Sunday, November 25, 2018
Invitation from NCBE
The National Conference of Bar Examiners requests your assistance with a significant research study regarding the bar examination. NCBE has created a Testing Task Force to oversee a comprehensive, future-focused research study of the bar examination, and we want and need to tap the insights of legal academics. We would like to invite you to participate in one of six focus group sessions held at the AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans on January 3 and 4, 2019.
The Task Force is approaching its study with no preconceived notions and is considering the content, format, timing, and delivery methods for the bar exam to ensure it keeps pace with a changing legal profession. For more information about the study, please read the overview of our research plan at www.testingtaskforce.org/research/.
As a legal educator, you are a vital part of the legal licensure process, and gathering input from you and other stakeholders is an essential component of the study. We hope you are as eager to share your ideas and opinions about the bar exam of the future as we are to hear them! The focus group sessions will be facilitated by one of the Testing Task Force’s independent research consulting firms, ACS Ventures LLC. The number of participants will be capped at 12-15 people per 90-minute session to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to provide their input, so you are encouraged to register early to reserve your spot in a session.
To sign up for a focus group session at the AALS Annual Meeting, complete this online registration form. You’ll receive a confirmation with logistical details and additional information about the session by email.
NCBE and its Testing Task Force are committed to creating additional opportunities for focus groups and web-based interactions to gain insights from legal academics, law students, and other stakeholders in the next six months. Subscribe at the Testing Task Force’s website to receive updates about the study and to be notified about other opportunities to participate.
Thank you for all you do to help prepare law students to become lawyers. If you have questions, please feel free to contact the Testing Task Force at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you!
Thursday, October 25, 2018
My dog loves rabbit trails. Luckily for the rabbits, at least thus far, the trails have never led to rabbits.
That got me thinking about exam writing and rabbit trails.
But first, a bit of background...
I find that most bar exam takers who do not pass the bar exam write brilliantly well-organized professional essay answers. The rules are crisp; the IRAC is polished. But, in most cases, some of the answers are unresponsive to the fact patterns at hand. In other words, its as though the fact patterns were irrelevant to answering some of the particular essay questions. Instead of finding the "rabbits" in the essays, they followed "rabbit trails" leading to no where. And, it's often that way on law school exams too.
Take this summer's first essay question on the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), available free-of-charge at https://www.ncbex.org/July2018Essays.
The fact problem was set in the world of constitutional law. As specified in the fact problem, the essay expressly indicated that US Supreme Court had recently found that Congress was within its power under the interstate commerce clause (ICC) to punish marijuana use. On the other hand, the fact problem indicated that a number of states were (and have) legalized marijuana use both for medicinal purposes and recreational purposes.
Frustrated by state decriminalization of marijuana, the fact pattern specified that Congress enacted a federal drug abuse prevention statute. Pertinent to the essay problem, one section of the statute required state law enforcement officers to investigate whether anyone within their custody, even on matters unrelated to controlled substance violations, was under the influence of marijuana and then make reports to the federal government. The other section of the statute, as specified in the fact pattern, provided that Congress would restrict federal law enforcement grants to states which decriminalized marijuana use. The fact pattern went on to indicate that a State had recently decriminalized marijuana use and would therefore be subject to a loss of approximately $10 million dollars in annual federal grant money out of a state budget of about $600 million total of state law enforcement spending. Based on this fact pattern, bar exam applicants were told to analyze whether each of these two statutes were constitutional as applied to this particular state's situation.
Let's deal with the first statutory section - the federal requirement ordering state law enforcement officers to conduct investigations and make reports. The key to figuring out where to go, i.e., to avoid the "rabbit trail," was to write out a good issue statement, perhaps as follows:
"The issue is whether Congress had constitutional authority when it requires state law enforcement officers to conduct investigations and make reports unrelated to state law enforcement purposes."
In this fact pattern, there's no issue that Congress did not have the commerce clause power because the fact pattern foreclosed that issue, once and for all, with its initial recognition of US Supreme Court precedent specifying that Congress had the power to regulate marijuana use. And, if Congress has the power to regulate marijuana use, it certainly has powers related to that under the "necessary and proper" clause. So, the focus must be elsewhere in answering this problem. As the issue statement makes clear, it's a federalism issue, namely, whether Congress can force states to do the work of the federal government. That's a 10th Amendment issue. In brief, Congress is limited in its ability to commandeer the states, which is precisely what this first section tries to do. It's unconstitutional, at least in my reading of it.
Let's take on the second statutory section - the federal spending restriction of law enforcement grants towards states that decriminalize marijuana. Once again, the key is to start with a sharp issue to avoid the "rabbit trails." Here, we might write as follows:
"The issue is whether Congress had constitutional authority when - as applied to the state at hand in this fact pattern - Congress cut off a federal law enforcement grant in the amount of $10 million out of a state budget of $600 million in state law enforcement spending."
