Monday, June 17, 2019
Beard: n. a person who carries out a transaction for someone else in order to conceal the other's identity. – Oxford Pocket English Dictionary
It is a common practice for high-stakes gamblers to use a beard, a trusted acquaintance, when placing a bet. Beards keep the identity of the “shark” gambler unknown and preserve the odds. Celebrities and people who want to conceal their dating partnerships also use beards to maintain an expected public persona and to preserve their privacy.
The true role of a beard is to control or influence audience perception. Our job in academic support is to influence the perception and actions of the students we serve. ASP behind the beard allows us to fulfill our mission of student service and advancement. Behind the beard our message is not altered or concealed, only the messenger is.
My real-life experience behind the beard looks like this. For weeks, I preached and pushed a certain commercial tool to my bar takers. I negotiated a substantial discount for their purchase. I offered weekly incentives, provided demonstrations, and all but swore a blood oath that this tool would increase their chances of passing the bar. Crickets. I asked a recent bar taker to share her experience with the tool. She made one social media post that echoed verbatim my message. Within minutes of the post, I received multiple inquiries about the tool and sign-up confirmations.
Today’s law student does not respond to the pedagogy of the past. We may tell our students what is best for them academically and make recommendations for learning tools to support their development. And we may be right. But until our students “hear us” and find credible our advice and recommendations, our words fall on deaf ears. We can strategically use the peer learning model and employ student tutors, fellows, and former students to promote our messages by sharing what has worked for them to positively influence the actions of current students.
Friday, June 14, 2019
The NCBE announced recently the Bar Examiner magazine has a new website with the most recently publication online. Here is the information from Tiffany Stronghart at the NCBE.
"I’m inviting you to visit the new website of the Bar Examiner, a quarterly magazine published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners providing comprehensive, authoritative information on current issues in bar admissions, legal education, and testing.
In our current issue, you’ll find
- statistics from the 2018 bar exam and 2018 bar admissions by jurisdiction;
- score distributions, examinee counts, and mean scaled scores for the MBE and the MPRE;
- a snapshot of the February 2019 MBE results; and
- a look behind the scenes at how MBE items are written, selected, and placed on test forms.
Visit our new site at www.thebarexaminer.org and subscribe to receive emails announcing new issues.
Feel free to share this message with your colleagues or others who may be interested in bar admissions!"
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
It is June 11. Recent law school graduates, separated from the exaltation of graduation by two weeks of breakneck lectures, rote memorization, and mystifying practice questions, are increasingly conscious of the brief (and increasingly briefer) interval between now and the administration of the bar examination. Less than 50 days to learn all this new material, to recollect even more old material, and to master the skills needed for three different testing modes! If your students are like mine, they are still displaying a lot of grit and energy, but are beginning, after experiencing the intensity of bar preparation, to wonder if they will be able to accomplish all they need to succeed in the end.
Seven weeks does not seem like enough time to accomplish much. Or does it? Consider:
It is June 11. The Second Continental Congress has been considering the Lee Resolution, a proposal that the American colonies should formally declare their independence from the British Empire. Unable to agree without the text of an actual declaration in hand, the Congress appoints the Committee of Five – Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston – to draft a statement that all the colonies might agree upon. The Committee of Five presents their draft document less than three weeks later. The document is considered by the Congress as a whole, after which some changes are made on July 3. On the morning of July 4, the Declaration of Independence, in its final form, is adopted by the Second Continental Congress.
It is June 12. A French army, led by Joan of Arc, wins its first offensive victory at the Battle of Jargeau. After relieving the siege of Orleans earlier that spring, Joan had persuaded much of the French army to join her in opposing the English force that had occupied France and had prevented the coronation of the rightful French king, Charles VII. After Jargeau, Joan leads this army as it takes town after town and turns the tide against the English. After the army takes the city of Reims, the coronation of Charles VII takes place on July 17.
It is June 13. Having received from Daniel Ellsberg copies of the top-secret Vietnam Study Task Force – a collection of original government documents supplemented with historical analysis created by the Department of Defense as a history of the Vietnam War – the New York Times begins publishing excerpts that revealed details of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam that were not previously known publicly. These excerpts soon become known as "The Pentagon Papers." The Nixon Administration, hoping to discourage future leaks of classified information, seeks an injunction against the Times to prevent further publication. This action tests the limits of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press as bounded by claims of national security concerns, and it moves apace all the way to the Supreme Court. On June 30, the Court, in a 6-3 decision, upholds the right of the New York Times to publish The Pentagon Papers.
This is a great week to begin to change the world. Remind your students that, this summer, they have the time to change theirs.
Monday, June 10, 2019
Take a rest. A field that has rested yields beautiful crops. – Ovid
In a profession where, by definition, we support and give so much to our students we face the risk of having not enough left to nourish ourselves. Those of us who, in addition to teaching and academic support roles, play a role in professional or supplemental bar prep programs see no end to the academic year. The graduation procession precedes exam grading and final grade submission, only to be followed immediately by a new order of coaching, providing practice essay feedback, and guiding students through the stress of bar study. We are not immune to the stressors that we try to guide our students through. Our minds echo with resounding worry about whether our students have done enough, whether we’ve helped enough, and whether any one of our students will pass the bar. And while our student-graduates wait in angst for months to learn the results of the summer exam, those in ASP quickly progress to the next peak in the 12-month cycle with very few lulls.
The cycle is seemingly endless. After the arduous 10-week period of bar prep, we go almost immediately into orientation training, then to fall semester teaching, then again to exam grading followed by a feverish period of winter bar prep. Yet in this relentless cycle we must find time to rest and replenish ourselves. All the more so for those of us with scholarship or other additional responsibilities. Those in the throes of summer bar prep should remember that we alone cannot shoulder the weight of the bar results for our schools or for any one student. We must guiltlessly take the time off that is available to us with a sense of enjoyment and entitlement. By taking well-needed time for rest and restoration, we model balance to our students. When summer responsibilities do not allow for a full vacation, we can fit smaller periods of rest into our week by taking a three-day weekend, dedicating one day per week to work from home (if school policy permits), leaving early on a Friday or starting late on a Monday during the summers. We too are at risk of burnout and savoring a simple pleasure, like a long walk or a short drive, a call to a non-lawyer friend or a 15-minute sanity break, can rest our minds and lift our spirits.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Yesterday, the quiz show Jeopardy! enjoyed its highest ratings in more than 14 years, <spoiler> on the day that 32-game winner James Holzhauer lost to librarian Emma Boettcher and fell just short of breaking the all-time record for most money won during regular play. (Sadly, James walked away with only $2,464,216.) My friends in the trivia community have been watching James's exploits with various mixtures of admiration, envy, bemusement, and exasperation. The latter two emotions have been prompted not by James himself, but by the sense-making reactions of casual viewers and the media to his success, and then to his defeat.
James racked up an intimidating number of high-scoring games -- including all of the top-ten highest-scoring games of all time -- and he sometimes won by six-figure margins. To a lot of pundits, these overwhelming victories suggested a new and singular player: either someone with unmatched, superhuman genius, or someone who had come up with a novel strategy that had "broken" the game forever. From the perspective of a lot of fans at home, this made sense. How else could someone achieve such never-before-seen results without some sort of mystical secret ingredient?
But to a coterie of former players and dedicated aficionados, there was nothing mysterious or unduplicable about James's style of play. He is a tremendous player, to be sure, certainly among the best. But the skills he brought to the game are pretty much the same skills other great players have exhibited before. He knows a lot of trivia; he is very adept at using the signaling device to snatch the opportunity to answer first; he understands the optimal strategies for choosing clues and making bets. His historically high scores are due mainly to a gutsy willingness to risk losing all or most of his pot by making big bets that, when successful, have left him with insurmountable leads. In the past, even the strongest players played more conservatively, hedging their bets so a wrong answer wouldn't take them out of the running. But James is a professional gambler, and he decided to maximize his return by maximizing his risk. This was a choice, not an aptitude, and anyone playing against him would have the capacity to make the same choice.
In fact, in yesterday's game, Emma did just that, making her own big bets to take a lead that James could not overcome. When the game hinged on one final question -- one that all three contestants would have the chance to answer, and on which each would have to make a wager -- Emma, in the lead, bet most of her accumulated winnings. James, close behind in second place, did something the audience had never seen him do before -- he bet only a tiny fraction of his pot, not even enough to catch up to Emma's pre-final score. Across the country, Twitterers and newspaper columnists alike responded incredulously. He wasn't even trying! they wrote. He's throwing the game on purpose! Commentators tried to make sense of the motivation behind such uncharacteristically tame behavior as James's desire to go home to be with his young daughter or his unwillingness to destroy the previous all-time record, out of respect to the record-holder, Ken Jennings.
