Monday, May 14, 2012
The Two Most Common Bar Exam “Confidence Traps” and How You Can Avoid Them
By Ronald D. Dees
Building and maintaining a healthy confidence level is an important component to overall bar exam preparation. There are typically two “Confidence Traps” that cause examinees to be at risk of performing poorly on the bar exam. Students can either be so paranoid about failing that they lose confidence and literally allow their fears to overwhelm them, or on the other end of the spectrum a student can be too confident and thereby underestimate the level of preparation necessary to be successful. By knowing the traits of students who typically fall victim to these “Confidence Traps,” you can evaluate your bar exam confidence level in order to avoid falling into the traps.
The most common confidence trap is the “paranoia trap.” This student is the one who allows his lack of confidence to overwhelm him. The causes of the lack of confidence can be many things. Perhaps the student performed somewhat poorly in law school, or for some reason just does not feel like he can handle the stress and difficulty of preparing for the bar exam.
The key to success for students who lack confidence for any reason is to develop a study plan designed to build confidence through self-assessment and feedback.
If you find yourself in this category, know that you are not alone and the best way to overcome these feelings is to construct a study plan that will help you build a healthy confidence level over time. Doing so will cause you to reach a point where you will know in your heart and mind that you are ready to perform well on exam day.
Many bar takers lack confidence and almost everyone feels overwhelmed by the volume of material they are presented with during bar preparation. Don’t allow such feelings to defeat you. First of all, you must remind yourself that no one gets every question correct or writes perfectly edited script on the bar exam. Secondly, everyone who has ever taken the bar exam felt like they could have used a few more days or weeks to prepare. No student can possibly know “all” of the law. However, if you prepare diligently, on exam day you should feel that you are as well prepared as anyone else in the room and are probably prepared better than most. That feeling itself is a great confidence booster.
Self-assessment and feedback are the keys to building a healthy level of confidence. Throughout your bar preparation, track your progress as you improve on your MBE test questions and take note as you succeed in memorizing more and more law. Write essays and turn them in to someone in your school’s Bar Services or Academic Support Program for review and feedback. If your school does not have such a program, find a professor who is willing to look at your essays and give you feedback.
Another facet of avoiding the paranoia trap is to make a study plan that you feel confident about. It should be one that you know will work for you based on your past success. Stick to your plan, work hard, and work smart. Identify the things you have done in the past that were not helpful or were detrimental to your studying or study habits, and eliminate those things. Constantly assess your plan and be willing to get rid of things that are not working and do more of the things that are working well for you. Keep in mind that you don’t have to have the best score on the bar exam, you just have to pass. However, you want to prepare like you are trying to earn an A, so that even if you have a bad day, you can still be confident that you are capable of scoring a C and passing the exam.
Not as common, but still worth discussing are those bar takers who fall into the “overconfidence trap.”
The student who may fall into this trap underestimates the difficulty, complexity, and demands of proper bar exam preparation. This student typically self identifies as very intelligent and falls into one of two personality types. She may have been either a top-of-the-class “Law Journal Type,” or she was what I refer to as the “Voluntary Under-Achiever.”
The key to success for both of the above types of students is to develop a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam.
The Law Journal Type thinks to herself, “I am one of the top law students in my class, so passing the bar exam is not going to be a problem for me. I will study for it a little, but I am smart enough to pass the bar exam without much real effort. I mean, after all, it is just a test of minimal competency. No problem for a smart girl like me.”
The Voluntary Under-Achiever has trouble staying devoted to studying and typically does just enough to get by. She is smart and knows it. After all she was smart enough to make it through law school with average or above average grades while putting forth only moderate effort. She thinks to herself, “I am a smart girl and I pretty much skated through law school with no problem, so I can do the same on the bar exam. I’ll put in a few hours of study time here and there and maybe cram a little just before the exam, but I don’t need to study for hours and hours, day after day, week after week. I never had to study that way in college or law school and I still passed, so the bar exam should be no different.”
Both of the above types of students need to develop a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam. If you fit into either of these personality types, you need to realize early on that the bar exam is a lot like law school finals, except that it is about five to ten times as difficult. You see, final exams in law school are usually tested over a two week period and you may even have some time to prepare between tests. Furthermore, you typically take four or five classes per semester, so you only have to prepare for four or five legal subjects. Also, many times one or two classes might be a “paper class” where turning in a paper is the final, and one or two classes might also have an open book exam. So, you actually only have to memorize the law for one to three subjects to prepare for finals.
On the bar exam, you will need to memorize the rules of law for 15 to 20 subject areas depending on what is tested in your state. Thus, it will take five to ten times as much work to prepare for the exam as it did to prepare for finals. If you spent three to four weeks preparing for finals, you would need thirty to forty weeks to prepare for the bar if preparing at the same pace that you used in law school. Now, obviously you don’t have that many weeks between graduation and the bar exam, so you are going to have to devote more time per day and per week to studying for the bar than you did in law school, even though you are really smart. Otherwise, you risk being poorly prepared and having an unsuccessful result on the exam.
Developing a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam will help you avoid falling into the overconfidence trap and will motivate you to develop and stick to a study schedule that reflects the time commitment necessary to properly prepare.
In conclusion, the key to this success for all students is to balance a healthy respect for the difficulty of the bar exam with the confidence that comes from being well prepared on exam day. You can allow that healthy respect to motivate you to prepare properly, and in turn, knowing that you are well prepared will help you maintain your level of confidence, reduce stress, and improve your performance on exam day.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
As many of us know, the best way to prepare for an exam is to first know the exam and the skills it will test. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare for the Multistate Performance Test allows for greater success on this portion of the bar exam. For this blog post, I am reviewing Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test (MPT) by Mary Campbell Gallagher.
The Multistate Performance Test is a closed universe legal writing problem that tests essential lawyering skills in a timed session. The National Conference of Bar Examiners drafts two MPTs each bar administration. Jurisdictions select whether they want to include one or two MPTs on their bar or whether they prefer to include a state written MPT on their bar exam. Over 35 jurisdictions currently include the MPT as a component of their bar exam. Therefore, this MPT resource is relevant to many ASPer's, law school students, and recent law grads.
In Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test, Mary Campbell Gallagher sets out a "Four Part Perform You Best MPT System". This system is laid out in an easy to follow step-by-step approach with detailed directions and benchmark timing guidelines for each step. Since applicants only have 90 minutes to complete each MPT task, efficient time management is essential. These timing guides are right on the mark and will help ensure that students begin their MPT study routine with these important time limits in mind.
In addition to the time saving system for organizing and drafting MPTs, Dr. Gallagher has also included several sample MPT Tasks with analysis, sample answers, and her MPT Matrix. By having several different MPT tasks to practice, applicants will feel more prepared for what the examiners decide to include on their upcoming bar exam. Reading and understanding various task memos will also allow applicants to easily adjust their approach, tone, and format.
Practicing MPTs, creating a system for approaching each type of task, and self assessing individual strengths and weaknesses are beneficial tools for MPT preparation. This book is useful for students in early bar prep during law school or as a supplement to their bar prep materials during their bar review period. I encourage you to check it out and to recommend it to students that may need extra help with the MPT.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
This is a blog post I share with my students on the Monday before the bar exam, when they need that final push to go forth and conquer. I write with the California Bar Exam in mind, but the general ideas can transfer to other jurisdictions.
Tant que je respire, j’attaque!
