Friday, June 3, 2016
As the dulcet birdsong of spring gives way to the blistering Hades of summer in South Carolina, I spend a lot of time working with students as they prepare for the essay portion of the bar exam.
Students struggling with this portion of the bar exam seem to fall into one of two groups. For one group, the problem is that they are writing too little. So, for example, if there is a question involving the UCC and a sailboat, they won't write down what the UCC is, what it covers, or why a sailboat might fall under the UCC rules.
For the other group, the problem is that they are writing too much. In that case, if the question involves what happens when a guy calls up his attorney and tells her to toss his will in a fire, this group will start with "A will requires two signatures ..." and eventually write down absolutely everything they know about wills.
Either way, even if the student actually knows the applicable law and how to apply it, the exam grader can't tell. If the exam grader can't tell, the exam grader is not going to award points. I've seen students fail bar exam essays for both of the above reasons.
Consequently, when evaluating essays, I remind the student to write essays as if he or she is speaking with a client. A client is not an expert in the situation, and the student needs to explain to him or her what rules apply and why those particular rules apply. On the other hand, if the student hits the client with a firehose of information, he or she will have no clue as to what things are important, what the rule actually is, or why that rule applies, even if the actual information is buried in there somewhere.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Texas just released its results this afternoon. As more and more bar results are released throughout the United States, we can celebrate with many of our graduates. Congratulations to all of the law school graduates who have passed the bar! Congratulations also to the many ASP and Bar Prep colleagues who work with their graduates to make these results possible!
We know that some graduates will not have passed this time. Failures are often the result of illness, family emergency, or other personal issues. For some graduates, the problem was working too many hours during bar preparation or being unable to afford a bar review course. There are many reasons that the exam might not have gone as well as hoped for by a taker.
Disappointment is a natural emotion for those who were not successful. Each person needs some time to grieve, evaluate the situation, and find resilience. Please realize that there are people at your law school who want to assist you to be successful in your next bar exam. Talk to the academic support and bar preparation professionals, faculty, and deans at your law school to get assistance and use the many resources that are available to you.
You can find new strategies to approach your bar study. You can re-evaluate and make corrections. You can persevere. After you have some time to recover from your disappointment, reach out to those who want to help. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, September 24, 2015
"Is the Bar Too Low to Get Into Law School?" is the headline in today's New York Times "Room for Debate" section. It posed the question: Why are so many law students failing the bar exam? This is a complex issue and as the different responses make clear, there is no simple answer.
The debate started more than a year ago. The July 2014 bar exam was one of the most exciting (and not in a good way) and controversial bar exams in recent history. It is widely known as Barmageddon or Barghazi due to a nationwide debacle on the first day of the exam. The first day is the written portion; test takers pay a fee ($100-$125) to use laptops and then upload responses through an outside company. Most jurisdictions use ExamSoft. Last year ExamSoft experienced a system-wide failure and test takers across the country were not able to upload responses. ExamSoft eventually fixed the problem but not until thousands and thousands of test takers had stayed up most of the night trying to submit their responses. To say it was stressful is an understatement.
By the time day two started, many test takers still did not know the fate of their responses- were they uploaded? would the jurisdiction accept them after the deadline? Day two of the bar exam is the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE)- the multiple choice portion of the test that every state (except for LA) uses. It is created, scored and scaled by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and although it is only one part of the overall score, jurisdictions use it to scale the other portions of the exam. In other words, the MBE score is a big deal. The rest of the bar exam was uneventful. Until jurisdictions started posting results. Almost every jurisdiction reported historically low bar pass rates. This is when the finger-pointing began: Many law schools blamed the MBE, saying the test was flawed. The NCBE fired back, claiming takers were "less able" than in past years. Not many seemed to see any connection between Barghazi and bar scores.
Fast forward to July 2015. The NCBE added a seventh subject to the MBE but the exam itself is uneventful. No system failures. No Barghazi, part II. Then results started trickling out. Pass rates are lower than last year and so is the national median for the MBE. You have to go back more than twenty years to see a median score this low.
So, why are so many students failing the bar exam? Is it because law students are "less able?" Is it the addition of more material? Are law schools not adequately preparing students? Is the bar exam itself a flawed test? There is definitely "Room for Debate".