But, again, to those who have played the game, there was nothing inconsistent or irrational about James's small bet. If you're in second place going into the final question, and you have more than half of the leader's score, then the leader is virtually always going to bet enough so that, if she answers correctly, her score will be more than twice your pre-final score. Even if you bet everything you have from second place, if the leader gets the final question right, you cannot catch her. There's nothing you can do to win if the leader gets the final question right -- so you need to think about how to maximize your chances of winning if she gets it wrong. And if she gets it wrong, she loses the amount that she bet -- often, an amount that is big enough to drop her score below your pre-final score. In such a case, if you want to make sure that you will win if the leader answers incorrectly -- whether or not you answer correctly yourself -- then you want to make a bet small enough to stay ahead of the leader's final score if she gets the last question wrong. And that is why James bet small at the end. He was still playing to win.
I'm saying all of this not to minimize the accomplishments of a truly great Jeopardy! player, and not even primarily to teach people sound game strategies. What I'm hoping I've done is illustrate how the natural human inclination towards sense-making can easily lead to misjudgments and misinterpretations, especially when people know something well enough for it to seem familiar, but not truly intimately. Sense-making is the act of coming up with plausible rationalizations for why things are the way they are. It is not necessarily a bad tendency -- it is, after all, how scientific inquiry begins. But "plausible rationalizations", while comforting, are often inaccurate, and relying on them uncritically can be dangerous.
Our students and recent graduates preparing for the bar exam are just now in that space where they've seen enough of the structure and content of the bar exam for them to seem familiar, but not enough of them to really intimately how to do well on it. As they take practice tests and observe their fellow preparers and hear stories about people who performed well or poorly in the past, they might run into some of the same issues with sense-making that I described in everyday Jeopardy! viewers:
- Misjudging the ratio of cause to effect -- People are naturally impressed by outcomes, and when causes are not well understood, there is sometimes an assumption that big differences in outcomes can only be explained by big differences in causes. Many viewers saw James's high scores, nearly twice as high as previous records, and assumed that he was twice as smart or twice as quick as anyone who had played before him. In reality, he was probably only slightly more skillful than most of the folks he played against, but the nature of the game is such that, once a player gains a small advantage in scoring, he can exploit and multiply that advantage enormously. In a similar way, bar studiers who see big differences between themselves and their classmates, or who see only small improvements in their own performance over time, might not be familiar enough with the task of bar preparation to recognize the true magnitude of the causes of those differences. They might assume that small improvements (or plateaus) indicate that they have not learned much, when in fact they've made a great deal of progress and are nearing a tipping point of improvement. They might assume that they could never get scores as high as some classmates', because they are just not smart enough or don't have time to study as much as they'd need to, when in fact in absolute terms they might only need to improve, say, recall by ten percent. (Or the mistake could be in the other direction -- for example, assuming that adding fifteen minutes of flash card study every day will double their MBE score.) Over time and with practice and feedback, they should get better at making these judgments, but this early in the summer, we should be generous with lending some perspective to their rationalizations.
- Tendency to search for a single overarching cause -- Systems are complicated, and humans like simplicity. There is something comforting and manageable about identifying one thing -- like a super big brain or a revolutionary game strategy -- that totally explains how to achieve a particular outcome. Thus, we see graduates who insist that the key to doing well on the bar is religiously answering a certain number of MBE questions each night, or memorizing the contents of a particular outline (especially one that someone who passed the bar before them has endorsed). The truth is that the bar exam is multimodal and designed to test multiple skills and multiple dimensions of understanding. There is no single overarching cause of success on the bar, no matter how comforting that would be, and helping students to recognize early on the rich multiple approaches to success will help them proceed more realistically towards their goals.
- Tendency to attribute unexpected observations to new causes -- At a primal level, there is something unsettling about the unexpected, and one sense-making reflex is to assume that anything we haven't seen before must be a manifestation of some new element. James's unexpectedly small bet was completely explainable within the schema he used to make his earlier large bets, as applied to a new set of conditions, but viewers unfamiliar with that schema assumed that the small bet indicated a complete change in goals and strategies. In the same way, a student who sees an unexpected drop in practice test scores one week might tell themselves that it's because the testing room has changed or the weather is hotter or the lecturer that week is not as good. But the reality might simply be that the method of study the student had been using for the previous few weeks, which was fine when they had only covered three or four subjects, is now just not able to help the student handle the burden of six or seven subject's worth of materials.
Of course, it is sometimes true that new observations are attributable to new causes. The reason sense-making can be dangerous for students is not because every plausible rationalization is wrong, but because, without support, students may not be able to tell the difference between sound and unsound rationalizations. The students most likely to succeed on the bar, just like the contestants most likely to win on a game show, are those who learn enough before the big day about the challenge they face to be able to actually make good sense of what they are doing.
Monday, June 3, 2019
Don't let compliments get to your head and don't let criticism get to your heart. -- Lysa TerKeurst
The other day we held a bar workshop at my school. At the end of the session we collected evaluation forms from the students. I could hardly wait until the students were all out of the room to look at their written comments. A colleague and I sat at the edges of our seats to read what the students wrote about “our” workshop. As we thumbed through the evaluation forms, we read an abundance of smile-generating comments like: Good, Good, Excellent, Learned something new, Would recommend this session to others, and Glad I came. But our smiles askewed when we reached the one comment that read this session was longer than I expected and the presentation was poor.
Of the many laudatory comments, only one offered anything other than praise. And yet that one evaluation form is all that we focused on for the rest of the afternoon. My colleague and I became defensive and responded to the anonymous feedback as if talking to the student who submitted it. I suspect that our reaction was not atypical in the academic support teaching profession. We probably reacted in the same manner that many professors do as we review our course evaluation forms, student emails, or other summative feedback. We focus almost blindly on what someone did not like at the expense of commentary reflecting the effectiveness of our teaching and service.
So many of us in academic support or other teaching professions may put too much weight on the criticism and not enough weight on the compliments. Perhaps it is because we invest so much in the success of our students and the excellency of our programs that we forget the role that criticism can play in our own professional development. As this summer’s bar prep gets rolling full throttle, I’ve made a promise to myself to not let my view of the forest be impeded by one tall tree. While I am providing my students with daily affirmations, I pledge to affirm and nurture myself and my wellbeing. In doing so, I will be better able to service my family and my students who depend on me. As you read your course evaluations and performance reviews this summer, challenge yourselves to take criticism with a grain of salt (or a bottle of wine) and be thankful for the wonderful learning opportunity that the feedback provides.
Thursday, May 30, 2019
Last week at the annual Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Conference, Professor Paula Manning shared an analogy about learning that gripped my mind and heart.
You see, as Professor Manning reminded us, working out to get in shape is tough work. Building muscles, well, takes daily pain. It requires us to push ourselves, to lift beyond what we think we can, to walk further than we think we can, and to run harder than we think we can. And, it requires us to work out nearly everyday. Moreover, as Professor Manning related, the next day after a heavy workout can feel just downright aching. "Oh do those muscles hurt." But, we don't say to ourselves: "Wow, that hurt; I'm not going to do that again." No, instead, we say to ourselves: "That was a really great workout; I'm building muscle." In short, we are thankful for the temporary pain because we know that it will benefit us in the future.
But, when it comes to learning, as Professor Manning reflected upon, we often tend to not view the agonizing daily work of learning as beneficial in the long term. Rather, if you are like me, I tend to avoid the hard sort of learning tasks, such as retrieval practice and interleaving practice, for tasks which, to be frank, aren't really learning tasks at all...because they aren't hard at all (such as re-reading outlines or highlighting notes, etc.). But, if you and I aren't engaged in difficult learning tasks, then we aren't really learning, just like we aren't really building muscles if we just walk through the motions of exercise.
So, for those of you just beginning to embark on preparing for your bar exam this summer, just like building muscles, learning requires building your mind to be adept at legal problem-solving by practicing countless multiple-choice and essay problems on a daily basis. In short, the key to passing your bar exam is not what you do on bar exam day; rather, it's in your daily practice today that makes all the difference for your tomorrows.
As such, instead of focusing most of your energies on watching bar review lectures, reading outlines, and taking lecture notes, spend most of your learning in problem-solving because that's what you will be tested on this summer. Big picture wise, for the next six weeks or so, half of your time should be spent in bar review lectures, etc., and the other half should be spent working through practice problems to learn the law. So, good luck in working out this summer! (Scott Johns).
Sunday, May 19, 2019
July Bar Prep is starting in many jurisdictions. The Bar Exam in general is a tough test, and the MBE seems to be getting tougher. However, don't let the difficulty psych you out in the first week. This is a marathon not a sprint. Pace yourself so you keep your energy up throughout bar prep.
