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
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Directly after the bar exam, winter or summer, I am exhausted. I feel like I have been studying for eight weeks and like I took the bar exam myself- twice. However, I did not study all summer; nor did I take the bar exam this summer (maybe next year). But, I, like many of you, was in overdrive helping all of my students prepare for the most challenging exam of their life.
In reflecting on this summer’s bar review, I realize that I learned so much from my students. I also realize how much they appreciate me and the work that I do. I worked closely with a few groups of students. About one week before the bar exam one of the groups surprised me with a homemade lunch that included flowers and gifts and cookies and cards and gratitude and love. And another group that same week gave me an amazing flower arrangement with notes of gratitude.
Now, we have all received cards and maybe a bottle of wine or chocolates, but these moments were different. These students brought these gifts to me right before the bar exam, not after. They were busy studying, preoccupied with readying their bags for their nights away, and trying to keep their anxiety in check; but, they took the time to thank me in these heartfelt ways.
I cannot express how much these “gifts” moved me. Yes, the lunch was delicious and the flowers were lovely. But, that was not what made my heart sing. It was the sincerity in their gifts. These gifts embodied gratitude and thoughtfulness. I could see their gratitude in their eyes. I will never forget their eyes. I feel blessed to be able to do the work that I do and moments like these make the 24/7 on call, utter exhaustion, and stress of the bar exam all worth it.
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. Kahlil Gibran
Lisa Bove Young
Friday, August 1, 2014
Most of you have likely heard about the nationwide ExamSoft malfunction that occurred during the administration of the bar exam this week. If not, as you can imagine, ExamSoft did not perform as expected and many bar exam takers were left with error messages when they tried to upload their bar exams. Above the Law even collected tweets from infuriated bar applicants and compiled them on their blog. Take a look, my favorite is the one referencing the Titanic.
While rational minds realize that this software snafu is not a catastrophic event (since uploading can happen once the system is not being overtaxed), bar applicants are not rational. Applicants who are sitting for the bar exam are at peak performance; but, they are also at the pinnacle of stress. Anything can set them off. Some examples from this week include: the temperature of the room (in WA it was like the icebergs in Titanic); toe tapping from a tablemate; bad breath wafting from a tablemate (yuck); shortened lunch break on MBE day; not being able to take highlighters into the exam; a cluster of sobbing test takers during the MBE day; and (my favorite) a driver’s license accidentally being flushed down the toilet. None of these situations led to permanent bodily harm, but some left scars on test takers psyches.
If you took the bar exam, you can somewhat relate to what these examinees went through this week. However, I find that once there is distance from one’s bar exam experience, an individual is likely to brush off its intensity. Since I feel as if I go through, at least some of, the rigors of this exam twice a year, I do have a soft spot when I hear about anything that may have messed with an applicant’s mojo. As we know, there is a bit of mojo required for bar passage.
Luckily in Washington, bar applicants have a few days to upload their essays and PTs; so, many of my students were not adversely affected by the ExamSoft debacle. However, I will add “Barmageddon” to the numerous other stories that I have accumulated over the years. There is one when the earthquake happened in 2001 (and the examiners called out "keep working" as students climbed under their tables), the one where someone went into labor during the test, and the one where a student threw up on their exam (toe tapping is fine in comparison)… I will share these stories and a few others with my future students so that no matter what happens, they will “keep calm and carry on” when it is turn in the hot seat.
Lisa Bove Young
Friday, July 25, 2014
I have compiled this list for those of you studying for the bar exam and for those of us helping applicants prepare for the bar exam because at this point in bar review, we all need a good laugh! FYI: These are questions that I have received over the last week. Enjoy!
10. Am I allowed to chew tobacco during the bar exam?
9. Am I supposed to register for ExamSoft?
8. I can write my essays in pencil, right?
7. What is hearsay?
6. Are the MBE subjects tested on the MEE?
5. Do I really need to study Commercial Paper?
4. In a worst case scenario on the MBE, which letter should I pick? A, B, C, or D?
3. Do you have suggestions as to the types of food I should avoid the night before the bar exam? Also, you said that I should eat a breakfast of champions on the day of the exam, could you please elaborate?
