Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Lowest in Years - The July 2018 MBE (and a Call to ASP Action!)

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), citing to and TaxProfBlog editor Dean Paul Caron, the national average score on the MBE multiple-choice portion of the July bar exam dropped to its lowest level in 34 years.;;  The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) reports that the July 2018 MBE average score was just 139.5, while for the July 1984 exam, reports that the MBE average score was likewise low at 139.21.

In an article by, the President of the NCBE - Judith Gundersen - is quoted as saying that "they [this summer's lower MBE scores] are what would be expected given the number of applicants and LSAT 25th percentile means of the 2015 entering class." In other words, according to the NCBE, this summer's low score average is the result of law school admissions decisions based on the NCBE's appraisal of 25 percentile LSAT data for entering 2015 law students.

Nevertheless, despite the NCBE's claim, which was previously theorized by the NCBE back in 2015 (namely, that bar exam declines are related to LSAT declines), previous empirical research found a lack of empirical support for the NCBE's LSAT claim, albeit limited to one jurisdiction, one law school's population, and admittedly not updated to reflect this summer's bar exam results.  Testing the Testers

As an armchair statistician with a mathematics background, I am leery of one-size-fits-all empirical claims.  Life is complex and learning is nuanced.  Conceivably, there are many factors at play that might account for bar exam results in particular cases, with many factors not ascribable to pure mathematical calculus, such as the leaking roof in the middle of the first day of the Colorado bar exam.  

Here's just a few possible considerations:

• The increase to 25 experimental questions embedded within the set of 200 MBE multiple-choice questions (in comparison to previous test versions with only 10 experimental questions embedded).

• The addition of Federal Civil Procedure as a relatively recent MBE subject to the MBE's panoply of subjects tested.

• The apparent rising incidences of anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities found within law school populations and graduates.

• The economic barriers to securing bar exam testing accommodations despite longitudinal evidence of law school testing accommodations.

• The influence of social media, the internet age, and smart phones in impacting the learning environment.

• The difficulty in equating previous versions of bar exams with current versions of bar exams given changes in the exam instrument itself and the scope of subject matter tested.

• The relationship among experiential learning, doctrinal, and legal writing courses and bar exam outcomes.

• Etc....

Consequently, in my opinion, there's a great need (and a great opportunity) for law schools to collaborate with bar examiners to hypothesize, research, and evaluate what's really going on with the bar exam.  It might be the LSAT, as the NCBE claims.  But, most problems in life are much more complicated.  So, as a visual jumpstart to help law schools and bar examiners brainstorm possible solutions, here's a handy chart depicting the overall downward trend with respect to the past ten years of national MBE average scores.  (Scott Johns).

July National MBE Average Scores

September 20, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

On Becoming Educated

What does it mean to be educated?  Tara Westover describes education as a form of self-creation.  Educated persons, she suggests, open themselves up to many different points of view, deepen their empathy, embrace doubt, and participate actively in their own learning.

In case you don't follow the best-seller lists, Westover is the author of the 2018 memoir Educated,  Reared on a remote mountain in southeast Idaho as the youngest child of survivalist parents who opposed not only "government schools" but also any type of formal education for their daughter, she worked in the kitchen with her herbalist mother and in the junkyard with an increasingly paranoid father and an abusive older brother.  Westover gradually came to yearn for an education and taught herself enough to earn an ACT score good enough to enter Brigham Young University.  While her first months in the classroom were filled with failure and missteps, her intellectual curiosity propelled her forward and brought mentors who encouraged her to go beyond her self-imposed bounds.  After graduating from Brigham Young University, she earned a Masters of Philosophy and then a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Trinity College, Cambridge, as well as becoming a visiting fellow at Harvard University.

Last night Westover came to our university and delivered an electrifying address to a standing-room only crowd.  The feeling of community in the room was intense: some audience members had grown up in the same county as Westover or had met members of her family through the years.  Although few if any came from such extreme circumstances, many could relate to her experience of trying to maintain loving relationships while breaking free of family expectations that denigrated the value of higher education. 

Westover spoke movingly of the role of passion in learning.  "I'm a believer in following what you care about," she told the crowd.  The first time she ever thought about formal schooling, she said, was when she listened to the recording of an opera.  Although she was already a gifted singer, she instinctively recognized operatic singing as something beyond what she had experienced, something that would require not only talent but also years of disciplined learning to master.  While her passion for music was what initially prompted her to go to college, she said, once her intellectual curiosity was aroused, it took her in other directions, first to politics and history, then to intellectual history.  "You don't know where someone's passion will take them," she said, "but no passion will take them nowhere."

In an era when so much emphasis is put on measurable results such as grades, bar passage results, and job placement statistics, it's easy to dismiss Westover's view of education as a romantic vision suitable only for the gifted few.  But her vision of the educated person is exactly what we want and expect a good lawyer to be -- an engaged self-learner with drive, empathy, and curiosity, a person who maintains an open mind even when surrounded by others rigid in their certainty. 

Unfortunately, most of us have seen too many students during the course of law school shift their focus from intellectual curiosity to grade point average, from passionate interest to resume building.  Sadly, in transforming their mindset to what they think is a more realistic outlook, these students lose both what brought them to law in the first place and what will make law a worthwhile endeavor for the rest of their careers.

While there's no magic bullet to prevent this devolution, consistently modeling "ASPish" behaviors may help.  It's vital, of course, to consciously show our our own passion for learning, for law, and for our personal calling in legal education.  For example, in his Property syllabus, my colleague and mentor D. Benjamin Beard wrote as his first course objective, "I expect you to care as passionately about your learning as I do."  (In true ASP fashion, I borrowed this message to put into my own syllabus.)  In addition, in our classrooms, individual meetings, and materials, we can consistently encourage our students to consider their core values and the good they hope to accomplish by mastering law.  (Paula Franzese's A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student has become a wonderful resource for me in encouraging this mindset.)  Finally, I believe it's critical for all of us in legal education to openly honor the wide panoply of positive choices our graduates can make as they enter their careers.  Students can begin to doubt their own passions when they receive overt or subliminal messages that certain types of practice are more worthy than others.  The student with a passion for helping children cannot help but feel denigrated in an atmosphere that only celebrates landing "BigLaw" jobs; the person with a transactional bent can have their choices derailed in an atmosphere that considers litigation to be the pinnacle of practice.  So as we commend our own interests (Criminal defense rocks!  Small-town lawyers hold rural communities together!), let's not forget to openly value the many different ways lawyers serve others by pursuing their own passions.  (Nancy Luebbert)


September 12, 2018 in Books, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Excitement and Disappointment in the Same Day

Bar results began rolling in last week.  Oklahoma results posted on Friday.  Bar result day is both exciting and disappointing for me.  My emotions yo-yo from talking to thrilled students to discussing disappointment with unsuccessful alumni.  The personal stake we take in our students is what makes us successful, but it is also why we feel so much disappointment on an exciting day.

