Thursday, June 30, 2022

Making Memories that Stick - At Least Thru the Bar Exam

You've heard the quip about "the chicken or the egg, which comes first?"  

Well, as the joke goes, "I've just ordered one of each from Amazon, so I let you know tomorrow!"  

That got me thinking about memorization.  

Most bar takers are really concerned about memorization, particularly because most of their law school exams, unlike bar exams, were open book/open note exams.  But take a look at the word "memorization."  That's a word of action, of a process, of recalling something previously learned.  In other words, at its root core the word "memorization" derives from creating "memories."  So how do you create memories when it comes to learning rules of law?  

Or, to ask it another way, which comes first, memorization or memories?  

Well, I think that the answer to that question is in the question because it's memories that we memorize.  So the key to memorizing is to work through lots of problems, to test yourself with your study tools, to practice retrieval practice, and, in short, to create lots of memories with the rules.  

You see, memorization is just a fancy word for the process of experiencing memories through distributed and mixed practice over time.  So, instead of worrying about memorization as you prepare for your bar exam this summer, focus on making memories (and lots of them).   (Scott Johns)

June 30, 2022 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Dear Practicing Attorneys:  Please Stop Giving Our Bar Students Inaccurate Advice. 

I still fondly remember the judge for whom I interned as a 3L.  Knowing that bar prep was coming up and sensing my anxiety, he asked me about my plan.  I told him that the bar prep company each day would provide lectures, outlines to read, some more outlines to read, and then finish things off with some outlines to read.  When I told him that the program started just after Memorial Day and ended the day before the exam, he was astonished.  His advice was to save myself all that money, take three weeks off from work, and study from July 4th until the exam.  He said that would be plenty.

Of all the advice my judge gave me, this was the one bit I did not take.  His guidance was well-intentioned, and I appreciated his attempts to calm me down.  But as the Type-A person that I am, I could not rest without feverishly checking off each scheduled study item.  His was advice I could not take.    

Twenty-something years later, students still receive that advice.  They insist:  “The partner at my firm said that she took just two weeks off for the exam and did just fine.”  The partner professed:  “You’re a smart kid.  You don’t need to do all that work.  Just watch the videos, read the outlines, and you’ll pass.”  Happy to internalize this message so as to mentally corroborate the partner’s flattering assessment, students’ confirmation biases drive them to adopt suboptimal learning behaviors. 

And then they fail the bar exam.

The practicing lawyers who give this advice sometimes believe that the bar exam world is a static place devoid of change.  However, recent substantial reforms severely limit the applicability of their experiences.  Below the fold, I describe those changes and how they require more careful advising. 

Continue reading

May 31, 2022 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Bar Prep Marathon

Congrats to everyone graduating across the country.  Obtaining a J.D. is an amazing accomplishment.  You should celebrate your victories, but for most of you, the J.D. is not your final hurdle.  You still have 10 more weeks of preparation and one more test.  Don't get distracted now.  Finish strong on this last obstacle.

I know many students looked at their bar prep schedule and saw a little time before full time studying begins.  My advice is to start bar prep early.  Every major course pre-recorded all the lectures, so you can start the full course right after graduation.  Don't wait until June.  You need to study approximately 400 billable hours.  Spreading it over 10 weeks increases the likelihood of completing the work.  You can also spend extra time on your weak areas later in bar prep if you are ahead.  

I hope everyone enjoyed graduation.  Congratulate yourself on your accomplishment.  Also know, you have the grit to pass the bar.  Most of you completed most of law school online or in a hybrid format.  You experienced social upheaval while navigating a pandemic.  You already overcame obstacles for the opportunity to take the bar exam.  Seize your opportunity and finish the summer strong.  Good luck!

(Steven Foster)

May 15, 2022 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Kids' Table

Remember Thanksgiving when you were a kid? The adults sat at one table with endless access to the stuffing and gravy while you sat with your cousins wondering why the potatoes never got to you. The kids’ table was a fixture, but when I was middle school age, I was certain I should be allowed to join the adults and enjoy the power of the serving spoon. Perhaps Academic Support has entered that part of our growth as well.

The 2023 Best Law Schools list was recently published by U.S. News & World Report.[1] In determining these rankings, U.S. News looks at numerous factors in determining how and where schools are listed. According to U.S. News, they, “evaluate institutions on their successful placement of graduates, faculty resources, academic achievements of entering students, and opinions by law schools, lawyers and judges on overall program quality.”[2] From time to time the importance and proportional value of the various criteria are tweaked. This year, for example, the value of Bar Passage was increased, with U.S. News noting that, “[a] key change for the 2023 edition involved U.S. News more comprehensively assessing the bar passage rates of first-time test takers. “[3] The actual overall value this year was 0.03 as opposed to previous years when it was 0.0225. This doesn’t seem like a big change in the scheme of math but consider that bar passage is valued more than the acceptance rate, student-faculty ratio, and debt at graduation.[4]

The U.S. News rankings also include programs within law schools in the areas of (among others): Business/Corporate Law, Clinical training, Constitutional Law, Contracts/Commercial law, Dispute Resolution, Legal Writing, and Trial Advocacy.[5]  Academic support is neither considered in the overall rankings nor ranked independently as a program.