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Spoiler: I'm into rhetorical questions, so I'm not going to answer the one I asked above in this post.
A little over a month ago, I sat for a 200 multiple-choice question exam to determine whether I would cross a hurdle necessary for professional licensure. The readership of this blog is probably a little confused because the bar exam was a little less than a month ago. So to answer the obvious question, no, I was not sitting for yet another bar exam. But I have sat for the bar exam in two jurisdictions, so I was comparing the ordeal for licensure in this new profession against that “golden” standard.
My experience leading up to the test was as follows. I filed my application to undergo supervision as a precursor to becoming a licensed professional counselor in the state of Oklahoma in the summer of 2014. The Board did what it had to do with my application which seemed to consist of a verification of education, a background check, confirmation of a relationship with a suitable supervisor and place of employment, and payment of the fee. After about five weeks, they sent me two letters. One notified me that I could begin accruing supervised hours and the other that I was eligible to take the licensure exams. I have two years from the date of that letter to schedule and successfully complete my examinations. It’s a two-part exam, the already mentioned MCQ exam and then a brief, separate law and ethics exam. I looked at my calendar and said, “I think I’ll take it next summer while my students are preparing for the bar exam; I need a reminder of the misery so that I can be sufficiently sympathetic to their ordeal.” A school year goes by during which I continue working as an academic support professional and I accrue supervised client-contact hours in my spare time.
In early May, I pulled out the letter to find the procedure for registering for the exam. I had to apply with a third party administrator to take the exam. I sent in the application with a check and a copy of the Board’s eligibility letter. While waiting to hear back from the third party administrator, I procured my materials to prepare for the exam. I bought them new (which most of my fellow graduates did not), and I combined several different providers resources. They cost less than buying the books alone from most of the bar prep providers.
By the end of May I received an email with my approval and instructions to continue. I went to their website. I entered my zip code. I chose a geographically convenient testing center. It then showed me a calendar with available appointment times. I selected a convenient and feasible date and appointment time to take the exam. Because mornings aren’t my friend, I choose a noon appointment.
I won’t bore you with the details of my study plan (or my study reality) and I’ll go straight to test day. On test day, I had a leisurely breakfast and ran a couple of low brain-power errands, e.g. buying moving boxes. I reported to the testing center 20 minutes before my appointment with two forms of ID in hand. The receptionist checked my ID, confirmed my appointment, created a palm scan to verify identity should I need to exit and then return to the test. I put my hair in a ponytail because a hair tie on my wrist is a threat to test security while one in my hair is not. All of my belongings except my picture ID went into a locker, and I was escorted into the test room to my testing station. The proctor pulled up the test on the computer, gave me a brief orientation, and then left me to the test.
The format of the exam is a 200 question test in a multiple choice format, given in what someone who has taken the MBE considers an overly generous amount of time (I believe it was 240 minutes). It covers eight different content areas as well as five different types of work behaviors. Only 160 of the 200 questions are live questions; they are testing 40 items on every single administration of the exam. And I received my results within 60 seconds of hitting the submit button. Had I failed, it would be three months and another registration fee before I could attempt again. I exited the room, and they used my ID and palm scan to verify that I was still the person who entered the room to take that test. They gave me an unofficial copy of my test results and I was on my way within 90 minutes. No BS belief that finishing the exam early indicates I’m compromising exam security.
Moving to the point I really want to draw with this post - many other professions, some that are arguably more aligned with the practice of law than counseling, use an examination format closer to the counseling model than the law model. Some CPA candidates are encouraged to focus on their exam one segment at a time rather than try to pass all sections at once because they can stack scores from multiple testing dates to get the passing score for each component of their exam. Nurses receive an adaptive computer-based test in facilities like the one I was at. Moreover, the GRE is now, mostly, a computer-based test that is administered in centers like the one I went too. And it’s administered to more than 300,000 people in the United States each year. I’m sorry, I know I jumped from licensing to entrance exams, but let’s compare the number of times the GRE is administered in a year with the almost 81,000 people who took bar exams in 2014.