Nike has a famous Michael Jordan ad where he says “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”  Jordan is famous for being extra critical and focusing on what he missed.  He enjoyed his successes briefly, but he dwelled on defeat.  Nick Saban, Alabama football coach, is arguably the best college football coach in history.  When asked how long he would celebrate his recent National Championship, he said 1 day.  After that, he needed to start recruiting and preparing for the following year.  Neither person enjoyed their victories.

Anyone can make an easy argument to “be like Mike,” or get ready for the next bar the day after results.  February is only 5 ½ months away, and the bar does not wait for anyone.  However, dwelling on the disappointment robs both you and your students of the joy of their accomplishment.  Many students worked with us from the first day of school.  Other students struggled and sought our help 2L or 3L year.  Their excitement is worth celebrating.  Being a part of their accomplishment is important.  They will enjoy their celebration more with our excitement as well.  Celebrating the successes will also help fuel us to help more students clear their hurdle.  Celebrate with your students more than momentarily.

Celebrating does not take away the disappointment for the unsuccessful students.  We can learn from their experience and develop a plan to help them clear the hurdle as well.  Their pain is very real and has a significant impact on their future.  However, you can make a difference in their life by being ready to lift them up.  Lifting up someone else is difficult if we don’t have the emotional strength.  Celebrate successes to build strength to help those who need you even more now.

I completely understand the emotional difficulty revolving around bar results.  I have to work hard to not take students not passing as a personal failure.  It is easy to think about what we could have done different.  Suppress those thoughts to celebrate what you did correctly for the majority of students to pass.  You can then go back to the drawing board and be both an academic and emotional support for your re-takers.  Celebrate success!

(Steven Foster)

September 10, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Digital Detox Intervention Across France (and Potential Benefits for Learners)!

Radical.  Bold.  Ambitious.  And shocking too.  Until I read the research. But first, the country-wide experiment in learning...

As reported by CNN, starting earlier this month with the new school year, France has banned, I mean completely banned, student cell phone use in all primary, middle, and high school campuses throughout France (and throughout the entire school day (lunch included)): 

As detailed by CNN, there's research to back up the educational benefits.  As described by CNN, the research evaluated the relationship between cell phone use and academic achievement for 130,000 UK students.  The researchers "found that following a ban on phone use, the schools' test scores improved by 6.4%. [And,] [t]he impact on underachieving students was much more significant -- their average test scores rose by 14% (emphasis added)."  Citing research authors Dr. Richard Murphy and Dr. Louis-Philippe Beland, CNN reported that just by prohibiting cell phone use in schools, "[s]chools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap...."  

That's big news - that ought to make a big splash in legal education - because the research suggests that a low tech solution might help law schools too narrow the achievement gap for those most at-risk of not doing well in law school. So, as you meet with students who are struggling this semester, you might ask your learners about their cell phone habits.  No need to be pushy.  Instead, just show them the research and then let them make a decision.   

Based on my own review of the research, here's my recommendation to my students:  "For one week, just leave the mobile phone at home...or in one's school locker...or tucked away with the power off in one's backpack.  Even if it doesn't lead to better learning, you'll find that you'll quickly put a quash to those never-ending furtive glances at one's phone to see if someone has tried to connect with you.  And, more importantly, you might find that you are actually making better connections with the materials (and others) by not connecting to the digital world while at law school.  In short, you might reap the same educational benefits as those documented in the UK."  That's a great educational goal for all of us.  (Scott Johns).


September 6, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Program Evaluation, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Tribute to the Tale

I choose to spend much of my precious free time in the company of friends old and new.  Just in the past few weeks, I've bantered with pilots in a cockpit jumpseat at 30,000 feet, sweltered with desperadoes holed up in a moldering hotel in the East Indies, paced the deck of a British frigate with a tone-deaf captain, suffered the pounding echoes of a sacred Indian cave with an elderly English lady, fumed at the stupidity of Muggles in Little Whinging, sailed with self-styled Amazons in the English Lake District, groomed fellow primates in East Africa, confronted cynical gangsters in LA, and wandered happily through the Hundred Acre Wood with my great friend Christopher Robin.

In law school and my first few years of law practice, I neglected these friends.  I foolishly thought I didn't have time for pleasure reading, and that reading fun books was a distraction from the analytical reading demanded by the study and practice of law.  How wrong I was!  Indeed, working in academic support has made me realize that time spent reading for pleasure enhances the study and practice of law in at least four ways:

 1.  Better readers are better writers, and writing is at the heart of what lawyers and law students do.  Good writers read widely.  As William Faulkner famously said, "Read, read, read.  Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.  Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.  Read!  You'll absorb it.  Then write."

 2.  Reading for pleasure helps you understand human nature.  Much as struggling law students would sometimes like to treat law as a mechanical matter of applying rules to fixed facts, law is complicated precisely because it tries to make sense out of the messiness of human lives.  The better you understand human nature, whether the hard-bitten cynicism of Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep), the introspective self-doubt of Horatio Hornblower (Ship of the Line), or the adventurous independence of Nancy Blackett (Swallows and Amazons), the better you can understand the actions, arguments, and decisions of clients, lawyers, and judges.

3.  Reading for pleasure helps make you a faster, more nimble reader.  Since trying to understand each word, sentence, and paragraph of a complicated legal case can be difficult, law students have a tendency to bog down, reading more and more slowly even when the passage does not demand it.  While slow methodical reading has its place, good readers vary their pace according to the demands of the text.  Reading strictly for pleasure, often at a rapid clip, is one of the easiest ways to retrain your brain to modify reading speed according to the difficulty of the material.  I'm convinced that even fifteen minutes of pleasure reading a day pays huge dividends in increasing overall reading speed.

4.  Reading just for pleasure is fun.  And as Professor Steven Foster reminded us in his Labor Day post, making time for fun helps you thrive in law school -- and, I'd add, in law practice.   (Nancy Luebbert)



September 5, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 3, 2018

Benefits from a Day of College Football

My favorite season began last weekend.  Some people like one of the weather seasons, but my favorite season is college football season.  The pageantry, great food, and fanaticism permeates the air.  Last Saturday’s heat index rose above 100 degrees while hanging out with over 85,000 of my closest friends, but I couldn’t be more excited.  I get to experience that pure joy with my 2 sons, and we have a blast.  Similar experiences and joy are important for a successful law school career.

My love of college football didn’t start after law school.  I grew up rooting for my hometown team, which eventually became my alma mater.  I watched them consistently growing up and attended some games in college.  I wouldn’t miss watching a game.  When I got to law school, I made the decision to take off every Saturday to continue watching or attending games.  It was one of the best decisions I made for myself.

