Monday, July 3, 2017
We are less than a month away from the bar exam. Law graduates throughout the country have been working long hours trying to digest a huge amount of information. They try to stay focused and positive so that they can overcome this enormous hurdle that is only offered twice a year. But what happens when unexpected life events happen that impact a student’s focus and positivity? What happens when our students face a rough patch of water as they are sailing through their bar preparation?
I was on a vacation with my family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few weeks ago. After six years of living in North Carolina, we still had not made it out to this beautiful and most Eastern part of the state. The beaches, food, and lighthouses were all great. Here's a pic of one of the lighthouses:
So, we were at a seafood restaurant getting ready to drive back to Chapel Hill after a wonderful time in the Outer Banks. I was about to pay our bill when I got a short and unexpected text message. A close family member had been in a car accident.
Many of us have likely received similar messages. You feel like you should do something, but you are so far away that you cannot do much. So, you try calling family members. But, no one answers. The text message did not include much detail. So, you call again. You text. And you wait. And the anxiety and the unknown take over until someone responds to your text or answers your phone call. And you hope so mightily that the response or phone call is a positive one.
Fortunately, despite a pretty scary car accident, no one was seriously hurt. My family member, who took the brunt of the accident, was able to thankfully walk away. Thoughts start circulating through your head. Soreness and bruises will subside. Vehicles can be repaired or replaced. Life is precious.
Things soon began to settle down as best they could. But, as many folks have likely experienced, it was difficult not to think about how things could have been worse. This got me thinking about what our students experience if a similar, or even worse, unexpected life event happens while they are preparing for the bar exam. How do we help them? Can we help them?
The answers to these questions are difficult, and they should be. Law school and passing the bar exam are large parts of our students’ lives. But, they are not the only parts of our students’ lives. How a student deals with an unexpected life event obviously depends on what this life event is. It may also depend on what type of support system this student has in place or can put into place. It may also depend on how much time a student has left to prepare—physically and mentally—for the exam, and whether or not the student wishes to try to persevere through this life event or wait until the next test date for the bar exam.
As academic success professionals, we know that we are likely part of the support system for our students. We know that we can offer a listening ear to our students and refer our students to additional resources when needed. Our listening ears are particularly helpful and appreciated during difficult times for our students. Sometimes, just talking about a challenge can be therapeutic and provide some assistance. We can also try to empathize and understand what our students may be going through. And we can, in a nonjudgmental way, try to have honest conversations with our students about their goals, bar preparation, and ability to maintain focus and some positivity.
Bar prep companies often place some extra time in their planning calendars for our students. But, this extra time may or may not be enough for our students. Are they on schedule with the suggested bar preparation calendar? How are their practice results so far? Can they afford another several months before they are licensed attorneys? How are they simply feeling right now? And how do they think they will be feeling in a week or two?
These are all questions that we might have with any of our students. These questions become even more significant for students who have experienced some unexpected life event. I lost some focus and positivity during that short time that I was unable to find out what was happening with my family member. As we enter the last stretch of bar preparation, let’s try to remember that unexpected life events often happen, and we may need to be there to help our students plan and persevere. (OJ Salinas)
Thursday, June 29, 2017
With just under a month to go for many bar takers (and after numerous weeks of intensive studying), let's face the facts:
We are plain downright exhausted. And, we should be. But, given what seems like the insurmountable pressures to learn so much material for the bar exam, it just seems like we can't let up with our daily grinding regiment of bar studies. There's no time for a day off. There's too much to learn.
However, let me offer you a way to "let up" so that you can feel mighty good about taking a real day off. A whole day. A day of rest and relaxation to boot. In fact, please feel free to live it up. And, there's no better time to take a day off from your studies than on a national day of celebration - this upcoming July 4th holiday.
I find that Independence Day is one of the best days of the year to see bar exam problems in living color.
