# Law School Academic Support Blog

## A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

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 Law.com 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.  http://www.abajournal.com; https://www.law.com;  http://taxprof.typepad.com.  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, Law.com reports that the MBE average score was likewise low at 139.21.  http://www.ncbex.org/newshttps://www.law.com.

In an article by Law.com, 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." https://www.law.com. 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.  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ceiling_leaks_pause_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).

Thursday, June 28, 2018

### Hot Tips for Cool Learning - Based on the Latest Empirical Research

It's sweltering in much of the USA.  And, the heat is only getting hotter for the many recent law school grads preparing for next month's bar exam.

So, I thought I'd offer a few "hot" tips on how to enhance one's learning this summer based on a recently published study entitled:  "Smarter Law School Habits: An Empirical Analysis of Law Learning Strategies and Relationship with LGPA," by Jennifer Cooper, adjunct professor at Tulane University, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3004988

As detailed in the article statistically analyzing study tactics and learning, Professor Cooper found that two particular study strategies are positively correlated with law school grades.

The first is elaboration, i.e, explaining confusing concepts to others.  So, be a talker this summer as you prepare for your bar exam.  In short, be a teacher...be your teacher!

The second is the use of practice questions to learn.  So, grab hold of every opportunity you have this summer to learn by doing.  Take every mock bar exam you can.  Work through every bar exam practice problem available.  Be tenacious in your practice.  Learn by doing!

Finally, as documented by Professor Cooper, beware of reading and re-reading.  It might make you feel like you are learning, but there is little learning going on...until you put down the book and start working on problems for yourself.  And, that particularly makes sense with the bar exam...because...the bar exam is testing the "practice of law" not the "theory behind the law."

So, throughout this summer, focus less on reading and more on active learning - through lots and lots of practice problems and self-taught elaboration to explain the legal principles and concepts - as you prepare for success on your bar exam next month.  (Scott Johns).

Monday, April 9, 2018

### Understanding How to Create and Modify Habits

Routines are critical for me to get anything done in a day. I wake up at the same time every morning. I hit snooze 1 time, read my daily devotional after the next alarm, then start my shower routine. I turn the coffee pot on at the same time, grab breakfast, and have “shoe race” with my kids before driving them to school on the same route. The days I follow a solid routine at work with to-do lists, I am more focused and accomplish more. Sound familiar?

My routine and habits help me get through law school and overcome struggles. I knew what I planned to accomplish and finished my tasks even when life was difficult. I tell students every semester that having a routine makes doing additional MBE questions in face of failure, navigating life circumstances, and accomplishing anything else much easier, especially when confronting obstacles during studying. However, I didn’t know much about the research on habit formation until recently. The research could help all of us working with students.

I started listening to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg recently while driving, and so far, I love the book. It is a great combination of explaining habit research and providing anecdotal stories of how the research worked in particular situations ranging from large corporations to individuals. I plan to purchase a desk copy to highlight and take notes.

Law students could benefit from the research. The early parts of the book discuss creating and modifying habits. People have cues and rewards for situations, and changing the routine or response to the cue while still receiving the reward helps habit formation or modification. I am already thinking about how I can teach specific responses to certain cues to help 1Ls build habits for law school and reinforce the habits right before the bar exam. Individual meetings may be the best way to inculcate routines, but I am also thinking about how I could integrate the information into my classes.

The section I am listening to right now is about willpower. Research indicates people can increase willpower, and small gains in willpower in one area of life can spillover to other areas. The willpower discussion overlaps with Angela Duckworth’s Grit research. The book indicates willpower can be built with pre-programmed responses to challenging circumstances, which creates routines. Starbucks receives high customer service reviews because they developed training programs for routine responses. Employees use a specific tactic when rude or angry customers come to the counter. Even if an employee is tired, upset, or life is going poorly, the pre-programmed response provides the willpower to help the customer in spite of the rudeness. Response routines can drastically improve willpower.

Students need pre-programmed responses to challenges. Many of us encounter students who dislike professor feedback on assignments, perform poorly on oral questions, or fail another set of MBE questions. Telling students to overcome the obstacle and not worry about the performance may be true but probably not specific enough to help. Helping students determine a clear roadmap for the response is what will help the next time. When faring poorly on the MBE, help them come up with a routine, which could include decompression, analysis, positive response, and another set of questions. We all know it is easy to continue when everything is going well. Responses planned before challenging events are more likely to help overcome those events. Just as lawyers do, plan for the worst.

I can’t wait to finish the book. I encourage everyone to listen or read it if you get a chance.

(Steven Foster)

April 9, 2018 in Advice, Books, Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

### Proving You Are Ready to Go from the Exam Room to the Courtroom

As you review your fall semester exams and set goals for the spring semester, ask yourself: Does my exam look like the work of someone who should be given a license to practice law? When you graduate, you are likely to accept a position with either a plaintiff’s firm, prosecutor’s office, a defense firm, or the court. And, you may find yourself switching from one side to the other throughout your legal career. Therefore, you have to convince your professor that you are capable of handling the legal matter from any chair in the courtroom. The good news is that a well-constructed IRAC answer does just that!