It’s finally here! Hopefully you set a time today to stop studying so that you can relax and attack the exam with a fresh mind tomorrow morning. Trust me, you’ve been studying for months and a few hours will not make much, if any, difference. As you start to wrap things up, here are a few last-minute reminders:
Mind the clock!
It’s the cardinal rule of bar prep: Do not exceed 60 minutes on any California Bar essay question! No matter how difficult a particular question may be, no good can come from spending more time on one answer at the expense of others. A graduate once admitted to spending extra time on a question that was complex and contained a lot of issues. He received an 85% on his answer – a terrific score – but it was not enough to compensate for the scores he received on the other essays that he had to rush through.
You have no greater friend on the California Bar Exam (aside from your watch) than IRAC. Even if you encounter a “throat-clearer” issue, you can still use IRAC and make your grader happy. For example:
A witness may not testify to a matter unless the witness has personal knowledge of the matter. Here, Wit saw the accident occur, so Wit has personal knowledge.
That is a very short analysis, but it still follows the IRAC format. IRAC keeps your answer organized and is what your graders want and expect to see, so don’t deviate.
Zip your lips!
No matter how tempted you are to rush out of the testing center at lunch and double-check every detail of your answers with your friends before you forget, resist! Graders look at your answer holistically, so why bother comparing your thoughts with someone else? There is a Contracts question on file where the two released answers each decide differently on the UCC/Common Law issue. Can you imagine if those two applicants had discussed their answers with each other after the exam? Each would have spent the next four months fretting about failure, when in reality they wrote the two published answers.
This one is difficult, but important: If you encounter a question on which you draw the dreaded blank, do not panic. All panicking does is waste time. Instead, there are a couple of proactive measures you can take:
What would my mom say?
When I took the bar, the second essay question covered a topic our commercial review professors promised would hardly be anywhere in the MBE, let alone in the essays – yet there it was. Instead of freaking out and thinking about how certain I was that I would fail (okay, maybe I did that for a minute), I thought about the question from a lay perspective: what would my mom, who never went to college, say if I asked her this question? Remember, the examiners are not trying to trick you. If you think about it logically, you probably will kick-start your brain and be able to pick out the issues and even remember some (or all) of the rules.
If you can’t remember a rule, read through the facts again with a critical eye. Why was Fact A included? Why was Fact B included? The examiners tailor their questions so that almost every fact can be used in an applicant’s answer. By reading through the facts and hunting for clues, you can probably “reverse engineer” the rule by picking out the facts that illustrate the elements.
Finally, and most importantly: NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!!
I was reasonably sure that I failed that second question; in fact I’m still not convinced that I got a passing score on it. Unfortunately I also encountered a couple of other questions (not just one) concerning subjects that I did not expect to see at my sitting. On top of all of that, I felt completely confident about five MBE questions – literally, five out of two hundred! But none of this matters because I stayed calm, answered to the best of my ability, and passed the exam as a whole.
So you encounter a curve ball, and you swing and miss. So what? That’s only one strike. If you throw down your bat and walk away, you might miss out on hitting the game-winning home run! Cheesy analogies aside, you simply have to stay positive and keep attacking each question with confidence, even if you have to fake it.
The title of this entry is a quote from Bernard Hinault, who won the Tour de France five times in the 1980s. Translated to English, it means, “As long as I breathe, I attack.” Take that attitude with you into the bar exam for the next three days, and no matter what they throw at you, don’t let it phase you. As long as you breathe, you attack!
I will be thinking of and rooting for every one of you this week!!
Monday, December 12, 2011
A guest post from Ron Dees, of Washburn Law School:
A tool for teaching bar takers the importance and value of accurate and complete rule statements:
As you all know, many times students fail to memorize and/or transcribe accurate and complete rule statements into their exam essays. This almost always leads to incomplete analysis due to missed issues and missed opportunities to discuss facts relevant to those issues. It can also lead to incorrect conclusions. Incomplete analysis and incorrect inclusions in turn lead to lower overall scores on exams. This is an issue that is relevant throughout law school, but is even more important on the bar exam because bar exams are rule based exams. That is to say that legal theory and policy are not heavily tested. What is tested on bar exams is the examinee’s ability to reach a well-reasoned conclusion by applying the rules of law to hypothetical fact situations.
Even after three years of law school, some bar takers simply don’t seem to realize the importance and usefulness of rule statements. They sometimes seem to think of rule statements as nothing more than a technicality to be placed at the “Rule” place marker section in their IRAC or CIRAC format. Thus, it is often necessary to show them the importance of using accurate and complete rule statements. Doing so will help the student do a more complete analysis, and the student will begin to realize the added value of rule statements when shown how using rule statements as outlines for analysis makes formatting and writing essays easier. That in turn can help lower exam stress levels, because the student will feel confident that the rule they memorized during study can be used to easily format essays on exam day.
A simple table can be used as a tool for teaching the importance of accurate and complete rule statements. As the table below shows, breaking down the rule statement into its individual parts or elements allows the student to quickly form an outline for the analysis portion of their essay before they begin writing. This outline allows them two advantages. First, their writing will be well organized and secondly the outline serves as a checklist of items that should be discussed in the analysis. If the rule statement is accurate and complete, the checklist will be accurate and complete, and the likelihood of missing necessary parts of the analysis is lower. If the rule statement is incomplete, the analysis may still be well organized, but vital parts of the analysis may be missing, which will cost the student potential points.
The rule for “piercing the corporate veil” is used here in IRAC format as an example:
Essay Roadmap using complete rule statement
Essay Roadmap using incomplete rule statement
Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?
Rule: The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored and injustice results; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized at the time of formation; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.
(1)Were corporate formalities ignored?
(2) If so, did injustice result from the lack of formalities?
(3) Was the corporation undercapitalized?
(4) If so, was it undercapitalized at the time of formation?; or
(5) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?
Conclusion: The corporate veil may not be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders
Issue: Can the corporate veil be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders?
Rule: The corporate veil protecting shareholders from personal liability can be pierced to reach the shareholders’ personal assets if: (a) corporate formalities are ignored; (b) the corporation was undercapitalized; or (c) the corporation was formed to perpetrate a fraud.
(1) Were corporate formalities ignored?
(2) Was the corporation undercapitalized; or
(3) Was the corporation formed to perpetrate fraud?
Conclusion: The corporate veil may be pierced to reach the personal assets of the shareholders.
Student A uses the complete rule as an outline, and we can see that a complete analysis will discuss the existence or non-existence of facts relating to five issues. Student B uses an incomplete rule statement, and thus is missing two sections of analysis that should potentially be included in the analysis. The missing analysis sections result directly from the missing portions of the incomplete rule statement. This represents a lost opportunity to earn points on the essay. The potential points for discussing resulting injustice and capitalization at the time of formation will likely be lost because the student failed to use a complete rule statement as an outline for their analysis.
Furthermore, Student B may reach an incorrect conclusion on the issues discussed due to the same shortcoming. As an example, the hypothetical may contain a fact stating that the corporation has recently become undercapitalized. Student B may thus incorrectly conclude that the veil may be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization, because the incomplete rule statement does not contain the associated requirement of “at the time of formation.” Student A will be able to use checklist issue number four to cause her to recognize that the undercapitalization came about at a later time in the corporation’s existence and that timing must be considered. Thus, the undercapitalization in the given hypothetical does not fulfill the requirement of “at the time of formation.” Therefore, Student A will correctly conclude that the veil may not be pierced on the grounds of undercapitalization.