Many bar prep companies will start with MBE workshops or a few MBE questions. Don’t worry if you don’t get many questions correct. No one starts out acing the MBE. The diagnostic test is the baseline to improve from. If you follow a good plan, complete the MBE questions throughout the summer, and thoroughly review the answer explanations, you should improve your scores significantly. Stay positive now because you will need it later.
My biggest suggestion is to develop a good strategy for each MBE question. Hone that strategy and stick to it throughout bar prep. MBE questions include irrelevant facts and distractor answer choices. You will fall victim to some of the tricks if you passively complete MBE questions. Attacking the MBE with the strategy from your Academic Support professor or bar review company is critical. Practice your strategy on every question. One of the most exciting moments I remember while watching basketball was game 6 of the 2013 NBE finals when Miami was losing to the Spurs with less than 20 seconds. Miami's fans were leaving. They didn't want to see their team lose the NBA Championship. Lebron James missed a 3 point shot and Ray Allen was in the paint going for a rebound. Ray didn't get the rebound, but when Miami teammate Chris Bosh did, Ray backpedaled behind the 3 point line. He caught a pass, drained the 3, and the game went to overtime. Lost in the story is what it takes to make that 3. Many people think Ray Allen was born a brilliant 3 point shooter. He would argue otherwise. He said in an interview that he practiced that exact type of moment thousands of times over the years. He didn't need to think about what to do because he practiced it so many times. Practice is what made him great. Answering MBE questions is the same way. Practicing a strategy on all the possible questions will make exam day manageable. Practice a winning strategy throughout the summer to excel in your biggest moment on your biggest stage.
The bar exam is a grueling test. Remember to tell yourself every morning that YOU HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, AND ABILITY TO PASS THE BAR!!!! Now just execute.
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
I'm firmly convinced that profession or occupation should take second place to relationships; we are persons first and law students / bar takers / lawyers second. However you choose or define your family, your relationships within this structure are likely to be the longest and deepest relationships of your life. Our families are central to our lives.
We do a disservice to ourselves if we elevate what we do above who we fundamentally are. Crises such as the serious illness or impending death of death of family or intimate friends can make for difficult decisions. We should approach these decisions not so much on practical as on moral or spiritual grounds. For example, instead of asking "Will I be able to focus on studying for the bar when my stepfather is in hospice care?", it is more life-affirming to ask "Is it better for me to postpone the bar exam to be with my mother now or to keep studying so she has space to grieve?" In different families, this may lead to radically different results: sometimes it is better to postpone the bar examto be with family during critical times; sometimes it is best to honor the wishes of those we love by continuing to devote our energies to the goal they have encouraged us to achieve. There are no easy answers in a family emergency, only hard choices.
More apropos to most bar takers, however, is managing more mundane family relationships over the ten weeks of studying for the bar. After three long years of law school and an impressive graduation ceremony, our families can be forgiven for thinking that the hardest part is over with and that the bar exam is mostly a formality that will validate our years of hard work. It's especially easy to make this assumption when bar takers are doing the majority of their work online at home. Children clamor for attention; spouses expect us to be more physically and emotionally available; parents suggest outings; cousins assume we will attend weddings, family reunions, weekends at the lake, and other festivities. It's easy for loving families to sabotage bar review with the best of intentions. Or, rather, it's easy to sabotage our own bar preparation by allowing ourselves to be sidetracked. By taking a long-term approach we can maximize the effectiveness of our bar review while remaining fully engaged with our families.
First, understand your family dynamics and plan accordingly. If you move back in with your parents to save money during the bar review period, for example, will you waste time or be more efficient? Several years back I talked with a 3L who was moving into his mother's house to study for the bar. I asked whether the living situation would distract him from effective studying. "Oh, no," he laughed. "My mother is a schoolteacher and the most disciplined person I know. After dinner she'll probably look at the clock and tell me I have two more hours of studying to do so I'd better get to it." Other former students have reported the exact opposite: parents would repeatedly drop in while they were studying, disrupt their focus, and guilt-trip them into time-wasting activities. If you know the latter is more like the dynamics in your family, you're better off in the long term spending extra money for rent so you can concentrate. Likewise, it is the rare parent who can study effectively with small children present. Your bar review will likely be more efficient if you study away from home: greater concentration will more than compensate for the time it takes to commute to library or school, and you will have the added benefit of associating with your peers.
Second, create a schedule and stick to it. Bar review is like a full-time job (or full-time job with regular overtime) both in hours and in commitment. Sure, if you have a full-time job you will occasionally leave to take the dog to the vet or go to the dentist, but you mostly keep regular hours and pay attention to the task at hand while you're at work. Do the same with bar review. Having a regular schedule allows you to schedule in a good amount of family time when you are "off work." Make the family time commitment just as important as the bar review, even though the time will be shorter. When you're with family, truly be with them, not mentally running through the Erie doctrine or the parole evidence rule. Not only will this show your loved ones how much you treasure them, but it will also make it easier, both for you and for them, when you return to studying.
Finally, it's vital to communicate openly and honestly with your family, not only as you start out but also throughout bar review. Tell them this is an important time requiring as much or more effort as law school. Let them know how intense the bar exam is and how it tests you in ways you never encountered in law school, such as by having multiple subjects in one question, testing over a dozen subjects at once, and testing subjects in random order. Ask for their patience, their help, and maybe even their forgiveness. Acknowledge that you might be stressed and cranky, especially in July. Put your bar prep activities on a shared calendar so they can get a visual picture of what you're doing. And most importantly, let them know how much you cherish them even when studying for the bar exam is requiring the bulk of your time. Honoring your relationships during bar review will not only pay off in more effective studying but will give you a great start to balancing work and life once you are in practice.
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
This week, most of my 3L students are taking their last final exams. On Sunday they will graduate, and within a week or so, they will begin preparing to take the bar examination. Twenty years ago, this meant a return to the lecture hall for eight weeks of intensive lectures, surrounded by my closest classmates and a couple hundred other recent graduates. Today, the rise of online courses and live streaming means it is possible to complete an entire bar preparation course without getting out of bed, or at least without leaving one's home. It may be hard in the face of such convenience, but it is important to remind out graduating 3Ls of the substantial benefits of human contact.
One of the first things I tell my incoming 1L students is, "The law is a social profession." Successful practitioners, I explain, know the value of hashing out ideas and strategies with colleagues, and they develop networks of other lawyers to whom they can turn to make (or receive) referrals or to ask for guidance outside of their own areas of expertise. I tell my students this partly to help them to see the benefits of conferring with their own classmates and of taking advantage of mentoring and networking opportunities. But I also tell them because I know that a significant portion of the students in each incoming class needs this kind of encouragement, because they do not reflexively reach out to others for support and information. This tendency is explained in part by their natural inclinations; according to Eva Wisnik, president of Wisnik Career Enterprises, about 60 percent of those who become lawyers are introverts.
By their 3L year, many students, including some of those more introverted ones, have perceived the value of collaborative work, as in study groups and trial teams. Even so, the ten weeks or so between graduation and the bar exam pose new challenges. Some students, tired of the law school grind, envision a comparatively more manageable summer, one in which they can watch videos and undertake exercises online at their convenience instead of on a set schedule. Others may underestimate the time and attention demanded by the bar exam and conclude that the effort of traveling to campus, particularly on a set schedule, is not worth it. Under these circumstances, it may take extra persuasive effort to convince newly minted graduates that there are benefits to seeking out the company of other new graduates.
Still, there definitely are benefits. Full participation in bar preparation courses can be easier to achieve when the courses are seen as group activities in which groups of students commit to watching videos and working on exercises together (and to hold each other accountable for missed work). Group study and review provides additional opportunities for feedback and clarification. And when bar preparation becomes a stressful, tedious, and/or exhausting chore, as it often does halfway through the summer, commiseration can inspire tenacity.
How do you get soon-to-be ex-students to take advantage of these benefits by making particular efforts to associate with their peers, even when the apparently easier route would be to go solo? There are three things to keep in mind:
- Start early. Don't wait until graduation day is within reach to begin encouraging students to think of ways to work together during bar preparation. Social activities are easier to accept when they are perceived as social norms -- that is, just the way people expect to do things. Pointing out the social aspects of legal practice from the first year is one way to begin. Another way of normalizing the expectation that students will make efforts to work together during bar preparation is to encourage recent alumni who have done this successfully to share their experiences with friends from later classes.
- Make it easy. Bar study is difficult and consuming. Having to make special efforts to collaborate may seem like too much, to those overwhelmed by course expectations. Anything a school can do to lower the threshold of energy or attention required to collaborate can help. Provide dedicated space on campus so that bar studiers can easily find each other. Set up channels of communication early and keep students informed of resources and opportunities to gather, and look for ways to connect such opportunities to activities already on students' radar screens (such as live video programs sponsored by bar preparation companies).
