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 

Bar Review in Full Force: Get ready to PASS the July 2015 Bar Exam!

Lectured last week in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia; this week in California.  Great students in great locations!  A real honor to spend time with such amazing people.  It also is something extraordinary to walk into rooms filled with so much nervous energy, to be in the company of hard-working and dedicated law school graduates getting ready for success on the July 2015 Bar Exam.

The best part is watching people’s eyes light up when we practice performance tests and essay questions and they realize that the bar exam is challenging but wholly doable, when they feel empowered to know that they can prevail.

If you are studying for the July Bar Exam, hang in.  It’s a long couple of months.  Proceed (and do your best) one day at a time. Work hard, but do not judge yourself harshly.  It’s all about incremental improvement.  For every practice question you complete, just ask yourself how you could have improved.

Soon, very soon, you will learn that you passed the test and you will obtain a license that is truly an opportunity, a privilege, a tool with which you can better the lives of so many.

Keep at this, and stay positive.  It is worth all the hard work you are now putting in!

PassTheBar_COV2

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

Watching my students begin bar review brings back memories –believe it or not, good memories!

Why?  Bar review does not have to be the nightmare or hazing ritual so many think of it as.  It can be one of the most empowering experiences ever, if you approach it that way and keep your attitude positive.

You CAN learn everything you need to know.  You would not have graduated law school if you weren’t ready to do this.  There is nothing that is above you or too complicated for you to grasp, if you work hard enough. You will be surprised how many concepts that may have been confusing in law school now become clear. That is exciting.  It feels great to master rules that once confused you.

There are many reasons why bar review makes concepts clearer, including:

1) Bar review lecturers try to make rules clearer.  Their objective is not to “hide the ball.”

2) You see the immediate application of rules in the practice exam questions you are completing each day.  Your mind is ready and eager to absorb the concepts.  This is not about some far off “maybe you’ll need this one day.”  This learning is part of the toolbox that you need to go in and ace the bar exam this July!

3) Most concepts are easier to grasp once you have been exposed to them.  This is Bar Review not Bar Learning.

So, stay confident and optimistic!  To the extent you can, enjoy this opportunity to review. Study hard enough and seriously enough to feel like not only do you understand all the rules but you could explain them yourself to a lay person.  When you can clearly and easily explain a concept to someone with no legal background, that is when you know it’s crystal clear –or at least clear enough to walk in and PASS the Bar Exam!

Stay strong, eat well and a get a good night’s sleep every night, and let you mind be a sponge.  Bar review can feel a bit like a picture finally coming into focus after having been blurry for years. This summer is about clarity, and mastery; that is exciting.  It is empowering. And, I hope it may even be, dare I say, at least a little bit fun!

Good Luck Starting Bar Review!

Here is the talk I gave my students yesterday when they began bar review:

You are competing in the July 2015 Olympic Games, your Olympic Games.  You qualified to compete. We watched you, this Saturday at Graduation.  You proved yourselves these past three or four years.

Now, what do Olympians in training need after qualifying?

1) The ability, which you have!

2) A great coach, and we and your bar review are here for you.  And,

3) Time focused on hard work. Hard work —every day, sweating, falling down and getting hurt but getting back up and trying again, every day all day until game time.

This is your two months. It is all about you.  You have everything you need.  Now bring it.

Bring your grit, your commitment, your stubborn need to learn as much as you can and get as competent as possible in taking Essays, MBEs and PTs. Those are the three events you are competing in!  Just as the athlete in your shoes is now ready to give it her all, you too must give this your all.

You must need to pass.  Don’t just want it. Don’t just try. Need this. Hunger for it. Push for it. Do everything in your power to make it happen.

You qualified to compete. We are your coaches. We are here for you.

Now take a moment and picture yourself at the Swearing In ceremony after you pass the exam. That is our Medal Ceremony. Imagine yourself raising your right hand and taking the attorney’s oath.