Do you see the issue? It's lurking in the facts stated in the issue statement. Once again, this is a federalism issue. There's no issue that Congress can't spend money for the public welfare, particularly because the state in this fact pattern wants to receive the federal grant money. Rather, the issue is whether these "strings" constitute commandeering of the states by Congress in violation of the 10th Amendment. One could probably come out either way, but I think that the better answer based on Supreme Court precedent is that spending restrictions to encourage states to enact policies and law that comport with federal law are constitutional as long as states have a real choice as to whether to enact new favorable state laws to the federal government or give up the spending grants. In this fact pattern, the amount of money that the state will lose as a result of decriminalization of marijuana is only a small percentage of the entire amount that the state spends on law enforcement, which means that the state has a real meaningful choice to take the federal grant and comply with federal objectives or to refuse the federal grant and still have significant state law enforcement funding. It's constitutional, at least in my analysis.
Despite the fact that this essay problem was centered on federalism issues based on the 10th Amendment, a number of people talked about the commerce clause or equal protection concerns, neither of which were raised by the fact pattern. I can understand why. Bar takers have memorized so much law that they tend to put all of the law that they can think of without thinking through the problem first of all, especially because of the time pressures. But, I have a tip that can help preempt that sort of "rule dump." It's writing out an old-fashioned legal writing issue statement before beginning to write.
Here's what I mean by an old-fashioned issue statement. As set out by Ruta Stropus and Charlotte Taylor in their book "Bridging the Gap Between College and Law School," a great issue statement can take on the form as follows:
"The issue is whether [legal subject-verb-object] + when + [material facts]."
Take a look back at my issue statements. Do I start with the legal issue? Do I have the legal actor as a noun, a verb, and the legal object, here, as to the unconstitutionality of congressional action? Do I then add in a handful of hand-picked material facts from the fact pattern? You bet. In my own case, if I don't take time to work through crafting such an issue statement, I'm lost in most essay problems. I just start writing in circles, moving around in "rabbit trails" so to speak, without really understanding the fact pattern at hand or the questions presented in the essay scenario. In short, I ramble.
So, whether you are a bar taker or a law student preparing for mid-term exams, take a pause before you begin to write out your essays. Hunt for some "red hot" material facts to put down in paper as an issue statement. After all, it's what lawyers do best; they spot issues, the precise issues that are needed for solving their clients' problems. So, as you learn to think like a lawyer, practice like a lawyer too by taking time out to craft, identify, and precisely specify the exact issues posed in your midterms, final exams, or your bar exam essays. It's worth the time. Indeed, you'll be mighty glad because you'll find that you'll avoid the "rabbit trails" found on most essay exams and instead you'll be finding the rabbits themselves. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, October 14, 2018
Have you seen the new publication from AccessLex Institute titled Raising the Bar? The first issue includes a mix of articles on conferences, publications, tips, grant information, resources, program profiles, and more. If you missed the first issue, the link is here. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 11, 2018
It's that time of year. In the midst of many celebrations over bar passage, let's be frank.
There are many that are not celebrating. Their names were not on the list of bar exam passers. And, for some, it's not the first time that they've found themselves in this situation; it's a repeat of the last time around.
For aspiring attorneys that did not pass the bar exam, most don't know where to turn. Often embarrassed, many with significant debt loads, most feel abandoned by their schools, their friends, and their colleagues. All alone.
I'm not expert in helping with turnarounds. But, I'd like to offer a few tips that have proven quite helpful in helping repeaters change history to become "fresh start" bar passers:
First, as academic support professionals, reach out to each one. Make yourself available on their terms. Let them know that you care. Let them know that you are mighty proud of them, success or not. Support them, one and all.
Second, give them breathing room, lot's of time and space to grieve. Don't push them into diving back into the books. Don't lecture them. Rather, assure them that they don't need to get cranking on their studies. Help them to be kind to themselves. It's not a matter of just hitting the books again, and this time, doubly-hard. Instead, they need to take time out to just be themselves.
Third, when they are ready, set up a "one-with-one." Notice: I did not call it a "one-to-one". Rather, set up an appointment or meeting in a place of their choosing at a time that works for them in which you sit side by side, on the same side of the table or desk or cafe. They are not bar exam failures; they are real law school graduates. They earned their parchments. So, listen to them as colleagues on the same side of doing battle on the bar exam. Let them talk and express themselves as they'd like. Hear them out. How are they feeling? What went right? What's their passion? What saddens their hearts?
Finally, whey they are ready, make a copy of one of the essay problems that didn't go so well. Better yet, make two copies, one for each of you! That's because you are on the same team. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes and just ask them to mark up the question, brainstorm what they are thinking, and jot down the issues that they see. But...and this is important...tell them that you don't expect them to remember any law at all. Period. And, you do the same. Exactly the same. Don't peek at an answer key or even their answer. Instead, try your hand too; wrestle with the same question that they are wrestling with. Then, come back together to listen, ponder, and share what you both see as the plot of the essay question, the issues raised by the storylines, and the potential rules that might be in play. Once you've done all this prep work together, now, look at their answer. This is important, just look. Ask them what do they see? What do they observe? What went great for them? Where might they improve? In short, let them see that they have "inside information" about themselves based on their own personal bar exam experience and answers that they can capitalize to their advantage. Most often in the midst of working together, graduates tell me that they realize that they knew plenty of law to pass the bar exam. In fact, most are amazed at how well they memorized the law. And, that's great news because it means that they don't need to redo the bar review lectures at all. They know plenty of law. That frees up lots of time during the bar prep season to instead concentrate on just two (2) active learning tasks.
