Thursday, May 9, 2019
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.
- First, be on the lookout for publication bias. Check to see who has funded the research project. Who gains from this research?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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)
Sunday, November 25, 2018
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
Sunday, October 14, 2018
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)
Thursday, October 11, 2018
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)
Monday, September 24, 2018
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!
Thursday, September 20, 2018
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/news; https://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.
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).
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
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
In a few short hours, the bar exam will be over for some Bar Takers throughout the United States while others still have an additional day to go. When you exit the room it is time to “drop the mic” on the bar exam.
It is a way of making a memorable or noteworthy ending or defeating someone or something by literally or fictionally dropping a microphone at the end of the performance, talk, or presentation. I would add: “because you completed this exam so it’s over.”
If you did your utmost, put forth your best effort, managed your stress, freaked out yet gathered yourself, and completed the exam; nothing else remains to be said or done and there is nothing you can say or do. All you can do is wait for the results. You have no further control over the situation. I know, easier said than done!
Concern that you failed, anger at yourself for forgetting to write something in an essay answer, upset about one or more questions you think you marked incorrectly, reliving bar preparation, beating yourself up, being overly worried about what others wrote, etc. What will such reflection do for you? While it is perfectly normal to have all these latent feelings, you may wish to ask yourself how do they benefit you. My advice is to face all of these emotions then take a break, rehabilitate your social life, and look ahead. Enjoy life until you are notified of the final results. Inevitably, you will panic again around the time results are to be posted but let’s take things one step at a time. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Today is the Bar Exam. Like many other academic support professors, I travel to the bar exam testing site with the graduates to lend logistical support and emotional support. Much like the movie Groundhog Day, where I'm Bill Murray, the experience is novel to the applicants, but rather predictable for me. This year, like prior years, I expect to see applicants:
Smiling, both genuinely and veiled
Laughing, sometimes involuntarily due to exhaustion
Hugging (lots of hugging!)
Pacing and tapping their feet nervously
Exercising (i.e. jumping jacks, sit-ups) in the hallway around 3:30 p.m.
Sharing Tums and Advil freely
Forgetting their ID or admission ticket
Loosing their ID or admission ticket (So far, I've tracked down lost IDs in the parking lot, at a gas station in another state(!), inside the testing site, and in a hotel room. Once, I even had a new ID printed at the DMV at 8:00 a.m. on the second day of the exam.)
Isolating themselves in every nook and cranny of the testing site during the registration and breaks
Carrying around plastic bags containing "authorized items"
Tossing book bags and lunch bags into a "secure" pile in the corner of the hotel lobby
Sporting lucky charm shirts and sweaters
and laser focused.
But, unlike Bill Murray's character in the movie, I don't want to wake up to a new day. I love my bar exam Groundhog Day experience, year after year. I'm thrilled to be a part of one of the most memorable days in a J.D. graduate's life. Good luck everyone! (Kirsha Trychta)
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Attention Bar Takers:
Here's a couple of short winning tips for your final weekend flight plan checks as you prepare for success on your bar exam next week!
I. Focus on a Winning Attitude:
First, remind yourself right now why you can pass the bar exam...because, after all, you've been trained as an attorney.
That's right. Boldy recognize that out of all of the people in the world, you are one of the very few who have earned a law degree. Yep...YOU'VE earned your law degree, having successfully demonstrated that YOU know how to solve legal problems. That doesn't mean that you know it all (nor that you need to know it all for your bar exam). But, you do know how to read and ponder and analyze and write and communicate as an attorney because you've been trained - for over the course of three years - to think and, more significantly, be an attorney.
So, as Professor Chad Noreuil says, look forward to your bar exam next week as a "get-to" opportunity rather than a "got-to" threat. That's because this is YOUR moment to show YOUR state Supreme Court that YOU are professionally-trained attorney.
II. Rehearsing Your Lines:
Second, keep your focus on positive learning throughout this weekend as you...
YOUR BIG PICTURE RULES FOR YOUR BAR EXAM NEXT WEEK!
In other words, don't think of memorization as dry and dusty work.
Rather, consider memorization as theatre work.
