Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Our guest post today is by Louis N. Schulze, Jr., Assistant Dean and Professor of Academic Support at Florida International University College of Law. He served on the faculty of Suffolk University Law School (2004-07) and New England Law | Boston (2007-14), earning tenure at the latter in 2012. He is a former Chair of the AALS Section on Academic Support.
Outsourcing Academic Support is a Problematic Proposition
I have been intrigued recently by the discussion occurring on the Academic Support listserv. One member of our community posted a request for information about whether, and to what extent, schools partner with and/ or outsource bar preparation and academic support to bar prep companies. Some schools have dabbled with partnering, and other schools report full-scale immersion. What I took from all of these reports (and my own discussions) was that bar prep companies seek not only to have a hand in for-credit bar prep courses but also in the area of traditional academic support. This troubles me.
I write to express my belief that the wholesale outsourcing of academic support to bar prep companies, though perhaps an attractive proposition for some deans, is a questionable one when viewed through the lens of assessing what is best for our students, our institutions, and the legal profession.
I. Some Preliminary Matters.
First, I think a dichotomy exists between bar prep companies’ role in curricular bar preparation during law school and bar prep companies’ role in academic support during law school. Unsurprisingly, bar prep companies are quite good at bar prep. For reasons explained infra, I believe that bar prep companies are less able to meet the unique goals of academic support.
Part of my thesis relies on this distinction; while I am somewhat more optimistic about partnering with bar prep companies for curricular bar preparation during law school, I am far less sanguine about the increased presence of bar preparation companies in the area of academic support. I think this dichotomy is a crucial one for deans and academic support professionals to digest, as there is a material difference between these two realms.
Second, I think a distinction exists between “partnering” with a bar prep company and the “wholesale outsourcing” of courses or programs. Unlike the bar prep/ academic support dichotomy I posit above, I see this distinction more as a spectrum than a binary choice. The lightest form of “partnering” would likely be adopting a bar prep company’s materials and questions in a course, while the opposite end of the spectrum (the “wholesale outsourcing”) would entail having a bar prep company fully teach and administer some facet of a law school’s offerings.
In my view, as a law school’s choices increase from “partnering” towards “wholesale outsourcing,” those choices become more questionable. While there are no doubt many acceptable points along the spectrum, law schools ought to think carefully about crossing the threshold between partnering and outsourcing, especially in the area of academic support.
II. My Arguments.
My thesis is that law schools should not outsource academic support, per se, to bar prep companies. I am less concerned about partnering/ outsourcing law school bar prep courses. I am even only mildly concerned about partnering with bar companies in the area of academic support. But what I fear is that bar prep companies, in the name of diversifying product lines and increasing profits, will seek to dominate not only the bar prep market and the law school bar prep course market, but also the field of academic support. In my view, such a result would do more harm than good to our students.
But why is this so?
1. First, one-on-one academic support is the most effective academic support, but it is not the most cost-efficient. Anyone who teaches law school academic support has had the experience of watching a student’s eyes light up as they have the big “ah ha!” moment. Some call this “the law school click.” It occurs when a student suddenly makes multiple connections, all at once, and realizes exactly what her professors are getting at – why we use cases to teach law; why creating outlines is important; why we test the way we do; why one must “argue both sides”; why all these methods make students better lawyers.
Usually, this moment occurs in an office with both student and ASP professor huddled over a desk, reviewing an exam, a paper, or some other work product. This moment is usually preceded by other less fruitful in-person moments, but the point is that the “ah ha” moment is one that happens over time and in a one-on-one setting. While it’s true that our ASP classes facilitate these moments, and give the framework and coursework for the moments of enlightenment, I’ve found that the “ah ha” moments happen in-person.
This is much less likely to happen if academic support is provided by bar prep companies. Why? Bar prep companies are corporations, and as such they owe fiduciary duties to their investors. They do not owe fiduciary duties to the students they are teaching. As a result, if they can cut costs by reducing costly endeavors they can and must do so. The first item on the chopping-block would be the costly method of one-on-one, individualized meetings.
2. Academic support is not one size fits all, but one size fits all is cost-efficient. Each law school’s academic support methods differ significantly from the methods of others. This has a lot to do with the differences in administrations, faculties, students, and missions of each law school. Applying the methods of one school to that of another would be ineffective because academic support must be tailored to the environment of the law school. An approach to the contrary waters down the effectiveness of the program, plain and simple.
But, one size fits all is cost-efficient. If a corporation could fashion an academic support program that could be installed as-is into multiple law schools, such a program would increase the profit margin of the endeavor. By contrast, tailoring an academic support program to the unique needs of individual schools (let alone students) would be cost-inefficient. Changing aspects of the curriculum to account for differences in faculties, students, and other stakeholders would require person-hours, and person-hours come with a price tag. As a result, because bar prep companies are corporations, and corporations have a fiduciary duty to the bottom line, academic support would likely become one size fits all.
