Thursday, January 14, 2021
I just got out of class. An online zoom class, not surprisingly. But, in reflection of the first class, I had a bit of a surprise. I did a whole lot of talking and talking and then, even more, talking. You see, I took a glance at the audio transcript file. And it was quite an eye-popper.
I did most of the talking, which means that my students did very little.
It makes me wonder whether I left enough time in the midst of my words for my students to learn. I once heard a brilliant teacher say something to the effect that "the less that I talk the more that they [my students] learn."
Of course, as the saying goes, the "proof is in the pudding."
Which leads to my next surprise. I try to end classes with asking students one thing that they learned along with one thing that they didn't understand. Well as you might expect, I didn't leave enough time for the last question because, you guessed it, I spent too much time talking.
But, in response to the first question, what they learned, well, they learned about what I liked (snickers!) and where I ate lunch on the first day of the bar exam (the liquor store since I forgot my lunch), etc. In other words, it seems like they learned a great deal about me but perhaps not as much about bar preparation, which is the subject of our course.
Lesson learned, especially for online teaching...speak less and listen more. In short, trust them to learn by learning together, as a team, rather than just trying to pound information into their heads. I sure learned a lot today. Next class...my students are going to learn plenty too! (Scott Johns)
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.
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!
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).
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).
Sunday, October 4, 2020
Tiger Woods may be the best golfer ever, and he started swinging clubs when he started walking. He engaged in deliberate practice and prepared mentally as early as 6. He is the epitome of hyper-specialization. Todd Marinovich experienced similar training in football. His father was the strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders, and he started training his son when he was extremely young. His dad planned for him to play quarterback and make it to the NFL. Marinovich set many national high school football records and did make it to the NFL. However, his NFL career ended abruptly due to off-the-field issues. His intense focus did not result in greatness in the same way as Tiger Woods. Most people believe Tiger is the hard work breeds greatness story and Marinovich is the exception. David Epstein in his book Range argues Tiger is actually the exception, and his work may provide advice for our students.
Epstein compares generalists to hyper-specialists in Range. He argues the general public sees Tiger and believes specialization early is the best way to achieve success in life. He then proceeds through the book with constant examples of individuals who were generalists with multiple areas of expertise that both succeed and out-performed the hyper-specialists. Multiple stories in the book involved teams in problem solving competitions. The teams that included different specializations solved more problems and were always more accurate. He also discussed NASA's leadership. Under leaders that encouraged cross-departmental communication, missions succeeded at higher rates. Leaders who discouraged communication encountered disasters that lost lives. His argument is people who hyper-specialize only see the problem they study, the old-saying that "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Individuals with broader knowledge have more problem-solving tools and approach situations with analogies to other areas.
The book is interesting, but also enlightening for our students. This definitely helps with career advice. I tell students to intern in different offices and specialties. They can find what they like, and they will see different perspectives. This is also important for bar preparation. I encounter students every year who worked exclusively in Criminal Law or Family Law, for example, who won't approach other subjects. They don't want to practice Property, so they ignore it. Students can use other subjects' ideas or rules to help on the MBE. I always try to get students to use all the rules in their toolbox to reach the "right" answer, even when the rule is from a different subject. Hyper-specialization, or hyper-focus in law, can be a detriment when preparing for a test designed for a generalist.
Broadening our knowledge is both fun and can make us better problem solvers.
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Or, at least one of the Bar Exam is next week. The last one, so to speak. (Edit -I was informed FL is even later!) It’s been a crazy ride and I know that you are all exhausted. We, as Academic Success Professionals, are exhausted as well, and we see you and hear you.
It’s been rough, and there have been many hiccups, and on that – I have no advice.
However, I CAN give you some advice on how to spend your final week before the exam.
- Do something for yourself: Even if it means taking an afternoon or two off, do something for yourself. This is going to look different for everyone; it could be going for a run, binging a silly tv show, or spending some (socially distanced) time with friends or family. The point is that you are taking your mind off of the exam, and off of the law. Your brain needs this break so that you can be your best on exam day. My suggestion is to take Sunday afternoon and to do whatever you can to make yourself happy.
- Get enough rest: I’m not trying to mother you, I promise, and science will back me up. You need enough rest to do well on the exam. Start making sure you are getting enough sleep as early as Friday night. On a side note, also make sure you are eating well. Your brain needs fuel! And speaking of rest, that brings me to my next point.
- Don’t cram, or learn brand new material: Don’t stay up all night studying, or push yourself to your limit. You’ve already been pushed to your limit, and you don’t need to pack in that many more hours of study, especially at the expense of sleep. Instead, focus on what you do know, and perfecting that! Now is not the time to do a crazy amount of practice essays. Now is the time to work on fine tuning what you know. Maybe outline essays, so you are more comfortable with rule statements, or do very small sets of MBE questions. In fact, it’s a great time to redo old MBE questions that were wrong, and really make sure you learned from that question.
