Wednesday, July 23, 2014
With less than a week until the bar exam, you are tired and just ready for this thing to end. However, you need to stay focused and keep going. You need some motivation, the psychological drive that compels you toward a certain goal. I can tell you to get motivated but this is extrinsic and only somewhat effective. Instead, your motivation must be intrinsic. It must come from within. This means you must attribute your results to factors under your control and believe you have the skill to reach your goal. How in the world are you supposed to this? Make a list of everything you are doing to pass the bar exam and then list the skills it takes to do those things. Now, hang that list up somewhere and look at it every time you have self-doubt. Yes, it sounds corny but trust me, it actually works.
Katherine Silver Kelly
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Writing style, organization, and format are critical to successful bar exam performance. Do not fall into the trap of only memorizing the law. You must also focus on your approach and your writing techniques in order to reach a passing score on the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Performance Test. Here are a few ways to ensure that you will achieve passing scores:
Essay Exam Tips
- First, carefully read the call lines so that you know what the examiners are asking. Craft your answer around those calls. See an earlier post Answer the Question for more details.
- Actively read the facts. Search for the legally significant facts and try to find relevance for all of the facts. Use a pen to make notes in the margins and/or circle/underline the key details. (Highlighters are not allowed in certain jurisdictions.) These details should be used in your analysis.
- Use IRAC!
- Use simple straightforward sentences and short paragraphs.
- You should have a new IRAC for each legal issue. Separate your issues to maximize your points.
- Do not merely memorize and recite rules. NO DATA DUMPS! Instead, show the graders that you know the rules and understand how they apply to the facts. In order to do this successfully, you need to weave the facts into your legal analysis.
- MAKE IT EASY FOR THE GRADER TO GIVE YOU POINTS!
- Keep track of your time. Write the start and end time on your scratch paper for each of your essays. This will help you with managing your time. Do not go over the 30 minutes allotted for each essay.
- After each essay is completed, put it behind you, and focus on the next essay or the next section of the exam. Do not waste time and head space second-guessing your performance on an earlier essay. Stay in the present and stay positive!
Performance Test Tips
- Pay close attention to the task memo and the specific instructions within it. The task memo holds the key to your success. Consider who you are, who your client is, the tone, format, and limiting instructions for your task.
- Create your framework from the issues presented in the task memo. Use detailed and descriptive headings and issue statements throughout your task.
- Next, read the file to outline the key facts related to your task and your issues. (Alternatively, some applicants prefer to read the library first.)
- Take your time! Read the facts and the law carefully so that you have a good understanding of your case and are able to identify the salient details.
- Organize your thoughts before you begin writing. Use your scratch paper! You do not need fancy charts, but you may need to sketch out your framework or bullet point your key facts either on your scratch paper or in your examsoft file on your computer. This should take between 30-45 minutes.
- Use only the amount of time allowed for each PT task. Write your start and end time on your scratch paper and move on to the second task when your time is up.
- Use IRAC! Use it for every issue and sub-issue!
- Synthesize the cases by writing brief case summaries. For example, “In Holt, the athlete Holt’s face was not visible and his number, sponsors, and name were deleted, however other specific defining features (the unique color scheme and design of the athlete’s ski suit) were visible.”*
- Compare and distinguish your facts from the facts in the cases presented in the library. For example, “Our case is similar to Holt because in the photo used by the Gazette, no part of Jackson’s face was visible. Additionally, in our photograph, most of Jackson’s body and uniform were obscured and only the second zero of his uniform was visible. However, our case is distinguishable from Holt’s because in Holt the athlete had a unique suit design and color that belonged only to him. Here, there were at least two other Blue Sox players who were the same race as Jackson and who wore the number ending in zero like Jackson at the time the photo was taken. Thus, unlike Holt, it is possible there was no unique uniform that made Jackson readily identifiable.”*
- Make your answer easy to read. Use short concise sentences and paragraphs and make each word count.
- Remember to review what you have written before time is called. Become the grader. Save a few minutes at the end to read and edit your MPT answer.