3. There are many purposes for academic support, but bar passage is the ultimate purpose of any bar prep company. Law schools provide academic support for myriad reasons: to decrease dismissal rates; to support students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds; to humanize the law school environment; to communicate performance expectations more expressly; to increase bar passage rates; and to make students better lawyers. Each institution may emphasize these purposes differently, but at the very least each of these is likely on the table in terms of justifying expenditures for academic support.
But, the purpose of a bar prep company is solely to promote bar passage. While this purpose might coincide with some of the other purposes, it likely subordinates them to a “lesser” status. Moreover, setting bar passage as the sole or primary purpose of academic support could actually be antithetical to the other goals. For instance, one could argue that to increase bar passage rates, a law school should actually increase its dismissal rates. That way, only the strongest students “count” in terms of bar passage rate. An academic support program focused solely on bar passage, therefore, might spend little time on saving 1Ls and all of its time on those who managed to get through. Although this approach might increase a school’s bar passage rate, it would utterly fly in the face of schools’ duties to the students they admit.
4. Successful academic support relies heavily on an ASP faculty’s engagement with other faculty. If academic support is outsourced to bar prep companies, whose employees would not be embedded in the institution full-time (under the proposal with which I am familiar), the academic support program would lack the crucial element of connection to the institution’s faculty.
This point relates to “buy-in,” and a successful academic support program must have it from both faculty and students. Students buy in to an academic support program if they know that there is a regular and positive collaboration between their doctrinal faculty (who will grade their work) and their academic support faculty. Meanwhile, doctrinal faculty buy in to an academic support program when they know, among other things, that the academic support faculty will help students with more than just passing the bar and that the academic support faculty will not re-teach the doctrine or teach in a way that conflicts with their course. Because a cost-efficient bar prep company academic support provider must pop around between multiple law schools, neither students nor faculty can be assured that the support program will embody the type of multi-stakeholder synergy necessary for success.
5. Another crucial element of successful academic support is knowledge of one's students’ strengths and weaknesses and providing counseling that helps enhance the former and mitigate the latter. This happens over time and requires a great deal of relationship building. The level of trust required to develop these relationships seems unlikely to exist if the academic support provider is not imbedded within the institution.
This point relates to the murky intersection of academic support and counseling. While ASP faculty are (mostly) not trained psychological counselors, a great deal of our most effective work occurs on the personal level. An outsourced academic support program might be able to determine that a student is weak on essays, but a true academic support professional will know WHY the student developed this weakness and how to help work the student toward mastering the problem – both on the academic and personal level. An outsourced academic support program simply will not have time to work on this holistic (but critical) endeavor. In short, an outsourced program teaches students; a true academic support program teaches people.
6. Subtle conflicts of interest. ASP faculty are often called upon to be unofficial advocates for the student body. Because we know our constituency so well, we provide robust input in institutional conversations that could impact students. Because we have certain employment protections (and this is just one reason why ASP professionals should be eligible to earn tenure and long-term contracts), we can advocate for students in ways that outside contractors cannot. Because bar prep companies will likely have their own pecuniary interests in mind, they likely will not advocate for students in the same way as ASP faculty.
For instance, many ASP professionals serve on their law school’s Academic Review Committee or provide data to those committees when they decide whether to readmit dismissed students. Student petitions for readmission often paint the rosiest picture for the students’ readmission, while grades and LSAT scores provide only a limited picture of a student’s potential. ASP professionals who have worked closely with the dismissed students can provide information that paints a clearer and more objective picture of whether a school should take a chance on readmitting dismissed students.
Outsourced academic support programs cannot possibly provide that level of objectivity and nuance. First, it is doubtful that an Academic Review Committee would permit an outside contractor ever to serve on such a committee. But even if the committee accepted data and observations from such a source, how could the committee ever trust that the information is objective when the outside contractor has a vested interest in ensuring that no “borderline” student ever sits for the bar and possibly harm the school’s bar passage rate? Why would an outside contractor ever take such a chance when their future contractual relations rely on bar passage? As a result, law schools lose an opportunity for clearer information about their students when they outsource academic support.
Law schools should not outsource academic support to commercial bar prep companies, a proposal that at least one company is marketing. At many schools, in-house academic support programs provide a genuine and effective source for student support. Partnering with such companies in the area of academic support and even outsourcing curricular bar prep courses might be reasonable, but the wholesale abrogation of a law school’s fiduciary duty to prepare its students for success is deeply problematic. Should law schools follow this slippery slope, they slide one step closer to outsourcing clinical, legal writing, and even doctrinal teaching.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Our Guest Blogger this week is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Norman Otto Stockmeyer, who retired last year after teaching at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School since 1977. He also taught as a visiting professor at Mercer University Law School and California Western School of Law. Otto taught principally first-year courses (Contracts, Criminal Law, and Research & Writing) as well as Remedies. He received the top teaching award at Cooley Law three times and was voted National Outstanding Professor by Delta Theta Law Fraternity International.