Just to be clear, I don’t like rankings: I even volunteered to be on a subcommittee that is examining our internal student ranking system. Yet, I understand that without a very complicated mathematical algorithm based on a long list of both objective and subjective criteria, law schools cannot brag, fundraise, um, see how we are doing overall. I get it: law schools need a way to be assessed.

But here’s the rub: I am a parent of a child with learning issues who had an IEP all the way from kindergarten through to college.[6] They were “othered” by going to the learning center, they were sometimes bullied, and they came home feeling that they were intellectually inadequate often especially in the middle school years. I spent a lot of time explaining to her how school only measured certain types of intelligence while overlooking many others. Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences was something we could both cite over the years to remind ourselves that school assessment isn’t the sum of who we are.[7]

In the same way that schools tend to only assess a very limited number of student intelligences, I would argue that ignoring Academic Support Programs in ranking law schools similarly overlooks something important. Even worse, by assessing the consequential outcomes of good Academic Support programs--like employment rates and most obviously first-time bar passage rates--without looking at ASP itself means that ASP professionals are truly the unseen factotum[8] in law schools. We are taxed without being represented[9] because all the things ASP touches are considered or ranked, but ASP programs are not considered in any part of the formula.

There are, of course, some major downsides to having ASP ranked or considered in ranking without more job security (like tenure!). I wouldn’t want to outsource my yearly work evaluations to U.S. News especially if I had a contract that was up for renewal frequently (or worse yet, not have one at all). Nor would I want to be assessed based on criteria that I cannot control, like admissions decisions. Like all coins, this one has two sides.

And yet, wouldn’t it be nice to sit at the adult table sometimes?

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/law-rankings

[2] https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/law-schools-methodology

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/law-rankings

[6] Where she is a junior who is regularly on the Dean’s List (my bragging).

[7] https://sysdesc.info/Content/Person/Gardner1989.pdf

[8] This is a real word. And so much fun! https://www.dictionary.com/browse/factotum

[9] Since my law school is located in Boston, this is a required complaint.

April 3, 2022 in Bar Exam Preparation, Current Affairs, News, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Big Plays - Small Steps

It's just a week and a half before the February 2022 bar exam.  For some of our bar takers, probably most, they are not sure, despite weeks of laboring studies, that they are ready, at all.  That's completely understandable, even natural.  So I have thought experiment.

I recently heard a speaker say that no one on the football field knows whether the next play will be the big one - the proverbial game changer.  Rather, each player lines up and gives it the utmost best, no knowing whether the next play will be the big one.

You see, big plays start just like small plays, step by step, push by push, and motion by motion.

I think it's a bit like that with the bar exam.  

For those of you taking the Feb bar exam, don't give up, on yourself, on your learning, and on your purpose.

Regardless of how you feel, step up each day, with courage, conviction, and curiosity, making it your aim to "move the ball forward" a little bit more, with each opportunity you take to practice another essay or a batch of multiple-choice questions. Stick with it.  And, when you fumble something, don't consider that as a step backward but rather as an opportunity to learn something that you didn't understand a few moments prior to that problem.  Keep growing; keep learning; keep on at it.

In short, don't stop learning.  Far too many people, I fear, with a week to go before the bar exam, start to huddle in the locker room so to speak, taking exams to see if they have a passing score yet.  

But your scores today do not determine your destiny tomorrow, unless you let them. So don't take practice questions as opportunities to test yourself, to prove yourself, but rather to learn.  Otherwise, in essence, you are giving up a week before the bar exam.  You are still in the game, the game of learning. Learn big. Live big, as if every opportunity is an opportunity to grow and learn, because it is.  You never know which question on your bar exam is going to be the game changer but, by preparing through lots of practicing with the purpose of learning, you're well-prepared to take the little steps that will be the game changer for you. Best of luck on your bar exam!  (Scott Johns).

February 10, 2022 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 31, 2022

Dirty Laundry

I would imagine that almost all of us in the ASP world see students who are in academic difficulty: those who are on warning, probation, and even double secret probation now and then.[1] I know I work with students in classroom settings and one on one who have been told they must seek my help to stay in school. Some students are right on the (wrong) edge of the standards that would exclude them from these graduation conditions, and they are, usually, unhappy about the circumstances. And they are right-because some of the requirements and limitations may only serve to dig them deeper into the hole they barely fell into in the first place.

One example of this is a list of required classes that students must take depending on their GPA. The classes are carefully curated to correlate to bar passage. Yet, they also tend to be bigger upper-level classes (at least 40+ students), so chances are that there is a mandatory grading curve applied to these classes. Sometimes the grading curve (required by many schools especially in the 1L Year) may be the reason the student is in this predicament in the first place. And thus, students who might have easily dug themselves out of academic difficulty in their 2L year by being able to choose classes that are better suited to their interests and strengths, find themselves further entrenched. To make matters worse, these classes also tend to have one summative assessment to earn that curved grade. Sometimes the issues students face are far more exam related than comprehension related.

These same students are also often locked out of, or put at the bottom of the list for, clinics and other programs that give them experience (needed for graduation) and confidence (also needed for graduation). This is exactly the kind of class experience that students who struggle with exams need. This is where they could shine, if they could just reach the light switch.