Keep practicing…practice equals passing!
*Examples taken from passing Georgia bar exam answers.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
You’ve spent the past two months weeks cramming thousands of pieces of material into your brain. You eat, sleep, dream bar exam. You are probably afraid to see or hear anything non-bar exam related for fear it might push a rule of law out of your brain. You are ready to get into the bar exam zone. Below are a few tips for getting into (and staying) the bar zone:
- Pace Yourself: Follow the bar exam schedule. Get up and be studying by 9am, take a break at noon, study until 5-6. 8-10 hours, max. That’s it. No 12+ hour days. No studying until 3am and crashing until noon. It’s time to get your brain and your body on the bar exam schedule.
- Balance Review and Practice: This is not a law school exam where you are expected to know absolutely everything and get points simply for discussing it. This is the bar exam and although substance matters, so does style. Your response has to be thorough, organized and concise. If all you do is memorize then you won’t be able to actually write a response. If all you do is answer questions, you won’t know why you make mistakes or how to avoid making them again.
- Go With the Flow: Every time you read a question remember that it’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what the bar examiners want you to say. Spend time answering questions so you can recognize patterns and develop a strategy. In just a few days, the process will become natural and by exam day, it will be a comfortable habit.
- Address Anxiety:Being anxious is normal and expected. You just can’t let it interfere with performance. When your nerves start getting the best of you, stop and take a breath. Think of all you’ve done thus far; have confidence in your preparation and abilities. Take it one question at a time and work your way through. Keep moving forward. Your instinct will kick in and soon you’ll be back in the bar exam zone.
Katherine Silver Kelly
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Flash cards can help a bar taker memorize rules and elements quickly and effectively. Like with law school outlines, it is the process, not the product of making them that provides the most benefit. Commercial flashcards are available for purchase, but homemade cards will have a greater impact. Students should make a flash card for a rule every time they miss a practice question due to not knowing the rule. It is not necessary, and not possible to make a flash card for all rules during bar review. Students should focus on the rules that they have difficulty remembering. The elements of a good bar review flash card are first to put the name of the rule on the front. For example, “first degree burglary”. On the back side, list the elements. Depending on the student’s learning style, they may choose to make a list, or may choose to make a mind map. In the traditional list style, the elements for this example are: 1) breaking AND 2) entering 3) the dwelling of another 4) in the night time 5) with intent to commit a felony therein 5) the felony is a) taking b) the personal property of another c) worth more than $500. In the bottom left hand corner, write the page number of the bar review materials where this information is referenced. This is done in case the student wants to go back for a more in depth review after looking at this card. In the upper right hand corner, the student can write a mnemonic using the first letter of each element. Here, “Big Elephants Dance Nightly with Iguanas.” If it is something that can be visualized or is humorous it makes it easier to remember. Finally, in the lower right hand corner the student can draw a small picture. For this example, it could be a drawing of an elephant wearing a burglary mask (because it is burglary), and a ballet tutu (because he is dancing) with the stars and moon above (because it is nighttime) next to an iguana holding a bag of money labeled > $500 (for the intent and amount). Flash cards are a powerful tool students should consider using to enhance their bar studies. (Bonnie Stepleton)
Thursday, July 3, 2014
A fun 4th of July hypo for all of you studying for the bar exam.
Ariel and Elsa decided to throw a party for the 4th of July, which also happened to be their 20th birthday, at their parent’s beachfront home. Their parents were out of the country traveling, but they knew of Ariel and Elsa’s party plans and provided the beverages, which included several cases of the finest French champagne. After Triton’s Catering delivered the crab cakes, caviar, and chocolate ganache cake, the guests started to arrive. Swarms of invited guests mingled and danced to the tunes of the band, The Snowman and The Mermaid.
Ariel is allergic to nuts and Triton’s Catering was informed that the food should be prepared without them. Sebastian and Olaf, Ariel and Elsa’s neighbors, brought fireworks to set off during the party. After each consuming several glasses of champagne, Sebastian and Olaf started the firework show on the beach. The fireworks beautifully lit the dark night sky.
