Saturday, May 13, 2017
Louis N. Schulze, Jr. at Florida International has a new article: Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline. The abstract is below, and the link to the article on SSRN is here: SSRN link.
What measures can law schools take to improve student performance and bar passage? The answer is not what you think.
Recent developments in the science of learning show that most law students learn wrong. In fact, ineffective methods of learning pervade all levels of education. We now know that widely accepted learning and study strategies that were once considered gospel are actually deeply flawed. Yet we still embrace and propagate those myths.
Meanwhile, bar passage rates and law student performance are plummeting. Everyone in legal education is asking “what can we do?” But, “what can we do?” is the wrong question. The right question is to ask how students can capitalize on the science of learning to be more effective learners.
In this essay, I discuss principles from the science of learning that law schools and students should embrace. In the context of the methods we have implemented at Florida International University College of Law, which had the highest bar passage rate in Florida for three consecutive exams, I detail the project of transforming the learning of law away from the ineffective methods of yore and towards effective strategies that can make a difference on student performance and bar passage.
And it all has to do with science, not lore.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
“I was just calling to let you know that I passed the bar exam…!” Immediately after hearing this news, I screamed with excitement. I am always overcome with joy whenever students tell me about their success on the bar exam but I am even more excited when it is a student who was previously unsuccessful on the bar exam. Repeat bar takers have a special place in my heart because they typically journey through lots of agony, sacrifices, and determination to achieve this goal.
The journey starts when students are notified and realize that they were unsuccessful on the bare exam. Many emotions accompany this news including embarrassment, sadness, frustration, anger, and disappointment to list a few. Those emotions are reawakened when students receive a message from me confirming the result, providing some direction, and offering support. Students respond by either ignoring the message or reaching out immediately. For those who respond, we discuss the current crisis, try to calm emotions, and strategize. We discuss how to interact with peers, professors, family, and friends who may ask about the bar exam. Some students choose to inform the world on social media while others prefer to remain secretive, managing questions as they arise. Whatever their preference, I always have an honest conversation with individual students.
Collectively, we devise specific strategies and draw up plans for studying, meeting challenges, and exploring fears associated with retaking the bar exam. Through an early start bar preparation program, students engage with substantive law, essays, and multiple choice. Students are typically unhappy at first but as we address how to efficiently use time, prioritize tasks, and address disappointment, students appear more at ease. Personally, I learn a great deal about students as individuals, how they handle success and defeat, keep perspective, and balance stress.
When bar review programs officially start, it is time for cheerleading and challenging. Students check-in on a weekly basis to debrief and discuss where they are mentally. Each week is a new experience which ranges from productive to challenging. There are weeks when students are on the verge of giving up and other weeks when everything that could go wrong does go wrong. My goal is to help redirect students but also encourage them to persist.
The victory, passing the bar exam, is great because it allows students to move on with their lives or start their professional lives. Their struggle with the bar exam is a part of their story but also an experience they can use to encourage and support others. My investment in them is worthwhile because they are changing their lives, their families’ lives, and their communities. Bar exam results are still trickling in but congratulations to those who successfully passed the February 2017 bar exam on their second try. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Our semester comes to a close in about a week and exams are looming. Many 3L students are suddenly hit with the reality that these are their final days of law school. They constantly remind me of how many weeks, days, hours, and seconds remain until they graduate. For some students, the initial excitement associated with graduating felt at the beginning of the semester or academic year has now morphed into fear of facing the actuality of graduating and “adulting.” The sheer reality of wrapping up an academic career, forever for most, is quite intimidating. Some of the conversations many of my 3Ls are having revolve around:
- Fears of not finding a job
- Fears of failing on a job
- Financially sustaining themselves
- Fears of not passing the bar exam
- Intimidation about the bar review process
- Ensuring that they actually do graduate
- Concerns about entertaining friends and family coming for graduation
Throughout the school year and specifically this last semester, I have tried to engage students in conversations about preparing for the Bar exam. Many of the questions were answered through speakers and presentations, in electronic bar related materials made available to students, or through various emails throughout their law school career. But it is only now that several students appear concerned about the Bar exam and want to discuss it. This comes as no surprise to me and although it happens each year, my principle concern is always to ensure that students are given the necessary information or are directed to where they need to go for the information. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
For first-time bar takers and repeat bar takers, this is the week they have prepared for the past two months. This preparatory period was particularly demanding for me as students responded to my advice and used the ASP office extensively. Between November and February, students from coast to coast engaged with me through emails and phone conversations. I heard the devastation of poor performance on mock exams and practice questions and read about the fear of failure and saw it spread to other bar takers. Current students expressed concern for bar takers and asked whether their former classmates were in touch with me. The most challenging aspect of this bar preparatory period was coaching students to manage the roller coaster of inevitable emotions. For some students, the “real talk” discussions to address frustrations, implosions, and physical tolls were insufficient. I had to find a creative way to re-energize bar takers.