2. What is the bar exam pass rate?
1. Which subjects are tested on the MBE? (YIKES!)
While some of these questions have clear answers (hearsay is an out of court statement used to prove the truth of the matter asserted), others would require me to have a crystal ball or supernatural powers in order to give an accurate answer. I have no idea whether Commercial Paper will be a subject tested on the Multistate Essay Exam, but I do know that the MBE subjects are tested on the MEE in Uniform Bar Exam Jurisdictions. I also do not want to select the pre-bar menu for my students, but I did give them a few suggestions (protein!). And, no, in WA you cannot use tobacco products in the exam room.
I encourage questions and answer them all (whether they are relevant or not), but I find the timing of a few of these to be startling. Since the bar exam is next week, I would hope that applicants know the subjects that are tested on each section of the exam and know the basic logistical requirements like signing up for ExamSoft ahead of time. These are important elements that I know I have repeated in multiple ways, hundreds of times...
But, this is bar review. It is a fast paced jumble of information with a few exuberant highs and numerous frightening lows, a (haunted) roller coaster ride of sorts. Everyone studying for the bar exam is overwhelmed with the vast amount of material being thrown at them all summer and we are overwhelmed meeting all of their diverse needs. The strangest question is the one that I ask myself twice a year: Why do I love this so much?
Here's to high pass rates and no Commercial Paper question on the Multistate Essay Exam!
Best of luck to all of the Summer 2014 Bar Applicants!
Lisa Bove Young
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
With less than a week until the bar exam, you are tired and just ready for this thing to end. However, you need to stay focused and keep going. You need some motivation, the psychological drive that compels you toward a certain goal. I can tell you to get motivated but this is extrinsic and only somewhat effective. Instead, your motivation must be intrinsic. It must come from within. This means you must attribute your results to factors under your control and believe you have the skill to reach your goal. How in the world are you supposed to this? Make a list of everything you are doing to pass the bar exam and then list the skills it takes to do those things. Now, hang that list up somewhere and look at it every time you have self-doubt. Yes, it sounds corny but trust me, it actually works.
Katherine Silver Kelly
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Writing style, organization, and format are critical to successful bar exam performance. Do not fall into the trap of only memorizing the law. You must also focus on your approach and your writing techniques in order to reach a passing score on the Multistate Essay Exam and the Multistate Performance Test. Here are a few ways to ensure that you will achieve passing scores:
Essay Exam Tips
- First, carefully read the call lines so that you know what the examiners are asking. Craft your answer around those calls. See an earlier post Answer the Question for more details.
- Actively read the facts. Search for the legally significant facts and try to find relevance for all of the facts. Use a pen to make notes in the margins and/or circle/underline the key details. (Highlighters are not allowed in certain jurisdictions.) These details should be used in your analysis.
- Use IRAC!
- Use simple straightforward sentences and short paragraphs.
- You should have a new IRAC for each legal issue. Separate your issues to maximize your points.
- Do not merely memorize and recite rules. NO DATA DUMPS! Instead, show the graders that you know the rules and understand how they apply to the facts. In order to do this successfully, you need to weave the facts into your legal analysis.
- MAKE IT EASY FOR THE GRADER TO GIVE YOU POINTS!
- Keep track of your time. Write the start and end time on your scratch paper for each of your essays. This will help you with managing your time. Do not go over the 30 minutes allotted for each essay.
- After each essay is completed, put it behind you, and focus on the next essay or the next section of the exam. Do not waste time and head space second-guessing your performance on an earlier essay. Stay in the present and stay positive!
Performance Test Tips
- Pay close attention to the task memo and the specific instructions within it. The task memo holds the key to your success. Consider who you are, who your client is, the tone, format, and limiting instructions for your task.
- Create your framework from the issues presented in the task memo. Use detailed and descriptive headings and issue statements throughout your task.
- Next, read the file to outline the key facts related to your task and your issues. (Alternatively, some applicants prefer to read the library first.)
- Take your time! Read the facts and the law carefully so that you have a good understanding of your case and are able to identify the salient details.