Keep that image concrete in your mind, then stop your mind from thinking about what is next. Just get licensed.  Have that power tool in your arsenal. Then, decide what to do with it later. If you have a job, great; don’t think about it. If you don’t have a job, don’t think about it, and certainly don’t worry about it until August.  Everything is on hold until August. Whatever you decide to do, you will be better served because of the effort you put in now.

Everything is about, this summer.  Get as much as you can out of every minute of every lecture; read, study, and practice, practice, practice.  

Remember, you CAN do this!  You can pass this bar exam!!!

Clearing Clutter to Make Space to Achieve your True Goals

Meeting with students now who are taking the July Bar Exam to help them see what will be critical over the next few months, and what can be put aside or postponed until August.

We can only focus on so many things at once.  When there is too much going on, nothing gets done at the level it must for success on the big things, such as the bar exam.

So, now is the time to look hard at what you must do and what you can put aside.

Seven Suggestions to Avoid Study Burnout

Note: This post is relevant to everyone studying. Whether you are in high school, college, law school or any other graduate study, if you are giving it your all, you will burn out from time to time. Here’s how to re-charge!  

You are perfectly normal if you are thinking, “Not another day of this stuff!  I cannot handle any more studying.  Not another lecture, paper, or practice test.  I need to sleep.  I need a day off.  I need my life back!” You will have your life back when exams are over.  But, for now, “Another day of this” is precisely what you must do. Another, and another, and another –all in  high gear.  You must remain totally motivated, batteries fully charged, util the last “time” is called on the last day of your last exam.  For the upcoming bar exam, that is a full month away still.  So you have lots of time.  But you must make the most of it.

How to re-charge?  How does one maintain that kind of persistent motivation?   It’s not easy.  I remember the first week of July when one of my classmates said, “Just bring it on already.  I am so [expletive] sick of studying.  I just want the test now.  I’m tired.”  I have to confess at the time I felt so un-ready for the Exam that I could not relate at all.  I wanted every single day that remained to practice.  I wanted every minute to get ready.  I was happy to wait.  But, I can relate now.  Thousands of students later, I see how some people have just had it even by this time.  Others want even more time to pull it all together.  (They wish the exam were two more months later.) Wherever you fall on this spectrum, give yourself a break if you are feeling stressed and burned out. Stress and burnout are normal

Bottom line, you have no choice.  You are taking this exam at the end of this month, are you better believe with all your heart, soul, and might that you going to pass!  Done deal.  No options.  (To quote Apollo 13: “Failure is not an option.”)

What will you do on actual bar exam days?  You will go in and do your very best. That is what you owe yourself.  That is what must be done.  So, how do you get through from now until then?

Here are 7 Tips to Prevent Bar Exam Burnout:

1) Exercise. 

Most people are stressed, quite normally so.  The best way to burn off the excess stress is to burn it out, with exercise.

Do something active every single day.  Walking, yoga, biking, swimming, weight lifting, jogging, spinning, skating.  Whatever you do, don’t skip a day.  You must think of time exercising as an investment in your own success.  It is never a waste of time.  (If you simply cannot justify taking “time off” to exercise, then study while you are on a treadmill, or walk while playing a bar review lecture in headphones (or listening to a recording of yourself reading rule statements, see below.)

2) Pace yourself. 

Take breaks.  Remember even during the bar, you get close to a 2 hour lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions.  So, feel free to take long lunches now, each day.  Stop fully and relax.  Then get back into it.  And, when you’ve put in a full day of studying, take off at night to relax before you get a good night’s sleep.  And, make sure to get a good night’s sleep, each and every night.

3) Reward Yourself –daily and weekly.

Give yourself some daily reward.  At the end of each evening, do something before you go to sleep that acknowledges a hard day’s work.  (For some, that’s a mindless TV show.  For others, a glass of wine.  For others, a few minutes on social media.) And, give yourself a bigger treat to mark the end of each week of hard work.  Every Sunday night, for example, go out to a really nice dinner, or watch a movie.