An example such as this is often helpful in teaching students the importance of using precise and complete rule statements. First, it highlights how the rule statement can be used to provide a roadmap to success in the form of a complete outline for essay answers. Secondly, it highlights how the resulting outline can aid the student in formulating a complete analysis and reaching accurate conclusions.
Monday, December 5, 2011
The temperature is cooling and the brightly colored leaves are beginning to lose their hold. Autumn vividly embodies transition and change. However, the leaves are not the only things changing; changes are also underway with regard to the bar exam.
The Uniform Bar Examination is gaining popularity. Recently, Nebraska and Colorado became the latest jurisdictions to adopt the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). Other States that have begun administering the UBE or have adopted it for future administrations are: Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana (conditional approval), North Dakota, and Washington. Susan Case, The National Conference of Bar Examiner’s Director of Testing, announced at this fall’s NCBE’s Anatomy of a Bar Exam Conference that several other jurisdictions are currently considering adopting the UBE as well. Decisions are still pending for Utah, the District of Columbia, and others.
The biggest news regarding this significant change is that Washington State (my home state) will begin administering the Uniform Bar Examination in the summer of 2013. Washington has been a holdout state (along with Louisiana, who is also now considering changes to their exam) until now. Washington State’s current bar exam is essay only. Yes, it is true, presently WA does not require the MPT, MBE, or the MPRE; at least not until the summer of 2013 when the UBE will first be given in Washington.
Some of you may be asking, “What is the UBE and how it is different from what states are currently administering?” Although, the Uniform Bar Examination does not differ greatly from what most states are administering twice a year, there are a few exceptions and some potential benefits with its adoption. The Uniform Bar Exam consists of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) (200 multiple choice questions), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) (six essays), and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) (two 90 minute closed universe legal writing tasks). For the UBE, the MBE is worth 50%, the MEE is worth 30%, and the MPT is worth 20% of the overall score. The overall score, or the “UBE score”, is the important number in this equation.
Score portability is the major selling point for this exam. But it is important to remember that the UBE score is portable, not the applicant’s pass status. Therefore, if an applicant passes the UBE in one jurisdiction, they may not pass in another. Admission is not automatic. An applicant needs to reach a passing UBE score in each jurisdiction for which they are applying. Therefore, a higher score on the UBE allows for greater ease of portability.
Other factors may also influence whether the creation and adoption of the UBE produce a positive impact on the ability to move from state to state in search of legal work. For one, UBE scores do not last forever. Thus, once a student takes the UBE, the score is only portable for a time frame determined by the state accepting the UBE score. What this means in reality is that portability may be short lived unless the applicant obtains licensure in multiple jurisdictions soon after taking the UBE.
While maintaining a license to practice law in multiple jurisdictions could be a positive step in one’s legal career, it is also fraught with possible hardships; namely, financial ones. According to the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements (produced by NCBE and The American Bar Association), applications fees for bar admission cost between $100- $1500 depending on the jurisdiction. Additionally, in order to maintain multiple licenses, yearly license renewal fees, pro bono requirements, and mandatory Continuing Legal Education credits may be required in each jurisdiction. In light of the state of the US economy, fees and requirements such as these may pose a genuine disadvantage to holding multiple bar licenses.
Will the advent of the UBE create more lawyer migration and/or provide more job opportunities for new law graduates? Potentially, yes. Here is the bright side of the UBE. The UBE could create more opportunities for new law grads by giving them more flexibility in where they are able to seek employment. Considering the legal job market, this could be a huge benefit for new attorneys willing to migrate to more marketable jurisdictions.
While in theory the UBE appears to have many benefits, more seasons of UBE test taking need to pass before this question can be precisely answered. Missouri and North Dakota administered the first UBE in February 2011, Alabama in July 2011, Colorado and Idaho will administer the UBE in February 2012, Nebraska anticipates the effective date of adoption to be January 1, 2013, while Washington will administer the UBE in July 2013. Once the UBE is underway in more jurisdictions and UBE transfer data is compiled by the NCBE, we will likely see the true benefits of the Uniform Bar Exam.
Until these benefits emerge, it is important to have students thoughtfully consider where they would like to live and work before applying to take the bar exam. The UBE will likely allow law grads greater mobility but not without a potential price. Although an essential rite of passage, the bar exam is not a task worth repeating and if the UBE makes that possible I hope we see more states sign on.
*Information regarding the UBE and UBE jurisdictions obtained from the NCBE and ncbex.org.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Keith Elkin, Dean of Students at Dickinson School of Law - Penn State Law, has published a book through Wolters Kluwer on studying for the MBE. The book is titled MBE: Beginning Your Campaign to Pass the Bar Exam and was published in the summer.
Keith teaches Fundamental Skills for the Bar Examination at his law school and has based the book on his experiences with his students. His goal in the course and with the book is to prepare students for their commercial bar review courses by providing them with practical ways to study and learn for the bar exam. Thus, the book is an early preparation tool to be used in law school bar preparation courses or by students who need additional learning techniques to be successful.
His approach is focused especially on the bar-takers who will struggle in their bar preparation: poor performance in law school, previously failing the bar, foreign lawyers, and others. He explains the several steps in his approach to preparation and provides the reader with many exercises to learn how to implement his strategies. Using the methods in his course and book has increased his "at risk" students' bar passage rate significantly.
Chapter 1 of the book is an introduction to the bar exam. In Chapter 2, the author looks at the broad lens concept as a framework for identifying the fundamental legal issues and the applicable legal rules for questions. Chapters 3 and 4 look at the narrow lens framework of actively reading fact patterns, asking questions during that reading, and answering those questions raised. Chapter 5 demonstrates how to learn through wrong answers: identifying the mistakes, the reasons for the mistakes, and the right answers. A quick wrap-up of tips is provided in Chapter 6.
If you have not yet seen Keith's book, I would suggest that you take a look at it. This MBE resource may be valuable to you for a bar preparation course syllabus and for your students in their early bar preparation. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, August 26, 2011
There is no doubt that you have been caught up in the flurry of activity that accompanies the beginning of the academic year. Heavy meddlesome casebooks; jam packed orientation; a throng of new faces; and the cacophony of perplexing terminology bombarding you in each lecture- Welcome to Law School! Although the first days and weeks (or even your entire first year) of law school may seem overwhelming, there are ways to ease your transition and maintain a positive outlook.
Here is one way to get started on the right track with your law school journey. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen (yes, this requires a little work). Do this when you have about 30+ minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time to devote to it. Now, open your mind and focus on yourself…
First, take a few minutes to reflect on your personal strengths. These could be anything from having a friendly smile to being a great basketball player. Create a list of as many positive attributes about yourself that you can think of. Do not shy away from being excessive or even exaggeratedly vain. This list is for your eyes only- so go for it!
Next, write down your fears related to law school. Is it hard for you to meet new people? Are you nervous about the infamous Socratic Method? Are you scared that you do not have what it takes to succeed? Do you think the workload will be too challenging? Again, write it all down. This too is for your eyes only- so try not to limit your list.
Finally, take the remaining time to think of how you can put your strengths to work on your most dreaded fears. This may take some work. Connecting your exquisite knitting ability with your debilitating fear of being called on in class may not seem feasible. However, with a little creativity anything is possible. Such as: if you could knit while being called on in class or while in a study group (possibly with other stitchers), you may find that your anxiety has decreased.