The Rules Section

Q. Where do the jurors learn all of the legal rules and instructions during a trial?

A. From the judge, especially during the final jury instructions.

You have to show the professor that you know and understand the rules of law associated with the litigation. At a real trial, it will be your job as the judge to properly instruct the jury as to the law. Similarly, if you are one of the litigants, then you must protect your client’s interests by ensuring that the judge properly carries out his or her duty. Therefore, both the judge and the litigants need to be well-versed on the legal standard. Show the professor that you know the rules that are related to the specific dispute. Just as a Judge wouldn’t burden a jury with unnecessary rules that don’t relate to the instant case, you too, should be selective in the rules offered to your professor. Include enough rules to help the jury/professor understand the legal standard, while omitting any unnecessary or irrelevant bits of information.

The Application Section

Q. Where do the jurors get all of their facts during a trial?

A. From the witnesses who testify and the exhibits offered into evidence during the litigation.

Q. Whose job is it to tie everything together, i.e. convince the jury that the facts offered at trial actually amount to a crime or tort or breach of contract, under the law as explained by the judge?

A. From the lawyer representing the injured party.

This section shows the professor that you can argue on behalf of your client. The professor essentially gives you a trial transcript when they draft a fact pattern or hypothetical for the exam. It is your job, as the attorney, to dissect that transcript, identifying each piece of helpful (or hurtful) testimony. Then you must compile all of those facts into a thorough and thoughtful argument on behalf of your client, making sure to discuss each of the legal factors or elements important to your case. Just like all good attorneys, you will likely spend more time discussing the hotly disputed elements, while quickly dispensing with the more obvious ones.

Would you ever stand up in a jury trial and say “Clearly the defendant intended to kill the victim,” and then simply sit back down? Of course not! So, don’t make that type of conclusory argument on an exam either. Instead, take the professor step-by-step through each fact or witnesses or piece of documentary evidence that supports your argument, just like you would during a real trial.

If you follow these litigation techniques when you draft your spring exam answers, you’re bound to get a verdict in your favor!  (Kirsha Trychta)

January 23, 2018 in Exams - Theory, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

### Outlining=A Better Understanding of the Doctrinal Materials

I mentioned last week that 1Ls are likely starting to think hard about outlining for their podium courses. With the end of October approaching, students need to focus some of their precious time on preparing for their final exams. It takes a while for some students to shift their focus. But, those students who take time to prepare for final exams may often feel more confident and less stressed come the end of the semester. And a more confident and less stressed student may be better able to focus and demonstrate to the professor what he/she knows about the doctrinal subject come December.

One way students can to start feeling more confident and less stressed is by organizing their class notes around big picture rules in an outline. Students can insert into the outline various hypotheticals that test these big picture rules. The professor in the Socratic class could have generated these hypotheticals. They could also be pulled from other sources, like law school study aids or from the casebooks’ Notes and Decisions. Or, better yet, students can try to generate the hypotheticals on their own.

An outline can take many shapes or forms. What’s important is that each student focuses on what helps him/her best understand the material. What’s also important is that students try to create their outlines on their own. It’s cliché—but, a huge part of the learning process is synthesizing all the materials that each student has available to him/her and putting it down in the outline. Working with the materials and thinking about how and why the materials fit into the doctrinal course can help solidify or create a better understanding of the material. And who doesn’t want a better understanding of the material before finals? (OJ Salinas)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

### Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #4: Remember Your Goal

For my fourth and penultimate pumpkin post, I recommend that novices regularly remind themselves of their original goal.

In Lesson #2 I explained how I came to establish my personal goal for the growing season, namely to get a single healthy pumpkin to the weigh-off scale.  Now that the weigh-off is less than two weeks away, I'm starting to secretly hope I win the Rookie of the Year award.  Consciously I know that I have not done as much work as some other new growers, but that fact hasn't stopped me from wanting to win the award.  My original goal was to grow a pumpkin, and I've done just that.  Yet, I have the distinct feeling that I'm going to be (irrationally) disappointed with my ranking on the leaderboard at the weigh-off event.

All this ranking-focused-thinking got me wondering about my students and their first-year grades.  At the beginning of the semester, I asked my criminal law class (which, by design, also includes my AEP students) to tell me what they most wanted out of the fall semester.  The top two responses: "to survive" and "to pass."  Only a handful of students offered more specific aspirations, like learning about murder, gaining confidence, performing pro bono work, or learning "how to write."  It seems that most of my rookie students and I had the same mindset at the outset of our respective endeavors: to survive the new experience.  So, does that mean that most of my students will start dreaming of sitting at the top of the leaderboard in December, even though that wasn't their original goal, and even though they may not have put forth the amount of effort needed to achieve a high ranking?

Admittedly, I don't have an answer; rather I'm making an observation about novices.  Nonetheless, I do plan to discuss the theory with my students. I suspect that a candid discussion about my own illogical (and last minute) desire to be "the best" may help reframe my students' thoughts and expectations with regard to their own fall grades.  In a school with a mandatory grade curve, there can only be handful of "A"s in each class.  But, a law school "B" can be equally worthy of celebration--especially if the original goal was just "to survive." (Kirsha Trychta)

Here is "Presley" in mid-September, weighing an estimated 400 pounds.

October 3, 2017 in Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

### Hypothetically Speaking . . . .

I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.

Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.

A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.

