Sunday, July 28, 2019

CaliLeaks – A Step in the Right Direction

Social media timelines are aflutter since the California Bar Examiners released, days early, the question order and subjects for the July written exam. After someone “inadvertently transmitted” test information to “a number of deans of law schools,” the CA examiners disclosed the same information to all registered July 2019 California bar takers. The internet remains undefeated and the information now hovers in the public domain accessible to us all for comment and critique. The CaliLeaks, as I refer to them, sent ripples of shock, resentment, and gratitude throughout the community of future, past, and present bar takers.

Dear California Bar Examiners, you did the right thing. You responded to a mistaken disclosure by disseminating the same information to all bar takers, to prevent any actual or perceived unfair advantage. You made a mistake and you owned it. There is a lesson in every mistake and I hope that other bar examiners, and especially the NCBE, with its foot on the jugular of all but a few states, will learn from yours.

In an ideal scenario, the premature and selective leak of confidential information to some law deans would not have occurred. No student should be disadvantaged in terms of familiarity with the exam content, inside knowledge, or the opportunity to pass. We now know the identities and school affiliation of the receiving deans. I am naive enough to believe that respected academic leaders would not compromise the integrity of the bar exam by sharing confidential information about its content. I am also cynical enough to recognize the good reason of those who question whether bar takers from some schools may have received information days before bar takers from other schools. Notwithstanding the many unanswered questions, California's disclosure (the one to all of its bar takers) is something that could have and should have happened long ago.

For goodness sake, the bar exam is based, at least in theory, on fundamental legal principles learned in law school. Knowing the general subject area to be tested is not a dead giveaway to the question content. Bar examiners in Texas have provided general subject matter information for decades. It is a preposterous notion that knowing the subjects that will be tested will lead to a flood of unqualified lawyers. Consider the law school final exam as the loosest conceivable model. Law students know to expect Property questions on their Property final exam, but it still leaves them to their own devices to prudently review the full scope of course coverage from possessory estates and future interests, to conveyances, recording acts, and landlord-tenant rules. Disclosure of the tested question areas should not be Monday morning tea, instead it should be the norm in bar examination. Telling would-be lawyers what they need to know to be deemed competent to practice law isn’t a blunder or a gracious act. It is the right thing to do.

I challenge any lawyer, law student, or law professor to imagine the futility and frustration of completing a full semester of required first-year courses, spending weeks preparing for final exams, and then not learning until the beginning day of final exams which courses will be tested and which will not. As unthinkable as this notion may be, this precisely describes the current practice of bar examination in most states and under the UBE. Time will tell if California’s leak leads to a more reasonable exam process and to less arbitrary bar failure rates. If it does, then others should follow suit. We need a better bar exam and California’s error could be an accidental step in the right direction.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 28, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The "Secret Sauce" for the Final Week of Bar Prep - Making Memories through Practice!

I recently saw data suggesting that bar passers do things differently in the final weeks of bar prep than those who are not successful on the bar exam.  That got me thinking about what I've been seeing, at least anecdotally, in working with students in preparing for their bar exams.  

But first, let me be frank. Without hard dedicated work in learning throughout the course of bar prep period, and in particular, during the final week, it's really difficult to pass the bar exam because the bar exam, in the last few years, has become much more challenging, particularly due to cognitive load. See L. Schulze, Dear Practicing Attorneys: Stop Giving Our Bar Students Bad Advice.  Thus, it's not just hard work that makes for passing the bar exam.  Rather, it's important to make sure to do what is most optimal for learning during the final week of bar prep. See S. Foster, Positive Self-Talk.

So, even with all of the hard work, what might account for the differences in bar passage outcomes for both groups of diligent bar studiers?  In short, it must be in the type of work that the two groups are doing rather than the quantity of work.  In the last week, bar passers tend to ramp up their practice with lots and lots of MBE questions and essays while also working on memorization while people who are unsuccessful tend to focus on creating perfect study tools trying to memorize every little nuance of law with very little continued practice. In sum, one group is continuing to practice for the exam that they will take and the other group is focused on memorizing for the exam.  

