Author Archives: Sara J. Berman

About Sara J. Berman

Sara Berman, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law, is a pioneer in distance learning in legal education. Berman has been a law professor since 1998 and currently serves as the Director of Academic and Bar Success Programs for the AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence. Berman has prepared students for the substantive and skills portions of bar exams nationwide for more than two decades and is the author of the ABA's acclaimed bar exam titles: "Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic and Professional Goals" and Bar Exam MPT Preparation & Experiential Learning For Law Students: Interactive Performance Test Training performance testing in law schools. With UCLA Law Professor Paul Bergman, Berman also co-authored "The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System," and "Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case." These primers on the civil and criminal justice systems, written initially for lay people, help prospective law students fill in legal terminology, fluency, and civics knowledge gaps; the books also help law students develop practical skills necessary for employment readiness and for success on the performance test portion of the bar exam.

Took a simulated exam and feeling like $%$##@@!$

Have you taken any simulated exams yet?  Did you score way below what you think you need to pass? Did you take a simulated bar exam and walk out of the room with that “Huh???” look all over your face?  Do you feel like the last thing in the world you are ready for now is the real exam?
Take a big, deep breath, hang on, and hang in there! Many have been right where you are –dazed and scared, taking the scores on a simulated exam like a cannon to the gut, and yet on they went to PASS the Bar Exam just a week later. You CAN too.
1. You don’t have to take the real thing until the end of this month. You have a 17 days more days to study. Think of all you were able to learn in one day before certain finals! There is so much you can still get clear in these last weeks.
2. Your simulated exam may have been harder than the real exam.
3. The real thing is a PASS -FAIL test; you don’t have to get an “A.”
4. Use the simulated exams to help with strategies on how to pass the real thing.
  • Did you budget your time well? If not, watch the clock more carefully and limit your time per question.
  • Were you tired after lunch? Perhaps you can eat a bit less and take some of that lunch hour to walk a bit and burn off some stress or listen to some motivating music.
  • Did you “blank out” on any questions? If so, get a plan ready to work through a temporary “brain freeze” should one occur during the exam!
  • Most important, do not get psyched out. Simulated exams help you by providing an opportunity to make necessary adjustments before the real thing.  Simulated exams  are not necessarily a referendum on how you will actually perform next week. They are, however, an opportunity to get lots of useful information. Use that data wisely, and use these two weeks to improve!

July is here: your bar exam is just a few weeks away!

It’s here. This month that you looked forward to from the first day of law school is finally here. You may be feeling dread or fear or fatigue.  Likely you are not yet excited.

Notice the word “yet.”  Trust that you will be.  Give bar prep your full attention, focus fully for the next three weeks, and you will most likely come to the point when you feel if not downright excited then certainly empowered by all the knowledge in your head.

Picture yourself as a runner finishing those final laps.  You will be ready to cross that “finish line.”

You will be ready to write intelligently on any topic they throw at you.  You will be ready to say, “Bring it on, Examiners. Bring any topic and I have something to say.  I can break the issues down, recite the main rules, and, based on a careful reading of the facts determine a logical outcome to each issue presented.”

You will be ready to read each multiple choice question carefully, with curiosity, delving in to the call to figure out precisely what the question is, then seeking the facts to match up to law that is in your head so that you can rule out the wrong answers and bubble in the best one.

You will have more law memorized than at any other time in your life.  And, if you let it, that feels good.  Threads of legal rules that seemed to be picky irrational details finally make sense. You see how it all fits together. You see parallels between legal rules and policies in numerous areas of law that previously had been “siloed” in your brain in only own course, associated with only one professor.

Stay focused these next three weeks, though.  This is not the time to let up.  Today is.  Take today, July 4th, off.  Recharge your batteries.  Then, get in and soak up every bit of knowledge you are now ready to learn.  You are primed.  The rules have context now, so they will stick.  Memorize.  Know key rules just as well as you know your favorite passwords.  (Say them out loud, sing them, write them out 20 or 50 times.)