But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)

I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.

It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams.

So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.

I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.

It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)

Monday, September 25, 2017

### We Are Not in College Anymore

We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.

There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.

But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).

The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.

So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!

One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)

Monday, August 21, 2017

### Think Twice Before Banning Laptops: A Note on Accommodations and Diverse Thinking and Learning

I mentioned in last week’s blog about my inability to remain focused on our law school's voluntary pre-orientation program for incoming 1Ls due to events related Charlottesville. As I continue my efforts to remain focused, I’ll try to spend a few minutes talking about a topic that many of you likely discuss with your students, either during a similar orientation or pre-orientation program or in workshops or individual conferences: whether students should handwrite their notes or take them on a laptop.

The use of laptops in class rightfully generates much discussion on faculty and ASP mailing lists, particularly at the start of the semester. The discussion has even entered the Twitter realm (for example, here and here; H/T Prof. Ellie Margolis and Prof. Katherine Kelly).

I know there is a lot research and concerns out there relating to laptop use and taking notes. For instance: (1) students may often find it difficult to follow classroom dialogue while trying to type everything down that is discussed in class; and (2) there are potential distractions related to laptop use in class—both for the student doing something that he/she should not be doing on the laptop and for those students sitting near this student.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the research and concerns. I understand that laptops can create tempting distractions for our students.  And I agree that we don’t want students “zoned out” from using laptops in our classes.  But, we should also not want to “zone out” students who may need to use a laptop in class as a critical learning tool for them.

So, I want to caution folks before they decide to ban laptops entirely in the classroom. I want folks to remember that banning laptops may create a situation where students with an accommodation for a learning disability are forced to disclose that they have a learning disability.  This forced disclosure may not be an issue for some students—they may not complain or make much of the ban, or they might not care that they are the only student in a 70+ class who has his/her laptop out in a no-laptop use classroom. So, a complete laptop ban may not be that much of an issue for some students.  But, it could still be an issue.

If you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class, perhaps your student affairs office might be able to not place students who have laptop use as an accommodation in your class. Of course, this recommendation may only work if you happen to teach a course that is also offered during the same semester by a faculty member who does not have a laptop ban.

Perhaps, someone like a student affairs or ASP professional may have a chat with those students who are disengaged in the classroom to see what may be contributing to the disengagement. Is it solely the laptop? Or, as those of us in the law school ASP world know, are there other academic or non-academic factors that may be impacting the student’s ability to “follow along in class”? Are the students distracted by a laptop disengaged because the laptop is in front of them? Or, is something happening outside of the classroom that may be motivating the student to disengage on the laptop? Could it be easier for a student who is having a challenging time in law school to disengage, rather than continuing to try and fail?

One more recommendation if you are a strong proponent for absolutely no laptop use in class: maybe, reconsider why you have the no laptop policy in the first place.

Do we assume that students who handwrite their notes never disengage? Or, can a student on a social media account be just as "zoned out" as someone daydreaming or drawing an elaborate doodle on his/her notebook paper?

Do we assume that someone who has a laptop will automatically be programmed to type everything down verbatim in class and, thus, not follow along in the classroom dialogue? Do we assume that someone who is handwriting his/her notes will not automatically try to write everything (or as much) down in class and, thus, will follow along in the classroom dialogue?  I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.

Do we assume that those students who are using a laptop are naturally worse note-takers—that they have not developed or cannot develop with guidance (from great ASP folks, like us!) effective methods for taking notes in a law school class? Do we assume that those students who handwrite their notes all have developed the proper method for effective and efficient ways to take notes in a law school class? Again, I suspect we have had many students in our classrooms who prove and disprove both assumptions.

And, finally, are we even aware of, or do we automatically discount, the various computer applications out there that might be geared for diverse learning styles or that might help keep our students’ notes better organized?

We often try to train our law students on flexible thinking—that there may often not just be a black or white answer to things in the law; that there, frustratingly, is often a large shade of gray in the law; that the answer to many questions in the law may often be “It depends.”

Perhaps, we can practice a little of what we preach. Just because we may not be able to take effective notes using a laptop in a law school classroom doesn’t mean our students are unable to take effective notes on a laptop in class. And just because we may not have needed a laptop to succeed in law school doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else could not succeed in law school by using one. Some students may actually need the laptop to help them succeed. And a “black" or "white" law might actually say that they are entitled to use a laptop in class. (OJ Salinas)

Friday, December 16, 2016

### Everyday I Write the Book

If you are gearing up for final exams or the February Bar, one of the most helpful things to do while studying is keep a "Big Book of Things I Did Not Know."

Basically, as you go over practice answers, keep a legal pad of reasons why you got an answer wrong (or right for the wrong reason).  Keep it short.  So, for example, you might write "Only defendants can remove to federal court."  Every evening, work on memorizing that list.

By doing this, you should never not know those things again.  In my experience, students who do this drastically improve their performance on exams and the bar. (Alex Ruskell)

December 16, 2016 in Advice, Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

### Empirical Evidence that Formative Assessment Improves Final Exams

Hat tip to Sandra L. Simpson at Gonzaga for sending out the link to the article review of the month on the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning web pages. The link to the posting is here.