Law school is hard and busy, especially the first year.  The language isn’t the same as undergrad.  Readings take longer.  No one feels prepared, and many first year students feel behind almost immediately.  Many students have a tendency to work non-stop to make up for the perceived inadequacies.  Students will read something every day and not schedule down time.  LRW assignments start increasing, and by mid-October, many 1Ls start hating law school. 

Law school hatred is fueled by burn out and being overwhelmed.  Those feelings lead to less focus when reading, which then requires more time to complete the work.  Students will then take more breaks throughout the day, extending work late into the evening.  The extended work deprives them of relaxation each night.  Feeling behind causes some students to work 7 days a week, which then exacerbates the exhaustion.  The downward spiral unfortunately continues throughout the semester, and it causes many students to despise the law school experience. 

While law school is definitely hard, the experience can be much better with built in balance.  Work-life balance isn’t a fad, and balance isn’t a problem for “other people.”  Everyone needs time away from studying to stay both happy and productive when preparing.  Everyone is different.  I took almost every Saturday off during law school.  I made the choice that what I enjoyed would be a priority.  It made outlining on Sunday easier for me.  I had my break and could get back to work the next day.  I have students who spend every Sunday with their family.  Think about what is important for you.  Write it down.  Decide now what will help you enjoy life outside law school.

After deciding what is important, decide when you take time off to enjoy it.  Planning the time away now is important.  Everyone has difficulty taking time off when already overwhelmed.  Trying to come up with coping mechanisms while stressed is difficult, and trying to add in relaxation when overburdened is near impossible.  The time to plan your non-law activities is now.

While planning when to take time off, consider the impact when everything is scheduled.  Our 1L students have classes M-F.  Many students read the day before class.  On Friday, students go to class, but then tend to take the rest of the day easier.  They may look at a few extra problems or organize material from the week, but they don’t spend 4-5 hours on those tasks.  The day is still long, but not as productive as a normal day.  Those students then spend a significant portion of Sunday completing the reading for Monday, which is still exhausting.  For those students, 6 days a week are long and exhausting.  They also struggle to find time to complete outlines, practice problems, and LRW assignments.

A different plan may increase effectiveness and decrease stress.  I encourage students to spend Friday reading like a normal day.  Read the material for Monday.  The stress of required work on the weekend is gone.  Spend a day off either Saturday or Sunday.  On the other day, work on outlines, practice problems, and other study tools to prepare for finals.  I wouldn’t casually study on Sunday, but working for a couple hours, then taking a break is easier when class isn’t looming the next day.  Spending 5-6 hours on study tools provides a huge benefit for final exams.  Choosing what to study each day has an impact of how overwhelmed you feel.  This schedule benefits from a clear day off and a day focused on final exam study.

Peanuts, hot dogs, fresh air, and exuberance helped my mood throughout law school.  The break can help your mood as well.  Make time for your fun activities to not merely survive, but to thrive in law school.

(Steven Foster)

September 3, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Lines versus Circles

I recently heard a pastor say something to the effect:

"We listen in lines.


We learn in circles.

We grow in circles.

We change in circles."

As I take it, here's the point.  

Whether at a place of worship or at a school (or at any other place of learning), most of us think that we are learning when we are sitting passively, and yet attentively, in an orderly line with others, listening, watching, and taking notes from an expert the teacher presents the materials to us.

In contrast, according to the speaker, if you (or me) think that we are learning by just being present in class, by sitting in lines, we are sorely mistaken.  Let me be frank. We are in fact self-deceived.  We are merely listening but not learning; not growing; not changing.  Listening ≠ Learning.

I realize these are strong words (strong medicine).  But, as Dr. John Dunlosky, professor of psychology, suggests, we are all easily tricked into imaging and believing that we are learning when we are merely studying.   There is in fact a big difference between studying and learning.

Let me be direct.

In my own view, learning requires us to live and move in circles. It requires us to move beyond the lines of our classroom environment, to no longer just sit still and silent, but rather to share with others what we are thinking, to loop back through our notes to distill and reshape them using our own words, and to make what we have heard into something personally meaningful to us individually.  In short, it means to act upon what we have heard.

If that sounds difficult, it is. But, it's not impossible...for any of us.  

However, it does mean, as Dr. Dunlosky observes, that we will often feel uncomfortable and uncertain about our learning (indeed, whether we are even learning at all).  That's because learning means that we understand that - as presently situated - we have things to learn, things that we don't yet know, and indeed that we don't really know anything until what we learn becomes part of who we are as human beings. And, that happens in circles not lines. It happens with us daily interacting and acting with and upon the materials.  It happens when we pause and reflect.  It happens when we share and debate with others what we are thinking.  It happens because learning is really in reality a social activity, a social enterprise that helps shape us into who we are as people.

So, as you celebrate this upcoming Labor Day holiday, feel free to step back and think about your past learning. In particular, take time to reflect on how you personally learned something in the past that now sticks with you forever.  Perhaps it was learning to play guitar. Perhaps learning arithmetic.  Perhaps learning to meditate and be mindful.  Whatever it was, the things that you have learned -  really learned - all occurred because you moved beyond the line into creating meaningful circles of relationships with what you heard and watched.   So, take the next step in being a learner by taking charge of your learning journey, and, in the process, you will grow and change. In short, you'll learn. (Scott Johns).



August 30, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Remedy for the Over-Driven Programmatic Life - Take 5 to Pause and Reflect!

Last week, I received some of the best advice ever about how to run an academic support program from one of my law school colleagues (as I ran around the campus in obvious haste - from office to to email....and....meeting to meeting).  

Short and sweet, it went something like this:  

"Remember, there are no emergencies in academics."  

At first, I wasn't quite sure what I heard.  No emergencies?  Really?  Of course, with every rule comes an exception.  But, the principle holds true.  

There really are no (or at least very few and far between) emergencies in academics.  

With her words freshly choreographed in my mind (and now fortunately taking grip of my frantic heart), I took the first pause of a very long day thus far to take in and reflect on the truth of what she said.  

There are no emergencies in academics.  None.  Zilch.  Nada.  

That led me to an uplifting and engaging conversation with her, a conversation that broke through the feverish pace of my day to restore in my spirit a much needed sense of peace and perspective.

As we talked further, I realized that I had been living an emergency life.  It was only the beginning of a new academic year but I already felt like I was way behind on everything that I needed to do.  Then, it came to me.  

Living an emergency life is not really living at all.  

Indeed, it is no life at all.  That's because as human beings living is about breathing and listening and pondering and reflecting and interacting with others.  It means stepping back from the push of the daily grind and seemingly every-pressing minutiae of tasks to comprehend the big picture perspective.  That we only truly live in community with others.  That life is social.  That being human means realizing that none of us - particularly me - can do it all.