During the firework show, Olaf’s little sister Anna, who was 7 and uninvited, grabbed a firework from the pile on the sand and set it off over the water. Since the firework was not properly ignited, Anna received 3rd degree burns on her arm and the firework landed on a wooden boat moored in the harbor, which went up in flames. Paramedics responded to a call and placed a tourniquet on Anna’s arm. The tourniquet was applied too tightly and resulted in Anna’s arm being amputated.
The music and noise from the partygoers angered neighbor Ursala and she told them to end the party or she would call the police. Elsa, yelled at Ursala in front of the crowd of partygoers and told her to “Let it go! Just go away and slam the door! You are crazy and should go back to the crazy farm where you have been for the last year.”
After enjoying some champagne and caviar, Ariel ate a slice of chocolate cake. Her throat began to swell and she stopped breathing. The paramedics tried to revive her, but it was too late and Ariel died. A reporter showed up and included in an article the next day, that the neighborhood is convinced that Ursala is crazy. Neighbor Hans was quoted as saying that, “It was only 9:30 at night and the music didn't bother him anyway.” Ursala had a breakdown as a result and now cannot leave her house.
Discuss the liability of:
1. Ariel, Elsa and their parents
2. Sebastian and Olaf and Anna
3. Triton’s Catering
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Some may remember from Saturday Night Live the lovable character Stuart Smalley - “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” Students studying for the bar will do well to heed Stuart’s affirmation. As a part of my bar review class, I begin each session by handing out a 3 x 5 index card and asking students to write an affirmation, prayer, statement, or to draw a picture that will help them form a positive mental attitude. In writing these, I remind students to phrase them in a positive voice. For example, rather than writing, “I am not stupid” write, “I am competent.” The mind tends to hear and remember the last word spoken. The affirmation should be short - preferably one sentence long. At the end of each class, we take a minute to have one volunteer share one affirmation for the group and then read aloud all the affirmations compiled up to that point. I was hesitant to do this for fear of being crtiticized as being too "touchy/feely" but decided to take the risk. I am glad I did. Many students report that although initially skeptical, they find this exercise helpful in maintaining calm. Because the affirmations are personal, they are powerful. (Bonnie Stepleton)
Saturday, June 28, 2014
I am in the middle (or actually, the middle of the end) of writing my first law review article in 7 years. It has been a monumental task, starting with the fact that I am terribly out of practice. The Bluebook has changed since the last time I published in a law review (and I wasn't great at Bluebooking to begin with!) I have only had a month of solid writing time, although I have been researching and writing piecemeal for almost a year. To get inspired this morning, because I am so tantalizingly close to the end, but just so burnt out and exhausted, I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed comparing writing to running. I am a long distance runner, primarily at the 10k to half-marathon length, so I thought the article could help inspire me. And she did have some good advice.
Done is better than perfect. As I write, I think about all the connections I should be making. However, I don't have the time to write the article of my dreams, I have to finish. And done is better than perfect. I think this also applies to bar takers. So many high-achieving students get stuck during bar prep because they have trained themselves to be perfect. On law school exams, aiming for perfect is important if you want to be in the top of your class. But for bar prep, just getting the work done is more important than perfect. You can't be perfect when you have so many subjects to cover, and so little time.
Writing and running each require one small step. An article doesn't come out whole in a day or a week. Neither does bar prep. Each are about taking one small step, then another, and so on. Because if you look at the project, the race, or the bar exam, as one giant monolith, you will never get started. And you have to get started. And you have to keep going when you only have 4 pages of a 30 page article, or you have only read one subject in a 15 subject outline, or you have run one mile, and have 12.1 more to go.
So with that, I need to get back to writing. I am working on one of my last sections, a section that is dear to my heart--ASP. And then I need to write my conclusions. Wish me luck. And to all of you working on the bar exam, good luck to you, too. I hope to see fellow ASPers at LWI next week.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Many bar applicants are unsuccessful on the written portion of the bar exam because they fail to adequately answer the question(s) posed by the examiners. However, telling our students to “answer the question” not only seems obvious, but can also feel patronizing. To avoid this, I clarify how a student can ascertain what the examiners are really asking by following these steps.
