Monthly Archives: June 2015

Happy Day to Dads Everywhere!

Happy Father’s Day!

If you are taking the July Bar Exam, you have been working like crazy for a weeks now.  So, you deserve a break.  Take a moment out of your studies today to wish your father a Happy Day.

If you don’t have a dad to thank (and even if you do), take a few minutes to thank someone else who has acted toward you in a fatherly way –maybe a mentor, teacher, or a friend’s dad.  You would be amazed at how appreciative that person will likely be to know the he has made an impact on you.  And, you may also feel a renewed sense of purpose and perspective by just taking a few minutes out of your stressful studies to say, “Thank you.”

If you are a Dad yourself, enjoy some good vibes, rest and re-charge your own batteries with some great family time!  Today, a toast to YOU!  Happy Father’s Day!!!

Remember that studying for the bar exam is a long haul.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  You need breaks, days when you think of something other the exam and thereby get a healthy second wind.  Today is one such day; July 4th will be another.  Look for posts in the next week on taking some time off on that weekend.

 

Top Three Takeaways from Bar Exam Essay Practice

When studying sample answers, after completing closed book practice tests under timed conditions, focus on how to improve.  Don’t be too critical of yourself.  Remember, you did a great job by digging in and working the practice test!  The key is in the learning you do from the practice work, though.  So, at a minimum, focus on at least these three points:

  1. Did I miss any major issues?
  2. Did I write any rules incorrectly or incompletely?
  3. Was my organization clear and logical, with headings and subheadings to show the grader my logic?

1. If you missed issues, go back to the fact pattern and see which facts triggered the missed issue(s).

2. If you missed rules, go back to your outlines and study them.  Make flash cards.  And, learn any concepts you missed not just because you didn’t have it memorized but because you truly don’t understand the rule.

3. As to organization, go into the model or sample answers, and highlight where the Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusions are stated. Compare to your own answer.  And adjust your organization to be as clear and logical as the sample passing answers.

Bottom line, keep practicing.  Keep up the hard work! Slow and steady wins the bar exam race!

Practice Bar Exam Writing: Closed or Open Book?

It does not hurt and may well help a lot to be completing all your practice tests closed book and under timed conditions.  However, for sure by July you must be writing closed book.  June studying may still be effective, even if you need to do some brief consultation of books and notes while writing.

In June, most people are still learning the law.  (Yes, we call it “bar review” but there is a great deal of new information that most of us learn while studying for the bar exam.)  One great way to learn rules is to type them out (or better still, handwrite them 50 times).  So, if you are writing a practice exam, and know there is a rule but forget how to phrase it, or do not know what the rule is at all, go ahead and look it up.  Then, close the books, and try to type it into your answer from memory.  After the brief book consultation to refresh your recollection (pun intended), finish writing your analysis and conclude on the particular issue you are addressing.

Stopping to look up rules will not likely be too much of a crutch so long as you give the full month of July to entirely closed book writing.  Having some open books in June will still help you learn the law while you practice exam writing.  And, you are likely to more easily recall rules in the future that you learned in the context of particular fact patterns.

When July hits, close the books while writing practice exams.  If you don’t know a rule, try hard to remember whatever you can of it and/or analogize to an area of law you do know and write what you think the rule likely is.  The minute you finish the essay (writing under timed conditions), then look up the rule or rules you guessed on.  Right then and there, as you are studying a model or sample answer, (which you must do to get the full benefit of practice writing), write out any rules you missed.  Write them on your flashcards or outline, say them out loud, and/or re-write them 10-20 times to “seal” them into your memory. (Everyone memorizes differently.)

By allowing yourself to look up some rules in June but targeting July for being closed book, you are giving yourself a “break” of sorts while maintaining a concrete goal and acknowledging the need to ramp up as the exam approaches.

The bar exam is at the end of July, not tomorrow.  You still have plenty of time to hone your analytical and writing skills, to vastly increase your knowledge of the law, and to memorize those rules you will need to articulate in bar exam essay writing.  Keep at it!  Slow and steady wins this race.

Running out of Time on Essays and PTs: Help!

Students have been telling me at every bar review lecture this summer, and coming in to office hours regularly with pleas of: “Help: I’m not finishing the essays and PTs I’m writing.”

If this is you, you are not alone.

FIRST, SOME GENERAL BAR EXAM PREPARATION THOUGHTS:

1) Delighted to hear you are writing practice essays and PTs.  Keep at it!  That is critical to your success.  Nothing worries me more than people who say, “I’m too busy learning the law to write practice exams; I don’t know enough yet to write.”  You learn by writing.  And, if you knew all the law in the world in theory but had never practiced bar exam essays and performance tests, you would likely not pass the bar exam.