A student who is currently occupying this space met with me last week and told me that she felt, particularly in light of the pandemic and the chaotic atmosphere of her first year, that she was being kicked while she was down. Even more disheartening, she felt that she was still being kicked while on her way back up. It reminded me of the song Dirty Laundry (Don Henley-and if you also remember this song, we are both officially pretty old).[2] The chorus of this song, “kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down, kick ‘em all around,” is what came to mind in that moment.  Considering the NextGen bar exam that incoming classes (next year’s incoming evening students at my school, for example) will be taking, perhaps we need to rethink how we handle students when they’re down. The new edition of the bar exam will emphasize competencies over memorization.[3] While we will still all encounter students who may not be up to the task, there are many students clinging to edge of the cliff who are absolutely capable of finding solid ground-given the chance. Let’s throw them a rope. I don’t want students to think that we, “love it when people lose.[4]

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] Ok--that is not a real thing, but I thought it was clever to slip in a reference to the movie Animal House and see if anyone noticed. Of course, explaining the reference in a footnote kind of defeats the humor….

[2] https://playback.fm/charts/top-100-songs/video/1982/Don-Henley-Dirty-Laundry

[3] https://abovethelaw.com/2022/01/new-bar-exam-will-test-future-law-grads-on-skills-actually-related-to-being-a-lawyer/

[4] https://playback.fm/charts/top-100-songs/video/1982/Don-Henley-Dirty-Laundry

January 31, 2022 in Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Peer Pressure, Vaccine-or-Test Requirements, and Legal Analysis

In working with bar applicants preparing for the February 2022 bar exam, I keep hearing concerns about analogical reasoning, one of the legal analysis skills tested on the bar exam.  And, for first-year law students, many whom are taking persuasive legal writing courses this semester, analogical reasoning is a key persuasion method.

I noticed the power of analogical reasoning while reading an article describing the Supreme Court oral arguments last week in the vaccine requirement case. J. Bravin, et al, "Supreme Court Shows Skepticism over Biden Vaccine or Test Mandate," WSJ (Jan. 7., 2022).

As a bit of background, the Court was considering two issues, first, whether the federal executive branch had power through OSHA via Congressional authorization to mandate covid-19 vaccines in workplaces with more than 100 employees, and second, whether the federal executive branch through its Medicare and Medicaid Office had congressional authorization to mandate covid-19 vaccines for medical personnel working in medical settings and receiving funds from the federal government.

The U.S. Supreme Court split the issues (with a split court too).  In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that OSHA did not have the regulatory power to mandate vaccines in large workplaces while, in contrast, in a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the executive branch has such power in the medical field for those receiving federal government medicare and medicaid funding.

Already, we see a tension between the two holdings.  Those tensions require explanations and that's where you, as an attorney, are critical.  It's your explanation of similarities or differences that constitutes analogical reasoning. And, to the extent that your explanation of those differences or similarities is persuasive is what I call "analogical reasoning as a form of peer pressure." In short, analogical reasoning suggests that you have friends, powerful friends and powerful tradition that backs the position that you are now arguing on behalf of your client.

Take last Friday's oral argument over the "vaccine or test" requirement.  In the workplace requirement case, Justice Sotomayor asked of attorneys: "What’s the difference between this [vaccine or test requirement] and telling employers, where sparks are flying in the workplace, your workers have to wear a mask?"  Id.

In other words, the Justice is asking an analogical question, seeking an explanation as to why the vaccine requirements are any different than other normative OSHA workplace safety requirements, such as masks to protect industrial workers from flying sparks and fire hazards.  That's not an easy question to answer. It requires much of us - curiosity, courage, and showing connections.

The premise behind the question is that no one doubts that OSHA has congressional authority to regular workplace hazards with reasonable tools to prevent harm that, at the same time, allow workers to complete their work successfully.  Masks to prevent workers from suffering eye injuries due to flying sparks is just such a prototypical regulation that is, obviously, permissible.  That's the "peer pressure" component.  Once that is settled, the party who opposes the vaccine or test requirement now has the burden to show how covid-19 is different from other types of workplace hazards, such as flying sparks.  It's not impossible to do but it requires deep thinking.

As a tip, you might try an exercise, listing in one column the precedent situation (masks to prevent spark hazards) and the other column the disputed situation (vaccines to prevent virus hazards).  Then, under each column, brainstorm possible differences and similarities, as many as possible.  Once you've finished brainstorming, now look for connections that might explain how the two situations are similar (and why) and for differences that might explain how the two situations are dissimilar (and why).  

The art of analogical reasoning is then explaining which of those two (similarities or differences) is more persuasive, moving, and powerful and why that is the case.  That's analogical reasoning.

For the OSHA requirement, we might say that the two situations (masks for spark mitigation versus vaccines for virus mitigation) are similar in that both are hazards that are preventable, that are prevalent in the workplace because of the close working conditions between workers and the hazards faced, and that the workplace situation exacerbates the hazards because of the duration of time that workers are present in the workplace.  In contrast, one might say that the two situations (masks for spark mitigation versus vaccines for virus mitigation) are dissimilar in that sparks are hazards not common to the public at large, tied specifically to the type of work done, and limited to particular workplace activities while the virus is widespread regardless of whether one is working or not, the virus is not the byproduct, like sparks are, of producing products or services for the employers, and that the virus is not limited to specific workplace activities but is present everywhere and in all such that if OSHA has that power it has virtually unbridled power, at least one might say.