Something I have always wanted to do but never had the opportunity to do came to mind. I always wanted to highlight the achievements of former students, mostly to inspire current students but I saw an opportunity to encourage my February bar takers as well. I contacted a select yet diverse group of alums who I believe would influence current students and requested pictures for display. With their permission, I would post pictures on a wall in my office and use them to motivate current students. Of course, not everyone responded but those who did were quite elated about the idea of sharing their pictures with others. This project provided me with the opportunity to speak with former students, some of whom I met for the first time almost eight years ago.
Today, about two thirds of my display board is filled with pictures from commencement and swearing-in ceremonies. So far, every day has been a wonderful walk down memory lane. I remember each student’s struggles and successes, laughter and excitement. I remember serious conversations we have had, new and unique things they taught me, and fears and concerns they harbored. I witnessed these students achieve their dreams.
For my February bar takers, I shared with them a photo of my wall with an inspirational message and it was a hit. I encouraged them to visualize their own successes and remember what they have already accomplished including the struggles of law school and all they overcame to make it to commencement. For my current students, when they come into my office, there are many unfamiliar faces, yet a few recognizable faces posted on my wall. This wall of pictures has been a great conversation starter particularly about the things students look forward to accomplishing. Reflection is imperative to rejuvenation. Every now and then, I look up at my wall and smile.
Congratulations to the February 2017 bar takers, you survived! Here’s to plenty of rest before your next endeavor. (Goldie Pritchard)
Friday, February 3, 2017
If you are taking the February Bar exam, remember there are several easy things you can do to score points:
- On the MPT, follow the directions -- If the task memo says that argument titles have to contain a legal argument or that you don't need to talk about some issue, make sure you do what it says. Imagine if you were writing whatever the assignment is for your boss or a judge -- imagine how ticked he or she would be if you didn't follow a simple direction.
- Pretend essay and MPT questions are real life -- Don't view the bar exam as some abstract hoop you have to jump through. What would real people do in this situation? For example, if you were in court trying to convince a judge that a child of divorced parents should be allowed to move to a different state, would you say "The wife has put things in place to keep the husband involved in their child's life" or would you say "Wife has installed FaceTime on her child's computer, set up a weekly FaceTime date with husband, bought Xbox gold so father and child can play Halo together, and scheduled a trip every 15th of the month for child to see father"?
- Plan for the worst on bar exam day -- Study so much that it doesn't throw you off your game if your computer catches fire or the person next to you cries. Have a backup plan for getting to the bar exam if there is a transit strike or your car is stolen.
- Don't panic if you don't know the exact rule -- Even if you have never studied family law, you could probably guess that the best interests of a child include mental and physical health, friends, and his or her relationship with his or her parents. Even if you don't remember the elements for adverse possession, you could probably guess it needs to be open and notorious, and that you don't necessarily get the entire parcel if you just possess part of it.
- Always build around a rule -- IRAC is your friend! If you don't state some clear rule in the first or second sentence of an essay, you're probably just rambling.
- Don't skip MBE questions -- You only have 1.8 minutes per question -- how is coming back later going to help?
- Don't talk yourself out of MBE answers -- You've studied and gone to law school. Most of the time, your first choice is more likely to be right than the second one that you only chose because you spent 30 seconds talking yourself out of the first choice.