But, here's the rub:

It’s a perfectly natural feeling during the last week 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 “desirable difficulties.”  You see, when we jam pack our study tools with everything, we aren’t learning much of anything because we aren't making hard decisions about what is most meaningful.  And, with everything written down, there's no opportunity for retrieval practice, which is the best form of memorization practice.

So, as a suggestion for the final week, tackle two to three subjects per day.  Work through a number of essay questions for each subject.  Then, take your study tool and use it for retrieval practice, reading it and then covering it up to see if you can spout out what's in it.  Push yourself.  You might even take your study tool and, without looking at it, recreate it in a different format, for example, converting it from an outline to a poster, etc.  Then, in the evening, work through a batch of MBE questions, pouring and pondering through them.  Finally, when you miss something in an essay or MBE question, add that concept to your study tool.  As Prof. Micah Yarbrough at the University of Maryland says, your study tool becomes a sort of "bar diary" of your adventurous travels in learning by doing.  And, it's in the learning by doing that makes all the difference in passing the bar exam because the bar exam tests - not just memorization - by problem-solving.   So, for those of you taking the July 2019 bar exam, focus on practice first and foremost throughout the final week of your bar preparations 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 this summer! (Scott Johns).

July 18, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dear Practicing Attorneys: Please Stop Giving Our Bar Students Bad Advice (Guest Post)

I still remember the kindly judge for whom I interned as a 3L.  Knowing that bar prep was coming up and sensing my anxiety, he called me into chambers.  “Louie,* have a seat.”

(*  Remember, we’re talking about Boston.  Anyone named “Louis” is called “Louie,” whether they like it or not.  My co-clerks in the Superior Court were “Sully,” “Fitzy,” and “Other Sully.”)

Anyway, “Louie,” he said, “you’re a smart* kid.  If you do half the work in that bar prep program, you’ll pass just fine.”

(*  I’ll note that this is properly pronounced “smaahht.”  See supra at Boston.) 

He continued:  “My firm* gave me two weeks off to study for the bar, and I did just fine.  So stop worrying about spending three months studying.”

(*  If I remember correctly, the firm was called “Oldguy, Oldguy & Deadguy, LLP.”  Somehow, they made the group of Dan Aykroyd’s business school chums in “Trading Places” look like the picture of diversity.) 

My judge’s advice was well-intentioned, and I appreciated his attempt to calm me down.  But, the Type-A, neurotic kind of guy I was (errata: am), mostly ignored this advice and studied with the kind of ferocity only those with a festering inferiority complex can muster.*

(*  I can thank my significant other at the time for the bar exam-related inferiority complex.  An Ivy League law student, she’d repeatedly say, “It’s not like you went to Harvard.”  Luckily, our relationship did not last much longer.  Ironically, neither did her legal career.) 

Many of our students are not so lucky, though.  They hear this same tone of advice and happily digest it as a welcome counterthesis to the admonitions of that overly-intense ASP/ bar exam professor.  “The partner at my firm said that Schulze is crazy.”*

(*  A fair point.  No objections so far.)

“You don’t need to do 1,500 Adaptibar questions or whatever.  Just watch the videos, read the outlines, and you’ll pass.”  The student then spends a relaxing summer watching some videos, hanging out with friends, and going to the beach.  (Meanwhile, I’m in my office slowly rocking back and forth in the fetal position after seeing the student's stats and completion percentage data.)

Then, the student fails the bar exam.

The practicing lawyers who give this advice might think that the bar exam world remains a static place where nothing changes.  But, the substantial changes to the bar exam over the last five to ten years severely limit the applicability of their experiences.  Here are those changes and why practicing attorneys need to be careful with their advice.

Continue reading

July 14, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Creating Super-Short Bar Exam Study Tools (in 2 hours or less per subject!)

Bar Takers!  

It's time to create your own personal handy-dandy bar exam study tools.  But, you ask, how, with so many other things to do (and with just a few weeks before the bar exam).  Well, here's a suggestion for creating your study tools from scratch in just a few easy steps and in less than 2 hours flat.

