can print a blank calendar; use an online program; represent days on index cards and tape them to a wall; or use a white board. But, I find that they need a visual because it provides motivation, perspective, and a finish line.
Realistic, achievable goals are important for repeat exam takers. Easily reached goals are ineffective; but, goals that are challenging but doable provide the incentive students need to keep progressing. One tip is to have them use learning strategies like chunking to guide their organization of the material that they will be studying. Taking small chunks or pieces of subject will help them feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
Although they may get a calendar from their commercial bar review, since they are repeaters, I ask them to create their calendar based on their individual priorities and needs. They may need to spend more time memorizing, or more time on a particular subject, or they may need to concentrate their time on essay writing practice. In multistate jurisdictions, some students may need to devote more time to the MBE questions than the written portion or vice versa. Yes, they need to study every subject and they need to practice within every subject, but I want their schedule to reflect the specific needs we have diagnosed.
In addition to creating a calendar outlining their study schedule, I ask them to infuse a few “rewards” into their daily or weekly routines. For some, a reward will be time for an exercise class or a run around the lake. For others, it will be enjoying happy hour with friends on a Friday night. For students with children, it is carving out time to suit the needs of their family. It is a mistake to leave these soul- filling, stress releasing activities off of their schedules. Plus, when a productive environment with sufficient break time is created, the student is less likely to procrastinate.
Before they leave my office, the reality is that I may never see them again, so I not only try to get them to make a plan, I also try to get them to make a deal. The deal is that they commit to passing the exam this time around. While this seems like a simple statement, the ripple effect is powerful. They have made a conscious decision in my presence to begin again and declare their ability to pass. Now, they are ready, they are empowered, and they are equipped with the tools to help them succeed.
Best wishes to all of the repeater exam takers this coming February!
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I know this title sounds like a new Hollywood apocalyptic action film; but, it is not. Instead, this is the next step that I suggest repeat bar examinees take in their journey to passing the bar exam. Once these grads have processed their emotions regarding their bar results, they are ready to look toward the future.
Diagnosing weaknesses from their past exam is helpful so that they know how to effectively structure their study schedule for the upcoming exam. I read through their essays and look for accurate and complete issue identification, errors or law, and their use of key facts in their analysis. (The WA bar exam is currently essay-only.) I also pay close attention to their organizational framework and approach to each essay. I find that students with weak organization likely did not write enough practice essays. Or, they wrote practice essays during bar review; but, they either did not write the essays under testing conditions (closed-book and timed) or they did not evaluate their essays after writing them. I ask them to assess how they studied for the bar the first time and to think about ways they could improve their routine.
Delivering tough love is also a necessary part of this process. Sometimes delivering tough love along with pointing out their imperfections is too much for them to take in one sitting. One must tread lightly and gauge emotional stability when dealing with repeat bar exam takers. While you may hear Aaron Neville crooning the song “Tell it Like It Is” in the back of your mind, these repeat exam takers may not be prepared mentally to hear what you have to say. If you recognize that they have not already reached a level of acceptance with their results, they may not be ready to move forward with the rest of the meeting.
However, it is counterproductive to merely tell these grads what they want to hear. They are in my office for my honest opinion about what they did wrong and how they can remedy those defects. Thus, I offer constructive criticism and try to deliver it with a spoonful of sugar (…it helps the medicine go down). As mentioned in my earlier post, I always have a basket full of chocolate nearby and that seems to help.
Likely, there are high points in their exam file. I focus first on a good example or concentrate on a higher scored essay. Then, I move to an essay that may need more work. By evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, they have a better understanding of which features to maintain and which to change. In recognizing their strengths; they build confidence. In understanding their weaknesses, they build up their determination and resilience, which they will need in order to move forward.
Together, once we have diagnosed the flaws in their past exam and identified their strengths, I instruct them to put that exam away and stop thinking about it. They can no longer change what happened during that 2 day exam. It was a snapshot in their life, which will be filled with a million more. In order to move forward, one must let go of the past. It is time for them to destroy their self-doubt. It is time for them to destroy the negativity around their past experience. They cannot make a new plan without first destroying any uncertainty that they have in their ability to pass.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Sian Beilock, Associate Professor of Psychology at The University of Chicago and author of Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveals About Getting It Right When You Have To. The lecture focused on the science of why individuals choke under pressure and how to best avoid performance anxiety. While the lecture did not focus on the stress applicants feel taking the bar exam, it was wholly applicable.
When pressure and anxiety to perform is high (like the bar exam), the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our working memory, focuses on the anxiety instead of recollecting essential information for successful performance. When a student is filled with too much anxiety, regardless of their aptitude, the anxiety interferes with their thought process and almost turns off their working memory to anything other than the stress of the event. This is why we often see highly intelligent and capable students perform below expectations in testing situations.