Multiple-Choice Question Guidelines
Law school professors and academic support professionals should use multiple-choice questions for assessment and testing purposes. After all, our students will have to take and pass a bar exam with a full day of multiple-choice questions. It stands to reason that their chances of passing will be enhanced if they have successfully taken myriad multiple-choice tests in law school.
Going one step further, I submit that our multiple-choice questions should reflect the style and format used on the Multistate Bar Exam. The MBE professionals know more about multiple-choice methodology than we do. And if we want our tests to mirror the MBE, we should adopt the MBE’s question-drafting practices.
The following guidelines are derived from a 2008 article in The Bar Examiner, published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, and an examination of MBE questions released since the examination was redesigned in 2005.
- Use one question per fact pattern. Do not piggyback multiple questions on a single fact pattern.
- Make fact patterns as concise as possible. Do not include extraneous facts unless fact discrimination is the skill being tested by that particular question.
- Make fact patterns realistic and free of bias. Use genderless characters to the extent possible; otherwise equalize the number of men and women in your questions.
- Identify characters generically, rather than by names or letters. (“A buyer agreed with a seller…” rather than “Able agreed with Baker….”).
- Include all facts in the fact pattern. Answers should not introduce additional facts.
- Provide four answers for every question. More choices add complexity with little appreciable improvement in reliability.
- Avoid compound answers (“A and B, but not C”). (Besides, students hate these.)
- Do not use “all of the above” or “none of the above” answers. (Ditto) Every question should have one, and only one, indisputably correct answer.
- Distribute correct answers randomly. Amateur testers tend too often to place the correct answer in the C or D position. Savvy students pick up on this.
The overall goal of these guidelines is clarity, making sure that we are assessing substantive knowledge and legal reasoning, rather than reading comprehension. Making questions easier to read does not make them any easier to answer. It just makes them better questions.
In conclusion, multiple-choice tests can be a reliable way to evaluate knowledge and analytical skill. And researchers have found that test familiarity improves student performance on standardized tests. So using MBE-style questions can heighten the effectiveness of our tests, as well as enhance the performance of our students.
(Readers interested in Professor Stockmeyer's use of multiple-choice quizzes in a first-year course are invited to read his article on “Using Multiple Choice Quizzes” in the January 2011 issue of The Learning Curve. It is available through SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1736670.)
Thursday, September 24, 2015
"Is the Bar Too Low to Get Into Law School?" is the headline in today's New York Times "Room for Debate" section. It posed the question: Why are so many law students failing the bar exam? This is a complex issue and as the different responses make clear, there is no simple answer.
The debate started more than a year ago. The July 2014 bar exam was one of the most exciting (and not in a good way) and controversial bar exams in recent history. It is widely known as Barmageddon or Barghazi due to a nationwide debacle on the first day of the exam. The first day is the written portion; test takers pay a fee ($100-$125) to use laptops and then upload responses through an outside company. Most jurisdictions use ExamSoft. Last year ExamSoft experienced a system-wide failure and test takers across the country were not able to upload responses. ExamSoft eventually fixed the problem but not until thousands and thousands of test takers had stayed up most of the night trying to submit their responses. To say it was stressful is an understatement.
By the time day two started, many test takers still did not know the fate of their responses- were they uploaded? would the jurisdiction accept them after the deadline? Day two of the bar exam is the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE)- the multiple choice portion of the test that every state (except for LA) uses. It is created, scored and scaled by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and although it is only one part of the overall score, jurisdictions use it to scale the other portions of the exam. In other words, the MBE score is a big deal. The rest of the bar exam was uneventful. Until jurisdictions started posting results. Almost every jurisdiction reported historically low bar pass rates. This is when the finger-pointing began: Many law schools blamed the MBE, saying the test was flawed. The NCBE fired back, claiming takers were "less able" than in past years. Not many seemed to see any connection between Barghazi and bar scores.
Fast forward to July 2015. The NCBE added a seventh subject to the MBE but the exam itself is uneventful. No system failures. No Barghazi, part II. Then results started trickling out. Pass rates are lower than last year and so is the national median for the MBE. You have to go back more than twenty years to see a median score this low.
So, why are so many students failing the bar exam? Is it because law students are "less able?" Is it the addition of more material? Are law schools not adequately preparing students? Is the bar exam itself a flawed test? There is definitely "Room for Debate".
Friday, August 14, 2015
The ABA (finally) adopted a resolution that encourages state bar licensing entities to eliminate questions about mental health on bar applications. Many of us have advocated for such elimination for years due to the potential damaging effects that these types of questions may have on law students. The stigma that these questions produce may discourage law students from seeking much needed mental health treatment or therapy while they are in law school. By eliminating these questions, law students do not need to fear the character and fitness/bar application process if they do decide to seek mental health treatment.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The bar exam is the last test you will ever take. You’ve been preparing for it since the first day of law school. The foundation is built and these weeks of focused study help solidify what you’ve learned over the past 3-4 years. You will pass if you put in the time to learn the material and master the skills. Friends and family believe you will pass. Professors believe you will pass. Your employer believes you will pass. So, why do you doubt your ability to pass? One reason is that you don’t really know what to expect: Will you get an essay on intentional torts or premises liability? How many future interest questions will be on the MBE? Will you remember all the rules for all the subjects? Did you write enough? Too much?