But first, let's lay the groundwork.  Why should I create a study tool, especially with so many other tasks at hand that demand my attention in  preparation for the bar exam in a few weeks?  

There are at least three reasons.

First, the process of creating your own study tools creates a "mental harness" for your thoughts.  It serves to bring you back to the big picture of what you have been studying the past many weeks since graduation.

Second, the process of creating your own study tools cements your abilities to synthesize and distill the rules that you will be tested on this summer.  In short, we memorize (remember) what we create rather than what we read that others have created.

Third, your study tools are, in essence, an organized collection of pre-written, bar exam answers for tackling the hypothetical problems that you will face this summer on your bar exam.

So, let's set out the  steps:

1.  Grab Your Study Tool Support Team!  

That means grabbing hold of the shortest bar outline provided by your bar review company.  Shorter is better because less is often more!  And, you already have too much to remember.

2.  Create the Big Picture Skeleton for Your Study Tool!  

That means taking hold of the table of contents in your bar outline provided by your bar review company or the subject matter outlines provided by the bar examiners.  For example, the NCBE provides super-short two-page outlines for each subject on what issues are testable. http://www.ncbex.org/meeoutlines. Then, using that skeleton structure, create an overview of the testable issues in your own desired format, whether as flashcards, posters, or outlines, etc.

3.  Insert Rule Sound Bites!

Using your bar review lecture notes or subject matter outlines, insert rule "sound bites" for each item identified as testable subjects.  Move swiftly.  Don't dwell.  If you think you you need a rule, don't put it in...because...you can always add more rules later if you see that rule popping up in your practice during the course of the next two weeks.  Don't try to create perfect rule statements.  Instead, just insert the "buzz words."  Feel free to be bold, daring, and adventuresome in doodling or using abbreviations to remind you of the rule.  For example, for negligence per se (NPS), my study tool just reads: (1) P.C. and (2) P.H.  That stands for protected class and protected harm.  By writing out just a few tips to help me remember, I am actually enhancing my study tool (and developing my confidence in being able to recall, for example, the requirements for NPS).  Get your entire study tool completed in 2 hours or less!  How, you ask?  By leaving lots of stuff out because you can always add more later.  Here's a tip:  It's called "desirable difficulties."  You see, according to my arm chair understanding of the science behind learning, optimal learning requires us to push ourselves; it requires mental perspiration, it takes sweat.  So, the process of deciding what to put into your study tool (and what to leave out, and, indeed, leaving out lots) enhances are learning because we can't solely rely on our study tools for memorization.  Rather, our study tool because a prompt for our memory.  So, keep your study tools super-short and crisp.

6.  Take Your Study Tool for Lots of Test Flights During the Final Several Weeks of Bar Prep!

Yes, you might crash.  Yes, it might be ugly.  In fact, if you are like me, you will crash and it will be ugly!  But, just grab hold of lots and lots of past bar exam essays and see if you can outline and write out sample answers using your study tools 

Finally, let me make set the record straight.  

You don't have to make an outline as your study tool.  Your study tool can be an outline…or a flowchart…or a poster with lots of pictures...or a set of flashcards, etc.  

What's important is that it is YOUR study tool that YOU built from YOUR own handiwork and thoughts!  It's got to be personal to you because it's going to be you that sits for your bar exam.  So, have fun learning by creating super-short snappy study tools that serve as organized pre-written answers for this summer's bar exam.  (Scott Johns)

July 11, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Living Learning (in Full Color Motion)!

On this July 4th holiday, with just under a month to go for this summer's bar takers, let's face the facts:  

Most of us are downright exhausted.  

And, we should be because we've been working pretty much non-stop since graduation  Moreover, given what seems like the insurmountable pressures to learn so much material for the bar exam, it seems like we can't let up with our daily regiment of bar studies.  There's just too much to learn.

However, let me offer you an encouraging way to "let up" so that you can feel mighty good about taking a real day off, whether today or this upcoming weekend.  

Here's how and why...  

Holidays, such as the Fourth of July, are some of the best days of the year to see bar exam problems in living color.  