- Add value. Finding ways to provide additional benefits to your alumni can change their calculation of whether or not it is worth it to them to step away from solitude and join their classmates, even if only occasionally. Offering small incentives, like free coffee and snacks or access to classroom space, can make getting together more inviting. More ambitious incentives might include providing supplemental live workshops on particular test-taking skills or subject matter areas, which can simultaneously draw students from their isolation and prompt interaction and planning with other participants.
At the end of the day, success on the bar exam does depend on individual effort. But in the face of innate introversion and technological isolation, we can help our students to recognize, once again, that individual effort can be promoted by social cooperation.
Friday, May 10, 2019
Kirsha Trychta, former contributing editor, gladly passed along her notes from the recent webinar discussing declining bar pass rates and the role of law schools. If you have questions, you can contact her for more details. Below are her notes.
On May 6, 2019, I attended a free webinar entitled “Live with Kellye & Ken: Declining Bar Passage and the Role of Law Schools in Bar Exam Prep and Reform.” The 90-minute presentation consisted of six panelists:
- Aviva Abramovsky, Dean of University at Buffalo School of Law
- Leonard M. Baynes, Dean of the University of Houston Law Center
- Jon M. Garon, Dean of Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law
- Judith Gunderson, President of National Conference of Bar Examiners
- Kenneth Randall, Dean Emeritus at University of Alabama Hugh F. Culverhouse, Jr. School of Law
- Kellye Testy, President & CEO of LSAC
Gunderson opened the presentation with an update on the state of the bar exam. She explained that the February 2019 MBE mean increased for the first time since 2013. According to Gunderson, the NCBE regularly focuses on the MBE statistic because: (1) the NCBE does not grade the essay component, (2) there are different cut scores across the jurisdictions, and (3) not all jurisdictions release results at the same time.
She then told “the tale of two bar exams,” a tale which emerges if one compares July and February. The NCBE reports that 68-70% of all examinees that sit in February are repeat test takers. Meanwhile, in July repeat test takers comprise only 26% of all takers. Typically repeat test takers earn lower scores than first time takers. Moreover, even February first-time takers have a lower mean than first-time takers in July. Finally, February score reports are complicated by the small number of applicants in some jurisdictions. Consequently, just 3 or 4 people can totally derail a mean average for a particular jurisdiction. In short, February scores are “not stable.”
The adoption of the UBE is also impacting how many times each applicant sits for a bar exam. Overall, the total number of people sitting for the bar exam keeps dropping, and each year there are less “passers” or “strong repeaters” (that is, those people who passed in one jurisdiction and sit again for licensure in a second jurisdiction.) The decrease in overall takers—especially strong takers—continues to drive the overall pass rate numbers down. For more statistics, click here.
Next, the Deans were invited to opine on whether law schools really have a problem with bar passage. Abromovsky acknowledged that “we have a lot of changes going on right now, especially with the UBE.” She suggested that law schools might just need a certain amount of time to “react with pinpointed specificity” to the changing format. Baynes agreed and specifically highlighted the addition of civil procedure to the MBE. He was, however, more concerned that “we’ve created a social construct of who passes and who doesn’t pass.” If people are labeled as “likely to fail” or “likely to pass” perhaps they internalize the labels and then perform consistent with the assigned label. Garon raised another concern: the ABA’s competing goals of increasing the focus on experiential learning and learning outcomes, while also increasing bar passage. Can law schools really do both simultaneously, he wondered. Testy rounded out the discussion by reminding listeners that the LSAC is “an incredibly strong predictor of success in law school,” but it’s not the only thing a law school should consider.
Randall, serving as a moderator, then posed a batch of questions for the panelists: What is the responsibility of law schools regarding the bar exam? Are there tradeoffs? Should there be different curriculum tracks for students?
Garon responded unequivocally: there is a lot of pressure to assume a greater, more active, role in both job placement and bar passage. For example, at Nova Southeastern, they’ve extended bar preparation into all three years of the curriculum. In addition, there is a mentoring program during bar prep for both first-timer takers and repeaters. Nova even offers two years of free CLE to aid in the transition from law school to the workforce, including a “launch pad” program for those who are interested in solo practice. Garon linked the increased pressure to prepare students for the bar and for legal practice to economic changes. He suggested that “economics have undermined the relationship between law schools and law firms.” Students are expected to be billing associates on their first day at the office, instead of just beginning their training when they join the firm. Baynes aptly summarized, “we are now responsible for everything.”
The University of Houston Law Center conducted a regression analysis, using five years of law school data, and determined, unsurprisingly, that lower law school grades correlated with lower bar passage. In response to their findings, Houston created a “special course” for the lowest performing students. Baynes explained that the law school admits every student thinking they will pass the bar exam, so if it becomes apparent that the student might not pass the exam, it is incumbent upon the school to intervene. One possible intervention could be the mandatory implementation of midterm examinations in first-year courses. One Dean observed that since administering midterm examinations, students’ performances have increased overall, including in courses without a midterm examination (i.e. pedagogical transference). He then quickly—and probably correctly—remarked that law professors “might not be the best teachers.”
Baynes has also seen an increase in the degree of anxiety among his students. Students are more willing to talk about mental health issues, but the cost of treatment remains a barrier. To combat the growing trend, his law school now offers meditation embedded in the curriculum. Similarly, other schools have adopted wellness activities like yoga and petting zoos. Garon commented on the Board of Law Examiners continued improvement in their handling of character and fitness disclosures, especially as those disclosures relate to mental health issues. He then raised a parallel concern: academic testing accommodations. While the jurisdictions have been willing to revisit their position on mental health disclosures, many remain quite unmoved regarding testing accommodations. Too frequently, accommodations which were considered appropriately documented at law school are not sufficiently documented for the Board of Law Examiners, creating another barrier to exam success.
Abramovsky used most of her allotted time to discuss the impact of the post-2008 economy on law schools. The average law student is no longer unmarried, childless, willfully unemployed, and fully dedicated to their legal education. Her institution found, again unsurprisingly, that completing the bar preparation course was the strongest indicator of bar passage. She encouraged schools to focus their efforts on identifying why some students do not complete the bar preparation program. She suspects those students are too busy working part-time (or even full-time) jobs to study for the bar exam. Perhaps that also explains why the student earned poor grades in law school, she wondered aloud. She said law schools would be wise to check-in with their students in a routine and more holistic way. She offered this metaphor, ripped from the headlines: an emergency room adopted a series of mini-checklists that doctors must complete before discharging a patient, designed to reduce the frequency of post-discharge infections. Since adopting the quick “have you…” checklists, infections have dramatically decreased. It appears a little check-in goes a long way.
Following Abramovsky’s observations about the financial crunch, Testy announced that AccessLex is currently developing a lower-cost bar preparation course. AccessLex’s press release states, “The program will function like a co-operative, with a transparent pricing structure established at a break-even level and reduced further as cost efficiencies are gained.”
The panelists entertained questions from the audience. A listener inquired whether the NCBE could better assist law schools in identifying the specific subjects that are tested on the bar examination. Gunderson explained that the specific subtopics vary every few years, following input from various stakeholders. For example, in the last few years several jurisdictions have suggested that environmental law and Indian law should be added to the bar exam, but the number of requesting jurisdictions “has yet to reach critical mass.” Meanwhile, the number of stakeholders pushing for negotiable instruments continues to decline each year. Gunderson stressed that the “NCBE has no power.” Ultimately the individual jurisdictions decide what components to administer and how to score the exam.
Gunderson then pivoted to how students can better prepare and announced that NCBE study aids are now available in an interactive learning platform. The “everything” packet which includes over 900 practice questions costs $250. She also publicized that the NCBE plans to host an academic support focused conference this fall and will subsidize the travel costs for some attendees to ensure maximum participation. She then reminded everyone that the Testing Task Force is out there collecting suggestions on the future of the bar exam, including the focus groups which will take place at the Association of Academic Support Educators Conference later this month.
Garon is concerned that “we keep expanding what we expect of students.” The bar exam used to be just a measurement at a moment in time between law school and starting your legal training. Now the bar exam is frequently being used as a proxy by employers to measure the graduates’ readiness to join the workforce. Garon recommended that we scale back the breadth of knowledge tested and instead increase the professionalism component, because that is what employers want anyway.
The panelists also talked about the future of “state specific components” on the bar exam, considering the UBE. Each Dean explained how their particular jurisdiction has handled the issue. It quickly became apparent that there is little consensus among the jurisdictions. Abramovsky chimed in, and said, “reasonable discourse” was to be expected, and that “we should be proud to consistently reexamine issues [like this one] that require core balancing decisions.”