Human beings seek stability. We like rules, routines, and goals. However, the bar exam does not fit nicely into what we’ve always done. You cover a semester a day and even though you spend 8, 10, 12 hours learning material, it doesn’t quite stick. If you could just hold things still, you’d be able to remember the material. Since everything is always changing, this doesn’t work. This is why you worry you won’t be able to learn everything in time and why you doubt your ability to pass. You are trying so hard to control things that you actually lose control.
It is July and the bar exam is at the end of the month. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Accept that you cannot learn everything and that you don’t need to in order to pass. At the end of each day, reflect on what you did and know that it is enough. It is not about whether you checked off every task assigned by the commercial bar prep company. It is about working solidly and steadily and moving forward. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about everyone else. Stop discussing what you’ve done (or didn’t do) with your friends and family. If they are studying for the bar exam, it will just be a stressor for both of you. If they aren’t studying for the bar exam, they don’t care.
Instead of looking at all those unchecked boxes, make a list of everything you have done over the past 7 weeks. Look at all you’ve accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back. Add to the list every day and look through it a few days before the bar exam. This is proof that you have done enough. This is why your friends, family, professors, and co-workers know you will pass. It is why you should believe it, too.
Need a little motivation? Check out my all-time favorite inspirational speech (it will be the best 60 seconds of your day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c47otcg13Z8
Monday, June 29, 2015
Some suggestions for friends and family supporting someone through the bar exam.
Bar Taker: I’m going to fail.
Wrong: Keep up that negative attitude and you certainly will fail.
Right: You are a brilliant, wonderful, hard-working person who is going to win the bar exam!
Bar Taker: I’m getting fat/so out of shape.
Wrong: You do look a little fluffy. And your clothes are a little tight. You need to work out.
Right: No you’re not. You look fantastic. In fact, your arms are so buff from lugging around all those commercial outline books it looks like you’ve been doing Crossfit.
Bar Taker: sniffing the air around him/her Do I smell?
Wrong: You don’t smell but that t-shirt you’ve worn for 3 days in a row sure does, and I could fry okra with all the grease from your hair.
Right: You sure do! You smell like someone who is going to pass the bar exam.
Bar Taker: My house/apartment/room is such a mess.
Wrong: Funny you should say that. I just submitted an audition tape to Hoarders.
Right: You poor dear! Please let me help you. You go to the library and study while I clean up.
Bar Taker: Ugh. I am absolutely exhausted from studying all day.
Wrong: Studying all day? You’ve got to be kidding. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about studying is not the same as actually studying.
Right: Studying like that is just so draining. You just relax right here on the couch and let me wait on you for the rest of the evening.
Bar Taker: I’m just so stressed. I can’t do this anymore.
Wrong: Stressed? You think this is stressful? Insert one of the following:
Mother- Try being in labor for 36 hours like I was with you. Now that is stress.
Sibling- You are such a big baby. No wonder Mom loves me best.
Significant other- Stress is trying to deal with you and your incessant whining. By the way, I’m breaking up with you.
Right: I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of stress you are dealing with. This is the most difficult experience anyone has had to go through. Ever. Let me make an appointment for you to get a massage. My treat.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
I love sports. I love to play sports, coach sports, and watch sports. Studying for the bar exam is like playing a sport, coaching a sport, and watching a sport. There are highs and lows, agonies and defeats, and setbacks and triumphs. Bar review for many law school grads has been in full force for a couple of weeks. The foggy haze of transition from law student to bar student has lifted. Now, it is time for bar students to get their heads in the game.
Like preparing for a sport, you must look at your bar preparation as you would a training schedule. You cannot swim the 500 meters, score the winning goal, or finish the race without focused, incremental, and structured training. Bar review is just that. Everyone says, "Bar prep is a marathon, not a sprint."
During your bar prep, you want to get high scores on MBEs, ace the essays, and finish the performance test with time to spare. However, this is usually far from the realities of your initial phase of bar prep. You have not fully memorized the law or mastered your test taking skills at the beginning of bar prep. However, you are laying the foundation. And, it is this foundation that will get to you game day.
Here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare for game day:
- Map out the remaining subjects that you need to review and the tasks that you need to complete. Writing this out can help you manage your stress and your work load.
- Set realistic goals for each day (or each hour). Meeting goals helps propel you over the next hurdle, builds your confidence, and shows you that you can win this!