For example...

That box of fireworks someone bought at a big-top fireworks tent stand.  That was procured through negotiation of a UCC contract for the sale of goods (and the seller most likely provided a secured transaction agreement in order to bring the goods to sale).

That box of fireworks that didn't work as advertised.  Well, that might just blossom into a breach of contracts claim or even a tort claim for misrepresentation.

That box of fireworks that were lit off in the city limits.  In most cities, that's a strict liability crime, plain and simple.

You see, even when we take a day off from studies, we are live in the midst of a world of bar exam problems.  In fact, we are surrounded by bar exam problems because the bar exam tests legal situations that are constantly arising among us.  So, it's a good thing to get our heads out of the books occasionally to see what's happening around.

That means that you can completely feel free to relax and take a whole day-off because even while taking a time-off, you will still be learning lots from just living in the world.  And, because you've been trained as a professional problem-solving attorney, you can't help but see legal problems in full color everywhere.  That's a sign that you are well underway in preparations for your bar exam this summer.

So, please rest assured - bar takers - that in the midsts of a day-off with family and friends, you'll be learning helpful legal principles that you can bank on preparation for success on your upcoming bar exam. And, as a bonus, you'll get some mighty needed rest to recharge your heart and mind too!  (Scott Johns).

July 4, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Making a Comeback 30-Days Out

Don't fight [challenges]. Just find a new way to stand. - Oprah Winfrey

The bar exam is 30 days away. It may feel like you have been prepping for the bar exam all your life instead of six weeks. The 30-day mark is a great opportunity to acknowledge that not all bar takers enter bar study on the same footing. Students without strong academic records may be riddled with self-doubt about their ability to pass. For repeat takers, the mental and financial exhaustion of bar study can be all the more discouraging when experienced a second or third time. Past negative experiences are setbacks of which bar study brings daily reminders. These setbacks are short-term, but under the lens of today, they may seem to indelibly mark one’s chance for future success.

Whether your setback was a previous bar exam failure, or not finishing law school with the ranking or job opportunity that you hoped for, there is a comeback in your future. Maybe your setback is trying to juggle a full-time job and raise a family, while your peers bask in the seeming luxury of full-time bar study and an arsenal of supplemental study aids. Whatever the setback, use it as the gateway to an epic comeback. 

If we track the lives of great actors, athletes, political leaders, and other celebrities, we'll find some major comeback that catapulted their career success. Public figures who have mastered the art of the comeback transform their reputations and eradicate public recall of scandals, felonies, fraud, and political defeat. After a comeback, onlookers almost never remember the setback, that is because the setback is never as good or as lasting as the comeback.

Instead of allowing your setback-circumstances to shape your attitude or approach to bar study, let your setback elevate you to greater heights. Pledge today to reform your thoughts. You are not struggling through bar study. You are making your comeback.

(Marsha Griggs)

July 1, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 14, 2019

New Website for Bar Examiner Magazine

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!"

June 14, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Muscle Learning & Bar Prep Success

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). 

May 30, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Researching the Researchers and Testing the Testers

In light of the rough and tumble bar passage declines over the past half-dozen years of so, numerous blogs and articles have appeared, trying to shed light on what factor or factors might be at play, running the gamut from changes in the bar exam test instrument, changes in law school admissions, changes in law school curriculum, etc.  In addition, the academic support world has righty focused attention on how students learn (and how we can better teach, assist, coach, counsel, and educate our students to "learn to learn").  Indeed, I often prowl the internet on the lookout for research articles exploring potential relationships among the social (belonging), the emotional (grit, resiliency, mindset) and the cognitive in relationship to improving student learning.  

Nevertheless, with so much riding on what is really happening to our students in their law school learning and bar preparation experiences, I am a little leery about much of the research because, to be frank, I think learning is, well, much more complicated than some statistical experiments might suggest.