Use your strengths to overcome your fears. If you are a great communicator one-on-one but fear speaking in large groups, try sitting in the front row and pretend you are conversing with only the professor. This may help you in more ways than you can imagine. Grab a seat in the front row and you will likely be more actively engaged and less intimidated or distracted by other classmates.
Acknowledging your strengths and your fears will help you determine your best personal strategy for success in law school. Putting your strengths at the forefront and focusing on them (instead of being destroyed by your fears), will lead to more productivity, less stress, and better mental and physical health (and likely a higher GPA).
Therefore, above all, remain optimistic even on your darkest day. If you need a reminder of how great you are, ask your significant other, best friend, or a close relative. They will help you see through the self doubting haze that many law students acquire their first year. Of course if you need to hear it from an unbiased, trustworthy source, I suggest that you read your list.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
On the heels of my last post, I realized that a time line is appropriate for 3L's planning on taking the bar exam next July. This is especially important if your school does not offer bar prep; every year I hear about students who miss the deadlines for bar exam paperwork because they didn't know when they were due. The best resource when creating a 3L time line is Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz's Pass the Bar!; I would strongly recommend it to all 3L's.
A few pointers for 3L's and the ASPer's who work with them:
1) Know the state where you plan to sit for the bar and and the paperwork deadlines.
2) Know what paperwork is required for character and fitness and how long it will take to get the required documents. If students need to request their driving records from a state DMV or work summary from Social Security, they need to know how long this will take.
3) If a student is moving before the bar exam, they need to know when graduation is scheduled and when the commercial bar prep course starts. If graduation is on a Sunday and bar prep starts on Monday, it is good to be packed and ready to go before Sunday night.
4) Know the deadlines for signing up for commercial bar prep courses, and decide if they will need additional loans in order to pay for a course.
5) Ask recommenders how much time they will need to submit a reference.
There are many other pointers for 3L's that are state-specific. These are just a sampling of the things that trip up students and add stress to the 3L year.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
The last week of bar exam preparation is upon us. While everyone studying for the bar exam will need to spend their precious last days slightly differently,all bar applicants need to focus on staying positive and prioritizing their individual study needs. One size does not fit all. Here are a few helpful tips to assist those in their final bar study stretch this summer.
- Make a plan for your last week and stick to it. Prioritize your weaker subjects and/or the sections of the exam that are most difficult for you. Try to gain a minimum level of competency in each subject area and on each section of the exam.
- Clear all non-essential tasks from your schedule. If it does not involve essay writing, MPT practice, or MBE review, do not do it.
- However, it is best to incorporate some physical activity into your day even if it is a just a short, brisk walk. Leave the library or your study area to get some fresh air at least a few times a day.
- Remember that memorization is necessary but without practice, memorization is futile. Memorize, practice, and evaluate your progress.
- Remain positive! Tell yourself daily or even hourly that you can do this. Find strategies to stop negative thoughts. Think about prior graduates who passed on their first attempt, think about all of the long hours you have put into your study, and, most importantly, believe in yourself. Repeat out-loud: "I will pass the bar!"
- Although nothing seems balanced right now, try to maintain a balanced diet. Make good food choices and stay away from the empty calories. Load up on protein and stay hydrated. This will help you stay focused, give you lasting energy, and keep you healthy for your big week.
- Spend 12-14 hours each day studying but do not forget to take care of yourself. Sleep is essential. Do not miss out on the regenerative power of a good nights sleep to learn more about the rule against perpetuities.
- Ask for help when you need it. There are many resources available to you. From friends and family to your law school and bar prep, everyone is invested and committed to helping you achieve success on the bar exam. Reach out, we are here to help!
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The 4th of July is over. Students have now been studying for the bar exam for at least a month and a half, and they still have weeks to go. Students are tired, and there isn't a break in sight. These are the dog days of bar prep. Many parts of the country are in a heat wave, which means beaches and pools beckon even devoted students.
It is important to keep students going through the dog days of bar prep. Encouragement and strategically timed breaks are critical.
1) Encourage students to mix up their study routines to keep things fresh. It's easy to get bored of bar prep.If they haven't been using flash cards, they should try them now. Study in a different room. Students who try novel ways to mix up their routine recall information better than students who stick with only one method.
2) Breaks are encouraged, but should not be abused. Students need to understand they don't want to peak before the actual exam. If they feel like they are at their very best right now, they need to slow it down. Many super-achievers focus too hard, too soon, and are burnt out before the bar. That is not good.
3) Expect a dip in performance for a week or so. Everyone goes through a period where their progress feels stalled, and they can't find the focus to keep going. It's important to realize that a dip in performance on practice questions is okay if they are still studying.
4) Have an ice cream social for bar studiers, or a movie night that reminds them of why they want to be licensed. Sponsor a night of Legally Blonde or To Kill a Mockingbird. Remind them of why they are putting themselves through this. If money is an issue at your school, ask the development office to sponsor the event. This may be one of the law students last contacts with the school.
5) Shopping should not be a bar prep relaxation technique. This is something I have heard more about recently, in light of the economic challenges facing many law students. Students cannot afford to use shopping as a release, even if they have a job lined up after the bar.
Good luck to all my colleagues who are helping students prepare for bar exams! (RCF)
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I haven't worked on bar prep for a couple of years, but I speak to many colleagues at other law schools who spend most of their summer working with alumni on preparing for the bar exam.This is a short list of recommendations based on what I have heard from colleagues and my own experience preparing students for the bar exam:
1) Never take the bar exam "for practice"
Look at the bar exam for what it is--THE bar exam. Students who worry about anxiety getting in the way of performance sometimes tell themselves they will take it once "for practice" to become acquainted with the exam. However, this can lead them to sloppy study techniques. I hope this attitude becomes more rare with the changes in the economy. Students do themselves a disservice when they try to alleviate anxiety by telling themselves they can take it again, because it removes ALL the pressure. Some pressure to perform is good, because it focuses study. There is a middle ground between paralyzing anxiety and dismissing the exam as practice. Students should focus on that middle ground.
2) Don't let practice tests scare you--let them guide your study
Early practice exams frequently come back marked up with significant suggestions. Students need to realize that they have time to fix the errors. Making mistakes in May and June does NOT mean they are not ready to take the bar exam. It usually means they need more focused practice on the areas that are difficult for them. Don't let students give up if they are struggling.
3) Practice your writing under timed conditions
Some students will take practice exams without the time constraints to test how much they know. This is a mistake because it gives them a false sense of confidence. It does not help a student if they know all the law, but it takes them too long to recall it. Knowledge of the law is critical, but being able to recall the law accurately while under pressure is essential to bar exam success.
4) Stay away from gimmicks
Oh, the gimmicks. There are too many to list. Students hear all about how to "game" the test, strategies to do well on one part and ignore another, or spend disproportionate amounts of time on some area of the law. I am not talking about smart studying based on examination of long-term trends on the exam, which is valid and helpful. I am referring to the word-of-mouth, unsubstantiated gimmicks that students hear about from people who took the bar decades ago, or from friends-of-friends-of-friends. These gimmicks almost always lead to problems. Studying for the bar exam is, for the most part, straightforward. Students need to know the law. Students need to be able to perform under timed conditions.
5) Don't over-study and burn out before the exam
Another tactic of students with exam anxiety is to study 12-14 hours a day, every day, and plan to keep up that schedule for over two months. It is not realistic that your mind or body can maintain that type of schedule. Focused, meaningful study, with breaks and time to enjoy life, is the path the success. It's all about balance. Overstudying means that by the time the exam comes, students won't have the stamina necessary for a 2-3 day test.