A few years back, I recall listening to a NASA engineer talking about the engineer's work back in the 1960's when assigned to the Apollo moon missions.  It was the space age.  As the engineer related, he was commuting from Orlando to Cape Kennedy Spaceport for the big launch of a moon rocket.  But, he was running late. So, he did what most of us do when we are running late, whether walking or biking or driving. He sped.  To his astonishment, a state trooper pulled him over for speeding.  In response to the question as to why all the haste, the engineer said simply that he was needed for the space launch later that very day.  The officer thought a moment and then just asked him one question: "Sir, if you crash in a fiery crash on your way to the space launch, will NASA still launch the moon rocket?  If so, I'll let you on your way."  The engineer couldn't lie.  His answer was brief: "NASA will launch."  You see, the engineer wasn't really needed after all.  So, the officer handed him a speeding  ticket.

Perhaps you are like me, moving from one emergency to another emergency, with my vocabulary littered with sayings such as "I need to do this today" or "I've got to do this now" or "The program won't work unless I get this done now."  Let me be frank, to myself and to you, the words "necessary" and "needed" are overplayed.  Few things are necessary or needed.  Indeed, as Professor Nancy Luebbert from the University of Idaho suggested in her blog yesterday, the really only needful thing is not to do a thing...but to rather be a person.  Now, that's something to treasure; a life well-lived with others - person to person and people to people.  More to the point with respect to the nature of this blog, that's the better way to live academic support.  So, make a great day of it by taking "5" to pause and reflect upon this truism:  There really are no emergencies in academics.  (Scott Johns).  

August 23, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The ASPer as "Parson"

When I was growing up, the Random House Unabridged Dictionary held the place of honor in our home.  Lying resplendent on a huge dictionary stand, it invited a curious child to spend hours poring over exotic new words and exclaiming over the origin of familiar words.  Even many decades later, it is a treat to cap off a pleasant evening by perusing my dictionary to contemplate words and their etymology.

Thus is was that, several years ago, I learned that "parson" -- that lovely and rather antiquated term for a Protestant minister -- derived from the Middle English persone for "person."  Intrigued, I did a little digging.  Not surprisingly, some explanations for why a minister / priest / vicar / curate / rector (choose your favorite term) would be referred to as a "person" were lengthy, theological, and dull.  But I stumbled across one article that resonated with me.  The parson's calling, this interpretation suggested, was indeed to just be -- a person.  In a society where people were defined by pedigree, social rank, and how they made a living, the parson's role was to be a person to everyone in the parish, high or low, rich or poor.  Performing rites like baptism, weddings, and funerals was really just a way of being a person in relationship with others -- welcoming the birth of a child, celebrating the ties of love and family, and mourning with the bereaved.  The hallmarks of a parson, this article concluded, were listening much, grounding advice in the individual's particular circumstances, and always treating others as individuals worthy of respect.

I long ago lost this article about the parson as a professional "person," but it influenced and still guides the way I approach the profession of academic support.  I believe our highest and best calling as ASPers is to be a "parson" -- that is, to give primary emphasis to being a person in relationship to our students.  As ASPers, we have the training, education, and experience to help our students succeed.  But as Steven Foster pointed out last week, we can share our expertise best if we establish a relationship with our students first.

Moreover, we are often most effective when, by deep listening, we give students leave to follow their own best instincts rather than trudging along doing what they have convinced themselves they "should" do.  I think, for example, of the times struggling students have confided they are having trouble concentrating because a loved one is dying several hundred miles away.  Sometimes the best response is, "Don't you want to go home to be with your family?  I can help arrange things with your professors."  Given permission to honor their responsibilities as human beings, when they return to school they are then ready to concentrate and learn.

Listening much, grounding advice in the individual's particular circumstances, and always treating others as individuals worthy of respect are the hallmarks of an academic support professional -- the "parson" of the law school.  (Nancy Luebbert)

August 22, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Back to School Snapshots for Law School

Scrolling through social media the last 2 weeks has been a blast.  Friends from across the country are taking awesome back to school pictures and posting them.  Some are even comparing previous years’ pictures to show everyone growing up.  Joy, excitement, and nerves can be seen on all the kids’ faces.  The pictures document the beginning of another awesome year. 

Taking a current “snapshot” and looking back is great to gain perspective for students and faculty.  As a student, consider what you thought of law school last year at this time, and if you are a 3L, what you thought about law school before it started.  You may not feel good looking in the future at the bar exam and searching for employment.  However, consider your legal analysis skills now compared to a year ago.  Are you better?  Most likely yes, and that is the goal.  Try to get a little better every day.  The cumulative impact over a year makes a huge difference.

Academic Support Professionals should do the same thing.  The harder bar exam and law school budgets deficits make looking in the future daunting.  However, most of you are performing better and offering more to your students than before.  Consider your program this year compared to last year.  Is it more robust?  Will it attempt to reach more students?  My guess is of course it will.  If you worked in ASP 5 or more years, compare your program now to over 5 years ago.  Is it better?  Of course it is.  Small adjustments and programs over time will help more students.

Pastor Steven Furtick has a great quote about the problems of social media.  He says we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.  We will always lose that comparison.  Law schools have a similar trap.

Students and professors make illogical comparisons.  Students compare grades, study habits, jobs, and extra-curricular activities with what other students say (or post online).  They then worry about not doing enough in each area even though no student is perfect in all the areas.  Class ranks perpetuate this phenomenon, and the rise of social media probably causes even more comparisons.

Academic Support Professors do the same thing.  We go to conferences and see great ideas and programs.  We then think our program isn’t as good because we don’t do everything.  Many of us construct a mythical program in our heads with all the good ideas, and then, we wish we could be that mythical program.  Good news, just because someone has a great idea doesn’t mean everything they do is perfect.  They also may not be doing other programs you are doing.  Everyone and every school is different.  Do what is best for your program and your students.

The mythical student or mythical ASP program doesn’t exist.  We will always lose the comparison with perfection.  The goal is to continue to get better.  Take your back to school snapshot and find the growth from last year.  Ask yourself, “am I better today than yesterday, last month, and last year?”  The answer is most likely yes, so keep up the progress and have a great year!

(Steven Foster)

August 20, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

I Am Signing Off, Thank You!

      As I hope you gathered from the title, this will be my last post as a contributing editor to the Law School Academic Support Blog.  In one of my earlier posts, I suggested that it was helpful to “meet students where they are” by learning a new task and carefully considering the steps and the emotions you feel throughout the process.  It is always good to challenge yourself.  In another post, I also suggested that adopting a “grateful posture/attitude” can reframe how one might approach challenging situations.  I am taking all of my advice and thought this would be an ideal time to transition to other things and attempt new challenges.  I am excited about anticipated future opportunities but equally sad to leave this blog. 

