Sunday, March 7, 2021
Hat Tip to Shane Dizon who forwarded the NYBOLE news to the listserv. If you haven't seen it, the excerpt is below. With another round of remote bar exams, will the NCBE consider whether computer testing leads to different scores? The inability to effectively notate, draw property transactions, and write out the communications in contract formation must have an impact on taker's ability to solve the legal question. I don't believe the functions through the exam software are as effective as the ability to write in the book. My hope is the NCBE would analyze the impact of remote testing on MBE performance. I also hope they publish their findings.
UPDATED MARCH 5, 2021:
JULY 2021 BAR EXAMINATION
On February 2, 2021, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) announced that it will make a full set of Uniform Bar Exam materials available for a remote examination in July 2021. Although vaccinations are now available and the number of COVID-19 cases is decreasing, the COVID-19 pandemic has not abated sufficiently to permit the Board of Law Examiners to safely conduct in-person testing of large numbers of bar applicants in New York. Therefore, in order to provide sufficient notice to prospective bar exam applicants, the July 2021 New York Bar Examination will be administered remotely.
Application to the July 27-28, 2021 bar examination will be open to all eligible applicants. However, the Board will cap the number of applications at 10,000. The application filing period for the July 27-28, 2021 New York bar examination is April 1 – 30, 2021. The application will close on April 30, 2021 or when the 10,000 cap is reached. Applicants shall apply through their BOLE Account in the Applicant Services Portal.
Since the results from the February 2021 bar examination are not anticipated to be released until late April, applicants who are unsuccessful on the February 2021 New York bar examination will be provided an opportunity to apply for the July 2021 bar examination after the release of the February 2021 New York bar exam results.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
Wow; do I ever get distracted...with emails...incoming snapchats....Facebook posts....and just the overall buzz of the omnipresent internet. There is so much NOISE that takes up so much of my TIME that I seem to get so LITTLE done. That's particularly true for me in preparing for big exams because, to be honest, I am a big-time procrastinator...with a CAPITAL P!
In fact, I was just fretting about how much I had to do (which, of course, is related to my procrastination issues) when I came across an article by Lucette Lugando describing how surgeons stay focused during organ transplants.
Hum...That's what I need. To Focus. To Stay on Task. To Just Get Something Meaningful Done Today! http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-surgeons-stay-focused-for-hours-1479310052
So, here are a few thoughts that I gleaned from Lugando's article that might be especially handy for law graduates preparing for the Feb 2021 bar exam (and for people like me who live to procrastinate):
First, put away my cellphone. Turn it off. Hide it. Ditch it.
As detailed in Lugando's article, "Transplant surgeons, whose work includes stitching minuscule blood vessels together, minimize their distractions. No one checks cellphones in the operating room during surgery."
No one checks their phones? Really? Are you kidding? Of course not, at least not during surgery. And, bar exam preparation requires us to do surgery, so to speak, on our study tools and on loads of practice exams.
Thus, as I create study tools or as I learn by taking practice exams, I can help myself mightily by placing my focus on my work at hand... rather than the cellphone that is so often in my hand...by removing the "cellphone temptation" out of my grasp. Who knows? It might even lower my anxiety to stop looking at it constantly.
Second, sharpen my field of vision to just the essentials (working on my study tools, practicing lots of exam questions, and looping the lessons learned from my practice problems back into my study tools) by creating an environment that is free of my own personal distractions...so that I focus on learning rather than the noise that is so often around me.
As Lugando points out, "The surgeons often wear loupes mounted on eye glasses to magnify their work, which limits their field of vision to a few inches."
In other words, with respect to bar exam preparation, maybe I need to limit my field of vision to the "few" essentials, namely, creating study tools, testing my study tools out through practice exams, and then editing my study tools to incorporate what I learned about problem-solving through the practice exams.
There's a saying, apparently by Winston Churchill, that says: "You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks." Or, as Bruce Lee put it, "The successful warrior is the average [person] with a laser-like focus."
So, instead of having the cellphone bark at you constantly, you might just try out what surgeons do...and turn your focus into a laser by getting rid of distractions during the final two weeks of bar prep as you create your study tools and practice lots and lots of bar exam problems.
In the process, you'll become, to paraphrase Bruce Lee, a bar exam champion. (Scott Johns).
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
I’ve had multiple students ask me this week “What should I do with the remaining 12 days before the Bar Exam?” so I thought I’d share my advice with anyone else that may be wondering.
First, 12 days is more than you think. I promise.
Second, remember that the goal is NOT to memorize everything. It’s not possible. So, if you don’t feel like you know every last piece of law ever that can possibly be tested on the exam, you are not alone. It’s a normal feeling!
So, what CAN you do?
Practice. Between now and the 19th or so, this is the last big push where you can practice. Make sure you’ve practice MBE sets in 100, and timed. Make sure you’ve written more than one essay at a time. Now might be the time two take 90 minutes and write 3 essays, or take 3 hours and write 2 MPTs! It’s one thing to write one essay in 30 minutes, it’s an entirely different thing to get through 6 at a time! It’s hard, it’s tiring, and it’s easy to lose focus. So, the only want to work on your stamina and timing is to practice. This upcoming weekend and week is the perfect time to get that in, and really make sure you are practicing in test like conditions, or as close as possible.
Start to work on memory and recall. Yes, there are things you just NEED to remember. This week, and until the day of the exam, take 5-10 minute chunks to work on memory. See this post for more on memory: https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/02/memorization-v-understanding.html
Finally the days leading up to the exam, the weekend before, take some time to relax. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s important.
Here is a little timeline to help:
Four Days Before the Bar Exam
This should be your last day of “heavy lifting” activities. Complete a set of 50 timed MBE questions. Complete a set of three MEE questions, timed. Complete a full-length timed MPT. Do not pick and choose between these – do all of them. This is the last day you will do practice that improves your stamina and timing. Remember, you should be doing these things all week, but four days before the exam is your cut off point.
Three Days Before the Bar Exam
In terms of bar exam preparation, today you should complete 15 to 20 MBE questions, complete one timed MEE question, outline three to five additional MEE questions, and complete one full-length timed MPT. You are tapering off. This isn’t an exact science – the point is that you are practicing, so you will feel prepared, but you aren’t tiring yourself out.