6) Don't beat yourself up over minor slip-ups in bar prep
Just like in life, stuff happens. You get sick. You just have a bad couple of days when you can't focus. Your car breaks down and you spend all day waiting for the mechanic to tell you what is wrong. While a bar prep schedule is critical, be sure that the study plan is flexible enough to accommodate life. If something throws the bar prep schedule off course, just get back to the schedule and plan to make up what was missed a little bit at a time, until it's all covered.
7) Don't talk to anyone about the exam during breaks or after it is finished
It is tempting for students on exam day to rehash what was difficult. DON'T LET THEM DO IT! It will freak them out and make them think they failed the exam. What is done is done. There is no point in rehashing the exam, because it leads to unnecessary anxiety.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Many students have the notion that studying for the bar exam is a nine to five venture. “Just like a full-time job…” is what they tell me. There are two major flaws in their understanding. First, am I really the first one to clue them in to the fact that practicing law is not a nine to five gig? Do they truly think that they will be home nightly by 5:30? Sadly, some still believe that they will have more time on their hands when they are working full-time practicing law than they did in law school. I briefly enlighten them to the realities associated with the practice of law but then I focus on a more imminent concern- their bar exam preparation.
Since my main function is to lead them on a path to success on the bar exam, I first need to wipe away any misunderstandings that they may have about the exam or the process of studying for it. Urban myths regularly seep into the law student’s psyche gnawing at their self confidence and challenging their fortitude. Debunking these myths and separating fact from fiction is a strategic starting point as I gradually replace their vision of a nine to five schedule with a more realistic nine to nine one.
For example, end of semester conferences just wrapped up with my Bar Exam Skills Lab students. We have fifteen minutes in which to discuss a myriad of issues. Discussions range from how do I pay for my bar prep class, to how do I study, to lessons in IRAC. But repeatedly the question du jour was, “How long do I really need to study each day during bar prep? Nine-five should really be enough, right?” I was not shocked the first time I heard this but after a few dozen conferences and many similar sentiments, I knew I had some work to do.
First I must ask, is this generational? Unlike many of my students, when I was preparing for the bar exam I understood that my life (my complete existence) would be devoted to bar prep during the summer after graduation. I knew lazy mornings with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, sunny days filled with berry picking and beach-combing, and long weekend camp-outs would be impossible given the shear amount of work ahead of me. For current students (my California dreamers), it was time for me to deliver a cold, harsh wake-up call.
During one of my last classes of the semester, I discussed how to create an action plan for bar exam success. With years of experience helping students through this process and the many useful ideas from the textbook I use, PASS THE BAR by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz , I formulated a snapshot view into the life of a bar student. What an eye opener these soon to be bar takers! Most were shocked by the intensity and length of time necessary to adequately study for the exam. But overall, they were grateful to know how they should be spending their time this summer.
By knowing what to expect and establishing a routine before bar prep begins, students increase their likelihood of success on the bar exam. By heading off procrastination before it starts, delegating unnecessary tasks when necessary, and taking all non-essential items off their calendars, students will free their time and their mind from needless worry.
While their focus this summer is studying, I also encourage them to balance their bar prep with their personal needs. Reminding students that sufficient sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise are priorities seems a bit paternalistic but I have found that gentle prompting is always welcomed and needed. Balancing and prioritizing our needs and responsibilities is difficult (for all of us). However with careful planning and advanced scheduling, students should still be able to stay healthy, connect with their loved ones, and have some down time while studying for the bar. Although bar prep is not a “nine to five gig”, “it’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”[i]. Instilling confidence in your students and teaching prudent time management strategies should make the bar prep process more manageable and less unpredictable.
[i]Parton, Dolly. “9-5.” 9-5 and Odd Jobs. RCA, 1980
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
I am going to get meta here and refer to two other blogs writing about something we have blogged about (I think?) and we have talked about in the ASP community. The Faculty Lounge links to Prawfsblog and work by Ethan Leib on mandatory grading curves. Dan Filler comments on something many of us have encountered in ASP; if a student is in the bottom of the class with a 3.0, they can't see they need help. If that same student has a 2.4 (or 2.0) it is a different story; students intrinsically know this a problematic GPA.
Years ago, I encountered this phenomenon with a student with roughly a 2.9/3.0. The student was furious that s/he had to meet with me. S/he was certain she was not struggling, although s/he was in the bottom 10 in the class. S/he was on a journal (one that accepted everyone who applied and had a passing grade in their Legal Writing course). S/he went on to tell me s/he had graduated from high school at 16, graduated at the top of s/her college, and the law school was making a mistake. I spoke with a few faculty members after the meeting, who had a similar experience with the students--the student was deeply in denial, and angry at anyone who tried to confront the problem. I recently saw a link to the student (now alumni) profile on a business networking site, and it appears s/he to be struggling to find work. It also appears that s/he did not take or pass a bar exam, or chose not to list bar passage in their profile.
Would it have helped if the student was at a school with a more harsh curve? I don't know the answer to that. It may have been easier for me to show the student they were in trouble. I think the curve has some pernicious effects on student motivation, collegiality, and morale. But an "easy" curve, such as one that doesn't require grades lower than a B-, may be worse than no curve at all. It lulls students into a false sense of their own competence. A C is a shock to the system in a way that a B- doesn't appear to be.
I don't want this post to sound like I am suddenly a fan of mandatory curves. I actually think they should be abolished. What is happening at many schools, in response to the jobs crisis, is artificial inflation of grades that defeats the purpose of a curve AND hurts students who need extra support. I recieve an email from a former student at least once a week asking for help finding a job; I understand the problem. But I don't think the answer, at least from an ASP standpoint, is to ease the curve and bring students false hope about their prospects and needs. (RCF)
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Helpful tips for students:
1) We learn better from re-working the material.
This piece of gold is hidden on the second page of the article. It's saying what we have said in ASP for ages; reading a canned outline, or memorizing the outline of a 2L who booked the course, will not increase learning. Re-working your own notes into an outline will help you learn the material.
2) Try one of the unusual font types for your outline.
"Think of it this way, you can’t skim material in a hard to read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully"
3) We overestimate our own ability.
One of the great lessons from law school exams: if you feel like you nailed it, you probably didn't. The material you are being asked to learn and apply on a law school exam is difficult and complicated. The majority of exams you will encounter as a law student have more complications and nuanced issues than you have time to answer. You should feel as if you didn't hit everything. If you feel like you knew everything on the exam, you probably oversimplified the issues.
4) We all take shortcuts. We all forget we take shortcuts.
Students should always take practice exams before finals. Actually taking the exam is important. Many students will read the fact pattern, "answer it in their head" or take a couple of notes, and then read the model answer. This is more harmful than helpful. Students will unconsciously overestimate what they understood if they have not taken the test and written a complete answer. This gives them a false sense of confidence. Students need to take a cold, hard look at what they understood and what they missed. the best strategy is to take the practice test under timed conditions with a study group, and correct answers as a group. This gives students a chance to discuss what they did not understand. It's easy to lie to ourselves, it's harder to lie to a group.
Summary of the article:
"Concentrating harder. Making outlines from scratch. Working through problem sets without glancing at the answers. And studying with classmates who test one another." These are the keys to learning more efficiently and effectively. (RCF)
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Even though I teach a two credit class to 3Ls for early bar preparation, as Director of the Bar Studies Program at Seattle U, I also need to make sure that students unable (or unwilling) to take my class get the same important information regarding the bar exam before they graduate. Therefore, I provide several workshops during spring semester introducing them to the bar exam and the bar application process.