Take one popular issue...growth mindset.  Studies appear to demonstrate that a growth mindset correlates with improved test scores in comparison to a fixed mindset.  But, as statisticians worth their salt will tell you, correlation does not mean causation.  Indeed, it maybe that we ought not focus on developing positive mindsets but instead help our students learn to learn to solve legal problem and then, along the way, their mindsets change.  It's the "chicken and the egg" problem, which comes first.  Indeed, there is still much to learn about the emotional and its relationship with learning.

Take another popular issue...apparent declines, at least with some segments of bar takers - in LSAT scores.  Many argue that such declines in LSAT scores are indeed the culprit with respect to declines in bar exam outcomes.  But, to the extent LSAT might be a factor, by most accounts, its power is very limited in producing bar exam results because other variables, such as law school GPA are much more robust.  In short, LSAT might be part of the story...but it is not the story, which is to say that it is not truly the culprit.  Indeed, I tend to run and hide from articles or blogs in which one factor is highlighted to the exclusion of all else.  Life just isn't that simple, just as learning is not either.

So, as academic support professionals indebted to researchers on learning, particular cognitive scientists and behaviorists, here are a few thoughts - taking from a recent article in Nature magazine - that might be helpful in evaluating to what extent research findings might in fact be beneficial in improving the law school educational experience for our students.

  1. First, be on the lookout for publication bias.  Check to see who has funded the research project.  Who gains from this research?
  2. Second, watch out for positive statistical results with low statistical power.  Power is just a fancy word for effect or impact. If research results indicate that there is a positive statistical relationship between two variables of interest, say LSAT scores and bar exam scores, but the effect or impact is low, then there must be other latent factors at play that are even more powerful.  So, be curious about what might be left unsaid when research results suggest little statistical power.
  3. Third, be on the guard for research results that just seem stranger than the truth.  They might be true but take a closer look at the underlying statistical analysis to make sure that the researchers were using sound statistical tests.  You see, each statistical test has various assumptions with respect to the data that must be met, and each statistical test has a purpose.  But, in hopes of publishing, and having accumulated a massive data set, there's a temptation to keep looking for a statistical analysis that produces a positive statistical result even when the most relevant test for the particular experiment uncovers no statistically meaningful result.  Good researchers will stop at that point.  However, with nothing left to publish, some will keep at it until they find a statistical test, even if it is not the correct fit, that produces a statistical result. As a funny example, columnist Dorothy Bishop in Nature remarks about a research article in which the scientists deliberately keep at it until they found a statistical analysis that produced a positive statistical result, namely, that listening to the Beatles doesn't just make one feel younger...but makes one actually younger in age. 
  4. Fourth, do some research on the researchers to see if the research hypothesis was formed on the fly or whether it was developed in connection with the dataset.  In other words, its tempting to poke around the data looking for possible connections to explore and then trying to connect the dots to form a hypothesis, but the best research uses the data to test hypothesis, not develop post-hoc hypothesis.

Here's a link to the Nature magazine article to provide more background about how to evaluate research articles: https://www.nature.com. (Scott Johns).

May 9, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Bravo! Magnificent! Herculean! Congrats Feb 2019 Bar Takers!

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!

Simply put...

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.

Really?

Not that hard?

Really?

You know that I passed?

Really?

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).

February 28, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Big Picture Perspectives for The Final Weekend of Bar Prep: "See It--Do It--Teach It"

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

Bar Success Tips for the Final Two Weeks Before the Bar Exam

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

* Contracts/Sales

* Constitutional Law

* Criminal Law & Procedure

* Evidence

* Property

* Torts

 

February 7, 2019 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 1, 2019

ABA House of Delegates Rejects Tougher Bar Standards

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.

February 1, 2019 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Bar Takers: Better Learning via Linear Studying or Recursive Studying?

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).  

 Figure 1  

Linear Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)

Fullsizeoutput_cba

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.  

Figure 2

Recursive Learning (Professor Christopher 2018)

Fullsizeoutput_c9c

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)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

NCBE Invitation for AALS Registrants to Participate in Focus Groups

Invitation from NCBE

The National Conference of Bar Examiners requests your assistance with a significant research study regarding the bar examination. NCBE has created a Testing Task Force to oversee a comprehensive, future-focused research study of the bar examination, and we want and need to tap the insights of legal academics. We would like to invite you to participate in one of six focus group sessions held at the AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans on January 3 and 4, 2019.