- There's not a lot of new things under the sun -- More than likely, questions and essays will focus on that subject's major points of law (i.e., negligence, diversity jurisdiction, intestacy, etc.). Do a lot of practice questions in those areas.
- This is not the time to be nice to yourself -- You only have a few weeks left, so study as much as you can. You can relax and kick back later.
- For the love of all that is good, stay off the Internet -- Salt-throwing cooking videos are fun, but not helpful. Social media political discussions are pointless. You will not miss anything important if you take an Internet (and phone) break for the next few weeks. If the earth is visited by aliens, someone will let you know.
- Keep everything easy -- The Commodores -- Easy (Alex Ruskell)
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Most bar review programs include a simulated practice exam which might be a full MBE, a full written day, or a combination. First time bar takers might be apprehensive about completing the simulated exam under timed circumstances but they typically complete the task because they are fearful of not doing what they need to do to be successful on the bar exam. For repeat bar takers, it is a little more of a challenge. Repeat bar takers hold on to memories of all of the effort they previously put forth and the negative result it yielded. Often, these students might either start but never finish the simulated exam or complete the simulated exam but experience emotional trauma. For students who finish the task, the raw score is a verdict on how they will perform on the exam. When things seem to fall apart, this is the time to remain optimistic, not give up, and expect the best. Keeping the exam in perspective is imperative.
The bar exam is only a few weeks away so be realistic about what you can accomplish in the weeks and days to come, cater to your weaknesses because what you are afraid of will show up on your exam, visualize the exam taking process, and be positive. Good luck to all of the February bar takers. (Goldie Pritchard)
Friday, January 13, 2017
Many great students have trouble with multiple choice, and as people get geared up for the February bar, I have a lot of students come in and tell me something along the lines of "I've never been good at it." For the majority of them, the problem is that they overthink things before choosing an answer or go back and change right answers to wrong ones.
If you are as student who has never done well on multiple choice, take a run at 25 or so practice questions without ever allowing yourself to change an answer (either in your head or on the paper). See how it works out. I've had a lot of students do this and discover that they do much better on multiple choice exams if they force themselves to take the exam this way. Unless the problem with the question is that you don't know the law or didn't read the question carefully, going with your first instinct is probably the way to go. As a budding lawyer, your mind can probably see the arguments and talk its way into or out of just about anything.
And, if you are studying for the February Bar and need some cheering up, here is a video of Christopher Walken dancing to "Weapon of Choice" by Fatboy Slim.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
This week has been filled with conversations about the bar exam. While I am very excited about these discussions, 3L students are much less enthusiastic. The bar exam has been a distant occurrence but now, it is too close for comfort. For our jurisdiction, students have until March to submit their applications without incurring late fees. Students who are organized and plan every aspect of their lives have already sought answers to their questions and only need to submit their applications. Others are panicking because they believe that they are “behind the ball.”
What is most exciting for me are the conversations about fears, concerns, and how to navigate the bar preparation process. It is a delicate balance between supporting students and challenging them. I typically use this opportunity to dispel myths students share about studying for and taking the bar exam and provide context for why and how to be effective in their own process. It is equally exciting to help students who I am familiar with and whose habits I know. When you know how a student processes information, you can provide them with specific advice and applicable examples of how to manage specific situations. You can also refer them back to specific challenges and situations they overcame, including reminding them of their strengths and when they thought all was lost but they made it through the first year, then the second year, and are now almost done with law school.
Of course, some of these conversations quail some concerns, generate new concerns, provide new perspectives, encourage, and motivate. Students must face the inevitable, the bar exam, and their fears. The awareness of possible challenges is invaluable information to have. (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, December 19, 2016
Most law students have completed exams and papers (or will soon). So congratulations on finishing another semester of law school! For those of you who are first-year students, you are now seasoned law students and no longer the newbies! For those of you in second or third year, you are well along your journeys to being law school graduates.
And for those of you who have graduated this December, special congratulations and best wishes come your way! We wish you well in your bar exam study and exam-taking. We wish you well in your new employment or job hunting efforts after bar results.