Think of how much you learned in three days before certain final exams.  These three weeks are the bar exam parallel to those three days.  Embrace them and enjoy this process.  You are strong and getting stronger.  You will go in there and be prepared to do your best.  And, that is a great feeling.

Where are you Studying for the Bar Exam? The Power of Simulated Exam Conditions.

Bar takers who have completed all their studying in ideal (quiet) conditions are often thrown at the actual exam when there are hundreds of other people around them making noise and emitting the collective emotions surrounding bar exams.  (Ask any practicing attorney and she or he will tell you about an experience during the bar exam where someone in the room made strange and disconcerting noises midway through an essay, PT, or set of multiple choice questions.(

If you are studying for the bar exam, do understand the power of taking at least some simulated exams under exam conditions.  The experience of writing and analyzing multiple choice answers under test-like conditions provides special and important training in combatting the anxiety, fatigue, and other pressures attendant to the bar exam.

It’s not all about how much law you know –though learning and memorizing all the heavily tested rules (and many of the less heavily tested rules) as well as possible.  Bar success is also about mental preparation and being ready for “battle.” Simulated exams help prepare you for the psychological and strategic pieces of the success puzzle (timing, combatting distractions, etc.).  Simulated exams provide an additional important tool on top of all the individualized studying and practice exams you are completing on your own.

Keep up the hard work!  This July’s bar exam is yours to pass!!

PS. Additional success strategies for passing the bar exam in Pass the Bar Exam.

The Virtuous Cycle of Bar Exam Success: Are you regularly writing practice essays & PTS and completing daily sets of practice MBEs?

Bar review is in full swing.  I lectured this past week for bar review in Virginia, Illinois, and Colorado.  Working with my students in Florida.  Will lecture shortly in California.

The common theme?  Everyone is listening to bar review lectures (though I do see some still on social media during bar review lectures), but not everyone has cemented the habits of routine practice tests.  It’s harder.  It’s active learning.  And, it is perfectly normal to feel like you don’t know enough law yet to take practice tests.  But take and learn from practice tests you must.

The “power trio” of a) taking regular practice tests, b) studying sample or explanatory answers, and c) seeing where you need to improve and making improvements accordingly with each subsequent power trio is the virtuous cycle of success.

Note: The vicious cycle of bar failure arrives all too often when bar applicants learn everything so it’s all their in the heads but don’t complete enough practice tests so they are not able to give the examiners what they want in the format and timely fashion they want it.  Still others don’t learn the material with the kind of precision necessary for the quick and accurate recall required for bar success. Others get distracted by well-meaning friends and family who just don’t get it.  But failing the bar exam can be prevented!  Tips, and success strategies for virtually every part of passing the bar exam detailed in Pass the Bar Exam.

Active studying, practice testing, and learning from each practice opportunity is what bar exam success is all about. (Yes, getting to take practice tests is an opportunity, a gift!  If you complete enough practice tests and learn from them, many of the questions on the bar exam will seem familiar.  Unlike many law professors, bar examiners tend not to hide the ball.  It’s all there for you.)

With every practice bar exam essay or PT you write, ask yourself how you can improve.

  • Can you read more critically?  Missing even one word can derail success on an MBE.
  • Can you organize your answer more clearly?  Well-organized bar exam essays stand out as passing quality.  Rambling disorganized treatises will not impress bar graders.
  • Don’t know or don’t understand a particular legal rule?  Now is the opportunity to learn it, memorize it (maybe using a mnemonic).
  • Didn’t finish the exam within the allotted time?  Use a more strategic process of reading and outlining, hitting obvious issues, and completing your answer, then filling in detail if time permits.

More self-assessment and other success tools for PTs, essays, and MBES detailed in Pass the Bar Exam.

 

 

Bar Review begins this week; Seize this moment as a Opportunity

So proud of all my students. It’s hard to dig in, after graduation, and get ready for yet another exam. But, this is the last one. And, it’s so worth all the effort.

You CAN do this. You can pass the bar exam. Dig in and embrace bar review. It is an opportunity to get to do this kind of intense learning.