- Organize your thoughts before you begin writing. Use your scratch paper! You do not need fancy charts, but you may need to sketch out your framework or bullet point your key facts either on your scratch paper or in your examsoft file on your computer. This should take between 30-45 minutes.
- Use only the amount of time allowed for each PT task. Write your start and end time on your scratch paper and move on to the second task when your time is up.
- Use IRAC! Use it for every issue and sub-issue!
- Synthesize the cases by writing brief case summaries. For example, “In Holt, the athlete Holt’s face was not visible and his number, sponsors, and name were deleted, however other specific defining features (the unique color scheme and design of the athlete’s ski suit) were visible.”*
- Compare and distinguish your facts from the facts in the cases presented in the library. For example, “Our case is similar to Holt because in the photo used by the Gazette, no part of Jackson’s face was visible. Additionally, in our photograph, most of Jackson’s body and uniform were obscured and only the second zero of his uniform was visible. However, our case is distinguishable from Holt’s because in Holt the athlete had a unique suit design and color that belonged only to him. Here, there were at least two other Blue Sox players who were the same race as Jackson and who wore the number ending in zero like Jackson at the time the photo was taken. Thus, unlike Holt, it is possible there was no unique uniform that made Jackson readily identifiable.”*
- Make your answer easy to read. Use short concise sentences and paragraphs and make each word count.
- Remember to review what you have written before time is called. Become the grader. Save a few minutes at the end to read and edit your MPT answer.
Keep practicing…practice equals passing!
*Examples taken from passing Georgia bar exam answers.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
You’ve spent the past two months weeks cramming thousands of pieces of material into your brain. You eat, sleep, dream bar exam. You are probably afraid to see or hear anything non-bar exam related for fear it might push a rule of law out of your brain. You are ready to get into the bar exam zone. Below are a few tips for getting into (and staying) the bar zone:
- Pace Yourself: Follow the bar exam schedule. Get up and be studying by 9am, take a break at noon, study until 5-6. 8-10 hours, max. That’s it. No 12+ hour days. No studying until 3am and crashing until noon. It’s time to get your brain and your body on the bar exam schedule.
- Balance Review and Practice: This is not a law school exam where you are expected to know absolutely everything and get points simply for discussing it. This is the bar exam and although substance matters, so does style. Your response has to be thorough, organized and concise. If all you do is memorize then you won’t be able to actually write a response. If all you do is answer questions, you won’t know why you make mistakes or how to avoid making them again.
- Go With the Flow: Every time you read a question remember that it’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what the bar examiners want you to say. Spend time answering questions so you can recognize patterns and develop a strategy. In just a few days, the process will become natural and by exam day, it will be a comfortable habit.
- Address Anxiety:Being anxious is normal and expected. You just can’t let it interfere with performance. When your nerves start getting the best of you, stop and take a breath. Think of all you’ve done thus far; have confidence in your preparation and abilities. Take it one question at a time and work your way through. Keep moving forward. Your instinct will kick in and soon you’ll be back in the bar exam zone.
Katherine Silver Kelly
Thursday, July 3, 2014
A fun 4th of July hypo for all of you studying for the bar exam.
Ariel and Elsa decided to throw a party for the 4th of July, which also happened to be their 20th birthday, at their parent’s beachfront home. Their parents were out of the country traveling, but they knew of Ariel and Elsa’s party plans and provided the beverages, which included several cases of the finest French champagne. After Triton’s Catering delivered the crab cakes, caviar, and chocolate ganache cake, the guests started to arrive. Swarms of invited guests mingled and danced to the tunes of the band, The Snowman and The Mermaid.
Ariel is allergic to nuts and Triton’s Catering was informed that the food should be prepared without them. Sebastian and Olaf, Ariel and Elsa’s neighbors, brought fireworks to set off during the party. After each consuming several glasses of champagne, Sebastian and Olaf started the firework show on the beach. The fireworks beautifully lit the dark night sky.