There are several ways to help students avoid this prefrontal cortex reaction. One, which is often employed by commercial bar reviews, is taking practice tests under timed conditions. These simulations help the brain overcome stress and will likely prevent students from “choking” during their actual test because they have established coping mechanisms to deal with their stress. Therefore, during the real test, they can practically operate on autopilot without stress interfering with their working memory.
Additionally, positive self-talk is an important aspect of testing success. Professor Beilock suggests that writing about your stress for ten minutes before an exam will free working memory. This cognitive function can instead be applied to performing well on the exam.
The simple act of acknowledging fear and stress prior to taking the bar exam could make the difference between passing and failing. I have told each of my students, especially those struggling with intense testing anxiety, to try the writing exercise each morning of the bar exam. I am hopeful that it will calm their fears and help them reach their highest potential next week.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
As the various bar review courses get under way, I wanted to list some of the common mistakes that I see graduates make in their bar preparation:
- Decide to save money and not take a bar review course.
- Coast the first few weeks and lose valuable time in their preparation.
- Look for shortcuts rather than smart strategies: shortcuts undermine learning while smart strategies increase learning.
- Lose their common sense: they do not evaluate what is or is not working in their studying and make adjustments as needed.
- Completely ignore studying for some portions of the bar exam because they are worth less in the weighting (examples: MPT or state evidence/procedure section).
- Go overboard on studying and exhaust themselves before they get to the exam itself.
- Avoid doing lots of practice questions because their percentages are low initially.
- Spend too much time on non-bar-preparation interests: going on a cruise, planning a wedding, remodeling a house, perfecting their abs, training for a marathon (all of these are real-life examples).
- Waste time on e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other electronic distractions.
- Work part-time or full-time while preparing for the bar.
- Focus on doom and gloom and convince themselves that they will fail so that they fulfill that prophesy.
- Lack a support group while they are studying for the bar: other bar studiers can encourage one another, answer questions, and keep each other accountable.
- Lose sleep, eat junk food, give up exercise, depend too much on sugar and caffeine: a healthy lifestyle is essential to successful bar preparation.
Best wishes to all of our graduates who are starting their bar exam preparation. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, May 25, 2012
At the end of the semester, students often ask me if they should begin their bar preparation prior to the official start date of their commercial bar review course. Little did they know, my answer to this question is quite lengthy. I do not have a simple response because every student has unique needs and varying circumstances.
Some students should get started studying for the bar exam directly after graduation because the earlier they get started, the easier bar prep will be for them during the summer. These students may have struggled with essays writing, IRAC format, memorization, or simply take longer than most to grasp the law. If they do know how to get started, they should discuss their needs with their commercial bar prep provider or their Academic Support team. Since most bar prep courses have online components (lectures, workshops, MBE practice etc.), it easy to begin studying before your scheduled course begins.
Some students finish law school feeling completely exhausted and totally drained. Unlike the students who need to begin bar study early, these students really need a break after graduation. Using the week or two interim between graduation and bar review to renew, recharge, and refresh is the best way for them to ensure success during their bar prep. Not everyone will be lucky enough to spend a week in an exotic destination or on the beach, but even taking a short break from their daily academic routine is just what the doctor ordered.
For both groups of students, it is a great time to get organized. They should create a positive study environment by clearing clutter and cleaning out their living space. They should buy a large paper desk calendar and add the classes for their summer bar review schedule and any essential items or events that they are unable to delegate or eliminate over the summer. Seeing what their life will look like on paper will help ease the shock.
While calendaring, it is easy for students to fall into the trap of filling every second with bar study. Instead, prior to bar review, I encourage students to think of a few ways to find respite from their upcoming, countless hours in the library. Joining a yoga class, carving out time for a date night, or sitting in the sun with friends for a few hours a week can be hugely beneficial. If students plan and calendar these breaks and treat them like a reward for their hard work, they are more likely to stave off distractions during their study time. While I am the first one to tell them that they need to devote 10+ hours a day to studying for the bar exam, I am also a huge proponent of finding balance. (Lisa Young)
Monday, May 14, 2012
The Two Most Common Bar Exam “Confidence Traps” and How You Can Avoid Them
By Ronald D. Dees
Building and maintaining a healthy confidence level is an important component to overall bar exam preparation. There are typically two “Confidence Traps” that cause examinees to be at risk of performing poorly on the bar exam. Students can either be so paranoid about failing that they lose confidence and literally allow their fears to overwhelm them, or on the other end of the spectrum a student can be too confident and thereby underestimate the level of preparation necessary to be successful. By knowing the traits of students who typically fall victim to these “Confidence Traps,” you can evaluate your bar exam confidence level in order to avoid falling into the traps.