Stay focused in your bar study. Complete the entire bar review course including the practice questions - not just some of it - so that you increase your chances of passing the first time. Bar review is essential to prepare well for the exam; this is not a time to coast just because you have been studying for three years. Pace yourselves because this is a marathon and not a sprint. You can do this! (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 6, 2016
As mentioned in yesterday's blog by Professor Goldie Pritchard, it's bar exam season...with results coming in throughout this fall semester.
With that in mind, here's some advice for all bar-takers as results are posted...from across the landscape and the oceans...from Puerto Rico to Guam and from Washington State to Florida.
First, if you passed the bar exam, congratulations! What a wonderful accomplishment! As you celebrate your success while waiting to take your oath of office, here's a quick suggestion. This a great time to reach out to your support team (family, friends, colleagues, mentors, etc.) and personally thank them for their encouragement and inspiration. And, with respect to your law school colleagues that did not pass, its important that you reach out to them too. Send a quick email. Invite them for coffee. Let them know that you personally stand behind them and for them no matter what. Most importantly, just listen with kindness, graciousness, and compassion. In short, be a friend.
Second, if you did not pass the bar exam, please know that the results are not a reflection of who you are as a person....period. Lots of famous and successful people did not pass the bar exam on the first try (and some after a number of tries). Yet, they are some of the most outstanding attorneys and successful leaders. So, be kind to yourself. Take time to reflect, cry, and ponder. Most importantly, just be yourself. Then, in a few days or a few weeks, reach out to your law school. Make sure you order your exam answers if they are available in your state because looking at your exam answers can give you inside information on what you did that was great and where to improve too. Contact your bar review company for a one-on-one chat. Overall, though, the most important task at hand is to be kind to yourself, and please remember, your value comes from who you are and not from the bar exam at all. Period. (Scott Johns).
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
A hot topic on the ASP listserv has been the NCBE change in the number of scored questions (175 instead of 190 out of 200) starting with the February MBE. Hat tip to Russell McClain (Maryland) for notice of the Above the Law column: Big Changes Coming.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Part II: The “Now What” of the Bar Exam: The Waiting Period Begins – A Great Time to Thank Your Supporters!
As Goldie Pritchard pointed out in yesterday’s blog, it’s a great time for you - as this week’s bar takers - to reflect, appreciate, and take pride in your herculean work in accomplishing law school and tackling the bar exam. Let's be direct! Bravo! Magnificent! Heroic! Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for most of us until mid to late fall.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period. Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really. Really? Not that hard? Really? You know that I passed? Really? There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example. Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over.
But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family keep telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough that I got a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts. I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store.
There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub. All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the late summer and early fall) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it! But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when in late October the bar results were publicly available on the Internet, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam. To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam. So, here’s a suggestion for your time with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of their enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Or send a snap chat of thankful appreciation.
Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you. That’s a great way to spend your time as you wait - over the course of the next several months - for the bar exam results. Finally, don’t give up your hopes and aspirations for your legal work. We need you, all of you, as officers of the court. And, don’t forget, as Goldie Pritchard mentioned in yesterday’s blog, to take time out today to “appreciate and enjoy your accomplishments” as law school graduates and bar exam takers! (Scott Johns).
Friday, July 22, 2016
You should walk into the bar exam knowing that you can absolutely do it! You're in the home stretch, so sleep well these next few days, eat well, exercise, stay positive, and GET PUMPED!
I'm sure you have your own idiosyncratic pump-up songs (Pavement's "Stereo" is one of mine -- mainly because I like the screaming in the chorus), and this list will clearly betray my age and inherent lack of hipness (I'm not even going to try to come up with things that might actually be popular at the moment), but I thought I would post a few music suggestions to get you pumped for test day. Really, one could do worse than spend the morning before the bar exam trying to get psyched:
Classic Rock/Positive Choice
There's a reason this song is played at every sporting event known to man. Queen's "We Will Rock You." "We are the Champions" works as well.