So, here are the two activities that bar re-takers should be prioritizing to successful pass the bar exam:
1. First, they should work daily throughout the bar study period through lots and lots of practice problems (essays and MBE questions). Every one that they can get their hands on. Open book is fine. It's even better than fine; it's perfect because they should be practicing problems to learn because we don't get better at problem-solving by guessing.
2. Second, they should keep a daily "journal" of the issues and rules that they missed when working over problems (to include tips about the analysis of those rules).
Just two steps. That's it. There's no magic. But, in not redoing the lectures, graduates will find that they have plenty of time to concentrate on what is really important - learning by doing through active reflective daily practice. Countless times, it's through this process of a "one-with-one" meeting that we have seen repeaters turn themselves into "fresh start" bar passers.
Finally, I want to write directly to those of you who find yourself in the situation of having to re-take the bar exam. You really aren't alone. Need proof? Here's a short video clip put together by the Colorado Supreme Court about re-taking the bar exam to include a few tips from some jurists and practitioners that have been in your shoes. (Scott Johns)
Monday, September 24, 2018
The most recent bar results are reverberating throughout the country. The data collected and distributed by Nancy Reeves the past week is illuminating. From what I can tell, only 2 states currently have first-time pass rates at or above last year. The national MBE average is the lowest since the 80’s. Another round of complaints and accusations aimed at the MBE are starting, especially since scaling essays to the MBE magnifies the impact of the dropping score. My advice to students, ignore the chatter and start preparing now.
I love to complain about the MBE. I think the NCBE’s monopoly on bar licensing tests makes them unresponsive, and the lack of statistical specialists in testing at law schools makes combatting their perceived experts difficult. Supreme Courts’ skepticism of law schools’ motivation amplifies the problem. I believe the NCBE through changes to the MBE (25 non-scored questions, subject matter changes, Civil Procedure addition, style changes, etc.) have made the test harder than it has ever been, and they continually ignore well-established scientific principles (ie – cognitive load theory) that call into question the validity of current MBE scores. My beliefs could be 100% correct, but the reality is alumni still have to take the MBE on February 27th or July 31st.
If MBE complaints are valid, students should respond by starting preparation. In general, changes to legal education and bar exams take forever. The complaints of Deans, Law Schools, and alumni will most likely not change the upcoming exams. The arguments could be correct, which means the upcoming MBE administrations will continue to be difficult with possible lower scores. Students will need more questions correct to pass. I highly encourage starting now to prepare for a much more difficult test.
The MBE requires unique skills to pass the exam, but the foundation for passing the test is still knowledge of the law. Without an understanding of the law, getting to the right answer is more difficult. Both February and July takers can start now refreshing memory of the law. I suggest trying to get a big picture 10,000 foot view of each MBE subject. Knowing the organization or schema for each subject will provide the context to help memorize rules. I then suggest looking through material in highly tested sub-topics for each subject (ie – Negligence, Hearsay, Free Speech, etc.). Many bar review companies will provide early start lectures or outlines or both. Use the material to identify areas to work through.
Additional work throughout the semester is important for February takers. I suggest focusing on 1 subject per week by looking through the material suggested above, completing a few practice MBE questions, and issue spotting 1 practice essay question. The key is to get some of the law and see how it is tested.
July takers shouldn’t spend as much time this semester, but refreshing the law is a good start. My suggestion is to watch the short lectures or look at highly tested material for a short amount of time. The goal is not memorization that lasts for 10 months. The goal is refreshing memory of already learned law and understanding the schema.
The current tasks may be different for February and July takers, but my advice for both is the same. Now is the time to start preparing. If the MBE will be as hard as we all predict, then don’t wait to prepare for the test. However, don’t overwork and burn out now. My suggestion is only for 2-3 hours a week, but 2-3 hours over 7-8 weeks left in the semester can make a huge difference.
The hype and complaints may be true, but students will still be taking the bar in February and July. One ingredient for overcoming the difficulty is early preparation with hard work. To finish using a sports analogy (I couldn’t do a post without it), leave it all out on the field. Anything can happen on the bar exam, but if you can walk out of the room and say you did everything you could reasonably do to prepare, then that is what matters. Start that preparation now, and you can pass the bar!
Thursday, September 20, 2018
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/news; https://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.
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).
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)
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
I attended the Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Conference earlier this week. On Monday, August 6, 2018, the conference schedule included two bar preparation strategy sessions. Here are my takeaways from those two sessions.
The first session was a panel discussion entitled "Bar Preparation Strategies for Law Professors and Academic Support Program."
Professor James McGrath of Texas A&M University School of Law used an IF-AT quiz to frame his discussion about how spaced repetition and self-efficacy are essential components to bar exam success. Next, Professor Kirsha Trychta of West Virginia University College of Law introduced ways to mobilize students, faculty, and staff to become soldiers in both academic support and bar preparation efforts. The session concluded with Professor Patrick Gould of Appalachian School of Law demonstrating how to methodically work through a MBE practice problem and how to spot legal issues. Professor Melissa Essary of Campbell University's Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law expertly moderated the program.
After the panel presentation, attendees engaged in a lively round-table discussion focused on "Strategies for Bar Preparation and Success."