      This blog has been a constant in my life for almost two years and I am very grateful for the weekly reflective opportunity it has afforded me. I hope to continue to reflect and keep things in perspective even if it is in a different form. Writing was a great way to explore student concerns and challenges at various points of their law school career and to explore, in more depth, various aspects of what I do as an academic support and bar educator. As academic support professionals, we talk about reflection and capturing things in writing but what does that mean for us? I believe I wrote a post about this as well. Where, when, and how do we replenish our energy and what do we do to stay sane? How do we manage the endless to-do lists? I hope that you were able to relate to the various entries and that your students were able to beneficially step away with something tangible.

• I am thankful for all of the students who inspired various posts. You make me awesome.

• I am thankful for all of my academic support colleagues who sent me positive notes, particularly when I addressed semi-controversial topics and diversity issues. You affirmed me!

• I am thankful for all of my students and other students who read and continue to read various posts that apply to them. I am glad you used all of your resources.

• I am thankful for “Texas Bar Today” for selecting and including a few of my posts on their Top Ten list.

• I am thankful for my colleagues who posted a few of my posts on websites and blogs they use to support students in law school and as they prepared for the bar exam.

• I am thankful for all of the critics for making me think and for providing me with additional information to reference.

• I am thankful for the editor of the Law School Academic Support Blog for the opportunity.

• I am thankful for the contributing editors for their positive words and “shout-outs”. Your posts challenged me to be creative and taught me a lot.

     I look forward to becoming a reader again. In the future, I hope that you will see an occasional guest post from me. Have a wonderful academic year and bye for now. (Goldie Pritchard)

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August 15, 2018 in About This Blog, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Can Older Non-Traditional Students Fit In? Absolutely!

Most of our law schools are seeing more non-traditional students arriving in our first-year classes. For many law schools, non-traditional students are still in a minority within the classroom when only a full-time program is available.

Those who are in their late 20's or early 30's tell me that they "feel different" and worry whether they have forgotten how to study and whether they will be accepted by those straight out of undergraduate education. And, because they have had jobs through which they were recognized for leadership and competence, they often state they feel a bit incompetent initially as they grapple with different law school study strategies. They may also have spouses and children to consider as they balance law school and life which makes their experience different from most younger students.

But even with these differences, many of the non-traditional students in these age groups will not "stand out" to their classmates as particularly older once they don the casual law student dress. They will blend pretty seamlessly into the whole. (And even when they show up with children in tow, many law students who are missing their own younger siblings, nieces, and nephews will delight at the chance to babysit while mom/dad goes to class or attends a meeting.)

The over-40 non-traditional students are the ones who most often have conversations with me about whether they will "fit in" and whether they will be "outsiders" among their much younger classmates. Today it is not unusual for law students to start in their 40's, 50's, or 60's after first careers. Most of them look older physically - they have earned those wrinkles or gray hairs. Even donning casual garb will not hide the fact that they are older. Their concerns about remembering how to study and feelings of initial incompetence are usually double or triple compared to their non-traditional colleagues in their 20's and 30's. After all, most of these older students have been out of a classroom for 20 years or more and were the supervisors and managers who "knew how to do it all" in past careers.

The good news is that older non-traditional students do fit in and are welcomed by members of their first-year class. Older non-traditional students often remark that "it is all about attitude." Here are some tips for transitioning from older non-traditional students with whom I have worked:

  • Make the first move to be friendly. Law students who are much younger may not know how to start the conversation because they see you as more accomplished and worldly.
  • Be humble about your accomplishments. You have garnered lots of accolades, titles, and professional recognition in your prior non-law life. Unless you are put on the spot with a pointed question, understatement is probably best initially to put others at ease.
  • Use your experience to be a role model for collegiality, not competition. Be supportive, encouraging, and helpful when you can. Ask for help when you need it. Let others know that you consider yourself one of their colleagues and value collegiality.
  • Participate in class with relevant examples from your experiences when those comments can add to the discussion or move the class forward. Be careful not to gratuitously tout your expeiences, however.
  • Volunteer in class when others do not, but do not become the "crutch" allowing your fellow students not to prepare because they know you will always be prepared. You may indeed know the answers most days, but they need to be challenged to participate as well.
  • Join law school organizations and participate in some of the events of your 1L class. You may have less free time because of family commitments, but devote some time to law school life outside the classroom.
  • Your main cadre of friends may be other older non-traditional students, but stay open to friendships with a variety of students. Law school organizations, study groups, and other opportunities will be available to expand your friendships.
  • Realize that, depending on your actual age, you may become a "big brother/sister, mom/dad" figure for some of your classmates. That is actually a compliment. Your experience and advice are being recognized. You may be just the mentor that someone younger needs.
  • Be yourself. If jeans and a T-shirt are not your style, dress as you are comfortable - even if it is dressier than your colleagues. If loud parties are not your thing, avoid them and join in at other times. If family outings are your relaxation, ask others to meet your family and join in the fun.
  • Be sensitive to your law school's etiquette. Some professors call everyone "Mr" and "Ms" and want to be addressed as "Professor" no matter the student's age category. Other professors use first names freely with older students (or all students). Let the professor/administrator indicate the desired form of address to avoid an unintentional faux pas.
  • Be patient with yourself as you master legal study. Do not compare yourself to "quick, young minds" or lament "I wish I did this years ago." You are learning a new language, a new way to think, a new way to write, and a new way to be tested. You are reviving academic skills that might be rusty and learning new study strategies.

Law school over-40 can be a wonderful ride. Many legal concepts link to your practical life experiences: apartment leases, real estate purchases, car loans, employment contracts, income tax returns, drafting wills, and more. You challenge yourself to new ways of seeing the world around you. You discover specialty legal areas and possible legal career paths you never knew existed. You have a break of sorts between careers. You meet classmates who will be life-long friends and professional colleagues. (Amy Jarmon)

August 12, 2018 in Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

When Did You First Learn IRAC?

It's the start of a brand new academic year, and that means that first-year law students all across the nation are hearing for the first time about "IRAC" (the deductive formula for reminding us as law students to analyze legal problems by stating the issue, defining the rule, applying the facts at hand to the rule of law, and reaching a logical conclusion).

But, is IRAC really new to us as entering law students?

Well, the answer is plainly and firmly no.  

You see, as Professor José Roberto (Beto) Juárez Jr. explained during orientation at the University of Denver this past week, all of us have been doing IRAC since our toddler years. I mean all of us! That includes you and me!

Here's why...

As Professor Juárez elaborated, children know all about rules, how to interpret rules (usually narrowly), and how to apply them (also usually narrowly).  

