July 21, 2011
The Final Stretch
The last week of bar exam preparation is upon us. While everyone studying for the bar exam will need to spend their precious last days slightly differently,all bar applicants need to focus on staying positive and prioritizing their individual study needs. One size does not fit all. Here are a few helpful tips to assist those in their final bar study stretch this summer.
- Make a plan for your last week and stick to it. Prioritize your weaker subjects and/or the sections of the exam that are most difficult for you. Try to gain a minimum level of competency in each subject area and on each section of the exam.
- Clear all non-essential tasks from your schedule. If it does not involve essay writing, MPT practice, or MBE review, do not do it.
- However, it is best to incorporate some physical activity into your day even if it is a just a short, brisk walk. Leave the library or your study area to get some fresh air at least a few times a day.
- Remember that memorization is necessary but without practice, memorization is futile. Memorize, practice, and evaluate your progress.
- Remain positive! Tell yourself daily or even hourly that you can do this. Find strategies to stop negative thoughts. Think about prior graduates who passed on their first attempt, think about all of the long hours you have put into your study, and, most importantly, believe in yourself. Repeat out-loud: "I will pass the bar!"
- Although nothing seems balanced right now, try to maintain a balanced diet. Make good food choices and stay away from the empty calories. Load up on protein and stay hydrated. This will help you stay focused, give you lasting energy, and keep you healthy for your big week.
- Spend 12-14 hours each day studying but do not forget to take care of yourself. Sleep is essential. Do not miss out on the regenerative power of a good nights sleep to learn more about the rule against perpetuities.
- Ask for help when you need it. There are many resources available to you. From friends and family to your law school and bar prep, everyone is invested and committed to helping you achieve success on the bar exam. Reach out, we are here to help!
July 12, 2011
The Dog Days of Bar Preparation
The 4th of July is over. Students have now been studying for the bar exam for at least a month and a half, and they still have weeks to go. Students are tired, and there isn't a break in sight. These are the dog days of bar prep. Many parts of the country are in a heat wave, which means beaches and pools beckon even devoted students.
It is important to keep students going through the dog days of bar prep. Encouragement and strategically timed breaks are critical.
1) Encourage students to mix up their study routines to keep things fresh. It's easy to get bored of bar prep.If they haven't been using flash cards, they should try them now. Study in a different room. Students who try novel ways to mix up their routine recall information better than students who stick with only one method.
2) Breaks are encouraged, but should not be abused. Students need to understand they don't want to peak before the actual exam. If they feel like they are at their very best right now, they need to slow it down. Many super-achievers focus too hard, too soon, and are burnt out before the bar. That is not good.
3) Expect a dip in performance for a week or so. Everyone goes through a period where their progress feels stalled, and they can't find the focus to keep going. It's important to realize that a dip in performance on practice questions is okay if they are still studying.
4) Have an ice cream social for bar studiers, or a movie night that reminds them of why they want to be licensed. Sponsor a night of Legally Blonde or To Kill a Mockingbird. Remind them of why they are putting themselves through this. If money is an issue at your school, ask the development office to sponsor the event. This may be one of the law students last contacts with the school.
5) Shopping should not be a bar prep relaxation technique. This is something I have heard more about recently, in light of the economic challenges facing many law students. Students cannot afford to use shopping as a release, even if they have a job lined up after the bar.
Good luck to all my colleagues who are helping students prepare for bar exams! (RCF)
June 30, 2011
Gearing students up for bar prep
I haven't worked on bar prep for a couple of years, but I speak to many colleagues at other law schools who spend most of their summer working with alumni on preparing for the bar exam.This is a short list of recommendations based on what I have heard from colleagues and my own experience preparing students for the bar exam:
1) Never take the bar exam "for practice"
Look at the bar exam for what it is--THE bar exam. Students who worry about anxiety getting in the way of performance sometimes tell themselves they will take it once "for practice" to become acquainted with the exam. However, this can lead them to sloppy study techniques. I hope this attitude becomes more rare with the changes in the economy. Students do themselves a disservice when they try to alleviate anxiety by telling themselves they can take it again, because it removes ALL the pressure. Some pressure to perform is good, because it focuses study. There is a middle ground between paralyzing anxiety and dismissing the exam as practice. Students should focus on that middle ground.
2) Don't let practice tests scare you--let them guide your study
Early practice exams frequently come back marked up with significant suggestions. Students need to realize that they have time to fix the errors. Making mistakes in May and June does NOT mean they are not ready to take the bar exam. It usually means they need more focused practice on the areas that are difficult for them. Don't let students give up if they are struggling.
3) Practice your writing under timed conditions
Some students will take practice exams without the time constraints to test how much they know. This is a mistake because it gives them a false sense of confidence. It does not help a student if they know all the law, but it takes them too long to recall it. Knowledge of the law is critical, but being able to recall the law accurately while under pressure is essential to bar exam success.
4) Stay away from gimmicks
Oh, the gimmicks. There are too many to list. Students hear all about how to "game" the test, strategies to do well on one part and ignore another, or spend disproportionate amounts of time on some area of the law. I am not talking about smart studying based on examination of long-term trends on the exam, which is valid and helpful. I am referring to the word-of-mouth, unsubstantiated gimmicks that students hear about from people who took the bar decades ago, or from friends-of-friends-of-friends. These gimmicks almost always lead to problems. Studying for the bar exam is, for the most part, straightforward. Students need to know the law. Students need to be able to perform under timed conditions.
5) Don't over-study and burn out before the exam
Another tactic of students with exam anxiety is to study 12-14 hours a day, every day, and plan to keep up that schedule for over two months. It is not realistic that your mind or body can maintain that type of schedule. Focused, meaningful study, with breaks and time to enjoy life, is the path the success. It's all about balance. Overstudying means that by the time the exam comes, students won't have the stamina necessary for a 2-3 day test.