At bottom, analogical reasoning is about using comparisons and contrasts to bedrock principles and trying to extend or prevent extension of those principles to new or novel situations.  In short, it's a form of peer pressure, which, in my own case, is one of the most powerful pressures of all.  So be friendly when you engage in analogical reasoning.  Don't press too hard.  Let your explanations do the pressing.  (Scott Johns).

 

January 13, 2022 in Bar Exam Preparation, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 1, 2021

Pull the Goalie

*I am going to preface this by clearly admitting that I am not someone who regularly teaches bar prep and I know that what I am saying may come from a place of relative ignorance on many issues. I am sure I have missed some important nuances here-and for that, I apologize in advance.*

Recently, we got the news that my youngest child has passed all his required MCAS exams for high school graduation (MCAS is the Massachusetts Child Abuse System according to my kids, but really the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). These are the standardized tests that students in public schools start taking in third grade and take until they pass the required high school level exams for graduation. The elementary grade exams do not have any impact on grades in classes or promotion between grades-they may indicate a need for other school-based interventions or testing, but that is it. I’ve never let any of my children even see the reports that are mailed to parents.

These yearly exams are meaningless…until they have ultimate, high stakes meaning. Students cannot (without jumping through some significant, fiery hoops)graduate from high school without passing the English, Math and Science exams. Some parents complain that “teaching to the test” ruins learning for their children-which is a valid point. Some parents worry about the achievement gap between various groups of children (mainly along racial and socio-economic lines) which is a complete and unavoidable truth. If a test cannot be administered fairly, what is it assessing at all? And why would we attach such significance to an instrument that is irremediable?

And so, we arrive at the current iteration of the Bar Exam. At times, it seems to test a student’s ability to take the exam more than assessing knowledge of the concepts, theories, and skills it purports to assess. The same criticisms that are true about the MCAS are relevant here. We should not teach to a test-we should be teaching for learning. The achievement gap has not been bridged despite being widely acknowledged. And yet, the Bar is the key that opens the gate to many careers in law. With COVID and remote bar exam issues (technical, physical, and psychological), can we really say that it is an accurate instrument of assessment for practice readiness?

Has it ever been?

My thought for this Monday morning is this: since we all know people (not students, but peers) who have passed the Bar and were not ready for primetime, and we all know people who did not pass but were born ready to practice law, then how is passing the Bar a guarantee of anything? Think about it: (just about) every person who has ever been disbarred must have passed the Bar. So why not just pull the goalie here? What are we protecting when not every shot to the goal goes in--even when no one is there? The fact that law school accreditation is in some part contingent on bar pass rate shows, at best, a lack of creativity in assessment. At worst, it shows that we do not really wish to welcome all the qualified potential members into the profession.  We can do better.

(Liz Stillman)

November 1, 2021 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Diversity Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Gestalt

I was a social psychology major as an undergraduate and I remember studying the psychological theory of gestalt, which is defined as “something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts.”[1] Basically, if I had known about outlining back in those days, I would have written the rule as: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As bar exam results trickle in from parts near and far, I think it worth revisiting this idea with both students and colleagues.

To students who have passed the bar, I would say, “Wonderful! Remember, there is more to you than this one credential. As an attorney, you will bring your whole self to the table and that will always be more than the sum of your parts.” To the students who have not passed the bar this time, I might say the same thing. I do not want to be dismissive of how meaningful this one credential is for them after a three (or four) year journey that has already been fraught with confidence crushing moments. I don’t want to toss out, “oh well, maybe next time” either because right now, I think these students may see “next time” as a craggy mountain to climb without any safety gear in truly inclement weather.  I also know that social media means that students will know about their classmates’ successes almost immediately and silence will be interpreted as failure. Literally. There really is no good answer other than “I’m sorry. How are you doing?”

I also worry about my colleagues who have poured every ounce of what they have into students to help them pass the bar (regardless of whether the students were willing vessels or not) and now have someone else’s success or failure be determinative of their worth. Is this how we value professionals?

When a football team loses a game, media outlets tend to blame everyone on the team-not just the quarterback or coaches, but the team as a whole: offense, defense, big guys, little guys. Even when one player makes an egregious error, the sportscasters tend to find additional reasons for the loss-even the weather or altitude can be roped in. When the team wins, the press is similarly wide in praise, as seen here by today’s Boston Globe after the Patriots won a home game yesterday, “[e]veryone went home happy Sunday. Mac Jones got his first 300-yard game and hit a 46-yard deep ball. Damien Harris rushed for 100 yards. Eleven players made a catch, and five different players got in the end zone. The defense created two interceptions…Smiles all around.”[2] And remember, these guys probably each get paid more than all the ASP folks at a regional conference combined.

So, when bar results are good, ASP folks are part of the overall winning team with smiles all around. But when bar results are not what we are hoping for, why do our ASP colleagues not get the same level of camaraderie? Why aren’t we always a team at that moment also? ASP folks, and particularly those who do bar exclusively, need to be given the grace of gestalt. So I say to you, regardless of the bar results at your school, you are more than the sum of your parts. As an ASP professional, you bring your whole self to the table and you are mighty.  