The infrastructure exists in this country to change the way we do the bar exam, while still maintaining the quality of the test in regards to assessing our graduates' core legal knowledge and reasoning skills. In future weeks, I hope to discuss some of the further ramifications of this idea. This change would create some benefits for examinees, state bars, the public at large, and others. There would also be burdens to those same entities, as well as some others, if this thought experiment were to become a reality. (CMB)
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The bar exam is the last test you will ever take. You’ve been preparing for it since the first day of law school. The foundation is built and these weeks of focused study help solidify what you’ve learned over the past 3-4 years. You will pass if you put in the time to learn the material and master the skills. Friends and family believe you will pass. Professors believe you will pass. Your employer believes you will pass. So, why do you doubt your ability to pass? One reason is that you don’t really know what to expect: Will you get an essay on intentional torts or premises liability? How many future interest questions will be on the MBE? Will you remember all the rules for all the subjects? Did you write enough? Too much?
Human beings seek stability. We like rules, routines, and goals. However, the bar exam does not fit nicely into what we’ve always done. You cover a semester a day and even though you spend 8, 10, 12 hours learning material, it doesn’t quite stick. If you could just hold things still, you’d be able to remember the material. Since everything is always changing, this doesn’t work. This is why you worry you won’t be able to learn everything in time and why you doubt your ability to pass. You are trying so hard to control things that you actually lose control.
It is July and the bar exam is at the end of the month. It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Accept that you cannot learn everything and that you don’t need to in order to pass. At the end of each day, reflect on what you did and know that it is enough. It is not about whether you checked off every task assigned by the commercial bar prep company. It is about working solidly and steadily and moving forward. Focus on yourself and stop worrying about everyone else. Stop discussing what you’ve done (or didn’t do) with your friends and family. If they are studying for the bar exam, it will just be a stressor for both of you. If they aren’t studying for the bar exam, they don’t care.
Instead of looking at all those unchecked boxes, make a list of everything you have done over the past 7 weeks. Look at all you’ve accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back. Add to the list every day and look through it a few days before the bar exam. This is proof that you have done enough. This is why your friends, family, professors, and co-workers know you will pass. It is why you should believe it, too.
Need a little motivation? Check out my all-time favorite inspirational speech (it will be the best 60 seconds of your day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c47otcg13Z8
Monday, June 29, 2015
Some suggestions for friends and family supporting someone through the bar exam.
Bar Taker: I’m going to fail.
Wrong: Keep up that negative attitude and you certainly will fail.
Right: You are a brilliant, wonderful, hard-working person who is going to win the bar exam!
Bar Taker: I’m getting fat/so out of shape.
Wrong: You do look a little fluffy. And your clothes are a little tight. You need to work out.
Right: No you’re not. You look fantastic. In fact, your arms are so buff from lugging around all those commercial outline books it looks like you’ve been doing Crossfit.
Bar Taker: sniffing the air around him/her Do I smell?
Wrong: You don’t smell but that t-shirt you’ve worn for 3 days in a row sure does, and I could fry okra with all the grease from your hair.
Right: You sure do! You smell like someone who is going to pass the bar exam.
Bar Taker: My house/apartment/room is such a mess.
Wrong: Funny you should say that. I just submitted an audition tape to Hoarders.
Right: You poor dear! Please let me help you. You go to the library and study while I clean up.
Bar Taker: Ugh. I am absolutely exhausted from studying all day.
Wrong: Studying all day? You’ve got to be kidding. Tweeting and posting on Facebook about studying is not the same as actually studying.
Right: Studying like that is just so draining. You just relax right here on the couch and let me wait on you for the rest of the evening.
Bar Taker: I’m just so stressed. I can’t do this anymore.
Wrong: Stressed? You think this is stressful? Insert one of the following:
Mother- Try being in labor for 36 hours like I was with you. Now that is stress.
Sibling- You are such a big baby. No wonder Mom loves me best.
Significant other- Stress is trying to deal with you and your incessant whining. By the way, I’m breaking up with you.
Right: I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of stress you are dealing with. This is the most difficult experience anyone has had to go through. Ever. Let me make an appointment for you to get a massage. My treat.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
I love sports. I love to play sports, coach sports, and watch sports. Studying for the bar exam is like playing a sport, coaching a sport, and watching a sport. There are highs and lows, agonies and defeats, and setbacks and triumphs. Bar review for many law school grads has been in full force for a couple of weeks. The foggy haze of transition from law student to bar student has lifted. Now, it is time for bar students to get their heads in the game.