6) Don't beat yourself up over minor slip-ups in bar prep
Just like in life, stuff happens. You get sick. You just have a bad couple of days when you can't focus. Your car breaks down and you spend all day waiting for the mechanic to tell you what is wrong. While a bar prep schedule is critical, be sure that the study plan is flexible enough to accommodate life. If something throws the bar prep schedule off course, just get back to the schedule and plan to make up what was missed a little bit at a time, until it's all covered.
7) Don't talk to anyone about the exam during breaks or after it is finished
It is tempting for students on exam day to rehash what was difficult. DON'T LET THEM DO IT! It will freak them out and make them think they failed the exam. What is done is done. There is no point in rehashing the exam, because it leads to unnecessary anxiety.
May 27, 2011
Working Nine to Five
Many students have the notion that studying for the bar exam is a nine to five venture. “Just like a full-time job…” is what they tell me. There are two major flaws in their understanding. First, am I really the first one to clue them in to the fact that practicing law is not a nine to five gig? Do they truly think that they will be home nightly by 5:30? Sadly, some still believe that they will have more time on their hands when they are working full-time practicing law than they did in law school. I briefly enlighten them to the realities associated with the practice of law but then I focus on a more imminent concern- their bar exam preparation.
Since my main function is to lead them on a path to success on the bar exam, I first need to wipe away any misunderstandings that they may have about the exam or the process of studying for it. Urban myths regularly seep into the law student’s psyche gnawing at their self confidence and challenging their fortitude. Debunking these myths and separating fact from fiction is a strategic starting point as I gradually replace their vision of a nine to five schedule with a more realistic nine to nine one.
For example, end of semester conferences just wrapped up with my Bar Exam Skills Lab students. We have fifteen minutes in which to discuss a myriad of issues. Discussions range from how do I pay for my bar prep class, to how do I study, to lessons in IRAC. But repeatedly the question du jour was, “How long do I really need to study each day during bar prep? Nine-five should really be enough, right?” I was not shocked the first time I heard this but after a few dozen conferences and many similar sentiments, I knew I had some work to do.
First I must ask, is this generational? Unlike many of my students, when I was preparing for the bar exam I understood that my life (my complete existence) would be devoted to bar prep during the summer after graduation. I knew lazy mornings with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, sunny days filled with berry picking and beach-combing, and long weekend camp-outs would be impossible given the shear amount of work ahead of me. For current students (my California dreamers), it was time for me to deliver a cold, harsh wake-up call.
During one of my last classes of the semester, I discussed how to create an action plan for bar exam success. With years of experience helping students through this process and the many useful ideas from the textbook I use, PASS THE BAR by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz , I formulated a snapshot view into the life of a bar student. What an eye opener these soon to be bar takers! Most were shocked by the intensity and length of time necessary to adequately study for the exam. But overall, they were grateful to know how they should be spending their time this summer.
By knowing what to expect and establishing a routine before bar prep begins, students increase their likelihood of success on the bar exam. By heading off procrastination before it starts, delegating unnecessary tasks when necessary, and taking all non-essential items off their calendars, students will free their time and their mind from needless worry.
While their focus this summer is studying, I also encourage them to balance their bar prep with their personal needs. Reminding students that sufficient sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise are priorities seems a bit paternalistic but I have found that gentle prompting is always welcomed and needed. Balancing and prioritizing our needs and responsibilities is difficult (for all of us). However with careful planning and advanced scheduling, students should still be able to stay healthy, connect with their loved ones, and have some down time while studying for the bar. Although bar prep is not a “nine to five gig”, “it’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”[i]. Instilling confidence in your students and teaching prudent time management strategies should make the bar prep process more manageable and less unpredictable.
[i]Parton, Dolly. “9-5.” 9-5 and Odd Jobs. RCA, 1980
May 18, 2011
Thoughts on the dreaded curve
I am going to get meta here and refer to two other blogs writing about something we have blogged about (I think?) and we have talked about in the ASP community. The Faculty Lounge links to Prawfsblog and work by Ethan Leib on mandatory grading curves. Dan Filler comments on something many of us have encountered in ASP; if a student is in the bottom of the class with a 3.0, they can't see they need help. If that same student has a 2.4 (or 2.0) it is a different story; students intrinsically know this a problematic GPA.
Years ago, I encountered this phenomenon with a student with roughly a 2.9/3.0. The student was furious that s/he had to meet with me. S/he was certain she was not struggling, although s/he was in the bottom 10 in the class. S/he was on a journal (one that accepted everyone who applied and had a passing grade in their Legal Writing course). S/he went on to tell me s/he had graduated from high school at 16, graduated at the top of s/her college, and the law school was making a mistake. I spoke with a few faculty members after the meeting, who had a similar experience with the students--the student was deeply in denial, and angry at anyone who tried to confront the problem. I recently saw a link to the student (now alumni) profile on a business networking site, and it appears s/he to be struggling to find work. It also appears that s/he did not take or pass a bar exam, or chose not to list bar passage in their profile.
Would it have helped if the student was at a school with a more harsh curve? I don't know the answer to that. It may have been easier for me to show the student they were in trouble. I think the curve has some pernicious effects on student motivation, collegiality, and morale. But an "easy" curve, such as one that doesn't require grades lower than a B-, may be worse than no curve at all. It lulls students into a false sense of their own competence. A C is a shock to the system in a way that a B- doesn't appear to be.
I don't want this post to sound like I am suddenly a fan of mandatory curves. I actually think they should be abolished. What is happening at many schools, in response to the jobs crisis, is artificial inflation of grades that defeats the purpose of a curve AND hurts students who need extra support. I recieve an email from a former student at least once a week asking for help finding a job; I understand the problem. But I don't think the answer, at least from an ASP standpoint, is to ease the curve and bring students false hope about their prospects and needs. (RCF)
April 20, 2011
Unusual fonts may aid in learning
Helpful tips for students:
1) We learn better from re-working the material.