October 2, 2016 in Exams - Theory, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

### Time Management on Multiple-Choice Exams

As mentioned in an earlier post, many law students struggle with time management in exams. Time charting for multiple-choice exams is different than for fact-pattern essay exams. However, time charting is just as important to make sure that a student completes the full exam without rushing at the end or leaving questions blank.

Students often tell me that they have a minute, a minute and a half, or two minutes per question depending on how many questions the professor has announced will be on the exam and the time period allowed. Let's face it, trying to keep those small portions of time in mind over several hours is difficult. You would get whiplash from looking at your watch as you went through 100 questions if you tried to track the time used for most questions.

A time chart with checkpoints is a useful method to make sure you finish the entire exam but do not become hyper about your time per question. The checkpoints provide times when you will evaluate your progress through the exam to see if you are going too quickly or too slowly through the exam.

Most students find that 1/2-hour checkpoints work well if the multiple-choice exam is over two hours long. For shorter multiple-choice exams, 1/4-hour checkpoints may be desirable. The checkpoint alerts you to how many questions you should have been completed by that point in the exam.

Let's say that you have 100 questions to complete in a 4-hour exam. The exam starts at 1:00 p.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. If you have 1/2-hour checkpoints, the questions will be divided into eight segments. 100 divided by 8 = 12.5 questions. If you round up to 13 questions per checkpoint, you will have 9 questions left to complete in your last half hour of the exam. If you round down to 12 questions per checkpoint, you will have 16 questions left to complete in your last half hour of the exam.

Most students would prefer to complete the 13 questions at each checkpoint and have less pressure at the end of the exam. If they complete the 9 questions in the last segment earlier than 5:00 p.m., they will have time to go back and selectively review some questions. Strategically, most students would choose to have the time chart below using 13 questions per segment:

 TIME NUMBER OF QUESTIONS COMPLETED 1:30 p.m. 13 2:00 p.m. 26 2:30 p.m. 39 3:00 p.m. 52 3:30 p.m. 65 4:00 p.m. 78 4:30 p.m. 91 5:00 p.m. 100

You can modify the number of checkpoints that you choose to reflect exam issues that you might have with multiple-choice. If you know that you tend to rush through and misread or not spend sufficient time analyzing answer options, you may want additional checkpoints to slow you down. If you know that you tend to overthink and get behind in an exam, you may want additional checkpoints to prevent your bogging down. In either of these cases, you might decide you want 20-minute checkpoints instead of 1/2-hour checkpoints.

Should your reserve time in your chart for review of the test? In the time chart above where you only have to complete 9 questions in the last segment, you will garner a few review minutes automatically if your pace stays the same in that segment. However, if you want specific review time, you will need to subtract your reserved review time from the total exam time and then distribute the remaining time appropriately over the questions to determine your checkpoints. For example, if you reserved 20 minutes out of your four hours, you would have 220 minutes to distribute for 100 questions. You would still need to complete 12.5 questions per segment (rounding up to 13 or down to 12).

If you reserve review time, just make sure that you do not review every question because you are more likely to second-guess yourself and change right answers. Instead go back to select questions where you were unsure about the answer. When you initially complete a question, put a check mark in the margin to indicate when you want to review that question later; always bubble in an answer on the Scantron (if using one) and circle on the test paper the choice you have bubbled. If you do not have time to go back to the question, you at least had an answer indicated rather than a blank.

With the check mark noting later review, also indicate how sure you are about that answer choice - 80%, 70%, 60%, 50%, less than 50%. (Some students do not review questions they are at least 80% sure of initially and only indicate lower percentages.) The estimate tells you when you return to the question that you should not second-guess yourself and should only change the answer if you are now more than that percentage sure that the new answer is correct. Practice estimating your degree of certainty when you complete questions during your exam study; you do not want to waste time in the exam trying to determine what 70% certainty is compared to 60%.

If you practice time charting and completing questions at the appropriate pace during your exam study, the methods will be natural when you get into the actual exam. You can also determine ahead whether you are someone who needs additional checkpoints because you are too slow or fast and whether you want to reserve review time or complete the exam using the full time for answering questions once. As soon as the proctor indicates you may begin, you will quickly build your time chart to follow.

If an exam has both a fact-pattern essay portion and a multiple-choice portion, then you will complete two time charts - one for each portion of the exam. For information on time management for fact-pattern essay exams, please see the post on Saturday, April 30th. Good luck on completing your exams! (Amy Jarmon)

May 4, 2016 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

### Time Management on Fact-Pattern Essay Exams

The professor's goals for fact-pattern essay exams are multiple. Within the larger goal of seeing whether students can apply law to new fact scenarios they have never seen, the professor is looking for several aspects:

• Can students spot issues - both the big issues and the sub-issues?
• Can students accurately state the law - and variations of the law such as common law, restatement, or specific codes?
• Can students analyze the arguments for the parties - "showing their work" rather than being conclusory?
• Where appropriate, can students use cases and policy to support the arguments?
• Can students do all of this in an organized manner with concise writing?
• Can students state a conclusion - even if it does not garner points or matter for the "it depends" nature of the question?
• Can students do all of this within the time given for the exam?