During the firework show, Olaf’s little sister Anna, who was 7 and uninvited, grabbed a firework from the pile on the sand and set it off over the water. Since the firework was not properly ignited, Anna received 3rd degree burns on her arm and the firework landed on a wooden boat moored in the harbor, which went up in flames. Paramedics responded to a call and placed a tourniquet on Anna’s arm. The tourniquet was applied too tightly and resulted in Anna’s arm being amputated.
The music and noise from the partygoers angered neighbor Ursala and she told them to end the party or she would call the police. Elsa, yelled at Ursala in front of the crowd of partygoers and told her to “Let it go! Just go away and slam the door! You are crazy and should go back to the crazy farm where you have been for the last year.”
After enjoying some champagne and caviar, Ariel ate a slice of chocolate cake. Her throat began to swell and she stopped breathing. The paramedics tried to revive her, but it was too late and Ariel died. A reporter showed up and included in an article the next day, that the neighborhood is convinced that Ursala is crazy. Neighbor Hans was quoted as saying that, “It was only 9:30 at night and the music didn't bother him anyway.” Ursala had a breakdown as a result and now cannot leave her house.
Discuss the liability of:
1. Ariel, Elsa and their parents
2. Sebastian and Olaf and Anna
3. Triton’s Catering
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Many bar applicants are unsuccessful on the written portion of the bar exam because they fail to adequately answer the question(s) posed by the examiners. However, telling our students to “answer the question” not only seems obvious, but can also feel patronizing. To avoid this, I clarify how a student can ascertain what the examiners are really asking by following these steps.
Step 1. Read the call of the question to identify the subject, parties, and cause(s) of action. If the call is narrowly crafted (i.e. Can Abel be found liable to Cain under a strict liability theory?), make sure that you are answering the specific direction within the call. If the call is broadly drafted (i.e. Discuss the liabilities of the parties.), you will need to determine the central focus from the facts presented.
Step 2. Before moving forward, recall the key topics within the subject area being tested. You should be able to visualize your checklist, flowchart, or outline for each topic area. You may even want to quickly write your mnemonics on your scratch paper.
Step 3. Now, it is time to “actively read” the fact pattern. What does “actively read” mean? Use a pen/pencil/highlighter (depending on your state bar policies) to circle, underline, or annotate the facts as you read through them slowly. Pay attention to numbers, quoted language, unusual FORMATTING, and repetition within the fact pattern. These are structural and factual issue signals. Pay close attention to these facts and use them liberally within your answer as you apply the law. Reading slowly and carefully will help you to fully synthesize and find relevance for all of the facts.
Step 4. Use your scratch paper. Yes, use the paper provided to sketch out your answer before you begin typing your response. Do NOT rewrite the entire fact pattern or your entire outline. Use your scratch paper to list the buzzwords and legally significant facts. But, you may also want to write the call of the question on your scratch paper to ensure that you answer it. These brief notes will help later with your IRAC.
Step 5. An important last step: reread the call of the question! Make sure that your scratch paper notes and initial impressions align to the actual question being asked. Now, you are ready to begin writing your answer.
Bar exam drafting committees are constructing fact patterns and questions to test various skills and abilities. The ability to identify legal issues and determine the legally relevant facts are two such skills. Knowing the law thoroughly will help you spot issues and will help you answer the question. But, practice will help even more.
(Lisa Bove Young)
Monday, May 26, 2014
We have all experienced many firsts: our first day of school, first car, first date, first victory, first defeat, first kiss, first heartbreak, and first day of law school (maybe not in that order). Today, you will experience another common first…the first day of bar review (cue Beethoven’s 5th).
No matter which bar review course you are taking, the first day of bar review is overwhelming. There are new books, new terms and acronyms, and so much new information. To say that this first day of bar prep is overwhelming is truly an understatement. Instead of going under-prepared and leaving in a catatonic state, here are a few suggestions to make this monumental first not only tolerable, but also productive and meaningful:
- If you have received a box of books or binders, envelopes filled with paperwork, or links via email, open them and read them PRIOR to attending your first bar review class.
- Start your bar review routine off right: Get a good night’s sleep before your first day, chose a wake-up time that will get you to your class with time to spare, and eat a nutritious breakfast.
- Be comfortable, but look presentable. You do not want someone to think you raided Barry Manilow’s wardrobe.
- Pack energy boosting snacks: pick your protein (nuts, yogurt, cheese, hummus, freeze dried ice cream, hardboiled egg…). You need to stay awake and feel energized.
- Bring a notebook to take notes and a hardcopy calendar or planner. You do not need your computer.
- Pray, meditate, practice yoga, or adopt another ritual that will help keep you centered. You must find a way to stay motivated, focused, and positive. Bar prep will wear on your psyche; thus, you must approach it with a clear plan and an open mind.
Above all, take your first day of bar prep seriously. If you underestimate the importance of this first day, you may miss valuable information and set yourself on a path toward failure. Instead, approach the first day in earnest. Show up physically and mentally and set yourself up for bar exam success.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
For many 2 and 3Ls the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is right around the corner. The MPRE is a multiple choice exam consisting of 60 questions offered three times each year. The MPRE is a required licensing test for all states except Maryland and Wisconsin. The American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, and controlling constitutional decisions and generally accepted principles established in leading federal and state cases and in procedural and evidentiary rules are tested on the MPRE. Commercial bar companies have condensed these rules in their review lectures. And, fortunately, most of these companies offer free MPRE courses and materials for students.
Although these free resources are available, many students do not take advantage of them. Instead, they underestimate the difficulty of the MPRE and sometimes take the exam without even studying. While the MPRE is not as challenging as the Multistate Bar Exam, it is still a high stakes standardized test that requires concerted effort in order to reach a passing score. A careful study of the rules sets a firm foundation for test day. Additionally, as with any test, completing practice questions will hone an examinees test taking ability and will help assess their performance. The commercial bar courses offer ample practice questions for this purpose. The National Conference of Bar Examiners also offers for purchase one Online Practice Exam (OPE) for the MPRE.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you prepare for the MPRE:
- Arrive on time, but not too early. Once you have been checked in by the proctors in the testing room, you are not allowed to leave prior to start time. If you arrive too early, you are stuck waiting in a room full of overly anxious applicants and an assortment of #2 pencils.
- You cannot chew gum during the exam (or have other food or drinks). I really wanted my gum, but they made me throw it away.
- You cannot wear earplugs! Why? I do not know the answer. This is cruel and unusual.
- You are able to leave the room during the test, but depending on your testing site that may not be a great idea. At my testing site, the bathroom was two flights of stairs from the testing room. (Even though I wanted to take a restroom break, I did not want to sacrifice the time.) Extra time is not given for restroom breaks.
- You cannot bring anything into the testing room- no cellphones, no bags, no books... Bring your pencils, your ID, your admission ticket, (photo- see below) and your knowledge of PR.
- Don't forget to bring a current passport-type photo on exam day. Think about getting this out of the way early.
- Leave your watch at home. Watches are not allowed at the test center. Electronic devices of any kind are not allowed either.
- As with the bar exam, wear comfortable layers. The temperature of the room may be too hot or too cold and may fluctuate during the course of your test.
Above all, do not minimize the effort needed to prepare for the MPRE. Last minute cramming may lead to regret. Scores are posted approximately five weeks after the test. Good luck to everyone taking the MPRE!
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Now that the celebrations and champagne toasts have faded, bar examinees may feel lost, deflated, or generally lacking direction. This state of mind is what I refer to as the "Post Bar Exam Blues." As with other challenging life transitions, processing their bar exam experience will take time. They have been on a roller coaster ride with extreme highs and lows for the last eight weeks. Once the ride ends, it is hard to remember who you were before you got on.
In order to best move through this period, I suggest that students first reflect on their experience. Sharing their feelings with someone they trust can help them work through their fears, their doubts, and acknowledge the incredible accomplishment of getting through this test. Writing out their feelings is also helpful. Once they get these emotions out into the universe, it is easier for them to put the experience behind them and avoid replaying it over and over again in their mind.
Results generally take several months to be released. Thus, once they have the opportunity to reflect on their experience, it is best to redirect them toward something positive and productive. Second guessing their performance, or holding their breath until results are posted is fruitless. Instead, having them create a list of current projects or ways to use their free time can help them see that there is life outside of bar review. Also, jumping head first into a new job or a job search can help remind them why they wanted to become a lawyer. Ultimately, getting them to understand that they are not defined by their MBE score will help them remedy their blues.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Is the check a negotiable instrument? Is the party a holder in due course? Was the check properly payable? These are frequent questions bar students draft as they struggle through answering Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) Article 3 & 4 bar essays. However, these struggles appear to be over for many. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), effective with the February 2015 bar exam, Negotiable Instruments (Uniform Commercial Code Article 3 and the excerpts of Article 4, Bank Collections) will no longer be tested on the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE).
This news should come as a relief to future bar exam applicants and Academic Support Professors as well. UCC 3 & 4 is an area that students rarely study in law school. They approach bar review with little (if any) knowledge of negotiable instruments and bank deposits and collections. The unfamiliar language coupled with the lack of practicality make this area difficult for students to internalize. Some students may have never even written a check! Additionally, many states that do not use the MEE, no longer test UCC 3 & 4. Thus, the decision to remove UCC 3 & 4 from the list of subjects tested on the MEE seems timely and appropriate.
This news also made me wonder how decisions like this are made. For example, are there are other subjects that should also be eliminated from or added to the list of subjects tested on the MEE? What is the process by which these decisions are made? Additionally, NCBE has expressed interest in adding more subjects to the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). Should all of the current MEE subjects also be tested on the MBE? Is this truly necessary for assessing competency? Or, is this a bar that will negatively impact access to the profession?
Friday, February 28, 2014
Congratulations to all law schools' graduates who have completed a state bar exam this week! Yesterday we had faculty and staff gather outside the law school and cheer the bar studiers as they exited the building. Some stopped for cookies and chats before heading home for a well-deserved break.
I am sure that many of us can vividly recall our bar exam experiences. I took the Virginia bar exam in Roanoke at the Civic Center in July. In Virginia one had to wear court attire (last time I checked, they still do) so that the moment it was over the fellows were ripping off their neckties, everyone shed suit jackets, and the gals were changing into comfortable shoes.
Since my folks lived two hours away from the test site instead of my own six hours back to where my home and law school were, I drove straight to their house. I think I was semi-shell-shocked the whole way. It was over! I was worn out, already thinking about the long wait for results, and praying that I would not have to take it again.
After my mother's delicious home-cooked meal, I crashed into bed and slept until well past noon the next day. When I returned home a few days later, lots of bar studiers were still in town. Everyone had a bar exam tale to tell.
Virginia issued results late that year. Rumors were rampant about how many had failed and why there was a delay. When results finally came out, I felt like a millstone had dropped from my neck and was SOOOO relieved to pass. Even after we had all been practicing for several years, others told me that they still shuddered whenever they drove the interstate across Virginia and the Roanoke Civic Center came into view from the highway. Most passers vowed to never move from Virginia so that the experience would never have to be repeated!
So congratulations on your hard work. Celebrate your perseverence. Get some rest! (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Two weeks ago, I held a workshop about the bar exam for all 2L students. UMass has a significant part-time program, and the number-one concern of part-time students was "How do I study if I can't take time off from my job?" I stressed to all students that studying for the bar exam is a full-time job, and it takes a minimum of 800 hours of study time to succeed on the bar exam (more if a student is taking the California bar exam). Unlike law school, where part-time students have a reduced course load so they can balance work, family, and school, there is no "reduced study load" available for the bar exam. Reduced study time results in failure, and the bar exam is just too expensive to fail. I spoke to the students about spreading their study hours over a longer period of time, and taking the February, not the July, bar exam. I spoke to students about starting bar prep much earlier, so they can get all the study time in, if they must take the July bar.
I think this is a question we should revisit at an upcoming ASP conference. I know there is innovative, interesting programs that prepare part-time students for the bar exam, and I would love to see more information on how we can better prepare part-time students who cannot take time off the job for the bar exam.