This piece of gold is hidden on the second page of the article. It's saying what we have said in ASP for ages; reading a canned outline, or memorizing the outline of a 2L who booked the course, will not increase learning. Re-working your own notes into an outline will help you learn the material.
2) Try one of the unusual font types for your outline.
"Think of it this way, you can’t skim material in a hard to read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully"
3) We overestimate our own ability.
One of the great lessons from law school exams: if you feel like you nailed it, you probably didn't. The material you are being asked to learn and apply on a law school exam is difficult and complicated. The majority of exams you will encounter as a law student have more complications and nuanced issues than you have time to answer. You should feel as if you didn't hit everything. If you feel like you knew everything on the exam, you probably oversimplified the issues.
4) We all take shortcuts. We all forget we take shortcuts.
Students should always take practice exams before finals. Actually taking the exam is important. Many students will read the fact pattern, "answer it in their head" or take a couple of notes, and then read the model answer. This is more harmful than helpful. Students will unconsciously overestimate what they understood if they have not taken the test and written a complete answer. This gives them a false sense of confidence. Students need to take a cold, hard look at what they understood and what they missed. the best strategy is to take the practice test under timed conditions with a study group, and correct answers as a group. This gives students a chance to discuss what they did not understand. It's easy to lie to ourselves, it's harder to lie to a group.
Summary of the article:
"Concentrating harder. Making outlines from scratch. Working through problem sets without glancing at the answers. And studying with classmates who test one another." These are the keys to learning more efficiently and effectively. (RCF)
February 23, 2011
Bar Applications: Deadlines, Disclosures, and Determinations
Even though I teach a two credit class to 3Ls for early bar preparation, as Director of the Bar Studies Program at Seattle U, I also need to make sure that students unable (or unwilling) to take my class get the same important information regarding the bar exam before they graduate. Therefore, I provide several workshops during spring semester introducing them to the bar exam and the bar application process.
As weknow, the bar exam application process is time consuming and can pose significant challenges for some students. However, without our prodding, some students do not realize this until the eleventh hour. In light of the AALS presentation “Character and Fitness: To Disclose or Not to Disclose, That is the Question” and the ensuing discussion regarding our role as academic support professionals and the counseling we give to students, it seems necessary for all schools to adopt a similar workshop revolving exclusively around the bar application process.
While meeting with every 3L to discuss their bar application is nearly impossible, holding a short workshop for all 3Ls is easily doable and accomplishes the same goal. Providing accurate information regarding the application process and deadlines and conveying the importance of full disclosure, serve several objectives. Students will be more apt to meet the application deadlines (and not line up outside your office the day they are due), feel supported by their law school during this somewhat tedious process (a good way to end their law school career), and to understand that professional ethics is not just a class they took their second or third year of law school (instead they are standards by which they will be called to live by…starting now). Above all, students in attendance with additional questions or past indiscretions will know whether to schedule a one on one appointment to discuss their application further.
Essentially, the best advice we can give our students is to be open and honest when completing their bar application. During the AALS presentation, Margaret Fuller Corneille, Director of the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners, stated that successful applicants are candid, show no malice when mistakes are made on their law school/bar exam applications, accept responsibility for their past conduct, and show that they have made positive social contributions. Bar Associations act at as “Gate Keepers” to the legal profession. In this capacity, they are determining whether an applicant has the ability to handle the responsibilities of being a lawyer. Instilling the notion that candor on their applications reflects on their present moral character is crucial.
Our role as educators in this process is significant. However, this role may vary depending on how you define your purpose and what your institution determines to be their responsibility. Questions presented by Susan Saab Fortney, Interim Dean and Professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law, at the AALS presentation are good starting points as you (and your institution) consider how to characterize this role. I have paraphrased some of Professor Fortney’s thoughtful questions below.
- Are we partners with the bar associations when it comes to character and fitness determinations?
- Should law schools be “Gate Keepers” to the profession?
- Should we be concerned with our law school’s reputation regarding the character and fitness of our students?
- Should law schools take the “ostrich approach” with the character and fitness issues of their students?
While all valid and though provoking, some of us may have differing opinions as to whether we should squarely align ourselves with the bar associations or whether our main goal is to be a “gate keeper” to the profession. David Baum, Assistant Dean in the Office of Student Affairs at Michigan Law School and a member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Standing Committee on Character and Fitness, raised equally compelling issues at AALS that uniquely influence our perspective regarding these bar application disclosures. He acknowledged that in our roles as educators, it would be difficult to engage in open conversations with our students if we were required to disclose every detail discussed within said conversations. He further stated, that these conversations are the vehicles by which we deliver sound advice and help shape the personal and professional development of our students. In turn, as Dean Baum points out, if we are obligated to disclose these details, a negative chilling effect could result and students in need of support, advice, and possibly further professional help may not reach out for it.
Contemplating the questions posed and viewpoints presented during the AALS presentation, as well as, considering your state bar’s requirements and your institution’s policies, should help you create a helpful and informative bar application workshop for your students. During the workshop, I walk through the application and instructions while pointing out areas where students typically have detailed questions or concerns. For example: how to request an accommodation; how to list past traffic infractions/citations/criminal charges or convictions, and how to disclose treatment for mental impairment or alcohol or drug dependency.
Although carrying this out in a group setting can be challenging, I have found that the group dynamic diffuses the potential stigma that a student may feel as a result of an affirmative answer to one of these questions listed on the bar application. Once again, this workshop opens up the opportunity for students to see me as a trustworthy resource and to understand the importance of taking this step seriously. I believe there is a way to be a dedicated advocate and guide for our students while maintaining the integrity of the legal profession…finding that middle ground is up to you or your institution to determine.
October 22, 2010
Report from the LSAC Regional Workshop: Building a Bar Program
The recent LSAC regional workshop, “Building a Bar Program” was filled with useful information regarding every aspect of law school bar preparation programs.