- Work on memory: Now is the time to memorize details, whether they be requirements for various hearsay exceptions, scrutinies for constitutional law, or something else. You don’t need to memorize everything, it’s ok. But take the time to memorize the things where exact wording is important. Do so in small chunks. Your brain can really only handle memorizing for about 5 minutes. So, work on memorization techniques in between doing other things. This is also why outlining essays can be useful, as it’s a great way to work on memory AND issue spotting.
- Don’t be afraid to make things up!: No really, make things up. I promise if you need to make up a rule it won’t be that absurd. You have a law degree, and you’ve been studying for this exam for what feels like forever – whatever your brain makes up will be close to accurate, I promise. Not every rule statement has to be exact, or perfectly worded. And, making up a rule and putting forth a well thought out analysis is much better than not tackling an issue.
- Be confident, and be kind to yourself: Finally – you got this! Be confident. You have a JD, and I promise, that means you know more than you think. Remind yourself that you are capable, and knowledgeable, and that you CAN do this. And, if this bar administration didn’t work out for you, and you had to delay, that’s ok as well. Similarly, if you don’t get the news you want in terms of results, remind yourself that this Summer and Fall have been hard on all of you, and you need to cut yourself some slack.
I can’t wait to have all of you as colleagues.
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.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
So, most of you had a scheduled practice test this last week, or will have one soon. It’s likely you’re feeling many things, so let’s talk about what the score means, and what you can do.
First, the score tells you where you are NOW, not whether you will pass or fail. Before I tell you what you can do AFTER the exam, I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a bar taker. Right around July 1st she took a practice exam from BarBri. This was so long ago that you had to do everything by hand, including the grading. As she graded, it slowly occurred to her that her score was not great. Really not great. She got 90. Not 90%, but 90 questions right out of 200. Yikes. And she thought she was good at multiple choice. This came as quite a blow to her ego, and she was very distraught. There might have been some wallowing, crying, and ice cream.
So, after some wallowing, she did what I’m going to tell you to do, and ended up getting a 148 raw on the actual MBE. I only point this out because that’s an increase in 58 points. And trust me, if she can do it, you can too.
So, first and foremost, remember that the practice test is PRACTICE. It’s designed to help you learn. You have 4 weeks, and in some cases more, before the bar exam. That means you are still learning!
Next, if you didn’t do well, allow yourself some time to wallow. Grab the ice cream, go for a run, clear your head. Do what you need to do. Then come back, and let’s assess and learn.
First, get out an excel spreadsheet or make a chart in a word doc. You’re going to track what you did wrong, and what you did right.
Obviously, track which topics were better and worse. Did you get more wrong in contracts than torts? But, go a step further, and track the subtopics. So many people will come up to me, frustrated that they aren’t doing well in a particular subject. But what PARTS of that subject are you struggling with? For contracts are you getting all of the damages questions wrong, but doing fine with formation? This matters for two reasons. First, it matters because it helps you decide where to spend your time. Don’t just think about spending your time with “contracts”, but focus it further. In addition, if you notice you are struggling with damages, don’t assume that you don’t know the law. Line up some wrong questions and see if you notice a pattern. Is it the way the question is being asked? Or are you struggling to pick the right answer out of 2?
That brings us to the next important step of tracking. WHY did you get the answer wrong? Don’t just assume it was the law. Could it be something else? Were you reading carefully? If not, mark that down as “RC” or reading comprehension. Did you miss the law being tested? Perhaps you feel confident that you know the rule against perpetuities, but you didn’t recognize that it was being tested in this question. Were you second guessing yourself? Did you have the right answer and change it? Did you miss an important fact?
The point is to look for patterns. Everyone assumes they don’t know the law, but you graduated from law school! No small feat! That means you know something, I promise. So, look for other patterns. For example, most of the time when I get multiple choice questions wrong it’s careful reading. I read quickly and miss important facts, or don’t pay close enough attention to the call of the question. But now that I know this about myself, I can watch for it and remedy it. I also tell students who find they second guess themselves frequently to do the math – what would your score have been if you had NEVER second guessed yourself? If your score would have increased, use that as motivation to NOT second guess yourself. The point is, knowing the patterns help, and will help you study more effectively.
Also, if the law is the reason you got it wrong, be specific. Is it that you didn’t remember the law? Or that you didn’t understand it? Your answer to this changes your review. If you just failed to remember an element or an exception, working on memory will help. But students often assume this is the fix to all things, when in fact, they don’t fully understand the law. If that’s the case, merely memorizing the law will not help you get the question right. To test this, use your outline. With the law in front of you, can you get it right? If the answer is no, it’s not memory, and you need to look elsewhere.