For many students, one of the biggest challenges of exam-taking is the time management throughout the exam. Some students finish exams early because they do not methodically work through the questions and miss points that could have been garnered. These students are often the ones that professors lament are conclusory. Other students have problems with completing the entire exam or with being rushed in completing the last few questions. These students are often the ones that professors lament went down rabbit trails.

There are few law school exams where students do not have to complete all of the questions on the exam to get maximum points. The occasional "complete three of the four questions" instruction would be the exception. We know that most law school exams, unlike the undergraduate versions that students have experienced, are written for the full time allotted for the exam. In fact, some professors on purpose write exams that cannot be completed within the time allotted "because I get such an easy grading curve that way."

So how can students get through an entire exam with the best chance of picking up maximum points across the exam? The strategy is to make a time chart for completing the entire exam. When does one make the time chart? As soon as the proctor says, "You may begin." Take a piece of scrap paper (provided in nearly every exam). Read the instructions and look at the point count or time allotment for each exam question. Then do some math for your time chart.

Let's assume that you have five fact-pattern essay questions to complete for the exam in four hours. The exam begins at 1 p.m. and ends at 5:00 p.m. Let's also assume that your professor indicates time to be used for each question. Two are indicated as 1-hour questions; two are 45-minute questions; one is a 30-minute question.

The rule of thumb for each of the questions is that you want to spend 1/3 of your time reading, analyzing, and organizing (RAO) your answer and spend 2/3 of your time writing (W) the answer. For the 1-hour questions, that means 20 minutes RAO and 40 minutes W. For the 45-minute questions, that means 15 minutes RAO and 30 minutes W. For the 30-minute question, that means 10 minutes RAO and 20 minutes W. Translating this information into a time chart would look as follows:

 QUESTION NUMBER RAO W 1 (1 HOUR) 1:00 – 1:20 p.m. 1:20 – 2:00 p.m. 2 (1 HOUR) 2:00 – 2:20 p.m. 2:20 – 3:00 p.m. 3 (45 MINUTES) 3:00 – 3:15 p.m. 3:15 – 3:45 p.m. 4 (45 MINUTES) 3:45 – 4:00 p.m. 4:00 – 4:30 p.m. 5 (30 MINUTES) 4:30 – 4:40 p.m. 4:40 – 5:00 p.m.

By using the time chart, you can keep track of how you should move through the exam for each question. You are prompted to read more carefully, think through your analysis, and organize your answer to maximize points before writing your answer. You are less likely to forget a fact, miss a case to reference, or skip an element to analyze when you have structure before you write. Professors can find points more easily in an organized and thorough answer. Also, you know exactly when to move on to writing rather than rushing through or stalling on the RAO step.

Using a chart prompts you to write in a more lawyerly manner. You know the points you want to make because of your organization time, and you can more quickly turn those points into concise sentences and paragraphs. You know when to conclude and move on to the next question at the end of the W time so you will consistently work through the entire exam. You do not want to rush at the end or miss completing one or more questions because you did not watch your time.

If you realize a couple of minutes before your W time ends on a question that you will not have time to write everything you wanted in complete sentences or paragraphs, quickly outline the points you would include if you had more time. Some professors will give a few points to that outline; others will not. However, if you have extra time at the end of the exam, you can return to that question and flesh out the outline into sentences and paragraphs. You will not waste time trying to remember what you were thinking.

What if your professor assigns points rather than times to questions?  In some cases the points will translate easily into time because points equal obvious time blocks within the overall exam. For example, the same four-hour exam with 8 questions broken down into two 90-point questions and six 10-point questions would equal time (90 + 90 + 60 = 240 points = 240 minutes = 4 hours). Using the 1/3 to 2/3 rule of thumb, you would split time 30 minutes RAO - 60 minutes W for the first two questions and 3-4 minutes RAO and 6-7 minutes W for each of the remaining 6 questions depending on your preference for slightly more RAO time or slightly more W time.

Even when your professor does not make points or minutes obvious, you can still tell proportionately how to use the time given the points. Assume you have two 100 point questions, two 75 point questions, and one 40 point question to complete in the 4 hours. You have 240 minutes; you have 390 points. You can eyeball it, or use a formula: divide the points for the question by the total points for the exam and multiple that number times the total minutes for the exam. If you ball-parked the minutes for ease of math, you would spend 1 hour on each of 100-point questions for 2 hours of the exam time, 45 minutes on each 75-point question for 1 hour and a half  of the exam time, leaving 30 minutes on the 40-point question.

What if your professor gives no clue as to points or time? Do not leave your common sense at home. If the difficulty and length of the fact patterns/call of the questions are very similar, divide the time equally among the questions. If some fact patterns are long, some medium, and some short, then divide time proportionately among them.

Finally, what if you are the type of person who must leave time to go back over the exam "just in case you missed something" the first time through the exam. Okay, if you really, really feel compelled to do so . . . . Subtract the amount of review time you want to reserve from the total minutes for the exam. Then reduce the time per question proportionately. Then do a time chart for 1/3-2/3 based on that number of minutes left per question.

Do not let your math phobia paralyze you. If you practice time charting when you are doing longer practice questions before the exam, the method becomes second-nature. Some professors will announce during the week preceding exams how many questions there will be and the points/times allotted for those questions. If you know that information ahead, you can sort out the math before exam day. Then when the proctor says you may begin, you can replicate your time chart on scrap paper. (Amy Jarmon)

April 30, 2016 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

### Some Tips for Reviewing Exams from the Fall Semester

Now is a good time to contact your professors to review any fall semester exams about which you had concerns. If you received a C+ grade or below in a course, you should definitely consider reviewing the exam.