Step 1. Read the call of the question to identify the subject, parties, and cause(s) of action. If the call is narrowly crafted (i.e. Can Abel be found liable to Cain under a strict liability theory?), make sure that you are answering the specific direction within the call. If the call is broadly drafted (i.e. Discuss the liabilities of the parties.), you will need to determine the central focus from the facts presented.
Step 2. Before moving forward, recall the key topics within the subject area being tested. You should be able to visualize your checklist, flowchart, or outline for each topic area. You may even want to quickly write your mnemonics on your scratch paper.
Step 3. Now, it is time to “actively read” the fact pattern. What does “actively read” mean? Use a pen/pencil/highlighter (depending on your state bar policies) to circle, underline, or annotate the facts as you read through them slowly. Pay attention to numbers, quoted language, unusual FORMATTING, and repetition within the fact pattern. These are structural and factual issue signals. Pay close attention to these facts and use them liberally within your answer as you apply the law. Reading slowly and carefully will help you to fully synthesize and find relevance for all of the facts.
Step 4. Use your scratch paper. Yes, use the paper provided to sketch out your answer before you begin typing your response. Do NOT rewrite the entire fact pattern or your entire outline. Use your scratch paper to list the buzzwords and legally significant facts. But, you may also want to write the call of the question on your scratch paper to ensure that you answer it. These brief notes will help later with your IRAC.
Step 5. An important last step: reread the call of the question! Make sure that your scratch paper notes and initial impressions align to the actual question being asked. Now, you are ready to begin writing your answer.
Bar exam drafting committees are constructing fact patterns and questions to test various skills and abilities. The ability to identify legal issues and determine the legally relevant facts are two such skills. Knowing the law thoroughly will help you spot issues and will help you answer the question. But, practice will help even more.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Summer bar preparation is kicking into high gear. The first week is a blur. The second week is overwhelming. The third week is a blur again. Bar preparation is excruciating- physically, mentally, and emotionally. One way to stay even and remain focused is to practice meditation.
Meditation can take on many forms. However, mindfulness, attention to breathing, and intentional focus are necessary components. First, try to create an environment where you can be quiet and free from distractions. You do not need to redecorate or go to extremes. Merely find a spot where you can feel relaxed for ten or twenty minutes per day without being interrupted.
Next, concentrate on your breathing. Think about good air coming in to refresh and satiate your spirit; and, the bad “stressful” air being exhaled and released. Attention to breath is essential to meditation. If the only one thing that you accomplish is sitting with your breath for 10 minutes, you will still be in a better mental place. Try to clear your mind and focus on your breathing and let everything else melt away. Thousands of assignments, rule statements, MBE questions, and life stressors will try to infiltrate your thoughts. Keep them out by concentrating on your breathing. Let this time be just about your breathing.
By making meditation a daily practice, the stress of bar review will slowly melt away…at least for a short part of your day. Even though schedules are strained, adding a 10-20 minute daily meditation can help add a deeper level of peace and contentment. So... turn off your phone and computer, find a soft spot to land, close your eyes, and breathe.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
I teach a bar skills seminar. The last class of the semester I reserve for a guest speaker - a graduate who took the most recent bar examination. I chose the person I did this time because of his work ethic I observed during his bar study. He had one study partner. They had an express agreement to treat bar review like a job. They showed up “for work” every day at 8:00 at the law school to study in a room they had reserved for the day. My guest explained to my class that after checking in with each other they would go to their commercial bar review class.