As you track, think of a takeaway per question. So, if I got 90 right on my practice test, that’s 110 opportunities to learn something new. Yes, I know, cheesey. But it works, I promise. Remember 58 points! So, if I can learn 110 new things, that’s an increase in your points for sure. Statistically, about 20-30 points. Your takeaway should be something that you can use on multiple questions. It can be a reminder that when a question asks you for the BEST defense, it doesn’t mean defendant will win. It can be putting a nuance or an exception on a flashcard. It can be the reason why one answer is better than another. For example, if a contracts question asks about breach of contract, an answer choice that talks about reliance or estoppel will be wrong, because that’s not a contract.
The point is to learn something from each question. I promise, it WILL work. Don’t just go back to your outlines and redo them, or make them prettier. Don’t just review law or re-watch videos. Dive into those questions and really learn.
A few last multiple choice notes. It’s important to practice using pencil and scantron (actually bubbling in answers) before the test, potentially multiple times. It’s also important to practice in timed conditions. Make the test conditions as test like as possible – limit bathroom breaks, don’t drink water, or eat. Set a timer. If you plan on using ear plugs, wear them.
If you are struggling with multiple choice in general, our very own Steven Foster has a CALI lesson for that! https://www.cali.org/lesson/18100
Finally, good luck, and remember practice makes perfect!
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Want to know about what this summer's bar takers are facing in trying to prepare for bar exams?
See the letter that was written by the Dean of Seattle University's School of Law to the Washington Supreme Court, in which Dean Clark speaks from the heart about what what this season's bar takers are encountering in trying to prepare for bar exams.
Note: This is the letter that coincided with the Washington Supreme Court's decision to recognize diploma licensure for admission to the practice of law:
With some states moving to online bar exams, four (4) academic support educators have teamed up with the ABA Journal to share top-notch tips for expertly preparing for success on online bar exams. Here's the link to read the expert suggestions from Prof. Goldie Pritchard (Michigan State), ABA author Sara Berman (AccessLex Institute), Prof. Courtney Lee (University of the Pacific - McGeorge), and Prof. Joe Regalia (UNLV): https://www.abajournal.com/academic-support-experts-offer-advice/.
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
More advice on memory, and how to improve it! Last week I wrote a bit about improving memory for the bar. However, I want to dive a bit deeper into the topic.
I’m going to talk about three aspects of memory, that if used in your studying, can actually help you vastly improve what you are trying to memorize!
The forgetting curve says that we can predict when you will forget information, the spacing effect shows that if we study just before we would forget we can improve memory, and the testing effect tells us that testing ourselves improves memory. Using these three things together can really help! I’m going to particularly focus on the testing effect, as I think that’s something you can easily employ while you study.
The Forgetting Curve
It is almost universally accepted that memories decay over time. Researchers, over time, have discovered that we can predict when the memories will begin to decay. This is the forgetting curve. It was first discovered by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. He found that beginning just after a person learns information, their ability to remember the information, or recall, starts to decay. When he used nonsense syllables to test, it only took 20 minutes for the average test subject to have a less than 60% likelihood of recalling a syllable. An hour, it was less than 50%, and a day later, test subjects had lost nearly 70% of the information. A month later, learners retained only 20% of the material.
Ebbinghaus also discovered that while the initial rate of decline 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 a student is able to retain a memory in the initial stage, the slower the information will decay over time.
The spacing effect says that if you properly space yours studying, this slows memory loss, or memory decay. Basically 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 things like the bar exam is that you really have too much learn, and not enough time! So, what can you do instead? You can still apply the concept, but use it with something called interleaving.
Interleaving is mixing subjects up as you study. So, 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. This works particularly well with the bar exam. Interleaving ha been shown to be more effective than blocked practice for developing the skills of problem solving, and also leads to long term memory retention! Both things useful for the bar exam!
Interleaving forces the brain to continually retrieve information, since each practice prompt, is different from the last. This 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! However, 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 getting concepts. So, it’s important to remember that this studying feels worse, but has better long term results.
So, each day 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 civ pro, and then property and so forth.
Something else you can do, which isn’t as effective, but still helpful, is to change how or what you are studying. Don’t spend one day on MBE, and another on essays. Or one day completely listening to videos, or reviewing outlines. Do 15 MBE questions, and then 1 essay, and then review some flaschards, and so forth.
Finally, my favorite, the testing effect. I have mentioned before that testing increases memory. I hear students stress over getting questions wrong during practice and review. I understand why they might get frustrated, but they are missing the important fact that by testing yourself, you are actually increasing the odds that you remember a law.
Basically, people achieve higher rates of recall of information already learned when they have tested themselves, versus just passively observing. So, this is why I encourage you to do more questions instead of reviewing your outline. There is a time and space for passive review, but your memory really gets better each time you “test”. In addition, testing without feedback will help with recall, but the effect is stronger when the testing is associated with meaningful feedback. So, what does this mean? Make sure to fully review each and every answer!