Classic Rock/I Need to Scream Choice
Screaming the beginning of this song is one of the most fun things in the world. Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song"
Classic Rock/Fatalism and Sarcasm Choice
Sometimes, making yourself laugh is the best thing you can do. For the morning of the bar, I might suggest AC/DC's "Highway to Hell"
The White Stripes's "Seven Nation Army"
Catchy Pop Song
After months of studying, you might feel that you have nothing in your brain anymore. Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off"
Catchy Pop Song #2
Not that it has much to do with the bar, but this song seems to make everyone happy: Beyonce's "Single Ladies"
Catchy Pop Song #3
Another one that seems to put everyone in a good mood: Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk"
My wife recently finished her second book. She began every morning listening to Eminem's "Lose Yourself"
Classic Rap/Hip Hop
LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out"
The country equivalent of a song that just seems to put everyone in a good mood: Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again"
I don't really listen to modern country, but I found this page with a song list of major league baseball players' pump up songs: MLB Country Songs
Feel like you could take on the entire galaxy! Because you can! "Star Wars"
Dance your way into the bar exam! "Polka Music"
GOOD LUCK! YOU'VE GOT THIS!
Thursday, July 21, 2016
There's been a lot of talk about "growth mindset" and for good reasons.
As the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dr. Carol Dweck relates in a June 21, 2016 commentary on the website Education Week, "...my colleagues and I learned things we thought people needed to know. We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset)." http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html
But, with the bar exam looming next week for many law school graduates, as the saying goes, "sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words" to hep you and your graduates "catch" hold of a growth mindset in the midst of bar exam stressors. So, at the risk of minimizing the science behind the growth mindset, here's a quick video clip that just might spark some positive vibes of optimism as you and your graduates focus on final tune-ups in preparation for the bar exam next week: http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest
In particular, just like the baseball player, we don't all have to be great hitters…or runners…or pitchers…to be successful on the bar exam. But, right now, most of us working through bar exam problems feel like we don't even know enough to play the game, to run the bases, to hit the ball, in short, to pass the bar exam. However, it is not about knowing enough that is key to passing the bar exam. Specifically, I try to place my confidence NOT in getting right answers on bar exam problems but rather in learning and demonstrating solid legal problem-solving abilities. It's just not an exam in which one can always be correct. So, don't worry about what you missed. Instead, focus on just being the best possible problem-solver player that you can. (Scott Johns).
You Can Do This!
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
The bar exam is next week and bar studiers are experiencing a variety of emotions. Please keep in mind that you worked hard in the weeks and days leading-up to this point. Now, it is time to take care of yourself so you can perform at an optimal level.
Rest. Sleep is a tool to help you feel refreshed for the exam ahead and to help improve your memory. With sleep, you can strengthen memories and skills you practiced while awake. Memories of incorrect answers to essay or MBE questions become memorable fact patterns.
In the alternative, do something else you find relaxing such as watching a movie or your favorite TV show, meeting-up with a non-law school friend for lunch or an activity, or just lounge around. Remind yourself that you have put in a lot of work and it is okay to rest a little.
Prepare. If you are flying or driving to the location of your exam, pack your belongings and pack your car early. Ensure that you have the essential items but also consider packing one or two things that bring you comfort.
Map-out your route to the testing site and determine how much time to allow but also consider alternative routes.
Layer your clothing in such a way that you can adjust to changes in temperature (extreme cold and extreme heat) throughout the testing period.
Have cash on hand as you might need it for parking, lunch, or other emergencies. Have a plan for where you will have lunch.
Have a plan for how you will address stress, anxiety, and stay focused prior to the exam, during the exam, and after the exam. Think of how you will refresh for the next day.
Visualize yourself sitting at the table, taking the bar exam, and passing the bar exam.
Meet the challenge. This is an exam you are likely to feel unprepared for regardless of how much time and effort you devoted to the process. Trust your process and your intelligence. You are capable of reading and following directions so you know what to do. You have completed hundreds of practice questions so you can do it. You have compartmentalized and organized information in a number of ways so you can retrieve information.
You own and only have control over your experience so stop comparing yourself to others. Be optimistic! Stay forward looking! You have the Academic Support and Bar Preparation educator(s) at your law school cheering you on. You can do it, truly. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The “practice run” through should be your priority. As a bar studier, you want to mentally prepare for the exam ahead and the best way to do this is to mimic the circumstances surrounding the bar exam. Next week is ideal for this type of activity because you are done with bar review and have a full week.