Just like actors, carry your script (your study tool) with you in hand, personally by your side, ready to swing into your eyesight, as you walk through the major issues and rules for each subject. Move swiftly. Your goal on Saturday is to work through each subject in well under an hour or much less. Then, do the same for each subject on Sunday.
Here's a Tip - Less is More!
Stick with talking, singing, or acting out only the big picture rules. Don't dive deep. In other words, just state the rule for burglary but don't practice the definitions for each of the elements. Then, do it again...quicker. On Sunday, grab those study tools and once again work through each subject - one at a time - with freedom and abandon to peek at your study tools.
The Memory Power of Peeking!
Too many people don't want to peek. But here's the secret to memorization (based on the famous saying that a "peek is worth a thousand words").
When we peek, we visually see where the rule is on our study tool and how it is organized and positioned. As the learning scientists indicate, we tend to comprehend (a.k.a., remember) things better when we see them in text (whether in our set of notecards or outlines or posters) because the visual position of the words creates meaning for us. And, memorization is just about creating memories with your study tools. So, be a memory creator this weekend.
Finally, I would be remise if I didn't talk about Monday (also known as the "day before the exam").
If you can't help yourself, feel free to review your study tools. But, most certainly don't do any more practice problems. And, definitely don't work on memorizing your study tools. Just skim through them.
And, if at all possible, take the day off. I mean the whole day. From start to finish.
Recognize that brainwork - just like exercise in preparation for a marathon - requires rest and relaxation time the day before a big event in order to rejuvenate and refresh.
So, be extra kind to yourself, my dear doctor of jurisprudence, and splurge with some good old fashioned R&R. And, good luck on your bar exam next week! (Scott Johns)
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
At this time, I see or hear from many panicked soon-to-be Bar Takers communicating their intent not to sit for the bar exam because they just do not feel prepared. It is unusual for me to have a conversation about skipping the bar exam with a soon-to-be Bar Taker I genuinely believe is unprepared or might not be able to manage the pressures of the bar exam. Usually, students who are so mentally paralyzed by the thought of sitting for the exam are not known to articulate their intent. Instead, they simply do not show for the exam, something I hear after the fact, or I notice once bar results are posted.
Typically, individuals who have endured life, personal, financial, work, and/or health challenges throughout bar review are not the ones looking to postpone the bar exam. Based on my communications throughout bar review with persons in this category, I find that they have already wrestled with feelings of unpreparedness throughout the summer and they have continuously adjusted and readjusted their schedules to ensure bar review progress. When past soon-to-be Bar Takers have opted not to sit for the bar exam, it has occurred very early in the process, around the first few weeks of bar review. Whenever the option was exercised later in the bar review process, it was due to familial, personal, health-related, or other emergencies. As a rule of thumb, whenever the decision not to sit for the bar exam is made, we immediately and honestly consider individual situations, explore implications of the decision, and start to discuss a plan for moving forward.
Experiencing acute levels of stress a week before the bar exam is a normal occurrence but when it becomes debilitating, then it is a critical challenge. Stress is an unavoidable aspect of the bar preparation process but it should motivate, not dominate. Recently, I observed that a larger number of soon-to-be Bar Takers have difficulty managing stress. Some who were able to navigate stress throughout law school are now experiencing difficulties preparing for the bar exam. The bar exam is a beast they are unable to tame and might need additional resources or medication to cope with the high levels of anxiety and its impact on their preparation. Addressing concerns early, if at all possible, can have a positive impact on managing stress and anxiety during bar preparation.
If you are contemplating postponing the bar exam, there is no formula you can use to guarantee success on the bar exam. I am well aware that there are percentages of bar review completion, percentages one should attain on the MBE, scores on the essays and MPTs that help set goals and gauge current performance but these are no guarantee. Quality over quantity, self-awareness of individual needs and making adjustments, and a positive and forward-looking attitude are key. It is also important to assess where you are and whether you covered all of the substantive material, whether you have an awareness (general knowledge and familiarity) or whether you understand (deeper knowledge and ability to explain and write) concepts and ideas. Assess whether you completed a majority of the assigned essays, MPTs, and MBEs but more importantly ask whether you are driven by fear or do you really not know the information. A more poignant question to ask is whether waiting longer, studying longer, and taking the exam later is the best option for you. Develop a plan.
