All posts on this blog are my own; they do not represent any institution.
A group of us who have been involved in lawyer licensing and legal education for many years lay out options for bar admission in the current context at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3559060.
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!
Many students who are parents say they feel guilty that law school is taking them “away” from their kids. If your children are in elementary, middle or high-school, know that your studying is positive role modeling. You are teaching them discipline and the value of hard work through your actions. (Teaching is much more effective than preaching!) Do not be surprised if your children do better in school when you too are studying.
The following are a few practical pointers:
- If you have dependent children or aging parents who must be able to reach you in an emergency, give them a code or special ring tone for an emergency call or text. You’ll know if it’s something you need to read or listen right away or if it can wait until when you decide to take the study break you have earned by completing whatever tasks were on your schedule.
- Keep “office hours” so your family knows when you are studying and not to be interrupted, and when you are available. Even if it’s an hour a day at dinner every night, keep your commitment to them. It is even more important when you are gone a lot to be consistent and reliable. If they know when they can depend on you to give them your full attention, (and you truly follow through on that, at one certain time each day), they may be better able to leave you alone the rest of the day.
- Be sure to include your family (children, significant other, parents) where you can productively do so. When you take “breaks,” ask them to test you with flashcards. (Just be prepared, your kids may have memorized the rules before you do!)
- Play audio versions of your lectures while you are driving, cooking, cleaning, or playing with kids.
- Bring flashcards (or better still have them on your smart phone) to test yourself if you are at the park or waiting in line at the market.
- If you have young children, read your outlines or cases aloud. Infants and toddlers mostly just want to hear your voice and be close to you. Whether you are reading Dr. Seuss, Shakespeare or Farnsworth on Contracts may not matter so much!
Excerpted from Pass the Bar Exam –a must-read for all law students.
Who should read Pass the Bar Exam and why?
- Law students!! If you are in law school, this book is written for you and to you. It is an interactive guide. Think of it as talking with a mentor or supportive professor who is sharing advice, stories, worksheets, quizzes, and other planning tools to help you pass the bar exam. The best part is that these very same professional, life, and study skills will help far beyond bar prep. They will help you achieve most any goal you invest this kind of effort in. Knowing that the effort you put into bar passage will pay success dividends for decades to come should make the study process a much more rewarding one. Read Pass the Bar Exam and get ready for a virtuous cycle of success, on the bar exam and beyond.
- Families, friends, spouses, and partners of law students. Many of you are or will be confused and sometimes even offended by the behavior of your son, daughter, mom, dad, husband, wife, partner or friend. He or she seems inordinately stressed out, or has virtually disappeared. You can’t help but think, ‘How hard could law school be?’ And, ‘isn’t the bar just another test?’ This book will help you “get it.” As a key player in the support network of someone taking the bar exam, your help at this stage is critical. Learn what bar takers go through and how you can lend a hand and/or back off, as needed.
- Law school deans, professors and administrators, particularly Academic Support (ASP) and Bar Support Faculty designing and teaching both for credit and extra-curricular bar success courses, in live and distance learning settings. For you, there is also a special Teacher’s Edition Guide, with lesson plans, syllabi, and an updated section on online bar support. For law school deans, there is no more important, indeed existential, concern to your students than bar passage. There are deep fears among today’s law students that the deck is stacked against them. Urge all your students to read and discuss this book and they will begin to view the entire bar preparation process as one of empowerment rather than the needlessly difficult hazing ritual that many see it as. (How bar takers see the process often determines how engaged they are in it, and in turn how success they are in the end.) Following the many chapters filled with concrete advice such as strategies for avoiding distractions and how to enlist the support of family and friends (and knowing the difference between supporters and saboteurs) will help your students to deal with the many “life” challenges that prevent today’s students from doing the work that needs to be done to pass the exam. The books focus on both traditional and non-traditional law students will also provide immense support, validation, and assistance to your diversity students, part-time or returning students, and students who have extensive family or work obligations outside of law school.