This is also the day to do something relaxing for yourself – watch a movie, go on a run. Do something that is going to make you feel less stressed. You should also be sure to go to bed early and eat well. Yes, that sounds like “mothering” but it’s good advice. On the days of the exam you will NEED to be well rested and refreshed.
Two Days Before the Bar Exam
Rinse and repeat yesterday. Today you should complete 15 to 20 MBE questions, complete one timed MEE question, outline three to five additional MEE questions, and complete one full-length timed MPT.
Take some more time to do something relaxing for yourself to help relieve some of that bar exam stress. And again - you should be sure to go to bed early and eat well.
Also, when I say do something relaxing for yourself, that can be almost anything that makes you happy. The point is to get out of your head a bit, and give yourself a break. I realize it might seem like the worst time to take a break, but it’s not. Your brain needs to feel “fresh” on exam days. Think of it like running a marathon – you don’t run 26.2 miles, or even 13 miles, the day before the marathon. You’d be exhausted. The days leading up to the actual marathon you might run 1-5 miles and stretch, and relax, and eat pasta. This is your mental marathon, so treat your brain accordingly.
One Day Before the Bar Exam
Today you should lighten the mental lift even more. Review your flashcards and other memory devices. Outline three to five MEE questions. Do five MBE questions to keep your brain in the practice of thinking through MBE questions without overly taxing it.
You also want to make sure you have everything ready for tomorrow. What types of ID do you need? What are you allowed to bring in with you to the exam? Make sure to have all those items pulled together and ready to go. Make sure your laptop is fully charged. And as silly as it sounds, map out how you will get to the exam location (if you are going to a location). Do you need to worry about parking? Are you taking a train? Do not leave anything to chance. Most of you, but not all, are currently looking at virtual exams. So do you have a good space to take the exam? Do you know how you will log in? What the timing is? Etc?
Finally, relax. You’ve put in so many hours, weeks, months of preparation – you’ve got this. Take some time to relax and unwind before bed. Eat a simple meal that will sit well with your potentially uneasy stomach. Lastly, head to bed a bit earlier than usual to account for nerves keeping you awake.
Day One of the Bar Exam
Today is the day. Make sure you are on time for check in and have everything with you. Today is filled with the MPT and MEE. At the lunch break and after the day of testing ends, do not talk with others about the contents of the exam. Invariably, one of you will think you saw a subject the other did not spot – and you won’t know who was right or wrong until you get your final bar results, so there is no benefit to discussing such matters now. Doing so will only freak you out and add to your anxiety.
After the testing day is complete, eat dinner and mentally decompress. If you must, review a few flashcards – perhaps the ones you still struggle with and want just one more run at. But this is not the time to do any serious review or learning because your brain is tired from today and needs to rest up for tomorrow. What is there is there. Have confidence that your hard work will pay off tomorrow!
Day Two of the Bar Exam
It is almost over! Today you will tackle the MBE and then – be done! After the testing day is over, just like yesterday – do not talk about the exam! Instead, relax, take a nap, celebrate!
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
If you are taking the February Bar Exam, you might be currently feeling the panic of how much you have to memorize. Well, don't! I know, easier said than done, so let me give you some tips.
Full disclosure - this is from an upcoming book, The Ultimate Guide to the UBE, written with my co-authors Toni Miceli and Tania Shah. (I have edited it slightly for brevity)
So hopefully this helps you tackle all the memorizing you need to do. And remember, it doesn't feel like you have much time, but you DO, just use it wisely!
Why Not Just Memorize?
First of all, memorization is a bad word. We hate it. We want you to remember, or recall, but not memorize. Why do we make such a big deal about this? Well, for a couple reasons:
First, our brain is awful at memorization. Briefly, we have short term memory, long term memory, and memory retrieval. Short term memory can also be called working memory. It’s like a short picture that only lasts a few minutes. Next is long term memory, where memories are stored for – you guessed it – the long term. And finally, memory retrieval, or the ability to pull that information out of long-term storage so you can actually use it. This is the piece you are concerned with for the bar exam and it is also the most difficult to achieve.
So, your aim isn’t really to “memorize” – that is just putting information into storage, perhaps without understanding what it even means or how to apply it. Your aim is to remember the information and be able to recall it when you need it on the exam. Recall means that you can remember a concept AND remember how to apply that concept. If you have only memorized the law, but don’t sufficiently understand it, you won’t be able to effectively apply the law.
Also, if you focus on memorization, instead of learning, you will get overwhelmed and stressed. It is pretty much not humanly possible to memorize ALL the law that is tested on the bar exam, so if you are striving for memorization, you are already fighting a losing battle. Striving to memorize that much law verbatim is a stressor you just don’t need.
Conversely, if you work to understand the law, meaning you have a general understanding of the concepts, the recall part comes naturally, without the struggle. We once had a student who had taken the bar 13 times before he met us. After working with him, we realized he had memorized all of the rules, and we mean verbatim. He could tell you the rule number, and the exact wording. But he kept failing because he didn’t know how to apply the rules he memorized to the question. We want more for you – so stick with us and learn just how to get to that magical recall stage!
Okay – So There Is Some Memorization Involved
Even though we stress that recall and understanding is better than memorization, there ARE some things you will need to memorize. After all, whether it’s an essay or MBE question, you need a rule before you can start to do your analysis. In addition, there are some rules where it is important to know it verbatim, such as the various standards of review in constitutional law. So, what CAN you do to make that memorization process a little easier?
- The Power of Story and Emotion
Let’s start with a story. Memory is often tied to stories, and strong emotions. That is why our autobiographical information is easy to recall. We might smell a certain food, and fondly remember a lovely family celebration we had as a child. These memories are typically vivid and strong. That’s because we process them as stories, not facts. If you are at a party, you don’t focus on individual details to remember, like the color of the walls, or the music playing, and consciously try to memorize it. You remember it because it’s happening to you – it’s a story. In addition, you are more likely to have a vivid memory of that party if you are feeling a strong emotion, usually intense happiness.
So, how do you make this work for bar review? The act of studying doesn’t make for a good story, and you aren’t likely to feel very strong emotions (at least not about the material you are studying). You may be feeling frustration, or stress, but those feelings actually have a counterproductive impact on memory.