At this point, one of my students raised their hand and asked, “I heard that all that the bar review courses provide is a video lecture so why bother showing up to class?” He had a good answer. “Because then I was sure I would watch that video. Coming to class each and every day made me accountable to myself and to my study partner.” This got the class’ attention. The students shifted in their seats. My guest went on to describe how he brought his lunch every day to assure that he ate something healthy and affordable. During lunch he and his study partner would review their flashcards. “Tell me everything you know about X.” Then his partner would rattle off all the elements of X and if there were any gaps, they would note them and go over it again. Once lunch was over, they would return to their reserved room and continue studying until 5:00. Every day included multiple choice practice tests and essays. They worked in extra MPTs as well. My guest told the class that he studied 7-8 hours per day, every day including weekends. By now you could hear a pin drop in the classroom. Another student raised her hand and asked, “But, how did you find time to work?” He answered, “I didn’t.” After a beat he continued , “I didn’t work, I didn’t go to the gym (he was big into working out), I didn’t do anything but study. I wanted to be able to tell myself that I had done absolutely everything I possibly could. If I didn’t pass I know it would not be because I didn’t work hard enough.” So there it was.
His method for passing the bar was basically working hard. I felt a twinge of guilt in the moment. Inside my head I said “Well, that goes against all I’ve been telling students about work life balance for their entire law school careers.” After more reflection, I think he is onto something. He looked at bar study from a long range perspective. Bar review would be 8 weeks long. He mentally made space in his life to do what he felt needed to be done. He trusted his instincts. For him at least, working harder was working smarter. (Bonnie Stepleton)
Monday, May 26, 2014
We have all experienced many firsts: our first day of school, first car, first date, first victory, first defeat, first kiss, first heartbreak, and first day of law school (maybe not in that order). Today, you will experience another common first…the first day of bar review (cue Beethoven’s 5th).
No matter which bar review course you are taking, the first day of bar review is overwhelming. There are new books, new terms and acronyms, and so much new information. To say that this first day of bar prep is overwhelming is truly an understatement. Instead of going under-prepared and leaving in a catatonic state, here are a few suggestions to make this monumental first not only tolerable, but also productive and meaningful:
- If you have received a box of books or binders, envelopes filled with paperwork, or links via email, open them and read them PRIOR to attending your first bar review class.
- Start your bar review routine off right: Get a good night’s sleep before your first day, chose a wake-up time that will get you to your class with time to spare, and eat a nutritious breakfast.
- Be comfortable, but look presentable. You do not want someone to think you raided Barry Manilow’s wardrobe.
- Pack energy boosting snacks: pick your protein (nuts, yogurt, cheese, hummus, freeze dried ice cream, hardboiled egg…). You need to stay awake and feel energized.
- Bring a notebook to take notes and a hardcopy calendar or planner. You do not need your computer.
- Pray, meditate, practice yoga, or adopt another ritual that will help keep you centered. You must find a way to stay motivated, focused, and positive. Bar prep will wear on your psyche; thus, you must approach it with a clear plan and an open mind.
Above all, take your first day of bar prep seriously. If you underestimate the importance of this first day, you may miss valuable information and set yourself on a path toward failure. Instead, approach the first day in earnest. Show up physically and mentally and set yourself up for bar exam success.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Some students have engaged in early bar preparation prior to law school graduation, while others have chosen to focus their efforts on other tasks during their last year of law school. While I strongly advocate for the notion of “the earlier the better” for bar prep, many decide to live solely in the present and avoid the bar exam until it is imminent. "Ignorance is bliss"after all.
This sentiment brings to mind Thomas Gray’s poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, a personal reflection on the bliss of youth and the worries and trials that lie ahead in adulthood. Law school is by no means paradise, but it invokes “wild wit, invention ever-new” much more than preparing for the bar exam. Unfortunately, preparing for the bar exam feels much more like "comfortless despair."
Thus, I encourage students to take time now at the close of their legal education to reflect on their successes, their challenges, and the fun times that they had as a law student. This provides closure to their law school experience and helps invigorate their ambition to succeed on the bar exam. And, since the "folly" of bar review will be upon them next week, I hope they have one last weekend of pure, unrestrained bliss.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
The National Conference of Bar Examiners announced last Thursday that it will be adding a new section to the Multistate Bar Exam -- Interpretive Dance.