In my experience, some students simply need more time to adjust to bar preparation, to the pace of bar review, to process the information, to dissect answers, and to revisit material. Some students just need more time to adjust to the whole idea of the bar exam and its implications on their lives. These may be valid reasons that should not simply be used as an excuse. Furthermore, over-studying and complacency are things an individual who postpones the bar exam needs to contemplate. Be comfortable with your decision and move forward. (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
This past week, I uncharacteristically watched a lot of reality television show competitions—mostly, Big Brother and Project Runway. Somewhere around hour six of my binge, I had a revelation. Bar exam studiers could learn a few things from the contestants on reality TV game shows. Both reality TV competitions and the bar exam studiers cram a lot of learning and formative assessment opportunities into a very short period of time. Those who learn and adjust succeed.
- Figure out which character you are.
Many reality TV contestants fit one of a few well-defined molds. For example, there is:
- The Leader – This person believes in themselves, even when others do not. They possess a confidence that is objectively justified. In Big Brother terms, this is called “The Rachel.” Everyone loves (and loves to hate) Rachel. This person will go quite far in the game.
- The Crier – This person cries, a lot. But have no fear. They will make it to the final found. They possess the substantive skills to succeed, and will succeed so long as they can focus on the task at hand.
- The Floater – This person fails to commit to any particular side. When presented with a hypothetical, they waffle. But, as Rachel Reilly of Big Brother’s Season 12 famously said “Floaters, you better grab a life vest.” If these folks pick a horse, then they undoubtedly survive another week.
- The Fainter – This person doesn’t take care of themselves. This person fails to get good sleep, eat well, or manage their stress. They will eventually faint due to exhaustion. This person can be successful if they regroup and care for themselves, properly.
- The Middle - This person is typically forgettable on reality TV. They don't win challenges, and they don't come in last place either. They don't cause drama; instead they just put their head down and play the game. This person will do just fine--even if no one is watching.
- The Weak Link – This person fails to win any challenges. This person is constantly placed “on the chopping block” because of their sub-par performances. This person is legitimately at-risk.
Bar exam studiers are no different. The key to success is to recognize the role you are playing and adjust accordingly. Just like on Big Brother, leaders, criers, floaters, middlers, and even fainters can succeed with the proper planning. Simply be self-aware and thoughtful about how you want the season to progress.
- Learn to cut off the outside world.
Everyone on reality competitions is isolated from the outside world. The competitors do not have access to social media or the internet. They rarely speak to loved ones. They live in a bubble. While I do not recommend such an existence for most people, most days. For law students studying for the bar exam, it is a potentially glorious plan. For optimal success, most studiers should stay singularly focused on their task – the bar exam. Forget about Facebook, Google, and Big Brother. I promise you, the internet will still exist in August. So, until then, just put up an “out of office” message and get studying!
- Develop a “showmance.”
On reality competitions, “showmances” and “bromances” are common. Showmances are formed when two contestants bond together—sometimes romantically—during the show’s short production. Two challengers lend support to one another for the purposes of mutual success in the competition. While showmances are sometimes mocked by the viewing audience, they do offer numerous strategical benefits to the competitors. Similarly, when studying for the bar exam, forming a deep, mutually beneficial relationship with another bar studier is advisable. The two studiers can help keep each other on task, and offer a sounding board for test-taking ideas and substantive rules. In short, look for a friend or significant other with which to commiserate and cerebrate.
Best of luck competitors! (Kirsha Trychta)
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
As we enter the final days of bar preparation, emotions run very high. Students who appeared to manage stress well are falling apart and the realization that the bar exam marks the end of their education career engenders fears of “adulting”. Other fears, concerns, and physical manifestations also seem to permeate day to day bar preparation. As a Bar Support office, we are keenly aware of student panic and stress about the bar exam and are equally sensitive to both expected and unexpected personal and other concerns. Below are a few issues students can contend with:
• Family and friends interfere. Well-intentioned family members and friends think this is an ideal time to conduct internet searches about the bar exam and share all of the scary details they uncover with the person studying for the bar exam. Shared information relates to bar pass rates, horror stories about preparing for the exam, and countless comments from students on various blogs and discussion groups. Some students studying for the bar exam are able to dismiss this information while others obsess over it and are derailed. This usually leads to mornings spent dispelling myths, putting information in context, and/or reminding individuals studying for the bar exam that they still have control over their fate. Moreover, if family and friends are a source of stress and panic then this probably is the time to stay away from them but also tell them what you need and don’t need.