2) Also glad you are practicing under timed conditions.  Too many students write open book and/or giving themselves unlimited time, and never learn to perform under the strict constraints and exam conditions they will face on their bar exam. Again, keep at it!

3) Let’s also look at what it is that you are doing that is taking the time that puts you over time on essays and PTs.  Knowing what is taking your time can sometimes help you trim down your time in certain areas.

NEXT, SOME THOUGHTS ON ESSAYS:

  • Are you working with an outline?  Outlining before you write, providing yourself a roadmap (that you can turn into headings to give the grader a roadmap) takes time but ultimately can save time.  (You don’t waste time cleaning up a disorganized rambling answer.)
  • How long are you spending reading the question and thinking before writing?  It may seem counter-intuitive, but one way to speed up writing is to invest more time in understanding the problem before you begin writing.
  • Next, on essays, assess what is taking the bulk of your time?  Is it issue spotting?  If so,
    • a) learn the law more fluently.  The better you know the rules, the easier it is to spot issues.
    • Read more carefully.
    • And, practice with many many essays.
  • Is it rule statements?  Memorize succinct (concise and precise) rule statements.  You should not need to spend time thinking about how to phrase a rule.  You should spit it out.  That will come with practice and active work on memorization.  (Remember, how you learned vocabulary studying a foreign language?  Memorize your legal terms that way.
  • Next, is it analysis?  Again, a careful reading of the facts and practice will help.  Also, practice writing out model answers (copying them). That will help tune your ear to a successful essay answer, and it will help you see if you are spending too much time doing the analysis portion of your writing.

Pay close attention to how much time you spend on each part of your essay writing and you will likely gain insights into where and how to increase your speed and efficiency.

SOME THOUGHTS ON PERFORMANCE TESTS:

As to PTs, the first time saving tip is seeing the big picture, figuring out what the performance test is really asking you to do, and figuring out at least the major rules that need to be written down. These are huge areas where many students struggle, and get bogged down.  You have to find the “freeway” (the main rules); you cannot get caught up in the “side streets.”

With timing, how much over are you?  If you are 30 minutes or less over time, complete 4-6 more exams under timed conditions and see where you are. Practice alone may speed you up.

Complete at least 2 each week now.  (You want to master them as much as possible in June since they are open book and leave more time for essay and MBE work, which require memorization, for July.)  You should see your timing go down significantly, just by virtue of getting more comfortable with these.

Be sure to take the time you need to read, and think, and outline.  Even if you are a slow reader, the better grasp you have of what the assignment is and how to organize a logical and thorough response, the faster you will be able to type that response.

Also, with each practice PT you complete, watch for time saving techniques, such as:

  • “Book briefing” and using the table of contents of the Library to list the page numbers where all the holdings are, rather than writing all the rules out in an outline,
  • Using shorthand cites, and
  • Typing your headings right into your document and then populating that “outline” rough draft as your final draft.

Note too that a way to save a great deal of time is skimming the File first, then only going back to it in detail when you know the law (so you don’t get mired in the irrelevant material in the File).

You also may have about 10 minutes or so of an adrenalin boost on the actual exam, but do not bank on that.  Keep practicing writing these out in full so that you get your timing where it needs to be.  And, with each practice test, take note of where you are getting caught up and push yourself to move more quickly through those slow moments.

For more tips and strategies for success on the bar exam, see Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide for Achieving Academic & Professional Goals.

Practice Essay and Performance Test Writing: dig in now, no delays!

Fit a full performance test (“PT”), under timed conditions, into your study schedule today.  Hopefully this entire you have already begun writing bar exam essays in full.  If not, start today!

Many people ask me if it’s ok to just memorize rules now, and wait to write out in full.  No.  Write.  Practice writing.  The time is now!

There is no way to master bar exam essays and PTs without practicing them. As I told my class yesterday, if we decided to spend the next month in an intensive tennis workshop and what we did were to take every class session to read tennis books and watch tennis videos without ever hitting the court, we would not learn to play tennis.  Even if we watched and read for 15 hours a day for 30 days, we would not have trained our muscles or reflexes.

Likewise, to learn to write effective bar exam essay and performance test answers, you must put the book learning into practice.  It’s often ok to write open book in June (not looking at answers but simply looking up a rule if you need to) so long as by July you are regularly writing practice exams closed book. The point is now to get started.  Dig in, and go!

 

You have heard of Anticipatory Repudiation. Have you ever heard of Anticipatory Excuses to Fail??