That box of fireworks bought at a big top tent stand. That was procured through negotiation by you (or one of your friends) of a UCC contract for the sale of goods (and the seller most certainly had a secured transaction agreement in order to bring the goods to sale to your area).
That box of fireworks that didn't work as advertised. Well, that might just blossom into a breach of contracts claim or even a tort claim for misrepresentation.
That box of fireworks that were lit off in the city limits. In most cities, that's a strict liability crime, plain and simple.
You see, even when we take a day off from studies, we live in a world of bar exam problems. In fact, we are surrounded by bar exam problems because the bar exam tests legal situations that are constantly arising among us. So, it's a good thing to get our heads of the books occasionally to see what's happening around.
That means that you can completely feel free to relax and celebrate on this upcoming national holiday. Take the day off - the whole day off! Go have some fun! Celebrate...because even while taking a day off you will still be learning lots about the law from just living in the world. You can't help yourself but to see legal problems everywhere...because...you have be trained as a professional problem-solving attorney.
So, rest assured that in the midsts of your celebrations you'll be learning helpful legal principles that you can bank on preparation for success on your upcoming bar exam. And, as a bonus, you'll get some mighty needed rest to recharge your heart and mind too! So, enjoy your day off; you've earned it! (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
About three years ago, I hosted a practice Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) session for bar exam studiers who were enrolled in online bar review programs. Practically speaking, these bar exam studiers did not have opportunities to interact with others preparing for the bar exam. Moreover, I did not want bar exam day to be the first time they experienced being in a room with others. This MBE practice provided bar exam studiers with an opportunity to be in a room with other bar exam studiers as bar study can be even more isolating for individuals opting to study independently. It also motivated bar exam studiers to complete a full-length MBE and honestly experience the challenges associated with sitting, reading, processing, and sorting through answers to MBE questions. My physical presence in the room was motivation because under my watchful yet non-authoritative eye bar exam studiers felt compelled to sit through the end of the testing period. Students were appreciative because they commiserated with others and recognized that they were not alone in experiencing the challenges encountered thus far in the preparatory process. In sum, the practice MBE session afforded bar exam studiers and me a rare opportunity to address stamina, fears, successes, strategies, and perseverance during the break between sessions.
A colleague in another department suggested that we offer the bar exam studiers lunch during the break and invite various administrators (Academic Support, Diversity Services, Library, and Student Affairs) who were already a part of their support system. My colleague used money in her budget to pay for the meal and students were so grateful. Other bar exam studiers who were non-participants in the practice MBE found their way to the lunch; apparently, food draws individuals out of their study spaces. Offering lunch was a wise and timely idea as it enabled bar exam studiers to mingle with familiar faces, feel supported by the institution, and receive comfort and reassurance. Bar exam studiers naturally gravitated to administrators they felt comfortable with, requested advice and suggestions, and shared ideas freely. Ironically, the lunch break experience appeared more meaningful to bar exam studiers than the practice MBE.
This year, we tried something different. We hosted a bar exam study break during the lunch hour and a few days before most bar exam studiers were scheduled to take their mock MBE in their bar review programs. We found affordable and healthy food options and accounted for a few additional bar exam studiers as we knew that some may have missed our message but would show up. A relaxing atmosphere to encourage wellness, stress relief, camaraderie, and fun was created and included music, plenty of natural sunlight, informational posters, stress balls, pencils, and other goodies. Once everything was set up, we waited and it seemed like no one was going to show up. Gradually, bar exam studiers emerged and found their way to the room. We did not recognize a few of our former students; it was like we were in Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video or any Zombie movie or television show. It was then that we realized that this event was timely! These individuals needed a few moments to reflect and refocus. We saw bar exam studiers we did not realize were in town and thought had long since commencement returned home. At some point, chatter took over the room and bar exam studiers seemed to come alive. We spoke with bar exam studiers but mostly left them alone. What an amazing and priceless opportunity for former students to see us (administrators) and other bar exam studiers to commiserate, to encourage one another, to fellowship over food, and to ask questions about bar studies. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The intense anxiety created by the bar preparation process leads bar exam studiers to take on habits and processes that they have often avoided in the past and that they know do not benefit them. The overflow of advice, particularly from peers who have recently sat for the bar exam, is a “must-do” for bar exam studiers whether the advice provided serves the bar exam studier or not. All advice might be great advice, independently, but the question is whether implementing all advice simultaneously is helpful.