The Task Force is approaching its study with no preconceived notions and is considering the content, format, timing, and delivery methods for the bar exam to ensure it keeps pace with a changing legal profession. For more information about the study, please read the overview of our research plan at www.testingtaskforce.org/research/.

As a legal educator, you are a vital part of the legal licensure process, and gathering input from you and other stakeholders is an essential component of the study. We hope you are as eager to share your ideas and opinions about the bar exam of the future as we are to hear them! The focus group sessions will be facilitated by one of the Testing Task Force’s independent research consulting firms, ACS Ventures LLC. The number of participants will be capped at 12-15 people per 90-minute session to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to provide their input, so you are encouraged to register early to reserve your spot in a session.

To sign up for a focus group session at the AALS Annual Meeting, complete this online registration form. You’ll receive a confirmation with logistical details and additional information about the session by email.

NCBE and its Testing Task Force are committed to creating additional opportunities for focus groups and web-based interactions to gain insights from legal academics, law students, and other stakeholders in the next six months. Subscribe at the Testing Task Force’s website to receive updates about the study and to be notified about other opportunities to participate.

Thank you for all you do to help prepare law students to become lawyers. If you have questions, please feel free to contact the Testing Task Force at taskforce@ncbex.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

November 25, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Meetings, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Raising the Bar Newsletter

Have you seen the new publication from AccessLex Institute titled Raising the Bar? The first issue includes a mix of articles on conferences, publications, tips, grant information, resources, program profiles, and more. If you missed the first issue, the link is here.  (Amy Jarmon)

October 14, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tips for Turning Bar Exam Sorrow Into A Successful Fresh Start

It's that time of year.  In the midst of many celebrations over bar passage, let's be frank.  

There are many that are not celebrating.  Their names were not on the list of bar exam passers.  And, for some, it's not the first time that they've found themselves in this situation; it's a repeat of the last time around.

For aspiring attorneys that did not pass the bar exam, most don't know where to turn.  Often embarrassed, many with significant debt loads, most feel abandoned by their schools, their friends, and their colleagues.  All alone.  

I'm not expert in helping with turnarounds. But, I'd like to offer a few tips that have proven quite helpful in helping repeaters change history to become "fresh start" bar passers:

First, as academic support professionals, reach out to each one.  Make yourself available on their terms.  Let them know that you care.  Let them know that you are mighty proud of them, success or not.  Support them, one and all.

Second, give them breathing room, lot's of time and space to grieve.  Don't push them into diving back into the books.  Don't lecture them.  Rather, assure them that they don't need to get cranking on their studies.  Help them to be kind to themselves.  It's not a matter of just hitting the books again, and this time, doubly-hard.  Instead, they need to take time out to just be themselves.

Third, when they are ready, set up a "one-with-one."  Notice: I did not call it a "one-to-one".  Rather, set up an appointment or meeting in a place of their choosing at a time that works for them in which you sit side by side, on the same side of the table or desk or cafe.  They are not bar exam failures; they are real law school graduates.  They earned their parchments. So, listen to them as colleagues on the same side of doing battle on the bar exam.  Let them talk and express themselves as they'd like. Hear them out.  How are they feeling?  What went right?  What's their passion?  What saddens their hearts?  

Finally, whey they are ready, make a copy of one of the essay problems that didn't go so well.  Better yet, make two copies, one for each of you!  That's because you are on the same team.  Set aside 15 or 20 minutes and just ask them to mark up the question, brainstorm what they are thinking, and jot down the issues that they see.  But...and this is important...tell them that you don't expect them to remember any law at all. Period.  And, you do the same.  Exactly the same.  Don't peek at an answer key or even their answer. Instead, try your hand too; wrestle with the same question that they are wrestling with.  Then, come back together to listen, ponder, and share what you both see as the plot of the essay question, the issues raised by the storylines, and the potential rules that might be in play.  Once you've done all this prep work together, now, look at their answer.  This is important, just look.  Ask them what do they see? What do they observe? What went great for them? Where might they improve?  In short, let them see that they have "inside information" about themselves based on their own personal bar exam experience and answers that they can capitalize to their advantage.  Most often in the midst of working together, graduates tell me that they realize that they knew plenty of law to pass the bar exam.  In fact, most are amazed at how well they memorized the law.  And, that's great news because it means that they don't need to redo the bar review lectures at all.  They know plenty of law.  That frees up lots of time during the bar prep season to instead concentrate on just two (2) active learning tasks.