Remember, as you practice for the bar, don’t think of doing practice questions as assessment, or an indicator of how much you know. They can be both of those things, but 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. Think about that – do you want to do one multiple choice question, or review your flash card five times? A study used a group of students who were given schedules to learn vocabulary words – the schedules were studying OR testing, and another group that was given a schedule to study AND test. A week later, the students who did the testing remembered 80% of the vocabulary words, versus 35% of non testing students. Now, I should point out that memorizing vocabulary 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. But that’s another reason why the testing effect is so useful!
So, your overall takeaway form all of this should be that practice DOES make perfect, and does help memory. In addition, breaks are still a good idea!
Note: To write this I relied heavily on the following:
n.d. Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab. Accessed June 15, 2020. https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/.
Teninbaum, Gabriel H. 2017. "Spaced Repetition: A Method for Learning More Law in Less Time." Suffolk University Journal of High Technology Law.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
I keep getting asked about memorization for the bar exam. Specifically, “How on earth am I supposed to memorize all of this?” and “Do you have any tips on memorization?”
So, here we go!
First of all, memorization is a bad word. I hate it. You want to remember, or recall, but not memorize. Why do I make 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 minutes. Next is long term memory, where memories are stored. And finally, memory retrieval, which is what you are concerned with for the bar exam. This is also the most difficult to achieve. So, your aim isn’t really to “memorize”, but to remember and recall.
Also, if you focus on memorization, instead of learning, you will get overwhelmed and stressed. So, reframe the idea in your mind for more success.
So, what CAN you do?
The power of Story and Emotion
Memory is often tied to stories, and strong emotions. This 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. (Carey, 2014) or (Tyng, Amin, Saad, & Malik, 2017)
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. Maybe frustration, or stress, but those actual have a counterproductive impact on memory. So, it’s up to you to manufacture stories and happiness. Don’t just stare at outlines, or black letter law. Do more and more practice questions, which are stories. Or, even better, make up new hypotheticals of your own, the more ridiculous the better. If you’ve seen me lecture on any bar topic, you know I love crazy stories. I’m sure my students often roll their eyes, and wonder why I’m being ridiculous. But it’s to help with memory. The more absurd or ridiculous my examples, the more likely you are to remember the law.
Also, manufacture happiness, as much as you can. Studies have shown that test subjects that are placed in a room with simple smiling faces do better on memory. 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.
Speaking of stories, practice! Each MBE fact pattern, and each essay hypothetical, are stories! So, not only will practice make you better at tackling the essays or MBE questions, but practice gives your brain
stories to hold on to. The examples will help your memory! If you are trying to memorize the rule for parol evidence, doing 10 MBE questions, and really learning from each question, will serve you better than reviewing your outline over and over again.
In cognitive psychology, chunking is a process by which individual pieces of an information set are broken down and then grouped together in a meaningful whole. The word chunking comes from a 1956 paper by George A. Miller, "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information". This was because the brain can typically only remember 7-8 items at once.
So, what does chunking information mean for you? Well, let’s think of a grocery list.i
So, you have to buy the following:
You might want to chunk by meal. For example, Bread goes with turkey and cheese, and maybe tomato. Milk goes with Cereal, and maybe those go together with orange juice. As I’ve listed it, the items are random, so there is no way to remember them. Or there is, but it’s very difficult. But grouping by the meals will help your memory.
Alternatively, you can group by where the items are in the store. It is likely that the orange juice and milk are together, and the so are the bread and cereal, and the turkey and cheese.
So, the first step in chunking is to think about how you will need to use the information. This is one reasons I place practice so highly. When you go to memorize the law, you can’t memorize it in a vacuum. You have to think about how you will be using it, and then chunk from there.
Our brain learns more effectively if we space out information. So, this is more support for my theory that breaks are magic! Think of it like this, if you are building a brick wall, you need to let the motor in between the bricks dry before you stack too high. Similarly, you let one coat of paint dry before you put on another. You get the idea.
So, while studying for the bar, space out your studying. While it might feel like you don’t have time, you need the space to solidify your knowledge.
Take breaks! I wrote an entire blog about this last week. But your brain can only process and remember so much at once. Essentially, if you are reading 50 pages of outline, without a break, you are only likely to remember the first and last few pages. That’s a waste of time! Take frequent breaks, and break up what you do. The more active you are, the better.
Write an essay with open notes. Do a set of 5 MBE questions, and then review the applicable law. Mix up subjects. All of that will help with memory.
General Mental Health
Finally, I mentioned before that if you are frustrated or stressed, that doesn’t help with memory. That means you have to take care of yourself mentally while you are studying. This is going to vary for everyone, but make your mental health a priority. And if you feel yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, see above and take a break!
Finally, remember that your aim is to learn, not merely memorize! Also, this is just meant to be a primer, and is already too long for a blog post. There is so much more to be said about various memory techniques.
Carey, B. (2014). How We Learn: The Suprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. New York: Random House.
Tyng, C. M., Amin, H. U., Saad, M. N., & Malik, A. S. (2017). The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Frong Psychology.
i I completely took this idea from Paula Manning at the 2015 AASE Conference in Chicago, and have been using it ever since!