Bar exam studiers develop anxiety simply by seeing their bar review schedules and materials and that anxiety becomes stronger as they complete assignments and at times fall behind. Anxiety further intensifies as bar exam studiers accumulate resources suggested by others. They become overwhelmed by the volume of resources at their disposal and question when and how they will use resources to maximize their potential for success on the bar exam.
My advice to bar exam studiers is to supplement bar review by selecting one or two supplemental bar review resources that cater to skill weaknesses. When I say this, bar exam studiers look at me perplexed by the suggestion that I would expect them to selective about available resources. If you have researched, selected, and paid for a bar review program then you should use all aspects of the program. Moreover, the bar review program should be adequate enough to prepare you for all aspects of the bar exam. However, if multiple choice questions are a challenge, then it might be helpful to determine why it is a challenge and consider using supplemental materials to build strength. The same applies to essays and performance tests. If access to additional practice questions for various components of the bar exam is limited then supplemental resources can be helpful and should be used solely for that purpose. If bar exam studiers are seeking alternative delivery modes of substantive law then supplemental materials are helpful. If memorization and recall are challenges and the bar exam studier is seeking mechanisms to compartmentalize, manage, recall, and/or memorize information then supplemental resources might be helpful as well. Bar exam studiers should always have a basic idea of what they need, why they need it, and how they will use supplemental materials. This is fundamental. Overall, bar exam studiers might need specific components of a supplemental resource, all aspects of a supplemental resource, or might not need it at all because what they seek is already contained in their bar review materials.
Time is very precious so bar exam studiers should ask themselves if they will actually have time to use what they spent money on, their bar review program and/or supplemental resources. (Goldie Pritchard)
Thursday, June 15, 2017
Just the title of this blog might seem sacrilegious. But, in the midst of the daily work in bar exam preparations this summer, I've come across an interesting trend. It seems like no one preparing for the bar is convinced that they can write a passing essay answer, particularly when comparing practice answers to the multi-page point sheet or the line-by-line perfect answers often provided by commercial bar review companies.
In short, bar exam studiers often feel like they missed the mark (and aren't even close to earning a passing score). That can lead to a frustrating cycle of trying the next time to write an answer that resembles the massive point sheet, only to learn once again that one didn't quite get all of the points (or even half of the points). Unfortunately, over time, essay answers start to look like point sheets rather than the written work of professional attorneys, and, no wonder.
But, in most states in which graders assess answers based on holistic relative grading, point sheets miss the mark, too. That's because in holistic grading the Supreme Court graders are not looking for points but rather are reading answers for the substantive quality of your writing and legal problem-solving. So, here's a tip.
Instead of practicing to write for points on your bar exam this summer, try to write to substantively impress your reader with the qualities of your professional writing and the substance of your well-thought out argument. In other words, write to impress...because...in holistic grading, that's exactly what the graders are looking for. Of course, the impressions must have substance, i.e., demonstrating the work of an attorney. So, with that in mind, here's a technique to assess and perfect your essay writing. Instead of calculating whether your practice answer got all of the points, take a look at the much-shorter outline rubric provided by many bar review companies. Then, glance through your answer to see if you hit the major issues and if your writing professionally flows. In holistic grading jurisdictions, that's really meeting the mark, and meeting it well. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
A lot of what I heard last week was: “I fell behind in my bar studies so I spend all of my time trying to catch-up only to fall even further behind.” It is not uncommon for bar studiers to fall behind at some point during bar study. Studiers get tired, take longer to complete tasks, or encounter difficult/unfamiliar topics. How a person manages such situations may determine whether or not that person succeeds in catching-up or endures added stress throughout the remainder of the study period. Below are a few things one may wish to consider if ever in such a predicament.