So, here are the two activities that bar re-takers should be prioritizing to successful pass the bar exam:

1. First, they should work daily throughout the bar study period through lots and lots of practice problems (essays and MBE questions).  Every one that they can get their hands on.  Open book is fine.  It's even better than fine; it's perfect because they should be practicing problems to learn because we don't get better at problem-solving by guessing.

2. Second, they should keep a daily "journal" of the issues and rules that they missed when working over problems (to include tips about the analysis of those rules).  

Just two steps.  That's it.  There's no magic.  But, in not redoing the lectures, graduates will find that they have plenty of time to concentrate on what is really important - learning by doing through active reflective daily practice.  Countless times, it's through this process of a "one-with-one" meeting that we have seen repeaters turn themselves into "fresh start" bar passers.  

Finally, I want to write directly to those of you who find yourself in the situation of having to re-take the bar exam.  You really aren't alone.  Need proof?  Here's a short video clip put together by the Colorado Supreme Court about re-taking the bar exam to include a few tips from some jurists and practitioners that have been in your shoes.  (Scott Johns)

 

October 11, 2018 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Bar Preparation Begins Now

The most recent bar results are reverberating throughout the country. The data collected and distributed by Nancy Reeves the past week is illuminating. From what I can tell, only 2 states currently have first-time pass rates at or above last year. The national MBE average is the lowest since the 80’s. Another round of complaints and accusations aimed at the MBE are starting, especially since scaling essays to the MBE magnifies the impact of the dropping score. My advice to students, ignore the chatter and start preparing now.

I love to complain about the MBE. I think the NCBE’s monopoly on bar licensing tests makes them unresponsive, and the lack of statistical specialists in testing at law schools makes combatting their perceived experts difficult. Supreme Courts’ skepticism of law schools’ motivation amplifies the problem. I believe the NCBE through changes to the MBE (25 non-scored questions, subject matter changes, Civil Procedure addition, style changes, etc.) have made the test harder than it has ever been, and they continually ignore well-established scientific principles (ie – cognitive load theory) that call into question the validity of current MBE scores. My beliefs could be 100% correct, but the reality is alumni still have to take the MBE on February 27th or July 31st.

If MBE complaints are valid, students should respond by starting preparation. In general, changes to legal education and bar exams take forever. The complaints of Deans, Law Schools, and alumni will most likely not change the upcoming exams. The arguments could be correct, which means the upcoming MBE administrations will continue to be difficult with possible lower scores. Students will need more questions correct to pass. I highly encourage starting now to prepare for a much more difficult test.

The MBE requires unique skills to pass the exam, but the foundation for passing the test is still knowledge of the law. Without an understanding of the law, getting to the right answer is more difficult. Both February and July takers can start now refreshing memory of the law. I suggest trying to get a big picture 10,000 foot view of each MBE subject. Knowing the organization or schema for each subject will provide the context to help memorize rules. I then suggest looking through material in highly tested sub-topics for each subject (ie – Negligence, Hearsay, Free Speech, etc.). Many bar review companies will provide early start lectures or outlines or both. Use the material to identify areas to work through.

Additional work throughout the semester is important for February takers. I suggest focusing on 1 subject per week by looking through the material suggested above, completing a few practice MBE questions, and issue spotting 1 practice essay question. The key is to get some of the law and see how it is tested.

July takers shouldn’t spend as much time this semester, but refreshing the law is a good start. My suggestion is to watch the short lectures or look at highly tested material for a short amount of time. The goal is not memorization that lasts for 10 months. The goal is refreshing memory of already learned law and understanding the schema.