That means it’s up to you to manufacture stories and happiness for the bar exam. Don’t just stare at outlines, or black letter law. Instead, complete more and more practice questions, which are, themselves, stories. Or, even better, make up new hypotheticals of your own – the more ridiculous the better. If you’ve seen any of us lecture on any bar topic, you know we love crazy stories. We are sure our students often roll their eyes and wonder why we are being ridiculous. But it’s to help with memory. The more absurd or ridiculous our examples, the more likely you are to remember the law!
Also, manufacture happiness, as much as you can. Studies have shown that people who are placed in a room with simple smiling faces do better on memory tasks. So, surround yourself with happy photos or pictures of your pets. Call one another on zoom and make up ridiculous hypotheticals until you are all laughing. You don’t have to be happy about taking the bar exam to manufacture happiness that will help you be properly prepared for the bar exam.
Remember how we mentioned that practice questions are actually stories? That means that each MBE fact pattern you read, and each essay hypothetical you mark up, are stories that you can hold onto! So, not only will practice questions make you better at tackling the actual essays or MBE questions on your bar exam, but practice questions give your brain stories to hold on to, which also helps your memory! For instance, if you are trying to memorize the rule for parol evidence, completing 10 MBE questions on parol evidence, and then really reviewing the answer and explanation for each question and learning from each question, will serve you much more than just reviewing your outline over and over again. Actively engaging with the material trumps passive reading and re-reading of the material every time.
In cognitive psychology, chunking is a process by which a larger unit of information is broken down into smaller units (or chunks) of information, that are easier to retain in your memory. Research shows that your brain can typically only remember 7 items at once. By chunking related items together into these smaller chunks, you are reducing the number of items your brain has to remember.
So, what does chunking information mean for you and your bar exam preparation? The short answer is that chunking is going to help you memorize learn the law you need for the bar exam, and help you group it in ways that will assist you in both recalling and applying it, as needed. So, the first step in chunking is to think not just about how the pieces of information relate to each other, but also about how you will need to use the information. This is one reason we place practice so highly. When you go to memorize the law, you can’t memorize it in a vacuum.
Spacing It Out So You Don’t Space Out
Your brain learns more effectively when you space out information. Think of it like this: If you are building a brick wall, you need to let the mortar in between the bricks dry before you stack even more bricks on top, or the wall will topple. Similarly, you let one coat of paint dry before you put on another. The same is true with memory. By taking strategically placed breaks between study, we can improve our memory of that material. So how does this work? Read on!
- Let’s Begin with the Forgetting Curve
It is almost universally accepted that memories decay over time. The good news is that researchers have discovered that we can predict when those memories will begin to decay. This is known as the forgetting curve. In 1885, psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that beginning just after a person learns new information, their ability to remember that information (or recall it) starts to decay. He tracked how much information his subjects could recall over time, and discovered that the greater the period of time in between the subject taking in the new information and being asked to recall it, the smaller amount of that information the subjects were able to recall. However, Ebbinghaus also discovered that while the initial rate of decline in recall is fairly steep, the rate of decay declines with time. This means that memories that “survive” become less likely to be lost over time. This also means that the longer you are able to retain a memory in the initial stage, the slower the information will decay over time
- The Spacing Effect
So, how do you slow down this memory loss, or memory decay? The answer lies in spacing out your study. Spacing out learning and review helps adjust the forgetting curve. If you allow longer periods of time in between review sessions, you’ll improve memory.
Now, the trouble with the spacing effect for purposes of your bar exam preparation is that you really have too much learn, and not enough time to learn it in! So, what can you do instead? You can still apply the concept of spacing but pair it with something called interleaving.
Interleaving is mixing subjects up as you study. So, while normal, or “blocked”, practice is the idea that you will study one concept, or topic, until you feel comfortable and then move on, interleaving is the mixing of those subjects. Interleaving has been shown to be more effective than blocked practice for developing problem solving skills, and also leads to long term memory retention – both things useful for the bar exam!
Interleaving also forces the brain to continually retrieve information, which is also something you need for the bar exam because each MBE or essay prompt is different from the last, which means your short term memory won’t help you. Interleaving also improves the brain’s ability to differentiate between concepts. Again, something you need for the bar exam!
So what is the catch? Well, because interleaving involves retrieval practice, it feels more difficult than blocked practice. So, it’s going to feel worse. It’s going to feel like you aren’t understanding concepts. So, it’s important to remind yourself that while this style of studying feels worse, it has better long-term results. Think of interleaving like working out; you know it’s working when you are sore the next morning.
So, each day during your bar exam preparation study a variety of topics. Yes, there will be instances where it makes more sense to focus on one topic for a few hours. But if you are looking to increase your ability to recall the information, make sure you are switching in between torts and contracts, and then civil procedure, and then property, and so forth.
Another version of interleaving, which isn’t quite as effective, but is still helpful, is to change how or what you are studying. Don’t spend one full day practicing MBE questions, and then another full day practicing essays. Similarly, don’t spend one day completely listening to videos, or reviewing outlines. Instead, complete 15 MBE questions, and then write out one essay, and then review some flashcards, and so forth. The more you are making your brain jump between topics and activities, the more your brain has to work, and that means your brain is more likely to recall the information you are studying. You are also less likely to lose focus or get bored, which again, means you are more likely to recall the information.
- The Testing Effect
Finally, to our favorite part of the puzzle – the testing effect. We mentioned before that practice increases memory. We regularly hear students stress over getting questions wrong during practice and review. While we understand why they might get frustrated, they are missing the point of the practice – by testing yourself, you are actually increasing the odds that you will remember that concept the next time it appears before you.
Basically, people recall previously-learned information at a higher rate when they have tested themselves, versus just passively observing or reading the information. This is why we encourage you to complete more practice questions instead of merely reviewing your outline. There is a time and place for passive review, but your memory really gets better each time you actively engage with the material by testing yourself on it.
In addition, while testing without feedback will help with recall, the effect is even stronger when the testing is associated with meaningful feedback. So, what does this mean for you? Make sure to fully review each and every answer and explanation, whether it is an MBE question or an essay question! In fact, that is one of the purposes of this book: reviewing with meaningful reflection and feedback.
Finally, as you practice bar exam questions, don’t think of doing practice questions as assessment, or as an indicator of how much you know. While practice questions can be both of those things, we want you to start thinking of practice questions as a way to increase long term memory!