Like preparing for a sport, you must look at your bar preparation as you would a training schedule. You cannot swim the 500 meters, score the winning goal, or finish the race without focused, incremental, and structured training. Bar review is just that. Everyone says, "Bar prep is a marathon, not a sprint."
During your bar prep, you want to get high scores on MBEs, ace the essays, and finish the performance test with time to spare. However, this is usually far from the realities of your initial phase of bar prep. You have not fully memorized the law or mastered your test taking skills at the beginning of bar prep. However, you are laying the foundation. And, it is this foundation that will get to you game day.
Here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare for game day:
- Map out the remaining subjects that you need to review and the tasks that you need to complete. Writing this out can help you manage your stress and your work load.
- Set realistic goals for each day (or each hour). Meeting goals helps propel you over the next hurdle, builds your confidence, and shows you that you can win this!
- Give yourself time to process the information that is being thrown at you. Do not expect that you will know everything after listening to a lecture and completing 30 multiple choice questions. Bar review is a process, trust in the process.
- Make time for breaks. If you schedule a break, it is not considered procrastination. Everyone needs down time and it is important that you balance your intense study schedule with sufficient time to refresh.
- Evaluate your work. It is important to understand what you are doing right and what you still need to work on. This will help you refocus your time and prioritize improving your weaker areas.
- Play a sport or watch a sporting event (Women's World Cup perhaps). This may give you the inspiration to help you keep your head in the bar review game.
Friday, June 12, 2015
Should we encourage grads to delay taking the bar exam if we think that they will not pass on their first attempt? This is a very sensitive topic and aspects of which are currently being litigated in Arizona. Those of us who are overseeing bar preparation can easily understand the thinking behind what is happening in Arizona. We work with very diverse groups of students and we know their likelihood of success on the bar exam hinges upon several factors.
Some students are working full time as they study for the bar; some are caring for an elder or young child; and some struggled throughout law school and barely graduated. Others are less motivated to put in the necessary time to pass the bar with a traditional 8-10 week preparation window. We also understand that some students will greatly benefit from taking some time off between law school graduation and studying for the bar exam.
Because we know most of our students so well, we are keenly aware of particular students who are unlikely to pass on their first attempt (due to any number of reasons). Thus, does this mean that we should discourage them from sitting for the bar this summer? Personally, I have grappled with this notion. However, I have heard of other Professors, Law Schools, and ASPers who often dissuade (and possibly entice with incentives) grads into delaying their bar examinations.
Unless I have been directly asked by a grad for my professional opinion, I wrestle with whether it is my place to influence their decision to sit for or delay sitting for the bar exam. However, when you work so closely with grads during their bar preparation, we do not just think that they may not pass; instead, we often know that they will not pass. Bar exam performance can be predicted when you look at several factors and data points. When I have access to their scores throughout bar review, especially their simulated exams, I can predict with a high level of accuracy their performance on the actual bar exam.
Does this mean that I should encourage delaying the exam? This is the very issue I grapple with. On the one hand, when I know that they will likely fail the exam, encouraging them to wait means they do not have to experience the shame and defeat associated with failing the bar. We also know that once a student has failed the bar exam, passing it becomes a bigger psychological and emotional challenge. (As if it could be more psychologically challenging.) Dissuading them from sitting, also means that bar passage statistics will likely be more favorable for my law school; thus, the dilemma. Because of the current state of affairs in legal education, law employment, and law school admissions, bar passage matters. It matters more now than ever. Therefore, there is no easy answer.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Bar Exam Season is here.
Just a few days ago you took your last law school exam and celebrated graduation and hooding with family and friends. You’ve barely had time to open the graduation cards and now it’s time to hit the books again. Commercial bar prep has begun and it is just the beginning of a great adventure. You’ve worked hard for almost three (or four) years, 10 more weeks is no big deal. The good news is that the first week is the easy week so take advantage of any free time to do the following:
Organize your life.
- Do laundry, go grocery shopping, clean your apartment. Studying for the bar exam seems to affect your ability to do any of these things.
- Talk to family and friends about the next 10 weeks and how you will be less available. Assure them you will make time for them but studying for the bar is a full-time job.
- Find a healthy, non-law related activity to help with stress relief. It is important to relax and have a little fun. It’s good for your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Organize your study schedule.