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Dear Bar Takers,
I’d like to talk to you about breaks. I see you. You are overwhelmed, you are stressed. Some of you don’t even know if you have a seat. Let me stress – I see you.
In addition, I’d like to acknowledge that there are a million things making it hard to focus right now. I’ve been struggling to focus, and I’m not studying for an exam. The non bar exam world is causing a great deal of anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear. For some, more than others. It’s understandable to have those emotions, and not feel like you can 100% focus on the exam in front of you, especially if you aren’t even certain when you’ll take it. That’s all valid.
So, I want to talk about breaks, and why they are important. Taking frequent breaks helps improve your memory and focus, and helps reduce stress. Basically, research tells us that your brain can only focus for so long. It doesn’t matter how studious or determined you are, the human brain will not stay focused for 8 hours straight. In fact, if you aren’t taking practice exams to work on your stamina, I suggest taking a short break every hour or so. This is not my advice, this is advice from the neuroscientists.
Specifically, if we don’t take breaks, our brain gets fatigued. Once an hour, if not more, stand up and stretch. Or go for a brief walk. Switch your focus. All of these things help you improve memory and focus.
Also, taking breaks for mental health is ok. In fact, it’s encouraged. If you are getting frustrated with a topic of a question, take a break. Walk away and grab lunch. Take a walk outside. Just take a break from the frustration. If you push through, and continue to attempt to study while frustrated, your brain is not processing the information. It’s also ok to plan for entire mental health days. Your brain might need a longer break, and that’s ok too. If you are struggling to focus, maybe current events or family worries are weighing on your mind, step away. Do something for yourself and come back to studying later.
Finally, taking breaks for your physical health is ok and encouraged as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students get sick, maybe a bad cold for example, and they refuse to take a break. Not only are they not letting their body heal, which is not ideal for the long run, but your brain isn’t as focused as it could be, nor is it properly processing information. It’s far better to take a few days off, fully heal from the cold or other illness, and then dive back in feeling better.
So, in summary, while it is important to get in enough study hours – which are, let’s be honest, many – you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself. This includes breaks, and taking time for yourself. It’s also ok to be human, and give yourself permission to have unfocused days.
In addition, reminding yourself of your motivation is going to help improve your memory and learning. Write a litter to yourself, or a post it to put on your laptop. Why did you go to law school? Why do you want to take the bar exam? Yes, I know, you want to take the bar exam so you’re licensed. But why do you want to be licensed. Keeping your goals and motivation in sight, literally, will help you focus and learn.
I’d also like to stress the importance of a different kind of break. We learn best by doing different things. So, don’t just focus on video lectures. Or do an entire day of MBE questions. (Unless you are taking a practice test.) Mix it up. Spend 30 minutes writing an essay, and then review it. But then, do 15 MBE questions. Then watch parts of a video. The more you jump from one item to another, the better your brain is working, and the less likely you are to suffer from fatigue and lack of focus. The same goes for the subjects. Many students think they should spend a day, or even a week, on only one subject. But you actually stretch your brain, so to speak, by doing a mix of subjects.
Finally, despite my profession as bar professor type person, I can assure you that the bar exam is not the most important thing in the world. It really isn’t. Yes, you need to pass it to be licensed. And I want you to be licensed! But it doesn’t define you as a person, and if you fail, or have to take time off, that won’t even define you as an attorney. So, what I’m saying is that if this is not the right time for you to take the bar exam, that’s ok. There is no shame in that. You need to do what works best for you, and if that means delaying the exam because you are afraid for your health, you are focused on other things, too anxious or unfocused right now, or any number of reasons, the exam will still be there in 2021.
No matter what you choose, good luck! I look forward to seeing you as a colleague soon.
Thursday, May 28, 2020
That might be an overreach. But not by much. I only witnessed - at the most - 3 different flowers along the nearby hiking trail. Another hiker, who I met along the way, exploded with joy that she had spotted 44 different flowers along the same identical path, many of which were rarely seen during the short Colorado spring season. Same path; different eyes.
That experience left me wondering what else I am missing in this journey of life. Much, I suspect. Especially in these times with much of my face hidden behind a bandana. You see, I had a different purpose in mind on the hiking trail. And that resulted in a different pace and a much different outcome.
My fellow hiker's words hit home with respect to bar prep. Much of the colloquial wisdom is to practice testing yourself, constantly, as you prepare for your bar exam. Watch the clock, and my oh my, certainly don't take a timeout to research a bit of law when you are stumped. But, if in your bar prep you are driven by working the clock, you'll miss much. And what you miss is the opportunity to learn to improve critical reading and problem-solving skills because developing those skills takes lots of time and concentration - just like my fellow hiker spotting 44 flowers in beautiful bloom along the trail.