The agenda included:
Carlota Toledo’s virtual presentation via Skype: “Using Skype to Reach Out of State Bar Takers”
Courtney Lee’s presentation: “Building a Continuum of Academic Support”
My Bar Exam Related Work in Progress: "Legitimizing and Integrating Bar Preparation Programs"
Laurie Zimet’s presentation: “Diversity in the Profession”
Twinette Johnson’s presentation: “An Introduction to Program Design: Convincing Your Faculty that a Program is Valuable and Viable”
Jennifer Carr’s presentation: “The Voluntary Third Year Program”
Barbara McFarland’s presentation: “The For-Credit Program”
Odessa Alm’s presentation: “The Post Graduation Program”
Paula Manning’s presentation: “Psychology and Stereotype Threat”
Lessons in a Box:
Chris Ide-Don’s lesson on “Multiple Choice Exams”
Russell McClain’s lesson on “Performance Exams”
Dan Weddle’s lesson on “Essay Exam Writing"
Mary Lu Bilek’s presentation: “Defining Success: Evaluating and Improving Your Program”
As you can see by the list of presenters, we were graced by a stellar group of ASP veterans. The conference was useful for ASPers looking to add bar preparation elements to their academic support program, create a new bar support program or enhance a current bar support program at their school. Although I gained many new insights from the presentations, the most important take away from the two day conference for me personally was the feeling of camaraderie, encouragement, collaboration and support that was apparent in every presentation, interaction and discussion.
Additionally, this conference provided me with my first opportunity to present. I greatly benefited from the process of preparing my presentation and the constructive feedback I was given during my presentation. Presenting a work in progress is an interesting and appealing endeavor. The “work in progress” or article is not complete (or possibly even started), you may have some ideas stewing but do not have concrete conclusions per se, and you have endless possible directions that your article may take. Essentially, this incredible flexibility allows you to safely go out on limb.
Once I came to grips with the fact that my work in progress was still just a work in progress and not a polished finished product, I could focus on what I wanted to gain from my session. New insights, a critique of my current ideas, comments on organization and structure, and suggestions for expansion or narrowing were a few of my goals. Not only were those goals met, but a thoughtful discussion of my topic (Legitimizing and Integrating Bar Preparation Programs and Techniques into the Broader Law School Curriculum) ensued. More importantly, with every raise of a hand or comment given, I felt overwhelming support for my article but really that support was for me.
My initial nervousness faded as I fully engaged with a truly dynamic group of individuals. As Mihaly Csiksezentmihalyi would characterize it, I was experiencing “flow”. Not everyone agreed with my initial thoughts, many even played the role of devil ’s advocate by challenging my premise, ideas and research, but I remained focused and motivated in a strangely euphoric state. Wow, it was fun!
I write this post not to exalt my article or draw attention to my presentation. Instead, I write this post to encourage everyone to take advantage of such opportunities in the future. When you see, “Call for Proposals”, in an email subject line, do not automatically hit the delete key. If you are excited to present or publish but do not know where to start, simply ask! Ask someone at your school that you respect, ask someone you admire that has presented or published a piece that has inspired you, ask through the ASP list serve, or ask me.
There are increasingly more opportunities to advance your scholarly ideas or innovative teaching techniques. Although many of us are too busy to even keep up with our daily work schedules, you should not let finding the time hold you back. The benefits you reap from presenting, writing, or researching far out weigh the burden it may place on your schedule. In addition, the support and encouragement is a great confidence boost. Find your “flow” and go out on a limb, you won’t regret the experience.
Many thanks to LSAC, Kent Lollis, and the planning committee(Odessa Alm, Hillary Burgess, Paula Manning, and Russell McClain), for the Topical Conference and for giving me the opportunity to present my work in progress.
July 26, 2010
Countdown to the Bar Exam: The Final Chapter
On the eve of the bar exam, many students are either excited and want to get the bar over with in order to put what they know into practice or they are still wishing that they had a few more days (or weeks) to study. Either way, the exam is imminent. Remaining calm and getting proper rest are crucial components for bar students this week.
As this chapter of bar review folds into the final chapter of academic legal study and culminates with the bar exam, it clearly marks a definitive rite of passage. Current bar takers, like thousands before them, will ride the metaphoric roller coaster this week with intense highs (“Wow, I aced the Contract's essay!”) and intense lows (“Oh @%&#, I forgot to use the cases in the MPT library!”). Along with gaining their license to practice law, they will now be able to relate to this distinct and enigmatic collective experience of taking the bar exam.
While anxious, sleep deprived and emotionally drained, bar takers draw upon something deeper to invoke their self-efficacy and find their inner strength to endure this final segment of their long bar review saga. As I ponder their state of mind, a haiku I recently read with my daughter seems fitting. This poem illustrates and captures the feeling that most bar takers have felt in the last few days of their review.
Thick fog lifts---
Unfortunately, I am where
I thought I was
The clarity that comes during the last days of bar review does not alleviate the sheer dread that most students still feel. They remain students about to take the bar exam with their futures in their hands. They have arrived at one of the most significant experiences in their lifetimes and are embarking on the official start of their legal career.
However, happy endings take a few months to determine. In the fall, when bar takers receive the much anticipated packet of materials from the bar association congratulating them on passing the bar exam, their bar exam saga will truly end. For now, I wish them luck, legal fluency and patient attention to detail.
July 14, 2010
Countdown to the Bar Exam: The Heartache and Challenge
The Bar Exam Saga Continues… As predicted, the heartache and challenge has begun for students studying for this summer’s bar exam. Their enthusiastic fervor has morphed into sleepless nights filled with anxiety laden nightmares and horrifically long days packed with lectures, memorization and practice bar questions. Students that heeded early warnings and sage advice from their bar providers and Professors remain steadily focused but understandably not completely carefree. No one is able to escape the overwhelming and foreboding sensation that studying for the bar exam produces.