(Kirsha Trychta, Guest Blogger)
Friday, April 26, 2019
Myra Orlen was kind enough to put together a recap of the NY ASP workshop. Her report is below.
Kudos to Kris Franklin of the NYLS and Rebecca Flanagan of UMass Law School for organizing a wonderful workshop at NYLS on April 12, 2019.
The morning offered excellent presentations – most centering on providing ASP and Bar programs to part-time students.
The New York Workshop offers a unique opportunity for ASP’ers to select a topic that they want to learn more about and offer to lead a discussion on that topic. The afternoon sessions offered a mix of focused discussions and more traditional presentations. All were excellent!
The morning sessions focused on assisting part-time law students:
ASP’ers from Pace Law School – Danielle Kocal, Stephanie Desiato, Stephen Iannacone, and Kerriann Stout shared ideas about helping part-time students maximize their time by thinking about life in terms of buckets: work; family; and school. Part-time students can benefit by using a planner and filling each bucket at the beginning of the week.
ASP’ers from the CUNY School of Law addressed Time Management – inside and outside the Academic and Bar Support Classroom. Most striking in the CUNY presentation was the ratio of ASP staff to students – in both the full-time and part-time programs. CUNY has a very well-resourced program. Ninety percent of students participate in CUNY’s voluntary program that stands as a model for those ASP’ers attending the workshop. CUNY staffers provide in-person and on-line programming. ASP staff sit in on one-L doctrinal courses and run ASP sessions that cover skills such as doctrinal review, case reading/briefing, note taking, practice exams, and answering hypos. The CUNY presenters included Haley Meade, Laura Mott, Asima Chaudhary, Nate Broughty, and Allie Robbins.
Reichi Lee of Golden Gate University School of Law spoke on using online/hybrid programs to support part-time students. GGU has a 60-student part-time program. Students are on campus three nights a week. GGU maintains an e-learning on-line website. The e-learning website contains workshops that are accessible to students.
Kandace Kukas of Northeastern University School of Law discussed coaching part-time students through the bar, including having frank conversations about whether students are ready for the challenge. Factors to consider are work and life schedules, commitments, and whether they will be able to devote the necessary time to prepare for the bar exam. Kandace suggested meeting with part-time students early, by their second-to-last year, and at the beginning of their final year. The key is to establish the trust necessary for honest dialogue with part-time students. Topics to be discussed include planning, time to devote to bar preparation, work time – can students take time off from work – or will students quit work. It is important to check in with students during their final semester and as bar applications are due. Kandace also stressed that it is important to coach students that taking the bar exam unprepared hurts students and their school. Students who get raw scores of 80/90 on full-length practice exams should strongly consider delaying taking the bar exam. Attendees at the workshop agreed that failing the bar exam is a devastating blow.
Shane Dizon of Brooklyn Law School lead attendees in an exercise to consider whether law schools should require or recommend upper-division bar course mandates for evening students.
Rebecca Flanagan of the University of Massachusetts School of Law presented on “Them Digital Natives! Gen Z and Technology Usage.” Rebecca has continued her research on who our law students are – generationally. Current students can be viewed as Digital Natives – information has always been available to these digital natives. For Digital Natives, information has always been available and readily consumable. But these Digital Natives do not know everything about technology. They know the social aspects, but do not know how to use digital tools. They are not skilled at interacting with each other without a technology as a mediating force and can struggle with interpersonal communications.
The Afternoon Sessions:
As the afternoon sessions began, Kris Franklin sent around a pad and asked those attending the workshop to contribute a “what I wish I knew when I began my work in ASP.” That list has been shared on the ASP list serve and this blog.
Eileen Pizzurro of Rutgers Law School lead a discussion on Orientation and ASP.
Chris Payne-Tsoupros of the UDC/David A. Clarke School of Law lead a discussion on Enhancing Student Engagement in Summer Programming.
Nicole Lefton, C. Benji Louis, and Cara Caporale of Hofstra, Maurice A. Deane School of Law, lead a discussion on Reinforcing Executive Function Skills. In this session, we learned that our executive function is plastic and improvable and learned about techniques to incorporate executive functioning and metacognition into academic success and bar programming.
Stephen Horowitz, of St. John’s University School of Law, presented on “1.5 Gen. Students and “Sound Right” vs. Read-Right Grammar Strategies.” In this presentation, we learned techniques to use with students who came to the U.S. in their teens or earlier or for undergrad. They seem fluent in English, but “quirks” arise in written English. They learned English by ear and know what sounds right. One technique addressed was the use of iweb corpus as to word choice.
Kris Franklin of New York Law School, presented on “Framing Legal Rules Helpfully.” In her presentation, Kris Franklin used an IRAC exercise to show that framing legal rules helps to accurately spot issues. If a student has not accurately framed the rule, the student will have difficulty successfully addressing the whole problem contained in an IRAC hypothetical.
Susan Landrum, of St. John’s University School of Law, lead the final discussion on “Self-care: Reducing Burnout When Working with Stressed-Out Students.” The last session was a discussion of self-care for ASP’ers. “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” This discussion was a great way to end the workshop. Whether it’s setting a time each day for a walk or for meditating, ASP’ers experience high burnout; we cannot give everyone all of our time. The workshop ended with what all of us do for ourselves. This writer takes lessons in landscape painting.
As usual, after the workshop ended, we went to a local establishment and continued to socialize. Also as usual, the New York Academic Success workshop did not disappoint. I end where I began, kudos to Kris Franklin and Rebecca Flanagan!
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
The dog really did eat my homework. To be more precise, when I left my desk to fix a cup of tea, my four-month old puppy tore into my outline with joyous, tail-wagging abandon. Those pages that didn't turn into blobs of slobbery mush were ripped to shreds. I panicked, of course. Based on the nonchalant manner in which the professor had conducted the class, I had assumed the exam would be a policy-discussion cakewalk. Too late I realized that while classes were casual, the professor's exams were rigorous. My case briefs were chicken-scratch; my class notes, almost worthless. And the outline the dog destroyed? Well, it wasn't exactly "my" outline; it was a photocopy of a friend's outline because I'd been "too busy" to create my own. And since I had borrowed it only three days before the exam, in those days before e-mail attachments made routine information-sharing easy, I didn't feel like I could count on my friend's good graces to give up her original for the several hours it would take me to copy it again. I had an emergency on my hands.
To be sure, life has its share of genuine emergencies, the gut-wrenching, out-of-the-blue occurrences that shake our world to its foundations. And when these happen the best thing is to let someone at the law school know as soon as you can. But many, perhaps most, of the emergencies we encounter in the law school context, whether as students or instructors, stem from the combination of unexpected circumstances plus our own lack of foresight. We can mitigate the effect of these circumstances by prudent practices. Perhaps you've heard the acronym PPPPPP -- Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Proper prior planning can indeed help weather most law school exigencies.
Computer mishaps are nowadays probably the most common law school emergencies. The hard drive crashes, the computer is dropped, the wifi network goes down, printers jam, and suddenly we lose precious work product or can't access needed materials. Consistently creating backups and having alternatives are the keys to mitigating any computer problem.
Using a cloud storage and file synchronization service like Dropbox is the easiest way to provide consistent backups, but because even the best systems fail occasionally, it's wise to periodically check that backups are actually being made. Those reluctant to trust documents to the cloud can effectively back up with encrypted thumb drives or external hard drives. In time-crunch situations like putting the finishing touches on a brief, even e-mailing critical documents to yourself works. When using physical backups, it's prudent to use multiple devices in different locations and to rotate them: for example, you can keep one encrypted thumb drive in your backpack, one in your vehicle, and one at home.
Just as important as backing up current documents is saving versions of your documents through time. Most of us have had the experience of either accidentally deleting a large chunk of material from a document or deliberately cutting out a sections of what seems like extraneous material, only to realize later we wanted the section back. So it's a good practice to save documents under a new name at least daily by adding the date or a sequential number so you can retrieve mistakenly deleted material from an earlier version of the document. At this time in the semester, for example, many students are filtering their outlines down to the essentials. When you use your capsule outline in tackling practice problems, you may find that you were over-enthusiastic in pruning rule statements or even left an important concept entirely out of your capsule outline. Having your earlier, more expansive outline to draw from can save you hours of work.
A good way to mitigate emergencies is to have alternatives in mind given the certain knowledge that things don't always work as they should. Are old exams easily accessible on the web? Figure that the school's internet may go down, and download them to your own computer so they are available when you need them. Does everyone in the law school use the same two printers when legal writing assignments are due? Chances are that your legal writing faculty does not accept "the printer jammed" as an excuse for late papers. Scope out alternatives across campus, or print out your near-perfect brief at home so you can have something to turn in on time even your last minute perfect brief gets stuck in the law school printer queue. Is arriving on time critical for a meeting, exam, or interview? Leave home early enough so you can cadge a ride if your car breaks down or stay calm in the midst of a traffic jam.