1. Consolidate it and Write it. Create a gigantic to-do list (because everything seems impossible during bar review) by jotting down on a sheet of paper everything you have failed to complete. It is easy to feel overwhelmed thinking about all of the things you have not completed or seeing assignments listed under multiple days in various locations. Assignments and to-dos may appear more abundant than they actually are; therefore, it is helpful to collect everything in one place.
2. Prioritize it. Determine how and where to allocate and prioritize most of your time and energy. Create and label 2 columns: "critical" and "not-so-critical." In the critical column include tasks such as reviewing substantive law which is foundational to all other assignments and tasks. Consider the “80/20 rule” (in moderation of course) so you maximize your use of time to yield the most productive result and not waste time on tasks that are not benefiting you given time constraints. Determine when, in the remaining days, you can insert the not-so-critical tasks to ultimately complete all tasks without compromising future tasks. It is not advisable to spend all the remaining time catching-up. Instead, focus on what is currently due and gradually insert past due tasks in the remaining weeks so all tasks are complete by the end of bar review.
3. The Process. Keep your eye on the prize, passing the bar exam, but develop process oriented goals - steps that it will lead you to succeed on the bar exam. Often time, focus is placed on passing the bar exam which may appear impossible and overwhelming rather than considering individual steps and taking them on one at a time. Be cognizant that some of your steps might be very different from other bar studiers. You may have to warm up to sitting down for 100 Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) questions in 3 hours while others might require be able to do this fairly quickly. Knowing this about yourself, you may wish to initiate and implement frequent and consistent steps to achieve the ultimate goal. Being strategic and process focused will provide you with momentum, help you quickly develop good habits, and allow you to chip away at seemingly impossible tasks.
4. Start With Application. It is a given that substantive law is covered in lecture or some other method so we can check that off the list. For some bar studiers, completing a small number of MBE questions or an essay prior to lecture might be helpful to assess what they know, don’t know, or are familiar with. Also, their strengths and weaknesses in directing focus as they engage with the material. First instinct is to learn all the material completely and in depth prior to ever looking at a question although most programs encourage students to dive-in early. It might be helpful to redirect focus and time on things one needs to learn rather than things one already knows; and the only way to know what falls in what category is to practice. Do not focus on every minute detail and unique aspects of concepts but rather on what is needed to answer a typical question on the topic.
5. Select an Implementation Day. If you have tasks that are critical and require significant concentration such as completing a timed mock exam, clear your calendar off for a day to complete the task or tasks, schedule a study marathon. Set specific time limits for completing each task to ensure your productivity otherwise you may not get very far and may be faced with the adage: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” For your implementation day, find a place where you cannot be disturbed. This might require going to another town to avoid running into people you know, find a distraction free zone. It is important to note that while your implementation day might allow you to catch up, you are sacrificing a study day or day of rest and you will be exhausted at the end of this process. Furthermore, you will likely sacrifice depth of learning for breath of coverage. Plan a reward following the implementation day so you have something to look forward to as you are working because you will be exhausted. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
While we are still in the early stages of bar preparation, around this time, bar studiers tend to hit the panic button. The realization that we are in the month of June is overwhelming because the bar exam is in July which does not seem very far away. Bar studiers fail to recognize that they are only about three weeks into bar review and although it is June, they still have time until the bar exam comes knocking at the door. They also fail to realize that even if they had a year to study for the bar exam, they would not feel prepared when exam day arrives for this is the nature of bar preparation.