- Give yourself time to process the information that is being thrown at you. Do not expect that you will know everything after listening to a lecture and completing 30 multiple choice questions. Bar review is a process, trust in the process.
- Make time for breaks. If you schedule a break, it is not considered procrastination. Everyone needs down time and it is important that you balance your intense study schedule with sufficient time to refresh.
- Evaluate your work. It is important to understand what you are doing right and what you still need to work on. This will help you refocus your time and prioritize improving your weaker areas.
- Play a sport or watch a sporting event (Women's World Cup perhaps). This may give you the inspiration to help you keep your head in the bar review game.
Friday, June 12, 2015
Should we encourage grads to delay taking the bar exam if we think that they will not pass on their first attempt? This is a very sensitive topic and aspects of which are currently being litigated in Arizona. Those of us who are overseeing bar preparation can easily understand the thinking behind what is happening in Arizona. We work with very diverse groups of students and we know their likelihood of success on the bar exam hinges upon several factors.
Some students are working full time as they study for the bar; some are caring for an elder or young child; and some struggled throughout law school and barely graduated. Others are less motivated to put in the necessary time to pass the bar with a traditional 8-10 week preparation window. We also understand that some students will greatly benefit from taking some time off between law school graduation and studying for the bar exam.
Because we know most of our students so well, we are keenly aware of particular students who are unlikely to pass on their first attempt (due to any number of reasons). Thus, does this mean that we should discourage them from sitting for the bar this summer? Personally, I have grappled with this notion. However, I have heard of other Professors, Law Schools, and ASPers who often dissuade (and possibly entice with incentives) grads into delaying their bar examinations.
Unless I have been directly asked by a grad for my professional opinion, I wrestle with whether it is my place to influence their decision to sit for or delay sitting for the bar exam. However, when you work so closely with grads during their bar preparation, we do not just think that they may not pass; instead, we often know that they will not pass. Bar exam performance can be predicted when you look at several factors and data points. When I have access to their scores throughout bar review, especially their simulated exams, I can predict with a high level of accuracy their performance on the actual bar exam.
Does this mean that I should encourage delaying the exam? This is the very issue I grapple with. On the one hand, when I know that they will likely fail the exam, encouraging them to wait means they do not have to experience the shame and defeat associated with failing the bar. We also know that once a student has failed the bar exam, passing it becomes a bigger psychological and emotional challenge. (As if it could be more psychologically challenging.) Dissuading them from sitting, also means that bar passage statistics will likely be more favorable for my law school; thus, the dilemma. Because of the current state of affairs in legal education, law employment, and law school admissions, bar passage matters. It matters more now than ever. Therefore, there is no easy answer.
Monday, May 25, 2015
Monday, May 18, 2015
Bar Exam Season is here.
Just a few days ago you took your last law school exam and celebrated graduation and hooding with family and friends. You’ve barely had time to open the graduation cards and now it’s time to hit the books again. Commercial bar prep has begun and it is just the beginning of a great adventure. You’ve worked hard for almost three (or four) years, 10 more weeks is no big deal. The good news is that the first week is the easy week so take advantage of any free time to do the following:
Organize your life.
- Do laundry, go grocery shopping, clean your apartment. Studying for the bar exam seems to affect your ability to do any of these things.
- Talk to family and friends about the next 10 weeks and how you will be less available. Assure them you will make time for them but studying for the bar is a full-time job.
- Find a healthy, non-law related activity to help with stress relief. It is important to relax and have a little fun. It’s good for your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Organize your study schedule.
- Go through your bar exam material and familiarize yourself with it. You will use some things more than others and it’s good to figure out your go-to sources early.
- Take a look at the prepared study schedule and modify it to fit your learning and study needs. Figure out your study approach and make sure you have all your study supplies.
- Find a place to study. Try out a few different places and figure out which atmosphere best promotes focused study (hint- it will not be anywhere in the vicinity of a tv, refrigerator, couch, bed, etc).
You've got 10 weeks of studying ahead of you. There's no getting around it so you might as well make the best of it. (KSK)
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
After considerable debate and several public hearings, the New York Court of Appeals has adopted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Uniform Bar Examination and in July 2016 New York will administer the Uniform Bar Examination. The New York State Board of Law Examiners has proposed that New York set the passing score for the UBE at 266. In other jurisdictions, the UBE passing scores range from 260 (Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri) to 280 (Alaska and Idaho). The bar exam landscape is changing. Will this move create a "domino effect?" Will other states change their passing scores? Will New York see an influx of applicants? Only time will tell.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Hat tip to Katherine Silver Kelly for sharing the link to this post on the Summer 2014 bar exam results. This article is a must read for anyone interested in the decline in the MBE scores from the July 2014 bar exam. Deborah Merritt, on the Law School Cafe blog, explains the scoring process of the MBE and shows how the ExamSoft debacle could have caused bar results to suffer in more ways than one.