4) Plan (and book) an after-bar vacation.  For those in college or graduate school, plan something fun for Spring break and summer!

Schedule something as soon as possible after the exam, something you really look forward to.  Just thinking about that and knowing that you have something definite in August will help alleviate some of the burnout today.  It can also be a great way to reward family and a significant other for letting you have time and space to study this June and July.

5) Shake up your study routine.

If you are tired of reading quietly, read aloud to yourself.  One of my students found the way to keep motivated (and better retain the material) was to read aloud in a funny accent and record her voice reading rules.  She played them back to herself  while driving and laughed while learning.

Try charting, try flashcards, try re-typing sample answers.

Study in a different location one day.  Explain the rules/theories you are most afraid will be tested on the bar exam to a lay person.  (If you can explain something correctly to someone else, likely that means you have mastered it.)

Variety can go a long way to helping stop burnout before it drags you down.

6) Get comfortable with “practice test days.”

Practice days are critical.  They will help you train the skills to pass.  And, if your practice work has simulated the intensity of the real thing, you will be able to walk in to the actual exam with power and strength.  You will have a  ”been there, done that” attitude and confidence.

7) Above all, be kind to yourself.

This IS one of the hardest times in your life, one of the steepest mountains you will ever have to climb.  The good news is, once you get through, it’s a lifetime license.  You never have to do it again.  Just pay your yearly dues and remain ethical, and you’ll keep your license for life.

PS. Be sure to eat lots of chocolate, and ice cream!  It won’t add brain cells, but it should put a smile on your face!!!!!

Ten Reasons Why People Fail the Bar Exam

Having taught thousands of people to pass the bar exam for, I can sometimes tell in a few moments of listening why someone failed the bar exam.  You can too, if you look candidly at the past, diagnose what went wrong, and commit to passing the bar exam next time around.