- Go through your bar exam material and familiarize yourself with it. You will use some things more than others and it’s good to figure out your go-to sources early.
- Take a look at the prepared study schedule and modify it to fit your learning and study needs. Figure out your study approach and make sure you have all your study supplies.
- Find a place to study. Try out a few different places and figure out which atmosphere best promotes focused study (hint- it will not be anywhere in the vicinity of a tv, refrigerator, couch, bed, etc).
You've got 10 weeks of studying ahead of you. There's no getting around it so you might as well make the best of it. (KSK)
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
After considerable debate and several public hearings, the New York Court of Appeals has adopted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Uniform Bar Examination and in July 2016 New York will administer the Uniform Bar Examination. The New York State Board of Law Examiners has proposed that New York set the passing score for the UBE at 266. In other jurisdictions, the UBE passing scores range from 260 (Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri) to 280 (Alaska and Idaho). The bar exam landscape is changing. Will this move create a "domino effect?" Will other states change their passing scores? Will New York see an influx of applicants? Only time will tell.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Hat tip to Katherine Silver Kelly for sharing the link to this post on the Summer 2014 bar exam results. This article is a must read for anyone interested in the decline in the MBE scores from the July 2014 bar exam. Deborah Merritt, on the Law School Cafe blog, explains the scoring process of the MBE and shows how the ExamSoft debacle could have caused bar results to suffer in more ways than one.
Friday, March 20, 2015
The New York Times has addressed some of the recent (and not so recent) criticisms regarding the Summer 2014 bar examination results in their article, Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire. While this article does not unearth new information for many of us, it does legitimize the problem. Because, as we know, there is a problem. The NCBE essentially has a monopoly on bar licensure. They have moved from releasing a limited amount of data to an almost complete lack of transparency. Without this crucial data there is no accountability, which leads to less confidence in the examination and what it purports to assess. This lack of confidence is highlighted in the Times piece and has been echoed in a similar fashion since the summer results were released.
In order to validate the bar exam as a viable assessment tool, the released score results should be detailed, transparent, and effectively communicated. At this point, it appears that complete transparency is the only way to restore credibility in the bar exam and the work of the NCBE.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Call for Proposals
AALS Section on Academic Support
January 2016 Annual Meeting in New York, New York
Raising the Bar
As law schools react to a changing bar exam landscape, many schools have adapted new and different programming to meet the current needs of students. Bar exam support and preparation is no longer something that begins post-graduation, and its influence can be felt from admissions through curriculum planning and beyond. This program will explore how schools strive to stay ahead of trends, analyze data and out-perform their predictors in order to help their students succeed on the exam.
Topics might include, but are not limited to: statistical analysis of bar exam data and results; innovative programs for preparing students for the bar exam; curricular changes based on exam results and preparation; criteria for selecting students to participate in bar preparation programming and identifying at-risk students.
Preference will be given to presentations designed to engage the workshop audience, so proposals should contain a detailed explanation of both the substance of the presentation and the methods to be employed. Individuals as well as groups are invited to propose topics. The Committee would prefer to highlight talent across a spectrum of law schools and disciplines and is especially interested in new and innovative ideas. Please share this call with colleagues—both within and outside of the legal academy and the academic support community.
Proposals must include the following information:
1. A title for your presentation.
2. A brief description of the objectives or outcomes of your presentation.
3. A brief description of how your presentation will support your stated objectives or outcomes.
4. The amount of time requested for your presentation. No single presenter should exceed 45 minutes in total. Presentations as short as 15 minutes are welcomed.
5. A detailed description of both the substantive content and the techniques to be employed, if any, to engage the audience.
6. Whether you plan to distribute handouts, use PowerPoint, or employother technology.
7. A list of the conferences at which you have presented within the last three years, such as AALS, national or regional ASP or writing conferences, or other academic conferences. (The Committee is interested in this information because we wish to select and showcase seasoned, as well as fresh, talent.)
8. Your school affiliation, title, courses taught, and contact information (please include email address and telephone number).
9. Any articles or books that you have published that relate to your proposed presentation.
10. Any other information you think will help the Committee appreciate the value your presentation will provide.
Proposals will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so please send yours as soon as possible, but no later than Wednesday, March 25th at 5pm to Danielle Kocal, Pace Law School, email@example.com. If you have any questions, please email Danielle Kocal or call 914-422-4108.