Judging someone’s competency or job security based on the performance of other people at a task that is not entirely knowable is something that is far above our pay grade.

(Liz Stillman)

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gestalt

[2] https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/10/24/sports/who-cares-that-its-jets-patriots-needed-this-ego-boost/

October 25, 2021 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Professionalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Kathryn Shotwell, Guest Blogger)

 

References: 

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

 

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

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

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

October 17, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight

A plethora of recent scholarship to report:

1.  B. Templin (Thomas Jefferson), Integrating Spaced Repetition and Required Metacognitive Self-Assessment in a Contracts Course (2021).

From the abstract:

This article provides an example for doctrinal law professors to integrate metacognitive exercises into their courses in order to increase student retention and understanding of the material as well as improve exam test-taking skills. Teaching metacognition is traditionally the domain of law school ASP departments. However, when ASP methods are supplemented with required exercises in a doctrinal course, student performance can improve measurably.

2.  S. George (Suffolk Law), The Law Student's Guide to Doing Well and Being Well (Carolina Academic Press, 2021). 

From the abstract:

The ABA and most state bar associations have identified a wellness crisis in the legal profession, and called for educating students on how to better cope with the challenges of law school and practice. At the same time, students must learn how to maximize their brain health so that they perform well in law school and on behalf of their clients in practice. The same way musicians would tune their instruments, or chefs would sharpen their knives, law students must sharpen their minds. This book aims to help students “do well” in their ability to learn, and “be well” in the process, by exploring the deep connection between brain health and wellness.

3.  A. Soled (Rutgers) & B. Hoffman (Rutgers), Building Bridges: How Law Schools Can Better Prepare Students from Historically Underserved Communities to Excel in Law School, 69 J. Legal Educ. 268 (2020).

From the introduction:

This article discusses the needs of law students whose circumstances—including but not limited to economic status, race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or educational background—disadvantage them in relation to their classmates whose privileged environment better prepared them for law school. This article first discusses factors that affect academic performance at law school. Second, it illustrates prelaw school and law school programs that target the needs of students from historically underserved communities. Finally, this article proposes ways law school faculty and administration can help these students succeed in law school and in their careers.

4.  K. Testy (Washington), Advancing an Evidence-Based Approach to Improving Legal Education, 69 J. Legal Educ. 561 (2020). 

From the article:

Student-centeredness should not be a remarkable idea for legal education.
Yet, some educators resist student-centeredness on the grounds that such an
approach sounds too much like “the customer is always king.” Under this
line of thought, faculty members instead see their role as the expert with the
duty of deciding what the student needs. As one of my faculty colleagues once
explained to me, “Dean, you pay me to mold them, not to listen to them.”

In my experience, however, students usually do know what they need; we
can learn a great deal by listening

(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)

September 7, 2021 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Diversity Issues, Publishing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Mistaken Impression that Prior Exams are for Review and Not Practice

Over the years, I have noticed that many legal educators and students have an imperfect understanding of the utility of using prior exams for practice.  This misunderstanding usually holds that the purpose of such materials is for students to review the exams simply to see what topics professors test and methods with which they do so.  In turn, faculty become leery of providing such materials, as doing so might create an unwarranted expectation on students’ part that their exam will test the same topics and use the same methods.

This impression is problematic.  Both students and faculty are squandering the opportunity for students to use materials that will make them better learners, improve their performance in law school and the bar exam, and increase their knowledge and skills (both in classes and on the bar exam).

An important recent (methodologically sophisticated) study supports this claim. In Understanding the Metacognitive “Space” and its Implications for Law Students’ Learning, Professors Jennifer Gundlach and Jessica Santagelo found statistically significant evidence that:  “Students who reported using active strategies at the end of the semester were more likely to succeed in the class … relative to students who never used active strategies.”

Plenty of studies in other fields express similar results.

Faculty should better understand the use of prior exams and other materials that would allow students to practice rather than re-read over and over again.  Although many law professors used re-reading and re-reviewing prior exams in their studies, their success quite possibly could have been despite and not because of those flawed methods.  Faculty tend to have had an elite education, elite aptitude, and elite socio-economic condition opportunities for academic success.  They thus had a great degree of wiggle-room in terms of the efficacy of their learning methods

Many of our students are not so lucky.  If we admit students with fewer socio-economic opportunities and with non-elite academic credentials, we should not erect further obstacles to their success by assuming that the methods we used in very different circumstances will be effective for them. 

Especially given the recent findings quoted above, we should not rely on the anecdote fallacy (that because one person had success with a method all will have such success) and the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (that because certain study methods preceded success, those methods must have caused that success).  Instead, we should rely on the empirical evidence that shows that active learning, including taking practice exams, fosters success more optimally.

(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)

 

 

August 10, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

What to do with only 2 weeks left......

I write about this every bar exam administration, because I always get the same question -“What should I do with the remaining 13 days before the Bar Exam?” so I thought I’d share my advice with anyone else that may be wondering.

First, 13 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 22nd 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!

(Melissa Hale)

July 14, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Perspective

Right now, many of our bar takers are feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, despite many weeks of laboring studies, as to whether they have what it really takes to successfully pass their bar exams later this month. 