Friday, March 20, 2015
The New York Times has addressed some of the recent (and not so recent) criticisms regarding the Summer 2014 bar examination results in their article, Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire. While this article does not unearth new information for many of us, it does legitimize the problem. Because, as we know, there is a problem. The NCBE essentially has a monopoly on bar licensure. They have moved from releasing a limited amount of data to an almost complete lack of transparency. Without this crucial data there is no accountability, which leads to less confidence in the examination and what it purports to assess. This lack of confidence is highlighted in the Times piece and has been echoed in a similar fashion since the summer results were released.
In order to validate the bar exam as a viable assessment tool, the released score results should be detailed, transparent, and effectively communicated. At this point, it appears that complete transparency is the only way to restore credibility in the bar exam and the work of the NCBE.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Call for Proposals
AALS Section on Academic Support
January 2016 Annual Meeting in New York, New York
Raising the Bar
As law schools react to a changing bar exam landscape, many schools have adapted new and different programming to meet the current needs of students. Bar exam support and preparation is no longer something that begins post-graduation, and its influence can be felt from admissions through curriculum planning and beyond. This program will explore how schools strive to stay ahead of trends, analyze data and out-perform their predictors in order to help their students succeed on the exam.
Topics might include, but are not limited to: statistical analysis of bar exam data and results; innovative programs for preparing students for the bar exam; curricular changes based on exam results and preparation; criteria for selecting students to participate in bar preparation programming and identifying at-risk students.
Preference will be given to presentations designed to engage the workshop audience, so proposals should contain a detailed explanation of both the substance of the presentation and the methods to be employed. Individuals as well as groups are invited to propose topics. The Committee would prefer to highlight talent across a spectrum of law schools and disciplines and is especially interested in new and innovative ideas. Please share this call with colleagues—both within and outside of the legal academy and the academic support community.
Proposals must include the following information:
1. A title for your presentation.
2. A brief description of the objectives or outcomes of your presentation.
3. A brief description of how your presentation will support your stated objectives or outcomes.
4. The amount of time requested for your presentation. No single presenter should exceed 45 minutes in total. Presentations as short as 15 minutes are welcomed.
5. A detailed description of both the substantive content and the techniques to be employed, if any, to engage the audience.
6. Whether you plan to distribute handouts, use PowerPoint, or employother technology.
7. A list of the conferences at which you have presented within the last three years, such as AALS, national or regional ASP or writing conferences, or other academic conferences. (The Committee is interested in this information because we wish to select and showcase seasoned, as well as fresh, talent.)
8. Your school affiliation, title, courses taught, and contact information (please include email address and telephone number).
9. Any articles or books that you have published that relate to your proposed presentation.
10. Any other information you think will help the Committee appreciate the value your presentation will provide.
Proposals will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so please send yours as soon as possible, but no later than Wednesday, March 25th at 5pm to Danielle Kocal, Pace Law School, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions, please email Danielle Kocal or call 914-422-4108.
The Section on Academic Support Program Committee:
Danielle Kocal, Chair
Goldie Pritchard, Past Chair
ASP Section Chair: Lisa Young
Monday, February 23, 2015
The Legal Skills Prof Blog recently posted this reference to a short piece on acronyms. I agree that acronyms and other abbreviations can cause confusion, ruin the flow of an essay, and cause the reader frustration. The article suggests a few useful guidelines on when to use them and when to avoid them. I have even had one bar examiner tell me to instruct students that their bar exam essays should not read like a text message. In an acronym, twitter/text, abbreviation heavy culture, this is a good reminder. Thus, I advise my students that when they are in doubt, they should write it out.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Many schools have students who graduate in December. To help them transition from the whirlwind of finals, graduation, and holiday celebrations to bar prep, here are a few things for them to consider:
- Create a realistic, yet rigorous study schedule. Begin after graduation, but make space to savor the end of law school before jumping into your bar prep.
- Communicate your study plans. Make sure that your significant other, family, and co-workers know that your priority is passing the bar exam. They will be your support system through this journey and they need to understand what you will need to be successful. (Perhaps a meal delivered now and then, or help with childcare...)
- Use Spaced Repetition to study instead of focusing on only one subject at a time.
- Remember to stay healthy- exercise, eat well, and get a full night of sleep. This will increase your focus and efficiency.
- Ask for help! When you are feeling overwhelmed, or have a question about your performance or a particular area of law, ask someone. You can ask your bar review provider, a classmate, or your Academic Support for assistance.
- Find balance. You will always feel like you should be doing more- more studying, more MBE practice, more essay and PT writing, and more outlining. However, you also need to know when to say when.
- Give yourself mini-rewards for reaching your daily goals and bigger rewards for reaching your weekly goals.
- Keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with positive people. Believing in yourself is the key to your success!
Congratulations to all of the December law school graduates and best of luck getting started with your bar prep.