Read and Follow the Instructions
Know the policies of your exam site and the policies of the jurisdiction where you are taking the bar exam. Know what items are permitted and what items are prohibited. Ensure that you do not bring prohibited items such as cell phones, fitness trackers, or bar review books. Ensure that you bring necessary items such as admission ticket, identification card, laptop, and writing utensils. Know what type of behavior is prohibited and ensure that you comply. Review information included with your admission ticket and (re)visit your jurisdiction website for any policy updates.
Know the Structure of the Exam
Ensure that you know the dates of your exam and what component of the exam is administered on each of the days and in each of the sessions. If you have a three day exam (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), then know what component of the exam is covered on each of those days. Know whether you have essays in the morning and performance tests in the afternoon or vice versa. Know what time each session begins and ends.
Practicing on the days and at the time of your exam a week before your bar exam is ideal. You may have only practiced one session (3 hours) of essays, performance tests, or MBE. You may have practiced a full day (6 hours) of MBE or a writing day practice but you have not done it in the same sequence as the bar exam. The goal of this exercise is to see how you maintain your stamina, how you engage with the material at the times you need to, and how you manage two or three days of testing in a row. It will likely be an exhausting process and plan to be unable to do anything each night. The focus of this exercise is not on assessing whether you will pass the exam based on your performance. Bar studiers focus on the score rather than on time management, energy, and the like. Adrenaline keeps you going on exam day but you are fighting fatigue from the past few months and you want to train your brain to engage when you need it to. This is also an opportunity to practice following the policies of your testing center and jurisdiction. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Unlike the fear of the bar exam essay, bar studiers tend to face the practice MBE exam head on. Maybe because with multiple choice questions the correct answer is included in the answer options and one has a one in four chance of uncovering it. Also, one could attribute poor performance on the MBE to the format of the exam, multiple choice questions. Either way, comprehensive information recall is not perceived as imperative because of the hope that facts might trigger recollection. The challenge is whether recollection is accurate or complete.
Post practice MBE, three categories of bar studiers emerge: (1) the Confident Conqueror, (2) the Insecure Naysayer, and (3) the Earnest Hard Worker.
The Confident Conqueror likely met or exceeded the benchmark for “success.” This person is excited and might even be arrogant about their achievement. They know that they will pass the bar exam. Social media might be where they announce their achievement or they might share their score with students in their bar review course. For some, this achievement provides confidence and energy needed to effectively continue the process. For others, this success is detrimental because laziness, procrastination, or bad study habits takeover.
The Insecure Naysayer is the polar opposite of the Confident Conqueror. This person is devastated because they failed to meet or barely met the benchmark for “success.” They previously may have been fearful and intimidated by the bar study process but they are even more fearful now. Complaining may have been a habit for this person but now they have justification for their frustration. Following the study schedule, completing assignments, and carefully following the program did not yield expected results. They are convinced that they will not pass the bar exam.
The Earnest Hard Worker is somewhere in between the Confident Conqueror and the Insecure Naysayer. This person’s performance might be in the middle of the pack or they may have failed or achieved the benchmark for “success.” Regardless of their performance, this person is working smart and not hard. They are self-aware and aware of the progression in their studies. They may have challenging moments but they can always pick themselves up or rally individuals who can help.
Whether bar studiers find themselves in one of these categories or none of them, maintaining a hopeful and positive attitude combined with hard work is necessary for success. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, June 23, 2016
With the law school terminal exam, the bar exam, about a month away, bar studiers are typically anxious and nervous for a variety of reasons. Some are overwhelmed by the limited amount of time remaining, others are fearful of not retaining and recalling information, and certain others are fearful that all the time and effort studying will not yield expected results. These are all valid fears and concerns but should not distract bar studiers from developing the skills necessary to successfully attack this exam.