The most common confidence trap is the “paranoia trap.” This student is the one who allows his lack of confidence to overwhelm him. The causes of the lack of confidence can be many things. Perhaps the student performed somewhat poorly in law school, or for some reason just does not feel like he can handle the stress and difficulty of preparing for the bar exam.
The key to success for students who lack confidence for any reason is to develop a study plan designed to build confidence through self-assessment and feedback.
If you find yourself in this category, know that you are not alone and the best way to overcome these feelings is to construct a study plan that will help you build a healthy confidence level over time. Doing so will cause you to reach a point where you will know in your heart and mind that you are ready to perform well on exam day.
Many bar takers lack confidence and almost everyone feels overwhelmed by the volume of material they are presented with during bar preparation. Don’t allow such feelings to defeat you. First of all, you must remind yourself that no one gets every question correct or writes perfectly edited script on the bar exam. Secondly, everyone who has ever taken the bar exam felt like they could have used a few more days or weeks to prepare. No student can possibly know “all” of the law. However, if you prepare diligently, on exam day you should feel that you are as well prepared as anyone else in the room and are probably prepared better than most. That feeling itself is a great confidence booster.
Self-assessment and feedback are the keys to building a healthy level of confidence. Throughout your bar preparation, track your progress as you improve on your MBE test questions and take note as you succeed in memorizing more and more law. Write essays and turn them in to someone in your school’s Bar Services or Academic Support Program for review and feedback. If your school does not have such a program, find a professor who is willing to look at your essays and give you feedback.
Another facet of avoiding the paranoia trap is to make a study plan that you feel confident about. It should be one that you know will work for you based on your past success. Stick to your plan, work hard, and work smart. Identify the things you have done in the past that were not helpful or were detrimental to your studying or study habits, and eliminate those things. Constantly assess your plan and be willing to get rid of things that are not working and do more of the things that are working well for you. Keep in mind that you don’t have to have the best score on the bar exam, you just have to pass. However, you want to prepare like you are trying to earn an A, so that even if you have a bad day, you can still be confident that you are capable of scoring a C and passing the exam.
Not as common, but still worth discussing are those bar takers who fall into the “overconfidence trap.”
The student who may fall into this trap underestimates the difficulty, complexity, and demands of proper bar exam preparation. This student typically self identifies as very intelligent and falls into one of two personality types. She may have been either a top-of-the-class “Law Journal Type,” or she was what I refer to as the “Voluntary Under-Achiever.”
The key to success for both of the above types of students is to develop a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam.
The Law Journal Type thinks to herself, “I am one of the top law students in my class, so passing the bar exam is not going to be a problem for me. I will study for it a little, but I am smart enough to pass the bar exam without much real effort. I mean, after all, it is just a test of minimal competency. No problem for a smart girl like me.”
The Voluntary Under-Achiever has trouble staying devoted to studying and typically does just enough to get by. She is smart and knows it. After all she was smart enough to make it through law school with average or above average grades while putting forth only moderate effort. She thinks to herself, “I am a smart girl and I pretty much skated through law school with no problem, so I can do the same on the bar exam. I’ll put in a few hours of study time here and there and maybe cram a little just before the exam, but I don’t need to study for hours and hours, day after day, week after week. I never had to study that way in college or law school and I still passed, so the bar exam should be no different.”
Both of the above types of students need to develop a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam. If you fit into either of these personality types, you need to realize early on that the bar exam is a lot like law school finals, except that it is about five to ten times as difficult. You see, final exams in law school are usually tested over a two week period and you may even have some time to prepare between tests. Furthermore, you typically take four or five classes per semester, so you only have to prepare for four or five legal subjects. Also, many times one or two classes might be a “paper class” where turning in a paper is the final, and one or two classes might also have an open book exam. So, you actually only have to memorize the law for one to three subjects to prepare for finals.
On the bar exam, you will need to memorize the rules of law for 15 to 20 subject areas depending on what is tested in your state. Thus, it will take five to ten times as much work to prepare for the exam as it did to prepare for finals. If you spent three to four weeks preparing for finals, you would need thirty to forty weeks to prepare for the bar if preparing at the same pace that you used in law school. Now, obviously you don’t have that many weeks between graduation and the bar exam, so you are going to have to devote more time per day and per week to studying for the bar than you did in law school, even though you are really smart. Otherwise, you risk being poorly prepared and having an unsuccessful result on the exam.
Developing a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam will help you avoid falling into the overconfidence trap and will motivate you to develop and stick to a study schedule that reflects the time commitment necessary to properly prepare.
In conclusion, the key to this success for all students is to balance a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam with the confidence that comes from being well prepared on exam day. You can allow that healthy respect to motivate you to prepare properly, and in turn, knowing that you are well prepared will help you maintain your level of confidence, reduce stress, and improve your performance on exam day.