The Section on Academic Support Program Committee:
Danielle Kocal, Chair
Goldie Pritchard, Past Chair
ASP Section Chair: Lisa Young
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Many schools have students who graduate in December. To help them transition from the whirlwind of finals, graduation, and holiday celebrations to bar prep, here are a few things for them to consider:
- Create a realistic, yet rigorous study schedule. Begin after graduation, but make space to savor the end of law school before jumping into your bar prep.
- Communicate your study plans. Make sure that your significant other, family, and co-workers know that your priority is passing the bar exam. They will be your support system through this journey and they need to understand what you will need to be successful. (Perhaps a meal delivered now and then, or help with childcare...)
- Use Spaced Repetition to study instead of focusing on only one subject at a time.
- Remember to stay healthy- exercise, eat well, and get a full night of sleep. This will increase your focus and efficiency.
- Ask for help! When you are feeling overwhelmed, or have a question about your performance or a particular area of law, ask someone. You can ask your bar review provider, a classmate, or your Academic Support for assistance.
- Find balance. You will always feel like you should be doing more- more studying, more MBE practice, more essay and PT writing, and more outlining. However, you also need to know when to say when.
- Give yourself mini-rewards for reaching your daily goals and bigger rewards for reaching your weekly goals.
- Keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with positive people. Believing in yourself is the key to your success!
Congratulations to all of the December law school graduates and best of luck getting started with your bar prep.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
There have been several blog posts, email exchanges, and listserve threads discussing the decline in the Summer 2014 MBE scores and state pass rates, including a reproachful letter recently sent to the NCBE from a law school Dean. The National Conference of Bar Examiners stated in an October letter, that they see the drop in scores as a “matter of concern.” But, they also stated that their equating, the adoption of the Uniform Bar Examination, and scoring of the test were not the cause of the decline. The only explanation mentioned in the letter, albeit vague and slightly patronizing, was that the July 2014 test takers were “less able” than the July 2013 test takers.
After recovering from a bit of shock, this statement led me to question whether students really were “less able” to pass the bar exam this summer than they were last summer. I have helped prepare students for the bar exam, in various forms, for over 14 years. Throughout this time, I have in fact encountered only a handful of individuals who are not capable of passing the bar exam. However, I have also worked with dozens of capable and competent bar applicants who struggle with passing the bar for various reasons.
Tennessee reported that the national mean scaled MBE score for July 2014 was 141.47, which is the lowest since the July 2004 MBE. Thus, this drop created lower bar pass rates across almost all jurisdictions this summer. Again, while this drop is noted, it is not evident as to why this drop occurred. In the same letter referenced above, the NCBE noted that the number of test takers dropped by 5% between the July 2013 and July 2014 exams. However, it is unclear how the number of test takers has any bearing on the actual test taker’s performance. The mere fact that less individuals took the exam, 5% less, should not dictate a lower pass rate.
The data, or lack of it, led me to again question, “Were this summer’s bar applicants “less able?” Many commenters have refuted that the LSAT is to blame since LSAT scores for this group of test takers (2011 law school start dates) did not take a plunge. Thus, lower LSATs cannot adequately explain this decline.
In addition, according to one of the leading national bar review companies, the mean scores for their simulated exams in Summer 2013 and Summer 2014 were virtually identical. As many of us know, there is a strong correlation between simulated exam performance and actual MBE performance. Thus, it bears noting that, readily identifiable performance indicators lead to the conclusion that the test takers in summer 2014 were just as capable as the test takers in summer 2013.
If this is the case, why did this decline occur? Was it the exam-soft fiasco? Could it be the NCBE’s new question format? Is this a result of an error in the scaling process? Or, could it possibly be due to the retirement of long time NCBE Director of Testing Dr. Susan Case? Ultimately, is the decline a consequence of form difficulty differences and not group differences? Without knowing the specifics of the anchor test, the equating calculations, and specific differences within the tested groups, it is virtually impossible to have a definitive answer. That said, we should keep asking these questions. Individuals who fail the bar exam need us to keep asking these questions.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Friday, October 24, 2014
The Multistate Professional Responsiblity Exam is being administered next week on November 1st- yes, the day after Halloween. In a previous post, I outlined the basics of the MPRE and reminders for test day. If you are preparing for the test next week, you should check it out.