That's because kids are faced - early on - with lots of rules imposed by adults, whether the adult is a teacher, a parent, or a youth leader. Adulthood is filled with rules (and with adults trying to get children to obey their adulthood rules). But, let's face facts.  As a child, rules have only one purpose in life; rules are meant to curb fun, to rob us of joy, to bar us from truly living.

Consequently, as a kid, we all learned - staring as early as toddlers - how to analyze rules for lots of factual and legal loopholes.  In short, we have been analyzing like "lawyers" from our earliest years using IRAC.

So, as you being to play, learn, and work with IRAC as a first-year law student, please don't forget this truth, namely, that you have been an IRAC-genuis for most of your life! (Scott Johns).


August 9, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What I Wish I Knew As A 1L

I asked a few rising 2L and 3L students what they wish they knew as first year, first semester, law students and I received a slew of answers.  Not every answer is listed here and certainly, there is a lot more one could consider outside of the categories listed here.  The responses I received fall into some of the categories listed below and I limited categories to the six below. 

The Library Can Distract You. The library is typically thought of as a place where one goes to focus and study. In law school, the library can be a very distracting and social place. Some classmates want to talk to each other or you and you might want to have conversations to avoid reading or completing your tasks. Students who previously frequented the library and considered their visits productive might now find it to be the most distracting location to study. Give the library a try and see what happens, closely monitor your time and productivity. Simply clocking hours in the library does not equate with quality and fruitful study time. “I spent several hours, all semester long, in the library but when I consider the time I spent studying, it was minimal. I accomplished a lot more at home.” Student A

Attend Office Hours. Meeting with professors one-on-one can humanize the professors and cultivate the student-professor dynamics. Professors are human beings, really. This is a good time to ask pertinent questions and sort through difficult concepts early. Also, this interaction allows professors to get to know you which might become helpful in the future when they seek a teaching assistant or research assistant. This interaction can also be helpful if you need a letter of recommendation in the future but you must engage with professors to cultivate that relationship. “When I needed a reference, my professor was willing to write me one and remembered me because I was in office hours with at least one course related question every week.” Student B

You Can Sleep Before Midnight. Law students spend hours preparing for class and completing legal writing assignments, particularly in the beginning. Students often pull all-nighters to balance class preparation and completion of assignments. However, if you plan out your time and maximize the time you spend on various assignments and tasks, you can accomplish a lot. “I worked (which I was advised against), commuted to school from about an hour away, am married, and have three children but still managed to complete all of the requirements of my 1L curriculum. It is doable. It is all about time management, prioritizing, and temporary sacrifice.” Student C

Be Humble. Some students can be more confident than they should be particularly if they were high achieving students in a previous academic environment. It can also be difficult when your path in life was to make it to law school so you took the necessary classes, participated in pre-law programs, worked with lawyers and other members of the legal profession, and have family members with experience in the legal profession. All of the above and more are confidence building and present knowledge that other students might not have. You must keep in mind that everyone will have their own journey, path, and experience which might be different from yours. Just because another person’s experience does not fit the cookie cutter law school experience does not mean it is of any less value. “I had a lot of exposure to the legal profession, legal terminology, law school environment, etc. and I understood things quicker than it seemed others did but that was not enough when I saw my law school first semester grades. I should have approached things the way some of my classmates did and I could have learned from them but refused to. I wish that I was more open to the Academic Support Program and what other individuals in the law school environment had to say about preparing for exams. My attitude also isolated me from some of my classmates.” Student D

There Are Endless Opportunities. Some students often feel limited by their academic performance or perceived ability compared to other students. Students have the impression that there is only one trajectory to achieving a goal or developing a skill or to be a part of particular programs, co-curricular activities, and/or extracurricular activities. Everyone is not going to have the same opportunity to do the same things. There might be an alternative route to whatever you would like to do and/or accomplish but you may need to chat with someone, reach out to others, and be okay with alternatives. It is never the end of the world; therefore, you might just have to take a different path.

Invest In Your Well-being. Always ensure that you keep the friends you made outside of law school as they can keep you grounded and remind you of who you are and your values. They also provide a means of escaping law school. Schedule some fun on a weekly basis whether it is a movie, dinner, a walk, a run, or anything that makes you happy. This will keep you motivated and centered. Consider investing in a locker or a roller bag which will help with carrying your books around and save your back. Overall, simply pay attention to your body and your mental, physical, and emotional health. This will serve you well in the future.

This is a very exciting time for new students! Welcome to your new journey but remember to stay as true as you can to your authentic self. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 8, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 6, 2018

The New Magical Journey

Excitement is mounting. A magical experience begins in the coming days. Joy and the nerves of the unknown rise. I could be describing a 6 year old’s feelings the day before seeing Magic Kingdom or the emotions of someone starting law school. Law school has the potential to be just as magical as Mickey pancakes.

The adrenaline will be high the first few days, but try to soak it all in. You only get to start law school once.  If you embrace the new journey, it can be eye opening.  Disney World is hot, muggy, expensive, and crowded the vast majority of the time, but it is still the happiest place on earth.  Law school can be hard, time consuming, and draining, or it can be a thought provoking and transformative experience.  Enjoying law school is about the perspective during the mundane of daily activities.

Law school magic is all around.  Learning how to "think like a lawyer" is similar to seeing all your childhood movies come to life.  Hearing numerous different people try to explain IRAC, CIRAC, CRAC, or any other legal analysis method is just like A Small World.  The song is the same just using different languages.  Some professors are larger than life like Mickey.  Some classes will be exhilarating like Space Mountain, while others will be the Jungle Cruise, predictable and full of bad jokes.  Every class will provide pieces to the larger puzzle that lays the foundation for the practice of law.   

As you embrace the magic, understand you are joining a new profession. My biggest suggestion for law school is to treat this unique opportunity as your new career. You will make an impression on both colleagues and professors starting now. References and referrals many years down the road are impacted by what you do starting day 1.

Treating law school as a career includes preparation. Start your day early. Attend every class unless an emergency or sickness arises. Adequately prepare for each class. Everyone is different, but my adequate preparation required slowly reading each major case while briefing it. Some students will skim the case and then read it again to make the brief. The key is to prepare as if this is your job. You wouldn’t, or at least you shouldn’t, show up to work unprepared or ignore your bosses instructions, so don’t show up to class without doing the assignments from professors. Finals are much easier to prepare for when you do the work throughout the semester.

Joining the profession also requires passing the bar exam in a few years. No one wants to think about the bar now, but your actions on the first day will impact bar preparation. I can virtually guarantee the material from the first week of law school will be on the bar. The more effort you put in right now, the less stress during bar prep.


This is an exciting journey and will be as magical as you make it. Treat this as your new profession and have fun.