At this point in bar review, most students have adopted a practical study routine and daily approach. Lecture attendance, while some may feel is optional, should be taken seriously and strongly encouraged. Hearing the substantive law along with heavily tested legal issues and hypos provide valuable insight into the particular subject areas. For some students, bar lectures may be the first exposure to the law for several subject areas. Therefore, missing lectures can be detrimental to their studying.
Lectures typically only consist of three or four hours daily. Most students struggle during this middle phase of bar review with how to use the unstructured portion of their day. Some bar review providers give detailed pointers but not all. Because most students feel overwhelmed with the limited amount of time remaining in their day, it is difficult for them to determine how to best use their afternoons. Inundated with new material from the lectures, creating voluminous outlines, completing scores of MBE practice questions, writing numerous and varied MPT exercises and countless essays, students are challenged beyond what feels physically and mentally possible. This fog engulfs the logical, articulate and lucid precision they once possessed. Frankly with everything on their “to-do list”, students lose sight of their ultimate goal which is to learn the law and be able to show their knowledge.
Rallying around students to give them support and passing on strategic planning guidance is essential during this phase. There are many ways to manifest such support and guidance. Depending on the resources at your law school, you could hold a MBE, MPT and/or Essay Writing workshop, offer one-on-one appointments with students who seek out help or who fall into categories with the greatest risk of failing or provide lunch or another treat during their studies.
At Seattle University School of Law, we host an “End of Bar Review Lunch” to give students a celebratory kickoff to their independent review and provide them with a chance to ask for help if they need it. The SU Bar Studies Program also holds an essay writing workshop that includes a timed writing and review. Again, this increases the likelihood that students who need either a confidence boost or additional bar prep assistance will take advantage of such assistance before it is too late.
Ultimately, studying successfully for the bar exam is about making what seems unmanageable, manageable. Students do not need a laundry list of boxes to check on a checklist. Instead they need to ascertain what they have learned and mastered verses what they still need to perfect. Ask students at this phase to prioritize and evaluate their knowledge of each subject and their comfort level with each section of the exam. Determining strengths and weaknesses will help with study schedules, time management planning for the coming weeks and lessen anxiety while increasing their confidence. If a student knows that they struggle with multiple choice questions and this struggle is reflected in their scores on the practice tests, it is best to work on a better strategy for the MBE. Alternatively, if a student consistently scores low on the essays or performance tests, it is best for them to hone their writing techniques and practice to remedy those weaknesses.
Far too many students fall into the trap of blindly following a course of action provided by their commercial bar review without considering their individual needs. That said, bar review providers should not be ignored. Instead, students should use commercial bar prep calendars and study planning ideas as guidance while focusing on ways to address their specific and particular needs.
Their happily ever after ending is not quite in sight. The light is glimmering at the end of this tunnel of bar review but for many students it is but a shadowy intimation. However, encouraging students to maintain focus, identify their strengths and weaknesses and reduce their stress levels will illuminate this tunnel and enlighten their journey during the last few weeks of this bar review saga.
June 10, 2010
Countdown to the Bar Exam: The Bar Prep Saga
The countdown to the bar exam has begun for most 2010 law grads. They have had a chance to celebrate their graduation, visit with loved ones and hopefully relax a little. However, with the bar exam looming, it proves challenging to fully feel finished with their academic legal career until the bar exam is behind them.
Naturally bar review is the next step. Therefore, my next postings will provide bar support ideas for the distinct needs of students through each phase of bar review. I have divided bar review into three parts based on my observations of how students’ mood/attitude changes during the process. Since every student is unique, use this merely as a strategic guide and alter as needed based upon their individual needs.
The three phases of bar review can be analogized to the three basic parts of a story. Simply put: the beginning, middle and end. Or equated to the more complicated romance novel: the romance, the break-up and then finally the reunion or happily ever after ending. Or better yet to a grand epic: a mighty cause or purpose, a struggle or challenge and then ending with triumph and utter transformation from the journey.
In the Beginning… The Romance, Quest and Journey to Passing the Bar
Typically, the first part of a story or novel sets the stage and introduces the characters and the plot. This is the hook. It is what draws in the reader and forces them to continue reading. For bar review, this is the lead up to the first class and the introduction or orientation session. Students receive packets of information in the mail or via email in the days or weeks leading up to the start of their bar review. Some tear open the brown card board boxes as if it was their 8th birthday all over again; while others, leave them in a corner collecting dust until the final moment. But all of them begin thinking about what lies ahead.
During this beginning phase of their bar prep, many students eagerly anticipate their start date. Recently a few students confided in me that they are “excited” to get started with their bar prep classes and that it seems like bar review might even be “fun”. (This was not the norm when I took the bar 10 years ago and may not be long lived for them either.) Thus, the romance or epic quest has begun.
Although difficult to imagine anything about the bar exam being romantic, in a very real sense students have been bewitched by the bar for years. They are giddy with anticipation to see what bar review is like, they have sweaty palms and heart palpitations when they think about the test itself and they likely devote more time and attention to studying for the bar than they have anything else in their lifetime- including courting their true love.
That said, it is important to encourage students to make the most of this starry eyed and idealistic phase. Additionally, they have more energy and time now than they will later in the summer. Based upon my experience working with students during this tumultuous period, I have compiled ten guiding principles to help usher them into the early phase of bar review.
With these ten action points and guiding principles students should begin bar review on the right footing. On this quest for success on the bar exam, romance quickly turns to heartache and challenge. However, if students know what to expect and plan accordingly, passing the bar exam will be more easily achieved. I hope that in passing these strategies and pieces of advice on to your students this summer will alleviate some of their stress and improve their chances of success on the bar exam.
In the Beginning of Bar Prep:
1. Calendar everything! Efficient time management is crucial to being successful on the bar exam. Create a master calendar that records your lectures, essay and/or MPT and/or MBE practice time and what you will do with the limited free time that is left over. Be as detailed as possible with your calendar in order to beneficially use your time and realistically plan for your summer.