Studies show that self-testing even a single time can be as effective as reviewing information five times. One study gave students a schedule to learn vocabulary words, some including testing and some including studying. A week later, the students who did the testing remembered 80% of the vocabulary words, while non-testing students only remembered 35% of the vocabulary words. Now, first, we should point out that memorizing vocabulary words is easier than memorizing legal concepts. In addition, the bar exam is asking you to APPLY those legal concepts, which you can’t do with memory alone. So think about it – do you want to do one multiple choice question, or review your flash card five times? We think the answer is pretty clear.
So – what’s the takeaway from this chapter? Well, practice definitely makes prepared because it helps your memory and your recall. And again – breaks are still a good idea!
Saturday, January 23, 2021
There's exciting research concerning the relationship between student engagement, academic success, and bar exam success.
In brief, according to AccessLex, research findings "suggest the probability of bar passage is highest not only among those who consistently perform well in law school, but also among those who have a rocky start but improve along the way." And, based on work of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) organization and others, student engagement is a powerful tool that can lend a hand in helping students improve academic performance.
Now, AccessLex and LSSSE are looking to partner with more law schools to conduct further empirical research into this exciting field of possibilities. [In my mind, I picture a triangle to illustrate the learning relationship: The Legal Education "Learning Triangle" ].
To learn more, AccessLex and LSSSE is hosting a free webinar on January 26, at 2 pm EST. If you've ever wondered about the relationship between student engagement and success, now's the chance to learn more. And, now's the chance to participate in empirical research for the public good.
Here's the link for more details and to register:
Sunday, January 17, 2021
The AASE Bar Advocacy Committee would like to make you aware of an online conference devoted to bar licensure. The Law and Leadership Conference sponsored by Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School is an important annual event that draws scholars, noted judiciary, and practitioners.
Each year, BYU Law School invites leaders on an issue of current importance to discuss how we might change the world for the better using our legal education. Following the historic decision by several states, including Utah, to adopt an emergency diploma privilege in the summer of 2020 and recognizing the known racial, gender, and other biases present in traditional bar examinations, this year’s topic is “Paths to Bar Licensure.” In 2020, a pandemic and global racial upheaval have combined to trigger a reconsideration of bar examinations as the gateway to licensure. In this conference, we will examine the features and shortcomings of the bar examination and other potential paths to bar licensure.
The committee encourages those concerned about the future of the bar exam and entry into the legal profession to attend and participate in this free event. Keynote speakers include Dean Emeritus and Professor Joan Howarth, and Professor Deborah Jones Merritt. Our own Bar Advocacy Committee Chair, Marsha Griggs, will be a panelist at this event. The ASP voice is crucial to the discussion about the future of bar admissions and the licensure process. We owe it to ourselves and the students we serve to stay in the know on proposed changes to the exam format and coverage and the alternate paths to practice. We hope to see our community continue to engage, on a national scale, in discussion forums like these.
Register for the Conference here.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
When I was a kid, I saw an episode of the TV series Maude that was broadcast on November 1, 1976 – the day before Election Day. Maude, the assertive main character, was trying to convince everyone to write in Henry Fonda for President. When her featherbrained neighbor Vivian asked Maude why she was in such a rush to get the idea out, Maude looked at her severely and explained that the election was happening tomorrow.
“Tomorrow?!” exclaimed Vivian. “And it seems like only yesterday it was Halloween!”
Well, today, with the results of the October bar exam barely in hand for many examinees, we have leapt right back into preparation for the February exam. Perhaps the final casualty of the Endless Summer is the strict reduction of time to process the relationship between all that happened before the exam and the results that came out of it. Individuals who just found out in late December or early January that they did not pass have had to decide very quickly whether to register for the February exam. A California repeat examinee could still register next week, with as few as 32 days left before the exam is administered. And while many states and law schools have seen an increase in bar pass rates compared to July of 2019, we have entered the February bar study period without some of the data we might ordinarily use to assess the reasons for any changes in passage rates. At least here in New York, some of the granular data about subject-matter performance on the MBE portion has not been provided, and information about statewide trends have only been reported in the most general terms. This makes it harder to determine the effects of the delay, of the changes in format and delivery, and of strategies adopted or resources provided in response.
Tomorrow is February?! It seems like only yesterday it was October!
Thus, even though the February bar exam represents a great stride towards “normalcy” in many jurisdictions – in that it will be delivered on a traditional set date, with typical full UBE content – this will still be an unusual administration, affected by ripples of the pandemic. Some repeat examinees will be facing a compressed study period, although I have observed that a least a portion of them, perhaps spurred to greater-than-normal pessimism under the circumstances, began preparing prophylactically even before scores were announced. In any case, those of us who work with repeating graduates may be asked to provide additional support.
More frustrating to me is having to determine what aspects of the support provided to our examinees over the five months between graduation and the October bar would be most advantageously replicated over the next two months. The extended prep period was, I felt, grueling for all involved, but it provided time and motivation for examinees and teachers alike to try new strategies. Based on our results, some of these strategies appear to have beneficial. But which ones? And are they replicable between now and the end of February, or were they successful because, and not in spite of, the long stretch of time before the October administration? Without all the information I wish I had, this feels in some ways similar to what many of us had to do this summer: reacting to a novel situation without certainty, and ending up (very likely) relying in part on intuition and extraordinary effort.
Hopefully, knock on wood, fingers crossed, things won't feel this way come summer 2021. For now, the one thing I am fairly certain played an important part in my examinees' performance that is likely replicable now was the increased sense of camaraderie and support that they reported as a result of the very high-touch summer and fall. With so many changes so frequently, and with unbelievable levels of anxiety among bar studiers (who on the whole are not typically known for tranquil, detached attitudes), I initiated what would turn out to be bi-weekly (or more frequent) Zoom meetings to pass along news, share strategies, and provide opportunities for feedback. Already feeling isolated by the pandemic, the students reported that these meetings helped them feel connected to each other and to the school, and it appears they took more advantage of the resources we made available (including lots of one-on-one meetings with me). This was kind of a form of intrusive counseling. It seems to have worked, at least under those recent conditions, which in some ways are still ongoing. So, while I am still hoping to develop more clarity about how other specifics contributed to examinees' performance, this is one lesson I took from yesterday that I can apply today to help my examinees prepare for tomorrow.
Friday, December 11, 2020
The Legal Skills Prof. Blog had 2 great posts recently that I want to pass along. The first is about a piece written by Deborah Jones Merritt. She advocates for a new bar exam that would be significantly more statistically valid. The Legal Skills post is here. You can also read her full article Building a Better Bar: The 12 Building Blocks of Minimum Competence.