• Many of the exam-taking skills for law school translate from one course to later courses even though the course material is very different.
• An exam review can highlight study strategies that were successful prior to the exam as well as indicate study strategies that need modification or abandonment.
• An exam review will allow you to track what you did well during the actual exam and want to continue doing on future exams.
• An exam review will allow you to track what you had problems with during the actual exam and want to improve on for future exams.
• Exam reviews for several courses may indicate patterns of success or error that you have repeated across exams.
• Professors vary in how they complete exam reviews. Here are some variations that you may encounter: a) The professor may conduct exam reviews for students who email with a request, may have a sign-up sheet on the professor’s office door, or may announce some other mechanism. b)The professor may first schedule appointments with students with the lowest grades, then move to the next level of grades for appointments, and so forth. c)The professor may have the student review the exam individually (and possibly the grading rubric or sample exam answers) before meeting with the professor. d)The professor may instead have the student come for the meeting and review the exam together.
• Make sure that you take careful notes during your exam review so that you will know what areas you want to continue doing well and what areas you want to improve on for future exams.
• After your exam reviews, evaluate what you have found out. Look for any patterns across exams and courses. Make a plan for your future exam study and exam-taking.
• If you are unsure what strategies may help you for your specific problem areas, make an appointment to talk with the academic support professional at your law school.

All students can improve their grades by implementing new study strategies and new test-taking strategies. Take advantage of professor feedback to make informed decisions instead of just randomly trying new strategies. (Amy Jarmon)

January 26, 2016 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

### Guest Blogger: Multiple-Choice Question Guidelines

Our Guest Blogger this week is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Norman Otto Stockmeyer, who retired last year after teaching at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School since 1977. He also taught as a visiting professor at Mercer University Law School and California Western School of Law. Otto taught principally first-year courses (Contracts, Criminal Law, and Research & Writing) as well as Remedies. He received the top teaching award at Cooley Law three times and was voted National Outstanding Professor by Delta Theta Law Fraternity International.

Multiple-Choice Question Guidelines

Law school professors and academic support professionals should use multiple-choice questions for assessment and testing purposes.  After all, our students will have to take and pass a bar exam with a full day of multiple-choice questions.  It stands to reason that their chances of passing will be enhanced if they have successfully taken myriad multiple-choice tests in law school.

Going one step further, I submit that our multiple-choice questions should reflect the style and format used on the Multistate Bar Exam.  The MBE professionals know more about multiple-choice methodology than we do.  And if we want our tests to mirror the MBE, we should adopt the MBE’s question-drafting practices.

The following guidelines are derived from a 2008 article in The Bar Examiner, published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, and an examination of MBE questions released since the examination was redesigned in 2005.

-     Use one question per fact pattern.  Do not piggyback multiple questions on         a single fact pattern.

-          Make fact patterns as concise as possible.  Do not include extraneous facts unless fact discrimination is the skill being tested by that particular question.

-          Make fact patterns realistic and free of bias.  Use genderless characters to the extent possible; otherwise equalize the number of men and women in your questions.

-          Identify characters generically, rather than by names or letters. (“A buyer agreed with a seller…” rather than “Able agreed with Baker….”).

-          Include all facts in the fact pattern.  Answers should not introduce additional facts.

-          Provide four answers for every question.  More choices add complexity with little appreciable improvement in reliability.

-           Avoid compound answers (“A and B, but not C”).  (Besides, students hate these.)

-          Do not use “all of the above” or “none of the above” answers. (Ditto)  Every question should have one, and only one, indisputably correct answer.

-          Distribute correct answers randomly.  Amateur testers tend too often to place the correct answer in the C or D position.  Savvy students pick up on this.

The overall goal of these guidelines is clarity, making sure that we are assessing substantive knowledge and legal reasoning, rather than reading comprehension.  Making questions easier to read does not make them any easier to answer.  It just makes them better questions.

In conclusion, multiple-choice tests can be a reliable way to evaluate knowledge and analytical skill.  And researchers have found that test familiarity improves student performance on standardized tests.  So using MBE-style questions can heighten the effectiveness of our tests, as well as enhance the performance of our students.

(Readers interested in Professor Stockmeyer's use of multiple-choice quizzes in a first-year course are invited to read his article on “Using Multiple Choice Quizzes” in the January 2011 issue of The Learning Curve.  It is available through SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1736670.)

November 8, 2015 in Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Theory, Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

### Multiple-Choice Exam Strategies

The old adage from college about multiple-choice was that you just had to study enough to recognize the right answer among the wrong answers. That bit of advice does not work for law school multiple-choice questions.

In law school, professors have a variety of styles when they write multiple-choice questions. The "best answer" format is popular. Some professors use a "circle all right answers" format. Other professors have answers that designate combinations of answers (a, b and d; b, c, e and f). Then there are professors who end their answer lists with "all of the above" and "none of the above."