2. Delegate non-essential tasks! Hire a babysitter, dog walker and enlist another member of your household to assist with household chores. Delegate in order to free up more time in your day or week. Prioritize your responsibilities and let go of all unnecessary duties or chores. They will be there when the bar is over.
3. Discuss your desire to pass the bar with your family and friends. Letting your loved ones know how important passing the bar exam is to you and why you will not see much of them this coming summer will help you stay on track with your studying and garner more support from them when you need it most.
4. Arrange your travel plans and/or hotel stay. No, I do not mean booking your tickets to Cabo for a long weekend in July! Instead, make sure you book your hotel and/or flight so that you are near the bar exam testing location in your state. Hotels fill quickly and you do not want to be stuck commuting for your bar exam. (Also, ask for a fridge in your room. It will allow you to eat in and avoid the extra expense and potential tummy trouble of eating out for every meal.)
5. Review your state bar policies and rules. Review the security policies, bar association requirements and testing location rules so that you do not need to make last minute arrangements. Will you be able to use a laptop or must you handwrite? Can you use a MAC or do you need a PC? Are there restrictions on what you are allowed to wear or bring into the testing room? Find out!
6. Get healthy! Avoid late nights, bar hopping and poor food choices. It is time to eat smart so that you can think smart. Again, advance planning will help you stick to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. Incorporate exercise into your day. Reward yourself with a brisk walk, bike ride or yoga class. Countless studies show, not only that exercise boosts brain function, but exercise also promotes better sleep, improves mood and increases energy. These are all things you will need during your bar prep!
7. Apply for an accommodation If you are applying for a testing accommodation, make sure you know the requisite materials/documentation needed and the submission deadlines. Get started early since this can be a time consuming process.
8. Know thyself. Follow your bar review provider’s program, listen during your orientation to absorb the many nuggets of useful information and do your best to adhere to their schedule. HOWEVER, above all, listen to yourself! You know your strengths and weaknesses. You must learn the law and put it into practice but you may need to adapt your schedule to how you learn best. Be flexible and trust your instincts.
9. Seek additional help early! Everyone is stressed during bar review. However, you need to differentiate between stress and your need for academic/bar support. If you are missing a key piece of information, a strategy for the MBE or a critical essay writing technique, it is best to recognize this early in your bar prep and remedy it before you become overwhelmed in your review. First, approach your bar review provider. You paid a considerable amount of money for their expertise and individualized assistance is part of that fee. If they are unable to assist you, do not stop seeking help. Go to your Academic Support, Bar Support, or Dean of Students at your law school to see how they can assist. Last but not least, ask a friend or Law Professor.
10. Adopt a mantra: “I will pass the bar exam!” Remaining positive during your bar review will yield positive results. Use “post it” notes to wallpaper your life with encouraging affirmations, distance yourself from negativity or overly stressed out peers and feel confident that your commitment and hard work will pay off.
May 07, 2010
Quashing Unrealistic Expectations
End of semester conferences provide a good opportunity to have the much needed one-on-one communication with my bar skills students. Since class sizes are large, 40- 60 students per section, individual contact is hard to achieve regularly. Conferences give students the opportunity to ask the questions they were hesitant to ask during class and provide the chance for me to counsel, applaud and guide them as they move onto their graduation and bar review.
Typically, these conferences run the gamut. We discuss their performance in class and their essay writing on their simulated bar essays. But more importantly, I try to gauge their anxiety regarding the bar exam as compared to when they started the class. At the beginning of the semester, I require all students to fill out a questionnaire that I use to create a student profile and assess where they are and what work is ahead of me. To fully grasp their progress at the end of the semester, I review their personal questionnaires along with their final writing assignments before our conference.
Although brief, 15-30 minutes, the conferences are a great way for me to personally reach out to those students who need it most and give individualized attention to all of my students. These conferences also give me great insight into the mind of an almost grad. This spring I realized that quashing unrealistic expectations regarding what their summer will look like is also a necessary part of my conference time with these budding grads.
Startlingly I have heard the phrase, “Studying for the bar this summer is just a nine to five gig, right?” I was shocked to hear this the first time! To my surprise, I soon realized that dozens of students were under the same impression, bar review would actually take up less time than their law school studies. Who is spreading such a rumor? Who has greatly misrepresented the time commitment required for bar review?
My job, however difficult, is to quash this unrealistic expectation and set them on the path to success. Attending bar review lectures, memorizing the law and taking practice tests are fundamental to bar exam success but are all quite time consuming. Therefore, equally important, if not more so, is time management.
Most law school students have a solid grasp of time management strategies. As 3L’s, they have lived through first year sleep deprivation and Socratic hide the ball, being worked to death in their second year, and juggling multiple deadlines with their reading and work schedules during their third year. Ironically, however, after all three years, some of them still do not know how to productively use their time.
Efficiency and concerted effort is key to success on the bar exam. Attending daily lectures, synthesizing countless rules into manageable outlines or other memory devices and frequently taking numerous practice exams can only be achieved if a student knows how to effectively stay on task and easily move between each of them. Interruptions and procrastination will certainly occur. However, the successful bar review student will know how to overcome these classic distractions.
Since I play a part in their success on the bar exam, I first quash their unrealistic time expectations and then give them helpful tips to make it through this grueling period.
- Tip #1: Wake Up! Bar prep will take over your life for the summer! It is rarely, if ever, only a nine to five gig; in actuality, it takes at least 10-12 hours out of your day. I also advise them to use their time judiciously. Factoring in breaks, family and/or work commitments and exercise is essential.
- Tip #2: Manage Your Time! Calendar and micromanage all of the pieces of your review at the beginning of the summer before bar prep starts. By planning carefully, students will likely cover all of the requisite material, not leaving multiple subjects to cram into insufficient time right before the exam. Doing this advance planning will allow them to possess a semblance of control and sanity. Lastly, when considering time management, I ask them to think not only about what they need to study, but how they will study and where they will study. Choosing the right time and study location can make a considerable difference in their productivity.