Prevention, of course, is the best cure. Learning and reviewing day by day, week by week, practicing problems, diligently doing interim assignments, building and refining your own outlines over time -- keeping a steady schedule of good habits can put you in a place where a total computer melt-down has limited effect because you already have have learned and practiced the material throughout the semester. Otherwise, you just have to hope the dog doesn't sneak into your study.
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
A blank piece of paper has so much potential. It can be used to display one's ingenuity. It can be a medium for communication between two people, or among thousands. It can record data and history and memory, to be used by people born long after the recorder is dead. And yet, under certain circumstances, our stationery friend can seem to turn on us. When we are asked to answer an inscrutable question, the oppressive blankness of an empty sheet can be smothering. When we think that our reputation, our livelihood, our entire future depends on scratching the right symbols in the right order, the page can seem like a minefield of hidden threats.
When I was a kid, television seemed to be entering its golden age of public service announcements, and to me it seemed the most common subject was fire. Fire was our friend, we were told, making food safe and houses warm; but we always needed to be aware of what to do if it grew dangerous. And what we needed to know was that our natural inclinations were usually wrong. Foe example, even though we knew that water was the opposite of fire, if something caught fire in the kitchen, then we were not supposed to throw water on it, because it was probably a grease or electrical fire, and water would just make it worse. If our whole house caught fire (say, because we threw water on a kitchen fire), then we weren't supposed to hide in a nice, safe closet, because then we'd be trapped and the firefighters would never find us. If we caught fire, then we weren't supposed to run, trying to find some water to jump into. That, we were told, would just light us up like a Roman candle. Instead, we had to fight every instinct and stop, drop to the ground, and roll around politely.
What I could not understand as a child was that these PSAs really had two purposes. One was simply educational, teaching us that behaviors that made perfectly good sense in one context (dousing fire, hiding from danger, fleeing danger) might actually expose us to additional harm in a different context. They were maladaptive behaviors. Sea turtle hatchings naturally paddle towards a bright light, which helps insure they reach the ocean when the brightest object in the night is the moon reflecting off the water, but which will insure they remain stranded on land when the brightest object is the patio light behind a beach house. Infantry charging a defensive position en masse often led to an advance when the defense was armed with swords, but always led to a slaughter when the defense was armed with entrenched machine guns. The ways to counter maladaptive behaviors are either to return to the original situation (turn of the patio light) or to replace the old behavior with a new one (attack with tanks and aircraft). When Ronald McDonald sang, "Stop, drop, and roll!", he was teaching children a new behavior to replace the old maladaptive behavior.
But even the dimmest of my childhood friends got the gist of Ronald's commands after the third or fourth viewing. Why were we hearing these messages so frequently, from so many different sources? That went to the second purpose of the PSAs. Education is a good start, a necessary start, but the problem is that being on fire, or at least near fire, is an inherently stressful situation. And psychologists know that "Under stress, we regress." That is, under difficulty situations like panic or sensory overload or fear of consequences, humans naturally fall back on older patterned behavior. Most drivers, for instance, know intellectually that if their car loses traction in a skid, they should pump the brakes and steer into the skid to regain control. But the first time they actually hit a skid, most drivers stand on that brake pedal. Only if they live someplace wacky with snow, like Buffalo, do they get enough practice with the skid to develop the new adaptive behavior.
Even television executives were able to recognize that it would be unethical to light kids on fire over and over again until they learned to stop, drop, and roll. So they did the next best thing: they repeated the message over and over again, and encouraged children to try practicing the moves even when they weren't alight, to ingrain the new behavior as much as possible. The more familiar a behavior became, through repetition and feedback, the less likely a person would be to regress away from it under the actual stress of combustion.
At this time of year, I am seeing work from a lot of students who seem to be regressing under stress: 1L students using tactics in their spring semester midterms that appear to be drawn from their most basic legal writing classes, or from college composition classes; 3L students trying to mechanically apply CREAC format to early MEE and MPT practice questions. Even when we know we have shown these students the more advanced strategies they should be using as they progress through their development as attorneys, we have to keep in mind that that blank piece of paper or computer screen can just as easily be a threat as a blessing. Under the stress of self-doubt, or of novelty, or of high ambition, or future consequences -- sometimes of all of these at once -- the amiably clean page can transform into an incandescent hazard. Repetition and feedback are important not just to help our students improve their use of the more advanced strategies they need, but also to make them comfortable and familiar enough to be able to use those strategies at all.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Two stories that I heard recently have been echoing off of each other in my mind, because of what they say about the human reaction to things that we, personally, would never consider doing.
The first was told to me by a fellow professor at my law school. She said she had been talking with two of her teaching fellows -- conscientious and diligent 3L students with excellent grades -- about the upcoming July 2019 bar exam. She conveyed to them a recent conversation she had had with me, in which I had told her about the data that showed that many students who were not passing the bar on their first attempt had also not been fully participating in their summer bar prep courses. She had expected that these top students would share in her incredulity that anyone would not commit themselves 100 percent to their summer bar prep . . . but was astonished when their actual incredulity was prompted by the suggestion that fresh law graduates really ought to do just that. Each of them had just assumed that, being newly-minted lawyers with excellent academic credentials, they were already mostly well-prepared for the bar exam. They told her they'd figured they'd watch maybe half the summer classes, in the subjects they had never studied before, and do some of the practice exercises, and that would be enough to bring them up to speed. Flabbergasted, the professor explained to them why it was important to sit through every lecture in every subject and to participate in as many practice exercises as possible, because the bar exam would be so very different from everything they had done before it.
Fortunately, these students respected this professor so much that they took her word as gospel, thanked her profusely for telling them what they needed to know, and promised to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their summer bar preparation. She told me this story partly to make the point: We think it's the struggling students, the ones who already have problems juggling all their assignments, who are the ones who flake out over the summer, but even top students can have the wrong impression about what is required for their success on the bar. Even as she was telling the story, though, she was still clearly shocked: How can people not know this?
I read the second story this week, when it was widely reported that a woman in Arizona was attacked by a jaguar when she tried to take a selfie in front of the creature. The beautiful black feline was pressed against the side of its cage, and the woman decided she wanted a photo of herself with the cat in the background. There was a metal barrier, designed to keep people a minimum distance from the side of the cage, but the woman stepped over it so she could get a closer shot. When she was within reach, the jaguar stuck its front leg between the bars of the cage and sank its claws into the woman's arm.
This story has been widely reported, and those reports usually feature two snarky points. One is a criticism of the ubiquitous modern urge to take selfies, even in dangerous situations. The other is a disdainful incredulity that anyone would blithely cross a safety barrier to put themselves in range of a pawful of tiny daggers. How can people not know this is a bad idea? Why, as several news outlets pointed out, the same jaguar did the same thing only last summer, clawing a man who had stuck his arm behind the barrier reaching towards the animal! Doesn't that just prove what a bad idea it was?
This last part is why the stories have been resonating for me. I'm only human, so I enjoy news stories like this, and tweets and memes like Florida Man and Darwin Awards, that purport to showcase just what poor decision makers humans can be. Can you believe these people? [shakes head and rolls eyes] But the fact that the same animal made the same kind of attack less than a year ago doesn't make the story funnier. It turns the story sour. Because the woman who was attacked didn't know about the previous attack. If, outside the jaguar's cage, there had been a photo display of the man attacked the previous summer, showing the eight stitches he had received just by reaching over the barrier, maybe the woman would have thought twice about cozying up to Panthera onca. Was not sharing this information with her justified simply because the man's behavior was simply inconceivable to most people? Because it was not inconceivable to her.
My colleague told me her story essentially for that reason -- she knows how many 3L students I work with, and she wanted to alert me to the need to tell all of them, not just the obviously struggling, about the consequences if they step too close to the jaguar cage by not fully participating in their summer bar courses. I am grateful to her for that. Sometimes when you tell people about some of the reasons students do not succeed at school or on the bar -- not participating in a bar prep course, say, or trying to work full-time and study full-time simultaneously -- their dismissive reactions are more along the lines of Can you believe these people? [shakes head and rolls eyes] Sometimes I find those reactions hard to believe in an educational setting, but I feel it is my job to find a way to help those people see that incredulity does not have to forestall empathy, kindness, and instruction.
Thursday, February 28, 2019
For those of you that just tackled the bar exam this week, here's a few words of congratulations and a couple of tips as you wait for bar exam results.
First, let me speak to you straight from my heart!
Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean!
Those are just some of the words that come to mind…words that you should be rightly speaking to yourself…because…they are true of you to the core!