Each participant had 10-12 minutes to discuss a bar preparation related issue or topic that was of interest to them. More than 30 discussants attended the session, including academic support and bar preparation professors, commercial course providers, and deans. (The session was standing room only!) Of those in attendance, roughly half of the group raised discussion topics. While the full agenda—including the presenters’ school affiliation, contact information, and formal presentation title—is available here (Download BAR PASSAGE SPEAKER SCHEDULE Revised 3), I’ve set forth a brief summary below. If a discussion item sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to reach out to the presenter. Every presenter warmly invited questions and comments.
Bob Keuhn is authoring a research paper on the results of a recent large-scale empirical study, where he found little evidence that clinical or experiential coursework helps students pass the bar exam, contrary to popular belief.
James McGrath offered five quick tips for improving classroom teaching, including adding formative assessment activities directly on the course syllabus so that quizzes and reflection exercises become an essential and routine component of the course.
Michael Barry & Zoe Niesel outlined how they “went big” and dared to “be bold” overhauling and expanding their ASP program. They proactively asked for input from faculty, the advancement (i.e. fundraising) department, career services, and others before moving forward.
Benjamin Madison focused on self-directed learning, and emphasized the importance of incorporation skills building, especially in the first-year, to help students become better self-directed learners. He recommended Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz’s book as a jumpstart.
Ron Rychlak shared his experience with bar passage efforts at two (very) different law schools: Ole’ Miss and Ava Maria. He tinkered with requiring more bar-tested electives, increasing the probation cut-off GPA, and adding more academic support style-courses in the first two years.
Antonia Miceli redesigned her third-year bar course from an “opt in” (i.e. invitation to enroll) to an “opt out” model. All students in the bottom third of the class are now automatically enrolled, and the student must proactively petition to opt out of the course—which has positively increased her overall enrollment.
Debra Moss Vollweiler has spent the last few years as a member of a Florida bar passage focus group, and is now advancing the 3-Ms model: master in 1L, manipulate in 2L, and memorize in 3L. The 3M model aligns with her law school’s newly revised learning outcomes.
Cassie Christopher debuted her online 3-credit, graded, MBE course, which is open to all graduating students. Students watch an online video created by in-house doctrinal faculty, read the required textbook, complete practice MBEs, and engage in a discussion board each week.
Kirsha Trychta asked for attendees’ input on ways to mobilize the entire faculty in bar preparation. Discussants suggested incorporating the MPT into a clinical course, asking faculty to guest lecture, making a practice essay and MBE database on TWEN, inviting outside third-party speakers, and involving the assessment committee in programmatic decision making.
Rob McFarland highlighted a recent (and controversial) conversation online, directed at law school hopefuls, about whether an LSAT score accurately predicts bar passage success.
Laurie Zimet proposed that law schools should (1) educate the entire law school community about the bar exam and invite each person to contribute where they could, and (2) provide an opportunity for students to diagnosis weaknesses, with sufficient time for remediation.
Melissa Essary designed a new course—in just a few months—which offered academic credit for a graded, in-house faculty taught, one semester, flipped classroom MBE bar preparation course, supplemented by Barbri videos and materials.
Patrick Gould, the session’s moderator, concluded by thanking Russel Weaver for hosting us, and encouraging everyone to brainstorm about what we can do next year to make the event even better.
Well done, team!
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Attention Bar Takers:
Here's a couple of short winning tips for your final weekend flight plan checks as you prepare for success on your bar exam next week!
I. Focus on a Winning Attitude:
First, remind yourself right now why you can pass the bar exam...because, after all, you've been trained as an attorney.
That's right. Boldy recognize that out of all of the people in the world, you are one of the very few who have earned a law degree. Yep...YOU'VE earned your law degree, having successfully demonstrated that YOU know how to solve legal problems. That doesn't mean that you know it all (nor that you need to know it all for your bar exam). But, you do know how to read and ponder and analyze and write and communicate as an attorney because you've been trained - for over the course of three years - to think and, more significantly, be an attorney.
So, as Professor Chad Noreuil says, look forward to your bar exam next week as a "get-to" opportunity rather than a "got-to" threat. That's because this is YOUR moment to show YOUR state Supreme Court that YOU are professionally-trained attorney.
II. Rehearsing Your Lines:
Second, keep your focus on positive learning throughout this weekend as you...
YOUR BIG PICTURE RULES FOR YOUR BAR EXAM NEXT WEEK!
In other words, don't think of memorization as dry and dusty work.
Rather, consider memorization as theatre work.
Just like actors, carry your script (your study tool) with you in hand, personally by your side, ready to swing into your eyesight, as you walk through the major issues and rules for each subject. Move swiftly. Your goal on Saturday is to work through each subject in well under an hour or much less. Then, do the same for each subject on Sunday.
Here's a Tip - Less is More!
Stick with talking, singing, or acting out only the big picture rules. Don't dive deep. In other words, just state the rule for burglary but don't practice the definitions for each of the elements. Then, do it again...quicker. On Sunday, grab those study tools and once again work through each subject - one at a time - with freedom and abandon to peek at your study tools.
The Memory Power of Peeking!
Too many people don't want to peek. But here's the secret to memorization (based on the famous saying that a "peek is worth a thousand words").
When we peek, we visually see where the rule is on our study tool and how it is organized and positioned. As the learning scientists indicate, we tend to comprehend (a.k.a., remember) things better when we see them in text (whether in our set of notecards or outlines or posters) because the visual position of the words creates meaning for us. And, memorization is just about creating memories with your study tools. So, be a memory creator this weekend.