As weknow, the bar exam application process is time consuming and can pose significant challenges for some students. However, without our prodding, some students do not realize this until the eleventh hour. In light of the AALS presentation “Character and Fitness: To Disclose or Not to Disclose, That is the Question” and the ensuing discussion regarding our role as academic support professionals and the counseling we give to students, it seems necessary for all schools to adopt a similar workshop revolving exclusively around the bar application process.
While meeting with every 3L to discuss their bar application is nearly impossible, holding a short workshop for all 3Ls is easily doable and accomplishes the same goal. Providing accurate information regarding the application process and deadlines and conveying the importance of full disclosure, serve several objectives. Students will be more apt to meet the application deadlines (and not line up outside your office the day they are due), feel supported by their law school during this somewhat tedious process (a good way to end their law school career), and to understand that professional ethics is not just a class they took their second or third year of law school (instead they are standards by which they will be called to live by…starting now). Above all, students in attendance with additional questions or past indiscretions will know whether to schedule a one on one appointment to discuss their application further.
Essentially, the best advice we can give our students is to be open and honest when completing their bar application. During the AALS presentation, Margaret Fuller Corneille, Director of the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners, stated that successful applicants are candid, show no malice when mistakes are made on their law school/bar exam applications, accept responsibility for their past conduct, and show that they have made positive social contributions. Bar Associations act at as “Gate Keepers” to the legal profession. In this capacity, they are determining whether an applicant has the ability to handle the responsibilities of being a lawyer. Instilling the notion that candor on their applications reflects on their present moral character is crucial.
Our role as educators in this process is significant. However, this role may vary depending on how you define your purpose and what your institution determines to be their responsibility. Questions presented by Susan Saab Fortney, Interim Dean and Professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law, at the AALS presentation are good starting points as you (and your institution) consider how to characterize this role. I have paraphrased some of Professor Fortney’s thoughtful questions below.
- Are we partners with the bar associations when it comes to character and fitness determinations?
- Should law schools be “Gate Keepers” to the profession?
- Should we be concerned with our law school’s reputation regarding the character and fitness of our students?
- Should law schools take the “ostrich approach” with the character and fitness issues of their students?
While all valid and though provoking, some of us may have differing opinions as to whether we should squarely align ourselves with the bar associations or whether our main goal is to be a “gate keeper” to the profession. David Baum, Assistant Dean in the Office of Student Affairs at Michigan Law School and a member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Standing Committee on Character and Fitness, raised equally compelling issues at AALS that uniquely influence our perspective regarding these bar application disclosures. He acknowledged that in our roles as educators, it would be difficult to engage in open conversations with our students if we were required to disclose every detail discussed within said conversations. He further stated, that these conversations are the vehicles by which we deliver sound advice and help shape the personal and professional development of our students. In turn, as Dean Baum points out, if we are obligated to disclose these details, a negative chilling effect could result and students in need of support, advice, and possibly further professional help may not reach out for it.
Contemplating the questions posed and viewpoints presented during the AALS presentation, as well as, considering your state bar’s requirements and your institution’s policies, should help you create a helpful and informative bar application workshop for your students. During the workshop, I walk through the application and instructions while pointing out areas where students typically have detailed questions or concerns. For example: how to request an accommodation; how to list past traffic infractions/citations/criminal charges or convictions, and how to disclose treatment for mental impairment or alcohol or drug dependency.
Although carrying this out in a group setting can be challenging, I have found that the group dynamic diffuses the potential stigma that a student may feel as a result of an affirmative answer to one of these questions listed on the bar application. Once again, this workshop opens up the opportunity for students to see me as a trustworthy resource and to understand the importance of taking this step seriously. I believe there is a way to be a dedicated advocate and guide for our students while maintaining the integrity of the legal profession…finding that middle ground is up to you or your institution to determine.
Friday, October 22, 2010
The recent LSAC regional workshop, “Building a Bar Program” was filled with useful information regarding every aspect of law school bar preparation programs.
The agenda included:
Carlota Toledo’s virtual presentation via Skype: “Using Skype to Reach Out of State Bar Takers”
Courtney Lee’s presentation: “Building a Continuum of Academic Support”
My Bar Exam Related Work in Progress: "Legitimizing and Integrating Bar Preparation Programs"
Laurie Zimet’s presentation: “Diversity in the Profession”
Twinette Johnson’s presentation: “An Introduction to Program Design: Convincing Your Faculty that a Program is Valuable and Viable”
Jennifer Carr’s presentation: “The Voluntary Third Year Program”
Barbara McFarland’s presentation: “The For-Credit Program”
Odessa Alm’s presentation: “The Post Graduation Program”
Paula Manning’s presentation: “Psychology and Stereotype Threat”
Lessons in a Box:
Chris Ide-Don’s lesson on “Multiple Choice Exams”
Russell McClain’s lesson on “Performance Exams”
Dan Weddle’s lesson on “Essay Exam Writing"
Mary Lu Bilek’s presentation: “Defining Success: Evaluating and Improving Your Program”
As you can see by the list of presenters, we were graced by a stellar group of ASP veterans. The conference was useful for ASPers looking to add bar preparation elements to their academic support program, create a new bar support program or enhance a current bar support program at their school. Although I gained many new insights from the presentations, the most important take away from the two day conference for me personally was the feeling of camaraderie, encouragement, collaboration and support that was apparent in every presentation, interaction and discussion.
Additionally, this conference provided me with my first opportunity to present. I greatly benefited from the process of preparing my presentation and the constructive feedback I was given during my presentation. Presenting a work in progress is an interesting and appealing endeavor. The “work in progress” or article is not complete (or possibly even started), you may have some ideas stewing but do not have concrete conclusions per se, and you have endless possible directions that your article may take. Essentially, this incredible flexibility allows you to safely go out on limb.
Once I came to grips with the fact that my work in progress was still just a work in progress and not a polished finished product, I could focus on what I wanted to gain from my session. New insights, a critique of my current ideas, comments on organization and structure, and suggestions for expansion or narrowing were a few of my goals. Not only were those goals met, but a thoughtful discussion of my topic (Legitimizing and Integrating Bar Preparation Programs and Techniques into the Broader Law School Curriculum) ensued. More importantly, with every raise of a hand or comment given, I felt overwhelming support for my article but really that support was for me.
My initial nervousness faded as I fully engaged with a truly dynamic group of individuals. As Mihaly Csiksezentmihalyi would characterize it, I was experiencing “flow”. Not everyone agreed with my initial thoughts, many even played the role of devil ’s advocate by challenging my premise, ideas and research, but I remained focused and motivated in a strangely euphoric state. Wow, it was fun!
I write this post not to exalt my article or draw attention to my presentation. Instead, I write this post to encourage everyone to take advantage of such opportunities in the future. When you see, “Call for Proposals”, in an email subject line, do not automatically hit the delete key. If you are excited to present or publish but do not know where to start, simply ask! Ask someone at your school that you respect, ask someone you admire that has presented or published a piece that has inspired you, ask through the ASP list serve, or ask me.
There are increasingly more opportunities to advance your scholarly ideas or innovative teaching techniques. Although many of us are too busy to even keep up with our daily work schedules, you should not let finding the time hold you back. The benefits you reap from presenting, writing, or researching far out weigh the burden it may place on your schedule. In addition, the support and encouragement is a great confidence boost. Find your “flow” and go out on a limb, you won’t regret the experience.