- Tip #3 Self Regulate and Reflect Students know themselves best. Guide them to reflect on what has worked for them while studying for closed book law school exams and what has not been as successful. Remind them that if something is not working during bar review, they should seek help (from their bar review provider or ASP) and to feel self confident enough to change their study plan accordingly. They should be empowered by this process not fraught with worry. Being flexible and proactive yields positive results.
Coupling the jolting and daunting news of losing their summer to endless hours of studying for the bar, with concrete strategies to conquer the exam, will hopefully soften the blow. Selfishly, it may also limit the amount of students knocking at your door around the second week of July needing to be rescued from the mountain of work that accumulated as a result of their lack of time management. If we plan ahead, so can they…we just need to lead the way.
November 24, 2008
Writing Multiple-Choice Questions
Did you miss the e-mail on the ASP Listserv sent by Barbara McFarland regarding the NCBE handout on drafting rules for multiple-choice questions from Dr. Susan Case, Director of Testing for NCBE?
Several common techniques used by law professors in composing multiple-choice questions are specifically mentioned in the drafting rules. Dr. Case is currently working on an article for the Journal of Legal Education on this same topic. I know that all of us will be interested in reading the article when it is published.
You can read the PDF file for the Dr. Case's handout here: Download multiple_choice_drafting_guidelines_by_s_2. Case of NCBE.pdf . (Amy Jarmon)
October 14, 2008
Annotated Bibliography of Bar Exam Articles
On April 7, 2008, I reported on an annotated bibliography on bar examination articles. I am including the text of the original post below in case you are new to the blog and missed this item.
I would like to thank Joe Hodnicki of the Law Librarian Blog for the PDF file and the link. Hopefully, this added access will help those of you who have not been able to get a copy of the bibliography. (Amy Jarmon)
April 7, 2008: Annotated Bibliography of Bar Articles
Arturo Torres, Associate Dean of Law Library and Computing, at Texas Tech School of Law and Bryan J. Guymon, a second-year student at Texas Tech School of Law, have compiled a twenty-page annotated bibliography of articles from 1998 to 2007 that deal with the bar exam and admission to the bar. The article appears in the February 2008 issue of The Bar Examiner (Volume 77, Number 1).
Any ASP professionals who deal with bar exam issues will find this article valuable to their work.
September 22, 2008
Report from the Fall 2008 LSAC Bar Preparation Workshop
I have just returned from the Fall 2008 LSAC Bar Preparation Workshop held at Southwestern Law School in L.A, California. It was a wonderful affair, and HUGE thanks go out to Paul Bateman from Southwestern, Kent Lollis from LSAC, and the planning committee for doing a great job putting together the conference.
As is my usual fashion, here are the highlights. My apologies in advance if I miss some presenters; I am feeling a bit jet-lagged:
Catherine Carpenter (Southwestern) and Rod Fong (Golden Gate) kicked off the conference with discussions on the history and implementation of 301-6. This was informative and helpful to all of us as we work to find ways to meet the requirements of the new standards.
The following morning started with the inimitable Mike Schwartz on what happens in the first year of law school shouldn't stay in the first year. Mike's presentation was really a theme that ran throughout all the presentations; if we build a secure foundation for learning the first year, bar preparation and support become a much easier task during the third year of law school and beyond. A secure foundation includes more than just great teaching of the first year/MBE subjects; a secure foundation encompasses autonomy support, life management skills, and the ability to find and use the resources offered by the school.
New this year was the extended-commerical format before breakout sessions. Many of us who attended the LSAC workshops in the past have felt like we had to chose blindly between several great workshops. This year, the planning committee adopted an extended-commerial format, where the leaders of the breakout sessions were asked as a panel to give brief blurbs on what they were doing in their session. This was a great change to the program and much appreciated by those of us in attendance.
The next set of presenters, Lisa Lukasik of UNC Law, Jan Jemison of Hastings, and myself, of Vermont Law, presented on advising, counseling, and conferencing before, during, and after bar results. I started off on how to introduce the bar exam during pre-orientation and orientation for 1L's, Lisa did a fabulous job presenting on programs for 3L's and bar takers, and Jan gave a wonderful overview of how the LEOP program supports non-passers after bar results are released. Lisa has some really awesome resources for working with students who have anxiety or stress before exams.
Laurie Zimet was the new presenter on upgrading learning strategies to meet the challenges of the bar. Laurie, as always, demonstrated some fabulous active learning techniques that reminded us all that the skills students should master for law school exams are remarkably similar to the skills students need to master the bar exam.
I was only able to attend two of the three breakouts sessions that followed, but I received rave reports about the session I did not attend. Ben Bratman (Pitt) presented on the MEE/Essay portion of the exam; I was not able to attend that breakout, but I heard great things about his lesson. Pavel Wonsowicz (UCLA) presented on how the MPT is the best friend of every bar student who takes the bar in an MPT jurisdiction. Pavel was not only informative and gave us some strategies to take back to our students, but provided the comic relief we all needed after so much information being thrown at us. Mary Basick (Whittier), a new member of our community, presented on the MBE. Mary was a knockout; I strongly recommend any school that is struggling with how to teach MCQ skills to bar takers to contact Mary.
The last formal presentation of the workshop was Emmy Reeves (Richmond) and Paula Manning (Whittier) on the what and how of data collection and the program evaluation requirements under 301-6. Both ladies are masters in the field of program evaluation and using the statistics to measure program outcomes. All of us in the field have strong feelings about how statistics are collected and used to evaluate learning, but the presentation steered away from the emotional aspects of data collection and focused on how to do what we must do in order to meet the requirements posed by 301-6.
If you are new to ASP and have not been able to make the LSAC workshops, ask your dean for the money to go. These are an invaluble to those of us who work in ASP, and great networking opportunities to get to know your peers who also work in the trenches.