Finally, I would be remise if I didn't talk about Monday (also known as the "day before the exam").
If you can't help yourself, feel free to review your study tools. But, most certainly don't do any more practice problems. And, definitely don't work on memorizing your study tools. Just skim through them.
And, if at all possible, take the day off. I mean the whole day. From start to finish.
Recognize that brainwork - just like exercise in preparation for a marathon - requires rest and relaxation time the day before a big event in order to rejuvenate and refresh.
So, be extra kind to yourself, my dear doctor of jurisprudence, and splurge with some good old fashioned R&R. And, good luck on your bar exam next week! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
At this time, I see or hear from many panicked soon-to-be Bar Takers communicating their intent not to sit for the bar exam because they just do not feel prepared. It is unusual for me to have a conversation about skipping the bar exam with a soon-to-be Bar Taker I genuinely believe is unprepared or might not be able to manage the pressures of the bar exam. Usually, students who are so mentally paralyzed by the thought of sitting for the exam are not known to articulate their intent. Instead, they simply do not show for the exam, something I hear after the fact, or I notice once bar results are posted.
Typically, individuals who have endured life, personal, financial, work, and/or health challenges throughout bar review are not the ones looking to postpone the bar exam. Based on my communications throughout bar review with persons in this category, I find that they have already wrestled with feelings of unpreparedness throughout the summer and they have continuously adjusted and readjusted their schedules to ensure bar review progress. When past soon-to-be Bar Takers have opted not to sit for the bar exam, it has occurred very early in the process, around the first few weeks of bar review. Whenever the option was exercised later in the bar review process, it was due to familial, personal, health-related, or other emergencies. As a rule of thumb, whenever the decision not to sit for the bar exam is made, we immediately and honestly consider individual situations, explore implications of the decision, and start to discuss a plan for moving forward.
Experiencing acute levels of stress a week before the bar exam is a normal occurrence but when it becomes debilitating, then it is a critical challenge. Stress is an unavoidable aspect of the bar preparation process but it should motivate, not dominate. Recently, I observed that a larger number of soon-to-be Bar Takers have difficulty managing stress. Some who were able to navigate stress throughout law school are now experiencing difficulties preparing for the bar exam. The bar exam is a beast they are unable to tame and might need additional resources or medication to cope with the high levels of anxiety and its impact on their preparation. Addressing concerns early, if at all possible, can have a positive impact on managing stress and anxiety during bar preparation.
If you are contemplating postponing the bar exam, there is no formula you can use to guarantee success on the bar exam. I am well aware that there are percentages of bar review completion, percentages one should attain on the MBE, scores on the essays and MPTs that help set goals and gauge current performance but these are no guarantee. Quality over quantity, self-awareness of individual needs and making adjustments, and a positive and forward-looking attitude are key. It is also important to assess where you are and whether you covered all of the substantive material, whether you have an awareness (general knowledge and familiarity) or whether you understand (deeper knowledge and ability to explain and write) concepts and ideas. Assess whether you completed a majority of the assigned essays, MPTs, and MBEs but more importantly ask whether you are driven by fear or do you really not know the information. A more poignant question to ask is whether waiting longer, studying longer, and taking the exam later is the best option for you. Develop a plan.
In my experience, some students simply need more time to adjust to bar preparation, to the pace of bar review, to process the information, to dissect answers, and to revisit material. Some students just need more time to adjust to the whole idea of the bar exam and its implications on their lives. These may be valid reasons that should not simply be used as an excuse. Furthermore, over-studying and complacency are things an individual who postpones the bar exam needs to contemplate. Be comfortable with your decision and move forward. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
As we enter the final days of bar preparation, emotions run very high. Students who appeared to manage stress well are falling apart and the realization that the bar exam marks the end of their education career engenders fears of “adulting”. Other fears, concerns, and physical manifestations also seem to permeate day to day bar preparation. As a Bar Support office, we are keenly aware of student panic and stress about the bar exam and are equally sensitive to both expected and unexpected personal and other concerns. Below are a few issues students can contend with:
• Family and friends interfere. Well-intentioned family members and friends think this is an ideal time to conduct internet searches about the bar exam and share all of the scary details they uncover with the person studying for the bar exam. Shared information relates to bar pass rates, horror stories about preparing for the exam, and countless comments from students on various blogs and discussion groups. Some students studying for the bar exam are able to dismiss this information while others obsess over it and are derailed. This usually leads to mornings spent dispelling myths, putting information in context, and/or reminding individuals studying for the bar exam that they still have control over their fate. Moreover, if family and friends are a source of stress and panic then this probably is the time to stay away from them but also tell them what you need and don’t need.
• My body hates me. I have to admit that lately, I have heard many gruesome stories about physical manifestations of stress and negative physical reactions to food. I will not share all of these here but students should be aware of what is going on with them physically. Certain ailments or discomforts might require you to take immediate action, others might require you to live with them until the exam is over, and yet others may only be address after the bar exam.