- Prospective law students. This book should help balance some of the negatives you may hear about legal education so that you see that despite the great challenges there are enormous rewards. A legal education remains the standard bearer in forming minds that are capable of solving the complex problems facing society today. When people or businesses face problems, they turn to lawyers. In addition to practicing law, lawyers run businesses and government, they are entrepreneurs and innovators, they are called in to resolve crises (to arbitrate, mediate, and get people back on track), and they engage in countless sorts of strategic planning efforts that help avoid costly problems to begin with. Hopefully the book helps you decide to go to law school. If you do, the text and tips will help you succeed in school as much as on the bar exam. The book will help you start good habits from day one.
- Experienced attorneys who work with new lawyers. This book will help you understand some of the concerns facing prospective law clerks and new associates. It may assist you in becoming a stronger mentor and more effectively integrate new lawyers into law practice. Today’s attorneys face generational divides. There are challenges for Baby Boomers managing new graduates from the millennial generation. There are also more second and third career law students which means as experienced lawyers you may find yourselves supervising newbies who are older than you. The legal world is also more diverse than ever. Tolerance and the ability to see things from different perspectives will be an increasingly critical asset.
- Students from high school to graduate schools of all varieties who are working to achieve any academic goal. Much of the stress and many of the challenges described here are not unique to law or the bar exam. As you read, just replace the words, “passing the bar exam” with whatever your goal is and you will find useful success strategies for academic goals such as
- Doing well on final exams or midterms,
- Getting a high score on the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, medical boards, or other standardized test, or
- Completing most any professional training.
Taking the July Bar Exam? Feeling like you are way behind on your bar review schedule? Have the sense that you’ll “never learn it all” ? You are not alone! I have been hearing from dozens of students in your same boat. Here are some tips to stay on course:
- Don’t spend (waste) time berating yourself; problem solve and focus on improvement.
- Don’t worry about what you did not learn in law school; learn what you need to know now!
- Assess where you are spending your time. Track each hour of each day. If you are “wasting” time on social media or chit chat or worry, fill that time in with productive efforts.
- Put off all that is not essential until August. (Do minimal laundry, dishes or other chores; tell all friends and family you will see them in August.; take time off from work; etc.)
- Take care of absolutely essential non-study activities (such as paying bills, taking showers, etc.) when you are too tired to study effectively.
- Productive time when you are in high gear studying for the bar exam is time a) learning and memorizing law (listening to bar review lectures, reading outlines, making flashcards, etc.), b) taking practice tests and studying model answers to see how to improve, and c) exercising, sleeping well, drinking lots of water, and eating healthy foods.
- Don’t feel guilty taking time “off” to exercise, eat well, and sleep. All of those will make your brain more efficient.
- Take practice tests of every variety that will be tested on your bar exam: MBEs, Essays, PTs, any other portion. Test taking will improve your stamina, concentration, and test taking skills. It is also often easier to learn law in the context of hypos (taking practice tests) than in the abstract (simply reading outlines).
- Critically review answers to practice tests to a) learn law you don’t know and b) assess your timing and strategies for each part of the test (how much time reading and outlining versus writing on essays; are you reading the call of the question first on MBEs, etc.).
- Remember, studying for the bar exam is not “punishment.” You earned the right to take the exam. And, a summer of serious study will help you go in to the exam in July feeling empowered to answer any sort of question the examiners throw at you.
For more Bar Exam Success Strategies, check out Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals
Passed the July 2015 bar? Congratulations!! Hope you are still celebrating!!
If you did not yet pass, the February bar exam is yours to pass. Say that to yourself. Don’t even use the word “fail.” Just say “I will pass the exam this February.”
Still waiting for results, good luck! Stay calm and get yourself ready so that you will be fine whatever the website says.
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:
- Did I miss any major issues?
- Did I write any rules incorrectly or incompletely?
- 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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!!