The other post relates to cognitive challenges in teaching. It begins with "I have a feeling my co-blogger Scott is going to love this one (it's right up his alley). It's a new article I stumbled across called "The Cognitive Challenges of Effective Teaching" by Professors Stephen L. Chew (Stamford) and William J. Cerbin (U. Wisc.) that pulls together an extensive body of cognitive science research into a nine point framework to guide and inform classroom teaching." The post is a great summary of the 9 points, and the full article is worth the read.
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
I write this, or some variation of it, a few times a year. And I do so because I feel passionately that it needs to be heard. Many of you are getting Bar Exam Results right now, and if the news is good, great! Congrats! However, for some of you, the news is less than idea. That's ok too. Read on!
First and foremost, this does not define you. Trust me, we have all heard stories of prominent lawyers, judges, and politicians that have failed the bar, sometimes multiple times. I could make you a list of all of the successful lawyers that were unsuccessful on the bar exam their first time. In fact, you likely have bosses, professors, or have met judges or elected officials that have failed the bar, and you might not even know! That's because failing the bar does not define them. If you try to make a list, you won’t find “failed the bar” on Wikipedia pages, or official biographies, or resumes. It’s not because it’s some secret shame, but because no one cares. In 5-10 years, no one will care how many times it took you to pass the bar. In fact, they won’t care in 6 months or a year. It seems like a defining moment right now, but it isn’t. Your defining moments come from the way you treat clients, the way you treat colleagues, and what you choose to do with your license once you have it.
So, take a few days to be upset, it’s ok. Also, remind yourself that you are in a pandemic! And for most of you, the goal posts around the exam kept changing. There was so much extra stress involved in this last Bar Exam, and to be honest, so much extra stress in life. Sure, you might be sitting here thinking that you don't want to make excuses, and that's admirable. But, this isn't an excuse, it's reality. You were likely studying for, or taking the exam, in less than ideal circumstances. So, given that, cut yourself some slack.
Then, remember that you don't owe anyone an explanation. No one. Yes, you have a duty to be honest. If you currently have a law related job, or are in the hiring process, yes, you have to tell your employer or future employer. And you can't pretend to be licensed when you are not. But beyond that, you don't have to explain this to well meaning family or friends, or anyone else. However, you also want to trust me when I say that more people will understand than you think, and very few people will judge.
So finally, dust yourself off, and start looking towards the next bar. Also, remember that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s a part of success. Every successful lawyer has failed – on the bar, at trial, in a negotiation, not getting a job. Every failed politician has lost a race. Every failed Olympian has lost a game or a match. That failure is a normal way to achieves success in the future. However, for that to be true, you have to learn from failure. So, what can you do?
FIRST: Look at your score (if your state gives you the breakdown) and request back your essays (if you can). It's going to be hard, you likely don't want to look back. But you can learn so much from those scores and the essays!
Once you have your essays, I want you to do a couple things. Review your answers. Now that you are removed from the day of writing, what do you notice? If possible, compare them to the sample answers. See if you can pick out patterns. Don’t just focus on the conclusions, or the issues spotted. Did the sample answers use more facts? Or have a more in depth analysis? Be honest with yourself. Also, if you have a varied set of scores (one essay is a 1, while another is a 5) compare the 2. What is the difference? Don’t just shrug it off as you know one subject better. Pay attention to the writing in both.
THEN: Look at your score. How close or far away are you from passing? Did you do better on a certain subject? Is your written score considerably better than your MBE score? This is an excellent place to start. Some things to keep in mind:
- If your essay score is higher than your MBE, it may be tempting to place most of your energy into MBE practice, and forget about essays. This will only result in your score “swapping.” So, while it is good to note that you might need more work on the MBE, don’t forget that you aren’t carrying the score wit you so you still need to practice essays. The reverse is true if you did better on MBE than the essays.
- Perhaps you did really well on the torts MBE, but your lowest score was civil procedure. Again, do not just focus on civil procedure, and forget other subjects. Your scores will just swap places, and not improve overall.
- You might be only 2 points away from passing. Great! However, your score is still starting from scratch. Meaning, in one sense, you only need 2 more points, but that’s not how the bar works, obviously. You have to still work to get the points you already got AGAIN, and it is likely you forgot things, and are out of practice.
NEXT: Think about external factors, ya know, like a pandemic!
Did something unrelated to the bar impact your studying? Perhaps a health issue, physical or mental? Perhaps a family emergency, or ongoing family issues? Did you have a good place to study? Or time? Much of this might have been beyond your control, and it might feel like you are searching for excuses, but really, you are analyzing the situation so you can create a plan moving forward.
Have you suffered from anxiety in general or related to exams? If you do, are you being treated for the anxiety?
These things can and will impact your studying. Not matter how much time and effort you put in, if you are not physically and mentally healthy, you won’t process the information correctly.
Not to mention, if there is something in your life that is distracting you, that will also impact how you process information, which will impact your score.
REVIEW: Your study habits!
The most important thing you can do is practice. Many bar students get caught up in trying to memorize every sing law, or master every subject. While this is admirable, and takes quite a bit of time and effort. However, mastering the bar is a SKILL. You need to practice. When I work with repeat takers, I often find that they knew the law, and they studied hard, but didn’t practice enough essays or enough timed MBE.
This matters for a few reasons. One is timing. You can know all the law in the world, but if you can’t write an essay in 30 minutes, you will struggle to get the scores you need. Similarly, doing 100 MBE questions in 3 hours is not easy, even if you DO know the law. You need to practice the timing, and practice for the stamina.
Secondly, the skill being tested on the bar is applying the law to the unique set of facts. Yes, you need to know the law to do this, but knowing the law is not enough. You need to practice the application.
This means that writing essays, fully out, not just passively reading sample answers or issue spotting, is key. It has to be a priority in studying.
In fact, all of your studying should be active. Don’t focus on rewriting, or reviewing, outline after outline. Again, yes, you need to know the law, but you are also more likely to remember the law if you apply it – in MBE questions, writing essays, and so forth.
FINALLY: Meet with your Academic Success Professor, if you have one. We are here to help, I promise! I always hope that if my students aren't successful, they will come see me right away. We want you to! And we want to help you go through those essays and that score report, and create a game plan. Trust us, it's what we do! Maybe you don't know why one of your essays was given a 1, while another was a 5. We are trained to help you! We can help you with all of the above!