For some students, the MPRE is a treat. It is straightforward, testing only one subject; it is timed, but not too intense; and it is only sixy questions. For others the MPRE is a trick. It is filled with tricky questions involving ethical obligations and moral judgments. In either case, here are a few MPRE study strategies and tips to consider:
- Know your learning style. For example, if you are an auditory learner, you should listen to the MPRE lecturers from one or a few bar review companies. As mentioned, these are free and will help you learn the material by hearing clear explanations of the rules and the application of the rules to hypotheticals.
- Do not merely take full practice tests. You need to have a solid understanding of the rules in order to perform well on the MPRE. Therefore, you must study! Is it proper to enter into a business transaction with a client? Can you split a fee with an attorney from a different firm? Do attorneys have a duty of confidentiality to prospective clients? Know these answers before you walk into your test.
- Remember that more than one answer choice could be “correct.” However, you need to choose the “best” answer. Determining the central issue is the best way to do this.
- Determine the central issue and make sure you are answering the question being asked. Sometimes you can easily determine the central issue from the call line (the interrogatory at the end of the fact pattern), while other times you need to search the facts to find it. Whichever the case, determine the central issue before selecting your answer. Before bubbling in your answer choice, make sure you assess whether you have answered the question based on the central issue.
- Do not merely select an answer based on the “Yes” or “No” in the answer choices. Read the entire answer choice and pay close attention to words such as: “if,” “unless,” and “only,” which qualify each of the answer choices.
- Read the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (with a highlighter or pen). By actively reading the rules, you will get to know the rules that you clearly know and the rules that you need to study further. You need to know more than what was covered in your PR class, and even your MPRE lecture. Read and learn the Model Rules.
- Review the scope of coverage and study accordingly. The NCBE produces an outline, which delineates the coverage on the MPRE. Focus on the areas with higher coverage: Conflicts, lawyer-client relationships, and litigation/advocacy.
- Don’t forget about the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. There could be 2-5 questions in this area, which many of you are not familiar.
- Review MPRE practice questions in small chunks. Complete 5 at a time and then review the ones you got wrong AND the ones you got right. Take notes regarding what you missed and areas of confusion. Review these notes before moving on to the next 5 questions.
- Take at least 2 full practice tests after you have spent a considerable amount of time studying the rules.
- Get a good night’s rest before exam day- NO LATE NIGHT HALLOWEEN PARTIES!
- Take a few “easy” questions in the morning (before you leave your house) to warm up.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast and repeat positive affirmations.
While it is unrealistic for me to say that this exam will be a treat, I do hope it is not too tricky!
Lisa Bove Young
Thursday, October 9, 2014
New York is considering the adoption of the Uniform Bar Examination. That is one sentence I did not imagine that I would be writing in 2014. But, it is true. NY may be the 15th state to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam. The New York State Board of Law Examiners (SBLE) has recommended to the New York Court of Appeals that the current bar examination be replaced with the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) beginning with the July 2015 administration. This news made me wonder, “What are the benefits of the UBE and why would a state like New York want to adopt it?”
The Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to test the knowledge and skills that every lawyer should be able to demonstrate prior to becoming licensed to practice law. It is comprised of six Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) essays, two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks, and the Multistate Bar Examination(MBE). It is uniformly administered, graded, and scored by user jurisdictions and results in a portable score that can be used by applicants who seek admission in jurisdictions that accept UBE scores.
When a law school graduate takes the UBE, they can use their UBE score to apply to other UBE jurisdictions for bar licensure. The following jurisdictions have adopted the UBE: Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Colorado; Idaho; Minnesota; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; New Hampshire; North Dakota; Utah; Washington; and Wyoming. With New York possibly on board and other states considering it, the UBE is beginning to look more like a national exam.
Since many law students do not yet know where they would like to practice law, the portability of an applicant’s UBE score allows for more flexibility and mobility. Law graduates can take the UBE in any UBE jurisdiction and use their score to apply to as many UBE State Bar Associations as they would like. Instead of sitting for another bar exam, UBE licensed graduates can bypass a second test and apply directly for additional bar licenses with their UBE score.