(Steven Foster)

August 6, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Time to Reset

For Academic Support Professionals who oversee offices that operate year long, it can be very difficult to identify an ideal time to take a break or vacation. This is primarily due to the fact that we are constantly looking ahead to what comes next. We are planning the next program and preparing for the next event of the cycle. To somewhat illustrate this point, when bar preparation is over in July we intensify our preparation for orientation and fall programming (because we were simultaneously working on this during bar review) and in the fall we commence spring program planning which includes planning for students preparing for the February bar exam. At the height of spring semester, we start coaching students to ensure they graduate, work with those studying for the bar exam, and plan summer bar programming. This is just the tip of the iceberg and does not adequately capture the full picture. You have to live it to better understand, particularly when unpredictable incidents and issues surface. In the midst of it all, we have to be human beings and engage with family, friends, and community commitments.

Each year, as I assess my experience, I realize that I have never really had a break. The most consecutive days off I get is seven days at some point approximately a week after the July bar exam and prior to August Orientation. During that week, I continue to keep very busy. I respond to email messages about orientation, messages from recent bar takers, and communicate with teaching assistants. I have discovered that a plan to escape my environment tends to make the possibility of getting true rest more likely. Though it was a very sad situation, the elimination of the summer conditional admission program made my summer slightly more manageable and allowed me to direct most of my energy to one primary task. In retrospect, I cannot comprehend how I managed to accomplish all that I did during previous summers.

As a one-woman office providing academic support and bar preparation support services, I have to be present virtually or physically for most things. Over the years, in collaboration with my supervisors, I have made adjustments to cater to my health and well-being so I can provide optimal service to our students. I have also found it imperative to reset things and be comfortable making adjustments as need be. Here are some of the things I have found helpful:

(1) Take a day or a few hours off if necessary when extremely overwhelmed or exhausted. Leaving the building and unplugging for a short period of time can be rejuvenating and provide better perspective. You might not need it but understanding that this is an option and being okay with it is great.

(2) Take an occasional three-day weekend. This should be strategically planned maybe every 2 months particularly if you are uncomfortable with (1 above). This gives you something to look forward to as well as consumes some of your vacation days that you will lose anyway because you may never use them all. Furthermore, if you work odd hours (earlier and/or later than the workday schedule) and have quite a bit of weekend or evening programming, you can justify not coming in for a day.

(3) Recognize that the students will survive. Students are adults and even though they might “guilt trip” you because you were not present at a particular time of crisis, you know there are a number of resources available for them to use to solve their problems. Also, most things can be taken care of when you return to the office. By this approach, you are modeling good self-care which hopefully students can emulate. Also, the more rested you are, the better your performance.

Let’s all reset and gear-up for a wonderful 2018-1019 academic year. (Goldie Pritchard)

August 1, 2018 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Compassionate Curiosity

One student leaves and the next student comes in.  The first thing he/she says is an excuse why they don't have the practice problem done or didn't turn in homework.  The professor at the desk proceeds to scold the student for not meeting expectations or doing the necessary work to succeed.  Silently, the professor already thinks the student will not make it to 2L year.  The meeting is over and the next student comes in.  Too many meetings with struggling students follow that pattern with some professors.

Unfortunately, I fall into the trap of not listening to the reason or failing to dig deeper.  Most of us have more meetings than time and have already gone the extra mile (or 2) for the entire law school.  The additional effort to understand students who continuously fail to complete the work is difficult.  However, we may want to look deeper into the reason for some student's actions.

Kyle Redford in an Education Week article encouraged teachers to use Compassionate Curiosity to understand behavior in students.  The article is intended for classroom teachers, but the strategy is applicable to law students as well.  He states "Compassion asks teachers to pause before assuming we know what was behind a student's rude or hurtful remark, disruptive behavior, or poorly executed or missing work.  It shifts us out of the role of judge and into the role of investigator - a caring one."  That line struck a cord with me because too often, I think I judge the reason instead of trying to care about the student in a way to understand the action.  Read the rest of the article here.

We all understand numerous factors play a role in student success from family situations to mental health.  The article is specific to potential problems of a 5th grader who looks after his/her siblings.  We have students every year who still look after siblings as law students, and some of them look after parents.  Starting from a place of compassion can build trust and help students succeed.  Students still need to meet expectations and complete the work, but compassion can help us lead the students to a good plan for success.  I hope to start from compassion more this year.

(Steven Foster)


July 30, 2018 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Inevitable Roller Coaster: Bar Review

As we slowly approach the one month mark for the bar exam, strange things begin to happen. Bar Studiers we did not realize were in town surface in the building with questions and concerns and Bar Studiers we have seen regularly seek more and more encouragement to intensify their bar exam preparation. Interactions with Bar Studiers is normal but what is out of the ordinary are some of the things they share with us believing they are the only ones experiencing them. Bar Studiers do not realize there are other students who also experience similar series of challenges and misadventures. It is as if the universe knows that the bar exam is looming and sets up a number of obstacles along their path to test resilience, persistence, and character. Bar Studiers may not always recognize they are up for the challenge and we are here to remind them of this fact, help them strategies, and get them to their seats on bar exam day with a sense that they can tackle this seemingly impossible, yet possible obstacle.

Below are a handful of issues that surfaced this year and in the past and some of the approaches we have used, depending on an individual Bar Studier’s unique circumstances and needs.

Health Plays Games

Last week and this week, I heard sneezes in the hallways and several Bar Studiers have been missing in action for a day or two. Some notified me that they will not be around as they know that I will inquire about their whereabouts. I parted with two boxes of Kleenex and a giant bottle of hand sanitizer was in significant use. I understand that allergies are in full swing and immune systems struggle to keep up with the pace many adopted to manage bar preparation. To put things in perspective, it is better to temporarily get sick now than on exam day. In response to panic about falling behind in bar review and feeling unprepared for the exam, we discuss how to rearrange schedules, move tasks around, and use small spurts of activity with scheduled rest. I prescribe sleep and okay short naps emphasizing the importance of sleep even though it seems impossible to have restful sleep due to constant thoughts about bar preparation. We insist that Bar Studiers see a doctor if need be and fill necessary prescriptions so as not to exasperated preexisting conditions and developed new ones.

If Bar Studiers are concerned about falling behind, we suggest low-intensity activities that allow them to complete tasks, go through flashcards on an app or physical cards, and memorize information. We discuss a plan for the next day so all they do is implemented with some room for adjustment. We try to find habits that can be implemented in the days and weeks to come so they are ready for the exam. We also explore worse case scenarios and how they will manage such situations on exam day. Of course, nothing is a guarantee but it is a start.