LAST: Change it up. Your Academic Success Professor can likely help you identify ways to change the way you studied, or identify different resources you might use.
Also, don't forget about non standard testing accommodations. I've had students fail the bar because they use non standard testing accommodations all through law school, and then decide not to apply for those same accommodations on the Bar Exam! That's just silly. You are entitled to them. Yes, the application process can be frustrating, but at least try.
Finally, if you don't have an Academic Success Professor to help you out, here are some resources that I give to my students:
CALI lessons! Which are free, always a bonus!
- CALI Lessons on improving multiple choice:
- CALI Lessons on improving memory: https://www.cali.org/lesson/18157
- CALI Lesson on issue spotting: https://www.cali.org/lesson/18169
- CALI Lesson on improving analysis: https://www.cali.org/lesson/18171
Other Resources, sadly not free, but some can be helpful. If you do have an Academic Success Professor, they might have discount codes, or other ways to help you get the below resources.
- Adaptibar: https://www.adaptibar.com/
- Strategies and Tactics for the MBE: https://www.amazon.com/Strategies-Tactics-MBE-Bar-Review/dp/1543805728/ref=sr_1_1?gclid=CjwKCAiA-vLyBRBWEiwAzOkGVArOgksVIJF-Ay7c5WMFApM2Dic8N2-DFZSxm95A23E0b-sHif7OthoCQmQQAvD_BwE&hvadid=241627170717&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9021760&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=7692014818673609309&hvtargid=aud-840076997981%3Akwd-555060935&hydadcr=22595_10356262&keywords=strategies+and+tactics+for+the+mbe&qid=1583177627&sr=8-1
- Private tutors, which can help you create a plan and personalized study process. I send my students to:
Above all else, don't give up! I'll say it again, this does NOT define you, not as a person, not as a future lawyer. This is one small hiccup on your road to a fantastic career. And it's frustrating yes, but you WILL get past it!
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Ben Barros will be moderating two panels featuring representatives of the NCBE at the upcoming AALS Annual Meeting. He is seeking your questions for the first panel. Please send questions to him at email@example.com. Here are the panel descriptions:
Saturday, January 9, 2021, 1:15 – 2:30 pm Eastern
National Conference on Bar Examiners - A Conversation With the Bar Examiners
This session will be a moderated discussion with representatives of the NCBE. Topics will include the basics of test design, validity, reliability, question development, cut scores, scaling, subject matter outlines, transparency, and the impact of the bar exam on the legal profession. The panelists also will discuss the October remote bar exam and the upcoming February exam. The organizers will solicit questions in advance from law faculty, especially those who focus on academic support and bar exam success.
Saturday, January 9, 2021, 2:45 – 4 pm Eastern
National Conference on Bar Examiners - Testing Task Force Update
This session will describe the work of the NCBE’s Testing Task Force, which is engaged in a robust data-informed study of the bar exam. The session will discuss the Task Force’s methodology and results, and will outline potential changes that may come to the bar exam as a result of the Task Force’s work.
Thursday, November 12, 2020
In general, I don't believe in show and tell lectures. In particularly, I'm not convinced that a few powerpoint presentations about the benefits of mindfulness or positive growth mindsets can make much of a difference in academic performance. But, I do believe in the power of show, tell, and do experiences in changing lives for the better. And, there's research out of California funded in part by AccessLex to support my supposition.
As previously detailed, a brief intervention focused on belonging can make a big impact on undergraduate academic performance, especially for underrepresented minorities. Be-Long-Ing! It's Critical to Success (Oct. 3, 2019). Now, researchers in partnership with the State Bar of California and funding from AccessLex have expanded that work to the field of bar licensure. https://mindsetsinlegaleducation.com/bar-exam/
The brief 45-minute online program was made available to all bar takers for both the July 2018 and July 2019 California bar exams. Id. Interested bar applicants were able to freely sign-up for the program, which was timed to coincide right before bar preparation studies began. "The program include[d] an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity in which participants share[d] insights and strategies that m[ight] be useful to them and to future test takers." Id. In their research, the authors controlled for traditional bar performance predicators (LSAT and LGPA) along with psychological factors, demographic factors, and situational factors to evaluate whether the brief 45-minute intervention yielded statistically beneficial improvements in bar exam outcomes. Id.
According to a summary of the findings, "[t]hose who completed the full program and thereby received the full treatment saw their likelihood of passing the bar exam rise by 6.8-9.6%. Among all people who passed the bar after completing the program and thereby receiving the full treatment, one in six would have failed the bar if they had not participated in the program (emphasis in original)." Id. Significantly, as stated more completely in an article by the researchers, "[t}he program particularly helped applicants who were first-gen college students and underrepresented minorities, according to our analyses." Quintanilla. V., et al., Evaluating Productive Mindset Interventions that Promote Excellence on California’s Bar Exam (Jun. 25, 2020).
In finding evidence in support of the program, the authors posited a possible social-psychological explanation for the promising results:
"The California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program was designed to improve passage rates by changing how applicants think about the stress that they encounter and the mistakes that they make when studying for the exam. Our initial analyses of the effect of the program on psychological processes suggest that the program worked as intended, by reducing psychological friction. Participants appear to have succeeded in the face of stress, anxiety, and mistakes by adopting more adaptive mindsets. They moved from a stress-is-debilitating mindset to a stress-is- enhancing mindset. They learned to reappraise the anxiety they experienced. And they shifted toward meeting mistakes with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset." Id.
As I understand the research, the researchers provided bar takers with research about tactics to turn stressors from negatives into positives and engaged bar takers in implementing those strategies. In my opinion, a primary reason why the intervention was so promising rests with the last step of the intervention, in which bar takers took positive action to help future bar takers, by having bar takers write letters to future takers sharing their experiences in learning to transform frictions into pluses.
In short, the intervention empowered people to make a difference, not just for themselves, but also for future aspiring attorneys. That's a wonderful win-win opportunity. And, there's more great news. The researchers are looking for additional participants to expand the program to other jurisdictions. For details, please see the links in this blog. (Scott Johns).
Friday, November 6, 2020
The NCBE Released the Phase 3 report from the testing task force today. Phase 3 focused on test design, including method and substance. I quickly skimmed the report, and the results are interesting. One of the quotes from a panelist that jumped out at me was the exam should not test "exceptions to the exceptions". I definitely agree with that statement.