June 03, 2008
Bar Exam Teacher Skill Set
Now is the time we in ASP turn our focus from student concerns to graduate concerns, more specifically, concerns about the bar exam. I know some within the ASP community focus on the bar all year long, but for those of us who see both students and bar takers, this is the time of year we trade our academic success hats for bar prep hats.
While there is some overlap between the areas of bar prep and ASP, they really require different skill sets. I think of it like very accelerated primary schooling; the 1L's are still my children, and I watch over them like a mama hawk. 1L's are still excited by the thought of law school and want to do what it takes to succeed. By the time they reach bar prep, I feel a bit like the parent of a teenager; it's as much about "you shall not" as it is "you shall", and I spend a lot of my time reigning in their bad habits and tempering inappropriate impulses.
As a former elementary school teacher, I am far more skilled being a mama hawk watching out for my young ones than I am disciplining the rowdy herds. I want to see all of my students reach their full potential, but it takes a special temperament to give tough love to graduates bent on enjoying life when they need to be buckling down for the bar exam. By the time students have reached graduation, they have bought into the myth that substances, Red Bull, Jolt!, or less legal poisons, will help them retain more information. They have become tired and cranky, and ready to push back at people who push them, even if we are pushing them for their own good.
I admire those who spend the full year focused on bar takers, who can take the stress and strain and produce lawyers admitted to the bar in their chosen jurisdiction.
June 06, 2007
Video Explanations of Answers to Simulated MBE Questions
Gerald Bamberger, a former adjunct assistant professor at the University at Buffalo Law School, has recently launched a new website that provides free video explanations of answers to simulated MBE questions. It is in its initial stages, but Professor Bamberger plans to continually add new simulated questions and accompanying explanations. You can check out his website at http://www.profbamberger.com/. (Dan Weddle)
April 02, 2007
Scare 'em into Success
I am not usually one who believes in scaring students, because fear is usually a hindrance to good performance. When it comes to bar exams, however, I am not particularly bashful about scaring my third-year students.
Too many students around the country each year think that their performance on the bar exam will match their performance in law school. They think that if they are ranked in the upper half of the class, they cannot possibly fail a bar exam. You would think they would be right unless you have taken a bar exam yourself.
The reality is that the exam covers numerous subjects that the students have not studied for two years or more, if at all. It is one thing to do well on a first-year Civil Procedure exam; it is quite another to handle a civil procedure question on a bar exam two and a half years later.
Deep preparation is therefore critical. Not a review. Not glancing over old notes. Not reading over a bar review outline. Not even taking a bar review course. The bar exam requires serious, sustained preparation that includes a formal bar review course and weeks of full-time studying.
Have some students passed the bar without that sort of preparation? Probably. But it would scare the heck out of me to try it. (dbw)
May 18, 2006
Clearing the Last Hurdle: the Bar Exam
I am always amazed this time of year by how many graduating law students fail to prepare intensely for the bar exam that looms just ahead. Most take the exam very seriously, but a few each year apparently seem to think the exam a fairly easy hurdle. I don't get it. After all of the expense, work, and stress of law school, how can anyone let up for the bar exam?
Perhaps they look at the pass rates and decide that there is no way they can end up in the bottom twenty percent of the takers. I remember the story of a student who graduated first in his class at a good school, obtained a prestigious judicial clerkship, only to fail the exam and lose the clerkship. I have always suspected that he became wrapped up in his clerkship duties and thought to himself, "How can I possibly fail the bar exam after graduating first in my class?" I was in law school at the time, and the story scared the socks off me.
I suppose it is understandable that students who have been far from the bottom twenty percent in law school would assume that they can avoid the bottom twenty percent of bar takers without much work; but that assumption overlooks the nature of the exam. The exam tests concepts many takers have not encountered since the first semester of law school. What makes them think that material that old can be recalled and applied with a half-hearted review, especially when the material required so much preparation for the final exam when the material was fresh?
Some, I am sure, fail to prepare properly because they do not believe they can afford the fee for a bar prep course. Again, however, I find it amazing that anyone who has invested three years of tuition, budget-breaking book purchases, and lost wages chooses the bar exam as the best opportunity to save money. Too much is riding on the exam to spare expense at this point. Anything spent on preparing for the exam will be more than offset by a year in practice, and no amount saved can justify gambling that year on recalling three years of legal rules without an intense review.
Perhaps some students take review courses but never devote significant time to further study outside the review classes . Again, the choice is amazing, given what law school exams require. How many students actually get through law school by reading through their class notes once before finals? What could possibly lead them to believe that the bar exam requires little study beyond sitting through a series of lectures in the weeks leading up to the exam?
Nevertheless, every year brings tales of top students around the country failing the bar. Aside from the cases of extreme test anxiety, lack of test preparation is the only thing that explains the failures. They may be saving money, becoming too involved in newly acquired employment, or merely underestimating the exam; but they are rolling the dice on the most important high-stakes test of their legal careers.
Throughout law school, they have had to prepare intensely in order to succeed on finals, and this final is the biggest one they have faced, covering vastly more material than any other they have taken. Should it be a surprise that it requires substantially more preparation?
The bar exam itself should not frighten students; but under-preparation should scare them to death. We need not terrify our students about taking the exam, but we should go out of our way to terrify them about failing to prepare. The exam is grueling, but ultimately no real threat for those who have spent the two months ahead of it preparing intensely, both in the review classes and on their own time.
No one who has worked as hard as our students have worked to get through law school should trip over the last hurdle. As their coaches, we need to make sure they keep running hard to the end of the race and that they not treat the final lap to the bar as a cool down lap. (dbw)
April 26, 2006
June ASP Workshop Will Look at Bar Prep
Are you considering offering or expanding bar preparation for your students? You may want to visit Columbus, Ohio, this June.
Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, Will host the 2006 Midwest Regional Academic Assistance Workshop “Designing a For-Credit Bar Exam Preparatory Course” June 16 – 17, 2006.
Specific information regarding the program, registration, and lodging can be found by clicking on “Registration Information” at: http://www.law.capital.edu/MRAA/index.asp.