Let me share a secret. Rare is it that people run out of time on the bar exam. Oh it happens. But it's not because they didn't practice with the clock. Rather, it's often because the gambled with proven strategies to tackle their bar exams. They grabbed hold of the essays and then spent precious time looking for their favorites. Or, they hit the multiple-choice bubbling along the way while leaving many answer choices blank, with a long list of questions that they'd like to come back to, in the event that they have more time left at the end. On the bar exam, you don't have time to look at questions twice (or even more). Rather, just solve them one-at-a-time as they appear in the materials.
I know, you're saying, "Well, how am I going to get faster if I don't practice with the clock?" I'm not saying never practice with the clock, but the time to do so is much later, mostly only with mock bar exams, and mostly only in the last two weeks or so. In my experience, if you work on getting faster, you'll be super-fast but also often super-wrong because you haven't worked on seeing the patterns and observing the commas, the phrases, and the many nuances that are the heart of doing well on the bar exams.
Let me make it concrete. I have never seen a person fail the bar exam because they didn't know enough law or weren't really speedy enough. Rather, when people do not pass the bar exam, they tend to write about issues that weren't asked by the problems. That's because they worked mostly for speed through as many problems with goal of constantly testing themselves. "Am I passing yet? Is that good enough? I've got to get up that trail, so to speak, as fast as possible."
Instead, let go of the clock. Spend time in the midst of the problems. Question the questions. Puzzle over them. Ponder and probe the language, the phraseology, the paragraph breaks, and the format of the questions. In short, for the first six weeks of bar prep, practicing problems to learn with just an occasional check-in mock bar exam to see how you are doing. That way you'll be sure to see what's hidden in plain sight. And, that's the key to doing well on the bar exam. To locate and expose, what one of my recent students brilliantly called the "undertones" of the problems...that are really in plain sight...if only we take the time to learn to see.
(Scott Johns - University of Denver).
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
In a normal year, my students would all have begun their bar preparation yesterday, coasting on their post-graduation-ceremony momentum right into a seat in front of the first of many lecturers. But in New York, and more than a third of all U.S. jurisdictions (in which -- again, in a normal year -- more than half of all July examinees would be sitting for the exam), the date of the bar examination has been postponed for six weeks or more, leaving bar students in those jurisdictions with the gift they hate most of all: uncertainty.
What is to be done with all this extra time? Bar preparation companies cannot agree: some are simply administering their typical ten-week program, just starting it six weeks later than usual, while others have reworked their program schedule, starting it earlier and drawing it out over a longer period, but with shorter study days. Employers, many contending with their own virus-induced crises, have added variables to the new graduates' calculations, some allowing their new employees to start early and then take time off, others expecting hirees to adhere to their original early-August start dates, and still others unnervingly withdrawing their employment offers indefinitely. Even we bar support specialists can only make well-educated guesses about how to make use of six extra weeks. We have no data, no direct experience of how a delay like this will affect individual students or the testing cohort as a whole. How much more study can a student put in without burning out? Should the extra time be spread across all aspects of bar study, or should certain skills or subjects receive more attention? Will MBE scores increase overall for those who take the test in September? Decrease? Will the bell curve spread out? Will this hurt or help examinees?
Sensibly, 43 more days of prep time should be seen as a boon. In a normal year for bar study, isn't time the most precious resource of all? In my discussions with students, I have suggested they think of this extra time the way they might think of an unexpected financial windfall. You don't have to spend it all in one place. You might devote a large chunk of it to bar study -- that is, after all, the primary focus of the summer -- but how you specifically budget it depends on your own circumstances. An examinee facing financial pressures might choose to work for a few weeks, then begin studying a few weeks early. Someone eager to get started studying might begin this week, but set aside a week or two, at strategically placed spots on the calendar, to put study aside, connect with family and friends, or do whatever else helps them refill their gas tank. It's important not to let the time slip by unnoticed -- it would be bad to turn off the TV one night near the end of June and realize you had not done any bar study -- and that's why it's important to budget the time and actually create a schedule. And that, for some, is what seems to turn this temporal windfall into a vexation. In order to budget, you have to make choices.
No one wants their bar prep period to feel like playing endless rounds of "The Lady or the Tiger?" At every step: choose the right path, and you will be rewarded with contented knowledge and testing skills; choose the wrong path, and you will be mauled by a ravenous UBE with MPT fangs and MBE claws. In a normal year, examinees only have to be certain that the regimented bar study course they have chosen, which has worked for thousands of examinees before them, will continue to reliably work for them. This summer, though, because so much is unregimented, some examinees are anxious about being uncertain about so much more. Am I studying enough? Am I studying too much? Am I studying too early? Am I studying the right things, in the right way, for the right amount of time?
Two propositions can help people in such a tizzy of uncertainty. First, assure them that they are not feeling this uncertainty because of some character flaw that prevents them from making definitive choices. They are not losing their heads while all about them are keeping theirs. This is an inherently uncertain situation -- we can't even be assured the exam will actually be administered in September! -- and so there is no single "correct" choice. The best they can do is what they've been training to do for the past three years: exercise good judgment based on competent authority and relevant facts. As long as they are not just guessing, as long as they are talking to us and their mentors and their instructors and applying what they learn to what they already know about themselves and the task before them, they can at least make a good choice.