One skill that bar studiers tend to avoid is writing answers to essay questions and I have heard a variety of justifications for why but the common theme is “fear.” Fear of what an answer to an essay question might reveal about knowledge of the law, ability to recall the law, lack of organization, ability to use facts effectively, ability to develop arguments and counter arguments, etc... The most significant fear is the negative impact on moral and motivation. Practice essays can be tough on moral and motivation but can help bar studiers uncover and acknowledge strengths and weaknesses. Bar studiers, you have time to learn the law, memorize it, and develop better writing skills. If you do not know what challenges you face, how can you positively progress? Below are four points highlighted in my students’ weekly messages about essays:
- Just do it. If you wait until you are fully comfortable with the law to write an essay; you will never do it. You will never be fully comfortable with all aspects of each and every subject area but you can get better by writing.
- Build your muscles. You must dive in to build tough skin when it comes to critique/feedback. When you are faced with the unknown you will develop a strategy. You do not want to face your worse fear, the essay, on the day of the exam. It just won’t work. “Remember that no one shows up for a marathon without preparation so why should you?” (Dean of Student Engagement quote)
- Keep it real. Be completely honest with yourself and the people who are trying to help you. Complete timed questions, honestly critique your responses, and start to do it closed book.
- Close the book…or you will never get the timing right and you will never memorize the rules. Only after you have made a good faith attempt and done your best should you look up rules you do not know or understand.
Friday, June 17, 2016
Many students are frightened of the MBE because they have never done well on multiple choice tests. If you fall into this category, the important thing is that you do as many practice questions as you can during bar prep. As you do them, try to figure out exactly what the problem is.
Students who do not like multiple choice exams usually go back and change answers. Whenever I have my students take a look at their work later, it usually turns out that changing answers only hurt them. If you have the tendency to go back, study your exam and see if this helped you even once. Usually, people are only hurt by going back, or at least hurt more than they are helped. Do the next few sets of practice questions promising yourself that you won't go back. You'll probably discover you did better.
Some students do poorly on multiple choice exams because they read too fast and miss important words. If you go over your answers and discover that you are doing this, slow down your reading.
But, some students have a problem with running out of time. For that, the only thing you can do is do as many practice questions as possible until you have the cadence of the questions down and you naturally want to move when 1.8 minutes are up (the time you have for each MBE question). It's fine (actually, I think a fantastic idea) to do the same questions more than once, so the materials you have now will be plenty.
Don't skip questions to come back to the harder ones later -- you will run out of time, and likely screw up the Scantron sheet, which is a disaster. Just answer the questions as they come, and give each 1.8 minutes.
In working to improve student scores, the thing that seems to help the most is doing the questions, then going over them and creating a list of "Things I Did Not Know" -- either the reason you missed the question, or the wrong reason that still lead you to the right answer. Keep the things you did not know short. For example, "Did not know the amount in controversy has to be over $75,000." Study that list. Multiple choice questions are designed for you to be able to spit out one particular factoid. If you have a list of all the ones you didn't know memorized, you'll never miss questions based on those factoids again, and the same ideas tend to repeat themselves. (Alex Ruskell)
Friday, June 3, 2016
As the dulcet birdsong of spring gives way to the blistering Hades of summer in South Carolina, I spend a lot of time working with students as they prepare for the essay portion of the bar exam.
Students struggling with this portion of the bar exam seem to fall into one of two groups. For one group, the problem is that they are writing too little. So, for example, if there is a question involving the UCC and a sailboat, they won't write down what the UCC is, what it covers, or why a sailboat might fall under the UCC rules.
For the other group, the problem is that they are writing too much. In that case, if the question involves what happens when a guy calls up his attorney and tells her to toss his will in a fire, this group will start with "A will requires two signatures ..." and eventually write down absolutely everything they know about wills.
Either way, even if the student actually knows the applicable law and how to apply it, the exam grader can't tell. If the exam grader can't tell, the exam grader is not going to award points. I've seen students fail bar exam essays for both of the above reasons.
Consequently, when evaluating essays, I remind the student to write essays as if he or she is speaking with a client. A client is not an expert in the situation, and the student needs to explain to him or her what rules apply and why those particular rules apply. On the other hand, if the student hits the client with a firehose of information, he or she will have no clue as to what things are important, what the rule actually is, or why that rule applies, even if the actual information is buried in there somewhere.