In my own life, self-chatter takes up so much of my thought-time and mental efforts.  

Self-doubt, lack of confidence, deep rooted feelings of not fitting in, of not having, the "right stuff," so to speak.  

In short, we start to wonder if we really do belong, if we really do measure up, if we somehow didn't just happen to make it through law school but someday, we will be found out to be a fraud, to be faking it all along.

For our bar takers, let me say at the outset that, if you feel gripped by worries and fear, you are not alone, at all.  

Most of us, when we took our bar exams, were worried out of our minds.

That's because - to be frank - taking bar exams is really not a natural part of life (and really has no place in the practice of law because it's totally unlike the practice of law with its over-reliance on recall and quick identification and resolution of issues).  Who practices law like that? So, it's okay to be concerned, stressed, and worried.

But let me also say that the next few weeks, while important, don't have to be lived out perfectly, as perfectly studious and perfectly performed. Rather, as you prepare for your bar exam later this month, focus on just two tasks.  

First, work through lots of essays and multiple-choice problems with the goal of discovering and learning and growing.  That means, when you miss things, don't give up.  Rather, use those opportunities as springboards to figure out how to get that sort of problem correct next time.

Second, spend time rehearing your lines, like an actor on stage, walking through, talking out, and practicing your study tools, issue spotters, and big picture problem-solving rules.  Focus on the major rules.  Forget the minor details.  People pass based on majoring on the major rules not on those pesky minor details.

But often times we, as human beings, think we have to know it all to pass the bar exam.  We don't.  You don't.  Rather, be confident in taking these next few weeks as opportunities to experience more practice problems and to practice rehearing the rules.  That's it.  Just two tasks.

That's still a lot - and that's were perspective comes in.  I'm in my sixties.  Just two years ago, I fractured my back in five places in a car accident, leaving me unable to walk without assistance and without a walker for a number of weeks and into several months.  In fact, as I took my first steps, I recall thinking that I would never ever again be able to hike, or walk, or bike.  That's because I was so focused on what I couldn't do, at present.  At best, with lots of help from both sides and a walker to balance myself too, I could only muster a handful of steps.  And painful steps to boot.

Last weekend, my wife and I took two days to trek about a little over thirty miles in the local mountains.  In other words, although I wouldn't have believed it two years ago, I'm back on the trail.  At the time, two years ago, I never saw any progress, or at least not much at all.  

Bar prep is a bit like that.  It just doesn't seem like we are progressing much at all, especially because we keep on missing so many issues and questions.  But, in the last week, things come together, exponentially so to speak, because we've planted and watered so many seeds of learning and discovering throughout this summer that they all start to bloom, like a beautiful flower bed, all at once.  

As we hiked through the mountains this week, headed uphill to a 11,700 foot plateau, I realized that I had actually grown quite a bit, as a hiker, over the past two years, so much so that I actually passed a few people, all much younger that I.  Of course, I was going uphill.  The hikers I passed were going downhill.  But I still take good cheer that I'm hiking on my own trail.  

That's all we ask of you and all that you should ask of yourself in the course of these next few weeks of bar prep.  Be yourself, walk at your own pace, keep going uphill, step by step.  But just like I do often on the trail, feel free to take lots of breaks throughout the day.  Those breaks help you see how far you have come uphill and how much you're progressed in your learning.  So trust yourself.   You can do this, one step at a time.  (Scott Johns).

 

July 8, 2021 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

July Bar Prep: Keep Shooting Free Throws

July always makes me think of shooting free throws in my backyard. I used to practice continuously, always imagining that moment where I would have an opportunity to shine, picturing no time left on the clock and the game coming down to my performance. If I made two consecutive shots, the crowd in my imagination would cheer, fans would rush the court, and I would be hoisted off the court on the shoulders of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to celebrate winning the NBA Championship (I was a huge Chicago Bulls fan).

However, and this will not surprise anyone who saw me shoot free throws in my early days, I did not always make the shot. Sometimes, despite my intention to win multiple imaginary championship rings, I would hear a clank and the ball would bounce off of the rim for me to chase down. It seemed that I had let the entire arena, all of the television audience, and my beloved Chicago Bulls team down…

BUT WAIT! Someone on the other team had stepped into the lane, and I was miraculously granted another shot (literally) to win the game. My past miss no longer mattered, but instead I now had the opportunity to shine and win again. In fact, no matter how many times I missed, someone would always step in the lane or get hit with a technical foul, and I would get another chance to win the game. During this process, I would always think about the shot I had made or missed, and whether I was balanced correctly, whether my elbow was aligned under the ball, whether my eyes were focused in the right place on the rim, and whether I followed-through correctly (B.E.E.F. for you basketball enthusiasts). 

Eventually, because I gave myself opportunities to be successful in practice, I built both my skill and confidence. Because I didn’t let every miss defeat and discourage me, I was able to diligently work to improve through repetition and positive self-talk. By reviewing constantly what I was doing when I made a shot and when I missed a shot, I got to the point where I was willing to be on that free throw line in any real-life situation, because I knew that every make and miss had prepared me to be successful when it actually counted.