Second, help them subdue the perception that they are overwhelmed by uncertainty by reminding them of what is certain. The content and structure of the bar examination remains the same (well, except in Indiana), as do generally those of the reputable bar courses designed to prepare examinees for the test. They still have their law degrees, and the skill, intelligence, and diligence that helped them earn those degrees. They have a community of classmates, instructors, and mentors who they can rely on to share perspective and feedback on the decisions they do make. They have a certain task, they have certain abilities, and they have certain resources. In the face of uncertainty, those are best certainties to have.
Sunday, May 17, 2020
For those taking the bar at the end of July, bar prep starts Monday morning! The Bar Exam is a tough test. Even if your bar prep schedule starts later in the week, I suggest starting prep today to get ahead of the MBE. However, don’t forget this is a marathon not a sprint. Pace yourself so you keep your energy up throughout bar prep.
Everyone will start doing MBE questions early. Here are a few tips:
- Practice using the method you learned in law school or that is being taught in your prep course. Follow the method on every question. You can't implement the answering method at the end. You need to practice it regularly.
- Avoid NCBE tricks by answering the question before you ever read the answer choices. This is key to not being distracted.
- While doing questions on your own, complete 17 questions in 30 minutes. Make sure to time yourself. When you complete the questions, grade them. For all the questions you answered incorrectly, write out the rule in a notebook.
Remember, you graduated law school. Earning a J.D. is an amazing accomplishment. You have the ability to pass the bar exam. Get into a good routine to succeed.
Monday, May 11, 2020
In response to the mounting uncertainty about the administration of the July 2020 bar exam, Indiana has moved its exam online.
By order of the Indiana Supreme Court published May 7, 2020, Indiana will offer a one-day online exam in late July. According to law.com “that makes Indiana the first jurisdiction to commit to an online July exam, and the first to say it is creating its own version of the licensing test.” Indiana was one of the last states to adopt the Multistate Bar Exam, and had, for years, given a purely “state-made” exam. Today, the Indiana exam includes multistate content and state specific essays, so the bar examiners likely have an arsenal of potential test content. Other states, like California and Massachusetts, have made nods towards an online exam, but have not publicly defined what their exam would look like or when it would be administered. Both California and Massachusetts have postponed their July exam until September.
Indiana may soon have company. The Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court filed a petition recommending a temporary modification of its July 2020 bar exam to an online format. The petition is based on a recommendation from the Nevada Board of Law Examiners (BLE). The Nevada BLE proposed to administer a two-day, fully online, exam consisting of eight essays and one Nevada performance test. The Nevada proposal excludes multiple-choice questions. If accepted, Nevada will join California and Pennsylvania in administering its own performance test. The Nevada proposal is open for public comment. Anyone wishing to support (or oppose) the proposal should email the Clerk of the Nevada Supreme Court. Like Indiana, Nevada uses both multistate content and administers a state law essay exam.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added new layers of stress to the already hectic workloads of the academic support community. ASPers are affected by the pandemic in ways that our doctrinal colleagues are not. Traditionally, we are the ones from whom students seek counsel and clarity about the bar exam and how to prepare for it. Our ability to respond to those questions has been upended by proposed delays and the looming threat that a face-to-face exam cannot be administered in either July or September. All we know now is that we really don't know what will happen or how our students should best prepare. Added to the worry about whether there can be a bar exam at all, is how our students will fare on the exam and what our pass rates will look like.
The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) called for suspension of ABA Standard 316 mandating that law schools maintain a 75% bar passage rate to remain in compliance. We can reasonably anticipate that bar pass rates will be lower in 2020 than in recent prior years. Students are under extreme stress dealing with pandemic related adjustments, fear of contracting the virus, and fear of spreading it to loved ones. Summer bar takers lack of access to law schools, public libraries, and quiet coffee shops for bar study, because they are not open to the public. Some may be battling illness themselves. Moreover, the administration of three separate exams with comparative and wholistic grading will also likely skew the exam outcomes and lead to a higher number of bar failures than would have occurred had all candidates taken the exam in the same administration. The Bar Advocacy Committee supports the SALT position and will present a letter to the Executive Board of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) for signature, delivery, and public posting.
In the past, New York has been the state to follow, in terms of bar exam policy and development. Not so, anymore, as the limited seating debacle has cast a cloud of embarrassment and incompetence over the empire state. Who knew that we would see such progressive and compassionate bar policy leadership coming from Utah, Indiana, and now, hopefully, Nevada! It just goes to show that good ideas aren’t tied to population or politics—good ideas stem from compassionate effective leadership. And there is still room for more leaders with regard to the July 2020 exam.