Fact patterns may vary in length from one sentence to more than a page. There may be one question per fact pattern or multiple questions per fact pattern. The multiple questions for a fact pattern may be completely separate from one another or "waterfall" so that the answer to the second question depends on the correct analysis on the first question and the answer to the third question depends on the correct analysis on the second question.

With so many variations, law students often feel at a loss how to proceed. Some strategies tend to work for all of the variations:

• First read the question that you are asked to answer at the end of the fact pattern (or before the answer choices). You want to make sure that you answer this precise question.
• Realize that the question asked may have some interesting characteristics that you need to note:
1. It may give you the issue (examples: "which motion will be filed" or "what crime will be charged").
2. It may assign you a role (examples: judge or prosecutor or defense attorney).
3. It may indicate a jurisdiction (examples: "under common law" or "in Texas).
4. It may specify facts (examples: "if Phil were 14 years old" or "if the statute of limitations were 3 years").
• After reading the question, you should then read the fact pattern with that specific question in mind. At the end of the fact pattern you should have the answer to the question in mind to help you analyze each answer choice.
• Read each of the individual answer choices carefully and decide for each whether it is a good or bad answer. Use a coding system that makes sense to you: yes/no; true/false; plus/minus.
• Do not skip any of the individual answer choices when you do your analysis. The best answer may be "the defendant is not liable unless..." even though when you finished reading the fact pattern you were sure that the best answer choice would begin with "the defendant is liable."
• If the answer format indicates that you need to consider combinations, then your coding of individual answer choices should indicate the correct combination answer. For example, if your coding indicated that a, b, and d were good answer choices:
1. you would pick the answer choice "a, b, and d" and ignore any other combinations
2. "all of the above" could not be correct since you thought c was a bad answer choice
3. "none of the above" could not be correct since you thought a, b, and d were good answer choices
• To avoid holding the facts and rules that apply in your head while you consider answer choices, consider writing the rule and relevant facts in the margins of the exam paper or on provided scrap paper to allow you to easily evaluate each answer choice against that information.
• Even if you are not 100% sure of an answer choice when you consider a question, circle your best answer choice on the exam paper and bubble in the answer choice on the Scantron sheet before you move to the next question. This method prevents you from misaligning your bubbled answer choices because you forgot you skipped a question. It also prevents you from leaving the question bubble blank if you run out of time to return to the question.
• For any question that you want to return to for a second look, indicate that status in the exam paper margin with the percentage of certainty for the answer choice you bubbled in (examples: 80% or 70% or 60%; use a ? for 50% or less). Do not change the answer choice when you return to the question unless you are more than that percentage sure that the new answer choice would be correct.
• Rather than trying to keep track of the time available for each question (example: 2 minutes), designate time checkpoints and the number of questions you should have completed by that time checkpoint.
1. Example for 60 questions in 2-hour exam starting at 1:00 p.m.: 15 questions completed by 1:30 p.m.; 30 questions completed by 2:00 p.m.; 45 questions completed by 2:30 p.m.; 60 questions completed by 3:00 p.m.).
2. You can reserve time for review out of the overall time and distribute the remaining time over the questions (for the example in 1: reserve 30 minutes for review; then you would have to complete 20 questions for each of three 30-minute checkpoints at 1:30, 2:00, and 2:30).
3. You can use more checkpoints if you tend to go too fast or too slowly through multiple-choice questions. The additional checkpoints will monitor your time more often to indicate if you need to slow down or speed up.

Multiple-choice exams require in-depth understanding of the material so that you can determine why one answer is better than another. Completing as many practice questions as possible will assist you in learning the nuances in applying the law to each question. (Amy Jarmon)

October 21, 2015 in Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

### Some Thoughts for Students Who Are Conclusory on Exams

Students who are conclusory and do not give the complete analysis for their answers (do not "show their work") may do so for several reasons:

1)      They tend to write to the professor and tell themselves that they do not have to mention something “because the professor knows that.”  Changing their audience to a non-law person (grandmother, little sister, uncle) may help them give the analysis step by step because the new audience would not understand the conclusion without extra connecting of the dots.

2)      They tend to have the entire explanation in their heads but never get it onto paper.  They can ask themselves “why?” after every sentence.  If the sentence does not already state the “because” explanation, they need to continue writing to explain fully what they are thinking.

3)      They tend to dismiss arguments in their heads rather than discussing the arguments on paper.  For example: The plaintiff may be able to argue that the defendant should have posted a warning or put up a fence to keep children out of the railroad yard and prevent injuries.  The student rebuts the arguments in her head by saying “the children are too young to pay attention to warnings or will climb the fence” and leaves the arguments out.  The student instead needs to put that analysis on paper even if it then gets rebutted by the other party.

4)      Conclusory writers are often global-intuitive processers.  They focus on the big picture and inter-relationships of concepts rather than organized analysis and detail.

a.       They need to study for depth of understanding and not just breadth or general understanding.  (They sometimes think they know a subject until they get into the exam.)

b.      They need to learn rules precisely so they do not miss the full analysis needed for each element/factor.  (Paraphrasing the rules can lead them to inadequate analysis.)

c.       They need to spend 1/3 of their time on an exam question in reading, analyzing, and organizing an answer and 2/3 of the time writing the answer.  (They tend to write almost immediately and have less organized answers.)

d.      They need to chart or outline an answer with facts, cases, and policies to discuss rather than hold everything in their heads.  (They often find in exam review that they mixed up facts or forgot to mention an element or case.)

e.      They need to use all of the time allowed for the exam.  (They often rush through or leave early.)

f.    They need to write out answers to practice questions to make sure that they are including full analysis.  (They tend to answer practice questions in their heads but never perfect the writing process.)