July is a great time to remind our students to treat themselves with kindness and to approach bar preparation the way I used to practice free throws. They need to understand that in order to be successful on the bar exam, you do not have to be perfect in practice, but rather you just have to keep practicing and making adjustments. It is not about getting every question right now, but rather it is about learning and analyzing what you are doing to continuously make adjustments and build towards your eventual success. Students need to be reminded that any one day will neither make them successful nor limit their chances of success, but rather it is the daily effort, reviewing, learning, analyzing, and intellectual growth that will ultimately lead them to win the proverbial championship of being successful on the bar exam.

Encourage your students to keep shooting those practice free throws so they will be ready for game day, and remind them of the famous words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Remind them to continue working each day to realize success.

(Scot Goins - Guest Blogger)

July 4, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Purposeful Connections

According to a recent article, research suggests that changing the way curriculum is presented and taught can improve retention of underrepresented minorities in STEM programs. Berman, Jillian, How to Get More Women Into Technology: A Number of Programs Have Tried to Steer Women Into Step--Here's What Works, WSJ (Jun 1, 2021)

The article focused on a number of programs within the STEM fields in trying to increase representation and graduation in STEM majors of women and underrepresented minorities.  The overall trends are not promising.  For example, the percentage of women earning computer science degrees has decreased in the 20 year period from 1998 to 2018, and the percentage of Black women earning computer science or engineering degreee has likewise decreased during the same time period 1998 to 2018.  Nevertheless, one comment in particular caught my eye and it has nothing to do with programs but with a person - a person making a difference.

In the article, Dr. Cara Gomally laments that courses, particularly introductory biology courses, are often taught as a "march through content with no connection of why you should care."  Id.  Sounds a bit like some introductory law school courses to me.  

That lack of connection, of a nexus to purpose, the article suggests, leaves some people behind, particularly in the STEM fields.  To remedy the deficit, Dr. Gomally is designing curriculum to focus not just on content but on the broader connections and uses one can make with the content, such as exploring questions with students as to how antidepressants work or whether students should participate in genetic testing.  Id.  

Those sorts of "why-questions" are filled with life; they create space for people to see how what they are learning can make an impact for them and for their communities and the world at large.  It's in those opportunities in exploring the why of what we are learning that we start to see ourselves, as I understand the article, as valuable participants in the enterprise of, in this case, science.  Id.

This summer, we are working with a number of recent law school graduates preparing for next month's bar exams who, for the most part, will not practice constitutional litigation or contract law or the law of future interests or defensible fees.  Consequently, much of bar prep seems like rote memory and regurgitation, without making connections or exploring meanings to something greater than the mere content and skills in which they are tested by bar examiners.  

To the extent that our graduates fail to make such connections with what they are learning to their future lives as legal practitioners, I think we are doing a disservice to them.  Because many of our graduates want to practice immigration law, I like to explore connections to the word of immigration law within the midst of the bar exam content and skills.  Let me share a few examples.  

First, take the definition of a refugee - one who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected characteristic with the government unable or unwilling to protect them.  

That sounds a lot like a type of tort, perhaps both an intention tort and also a bit like negligence with the state unable or unwilling to protect the person fleeing persecution.

Second, take an article this week from the southern border about the U.S. government's decision to ask non-governmental organizations (NGO's) to designate some asylum applicants as especially vulnerable and therefore eligible to enter the U.S. to proceed with their asylum claims while leaving others behind.

That raises at least two constitutional issues, both of which are tested by bar examiners. First, there's a question as to whether vulnerability determinations by the NGO's constitute state action.  Second, there's a question as to whether vulnerability classifications used by individual NGO's violate the equal protection principle.  That's just getting started.  What about procedural due process and substantive due process considerations?  

Recently, I talked with a graduate, heading into criminal defense work as a public defender, who shared that they were not doing very well on contracts multiple-choice questions.  As to why, the content just didn't excite the person; it seemed irrelevant - totally unconnected - to their future practice as criminal defense counsel.  

In reflection, I asked whether there might be any connections b between contracts and the person's future work as a public defender.  It's just a hunch, we surmised, but we suspected that guilty pleas are contracts, which would ostensibly be governed by common law contract principles, such that if  a government withheld exculpatory evidence, that would not only be a constitutional violation but also a contract defense of unconscionability.  

To cut to the chase, the graduate said that in some ways contract law might actually reinforce the person's future clients' constitutional protections.  

In short, there can sometimes be more to the content than just mere rote learning.  Perhaps one day, somehow and someway, something from bar prep will lead to a new way of looking at how the law applies, really applies, to best protect rights and freedoms. And, in the course of exploring those possible connections with our students and graduates today, we might just be able to help them see that they belong in the legal field, that their experiences count, that they have more than what it takes to be attorneys. (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 17, 2021 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Gradual Improvement

This is the time in bar prep when everyone emails me that their MBE scores are too low, and they aren't seeing enough improvement.  I completely understand the feeling.  In my early ASP days, I tried to create small gradual goals for all my students after a diagnostic test.  The problem was no one followed the gradual improvement track because that isn't how improvement works.  I love the image posted below.  I saw it on facebook a while ago and found it again in google images.