Friday, December 5, 2014
I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Walter Mischel, who is known for administering “The Marshmallow Test” to young children as a researcher at Stanford. As many of you are aware, the test consisted of children sitting in a room with a single marshmallow (or another sweet treat) while being asked to delay eating it. If they delayed their gratification, the child would get a greater reward at a later time (typically two marshmallows). The experiment produced interesting and, at times, comical responses from the children being observed. You can check out some Marshmallow Test videos on YouTube to watch the eye rolling, seat squirming, and general agitation exhibited by the children.
While the underlying experiments were amusing to watch, the conclusions drawn from the initial experiments and the long term studies were quite insightful. Essentially, by understanding our impulses and how we can retrain ourselves in order to have greater willpower, we can make better choices and be more productive. Many of us believe that human nature rules whether the child would take the marshmallow instead of waiting (or whether the student would study for another 2 hours before watching an episode of their favorite show or checking their Facebook page). While some are more inclined to eat the marshmallow right away, many are able to resist for a limited amount of time.
As Dr. Mischel pointed out, we can all learn how to control our impulses (kids with marshmallows or adults with other enticements). For example, if you know that when you go to holiday parties, you rush the dessert table and do not leave that table until you have sampled two of each type of dessert, you can put a plan in place in order to limit your dessert intake. If you have no plan in place or if you arrive to the party hungry, you are more likely to fall into the dessert vortex. If plan ahead, to first spend some time at the crudité and also allow yourself a bite from three different sweets over the course of the event, you are more likely to be successful in limiting your impulses. Alternatively, if you instead plan to abstain completely from eating dessert at the party, you will likely fail. Thus, deliberate and premeditated change in small increments helps create a new practice that is easier to successfully adopt and sustain.
How does this apply to law students? Law students often succumb to and/or are ambushed by procrastination. It is difficult to delay gratification no matter what age. I learned from the marshmallow studies and from Dr. Michel’s presentation that we can all learn how to control our impulses if we understand what drives our impulses and if we are committed to making one small change at a time. In my example above, an individual knows that they struggle with overindulging in dessert. The willpower is harder to maintain without a clear and doable strategy in place. However, recognizing the temptation, adopting a realistic alternative, and planning ahead create a method for success. If law students try to more fully understand their impulsive triggers, they are better positioned to generate a plan to resist or avoid them.
Thus, law students can follow this strategy to use their time more effectively and more efficiently. Here are a few ideas:
- They can begin by writing out typical time stealers and creating targeted goals to reduce them. (Examples: When I study in groups, I am easily drawn off topic. When I turn on the television, I end up watching it for longer than I expected. If I turn my phone on while I am studying, my social media becomes a huge distraction.)
- They can purchase or create calendars in order to plan and track their time. Hard copy calendars visualize their priorities much better than a computer version.
- They can turn off their electronic devices while they study for a continuous block of time. (Example: I will study Torts for 3 hours in the library and leave my computer and phone in my locker.)
- They can disable their Wi-Fi while in class or while reviewing notes on their computer.
- They can establish a reward system that motivates this continued behavior. (Example: If I complete my stated study goal, I will get a night off or an extra hour of sleep, or more time for a special activity.)
Once an effective time management plan is established and the inherent benefits are apparent, students are more apt to fully adopt these new strategies by continuing to buck their impulses. After all, two marshmallows later are better than one marshmallow now.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Thursday, November 13, 2014
There have been several blog posts, email exchanges, and listserve threads discussing the decline in the Summer 2014 MBE scores and state pass rates, including a reproachful letter recently sent to the NCBE from a law school Dean. The National Conference of Bar Examiners stated in an October letter, that they see the drop in scores as a “matter of concern.” But, they also stated that their equating, the adoption of the Uniform Bar Examination, and scoring of the test were not the cause of the decline. The only explanation mentioned in the letter, albeit vague and slightly patronizing, was that the July 2014 test takers were “less able” than the July 2013 test takers.
After recovering from a bit of shock, this statement led me to question whether students really were “less able” to pass the bar exam this summer than they were last summer. I have helped prepare students for the bar exam, in various forms, for over 14 years. Throughout this time, I have in fact encountered only a handful of individuals who are not capable of passing the bar exam. However, I have also worked with dozens of capable and competent bar applicants who struggle with passing the bar for various reasons.
Tennessee reported that the national mean scaled MBE score for July 2014 was 141.47, which is the lowest since the July 2004 MBE. Thus, this drop created lower bar pass rates across almost all jurisdictions this summer. Again, while this drop is noted, it is not evident as to why this drop occurred. In the same letter referenced above, the NCBE noted that the number of test takers dropped by 5% between the July 2013 and July 2014 exams. However, it is unclear how the number of test takers has any bearing on the actual test taker’s performance. The mere fact that less individuals took the exam, 5% less, should not dictate a lower pass rate.
The data, or lack of it, led me to again question, “Were this summer’s bar applicants “less able?” Many commenters have refuted that the LSAT is to blame since LSAT scores for this group of test takers (2011 law school start dates) did not take a plunge. Thus, lower LSATs cannot adequately explain this decline.