The current tasks may be different for February and July takers, but my advice for both is the same. Now is the time to start preparing. If the MBE will be as hard as we all predict, then don’t wait to prepare for the test. However, don’t overwork and burn out now. My suggestion is only for 2-3 hours a week, but 2-3 hours over 7-8 weeks left in the semester can make a huge difference.

The hype and complaints may be true, but students will still be taking the bar in February and July. One ingredient for overcoming the difficulty is early preparation with hard work. To finish using a sports analogy (I couldn’t do a post without it), leave it all out on the field. Anything can happen on the bar exam, but if you can walk out of the room and say you did everything you could reasonably do to prepare, then that is what matters. Start that preparation now, and you can pass the bar!

(Steven Foster)

September 24, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Lowest in Years - The July 2018 MBE (and a Call to ASP Action!)

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), citing to Law.com and TaxProfBlog editor Dean Paul Caron, the national average score on the MBE multiple-choice portion of the July bar exam dropped to its lowest level in 34 years.  http://www.abajournal.com; https://www.law.com;  http://taxprof.typepad.com.  The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) reports that the July 2018 MBE average score was just 139.5, while for the July 1984 exam, Law.com reports that the MBE average score was likewise low at 139.21.  http://www.ncbex.org/newshttps://www.law.com.

In an article by Law.com, the President of the NCBE - Judith Gundersen - is quoted as saying that "they [this summer's lower MBE scores] are what would be expected given the number of applicants and LSAT 25th percentile means of the 2015 entering class." https://www.law.com. In other words, according to the NCBE, this summer's low score average is the result of law school admissions decisions based on the NCBE's appraisal of 25 percentile LSAT data for entering 2015 law students.

Nevertheless, despite the NCBE's claim, which was previously theorized by the NCBE back in 2015 (namely, that bar exam declines are related to LSAT declines), previous empirical research found a lack of empirical support for the NCBE's LSAT claim, albeit limited to one jurisdiction, one law school's population, and admittedly not updated to reflect this summer's bar exam results.  Testing the Testers

As an armchair statistician with a mathematics background, I am leery of one-size-fits-all empirical claims.  Life is complex and learning is nuanced.  Conceivably, there are many factors at play that might account for bar exam results in particular cases, with many factors not ascribable to pure mathematical calculus, such as the leaking roof in the middle of the first day of the Colorado bar exam.  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ceiling_leaks_pause_colorado_bar_exam.  

Here's just a few possible considerations:

• The increase to 25 experimental questions embedded within the set of 200 MBE multiple-choice questions (in comparison to previous test versions with only 10 experimental questions embedded).

• The addition of Federal Civil Procedure as a relatively recent MBE subject to the MBE's panoply of subjects tested.

• The apparent rising incidences of anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities found within law school populations and graduates.

• The economic barriers to securing bar exam testing accommodations despite longitudinal evidence of law school testing accommodations.

• The influence of social media, the internet age, and smart phones in impacting the learning environment.

• The difficulty in equating previous versions of bar exams with current versions of bar exams given changes in the exam instrument itself and the scope of subject matter tested.

• The relationship among experiential learning, doctrinal, and legal writing courses and bar exam outcomes.

• Etc....

Consequently, in my opinion, there's a great need (and a great opportunity) for law schools to collaborate with bar examiners to hypothesize, research, and evaluate what's really going on with the bar exam.  It might be the LSAT, as the NCBE claims.  But, most problems in life are much more complicated.  So, as a visual jumpstart to help law schools and bar examiners brainstorm possible solutions, here's a handy chart depicting the overall downward trend with respect to the past ten years of national MBE average scores.  (Scott Johns).

July National MBE Average Scores

September 20, 2018 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Ohio Adopts the UBE

Hat tip to Kirsha Trychta for providing the following link to the NCBE announcement on Ohio's adoption beginning in July 2020: Ohio UBE.

September 2, 2018 in Bar Exams | Permalink | Comments (0)