Sunday, May 10, 2020
First, I want to Congratulate all law students for finishing this semester. I know some still have finals this week, but you all endured a complete change in educational environment. You worked hard through the disruption, and your resiliency will pay off preparing for the bar exam and the practice of law. I pray that you all stayed healthy and safe.
For 3Ls, you are moving from difficult end of the semester to even more difficult bar prep. Many of you will be worried and overwhelmed. Those feelings are understandable in a normal year. Some of you must wait to take the exam, while others will still take it at the end of July. The feelings and planning will cause some people to overlook the small details. I want to reiterate a common piece of advice that may be even more important this year. Practice tests should simulate exam conditions.
The advice seems obvious, but this year is different. I tell students to set a timer or put a clock on the wall similar to the bar exam. The numbers counting down cause adrenaline spikes, and I want students to feel that while practicing. This year, the exam may have other precautions. Some states will social distance with people spread far apart. That will be hard to simulate with schools closed, so if you can, have loved ones, kids, or people within the house sit 8 feet away. They can be unintentionally fidgety for the duration of the test. Make them take a silly test of their own. Some states may require masks during the exam. You don't want the first time taking a test with a mask on to be the day of the bar exam. Some masks are comfortable for the grocery store, but remember, you will be wearing the mask for 8-10 hours 2 days in a row. The elastic band mask may not be comfortable for that long. You may want a mask that ties or one of the plastic S hooks for masks. I suggest wearing one while answering practice questions. At first, you will be annoyed. After a while, it won't bother you. This is similar to don't practice until you get it right, practice until you can't get it wrong. Keep wearing the mask until you don't really know it is there.
This has been difficult. I hope all of your conditions permit quality studying for the bar. Good luck to all bar takers in both July and September.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
I once had a teacher tell me to never read good books. Never ever. And why not?
Because if I spent my time reading good books (or doing good things), then I wouldn't have time left to read the really great books (or do the really great things of life).
That's a lesson that has never left my side.
In bar prep, I'm convinced that too many are trying to do too much, and, in the process of doing good tasks, they aren't doing the great things that are really important for success on the bar exam. Let me be frank. You don't have time in bar prep to do good things. But, you have plenty of time to do the really great things, the things that produce fruitful learning.
With that in mind, here's a few tips:
- Do less reading and more pondering the law, how it works or doesn't, and what it means to you as a person.
- Do less note-taking and more puzzling through problems to learn the law.
- Do less testing and more practicing, feeling free to work problems over slowly, reading them out loud if you'd like, as you develop confidence and competence in your own voice as an expert problem-solver.
That's just a few suggestions.
But, rather than hear it from me, a teacher, I thought I'd share the wisdom of a recent successful bar-taker in that person's own words. After all, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words (but the wise words from the heart & mind of a recent bar taker -- who wants to share with YOU what she/he learned through re-taking the bar exam -- is worth a priceless fortune).
Advice for First-Time Bar Takers:
- Practice way more than you think! If you are wondering whether you should watch a lecture or do a practice question, do the practice question.
- Let go of memorizing everything. It is impossible. Learn what your weak areas are and spend more time with those subjects.
- You will feel like you know nothing until approximately the last week of bar prep. Somehow, magically, it does come together. I promise.
- Do all the bar prep practice tests.
- Think really hard about who you want to study with. This is not the time to do something different from how you handled law school.
- Come up with a plan and stick to it. The bar prep calendar is really helpful for this. Decide how many practice questions you want to do everyday and do it. But if you are starting to burn out, be OK with taking breaks. It's a marathon!
Advice for Fresh Start Re-Takers:
- First, I am so sorry that you have been dealt this card. There is no question that it hurts. Take care of yourself and do things that make you happy.
- As you begin planning your next round of bar prep, make sure to work with the law school to identify the weak aspects of your exam answers. This will help define ways you can “work smarter” instead of “work harder.”
- Also work with the law school to identify new ways to study. It might be changing up your study tool or how you review your answers. For me, studying ALONE the second round vastly improved my scores. I think studying alone boosted my confidence because it required me to look up answers to my own mistakes. I also stopped comparing myself to friends.
- Ditch the bar prep lectures. Use that time to practice WAY MORE MBE and MEE practice questions. I probably tripled the amount of practice questions I did during my second round of bar prep.
- Log your progress. I was way more intentional about compiling lists of rules I kept missing on MBE questions. This helped me to keep track of weak areas so I could spend more time learning the law in specific subjects.
- Spend timing thinking about any testing anxiety you might have. Adding mindfulness meditations to my study plan helped a ton!
That brings me back to the start of this little essay. How do you know what are the really great books to read (or the great things to do)? That's were wisdom comes in. Reach out to a person you trust, on your faculty or staff or from a colleague or mentor who knows you as a person from head to toe. The advice that I've shared in this blog is from such a person, who, although he/she doesn't know you, knows you, because she/he has cared enough to share with you the lessons learned through the process. So, you have a friend who is rooting for you (and that includes me too!).