Sunday, October 17, 2021

How The Results of a New Study Analyzing First Time Bar Passage on The UBE Will Change My Messaging to Students and my Approach to Teaching Bar Prep Curriculum

How The Results of a New Study Analyzing First Time Bar Passage on The UBE Will Change My Messaging to Students and my Approach to Teaching Bar Prep Curriculum.

As Academic Support Professionals, we are always striving to find the best way to reach each student in our classes.  We cull through textbooks, outside materials, attend conferences and ask questions of colleagues to find best practices and integrate as much of what we think increases bar pass potential into our lectures.  Recently, the New York State Board of Law Examiners (NYSBLE) commissioned a study to find the key metrics for first time and second time bar passage success.  The report, ANALYZING FIRST-TIME BAR EXAM PASSAGE ON THE UBE IN NEW YORK STATE:  Insights From a Study of First Time and Second Time Bar Exam Candidates, captured data over two years (2016-2018) and was released May 19, 2021.  While the study does not capture any data from the ongoing pandemic, it does give insight into key factors we should all incorporate into our curriculum to increase bar passage success. 

While New York is a UBE jurisdiction, and the jurisdiction I am in (Texas) just became a UBE jurisdiction in February 2021, I believe the results transcend testing standards and will prove useful to all in the Academic Support space.  The results of the study found the following six metrics have the most positive impact on bar passage success:

  1. Hours put in—the rule of 400! I always tell my students to aim for 500 because 400 is the bare minimum necessary and many students need more than the bare minimum. 
  2. Time management and messaging to those around the candidate—I tell my students in our first conference period that they will need to turn the volume of any outside distractions down to 0 when it comes to bar prep. Of course, many of my students cannot, as they have families, work obligations, etc.  But I message early and often that will need to tell their partners/support team the following: “I will be underground during bar prep.  This will be a grueling and relentless process and I will be unavailable for [chores/pet duty/heavy parenting/bill paying/dinner making/grocery gathering/car tending/socializing/full time working] and I need you to understand I will come back up and be 100% available after I take the bar, but this is an investment in our future together, so I need your grace and space right now.” 
  3. Managing the clock—we talk about this a lot in class and spend a lot of time practicing the habit of managing the clock. The report calls out the MEE and the MBE as areas of time management concern, but I personally think the MPT is where clock management is hardest and where additional practice can prime the candidate for success to beat the clock.  I ask my students to find time to practice eight MPT’s during commercial bar prep.  I am aware that many of their peers in the commercial bar exam prep courses will not spend as much time practicing and may even tell others it is not worth the time.  I always caution against listening to this advice.  In my jurisdiction, it could be the difference between passing or failing.  Therefore, I tell my students to find the time to practice two each in the four types of tested subjects (objective, persuasive, letter writing and wildcard) before they take the bar exam.
  4. Journal participation—the report talks about not having enough data to know if journals tend to pull better writers who usually have higher class rank and therefore perform better on the bar exam, or if the additional exposure to writing and editing that being on a journal entails helps prepare them for the bar. I tend to the think it is both!  I certainly see that students who have journal experience come to my class with more robust writing skills, although by the end of the course, I would say journal and non-journal students are equally situated with writing skills, probably because of all the writing we do in class.
  5. Reducing financial anxiety—debt and employment. Horrifyingly, the NYBLE study quotes a student who describes being so stressed from food and housing insecurity during bar prep that the candidate could not devote the hours necessary to study and did not pass on the first attempt[1].  Institutionally, I hope our universities are taking measures to reach students who cannot take bar loans but need resources to devote to studying.  With the new ABA Standard 316 requiring 75% of law graduates pass the bar exam within two years of graduation, I would hope that our institutions are looking at ways to ease the financial struggles of the bar prep experience.  Doing so will go a long way towards decreasing the financial anxiety during bar review.  That in turn should increase bar exam passage and help generate positive feelings towards the law school.
  6. Completing elective courses in bar topic classes does not correlate to bar passage—only two classes are mentioned as having a positive impact on first time bar passage and those courses are Evidence and Limited Liability Companies and Corporations. I think it is fair to say that those courses should be highlighted in our curriculum to ensure our students have a robust understanding of the material.