• I hate you right now. As individual meetings with students end and we complete the final essays, mini-Multistate Bar Exams, or Multistate Performance Tests together, I try to select areas or things that particular students have expressed challenges with. A few students I have worked with throughout most of their law school careers often say: “no disrespect but I hate you right now.” I laugh and usually say: “I am here for that.” If our goal is to make weaknesses strengths then I will prey on all of the student’s weaknesses because it is possible that those very things will appear on the bar exam. It is also a good time to discuss how to manage areas of limited or no knowledge but still be able to focus enough and move on to the questions they are confident in.
• Unconquerable fatigue. I hear more and more about chronic fatigue, sleep/rest that does not seem to result in refreshing energy, and insomnia all this results in lack of focus, feeling overwhelmed, and inability to be efficient or effective in completing tasks. Students appreciate when I affirm the difficulty of getting true rest and acknowledge productivity challenges but I also remind students that they are not alone. Students cannot perform to their optimal ability until they rest. I admonish them to tap into all the knowledge stored up and to do this, they might want to get some rest now because the day before the bar exam might be a significant challenge.
Every challenge makes you stronger! (Goldie Pritchard)
Monday, July 2, 2018
For most students, the bar review simulated MBE was last week. Many students walk out of that test discouraged. They don't receive as many correct as they wanted and wonder if the passing percentage is attainable. It is a rough test and a hard feeling, but you do still have time to raise your scores above the pass line.
Here are a few pieces of information from my experience. You should get more correct on the test in July than you did on the practice test. Every year, I see students make significant improvements (20 questions or more) by the end of bar prep. Also, the goal isn't to have the highest score in the country. You just need it high enough to pass. The national average on simulated tests right now is normally about 55-56% correct, but if you are in the 45-53% range, you can still make up the points. An 80% first time taker pass rate means you only need a higher score than 20% of people, not 50%. Even if you aren’t above 20%, you can still get there.
The key is to use the feedback to improve. I highly encourage everyone to sit down with the Academic Support or Bar Support person at your law school. Bring the score analysis from your bar review company. Create an improvement plan for July. You can absolutely improve 20 questions by getting 3 more questions correct in each subject. Everyone can learn enough law for 3 questions per subject.
Efficient studying in July gets the 3 extra questions per subject. Most of June focused on the MBE, so much of July will be spent on essays. Most students worry about how to find time to improve. I agree that no one has time to add in an extra 2-3 hours memorizing outlines for each MBE subject, but you don’t need to. My biggest suggestion is to spend 10-15 minutes at the end of the night on the most important sub-topics. Use the score report to identify 1-2 small topics you struggled on that are highly tested in each MBE subject (ie – hearsay, duty of care, etc.). Spend 10-15 minutes right before bed looking at flashcards, an outline, or even practice questions on only that sub-topic. Switch subjects every day between now and the bar. The focused study on only areas needing improvement will help gain the couple questions per subject. Focused studying is the key in July.
I want everyone to watch this video. It is only about 3 minutes. Most students feel like what happened 1 minute 17 seconds into the video. It is normal to feel that way. What matters is what you do next. Get back up and sprint to the finish to conquer the bar!
Thursday, June 28, 2018
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).
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
This one is for the “Bar Studiers”! The bar exam is a little less than a month away so it is time for soon-to-be “Bar Takers” to evaluate where they are with their bar preparation and how they feel about the fast-approaching exam. At this time, some “Bar Studiers” have completed a simulated Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) while others anticipate this experience in the near future. All “Bar Studiers” must consider what to do with the feedback from this simulated MBE and assess the overall experience. While “Bar Studiers” tend to focus on the overall score and where they stand in relation to others, it is equally important to assess issues such as: the environmental conditions under which they took the MBE, whether they completed each 100 question set in one sitting, whether they completed the simulated MBE under timed circumstances, whether they completed the simulated MBE at all, their ability to implement their approach to MBE questions and their overall plan of attack, how fatigued and focused they were throughout the practice, and how fatigued they were after the process, etc. are just a few things to consider. Self-evaluation in various areas mentioned above and beyond can be helpful to strategize for future performance when it counts.
At this time, some “Bar Studiers” have completed a half or full day of essays and Multistate Performance Tests (MPTs). Here again, all must consider what to do with the feedback and assess the overall experience. Furthermore, “Bar Studiers” tend to focus on the overall score but it is just as important to assess other things namely, the environment where they completed the essays and MPTs, whether they completed them under time constraints, whether they completed them at all, their ability to implement their essay and MPT strategies, their ability to process the feedback and make adjustments, their ability to implement the feedback on future practice and the bar exam, their ability to assess what is realistically possible to complete within the time constraints, their organization, their ability to self- critique their answers, their ability to select new sub-topics to review, and how fatigued they were after completing the essays and MPTs particularly if they had a full day practice. These are just a few things to consider.
This might also be a great time to assess proficiency and comfort level with the various subjects tested on the bar exam. Assess ability to recall distinctions between state and MBE topics if applicable. It is helpful to have a scale or category system and use that to determine how much time to spend reviewing and memorizing various areas of law. “Bar Studiers” should use their time efficiently rather than simply review information that they already know or have a significant level of mastery of. It is likely that what “Bar Studiers” avoid will be on their exam so why not face it now so they can succeed when it counts.