However, other state specific requirements may also be required. For example, New York has proposed adding an additional New York specific one hour, 50 question, multiple choice test that would be given on the second day of the UBE. In order to practice in NY, an applicant would need to pass the UBE, with a score of 266, and score at least 60% on the state specific exam.
Avoiding a second bar exam is wise since bar exams are costly, excruciatingly difficult, and very time consuming. Taking the bar exam once is enough! The Uniform Bar Examination has many benefits- from portable scores, to multijurisdictional practice, to greater employment options. Having the UBE take a bite out of The Big Apple is a huge move in the right direction for this generation of law graduates.
If you would like to learn more about the Uniform Bar Examination, please visit The National Conference of Bar Examiners web-page at http://www.ncbex.org/about-ncbe-exams/ube/. If you would like to comment on New York’s proposal to adopt the UBE, you can e-mail your comments to: UniformBarExam@nycourts.gov or write to: Diane Bosse, Chair, New York State Board of Law Examiners, Corporate Plaza, Building 3, 254 Washington Avenue Extension, Albany, NY 12203-5195. Submissions will be accepted until November 7, 2014.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Picture this: Your new suit is pressed and ready, your parents have arrived from out of town, and your celebratory dinner reservation has been made. Then, you get a call; one you could have never imagined receiving. You thought you passed the bar exam (because you were on the pass list); but, the State Bar Commission tells you during that fateful phone call that there was an error. (Insert menacing music here.) Unfortunately, they deliver the news that there was a clerical error and that you actually did not pass the bar exam. What??? How could this happen?
This is exactly what happened in Nebraska this week when three almost attorneys were called 24 hours before being sworn in and told that they fell just a few points short of passing the bar exam even though they were initially told that they had passed. One phone call changed their life. While I often remind students that this is just an exam, it is an exam that consumes extensive amounts of time, money, and willpower. It is not an exam that anyone (other than a select few) wants to take over and over.
Mistakes happen. However, with high stakes testing such as the bar exam, shouldn't there be more stringent standards in place so that mistakes of this magnitude do not occur? If our society relies on the bar exam to determine a lawyer's competency to practice law, are we not also allowed to require those who administer the bar exam to be competent? With news such as this from Nebraska, we may need to start asking, who polices the gatekeepers?
Lisa Bove Young
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Civil Procedure will begin being tested on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) this winter. Out of the 200 question MBE, 27 questions will be devoted to Civil Procedure. While Civil Procedure is a required course, not every Professor covers the same FRCPs in their classes. Thus, it is a good idea for students to take a look at the specific content that will be tested. The National Conference of Bar Examiners has updated the subject matter outline so that the Civil Procedure content being tested is consistent for the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Bar Exam. You can find the content outline at the National Conference of Bar Examiners webpage.
Additionally, if you or your students are anxious to see what these questions will look like, you can access sample Civil Procedure MBE questions and use them to practice. So, if issue preclusion, standards of review, or jurisdiction are not your strengths, take a closer look at these resources.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Simply stated, the diploma privilege allows a law school graduate, of the given state, to bypass the bar exam en route to the practice of law. Yes, a law graduate would be licensed to practice law without taking the bar exam. This notion sounds enticing for many law students, especially 3Ls as the bar exam looms in their future.
Currently only Wisconsin, and in limited circumstances New Hampshire, provide the diploma privilege to law grads. Graduates from ABA accredited schools in those states are deemed competent to practice law without sitting for and passing a bar examination.
However, Iowa is also now considering the adoption of the diploma privilege. The Iowa State Bar's Blue Ribbon Committee lists the following reasons for abolishing the bar exam in their state:
- The bar exam does not test on Iowa law.
- The bar exam tests only one’s ability to outwit 200 multiple choice and 8 essay questions from a third party testing service.
- The bar exam does not measure true functional mastery of subject areas or compassion, judgment, and ability to help clients.
- Few remember anything they learned cramming for the bar exam.
Many of us have strong opinions about the bar exam and the many issues and factors surrounding the administration of it. However, do you also feel that the bar exam serves a compelling purpose? Does it help weed out incompetent applicants? Does it assist one in their legal practice? Or, is it merely a hazing ritual that is costly, excruciating, and biased? If the Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of adopting the diploma privilege, will other states follow suit? Only time will tell.
Lisa Bove Young