• My body hates me. I have to admit that lately, I have heard many gruesome stories about physical manifestations of stress and negative physical reactions to food. I will not share all of these here but students should be aware of what is going on with them physically. Certain ailments or discomforts might require you to take immediate action, others might require you to live with them until the exam is over, and yet others may only be address after the bar exam.
• I hate you right now. As individual meetings with students end and we complete the final essays, mini-Multistate Bar Exams, or Multistate Performance Tests together, I try to select areas or things that particular students have expressed challenges with. A few students I have worked with throughout most of their law school careers often say: “no disrespect but I hate you right now.” I laugh and usually say: “I am here for that.” If our goal is to make weaknesses strengths then I will prey on all of the student’s weaknesses because it is possible that those very things will appear on the bar exam. It is also a good time to discuss how to manage areas of limited or no knowledge but still be able to focus enough and move on to the questions they are confident in.
• Unconquerable fatigue. I hear more and more about chronic fatigue, sleep/rest that does not seem to result in refreshing energy, and insomnia all this results in lack of focus, feeling overwhelmed, and inability to be efficient or effective in completing tasks. Students appreciate when I affirm the difficulty of getting true rest and acknowledge productivity challenges but I also remind students that they are not alone. Students cannot perform to their optimal ability until they rest. I admonish them to tap into all the knowledge stored up and to do this, they might want to get some rest now because the day before the bar exam might be a significant challenge.
Every challenge makes you stronger! (Goldie Pritchard)
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
With two weeks left until the bar exam, it is time to start getting your "game day" materials together. I've created a packing checklist template to help you get started. (See one sample below) To begin, Download Bar Exam Day Packing Checklist. Then compare my list to the official rules provided to you by your selected jurisdiction and make adjustments to the chart, if necessary. Once the list is complete and accurate, start packing. Make sure to double check everything before you actually leave for the exam. If you are in doubt about something, bring it and leave it in your (or a friend's) car. You can always return to your car later, if needed. (Kirsha Trychta)
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
“I am very discouraged by the process of preparing for the bar exam!” “I do not know if I can keep going, I work so hard but I have hit a plateau.” “I seem to regress rather than progress. I do not think I will be ready to take this exam. Maybe I am not supposed to be a lawyer.” These are some of the comments I hear from recent graduates as the bar exam approaches. It is not uncommon for recent graduates to experience these types of feelings, as long as they do not stay stuck in a rut.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “discourage” as:
(1) “to deprive of courage or confidence: dishearten”
(2) “to hinder by disfavoring”
(3) “to dissuade or attempt to dissuade from doing something”
Bar preparation can be a challenge to the very courage recent graduates mustered up to face the bar exam as well as a huge blow to confidence. The challenges they encounter can dissuade them from progressing but the strength they have within, that brought them thus far will carry them through.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “dishearten” as:
“to cause to lose hope, enthusiasm, or courage: to cause to lose spirit or morale”
This definition encapsulates all of the negative emotions felt but I would imagine that very few individuals, if any, are enthusiastic about sitting for the bar exam. I view my role as the bar support individual who reminds students of their hopes and aspirations coming to law school. I am here to encourage and remind them of the challenges they overcame, some of which were unique to them. I also attempt to remind them of the need to rest, consider their mental health, and necessity to take an occasional break.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term “courage” as:
“mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty”
Recent graduates typically lose sight of the fact that the mental strength they need to face this difficult task that is the bar exam is already within them. Courage does not mean that the task does not seem insurmountable or that you possess all of the confidence in the world. It simply means that you see the difficulty, are unsure of the possible result, stare it down, move forward, and see what happens. You are as prepared as you can be, you face the unknown but you know that your preparation will empower you to face and overcome various obstacles. You can do it! Remember, you do not need to ace the bar exam, you simply need to pass it.
Now please take a break on this 4th of July! (Goldie Pritchard)