Recently, I have spent quite some time quailing fears and concerns associated with the perceived lack of time. A primary concern I have heard voiced is an excessive focus on what other Bar Studies are doing and completing rather than focus on individual progress, accomplishments, and milestones. Let us consider fictional bar studiers Whitley and Denise. Simply because Whitley BarStudier uses flashcards she purchased and swears by their effectiveness in helping her master the information and efficiency in covering volumes of materials does not necessarily mean that Denise BarStudier should do the same or would generate similar results. Particularly if Denise tried flashcards at various points in law school and failed to yield significant results. If Denise examined Whitley’s flashcards and was still skeptical about their effectiveness, yet purchased them anyway, isn’t that counter intuitive? Each time Denise attempts to use the cards, she is filled with anxiety because she is unable to absorb the material and is reminded that she does not comprehend the material. Denise knows for a fact that checklist outlines and self-created and handwritten outlines work best for her memorization, recall, and learning of rules and key buzzwords. So then, why doesn’t Denise do what she knows works for her? Why would she go against everything that worked for her and do something that has proven to be ineffective? These are questions I often ask bar studiers. While it is great to be aware of available resources, their availability does not always mean they are right for you. Why work against your process and waist time, knowing that you may eventually have to revert to what you know to be effective? Simply because the masses said it helped them pass the bar exam does not mean that adopting the same approach will yield the desired result.
Another primary concern is passively doing and checking things off the “bar study to do list.” Let us consider fictional bar studier Dwayne. Dwayne BarStudier is very attentive to what professors and recent bar passers have told him about preparing for the bar exam. The key piece of advice he has received is to strictly follow the bar review schedule and he is guaranteed to pass the bar exam. Dwayne is doing just that but gets sick over failing to complete some assignments and therefore stays up all night to complete them. He monitors his daily and weekly progress in completing his bar review program and is for the most part on task. However, Dwayne is unable to answer questions about basic elements and requirements for simple concepts and has significant difficulty issue spotting or starting an essay randomly selected from subjects recently covered in his bar review program. Dwayne is also unable to give a good broad overview or synopsis of major topics in any subject area thus far. He has not thought about what this means as he is simply following his bar review program. He may wish to think about what he is doing, be self-regulated about his process and not simply “do-to-do.” Why shouldn’t Dwayne reflect on the tasks he is completing and the justification for completing them? Why shouldn’t Dwayne assess his performance in individual subject areas and individual types of tasks? Why shouldn’t Dwayne ask himself whether he is expanding his knowledge, storing information in his memory, and able to access that information when needed? Completing all the tasks may or may not be beneficial to Dwayne but he is unable to determine this if he simply completes his assignments without reflecting or truly critiquing his progress.
The best news that I can deliver to bar studiers is that we are still early in the process so there is room to make mistakes, adjustments, and to be confident adopting and sticking to systems that work for each individual as they study for the bar exam (Goldie Pritchard).
Thursday, June 1, 2017
In contrast to the promotional tourism slogan of a famous gambling city in Nevada, what happens in bar review lectures...ought never stay in lectures.
Here's what I mean. Too often what we learn during bar review lectures is never really put to the immediate test. Rather than diving into practice essay and MBE multiple-choice problems that very day of a bar review lecture, we often tend to whittle away precious time by reviewing our lecture notes, re-reading bar review outlines, or, worst yet, re-watching lecture videos (because we are worried that we didn't catch every fine point made during the course of a four-hour bar review lecture). In short, we continue to stay in the lectures by staying in a passive "lecture-like" mindset.
However, that's not the way to learn to prepare for the bar exam because the bar examiners don't ask us to recite bar review lectures or demonstrate that we memorized our lecture notes. Rather, the bar examiners demand that we show that that we can engage in active problem-solving. So, if you are preparing for the bar exam this summer, get activated; get moving; get going by tackling lots of bar exam problems right after you complete each bar review lecture. You become the master rather than watching others demonstrate mastery in solving bar exam problems. It will be challenging. That's because learning is incredibly difficult. It takes all of our heart and mind. It means making lots of messy mistakes. It requires being comfortable with ourselves in realizing that it is not natural to know how to do things. In short, it takes lots of work and perspiration in straining and stretching ourselves to tackle things that we couldn't previously do. That's why we call it learning.