But, for most of us right now, we just don’t quite feel super-human about the bar exam. Such accolades of self-talk are, frankly, just difficult to do. Rather, most of us just feel relief – plain and simple relief – that the bar exam is finally over and we have somehow survived.
That’s because very few of us, upon completion of the bar exam, feel like we have passed the bar exam. Most of us just don’t know. So now, the long “waiting” period begins with results not due out for a number of months.
So, here’s the conundrum about the “waiting” period:
Lot’s of well-meaning people will tell you that you have nothing to worry about; that they are sure that you passed the bar exam; and that the bar exam wasn’t that hard…really.
Not that hard?
You know that I passed?
There’s nothing for me to worry about?
Let me give you a concrete real life example...
Like you, I took the bar exam. And, like most of you, I had no idea at all whether I passed the bar exam. I was just so glad that it was finally over. But all of my friends, my legal employer (a judge), my former law professors, and my family kept telling me that I had absolutely nothing to be worried about; that I passed the bar exam; that I worked hard; that they knew that I could do it.
But, they didn’t know something secret about my bar exam experience. They didn’t know about my lunch on the first day of the bar exam.
At the risk of revealing a closely held secret, my first day of the bar exam actually started out on the right foot, so to speak. I was on time for the exam. In fact, I got to the convention center early enough to get a prime parking spot. Moreover, in preparation for my next big break (lunch), I had already cased out the nearest handy-dandy fast food restaurants for grabbing a quick bite to eat before the afternoon portion of the bar exam so that I would not miss the start of the afternoon session of the bar exam.
So, when lunch came, I was so excited to eat that I went straight to Burger King. I really wanted that “crown,” perhaps because I really didn’t understand many of the essay problems from the morning exam. But as I approached Burger King, the line was far out of the door. Impossibly out of the door. And, it didn’t get any better at McDonalds next door. I then faced the same conundrum at Wendy’s and then at Taco Bell.
Finally, I had to face up to cold hard facts.
I could either eat lunch or I could take the afternoon portion of the bar exam. But, I couldn’t do both. The lines were just too long. So, I was about to give up - as I had exhausted all of the local fast food outlets surrounding the convention center - when I luckily caught a glimpse of a possible solution to both lunch and making it back to the bar exam in time for the afternoon session – a liquor store. There was no line. Not a soul. I had the place to myself. So, I ran into the liquor store to grab my bar exam lunch: two Snicker’s bars. With plenty of time to now spare, I then leisurely made my way back to the bar exam on time for the start of the afternoon session.
But, here’s the rub:
All of my friends and family members (and even the judge that I was clerking for throughout the waiting period) were adamant that I had passed the bar exam. They just knew it!
But, they didn’t know that I ate lunch at the liquor store.
So when several months later the bar results were to become publicly available later that day, I went to work for my judge wondering what the judge might do when the truth came out – that I didn’t pass the bar exam because I didn’t pack a lunch to eat at the bar exam.
To be honest, I was completely stick to my stomach. But, I was stuck; I was at work and everyone believed in me. Then, later that morning while still at my work computer, the results came out. My heart raced, but my name just didn’t seem to be listed at all. No Scott Johns. And then, I realized that my official attorney name begins with William. I was looking at the wrong section of the Johns and Johnsons. My name was there! I had passed! I never told the judge my secret about my “snicker bar” lunch. I was just plain relieved that the bar exam “wait” was finally over.
That’s the problem with all of the helpful advice from our friends, employers, law professors, and family members during this waiting period. For all of us (or at least most of us), there was something unusual that happened during our bar exam. It didn’t seem to go perfectly. Quite frankly, we just don’t know if we indeed passed the bar exam.
So, here’s a few suggestions for your time right now with your friends, employers, law professors, and family members.
1. First, just let them know how you are feeling. Be open and frank. Share your thoughts with them along with your hopes and fears.
2. Second, give them a hearty thank you for all of the enriching support, encouragement, and steadfast faithfulness that they have shared with you as walked your way through law school and through this week’s bar exam. Perhaps send them a personal notecard. Or, make a quick phone call of thanks. Regardless of your particular method of communication, reach out to let them know out of the bottom of your heart that their support has been invaluable to you.
3. Finally, celebrate yourself, your achievement, and your true grit....by taking time out - right now - to appreciate the momentous accomplishment of undertaking a legal education, graduating from law school and tackling your bar exam.
You've done something great; something mightily significant! Congratulations to each of you! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Next week, thousands will be headed to convention centers, etc., to show case the handy-work of their bar preparation efforts for the past two months. In preparation, bar takers have watched weeks of bar review lectures, worked hundreds and even thousands of bar exam problems, and created myriads of study tools, checklists, and flashcards.
Nevertheless, with one weekend to go, most of us feel like we aren't quite ready, like we don't really know enough, with all of the rules - to be honest - tangled and knotted up in a giant mess in our minds.
Yet, let me say this up front. Despite how most of us feel, this weekend is not the time to learn more law. Rather, it's time to reflect on what you've learned, to let it live in you, to give it presence within you. But, how do you do that?
Well, as I heard in a recent talk about medical education, I think we've got something important to learn from the medical schools that just might help with bar prep, too. You see, apparently, despite all of the massive amounts of information available from the learning scientists, the philosophy of training doctors boils down to just three very simple steps: "See it--Do it--Teach it."
Here's what that means for the upcoming bar prep weekend: For the past several months, you've been focused on "seeing it" and "doing it." You've been watching lectures, taking copious notes, reading outlines, and working problems. In short, you've been busily learning by seeing it and doing it.
But, for most of us, despite all of that work, we aren't quite sure (at all!) whether we are ready for the real bar exam because we haven't yet taken the last step necessary for cementing and solidifying our learning; namely, we haven't yet "taught it."
So, that's where this weekend comes in.
Throughout this weekend, grab hold of your notes or study tools or checklists or flashcards, pick out a subject, and teach it to someone. That someone can be real or imaginary; it can be even be your dog Fido. But, just like most teachers, get up out of your seat, out from behind your desk, and take 30 minutes per subject to teach it to that someone, from beginning to the end. Then, run through the next subject, and then the next subject, and then the next subject, etc. Even if you are by yourself, talk it out to teach it; be expressive; vocalize or even dance with it. Make motions with your hands. Use your fingers to indicate the number of elements and wave your arms to indicate the next step in the problem-solving process. Speak with expertise and confidence. And, don't worry about covering it all; rather, stick with just the big topics (the so-called "money ball" rules).
What does this look like in action? Well, here's an example:
"Let's see. Today, I am going to teach you a few handy steps on how to solve any contracts problem in a flash. The first thing to consider is what universe you're in. You see, as an initial consideration, there's the UCC that covers sales of goods (movable objects) while the common law covers all other subjects (like land or service contracts). That's step one. The next step is contract formation. That means that you'll have to figure out if there was mutual assent (offer and acceptance) and consideration. Let's walk through how you'll determine whether something is an offer...."
I remember when I first taught. I was hired at Colorado State University as a graduate teaching assistant to teach two classes of calculus. But, I had a problem; I had just graduated myself. So, I didn't really know if I knew the subject because I hadn't yet tried to teach it to someone. As you can imagine, boy was I ever scared! To be honest, I was petrified. Yet, before walking into class, I took time to talk out about my lesson plan for that very first class meeting. In short, I "pre-taught" my first class before I taught my first class. So, when I walked into the classroom, even though I still didn't quite feel ready (at all) to teach calculus students, I found myself walking in to class no longer as a student but as a teacher. In short, I started teaching. And, in that teaching, I learned the most important lesson about learning, namely, that when we can teach something we know something.
So, as you prepare for success on your bar exam next weekend, focus your work this weekend on teaching each subject to another person, whether imaginary or real. And, in the process, you'll start to see how it all comes to together. Best of luck on your bar exam! (Scott Johns).
February 21, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Recently, I heard a discussion suggesting that bar passers do things differently in the final two weeks than those who are not successful on the bar exam. That got me thinking about what I've been seeing, at least anecdotally, in my 10-plus years working with students in preparing for their bar exams.
First, both groups tend to work extraordinarily hard in the last two weeks before their bar exams. So, what's the difference? It must be in the type of work that the two groups are doing. In short, during the final two weeks, it seems to me that bar passers tend to ramp up their practice with lots and lots of MBE questions and essays [while also creating super-short compact homespun study tools (2-3-page outlines, flashcards, or posters)]. In contrast, people who find themselves unsuccessful tend to focus on creating extra-bulky study tools and trying to memorize those study tools with very little continued practice of MBE questions and essays. In brief, one group is continuing to practice for the exam and the other group is focused on memorizing for the exam.
But, here's the rub:
It’s a perfectly natural feeling during the final two weeks of bar prep to want to focus solely (or mostly) on creating perfect study tools and trying to perfectly memorize all the law.