Life Happens

At a bar exam program presented several years ago, a speaker announced that everything that can go wrong will go wrong during bar review and everything you have ever wanted to do will become a possibility during bar review. She continued that bar review is only a few weeks and months out of your entire life and you will likely have the opportunity to experience many of the things you miss out on at some point in the future. Over the years, I note that Bar Studiers experience a range of life occurrences including: death in the family, breakups with significant others and spouses, issues with character and fitness on the bar application, car accidents, financial challenges (even with planning), lack of food, familial demands and expectations, emotional and physical impact of socio-political events, and much more. Life does not simply stop because you are studying for the bar exam. You will have both good days and not so good days and your reaction to and feelings about everything will be amplified.

You might waste a day or a half a day attending to real life situations and that is okay and necessary but it does not mean that you will be unable to complete your preparation for this exam. If however, life completely takes over and when you assess the situation you recognize that you are unable to sustain the pace and expectations of bar review then you might want to have a conversation with someone. You want to discuss alternatives or develop a new game plan to achieve your goals. Be open and honest with yourself and those helping you.

Fear Sets In

Obsession over percentile performance on the MBE and scores on the essays breeds fear and sometimes avoidance for many Bar Studiers. As Bar Studiers compare themselves to others through grading or communication with each other. Some academically strong Bar Studiers become disappointed and recoil. Others decide not to complete essays or MBEs until they have mastered the subject area. Each score becomes a determinative factor of whether they will pass or fail this exam. This is not necessarily true but it takes a lot to convince a student otherwise. I am always more concerned about those Bar Studiers who are left to their own devices than those who communicate these concerns and communicate their plans.

Here again, it is all about perspective. We like to use the experiences and advice of individuals who recently took the bar exam and were successful. We ask them what they did, how they did it, how they felt at various points of bar preparation, and I deem this more effective than anything else. I also try to put things in perspective by reminding Bar Studiers of what they should get from completing the practice, discuss the expectations of the exam with regard to time management, and remind them that exposure adds to the knowledge and confidence with which they approach the exam.

…But We Finish Strong

Bar Studiers, compete with yourself and no one else. Do your best and ensure that you reasonably do what you need to and can do so you have no regrets on exam day. You will not know everything, you will have a working knowledge of all subjects, and you have a plan for the more challenging areas. When you need a break, take a reasonable break and remain focused on the task ahead. Many before you went into the exam feeling just like you will feel and they came out on top; they passed the bar exam! Develop a plan for the days and weeks ahead. You have time to cater to your weaknesses and build strength. You can do this! (Goldie Pritchard)

June 20, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Studying vs. Learning: A Matter of Perspective

It's the time of the year when one group of graduates are taking their oaths of office while another group of graduates are preparing for the bar exam this summer.  That brings me to an interesting conversation with a recent bar passer and his spouse about studying versus learning.

You see, with an introduction in hand, I asked the bar passer's spouse if she noticed anything different between her spouse's law school experience preparing for final exams and her spouse's bar prep experiencing in preparing for the bar exam.

Without hesitation, the report came back: "No. It was much the same, same hours, same long days, the same through and through."  

In rapid response and without the slightest hesitation, the recent graduate - who just passed the bar exam - exclaimed that it was "totally different. No comparison between preparing for law school exams and the bar exam."  

You see, according to his spouse's perspective, preparing for law school exams and bar exams outwardly seemed identical, but, according to the recent graduate, in law school he spent most of his time reading...and reading...and reading...and then learning as much as he could just a few days before final exams.  In other words, he spent his law school years studying.  In contrast, even though outwardly he put in similar hours for bar prep as for law school studies, his focus was on practicing...and practicing...and practicing.  In other words, for law school he was studying; for the bar exam he was learning.

So, for those of you preparing for the bar exam this summer, focus on learning - not studying.  What does that mean?  Well, a great day is completing two tasks: working through lots of actual bar exam problems and then journaling about what you learned that very day.  Yep...that very day.  That's key.  Learn today.  Spend less time studying (reading commercial outlines, watching lectures, and reading lecture notes) and more time learning (doing lots and lots of practice problems).  That's because on bar exam day you aren't going to be asked about what you read but rather asked to show what you can do.  So, be a doer this summer!  (Scott Johns).







June 14, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A "Get-To" vs. "Got-To" Attitude as a Spring Board to Learning!

We're just about three weeks into bar prep.  The excitement of graduation seems so long ago.  We're back in the same 'ole schoolhouse setting, watching bar review lectures and working through hypothetical legal problems.  Sure seems like the same old pattern as law school.  But, it need not be.

But first, a bit of background...

In aviation, air traffic controllers will often query pilots about their altitude.  It's a bit of a hint from the controllers to the pilots that something might be amiss.  And, it almost sounds sort of polite:  "Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, Say Altitude."  

In response, the pilots make a quick check of the altimeter - the instrument that measures altitude (i.e, height of the airplane in the skies) to confirm that they are at proper altitude as assigned by air traffic control:  "Roger Denver Approach Control, Easy-Go Airline Flight 100, level at 15,000 feet."  

In between the two communications, however, you can bet that the pilots were quickly making some fast-footed adjustments to the aircraft's altitude to make sure that they would not be busted by the air traffic controllers.

That brings us back to the world of bar prep.  A quick "attitude check" might be similarly helpful for your learning.

You see, as Professor Chad Noreuil from Arizona State University puts it in his book entitled "The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam," it can be mighty helpful for your learning to have what I call an "attitude check."  In particular, as Professor Noreuil cites in his book, researchers have identified a positive relationship between an optimistic approach to learning and achievement in learning.  Consequently, Professor Noreuil counsels bar takers to take on a "get-to" attitude rather than a "have-to" attitude towards bar prep because a "get-to" attitude improves one's chances of succeeding on the bar exam.  That's what I refer to as a "get-to" versus a "got-to" attitude.

But how do you change your attitude from a "got-to" to a "get-to" attitude?  Well, here's a possible approach that might just help provide some perspective about the wonderful opportunity that you have to take the bar exam this summer.  You see, very few have that opportunity.  That's because the numbers are just stacked against most people.  They'll never get the chance that you have this summer.  

Here are the details.  According to the U.S. government, there are about 7.5 billion people worldwide, and the U.S. population is close to 330 million.   Out of that population, according to the ABA, there are about 35,000 law school JD graduates per year.  That's it.  And, because most states require a JD in order to to the bar exam, very few people get to take a bar exam, very few indeed.  

That brings me back to you.  As a JD grad preparing for the bar exam, you are one of the very few who get to take the bar exam.  So, take advantage of that opportunity this summer by approaching your bar exam studies as once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to "get-to" show your state supreme court all the wonderful things that you have learned about practicing law.  You've worked hard in law school for just such a season as this, so, to paraphrase a popular slogan, "Just do it...but do it with a get-to attitude this summer!  (Scott Johns).


June 7, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)