Finally, “Bar Studiers” might want to take some steps to plan for the week of the bar exam and the weeks leading up to it. They should ensure that they include various wellness checkpoints so they are physically and as mentally prepared as one can be for the bar exam. “Bar Studiers” should pay attention to food intake, how much sleep they get, and how rested they are going into the exam. Associate with human beings but avoid those studying for the bar exam if it will be detrimental to a “Bar Studier’s” well-being but keep in mind that on exam day, it is inevitable that one will be around others and subjected to what they say or do so now is the time to determine how to cope. Plan a weekly lunch or dinner or simply some TV vegging time. Help you help yourself. (Goldie Pritchard)
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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.
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)
Monday, June 18, 2018
Father’s Day week is awesome for many reasons. I normally get to caddy a junior golf tournament with my son, spend time with family, and watch golf’s US Open. We spend the majority of our time outside enjoying activities together. This week is what summer is all about.
I love the US Open because it is normally the hardest golf tournament of the year. They play courses with near impossible putting greens and impenetrable rough. A little part of me enjoys watching the best players in the world struggle the same way I do on weekends. As I prepared this post, I watched Rory McIlroy, who reached #1 in the world rankings a few years ago, hit a shot from the right rough to left rough 20 yards short of the green. He then proceeded to hit his next shot only 10 yards out of the rough into a sand bunker. I can absolutely relate.
The US Open winner will have similar struggles, just not as many times as the rest of the field. Most winners will say this tournament is all about perspective. Par is a great score this week if everyone else is above par.
Bar prep and completing MBE questions is a similar experience. Missing question after question is like hitting from the rough, to more rough, and then the sand. Mental exhaustion increases mistakes and leads to more stress. Students hear they only need a certain percentage correct to pass, but most students aren’t near that percentage right now. The struggle is brutal. Bar prep requires the same grind as the hardest round of golf or any other endeavor.
For my students, and many others, the timing is increasing stress. Yesterday was the halfway mark between graduation and the bar exam. Time is flying by, but no one feels comfortable with the material. New subjects are still presented. Low scores and new material breaks spirits, and everyone needs high motivation to finish the rest of preparation.
The critical action right now is to find perspective. Just like most of the golfers are hacking it around Shinnecock Hills Golf Club right now, the vast majority of students preparing for the bar exam are struggling right now. Almost no one feels comfortable with the material. Nearly no one is scoring great. Also, you don’t have to score great now or ever. You only need to get enough questions correct at the end of July to be above the pass line.
Many of you are halfway done with bar prep. Celebrate that success. Everyone has come a long way to this point. Get perspective on where you should be right now. I am not saying blindly keep going no matter what. Always keep in touch with your bar prep specialist, but remember, everyone is a weekend hacker on MBE questions right now. Keep hacking away with guidance to put yourself in a position for success.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
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).
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
In April, Virginia Public Radio aired a news story entitled "Law Students Challenge Need for Mental Health Question" on the character and fitness application. The law students contend that the mental health questions on Virginia's character and fitness application have perversely incentivized law students to forego mental health treatment as a means of ensuring that they do not have to affirmatively disclose any mental health treatment on their character and fitness application. (Read the full story here.)
The law students' challenge comes in the wake of the American Bar Association's 2015 resolution to eliminate "any questions that ask about mental health history, diagnoses, or treatment and instead use questions that focus on conduct or behavior that impairs an applicant’s ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner."
Despite the ABA's recommendation, the Virginia character and fitness application asks three broad mental health related questions:
- Within the past five (5) years, have you exhibited any conduct or behavior that could call into question your ability to practice law in a competent, ethical, and professional manner?
- Do you currently have any condition or impairment, including, but not limited to, (1) any related to substance or alcohol abuse, or (2) a mental, emotional, or nervous disorder or condition, which in any way affects your ability to perform any of the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing lawyer in a competent, ethical and professional manner? “Currently” means recently enough so that the condition could reasonably have an impact on your ability to function as a practicing lawyer.
- Within the past five (5) years, have you ever raised the issue of consumption of drugs or alcohol or the issue of a mental, emotional, nervous or behavioral disorder/condition as a defense, mitigation, or explanation for your actions in the course of any of the following [proceedings...]?
If the applicant answers "yes" to any of these questions, they are then prompted to supply detailed supplemental information including dates and contact information for any treating physicians. The applicant must also obtain a verification from the treating physician indicating that in the physician's opinion the applicant possesses the requisite character and fitness to practice law. Notably, Virginia's application questions are almost identical to the National Conference of Bar Examiner's sample application.
It appears that the first question aligns squarely with the ABA's resolution, but the other two questions go well beyond the narrow sphere recommended by the ABA. It will be interesting to see how the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners (and, perhaps other jurisdictions who have adopted the same application) respond to the law students' challenge. Stay tuned. (Kirsha Trychta)
Thursday, June 7, 2018
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. https://www.census.gov/popclock/ Out of that population, according to the ABA, there are about 35,000 law school JD graduates per year. That's it. https://www.americanbar.org/content/ 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).
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Having just returned from a bar exam conference, I am struck by how little we know about what actually correlates to success on the bar exam. Nevertheless, for our students, it is common to jump to the conclusion that bar exam results are "preordained" based on a complex mathematical formula consisting of primarily (or indeed solely) LGPA and LSAT scores. In other words, those that pass have high numbers; those that don't, don't.