In addition, according to one of the leading national bar review companies, the mean scores for their simulated exams in Summer 2013 and Summer 2014 were virtually identical. As many of us know, there is a strong correlation between simulated exam performance and actual MBE performance. Thus, it bears noting that, readily identifiable performance indicators lead to the conclusion that the test takers in summer 2014 were just as capable as the test takers in summer 2013.
If this is the case, why did this decline occur? Was it the exam-soft fiasco? Could it be the NCBE’s new question format? Is this a result of an error in the scaling process? Or, could it possibly be due to the retirement of long time NCBE Director of Testing Dr. Susan Case? Ultimately, is the decline a consequence of form difficulty differences and not group differences? Without knowing the specifics of the anchor test, the equating calculations, and specific differences within the tested groups, it is virtually impossible to have a definitive answer. That said, we should keep asking these questions. Individuals who fail the bar exam need us to keep asking these questions.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Friday, October 24, 2014
The Multistate Professional Responsiblity Exam is being administered next week on November 1st- yes, the day after Halloween. In a previous post, I outlined the basics of the MPRE and reminders for test day. If you are preparing for the test next week, you should check it out.
For some students, the MPRE is a treat. It is straightforward, testing only one subject; it is timed, but not too intense; and it is only sixy questions. For others the MPRE is a trick. It is filled with tricky questions involving ethical obligations and moral judgments. In either case, here are a few MPRE study strategies and tips to consider:
- Know your learning style. For example, if you are an auditory learner, you should listen to the MPRE lecturers from one or a few bar review companies. As mentioned, these are free and will help you learn the material by hearing clear explanations of the rules and the application of the rules to hypotheticals.
- Do not merely take full practice tests. You need to have a solid understanding of the rules in order to perform well on the MPRE. Therefore, you must study! Is it proper to enter into a business transaction with a client? Can you split a fee with an attorney from a different firm? Do attorneys have a duty of confidentiality to prospective clients? Know these answers before you walk into your test.
- Remember that more than one answer choice could be “correct.” However, you need to choose the “best” answer. Determining the central issue is the best way to do this.
- Determine the central issue and make sure you are answering the question being asked. Sometimes you can easily determine the central issue from the call line (the interrogatory at the end of the fact pattern), while other times you need to search the facts to find it. Whichever the case, determine the central issue before selecting your answer. Before bubbling in your answer choice, make sure you assess whether you have answered the question based on the central issue.
- Do not merely select an answer based on the “Yes” or “No” in the answer choices. Read the entire answer choice and pay close attention to words such as: “if,” “unless,” and “only,” which qualify each of the answer choices.
- Read the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (with a highlighter or pen). By actively reading the rules, you will get to know the rules that you clearly know and the rules that you need to study further. You need to know more than what was covered in your PR class, and even your MPRE lecture. Read and learn the Model Rules.
- Review the scope of coverage and study accordingly. The NCBE produces an outline, which delineates the coverage on the MPRE. Focus on the areas with higher coverage: Conflicts, lawyer-client relationships, and litigation/advocacy.
- Don’t forget about the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. There could be 2-5 questions in this area, which many of you are not familiar.
- Review MPRE practice questions in small chunks. Complete 5 at a time and then review the ones you got wrong AND the ones you got right. Take notes regarding what you missed and areas of confusion. Review these notes before moving on to the next 5 questions.
- Take at least 2 full practice tests after you have spent a considerable amount of time studying the rules.
- Get a good night’s rest before exam day- NO LATE NIGHT HALLOWEEN PARTIES!
- Take a few “easy” questions in the morning (before you leave your house) to warm up.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast and repeat positive affirmations.
While it is unrealistic for me to say that this exam will be a treat, I do hope it is not too tricky!
Lisa Bove Young
Thursday, October 16, 2014
There are several new books on the market for Academic Support Professionals and for law students. In a series of posts, I will review a few of those books and some of the tried and true ones that I often turn to when I am in need of some words of wisdom or professional guidance.
First, I am reviewing a book published last year by the American Bar Association, PASS THE BAR EXAM written by Professor Sara J. Berman. This book provides a step by step guide for individuals embarking on their journey to pass the bar examination. Not only does this book provide crucial details about the bar exam, it guides readers to understand who they are learners and thinkers. It offers interactive questions, quizzes, and exercises to increase thoughtful reflection and a deeper awareness of the motivational factors required for successful bar passage. One highlight for Professors and Academic Support Educators is that the Teacher’s Edition provides many useful tools that can be integrated into Bar Support Classes and Programs.
Professor Berman’s two decades of experience is illuminated in this text and the teacher’s manual. This resource can help make studying for the bar exam more manageable and less stressful. If you are thinking about starting a Bar Support Program at your law school, if you are a student seeking a framework for bar strategy and success, or a Professor who wants to integrate more bar support into your curriculum, this book is a great place to begin.