Many thanks to LSAC, Kent Lollis, and the planning committee(Odessa Alm, Hillary Burgess, Paula Manning, and Russell McClain), for the Topical Conference and for giving me the opportunity to present my work in progress.
Monday, July 26, 2010
On the eve of the bar exam, many students are either excited and want to get the bar over with in order to put what they know into practice or they are still wishing that they had a few more days (or weeks) to study. Either way, the exam is imminent. Remaining calm and getting proper rest are crucial components for bar students this week.
As this chapter of bar review folds into the final chapter of academic legal study and culminates with the bar exam, it clearly marks a definitive rite of passage. Current bar takers, like thousands before them, will ride the metaphoric roller coaster this week with intense highs (“Wow, I aced the Contract's essay!”) and intense lows (“Oh @%&#, I forgot to use the cases in the MPT library!”). Along with gaining their license to practice law, they will now be able to relate to this distinct and enigmatic collective experience of taking the bar exam.
While anxious, sleep deprived and emotionally drained, bar takers draw upon something deeper to invoke their self-efficacy and find their inner strength to endure this final segment of their long bar review saga. As I ponder their state of mind, a haiku I recently read with my daughter seems fitting. This poem illustrates and captures the feeling that most bar takers have felt in the last few days of their review.
Thick fog lifts---
Unfortunately, I am where
I thought I was
The clarity that comes during the last days of bar review does not alleviate the sheer dread that most students still feel. They remain students about to take the bar exam with their futures in their hands. They have arrived at one of the most significant experiences in their lifetimes and are embarking on the official start of their legal career.
However, happy endings take a few months to determine. In the fall, when bar takers receive the much anticipated packet of materials from the bar association congratulating them on passing the bar exam, their bar exam saga will truly end. For now, I wish them luck, legal fluency and patient attention to detail.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
The Bar Exam Saga Continues… As predicted, the heartache and challenge has begun for students studying for this summer’s bar exam. Their enthusiastic fervor has morphed into sleepless nights filled with anxiety laden nightmares and horrifically long days packed with lectures, memorization and practice bar questions. Students that heeded early warnings and sage advice from their bar providers and Professors remain steadily focused but understandably not completely carefree. No one is able to escape the overwhelming and foreboding sensation that studying for the bar exam produces.
At this point in bar review, most students have adopted a practical study routine and daily approach. Lecture attendance, while some may feel is optional, should be taken seriously and strongly encouraged. Hearing the substantive law along with heavily tested legal issues and hypos provide valuable insight into the particular subject areas. For some students, bar lectures may be the first exposure to the law for several subject areas. Therefore, missing lectures can be detrimental to their studying.
Lectures typically only consist of three or four hours daily. Most students struggle during this middle phase of bar review with how to use the unstructured portion of their day. Some bar review providers give detailed pointers but not all. Because most students feel overwhelmed with the limited amount of time remaining in their day, it is difficult for them to determine how to best use their afternoons. Inundated with new material from the lectures, creating voluminous outlines, completing scores of MBE practice questions, writing numerous and varied MPT exercises and countless essays, students are challenged beyond what feels physically and mentally possible. This fog engulfs the logical, articulate and lucid precision they once possessed. Frankly with everything on their “to-do list”, students lose sight of their ultimate goal which is to learn the law and be able to show their knowledge.
Rallying around students to give them support and passing on strategic planning guidance is essential during this phase. There are many ways to manifest such support and guidance. Depending on the resources at your law school, you could hold a MBE, MPT and/or Essay Writing workshop, offer one-on-one appointments with students who seek out help or who fall into categories with the greatest risk of failing or provide lunch or another treat during their studies.
At Seattle University School of Law, we host an “End of Bar Review Lunch” to give students a celebratory kickoff to their independent review and provide them with a chance to ask for help if they need it. The SU Bar Studies Program also holds an essay writing workshop that includes a timed writing and review. Again, this increases the likelihood that students who need either a confidence boost or additional bar prep assistance will take advantage of such assistance before it is too late.
Ultimately, studying successfully for the bar exam is about making what seems unmanageable, manageable. Students do not need a laundry list of boxes to check on a checklist. Instead they need to ascertain what they have learned and mastered verses what they still need to perfect. Ask students at this phase to prioritize and evaluate their knowledge of each subject and their comfort level with each section of the exam. Determining strengths and weaknesses will help with study schedules, time management planning for the coming weeks and lessen anxiety while increasing their confidence. If a student knows that they struggle with multiple choice questions and this struggle is reflected in their scores on the practice tests, it is best to work on a better strategy for the MBE. Alternatively, if a student consistently scores low on the essays or performance tests, it is best for them to hone their writing techniques and practice to remedy those weaknesses.
Far too many students fall into the trap of blindly following a course of action provided by their commercial bar review without considering their individual needs. That said, bar review providers should not be ignored. Instead, students should use commercial bar prep calendars and study planning ideas as guidance while focusing on ways to address their specific and particular needs.
Their happily ever after ending is not quite in sight. The light is glimmering at the end of this tunnel of bar review but for many students it is but a shadowy intimation. However, encouraging students to maintain focus, identify their strengths and weaknesses and reduce their stress levels will illuminate this tunnel and enlighten their journey during the last few weeks of this bar review saga.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The countdown to the bar exam has begun for most 2010 law grads. They have had a chance to celebrate their graduation, visit with loved ones and hopefully relax a little. However, with the bar exam looming, it proves challenging to fully feel finished with their academic legal career until the bar exam is behind them.
Naturally bar review is the next step. Therefore, my next postings will provide bar support ideas for the distinct needs of students through each phase of bar review. I have divided bar review into three parts based on my observations of how students’ mood/attitude changes during the process. Since every student is unique, use this merely as a strategic guide and alter as needed based upon their individual needs.
The three phases of bar review can be analogized to the three basic parts of a story. Simply put: the beginning, middle and end. Or equated to the more complicated romance novel: the romance, the break-up and then finally the reunion or happily ever after ending. Or better yet to a grand epic: a mighty cause or purpose, a struggle or challenge and then ending with triumph and utter transformation from the journey.
In the Beginning… The Romance, Quest and Journey to Passing the Bar
Typically, the first part of a story or novel sets the stage and introduces the characters and the plot. This is the hook. It is what draws in the reader and forces them to continue reading. For bar review, this is the lead up to the first class and the introduction or orientation session. Students receive packets of information in the mail or via email in the days or weeks leading up to the start of their bar review. Some tear open the brown card board boxes as if it was their 8th birthday all over again; while others, leave them in a corner collecting dust until the final moment. But all of them begin thinking about what lies ahead.
During this beginning phase of their bar prep, many students eagerly anticipate their start date. Recently a few students confided in me that they are “excited” to get started with their bar prep classes and that it seems like bar review might even be “fun”. (This was not the norm when I took the bar 10 years ago and may not be long lived for them either.) Thus, the romance or epic quest has begun.
Although difficult to imagine anything about the bar exam being romantic, in a very real sense students have been bewitched by the bar for years. They are giddy with anticipation to see what bar review is like, they have sweaty palms and heart palpitations when they think about the test itself and they likely devote more time and attention to studying for the bar than they have anything else in their lifetime- including courting their true love.