Too many people set themselves up for failure.  They take measures to “build in” excuses “just in case” they fail.  (I call them “anticipatory excuses” –what you will say if you fail.)

Some people create anticipatory excuses unconsciously; others do it quite intentionally.  You know what I am talking about:

“If I fail, it’s because I had to take off time to go to that wedding.”  Or,

“If I fail, it’s because I didn’t write enough practice tests.”

No!  Do not make excuses; do not build in excuses.  Ban excuses from your vocabulary and your mind.  Do not let them in, period.

Do everything in your power to pass, and believe you will pass.  If next fall you learn you did not pass, address that then and plan to pass the next  bar exam.  For now, keep it all about passing.

  • If you have social plans this or next month, cancel them.  (Remember the words, “Let’s plan that for August.”  Or, “We’ll do that for sure, in August.”  Or, “I’m in.  What day in August?  I’ll put it in my phone right now.”)
  • If you are not on schedule with your bar review, get on schedule. Catch up.  We are still 6 weeks away from the bar exam.  There is still time now to get back on track.  But, in another few weeks, it will be too late; you will not be able to get back on target if you are too far behind.  So, no excuses.  Get rolling!  Right now.
  • If you are too tired to study well, sleep more.  You must be on and efficient for a long time.  That requires rest, and focus.  Keep you eyes on your goal.  And, get in shape to succeed.  (Eat well, sleep enough, and exercise.)
  • If you don’t understand real property (or any other subject), get a good outline or hornbook, ask a professor for help, grapple with the law and learn what you need to know.  Don’t think for a second you can’t learn it and hope it won’t be tested.
  • If you have friends who are texting you or posting things you “must” read on social media, cut yourself off.  Take a social media break until August.  Remember that these same people will likely be running to ask you for legal advice when you pass the bar exam.  But it will be your life, not theirs, negatively affected if you fail this bar exam.

If you are truly not able to do what it takes to pass the July bar exam, face the music and postpone until February.  There is no shame in delaying. But if you decide to take the exam, be honest with yourself now, while there is still time to get and stay on track.

 

Preparing for your Bar Exam? Watch your language and keep it positive!

The great basketball player Michael Jordan apparently once said, “You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”  How do you think of yourself? How do you talk to yourself?

You must ask the right questions in order to get the right answers. You must think of yourself and speak of yourself as someone who can and will succeed. (If you feel you cannot honestly speak positively, because you truly doubt that you will achieve, talk with someone and do everything in your power to dismantle the self doubts. Law students, make an appointment with your ASP faculty and talk over your doubts.)

Changing the tone and content of your own inner dialogue (something that is totally within your control) can empower you in your quest to achieve your goals, and propel you toward success. Consider the following examples:

Thought: Why can’t I get a higher score on these practice tests?  Re-phrase: How can I improve these practice exams and do better next time?

Thought: This material [for law students perhaps easements and covenants; for high school or college students perhaps physics, statistics] is so difficult. I’ll never understand it.  Re-phrase: Maybe I need to re-read the material a couple of times before I get this. Or, maybe I need to find a different explanation of the concept, one that makes more sense to me. But, I will get it eventually. (Be patient and kind with yourself. We live in an age of instant gratification, but difficult concepts are not always graspable on your first read or the first time you hear a professor introduce the topic. Something you must puzzle over something for many long hours to really get it.  That is normal!  Do not get frustrated. Be stubborn and stick with it, all the while believing the answer will come.)

Thought: I’ll never be able to sit and focus for three days. I can’t go ten minutes without checking my phone. Re-phrase: I have a challenge before me to build the endurance to focus for the entire length of my bar exam. I will have to wean myself from all my distractions, including this phone.  I’ll do it a little bit each day. In two weeks, I should be able to focus for at least two hours in a row and in four weeks for four hours straight. I will train then in four hour blocks going forward so that I am ready to perform for the three-hour blocks that I must be on and focused for during the bar exam.

Thought: There is no way I can write an answer that is as good or detailed as the model answers. I can barely re-type a model answer in the time allotted.  Re-phrase: I am studying sample answers and model answers to learn from them. I am not taking the bar exam tomorrow. I have time to absorb this way of thinking and writing. The more I read these and study how someone got this answer from this fact pattern, the easier it will be for me to write this much detailed analysis in this organized a manner within the allotted time. Whether I feel it or not, I know that with each practice test I do I get stronger. My issue spotting gets better, my rule statements become more precise. I am increasing my speed and my accuracy as I practice. I just have to keep going. I can do this.


Adapted from Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals