Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I know this title sounds like a new Hollywood apocalyptic action film; but, it is not. Instead, this is the next step that I suggest repeat bar examinees take in their journey to passing the bar exam. Once these grads have processed their emotions regarding their bar results, they are ready to look toward the future.
Diagnosing weaknesses from their past exam is helpful so that they know how to effectively structure their study schedule for the upcoming exam. I read through their essays and look for accurate and complete issue identification, errors or law, and their use of key facts in their analysis. (The WA bar exam is currently essay-only.) I also pay close attention to their organizational framework and approach to each essay. I find that students with weak organization likely did not write enough practice essays. Or, they wrote practice essays during bar review; but, they either did not write the essays under testing conditions (closed-book and timed) or they did not evaluate their essays after writing them. I ask them to assess how they studied for the bar the first time and to think about ways they could improve their routine.
Delivering tough love is also a necessary part of this process. Sometimes delivering tough love along with pointing out their imperfections is too much for them to take in one sitting. One must tread lightly and gauge emotional stability when dealing with repeat bar exam takers. While you may hear Aaron Neville crooning the song “Tell it Like It Is” in the back of your mind, these repeat exam takers may not be prepared mentally to hear what you have to say. If you recognize that they have not already reached a level of acceptance with their results, they may not be ready to move forward with the rest of the meeting.
However, it is counterproductive to merely tell these grads what they want to hear. They are in my office for my honest opinion about what they did wrong and how they can remedy those defects. Thus, I offer constructive criticism and try to deliver it with a spoonful of sugar (…it helps the medicine go down). As mentioned in my earlier post, I always have a basket full of chocolate nearby and that seems to help.
Likely, there are high points in their exam file. I focus first on a good example or concentrate on a higher scored essay. Then, I move to an essay that may need more work. By evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, they have a better understanding of which features to maintain and which to change. In recognizing their strengths; they build confidence. In understanding their weaknesses, they build up their determination and resilience, which they will need in order to move forward.
Together, once we have diagnosed the flaws in their past exam and identified their strengths, I instruct them to put that exam away and stop thinking about it. They can no longer change what happened during that 2 day exam. It was a snapshot in their life, which will be filled with a million more. In order to move forward, one must let go of the past. It is time for them to destroy their self-doubt. It is time for them to destroy the negativity around their past experience. They cannot make a new plan without first destroying any uncertainty that they have in their ability to pass.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Sian Beilock, Associate Professor of Psychology at The University of Chicago and author of Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveals About Getting It Right When You Have To. The lecture focused on the science of why individuals choke under pressure and how to best avoid performance anxiety. While the lecture did not focus on the stress applicants feel taking the bar exam, it was wholly applicable.
When pressure and anxiety to perform is high (like the bar exam), the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our working memory, focuses on the anxiety instead of recollecting essential information for successful performance. When a student is filled with too much anxiety, regardless of their aptitude, the anxiety interferes with their thought process and almost turns off their working memory to anything other than the stress of the event. This is why we often see highly intelligent and capable students perform below expectations in testing situations.
There are several ways to help students avoid this prefrontal cortex reaction. One, which is often employed by commercial bar reviews, is taking practice tests under timed conditions. These simulations help the brain overcome stress and will likely prevent students from “choking” during their actual test because they have established coping mechanisms to deal with their stress. Therefore, during the real test, they can practically operate on autopilot without stress interfering with their working memory.
Additionally, positive self-talk is an important aspect of testing success. Professor Beilock suggests that writing about your stress for ten minutes before an exam will free working memory. This cognitive function can instead be applied to performing well on the exam.
The simple act of acknowledging fear and stress prior to taking the bar exam could make the difference between passing and failing. I have told each of my students, especially those struggling with intense testing anxiety, to try the writing exercise each morning of the bar exam. I am hopeful that it will calm their fears and help them reach their highest potential next week.
Friday, May 25, 2012
At the end of the semester, students often ask me if they should begin their bar preparation prior to the official start date of their commercial bar review course. Little did they know, my answer to this question is quite lengthy. I do not have a simple response because every student has unique needs and varying circumstances.
Some students should get started studying for the bar exam directly after graduation because the earlier they get started, the easier bar prep will be for them during the summer. These students may have struggled with essays writing, IRAC format, memorization, or simply take longer than most to grasp the law. If they do know how to get started, they should discuss their needs with their commercial bar prep provider or their Academic Support team. Since most bar prep courses have online components (lectures, workshops, MBE practice etc.), it easy to begin studying before your scheduled course begins.
Some students finish law school feeling completely exhausted and totally drained. Unlike the students who need to begin bar study early, these students really need a break after graduation. Using the week or two interim between graduation and bar review to renew, recharge, and refresh is the best way for them to ensure success during their bar prep. Not everyone will be lucky enough to spend a week in an exotic destination or on the beach, but even taking a short break from their daily academic routine is just what the doctor ordered.
For both groups of students, it is a great time to get organized. They should create a positive study environment by clearing clutter and cleaning out their living space. They should buy a large paper desk calendar and add the classes for their summer bar review schedule and any essential items or events that they are unable to delegate or eliminate over the summer. Seeing what their life will look like on paper will help ease the shock.
While calendaring, it is easy for students to fall into the trap of filling every second with bar study. Instead, prior to bar review, I encourage students to think of a few ways to find respite from their upcoming, countless hours in the library. Joining a yoga class, carving out time for a date night, or sitting in the sun with friends for a few hours a week can be hugely beneficial. If students plan and calendar these breaks and treat them like a reward for their hard work, they are more likely to stave off distractions during their study time. While I am the first one to tell them that they need to devote 10+ hours a day to studying for the bar exam, I am also a huge proponent of finding balance. (Lisa Young)
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.
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, 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, 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.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Did you miss the e-mail on the ASP Listserv sent by Barbara McFarland regarding the NCBE handout on drafting rules for multiple-choice questions from Dr. Susan Case, Director of Testing for NCBE?
Several common techniques used by law professors in composing multiple-choice questions are specifically mentioned in the drafting rules. Dr. Case is currently working on an article for the Journal of Legal Education on this same topic. I know that all of us will be interested in reading the article when it is published.
You can read the PDF file for the Dr. Case's handout here: Download multiple_choice_drafting_guidelines_by_s_2. Case of NCBE.pdf . (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
On April 7, 2008, I reported on an annotated bibliography on bar examination articles. I am including the text of the original post below in case you are new to the blog and missed this item.
I would like to thank Joe Hodnicki of the Law Librarian Blog for the PDF file and the link. Hopefully, this added access will help those of you who have not been able to get a copy of the bibliography. (Amy Jarmon)
April 7, 2008: Annotated Bibliography of Bar Articles
Arturo Torres, Associate Dean of Law Library and Computing, at Texas Tech School of Law and Bryan J. Guymon, a second-year student at Texas Tech School of Law, have compiled a twenty-page annotated bibliography of articles from 1998 to 2007 that deal with the bar exam and admission to the bar. The article appears in the February 2008 issue of The Bar Examiner (Volume 77, Number 1).
Any ASP professionals who deal with bar exam issues will find this article valuable to their work.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Arturo Torres, Associate Dean of Law Library and Computing, at Texas Tech School of Law and Bryan J. Guymon, a second-year student at Texas Tech School of Law, have compiled a twenty-page annotated bibliography of articles from 1998 to 2007 that deal with the bar exam and admission to the bar. The article appears in the February 2008 issue of The Bar Examiner (Volume 77, Number 1).
Any ASP professionals who deal with bar exam issues will find this article valuable to their work. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
First things second.
Spotlight time. Presenting ... ALEX RUSKELL. Alex took over leadership of the Academic Success effort at Roger Williams University School of law this academic year. From all reports, he's doing a super job!
Before this year, Alex served as the Director of the Academic Support Program at Southern New England School of Law, and before that, Associate Director of the Legal Writing Center at the University of Iowa College of Law. In his earlier life, he litigated in Boston, focusing on securities and corporate non-competition agreements. He has also served as General Counsel for a mid-size publishing company, Associate for a large oil and gas firm, and as an Assistant in the Texas Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Crimes.
His academic background is varied — and thus well-suited to academic support! He holds an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an A.L.M. in English from Harvard University, a J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in English from Washington and Lee University.
Before practicing law, he taught in a Russian orphanage and counted otters for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Both of these resulted in several articles, printed in The Tampa Tribune and many other publications.
Alex frequently presents at writing conferences and symposiums across the country, most recently at the 2006 AWP Conference in Austin, Texas, where he sat on a panel questioning the continuing vitality of the American novel.
Now, how does this tie in with "sharing"? Alex gave me permission to post his latest exam-answering advice to the RWU SOL students. It's terrific. Here goes . . .
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Gerald Bamberger, a former adjunct assistant professor at the University at Buffalo Law School, has recently launched a new website that provides free video explanations of answers to simulated MBE questions. It is in its initial stages, but Professor Bamberger plans to continually add new simulated questions and accompanying explanations. You can check out his website at http://www.profbamberger.com/. (Dan Weddle)
Friday, April 13, 2007
The pastor of my church happens to be an avid mountain climber (I'm sure it is painful for him to now be serving a church in Kansas), and his sermons often incorporate stories of his mountain climbing experiences. A couple of weeks ago, he told a story about a time when he led some novice climbers on a non-technical climb up a mountain he had never scaled before.
His experience in climbing is extensive, and the mountain did not look particularly challenging. The night before the climb, he studied the mountain in a cursory way and felt confident that he could lead the group safely to the summit and back.
The climb went well until the group came within a few hundred feet of the summit. He had been keeping an eye on a thunderstorm that was moving toward them, and he decided that trying to reach the summit would be too dangerous. A storm in the mountains can be deadly because of lightning, so he knew that they had to get back down the mountain before the storm overtook them.
