Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This is my mantra for law school, the bar exam, the practice of law. There are always unknown factors and more than one right answer. You have to do your best to be prepared for anything but it still might not be enough. Certainty, absolutes, and complete control are not common. When asked a question, most lawyers answer with, “It depends…” Studying for the bar exam is a real test in getting comfortable being uncomfortable. You struggle to learn a massive amount of material yet are tested on only a fraction of it, and your score depends on how well others do. It’s a nerve-wracking process. I talk to my students about what it takes and how they will feel but I also experience it with them. Each summer during bar prep I do something that makes me uncomfortable. This year I decided to run. Every day. For the entire bar prep period and through the bar exam (66 days). Yes, I’m a runner but I hadn’t been consistent and was definitely not in peak condition. I had never run this many consecutive days and I kept making excuses to not do this challenge. I was a little scared that I would fail, which is exactly why I had to do it. Before I started I set some ground rules for myself: each week I would take a max of 2 “rest” days (under 2 miles) and do at least 1 challenging run (high mileage, hills, etc.). I would also go public (facebook) so I couldn’t make excuses. Then I started running. I started out cautious because I was afraid I’d get worn out. I realized that was wimpy and kicked it up a notch. I added cross-training two days a week to build up strength. And I kept running. By the end, I ran almost 200 miles in 4 states, lost a few pounds, and got some killer tan lines. I also learned a lot about myself and what it means to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Of all the challenges I have done, this is the one that most connected me to what my students are going through. Here are just a few take-aways:
(1) If you don’t take a break every now and then, you’ll get worn out and crash.
(2) There is rarely a good reason not to run but there are a lot of excuses.
(3) If you don’t have a plan you’ll find yourself running at 9:30pm and again at 6:30am the next day.
(4) A bad run is still a run and you will benefit from it.
(5) You must believe in yourself but don’t underestimate the importance of friends and family.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s what it’s all about.
Friday, August 1, 2014
Most of you have likely heard about the nationwide ExamSoft malfunction that occurred during the administration of the bar exam this week. If not, as you can imagine, ExamSoft did not perform as expected and many bar exam takers were left with error messages when they tried to upload their bar exams. Above the Law even collected tweets from infuriated bar applicants and compiled them on their blog. Take a look, my favorite is the one referencing the Titanic.
While rational minds realize that this software snafu is not a catastrophic event (since uploading can happen once the system is not being overtaxed), bar applicants are not rational. Applicants who are sitting for the bar exam are at peak performance; but, they are also at the pinnacle of stress. Anything can set them off. Some examples from this week include: the temperature of the room (in WA it was like the icebergs in Titanic); toe tapping from a tablemate; bad breath wafting from a tablemate (yuck); shortened lunch break on MBE day; not being able to take highlighters into the exam; a cluster of sobbing test takers during the MBE day; and (my favorite) a driver’s license accidentally being flushed down the toilet. None of these situations led to permanent bodily harm, but some left scars on test takers psyches.
If you took the bar exam, you can somewhat relate to what these examinees went through this week. However, I find that once there is distance from one’s bar exam experience, an individual is likely to brush off its intensity. Since I feel as if I go through, at least some of, the rigors of this exam twice a year, I do have a soft spot when I hear about anything that may have messed with an applicant’s mojo. As we know, there is a bit of mojo required for bar passage.
Luckily in Washington, bar applicants have a few days to upload their essays and PTs; so, many of my students were not adversely affected by the ExamSoft debacle. However, I will add “Barmageddon” to the numerous other stories that I have accumulated over the years. There is one when the earthquake happened in 2001 (and the examiners called out "keep working" as students climbed under their tables), the one where someone went into labor during the test, and the one where a student threw up on their exam (toe tapping is fine in comparison)… I will share these stories and a few others with my future students so that no matter what happens, they will “keep calm and carry on” when it is turn in the hot seat.
Lisa Bove Young
Friday, July 25, 2014
I have compiled this list for those of you studying for the bar exam and for those of us helping applicants prepare for the bar exam because at this point in bar review, we all need a good laugh! FYI: These are questions that I have received over the last week. Enjoy!
10. Am I allowed to chew tobacco during the bar exam?
9. Am I supposed to register for ExamSoft?
8. I can write my essays in pencil, right?
7. What is hearsay?
6. Are the MBE subjects tested on the MEE?
5. Do I really need to study Commercial Paper?
4. In a worst case scenario on the MBE, which letter should I pick? A, B, C, or D?
3. Do you have suggestions as to the types of food I should avoid the night before the bar exam? Also, you said that I should eat a breakfast of champions on the day of the exam, could you please elaborate?
2. What is the bar exam pass rate?
1. Which subjects are tested on the MBE? (YIKES!)
While some of these questions have clear answers (hearsay is an out of court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted), others would require me to have a crystal ball or supernatural powers in order to give an accurate answer. I have no idea whether Commercial Paper will be a subject tested on the Multistate Essay Exam, but I do know that the MBE subjects are tested on the MEE in Uniform Bar Exam Jurisdictions. I also do not want to select the pre-bar menu for my students, but I did give them a few suggestions (protein!). And, no, in WA you cannot use tobacco products in the exam room.
I encourage questions and answer them all (whether they are relevant or not), but I find the timing of a few of these to be startling. Since the bar exam is next week, I would hope that applicants know the subjects that are tested on each section of the exam and know the basic logistical requirements like signing up for ExamSoft ahead of time. These are important elements that I know I have repeated in multiple ways, hundreds of times...
But, this is bar review. It is a fast paced jumble of information with a few exuberant highs and numerous frightening lows, a (haunted) roller coaster ride of sorts. Everyone studying for the bar exam is overwhelmed with the vast amount of material being thrown at them all summer and we are overwhelmed meeting all of their diverse needs. The strangest question is the one that I ask myself twice a year: Why do I love this so much?
Here's to high pass rates and no Commercial Paper question on the Multistate Essay Exam!
Best of luck to all of the Summer 2014 Bar Applicants!
Lisa Bove Young
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.