The new section will add one hour to the current bar exam, and take place on the same day as the MEE and MPT. Students will be given a topic from the current list of MBE subjects (for example, "The Rule Against Perpetuities") and will then have 40 minutes to choreograph an appropriate dance "displaying the student's understanding and familiarity with the relevant issues and analysis" and "showing the student's aptitude in formulating the relevant rule of law in logical and complete ways." The students will be given six potential music choices: "Les toreadors from Carmen Suite No. 1" by Georges Bizet, "Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkure" by Richard Wagner, "Bugler's Holiday" by Leroy Anderson, "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin, "A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane, and "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot. The dance should take no longer than 10 minutes.
At South Carolina, we will be instituting a new class in response to the change, which will include basic choreography to make sure the students fulfill the section's mandate of "choreography appropriate to the legal issue at hand." The class will largely focus on Balanchine and Graham, although we will also look at Tharp and Cyrus as potential role models.
We will also be instituting daily group sit-ups because of the importance of core strength.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
For many 2 and 3Ls the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is right around the corner. The MPRE is a multiple choice exam consisting of 60 questions offered three times each year. The MPRE is a required licensing test for all states except Maryland and Wisconsin. The American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, and controlling constitutional decisions and generally accepted principles established in leading federal and state cases and in procedural and evidentiary rules are tested on the MPRE. Commercial bar companies have condensed these rules in their review lectures. And, fortunately, most of these companies offer free MPRE courses and materials for students.
Although these free resources are available, many students do not take advantage of them. Instead, they underestimate the difficulty of the MPRE and sometimes take the exam without even studying. While the MPRE is not as challenging as the Multistate Bar Exam, it is still a high stakes standardized test that requires concerted effort in order to reach a passing score. A careful study of the rules sets a firm foundation for test day. Additionally, as with any test, completing practice questions will hone an examinees test taking ability and will help assess their performance. The commercial bar courses offer ample practice questions for this purpose. The National Conference of Bar Examiners also offers for purchase one Online Practice Exam (OPE) for the MPRE.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you prepare for the MPRE:
- Arrive on time, but not too early. Once you have been checked in by the proctors in the testing room, you are not allowed to leave prior to start time. If you arrive too early, you are stuck waiting in a room full of overly anxious applicants and an assortment of #2 pencils.
- You cannot chew gum during the exam (or have other food or drinks). I really wanted my gum, but they made me throw it away.
- You cannot wear earplugs! Why? I do not know the answer. This is cruel and unusual.
- You are able to leave the room during the test, but depending on your testing site that may not be a great idea. At my testing site, the bathroom was two flights of stairs from the testing room. (Even though I wanted to take a restroom break, I did not want to sacrifice the time.) Extra time is not given for restroom breaks.
- You cannot bring anything into the testing room- no cellphones, no bags, no books... Bring your pencils, your ID, your admission ticket, (photo- see below) and your knowledge of PR.
- Don't forget to bring a current passport-type photo on exam day. Think about getting this out of the way early.
- Leave your watch at home. Watches are not allowed at the test center. Electronic devices of any kind are not allowed either.
- As with the bar exam, wear comfortable layers. The temperature of the room may be too hot or too cold and may fluctuate during the course of your test.
Above all, do not minimize the effort needed to prepare for the MPRE. Last minute cramming may lead to regret. Scores are posted approximately five weeks after the test. Good luck to everyone taking the MPRE!
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Now that the celebrations and champagne toasts have faded, bar examinees may feel lost, deflated, or generally lacking direction. This state of mind is what I refer to as the "Post Bar Exam Blues." As with other challenging life transitions, processing their bar exam experience will take time. They have been on a roller coaster ride with extreme highs and lows for the last eight weeks. Once the ride ends, it is hard to remember who you were before you got on.
In order to best move through this period, I suggest that students first reflect on their experience. Sharing their feelings with someone they trust can help them work through their fears, their doubts, and acknowledge the incredible accomplishment of getting through this test. Writing out their feelings is also helpful. Once they get these emotions out into the universe, it is easier for them to put the experience behind them and avoid replaying it over and over again in their mind.