That said, it is important to encourage students to make the most of this starry eyed and idealistic phase. Additionally, they have more energy and time now than they will later in the summer. Based upon my experience working with students during this tumultuous period, I have compiled ten guiding principles to help usher them into the early phase of bar review.
With these ten action points and guiding principles students should begin bar review on the right footing. On this quest for success on the bar exam, romance quickly turns to heartache and challenge. However, if students know what to expect and plan accordingly, passing the bar exam will be more easily achieved. I hope that in passing these strategies and pieces of advice on to your students this summer will alleviate some of their stress and improve their chances of success on the bar exam.
In the Beginning of Bar Prep:
1. Calendar everything! Efficient time management is crucial to being successful on the bar exam. Create a master calendar that records your lectures, essay and/or MPT and/or MBE practice time and what you will do with the limited free time that is left over. Be as detailed as possible with your calendar in order to beneficially use your time and realistically plan for your summer.
2. Delegate non-essential tasks! Hire a babysitter, dog walker and enlist another member of your household to assist with household chores. Delegate in order to free up more time in your day or week. Prioritize your responsibilities and let go of all unnecessary duties or chores. They will be there when the bar is over.
3. Discuss your desire to pass the bar with your family and friends. Letting your loved ones know how important passing the bar exam is to you and why you will not see much of them this coming summer will help you stay on track with your studying and garner more support from them when you need it most.
4. Arrange your travel plans and/or hotel stay. No, I do not mean booking your tickets to Cabo for a long weekend in July! Instead, make sure you book your hotel and/or flight so that you are near the bar exam testing location in your state. Hotels fill quickly and you do not want to be stuck commuting for your bar exam. (Also, ask for a fridge in your room. It will allow you to eat in and avoid the extra expense and potential tummy trouble of eating out for every meal.)
5. Review your state bar policies and rules. Review the security policies, bar association requirements and testing location rules so that you do not need to make last minute arrangements. Will you be able to use a laptop or must you handwrite? Can you use a MAC or do you need a PC? Are there restrictions on what you are allowed to wear or bring into the testing room? Find out!
6. Get healthy! Avoid late nights, bar hopping and poor food choices. It is time to eat smart so that you can think smart. Again, advance planning will help you stick to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. Incorporate exercise into your day. Reward yourself with a brisk walk, bike ride or yoga class. Countless studies show, not only that exercise boosts brain function, but exercise also promotes better sleep, improves mood and increases energy. These are all things you will need during your bar prep!
7. Apply for an accommodation If you are applying for a testing accommodation, make sure you know the requisite materials/documentation needed and the submission deadlines. Get started early since this can be a time consuming process.
8. Know thyself. Follow your bar review provider’s program, listen during your orientation to absorb the many nuggets of useful information and do your best to adhere to their schedule. HOWEVER, above all, listen to yourself! You know your strengths and weaknesses. You must learn the law and put it into practice but you may need to adapt your schedule to how you learn best. Be flexible and trust your instincts.
9. Seek additional help early! Everyone is stressed during bar review. However, you need to differentiate between stress and your need for academic/bar support. If you are missing a key piece of information, a strategy for the MBE or a critical essay writing technique, it is best to recognize this early in your bar prep and remedy it before you become overwhelmed in your review. First, approach your bar review provider. You paid a considerable amount of money for their expertise and individualized assistance is part of that fee. If they are unable to assist you, do not stop seeking help. Go to your Academic Support, Bar Support, or Dean of Students at your law school to see how they can assist. Last but not least, ask a friend or Law Professor.
10. Adopt a mantra: “I will pass the bar exam!” Remaining positive during your bar review will yield positive results. Use “post it” notes to wallpaper your life with encouraging affirmations, distance yourself from negativity or overly stressed out peers and feel confident that your commitment and hard work will pay off.
Friday, May 7, 2010
End of semester conferences provide a good opportunity to have the much needed one-on-one communication with my bar skills students. Since class sizes are large, 40- 60 students per section, individual contact is hard to achieve regularly. Conferences give students the opportunity to ask the questions they were hesitant to ask during class and provide the chance for me to counsel, applaud and guide them as they move onto their graduation and bar review.
Typically, these conferences run the gamut. We discuss their performance in class and their essay writing on their simulated bar essays. But more importantly, I try to gauge their anxiety regarding the bar exam as compared to when they started the class. At the beginning of the semester, I require all students to fill out a questionnaire that I use to create a student profile and assess where they are and what work is ahead of me. To fully grasp their progress at the end of the semester, I review their personal questionnaires along with their final writing assignments before our conference.
Although brief, 15-30 minutes, the conferences are a great way for me to personally reach out to those students who need it most and give individualized attention to all of my students. These conferences also give me great insight into the mind of an almost grad. This spring I realized that quashing unrealistic expectations regarding what their summer will look like is also a necessary part of my conference time with these budding grads.
Startlingly I have heard the phrase, “Studying for the bar this summer is just a nine to five gig, right?” I was shocked to hear this the first time! To my surprise, I soon realized that dozens of students were under the same impression, bar review would actually take up less time than their law school studies. Who is spreading such a rumor? Who has greatly misrepresented the time commitment required for bar review?
My job, however difficult, is to quash this unrealistic expectation and set them on the path to success. Attending bar review lectures, memorizing the law and taking practice tests are fundamental to bar exam success but are all quite time consuming. Therefore, equally important, if not more so, is time management.
Most law school students have a solid grasp of time management strategies. As 3L’s, they have lived through first year sleep deprivation and Socratic hide the ball, being worked to death in their second year, and juggling multiple deadlines with their reading and work schedules during their third year. Ironically, however, after all three years, some of them still do not know how to productively use their time.
Efficiency and concerted effort is key to success on the bar exam. Attending daily lectures, synthesizing countless rules into manageable outlines or other memory devices and frequently taking numerous practice exams can only be achieved if a student knows how to effectively stay on task and easily move between each of them. Interruptions and procrastination will certainly occur. However, the successful bar review student will know how to overcome these classic distractions.
Since I play a part in their success on the bar exam, I first quash their unrealistic time expectations and then give them helpful tips to make it through this grueling period.
- Tip #1: Wake Up! Bar prep will take over your life for the summer! It is rarely, if ever, only a nine to five gig; in actuality, it takes at least 10-12 hours out of your day. I also advise them to use their time judiciously. Factoring in breaks, family and/or work commitments and exercise is essential.
- Tip #2: Manage Your Time! Calendar and micromanage all of the pieces of your review at the beginning of the summer before bar prep starts. By planning carefully, students will likely cover all of the requisite material, not leaving multiple subjects to cram into insufficient time right before the exam. Doing this advance planning will allow them to possess a semblance of control and sanity. Lastly, when considering time management, I ask them to think not only about what they need to study, but how they will study and where they will study. Choosing the right time and study location can make a considerable difference in their productivity.
- Tip #3 Self Regulate and Reflect Students know themselves best. Guide them to reflect on what has worked for them while studying for closed book law school exams and what has not been as successful. Remind them that if something is not working during bar review, they should seek help (from their bar review provider or ASP) and to feel self confident enough to change their study plan accordingly. They should be empowered by this process not fraught with worry. Being flexible and proactive yields positive results.
Coupling the jolting and daunting news of losing their summer to endless hours of studying for the bar, with concrete strategies to conquer the exam, will hopefully soften the blow. Selfishly, it may also limit the amount of students knocking at your door around the second week of July needing to be rescued from the mountain of work that accumulated as a result of their lack of time management. If we plan ahead, so can they…we just need to lead the way.