These metrics will certainly be used in ASP programs across the country to shore up areas of weakness and concentrate on areas of strength.  One metric the study touched on briefly but only identified as having some positive beneficial impact to second time test takers is assessment of learning style.  Specifically, the study noted that second time test takers often change the approach to studying to better suit their personal learning style, and that the change, while not always having significant positive effect, does somewhat correlate to increased scores (even if the increase is not enough to achieve a passing score).[2] 

I find the mention of increase scores for second time test takers as they adapt studying to suit their best study styles fascinating, and I think we can use that to gain even more improvement in test scores for both first time and second time bar takers.  Law school, academic support programs, and commercial bar preparation courses all tend to teach in a style that benefits left brain thinkers (lectures, outlines, Socratic method while sitting in place) which promotes linear thinking.  That type of teaching is at odds with the way right brained thinkers learn best (tactile/kinesthetic, need to move, talking it out, main ideas first then fill in with details).  In A Primer on Learning Styles: Reaching Every Student, 25 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 139 (2001), M.H. Sam Jacobson posits that many lower performing law students tend to be right brain learners and therefore might not understand the best approach to succeed in law school right away.[3]  They then fall to the bottom of the class, and at my institution, these students make up the vast majority of those in our academic support classes.  I think an opportunity exists to explore our curriculum and see if we can make adaptive changes to more fully capture these students who will make excellent attorneys but need a different style of teaching to fully engage their brain with the material.

As an adjunct working in this space since Spring 2020, many of the key factors listed as success metrics are topics I discuss with my students in one-on-one conferences.  But I have only given cursory thought to the idea of different learning styles when preparing my lectures.  Since teaching in this space, I have encountered a few students who have disclosed they are eligible for accommodations because of learning differences and a few students who I suspected may have learning differences but who never disclosed.  Learning differences highlight how important it is as an instructor to find the modality that will reach that specific student with that particular learning difference.  

At my institution, much of our Academic Support curriculum relies on commercially produced videos that the students watch, outlines they can fill in while watching the videos, then lectures by me with the aid of a PowerPoint.  And while these approaches include oral/aural/visual learning styles, it does not really help those who need a big picture, top-down approach.  I am going to think about ways to take the big picture and break down the building blocks into more manageable pieces so that I can represent the material with more illustrations, pictures, and charts, and promote the benefit of handmade flashcards for rule memorization.  Those tools are all proven to be useful to the visual-spatial right brain learner.  In the one-on-one conferences I do with each student, I am going to spend more time taking a learning style inventory in our first conference.  I will ask up front--how would you describe your learning style?  What helps you learn best?  Listening to a lecture?  Reading text in a book? Looking at illustrations, pictures, and charts of materials?  Thinking about the whole picture?  Thinking about how to build it from the bottom up?  Asking each student to think about their learning style and then using that data, combined with how they are progressing in the class on the metrics I score them on, will help me advise them how to study in the last conference we have at the end of the semester. Once I have completed that assessment and collected the data, I will be better positioned to advise my students for success with the commercial bar prep programs.  Are you a left brained type of learner?  Great!  The commercial bar prep courses will probably be just fine for you.  Follow their guide for studying to a T and you will likely be well positioned to pass the bar on the first attempt.  Are you a right brained type of learner?  Great too!  Just know that the material and guidance given by the commercial bar prep programs will likely need to be adapted by you (or you and me) to fit your learning style best.   And it is okay to take the commercial bar prep course material and adapt it to a style that suits your needs.  You do not have to follow BARBRI or other commercial bar prep program completely to find success and pass the bar on the first attempt.   I think if we all keep in mind the impact of different learning styles and the need to adapt to a learning style that fits each of our student’s needs, we may see incremental to substantial improvement in first time bar passage rates. 

(Kathryn Shotwell, Guest Blogger)

 

References: 

  1. THE NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF LAW EXAMINERS (NYBOLE) AND ACCESSLEX INSTITUTE, Analyzing First-Time Bar Exam Passage on the UBE in New York State: Insights From a Study of First Time and Second Time Bar Exam Candidates, May 19, 2021.
  2. American Bar Association Standard 316. BAR PASSAGE At least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates in a calendar year who sat for a bar examination must have passed a bar examination administered within two years of their date of graduation. (2020-2021)
  3. M.H. Sam Jacobson, A Primer on Learning Styles: Reaching Every Student, 25 SEATTLEU. L. REV. 139 (2001).

 

[1] THE NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF LAW EXAMINERS (NYBOLE) AND ACCESSLEX INSTITUTE, Analyzing First-Time Bar Exam Passage on the UBE in New York State: Insights From a Study of First Time and Second Time Bar Exam Candidates, May 19, 2021, pg 41

[2] THE NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF LAW EXAMINERS (NYBOLE) AND ACCESSLEX INSTITUTE, Analyzing First-Time Bar Exam Passage on the UBE in New York State: Insights From a Study of First Time and Second Time Bar Exam Candidates, May 19, 2021,  pg 23-24

[3] M.H. Sam Jacobson, A Primer on Learning Styles: Reaching Every Student, 25 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 139 (2001), pg 142: “Professors can help their students achieve their full potentials by teaching to the diverse learning styles in the classroom. Teaching to diverse learning styles helps students in two significant ways. First, students will be more successful in mastering their coursework if they are better able to absorb, process, and retain information. Second, students will be more successful in mastering their coursework if they learn how they learn best.”

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