Don’t view it as torture or hazing.  Throw yourself in.  Think of the bar exam as a photo that right now is blurry and out of focus.  But each week as you get closer to the exam, you learn more and more, you refine your knowledge and your command of each subject, and that blurry photo comes more and more into focus.  By July it will be crystal clear.

July is your exam to pass!

PS. I know I wrote about this days ago, but I just learned of a dear friend — a beautiful, vibrant, smart, and talented college grad whose life was taken from her at age 22.  If there is a lesson in this loss it is to make the most of every moment we have.  Don’t view study as torture.  Don’t waste a moment feeling bitter, or angry, or sad.  Embrace the studies.  Learn all that you can. And, know that you are on a road to not only do well but do good.  Your future is bright. Embrace it!

Graduates: look to the hard work ahead with gratitude.

I attended a lovely graduation ceremony this past week, as I’m sure many of you did.  Huge smiles from graduates, their families, faculty, and administrators.  It’s all seems worth it on this big day. And, it is.  Do not be put off by the fact that there is more work ahead.  (For law students, your biggest test (the #barexam) is yet to come. Embrace that as good news –as an opportunity to learn more and rise to the challenges ahead.)

Do not let the idea of further effort diminish all that you have done to get to this point.  Those of us who have work to do are lucky!  Incredibly lucky.

I just learned about a college graduate who walked this past week and will never walk again. She died in an accident  –while her family was visiting for graduation festivities.  She was and will remain a shining star in the hearts of all who knew her.  I cannot believe that I will never have the chance to hug her again, to follow her career and see her shine.  She will never have the chance to work. Her career was taken from her, as was her life, at 22.

I don’t have the right words.  I doubt there are any.  My heart goes out to her family and friends. She will be missed dearly.

So, to all my students and readers, to anyone facing a bar exam this summer, to those studying in summer school, to the many engaged in summer jobs or internships, to all who just graduated and are looking for jobs –let us collectively be thankful that we face work ahead.  The fact that we get to work means we are alive.  And let us support one another in the process.

Tragedies remind us that the road ahead may be cut short at any moment; let’s make sure that each step we take is filled with purpose and gratitude.  And, let none of us be discouraged by the fact that some of those steps will be challenging.  How lucky we are to be here to face challenges….

Five Powerful Ways to Engage with Law School Learning without losing yourself

New law students often raise their hands in class to share their personal opinions about cases.   I’ve heard professors respond ruthlessly, “I don’t care what you think.”  I will sometimes explain,  “What matters, for class discussion and exams, is what the court decided and why, and not what your personal views are.”  (I frequently tell my law students that I don’t want see anything written in the first person –not on law school exams and not on bar exams.)

So how to stay engaged when your opinion doesn’t matter?

  1. Your opinion does matter, just not for class or exams.  My classmates and I argued outside of class for hours every day, about what we thought about cases, about how we might have decided them if we’d been the judges –you name it.  So, talk with classmates –before and/or after class!
  2. Go to office hours.  Ask your professor his or her opinion of the court’s decision in a particular case, and discuss yours.
  3. Teach what you are learning to a friend or family member who is not in law school and share your feelings about what you are learning.
  4. Write in the margins of your casebook what you think of a case.  Don’t just “book brief” in the margins.  Add your reactions, in your own words.  (Read a fabulous case tonight with students about the foreseeability of a particular injury. One of the court’s splendid lines reasoned that simply because an injury had not previously resulted from the particular action in question did not mean the injury was not foreseeable.  I told the students that I wrote in my margins something like, “Yup.  Makes sense to me.  Just like when we tell kids not to play with matches.  They may not have gotten hurt before, but it’s totally foreseeable that they’ll get burned one of these days.”  My students who were parents especially appreciated the editorial.
  5. Read newspaper and law review articles that critique the area you are studying.  You will find this stretches your brain and helps you see even beyond the thoughts or reactions you had.  You may find support for your own views.  You may find arguments that oppose your opinions. You may find you see things in an entirely new light altogether.  Whatever you discover content-wise, the process itself will help train your critical reading and analysis skills.

Bottom line, your opinions and your feelings may have no place on law exams, but they are vital to your humanity. Keep them alive.  Just keep them in context!