So, instead of spending most of bar prep watching others solve legal problems, get into the action, the real action of learning, by breathing life into the bar review lectures as you work step-by-step through lots of bar exam essay and MBE multiple-choice problems. Although it will feel mightily uncomfortable, you'll be mighty glad you did when you take your bar exam because you'll be ready to demonstrate to the bar examiners that you are an expert legal problem-solver, "bar none." (Scott Johns).
Thursday, May 18, 2017
It's that time of year. In the midst of many celebrations over bar passage, let's be frank. There are many that are not celebrating. Their names were not on the list of bar exam passers. It's especially rough this time of year because it's also graduation season. And, for some, it's not the first time that they've found themselves in this situation; it's a repeat of the last time around.
For aspiring attorneys that did not pass the bar exam, most don't know where to turn. Often embarrassed, many with significant debt loads, most feel abandoned by their schools, their friends, and their colleagues. All alone.
I'm not expert in helping with turnarounds. But, I'd like to offer a few tips that have seemed to be quite helpful in helping repeaters change history to become "fresh start" bar passers.
First, as academic support professionals, reach out to each one. Make yourself available on their terms. Let them know that you care. Let them know that you are mighty proud of them, success or not. Support them, one and all.
Second, give them breathing room, lot's of time and space to grieve. Don't push them into diving back into the books. Don't lecture them. Rather, assure them that they don't need to get cranking on their studies. Help them to be kind to themselves. It's not a matter of just hitting the books again, and this time, doubly-hard. Instead, they need to take time out to just be themselves.
Third, when they are ready, set up a "one-with-one." Notice: I did not call it a "one-to-one". Rather, set up an appointment or meeting in a place of their choosing at a time that works for them in which you sit side by side, on the same side of the table or desk or cafe. They are not bar exam failures; they are real law school graduates. They earned their parchments. So, listen to them as colleagues on the same side of doing battle on the bar exam. Let them talk and express themselves as they'd like. Hear them out. How are they feeling? What went right? What's their passion? What saddens their hearts?
Finally, whey they are ready, make a copy of one of the essay problems that didn't go so well. Better yet, make two copies, one for each of you! That's because you are on the same team. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes and just ask them to mark up the question, brainstorm what they are thinking, and jot down the issues that they see. But...and this is important...tell them that you don't expect them to remember any law at all. Period. And, you do the same. Exactly the same. Don't peek at an answer key or even their answer. Instead, try your hand too; wrestle with the same question that they are wrestling with.
Then, come back together to listen, ponder, and share what you both see as the plot of the essay question, the issues raised by the storylines, and the potential rules that might be in play. Once you've done all this prep work together, now, look at their answer. This is important, just look. Ask them what do they see? What do they observe? What went great for them? Where might they improve? In short, let them see that they have "inside information" about themselves based on their own personal bar exam experience and answers that they can capitalize to their advantage. Most often in the midst of working together, graduates tell me that they realize that they knew plenty of law to pass the bar exam. In fact, most are amazed at how well they memorized the law. And, that's great news because it means that they don't need to redo the bar review lectures at all. They know plenty of law. That frees up lots of time during the bar prep season to instead concentrate on just two active learning tasks.
First, they should daily work through loads of practice problems (essays and MBE questions). Every one that they can get their hands on.
Second, they should keep a daily "journal" of the issues and rules that they missed when working over problems (to include tips about the analysis of those rules).
Just two steps. That's it. There's no magic. But, in not redoing the lectures, they will find that they have plenty of time to concentrate on what is really important - learning by doing through active reflective daily practice. Countless times, it's through this process of a "one-with-one" meeting that we have seen repeaters turn themselves into "fresh start" bar passers. Now, that's something to celebrate! (Scott Johns).
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.