Interestingly, in our attempt to reduce the complexity of life experiences to numbers, there are always what we refer to as "outliers." People that pass (or fail) regardless of LGPA and LSAT scores. I sometimes wonder whether we are all outliers because even the best of statistical models fails to accurately predict bar passage results for our students. And, that brings me to the field of human performance.
You see, according to writer Alex Hutchinson, early on in the field of sports-based human performance, "[p]hysiologists pieced together an impressively detailed picture of the factors that - in theory - dictate our ultimate capacity [in terms of predicting athletic success]....There was one problem with this approach: It couldn't predict who would win an athletic contest....Clearly, something was missing from the 'human machine' picture of athletic limits." Alex Hutchison, The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance, Wall Street Journal (February 2, 2018), available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mental-tricks-of-athletic-endurance. That something tends to be not easily reducible to biological measurement; it tends to be what some refer to colloquially as "head games."
In other words, in an athletic competition, your body is sending signals to your brain about the current physiological state of your body, i.e., whether you are running of out of energy, or dehydrated, or overheated, etc. As interpreted by your brain, those signals then become self-fulfilling; they can serve to limit our endurance and our perseverance such that they become a barrier to improving our athletic performance. However, psychologists have begun to explore the power of motivational self-talk to reinterpret those signals so that they do not in fact have such determinative power over athletic performance. According to Dr. Hutchinson, it seems that positive self-talk can boost performance beyond what we think is possible based merely on the internal signaling of our biological markers.
That raises an interesting question with respect to bar passage. We often hear people analogize that passing the bar requires preparation akin to preparing for a marathon. As such, there's a case to be made that it might not be true that LGPA and LSAT are the major determinant signals as to who passes the bar exam. Indeed, it is much more nuanced and complex; otherwise, why have a bar exam at all if results are preordained by past testing results in the form of LGPA and LSAT scores?
Well, to be frank, we have a bar exam precisely because we know that LGPA and LSAT scores do not determine bar pass results. And, as in athletic competitions, I have a hunch that one's self-talk has much to do with one's success in overcoming the nagging self-doubts that are common to most of us ("I don't fit in the law; I can't pass the bar exam; there's way too much to learn to pass the bar; I just don't have the time needed to pass the bar; I wasn't much of a success in law school so I'm not going to be successful on the bar exam; etc."). Although there is no "magic cure-all," and of course LGPA and LSAT scores indicate something, it is important to recall that "something" doesn't mean "everything."
And, that's where we come in. Our bar exam destiny is not predetermined. It is something that we can positively and concretely influence and improve by acting upon positive self-talk as we work - problem by problem and question by question - to train ourselves for success on the bar exam. Those two things go hand-in-hand - "practice and talk" and "talk and practice." So, whether you are preparing yourself for final exams or getting ready to study for the bar exam, pay attention to your self-talk. Indeed, ask yourself today "What am I telling myself and is it really true or not?" (Scott Johns).
Thursday, April 19, 2018
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has indicated that the national average MBE multiple-choice scaled score for the February 2018 bar exam declined once again. As illustrated in the chart below, the MBE score has declined from near-term highs of 138 to 132.8 in just the span of a few short years.
According to the NCBE, "[r]epeat test takers comprised about 70% of those who sat in February 2018 and had an average score of 132.0, a 1.7-point decrease compared to February 2017. This result drove the change in the overall February 2018 MBE mean." http://www.ncbex.org/news/repeat-test-taker-scores-drive-february-2018-average-mbe-score-decline/.
In contrast, the NCBE reports that the February 2018 average MBE score for first-time takers remained relatively flat, 135.0 for February 2018 first-time takers as compared to 135.3 for February 2017 first-time takers. There have been several changes to the MBE exam over the last few years. In February 2015, the NCBE added another subject to the scope of the multiple-choice exam with the addition of Federal Civil Procedure. And, in February 2017, the NCBE changed the number of pre-test (otherwise known as experimental) questions from 10 to 25, resulting in the 200 point scaled score calculated out of a total of 175 graded questions rather than previous MBE exams which graded 190 questions. In addition, for the February 2018 MBE exam, the scope of Property Law was expanded to include some new sub-topics.
For those of you taking the July 2018 exam, there are several take-aways. First, the MBE exam is a difficult exam. Second, you can't learn to pass the exam without practicing the exam. Third, statistics don't determine your destiny; rather, your destiny is in your hands, in short, it's in the reading, the analyzing, and the practicing of multiple-choice questions that can make a real positive difference for your own individual score. So, please don't fret. It's not impossible...at all.
Finally, let me be frank. In my own case, as I work through practice MBE questions, I am NEVER confident that I am getting the answers correct. And, that is REALLY frustrating. In fact, when I get a question right, I am glad but often surprised. So, I try to NOT be confident that I have chosen the correct answer but rather be CONFIDENT that I am reading CAREFULLY and that I am METHODICALLY puzzling through the answer choices to step-by-step eliminate incorrect choices to help me better get to the correct answers.
So, for those of you taking the bar exam this summer, take it slow and steady. Ponder over every multiple-choice question you can. Eliminate obviously wrong choices. And, you might even keep a daily journal of your multiple-choice progress, perhaps by simply creating a spreadsheet of the issues tested, the rules used, and a few helpful tips as reminders of what to be on the lookout for as you approach your bar exam this summer. In short, make it your aim to be a problem-solver learner. (Scott Johns).