I encourage everyone to read the report and stay engaged in this process. You can find the report here.
Friday, October 30, 2020
AccessLex released additional research on the California bar exam this week. The additional study analyzed California's Supervised Provisional License Program. Here is the information for the report:
A Five-Year Retroactive Analysis of Cut Score Impact: California’s Proposed Supervised Provisional License Program: http://ssrn.com/abstract=3716951.
Over the last 6 months, we witnessed ASPers along with other faculty members publish numerous pieces on the bar exam. I am encouraged that we are actively engaging the community to build a better test. I hope we continue to advocate for our students until the test reflects an appropriate assessment of competence.
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Hat tip to Prof. Natalie Rodriguez!
Speaking of hope, here's a new article entitled "Building a Better Bar: The Twelve Building Blocks of Minimum Competency." https://iaals.du.edu/publications/building-better-bar The prelude argues that bar exams should be open book, using written problems only (no multiple-choice questions), set in practice settings, with more time for responding to questions.
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Here's a quick read describing the concrete steps and the rationale behind those steps that led to increases in bar exam success for one law school's graduates. But be forewarned. It didn't happen due to sudden magical moments as students prepared for their bar exams. Rather, as Professor O.J. Salinas documents, the remedy took shape as a community-wide effort right from the start of their students' legal educational experience as 1L students. O.J. Salinas, Improving Bar Exam Success: Curricular Changes at the University of North Carolina, The Bar Examiners (Summer 2019).
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
As I write these words, my former students are busily working through the final session of the most unusual and stress-inducing bar examination I have ever known – one that has been twice delayed, resulting in erratic study schedules and lost employment opportunities; that is being delivered entirely online using new software, after the cancellation and hacking of online exams in other jurisdictions this summer; that permitted registration only to certain groups of law school graduates, some of whom waited on tenterhooks for weeks before finding out that they would be permitted, or not permitted, to take the exam; and that examinees had to prepare for in the midst of a global pandemic and one of the most contentious political environments in the past 150 years. The last five months have provided a cavalcade of anxiety, uncertainty, pessimism, and anger, marching in different permutations through opinion pieces, Facebook posts, public hearings, Twitter threads, and Zoom discussions, week by week, right up until yesterday at noon, when the examinees finally had to slay the dragon.
And yet. Here we are, 30 minutes or so from the end, and mostly . . . things seem okay.
Except for the odd momentary computer freeze, I have not yet received any panicked reports of tech problems – no crashed programs, no lost data. The dozen or so graduates testing on campus have been in cautiously good spirits and have reported that they felt the test has been fair. The graduates testing at home have largely been quiet, though I encouraged them to reach out to me if they encountered any difficulties.
This is lucky, to be sure. Although in the media (social and traditional) I found no reports of widespread, catastrophic system failure, there are plenty of individual reports of examinees losing data, having trouble with facial recognition software, or simply being unable to get the testing program to work. According to ExamSoft, the company whose software delivers the exam, 98.4% of the estimated 40,000 examinees had successfully started the exam by late Monday. Even if some people chose at the last minute not to take the test, that still leaves potentially several hundred frustrated examinees.
So far, my graduates have not reported problems. Still, we might just be in the eye of the hurricane. It remains to be seen if everyone can upload all the required answer and video files before tomorrow night’s deadline. An overly fastidious review of the video files captured by the remote proctoring program could lead to objectionable disputes or even disqualifications. And it is impossible to predict what the grading will be like, given the smaller number of questions, limited pool of examinees, and delay in administration, compared to an ordinary bar exam. If the results that come out in December are wildly different from those of previous years, there may be complaints that it was too hard – or too easy.
Nevertheless, the facts that we have now arrived at the end of day two of the remote examination without witnessing the “barpocalypse” some had predicted, and that we have not yet arrived at any foreseeable end to the pandemic that forced remote testing in the first place, suggest that we should at least be thinking about preparing for another remote test in February. There may be other approaches to bar admission, such as diploma privilege, that we should continue to advocate for. But there was always the danger/promise that a relatively successful remote administration would lessen resistance to future remote exams.
I am pleased to see that – at least according to the early reports from my students – the nature of the remote exam seems to have caused far less distress than the delay and uncertainty that preceded it, and which hopefully will be avoided in the future. And I am enormously proud of the effort, attitude, and skills that these examinees displayed under such extreme conditions as they prepared for and then took the exam. But the fact that the remote exam was not a total disaster does not mean that it couldn’t have worked better, or that no examinees were unfairly disadvantaged or prevented from testing. If we have to have another round of remote testing in February, let us continue to press for ongoing improvement in its administration.
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Just off the press, and not a minute too late, is an ABA article by author Sara Berman with advice for the most recent law school graduates, whether having already taken a bar exam or preparing to take the bar exam this month. https://abaforlawstudents.com/2020/09/01/preparing-for-the-bar-exam-and-practice-during-a-pandemic/.
Here's a few tidbits from the article:
(1) As lawyers (or soon-to-be lawyers), you are an essential worker because democracy and the pursuit of justice depends on the sacrifices, the integrity, and your legal skills.
(2) You've got a inspirational story to share with employers, having successfully navigated the transition to socially-distant learning, with both the completion of your law school studies and preparation for your bar exam. What you've gone through will make you a better attorney in the long-run, so liberally share the lessons you've learned with prospective employers and attorneys and judges.
(3) Stay flexible as you march forward in your pursuit of your legal career, remembering in your heart of hearts that all of your hard work has been more than a worthwhile pursuit because you will soon be joining the bar as a critical "guardian of democracy." Id.
Let me say that we - in the ASP community - are all so proud of you, admiring your flexibility and adaptability, your commitment to the pursuit of justice, and the inner strength and resolve that you have demonstrated in these unprecedented times. Personally, we have much to learn from you. So, please don't ever shy away from letting your voice be heard and your heart inspire us to be the community of practitioners that our world so desperately needs and deserves. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, September 6, 2020
The NCBE released the national MBE mean score for the jurisdictions that administered a bar exam in July. The mean was 146.1, which is a 5 point increase over last year's 141.1. I was surprised at that large of an increase based on previous announcements by the NCBE.