Results generally take several months to be released. Thus, once they have the opportunity to reflect on their experience, it is best to redirect them toward something positive and productive. Second guessing their performance, or holding their breath until results are posted is fruitless. Instead, having them create a list of current projects or ways to use their free time can help them see that there is life outside of bar review. Also, jumping head first into a new job or a job search can help remind them why they wanted to become a lawyer. Ultimately, getting them to understand that they are not defined by their MBE score will help them remedy their blues.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Is the check a negotiable instrument? Is the party a holder in due course? Was the check properly payable? These are frequent questions bar students draft as they struggle through answering Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Article 3 & 4 bar essays. However, these struggles appear to be over for many. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), effective with the February 2015 bar exam, Negotiable Instruments (Uniform Commercial Code Article 3 and the excerpts of Article 4, Bank Collections) will no longer be tested on the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE).
This news should come as a relief to future bar exam applicants and Academic Support Professors as well. UCC 3 & 4 is an area that students rarely study in law school. They approach bar review with little (if any) knowledge of negotiable instruments and bank deposits and collections. The unfamiliar language coupled with the lack of practicality make this area difficult for students to internalize. Some students may have never even written a check! Additionally, many states that do not use the MEE, no longer test UCC 3 & 4. Thus, the decision to remove UCC 3 & 4 from the list of subjects tested on the MEE seems timely and appropriate.
This news also made me wonder how decisions like this are made. For example, are there are other subjects that should also be eliminated from or added to the list of subjects tested on the MEE? What is the process by which these decisions are made? Additionally, NCBE has expressed interest in adding more subjects to the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). Should all of the current MEE subjects also be tested on the MBE? Is this truly necessary for assessing competency? Or, is this a bar that will negatively impact access to the profession?
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Two weeks ago, I held a workshop about the bar exam for all 2L students. UMass has a significant part-time program, and the number-one concern of part-time students was "How do I study if I can't take time off from my job?" I stressed to all students that studying for the bar exam is a full-time job, and it takes a minimum of 800 hours of study time to succeed on the bar exam (more if a student is taking the California bar exam). Unlike law school, where part-time students have a reduced course load so they can balance work, family, and school, there is no "reduced study load" available for the bar exam. Reduced study time results in failure, and the bar exam is just too expensive to fail. I spoke to the students about spreading their study hours over a longer period of time, and taking the February, not the July, bar exam. I spoke to students about starting bar prep much earlier, so they can get all the study time in, if they must take the July bar.
I think this is a question we should revisit at an upcoming ASP conference. I know there is innovative, interesting programs that prepare part-time students for the bar exam, and I would love to see more information on how we can better prepare part-time students who cannot take time off the job for the bar exam.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
With Halloween upon us, I started thinking about all things frightening. While at this time of the year ghosts and ghouls are the first to come to mind, the bar exam is a close second. The bar exam is the single most grueling test of an individual’s resilience and stamina. While it is a test of legal knowledge, it goes far beyond just knowing the black letter law.
The bar exam is a test of personal strength, courage, and endurance. Applicants are tested in a variety of ways on subjects both familiar and unfamiliar in a severely time limited environment. It is a scary endeavor.
Oftentimes, Law School Deans, Administrators, and even Professors want to mask the bar exam for 1Ls to conceal the utter horror. They want 1Ls to acclimate to their legal education without the haze of the bar exam impeding their focus. Bar review companies are even forbidden on campus so as not to disrupt a student’s transition to law school.
These practices make me wonder. Should we scare our students into studying for the bar? If yes, should we instill this fear as early as 1L year? While I agree that 1Ls have more pressing fears to overcome than the bar exam, I also think it is a disservice to ignore the intensity and sheer hell that awaits them. If I walk into a theater expecting to see a romantic comedy and end up seeing Jason in a hockey mask with a bloody hatchet, my expectations are quashed and I may not know how to react. (I had to...it is Halloween.)
Training students on how to prepare in advance is part of our duty as legal educators. Law students need help learning how to prepare for class, how to prepare their study aids, and how to prepare for their exams. Preparing 1Ls for the bar is also necessary. However, it does not look like full fledge bar prep or even like training given to a 3L.