Unfortunately, the storm moved more quickly than he expected and cut off the path he had planned to follow back down from the summit. He then began to look for another way down, but because he was unfamiliar with the mountain, he could only guess which way to go.
He chose a route that looked good, but it led them into a ravine with no cover. The storm overtook them in the ravine, and they could only crouch down among the rocks as lightening began striking all around them. He realized at that point that some in the group would very likely be killed in that ravine and that his cavalier approach to the climb had put them there.
The storm finally passed; and, happily, everyone survived; but he was very shaken by the experience. He had relied on his experience in those mountains to carry him if anything were to happen; but his experience was not enough, and his failure to prepare carefully for the climb very nearly cost several climbers their lives.
The moral (for my purposes) is not that he should have been terrified of the mountain or that he was incapable of leading a group safely to the summit. Instead, the moral is that he should have had sufficient respect for the mountain to prepare carefully for that particular climb. He should have known the several routes of escape in the event of a sudden storm, and he should not have found himself and his group stranded in a ravine above the tree line at the worst possible moment.
A few days ago, I suggested that as our students approach the bar exam we should "scare 'em into success." My pastor's story captures fairly well what I meant by that. The bar exam, of course, is not a matter of life and death. That aside, however, it is otherwise very much like a mountain that is deceptively familiar to the experienced climber.
Like the overconfident climber, law students run the risk of approaching the bar exam with a serious lack of respect for its demands. Relying upon their training and experience, many assume that they need not prepare deeply and carefully for the exam because it sounds as though it will be like every other exam they have taken in law school. Many will find out too late that they have underestimated its particular hazards.
On the other hand, like the experienced climber, they need not be terrified of the exam or fear that they haven't the training and experience to conquer it. Rather, they need to have sufficient respect for the exam to prepare carefully for its particular challenges. It isn't an exam completely unlike any other exam they have ever taken; but it isn't those other exams either.
If we "scare" them in the right way, we will inspire them to prepare thoroughly for an exam that will present its own particular hazards for the unprepared. They can all pass the exam, and they need to know that. They can all fail it, too. The trick for them is to develop a healthy fear, not so much of the exam itself, but of taking a particular high stakes exam as if experience is all they need. (dan weddle)
Thursday, May 18, 2006
I am always amazed this time of year by how many graduating law students fail to prepare intensely for the bar exam that looms just ahead. Most take the exam very seriously, but a few each year apparently seem to think the exam a fairly easy hurdle. I don't get it. After all of the expense, work, and stress of law school, how can anyone let up for the bar exam?
Perhaps they look at the pass rates and decide that there is no way they can end up in the bottom twenty percent of the takers. I remember the story of a student who graduated first in his class at a good school, obtained a prestigious judicial clerkship, only to fail the exam and lose the clerkship. I have always suspected that he became wrapped up in his clerkship duties and thought to himself, "How can I possibly fail the bar exam after graduating first in my class?" I was in law school at the time, and the story scared the socks off me.
I suppose it is understandable that students who have been far from the bottom twenty percent in law school would assume that they can avoid the bottom twenty percent of bar takers without much work; but that assumption overlooks the nature of the exam. The exam tests concepts many takers have not encountered since the first semester of law school. What makes them think that material that old can be recalled and applied with a half-hearted review, especially when the material required so much preparation for the final exam when the material was fresh?
Some, I am sure, fail to prepare properly because they do not believe they can afford the fee for a bar prep course. Again, however, I find it amazing that anyone who has invested three years of tuition, budget-breaking book purchases, and lost wages chooses the bar exam as the best opportunity to save money. Too much is riding on the exam to spare expense at this point. Anything spent on preparing for the exam will be more than offset by a year in practice, and no amount saved can justify gambling that year on recalling three years of legal rules without an intense review.
Perhaps some students take review courses but never devote significant time to further study outside the review classes . Again, the choice is amazing, given what law school exams require. How many students actually get through law school by reading through their class notes once before finals? What could possibly lead them to believe that the bar exam requires little study beyond sitting through a series of lectures in the weeks leading up to the exam?
Nevertheless, every year brings tales of top students around the country failing the bar. Aside from the cases of extreme test anxiety, lack of test preparation is the only thing that explains the failures. They may be saving money, becoming too involved in newly acquired employment, or merely underestimating the exam; but they are rolling the dice on the most important high-stakes test of their legal careers.
Throughout law school, they have had to prepare intensely in order to succeed on finals, and this final is the biggest one they have faced, covering vastly more material than any other they have taken. Should it be a surprise that it requires substantially more preparation?
The bar exam itself should not frighten students; but under-preparation should scare them to death. We need not terrify our students about taking the exam, but we should go out of our way to terrify them about failing to prepare. The exam is grueling, but ultimately no real threat for those who have spent the two months ahead of it preparing intensely, both in the review classes and on their own time.
No one who has worked as hard as our students have worked to get through law school should trip over the last hurdle. As their coaches, we need to make sure they keep running hard to the end of the race and that they not treat the final lap to the bar as a cool down lap. (dbw)