Decoding GEnius : An HR Sojourn At GE Digital - InsideIIM

Don't fret if you aren't seeing the improvement you want.  Questions get harder as you go.  Bar prep companies test different subtopics, so you probably did learn something from the last set of questions.  The next set was on something different.  Improvement happens in the end.  You may not see it fast enough, but you are learning.  Keep up the good work.

(Steven Foster)

June 13, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Keeping Perspective

Tiger Woods won over 25% of tournaments he entered in his prime.  No one in his era came even close.  Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian.  Tom Brady won the most Super Bowl titles for a quarterback.  As a society, we celebrate the best/most/greatest.  Society goes even further to denigrate those who aren't the best.  The last player picked in the NFL draft is called Mr. Irrelevant.  A controversy erupted this week about a former basketball player who was picked #1 in the draft and then never played well.  Those players are still elite athletes making it to the highest stage in their profession.  Unfortunately, a multi-billion dollar industry exists that basically talks about relative strengths of elite athletes.  Elite becomes the standard that no one can live up to.

The norm permeates through to everyone, including our kids.  I was talking to my son a couple weeks ago about golfers.  Like many kids his age, anything less than perfection and winning is unacceptable.  I asked him whether the 2nd place PGA Tour golfer was good, and he said yes.  That is obvious because he is second.  I then asked him about a few middle of the pack PGA Tour golfers.  He said they weren't good.  I was shocked.  The players I named are top 100 golfers in the world.  They make a few million dollars a year and play a game for a living better than 99% of the population.  In his eyes, they aren't #1, so they aren't good.  

The elite perspective is impossible to live up to, and we all set that as the standard.  There will always be someone better.  Someone who makes us feel not as good about our own performance.  I don't want anyone to take that attitude into bar prep.  I hear it every summer.  Someone graduated higher in the class.  Someone completed more practice questions today.  Someone's simulated MBE score is higher.  Someone did something better, and thus, I am on the wrong track. 

Continued comparisons are crippling.  Don't let it stop you from achieving your goals.  Someone may have done more, but that doesn't mean you can't also pass the bar.  You can put the work in to succeed.  Don't compare yourself to the Tiger Woods of law school.  No one will get to that standard.  2nd, 3rd, and even 103rd still have J.D.s with the opportunity to become a practicing attorney.  Focus on the work you put in, and you will walk into the bar exam prepared.  Worry about what you can control, and you will be in a great position to succeed.

Everyone compares our own performance to others.  The comparison steals the joy of our accomplishments.  Stop the comparison and enjoy your opportunity to become an attorney.

(Steven Foster)

May 30, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Finish Your Marathon this Summer

Congrats to everyone graduating across the country.  Obtaining a J.D. is an amazing accomplishment.  You should celebrate your victories, but for most of you, the J.D. is not your final hurdle.  You still have 10 more weeks of preparation and one more test.  Don't get distracted now.  Finish strong on this last obstacle.

I know many students looked at their bar prep schedule and saw a little time before full time studying begins.  My advice is to start bar prep early.  Every major course pre-recorded all the lectures, so you can start the full course right after graduation.  Don't wait until June.  You need to study 400-500 billable hours.  Spreading it over 10 weeks increases the likelihood of completing the work.  You can also spend extra time on your weak areas later in bar prep if you are ahead.  

I hope everyone enjoyed graduation.  Congratulate yourself on your accomplishment.  Also know, you have the grit to pass the bar.  Most of you completed 3 semesters of school online or in a hybrid format.  You experienced social upheaval while navigating a pandemic.  You already overcame obstacles for the opportunity to take the bar exam.  Seize your opportunity and finish the summer strong.  Good luck!

(Steven Foster)

May 16, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Is Bar Prep Too Slick?

I recently had lunch with one of my colleagues from across town - Professor Denise DeForest at the University of Colorado.  

As we talked through our thoughts on learning, legal education, and bar prep, Prof. DeForest explained something to the effect that she teaches students to expect the unexpected in bar prep, that nothing will every quite feel right, at least not until the very end, because bar prep is just difficult preparation indeed. In Prof. DeForest's words, bar prep is "going from one disaster to another disaster."  That's because bar prep is about learning to solve problems, which means making lots of mistakes and wrong turns along the way.

Sometimes I wonder if bar prep can be too slick, with too many "learning" tools and pithy lines that serve to blur one of the most blunt facts of life, that learning involves challenging ourselves, finding out what we know and what we don't know, and then working on ways to learn what we still have to learn.  In short, it's hard work.  Not impossible work.  But difficult work.

As Prof. Melissa Hale at Loyola University Chicago reminds us, bar prep is  "a taxing full time job." Hale, M., How Do I Study for the Bar Exam? (May 12, 2021).   But, as Prof. Hale also points out, that means treating bar prep as a job, nothing more and nothing less.  Id.  Just like work, take breaks.  Id. Even take mini-escapes because they can rejuvenate your mind and uplift your spirit.  In short, "it's a marathon - train accordingly." Id.  

For our graduates soon to be embarking on bar prep, this is a time to remind them that they can do it, that they can succeed, and that success hinges - not so much on feeling well-prepared - but rather in facing the challenges of learning head on, with adventurous curiosity, recognizing that mistakes are the valuable stepping stones to success, real success, not just on the bar exam, but throughout life, too. (Scott Johns).

 

 

 

May 13, 2021 in Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)