But, according to the educational psychologists, there’s something called “useful forgetfulness.” You see, when we jam packet our study tools with everything, we aren’t learning much of anything because we haven’t had to make any hard decisions about what to let go (what to “forget”). We’re just typing or handwriting or flowcharting like a scribe. But, when we purposefully decide that we are only going to make a super-short “starter” study tools (knowing that we can always add more rules as we work through more questions during the next couple of weeks), our decisions about what to put in our super-short study tools (and what to leave out) means that we actually empower ourselves to know both what we put in our study tools (and what we left out).
As a suggestion, tackle two subjects per day – one subject that is essay-only and one subject tested on both the essay and the MBE exam. Starting with one subject in the morning, using the most compact outline that your commercial course provides (and referencing the table of contents for each subject), create a super-short study tool with the goal of completing your study tool in 2 hours or less.
Here’s a tip:
If you think that you need a rule, don’t put it in because you can always add more later. Instead, only add a rule that you’ve seen countless times over and over. Just get it done. Move quickly. Don’t get stuck with definitions of elements, etc. Stick with the big picture umbrella rules. Think BIG picture. For example, be determined to get through all of contracts in 2 hours (from what law governs to remedies). As a suggestion, have just one rule for each item in the table of contents for your commercial bar review outline. Don't go deep sea diving. Stay on the surface. Then, in the remainder of the morning, work with your study tool through a handful of practice essays. In the afternoon, repeat the same tasks using a different subject (creating a snappy study tool and working through a few essays). Finally, in the evening, work through mixed sets of MBE questions.
In the last week before the bar exam, with most of your starter study tools completed, focus on talking through your study tool (for about one hour or so) and then working through lots and lots essay problems and MBE questions. As you practice in the last week, feel free to add rules that come up in practice essays and MBE questions to your study tool. As I heard one person explain it, your study tool becomes sort of a "bar diary" of your adventurous travels through essays and MBE questions (thanks Prof. Micah Yarbrough!). In short, you've created a study tool that has been time-tested and polished through the hard knock experiences of working and learning through lots of bar exam hypothetical problems.
So, for those of you taking the February 2019 bar exam, focus on practice first and foremost because you aren't going to be tested on your study tool. Rather, you're going to be testing on whether you can use your study tool to solve hypothetical problems. And, good luck on your bar exam! (Scott Johns).
P.S. For those taking the Uniform Bar Exam, there are 12 subjects as grouped by the bar examiners (I think there are 14 subjects in California, depending on how you count subjects):
* Business Associations (Corporations, Agency, Partnership, and LLC)
* Secured Transactions
* Federal Civil Procedure
* Family Law
* Wills & Trusts
* Conflicts of Law
* Constitutional Law
* Criminal Law & Procedure
Friday, February 1, 2019
The ABA House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly against the proposed toughening of bar passage standards for ABA schools. The adverse impact on California law schools and on diversity were two reasons given for the defeat of the proposal. You can read about the vote in the post on Inside Higher Ed here.
Thursday, December 20, 2018
Congratulations December 2018 graduates! What a herculean achievement! Simply put, outstanding!
Nevertheless, I know that for many of you, right now it feels like a bit of a let down because you find yourself right back right back in the classroom as you prepare for your bar exam in February 2019.
That's exactly how I felt. Simply put, graduation felt a bit disingenuous as I had so much work left to be done to earn my law license. However, let me be frank. As you approach your bar studies, you are no longer a law student but a law school graduate. It may not feel like much of a difference, but its important to recognize - throughout these two months of your bar review learning - that you are a new person with a new professional identity, trained and well-seasoned to think through, analyze, and communicate solutions to vast arrays of legal scenarios.
Despite such remarkable progress as demonstrated by your law school graduation, many bar takers stumble in the first few weeks of bar prep, finding themselves increasing at odds with how to best learn and prepare themselves for the bar exam. I sure did. I spent much of the first few weeks trying to learn the law by, well, listening to professors talk about the law and watching professors talk about solving legal problems with the law. Big mistake! Cost me a lot of valuable time! That's why I write to you, dear law school graduate and now bar taker. Instead of focusing on learning the law, focus right from the get-go (i.e, that means right now, today!) on working through lots of practice problems each day. In short, I was, unfortunately, a "linear learner," as Professor Catherine Christopher says in her wonderful book entitled Tackling Texas Essays (Carolina Academic Press 2018): https://cap-press.com/books/
I. Linear Learning
Let me explain a bit about the difference between linear learning and recursive learning. As depicted by Professor Christopher in the diagram below from her book on successfully preparing for the bar exam , linear studying has a defined path. And, as a bonus, it sure looks nice and orderly, leading to the illusion of a direct straight-line path to success. Indeed, right now, many of you are focused (solely?) on watching videos, reviewing your notes, reading your commercial outlines, and making gigantic study tools. But, if you are like me, you aren't yet taking practice exams (or are only doing very few of them at the most).
Linear Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)
However, as explained by Professor Christopher, that's a big problem. Here's why. You'll end up spending most of the 8 - 10 week bar prep period doing very few practice problems, trying instead to master the law so perfectly so that you'll have enough confidence in the last few weeks to do well on practice problems. In short, you are afraid (I sure was!) to tackle practice problems because there's so much to know (and so many ways to make mistakes).
However, that's a big problem because it's in our mistakes that we learn best. We don't really learn by watching others. Who ever learned to play piano, play soccer, dance, or even litigate a case without practicing (which means "rehearing" and "acting out") what you hope to accomplish in the future with polish? No one prepares to become an expert without first being a novice.
But, as Professor Christopher comments, it feels really terrible, really terrible, to practice problems so early on because we make so many mistakes. But, if we delay practicing problems until the last few weeks possible, we make that practice much more of a high stake experience, in the words of Professor Christopher, such that there's no wiggle room for errors in our practicing experiences (so that there is no room for learning, either). In my opinion, linear studying leads to disappointment and frustration.
But, there's good news ahead, for those of you who engage in recursive learning.
II. Recursive Learning
Now here's a bit about recursive learning. As depicted in the diagram below from Professor Christopher's text, successfully preparing for the bar exam involves learning in a circular recursive process rather than a straight-line linear process.
Recursive Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)
As Professor Christopher explains, the first step - "reading and reviewing" - involves watching lectures, taking lectures notes, and reading outlines [about 4 hours or so per day].
But take note of second step in the circular process: "work to understand." That means that we get involved in the learning, we take center stage, so to speak, in our own learning by "work[ing] to understand the material" so that it becomes real to us. Just like learning a language, in which we start to start learning to speak and write a language by...speaking and writing a language! For bar takers, that means in this second stage that we make our own personal condensed notes or flashcards or other study tools to "help...get the information into [our] head[s]." (Here's a snappy suggestion: Just take hold of one (1) blank piece of paper, and, referencing your lecture notes in hand, write down, scribble, flowchart, and doodle the major take-aways from that day's lecture. Note: Don't let yourself get bogged down by trying to re-write your entire lecture notes; rather, focus only on big picture concepts because people pass the bar based on the big picture principles rather than the nitty picky details.). [about 1 hour or so per day].
The last step takes real bravery, discipline, and honesty too. And, it's vital for your learning. Start right away that very day, each day, by digging into actual bar exam questions, working through them one by one, using notes and outlines freely, and then reviewing practice answers afterwards to assess what went well along with concrete ways to improve with future practice problems. Here's a key tip for your practice sessions: Be super-curious when you miss a question; poke back around to the fact pattern - like a detective - to figure out whether you missed the question because you missed a rule or, more likely, you missed an important trigger fact in the fact pattern. So, for example, if you write a picture-perfect IRAC essay but then notice that the problem didn't involve that rule, go back and figure out where in the facts the correct rule was triggered. In short, don't just test yourself through practice problems but rather use the opportunity to learn through practice problems. [about 3 to 4 hours or so per day]. (Then, as illustrated by Professor Christopher's diagram, the next day we begin again with another bar review lecture.).
The great news is that throughout this process, while you might not feel like you are doing much learning, you are really dancing with the materials, making them your own, developing and finessing your critical reading, organizational, and writing skills. In short, you are productively on the path to successfully preparing for your bar exam.
So, in the midst of this bar review season, take courage. Indeed, be of good cheer, as the holiday saying goes, because true learning takes its shape in you - step by step - through the daily process of recursive learning - (1) reviewing, (2) working to understand, and (3) then testing yourself through practices problems. To be personal, I wish I had known this at the outset of my bar prep season. So, feel free to step out of the "line" and learn! Oh, and congratulations again on your graduation from law school! What a wonderfully momentous accomplishment! (Scott Johns).
December 20, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)