  1. You are not worried enough. You got by in law school.  You did not come to class prepared and you knew it, but you got lucky.  You passed all your classes, so you think you will get by now.  You say to yourself, “It can’t be that tough.  I know tons of stupid people who passed.”Wrong! It is that tough. And it is a whole different ball game, physically and mentally, from law school finals. First off, it is two or three full days, not a few hours. You will be exhausted, more tired than you’ve ever been in law school. Second, it is way more material than you’ve ever had to deal with on a single exam. Third, the anxiety level is much higher. People around you are terribly stressed out, and rightly so since so much of peoples’ future rides on that outcome.   So, what is your job?  Get with the program. Word hard, really hard, now.  Relax when you pass.  If you are working while studying, realize that you may not be able to do it all. Think about taking out a loan so you can give the Bar two totally concentrated months of full time study.
  2. You are too worried. You are filled with so much anxiety that you cannot relax enough to learn the material. You have a lot to study and you are right to be concerned, but you cannot absorb the law if you are completely stressed.Stop. Sleep more. Take breaks. Do deep relaxation and physical exercise. You cannot study effectively for 20 hours a day, and you don’t need to in order to pass. Just be diligent, disciplined and give it a good 6-10 hour day. Remember: slow and steady won the race.  Also, realize you are dealing with more material, more subjects, but the depth of analysis is not nearly as intense as a law school final or law review article. (Note, in a state like California, this is especially true on essay-only subjects. MBE subjects tend to be tested in more detail than subjects for which you only have to write an essay answer.)You are not trying to be Justice Holmes, or have your Bar Exam answers published in the Harvard Law Review. You just want to pass.
  3. You have not learned the law. Did you brief cases in law school? Do you really know and understand what a case is—what the difference is between a holding and dicta? Do you know what an easement is? Do you understand UCC Section 2207?If you don’t REALLY get it, it fine to admit that now. You can learn before it is too late. But do not set yourself up to fail. Do not pretend you know what you really do not.  The time is now to dig in and really learn.
  4. You are the Dreamer. You are going beyond the scope of the fact patterns. You read into things. You assume facts not in evidence.  What is your fix?  Read slowly and read every word of the fact pattern aloud, under your breath. Recall what you read, take notes, and then analyze them thoroughly. Stay away from “What ifs.”  Resist if you find yourself saying, “But what if the party were an adult?” If the facts say the party is a minor, work with that. Why bother with the “what ifs?” The party is a minor, period, end of story. Analyze the facts and the law accordingly.
  5. You have weak reading comprehension skills.You really don’t understand what you are reading. Either you are nervous, trying to read too fast, or you have not trained your reading skills thoroughly enough. The Bar Exam, like all standardized tests, is largely a test of reading comprehension. Your reading must be in top shape to pass.Do lots of practice tests and study the model answers. Figure out what you did wrong. Re-read instructions. Also, if you want a good exercise: try reading and summarizing in one to three sentences, all the articles in the opinion section of the newspaper each day—this will train your skills and keep you informed at the same time!
  6. You are a Practicing Attorney in Another Jurisdiction.You are licensed to practice in another state, and trying to get licensed in a new state. You may have been practicing for years. But, for some reason, you just can’t seem to pass this Bar. You may be angry at having to take the Exam in the first place; you are an attorney, after all. You are licensed. You have done your time. You shouldn’t be asked to have to take another test. It’s been a while since you were a student and you resent this imposition.You are also knowledgeable in the real world. But in some instances, you know too much. You think of too many practical issues and get hung up on them. You need to pretend you are back in school. Think BIG issues, and write a complete analysis. This is not shorthand to help you resolve a client’s problem. This is long hand. Give a complete analysis to prove your skills for the grader. “Show the math.”Also, lay off the jargon unless terms are used in the problem. Don’t use flashy terms to impress the grader; you won’t. Don’t use “heretofore,” “the party of the first part” “said party” or “said issue.” Just write out an IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) in short but complete plain English sentences.
  7. You have poor writing or typing skills and present an illegible answer. If the graders cannot easily read what you wrote, they won’t. They will not assume you wrote the right things. They will not give you the benefit of the doubt.  Sloppy careless typing or writing with major mistakes in spelling and grammar can bias a grader.  Lawyers must be organized.  Present yourself on paper as you would in an interview: as a competent, organized, clear-thinking and clear-sounding professional.
  8. You don’t manage time well enough.You didn’t bring a clock with you to the Exam, or you didn’t look at the clock you had. Either way, time ran away without you. You were caught with moments to go and unanswered or barely answered questions. Even one question left unanswered is enough to fail you—especially if it’s a performance test question that is worth a big percentage of your total grade.  Practice, under timed conditions, with a big, easy-to-read clock.
  9. You are not ready to be a lawyer.Maybe you went straight from college to law school, and are still a little overwhelmed. You may not even know for sure if you want to be a lawyer, and you are certainly not ready to have someone else’s life or financial future in your hands. This is common. You can solve this issue creatively in a number of different ways, without having to fail the Bar. For example, decide before taking the Bar that you will give your yourself some time after you take and pass the Bar Exam before seeking or accepting a law job.  (Work doing something else for a bit to take the pressure off, and then decide it law is what you want.)  Don’t commit ahead of time to a job you are not ready to accept.
  10. You are simply unlucky. This does happen.  For real!  Some people do just have a bad day, family problems, physical accidents or other incidents that occur with the worst of bad timing.  If you are one of these people, just climb back on the saddle, and do it again.  This time the exam will be yours to pass!!

Martin Luther King Monday

Thinking today about the power of great dreams, feeling humbled and grateful to those who have had the courage to speak out, to differ, to dare to paint a splendid, glorious vision of a better world.

Thinking today of a world grounded in empathy, a world of kindness and compassion.

Hoping today that we all have a dream.