Instead, 1Ls need notice. They need to know what awaits them and what (if anything) they should be doing before they reach their final year of law school. Here are a few considerations that should be conveyed to 1Ls.
- Think about where you want to practice law. There may be jurisdictional requirements specific to that state.
- Ask questions! Your first year courses are bar tested. If you slip by without having a good understanding of the concepts, you will also be lost during your bar preparation. Seek out the answers to your questions as early as possible so that you can get the academic assistance that you need.
- Begin thinking about your 2L and 3 L years and your course selection. Consider the subjects that are bar tested and the subjects that interest you most. Try to balance your course load between these interests.
- Start planning for the financial impact of the bar exam. Applying for the bar exam is costly and bar exam review courses are as well. Additionally, many students fail to consider the cost of taking time off and paying for incidentals like travel and accommodations while taking the bar exam. Begin saving early!
- Research commercial bar preparation offerings. Many of the bar review companies offer resources for 1L and upper division students for free or a minimal charge. Take advantage of these resources as a 1L!
In other words, let's not "Freddy Krueger" scare them...maybe just add a little Hitchcock anxiety and suspense.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
I want to give a hat tip to Paul L. Caron, Professor of Law at Pepperdine and owner of Law Professor Blogs, for the following link that might be of interest to our readers. http://witnesseth.typepad.com/blog/2013/08/what-are-my-chances-of-passing-the-bar.html
While I think it is risky to rely on calculators to assess bar passage probability as their results only factor in quantitative data, some students may find this calculator a useful resource for determining where to take the bar exam. Since many of us in Academic Support realize that qualitative data plays a huge role in bar success, the results from this "bar passage calculator" are not perfect. Additionally, if a student is told that their bar passage odds are low, they may make that prediction a reality. However, if a student is open to moving to a jurisdiction where their bar passage odds may increase based on the numbers, this calculator could be beneficial. My advice is to check it out and think about the pros and cons before distributing it widely to your students.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Bar Results are released at different times in each jurisdiction. This summer, Washington State administered the Uniform Bar Exam for the first time. In addition to many changes to the exam format, the results release date is changing as well. The bar exam results in WA are being released earlier- one month earlier! It is time to prepare for the results.
Grads often go into hibernation right after the bar exam. They are busy getting their lives back, traveling, getting married, and catching up on their sleep. As they begin to establish new routines distance grows between the bar exam and their current existence. Eventually, they are able to move beyond thinking about their performance on the bar exam.
However, as soon as talk of the impending results begins to surface (likely through Facebook), grads are jolted back to that uncomfortable state of limbo. During the weeks before the release of results, I start receiving emails, phone calls, and visits from grads who are calling on me for support or to ask questions about the delivery of their results. While I did everything possible to help them pass the bar exam, I now have no control over the fate of their results. I find myself in a purgatory of sorts. I, like our grads, am waiting with baited breath for the results.
With less than a week before the release of bar results, I offer these suggestions to grads who are feeling anxious.
- The bar exam is only a test. I know this is easy for me to say when I have already passed the exam. But, this test is only a snapshot in a lifetime filled with many rewarding and joyous occasions.
- The bar exam does not define who you are. (As stated above, the bar is only a test.) Your intelligence and character are not judged by a standardized test taken over a two day period. You have a lifetime to create memories, build a career, and show the world who you are.
- Focus on the things that matter most in your life. Having gratitude for the many wonderful gifts you enjoy in your life can turn a fretful time into one of reflection and personal growth. Sit down and make a list of what matters to you most and use that list to stay centered through the days (and hours) leading up to the release of your bar results.
- Make a plan for when you receive your results. Do you want to be with your friends or loved ones? Or, would you rather receive your results by yourself? Either way, you should make a plan so you can be prepared when the results are released. If your results are not favorable, you should have a support system in place to help you process your disappointment and lift your spirits. If you pass, you will want someone with you to celebrate. I hope all of you will be celebrating!