Erica Moeser, previous president of the NCBE, stated in 2014 that the bar examinees were “less able” and that is why nationwide MBE mean scores plummeted. She attributed the results to schools going deeper into the applicant pool because applications were down. She referred to entering credentials as one of the indicators. If she is correct, then this result doesn't make much sense. There was a decrease in 2017 law school applicants, which presumably make up the majority of the 2020 July takers, with a LSAT score of 160 and above. From 2014-2017, the number of high LSATs (160 and above) seem to decrease every year except for 2016. The continued decline should have seen a coinciding decline in MBE scores from 2017-2020. However, the July mean MBE score increased every year from 2018-2020. The previous LSAT explanation doesn't seem to coincide with the results.
The result goes beyond not following their explanation. 146.1 is the highest July mean MBE score that I can find since before 2005. The LSAT profiles do not follow that same pattern. The 2017 entering class is not the most credential entering class in the 2000s. I know my students worked hard this summer, and Mike Sim's recent quotes indicate students across the country worked hard. The good news is this is evidence students can work hard to overcome lower entering credentials. However, the NCBE should at least attempt to answer how their previous explanation is incompatible with the drastic (potentially historic) increase this year.
To the students who endured bar prep and the exam, great job. Your effort and resilience is remarkable. Effort and resilience is a great foundation to build a legal career on.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
A sharp sense of time has always been a key attribute of successful modern law students and lawyers. Awareness of deadlines, efficient time management, careful accounting of time spent -- all of these contribute to law school performance, and are usually part of a practicing lawyer's quotidian world of minimum billable hours and filing periods.
How unsettling, then, that many of our incoming, current, and recent students find themselves adrift in the time stream. New 1L students in many jurisdictions, starting their legal educations under conditions that have limited orientation activities and warped customary fall semester schedules, are not falling as easily into the clockwork demands of law school as other students have every year before them. Second- and third-year students have already been through six months of time-shifted classes and unwinding employment and internship opportunities, and are beginning a new school year very different from what they had experienced before. And around the country, many recent graduates (such as mine) have grown simultaneously complacent and anxious as their planned bar examinations have been postponed multiple times. Many students and graduates appear to take this all in stride, but it seems a significant number are manifestly affected -- falling behind on long-term projects, working with a diminishing sense of urgency or an inflated sense of panic, or having difficulty juggling responsibilities.
It feels as if the unexpected loss of schedules and signposts that so many took for granted has left some people unmoored, warping their senses of time in the same way that isolation and darkness affects cave explorers. In 1993, for example, sociologist Maurizio Montalbini spent a full year alone in an underground cavern, but because the solitude and lack of natural light had stretched his sense of time, he believed that only a little more than 200 days had passed.
Human beings need cues to help keep our sense of time on track. In a new situation, or one that has changed drastically, we may not perceive sufficient cues to keep us oriented, and we may not even be aware that we are slipping. We can help our students and recent graduates maintain their crucial awareness of the time they have -- and of the time they need to achieve their goals -- by providing supplemental cues. Introducing students to their professors' expectations over the course of the (in some cases altered) new semester, and touching base with reminders of upcoming opportunities and deadlines, may help anchor them when classes are asynchronous and gatherings are infrequent. Weekly emails, frequent online group meetings, and providing and reviewing supplementary materials can help bar examinees feel less disconnected and more engaged in this interminable bar study period. And frequent communication with our colleagues in other departments and schools -- learning their plans for the semester, sharing ideas and insights, and organizing joint efforts -- can help us retain our own sharp senses of time -- especially important if we are going to serve as the touchstones to others.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
It's been many months that some of our Spring 2020 graduates have been waiting to take postponed bar exams. Florida, for example, just recently postponed its postponed exam, from July to August and now to October. If that sounds exhaustingly frustrating, it is... So here's a suggestion for the many September/October bar takers that might just help rekindle a bit of the flames of learning:
Get your heads out of the books and instead take time each day to work through some of the latest current events because much that is in the news also relates to bar tested problem-solving.
For example, take today's federal court indictment following the early morning arrest of former White House adviser Steve Bannon on conspiracy charges: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-bannon-idUSKBN25G1J4. Try locating the indictment and the arrest warrant. Once found, here's a few things to ponder: (1) What authority if any does Congress have to adopt the criminal statutes that are the basis of today's indictment? (2) Did the federal government have probable cause to arrest Steve Bannon, and, if so, why? and, (3) What are the elements that the government must prove for the conspiracy charges?
Here's another possible bar-issue in the news: Many businesses and restaurants are delinquent on rent contracts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, some business owners are seeking rent abatement. Others are seeking reimbursement from their insurance contracts. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulrosen/2020/03/26/what-happens-with-contracts-amid-the-covid-19-pandemic/#774454d342af These sorts of things raise a number of bar issues, such as, (1) What contract law applies to these contracts? (2) Do the defendants have any contract defenses, such as impossibility? and, (3) How should courts interpret force majeure clauses?
Finally, here's another news item to tickle a bit of bar exam intrigue. This case involves whether a lawyer has a defamation claim against an online reviewer when the review stated that the lawyer "needed to go back to law school." https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/need-to-go-back-to-law-school-comment-isnt-libelous-appeals-court-rules After reading the article, here's some thoughts to ask: (1) What are the elements of defamation? (2) If you were an appellate court judge, would you reverse the lower court's decision on whether the statement was actionable and why or why not? and, (3) Does the lawyer have any First Amendment issues as a member of the bar (a public officer of the bar?) and why or why not?
Of course, there are lots more issues in the news, from the COVID-19 pandemic to election interference to protester arrests to lawsuits against the President seeking TRO's and PI's, etc. Search them out. Find the civil or criminal complaints. Figure out whether the courts have personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. Focus on the substantive elements. If it's a civil case, figure out if you could intervene as a party in the case. Work through how you would rule or litigate these matters. In short, this is not time to turn your backs on the news. Our world needs your voices now more than ever. So, over the course of the next month or two in preparation for postponed bar exams, feel free to take breaks from the books and take time to talk through and work out what's happening in the legal news of today. And in the process, you'll be learning more about the law. (Scott Johns).
P.S. Not sure how to get started, here's a helpful link with summaries of current legal news-making events: https://www.abajournal.com/news/
P.S.S. For entering first-year law students, taking a gander through the daily news in academic support groups can help bring life to the law, whether they are studying contracts, or torts, or constitutional law, for example.