Students who are conclusory in their writing of exam answers will often show the same tendencies in their legal writing classes.  The techniques mentioned can be modified for those assignments.  (Amy Jarmon)

April 1, 2014 in Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

### Dewey's Concept of Suspended Conclusion and Law School Exams

Professor Donald J. Kochan published an article in Nevada Law Journal that might be of interest to you in this exam season.  The article uses the Deweyan concept of suspended conclusion (approaching a problem with an open mind and without a predetermined conclusion) as a way for students to improve their thinking about exam questions.  He explains the concept and then uses it to formulate 12 points for students to consider as they work through exam questions.

The suspended conclusion concept is specifically applied to the exam scenario in the article, but has wide application to exam school studying and lawyering in general.  (Amy Jarmon)

The article can be downloaded from SSRN at  http://ssrn.com/abstract=2034154.  An abstract is included below:

Abstract:

December 9, 2012 in Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

### Law is not creative writing

When reviewing 1L's first drafts of practice exams, there is one problem that always comes up: writing in law is not creative writing. 1L's get confused by this statement, especially when their professors tell them that creativity is an important part of lawyering. However, the creativity that law professors are referring to, and the creativity that law students try to demonstrate on exams, are two different things. This is a particular challenge for students who majored in English in undergrad, and for law students who previously worked in creative fields, such as PR or marketing. Students need to understand that the purpose of writing for a legal audience is different from the purpose of writing in those fields. Lawyers need to be understood. A creatively written contract, that uses terms of art in new or novel ways, is likely to be misunderstood by the parties, and wind up in court. This is NOT what a lawyer wants when they write a contract. Therefore, lawyers use terms of art carefully; in fact, lawyers use words carefully. The goal of writing for a legal audience is not to show them how many 25 cent SAT words you know; the goal is to be understood.

Here are some other basic rules of writing for a legal audience that 1L's frequently misunderstand:

1) Using the same words throughout an exam is smart. Don't try to change your vocabulary so you don't overuse a word. That rule is true for creative writing, but it undermines the coherence of your essay when writing in law.

2) Keep your sentences short. Long sentences frequently contain too many ideas that need to be discussed separately.

3) Use linking words, like because. Although your sentences should be short, you need to be sure that you make explicit connections between law and fact. You are not a fiction writer; you do not want to make the reader make inferences. Spell it out for them.

4) A paragraph should focus on one idea. If you have a new idea, start a new paragraph. If you reread your work, and find that you have multiple ideas in one paragraph, chances are you are not discussing any one idea completely.

(RCF)

November 15, 2012 in Exams - Theory, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

### Essay Exam Answering Tip #103011 - Focus on Key Facts

“Legal problem solving — identifying and diagnosing problems and generating strategies and tactics to achieve client objectives — is a legally trained person’s most basic function. Most legal problem solving activity involves some legal analysis — combining law and facts to generate, justify, and assess a legal problem’s merits.” (Legal Services Practice Manual: Skills (2010) Link)

All lawsuits arise as a result of disputes involving facts. Our legal system revolves around resolving disputes through the application of rules of law to the facts of a case. Yes, trials and appeals are about “law,” but remember that the trial court judge, or the jury, is referred to as the “trier-of-fact.”  Determinations of facts are so important that the Bill of Rights guarantees that facts once decided by a jury are pretty much the last word.  The seventh amendment provides that, “...no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."  This clause forbids any court from reexamining or overturning any factual determinations made by a jury, unless the factual determinations are clearly erroneous.

The two major components of the dispute resolution process are the applicable law and the facts of the dispute.  In the professional practice of law, you will be sifting through the case file to identify which of the hundreds or thousands of facts produced by discovery (for example, witness statements, deposition transcripts, answers to interrogatories, photographs, and correspondence) are “key” facts.  Key facts are those facts  that are critical to the outcome of the case. A key fact is so essential that if it were changed, the outcome of the case might well be different.

In law school, you are practicing this skill of focusing on facts – in order for you to learn to assess legal problems, you must be able to find the important facts ... the key facts, the facts upon which the outcome of the issue in question depends. When writing an answer to a law school essay exam question, you must ferret out these salient facts from all the facts presented in the narrative. Think of them as keys that unlock point-scoring issue discussions.

But how?  Here are the basic steps to determining which facts are key facts.

• Identify each claim possibly raised by the exam question.
• State the rules that will be used to resolve each issue of each claim. These rules include the elements which need to be addressed in the discussion of each issue.
• Pinpoint which facts in the question possibly relate to the elements of those issues.

This last step involves determining which facts may be legally significant. Legally significant facts might be, for example, that a tenant with an eviction notice has never been supplied with hot water; or that the shooter was an off-duty policeman; or that a party to a contract may have been a minor; or that the geographical distance between the provoking incident and the killing may have been long enough to provide adequate time for a reasonable person to “cool off” the heat of his passion.