Category Archives: 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!

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!

#Finals! What stands between you and all As on your final exams?

Interesting piece in the NY Times that made me think about the sorts of fears and other road blocks that get in between students and exam success. (“Time to Be Honest about the Fear that’s Getting in Your Way” by Carl Richards, April 17, 2017)

Let’s look at some possibilities:

  • I really do not love what I am studying and would rather spend time doing ________ [FILL IN THE BLANK] than studying.

Fear?  [For college students]: Maybe there is no major for me.  [For graduate students: Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong field. But what then?  I’ve put in so much time and money, how do I turn back or change things now?  I will incur more costs, more time, I’ll disappoint others….]   This is an issue, no doubt.  A couple of thoughts.  What do you love?  Can you articulate it?  Is there training to get a job that would involve doing what you love?  Also, remember, even work one “loves” is often hard.  If you are well into a course of study, think carefully before deciding something “isn’t for you” solely because you may be struggling.  If you are now just first deciding what to study, research what people do professionally with the degree you are seeking and see if any of it sounds appealing.  Go on informational interviews.  Talk with people.  Research.  You might find you were on a good path all along, or you might conclude that you do need to make a change. Bottom line here, the more strongly you believe you are on a positive path, the more likely you are to succeed in the various steps along that path.

  • I do not believe that the price I’d have to pay to get the best grades possible is worth it. Everyone says that no one in my generation will get jobs unless they are in STEM, so why bother.

Fear?  I won’t get a job.  True may of today’s college grads, and even law school grads, are having a harder time than in previous generations finding good jobs.  But there are still jobs.  And, the better your grades are the you are more likely to get one of them.  Instead of deliberately putting your head in the sand, or sabotaging yourself, make yourself the best possible stand-out graduate you can be. (Make an appointment with someone in your university’s career services center.)

  • If I really put in every ounce of energy and an immense amount of time and I still don’t do as well as I’d like, the “truth” will come out that I’m just not as smart as people think I am.  If I don’t put in that much, I can blame B’s, C’s, or D’s on something other than my own intelligence.

Fear?  I am not smart enough. OK, this is a layered and nuanced concern.  Some people are not suited for certain studies.  But being admitted to a degree program is at least one objective measure that you are capable.  Your grades are another measure.  But, sometimes grades are an indicator that you have to try a different approach or seek a different explanation.  Haven’t you ever had something just not make sense at all until that one moment when someone explained it in a different way, and “click,” -you got it?

Don’t let the fact that you haven’t yet figured something out push you into an imposter syndrome –where you fear you are not cut out for whatever you are seeking to accomplish. Instead of fearing you are not smart enough and falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy, try believing you are smart enough and find ways to live up to your high expectations.  Seek help. Try different ways to studying.  Experiment with different places to study.  Research learning science techniques.  Harness all the tools out there to help you become and stay your absolute best.  Look for articles, books, videos, professors, TA’s, tutors, academic support or writing centers to see if any of them can help you get it –maybe with a different approach.  There is a really good chance that persistence will pay off!

  • If I put in my all, I will do better than [FILL IN THE BLANK – perhaps this might include friends, siblings, or even parents.]  My success will make them jealous.

Fear?  I won’t be as well liked or loved if I show how smart I really am. OK, if the last point was nuanced, this one is even more complex –but oh so real for many people.  There are jealous people and those who are not supportive.  We could spend hours, days really, strategizing about how to handle this.  For now, think about it this way –no one has the right to diminish your potential.  And, certainly don’t let anyone into your head to keep you down before you’ve even given yourself the chance to soar.

Put this fear on hold. (Hit the pause button.) Do your best, succeed to the best of your ability, then deal with the fallout afterward.  What’s the worst that can happen?  You might lose friends. (If you lose a friend because he or she is jealous of your success, decide if you were best served by keeping such a person in your life anyway.)  You might alienate family.  (Ok, maybe. Sometimes people close to you are jealous or resent the time that your success takes you away from them.  But you can find tools to repair such relationships, especially if they are truly grounded in love.  Sometimes people need time and reassurance to know that your success will not diminish them or your relationship.)  And, you may be surprised and find some or all of those you thought would not be supportive are.  You may find people you thought would be jealous are immensely proud of you.

—–

Is there something standing between you and doing your best?  What is it?  Break it down. Look closely to see if there are underlying fears, and if so, can you work through them without sabotaging yourself.   Bottom line, struggling to do the best you can, in whatever you are studying at the moment, will give you more choices –even if you end up making a change.

Preparing for Success on Final Exams: Sleep enough to read and think clearly!

Many of my students have been asking me how to best prepare for success on their final exams.  My advice differed when I spoke with those who asked a month or more before exams. With them we talked about slow and steady working through the material, outlining, completing many practice tests under timed conditions, etc.  To those who ask what they can do just days before their exam, we talked over the best strategic use of the remaining time.  One common thread emerged — go in to the exam in peak form –or, well, as close to peak as possible.

For law exams especially, and certainly in many other disciplines as well, you must be alert enough to read carefully, and critically, to do well.  I give the same advice to people who want to stay up all night the night before the bar exam: don’t.  (“The guy sitting next to you may know a bit more content than you but if cramming that into his head came at the price of being so bleary eyed that by the afternoon session, Ps and Ds all start to look alike, that extra knowledge won’t help at all.”)

For many exams, particularly essay exams, there is simply nothing more effective than walking in well rested,  calm and confident –enough to focus closely on every word.  Read the essay thoroughly before you begin writing. Read the question two or three times to make sure you understand it.  Then, outline your answer.  Only then, after reading carefully and organizing your thoughts should you begin writing and completely address the full question.

Failing law schools and failing the bar exam

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.

Congratulations. Get Ready for Graduation!

This morning, I saw one of my students with his cap and gown, and we were both beaming.  I am so excited for all of you who are graduating.  It’s a huge milestone. Congratulations to you if you will soon have earned your J.D.

But as you well know, graduating from law school is uniquely anti-climactic.  Maybe you get to toss your mortar board in the air, have a few drinks and a nice meal or two with family and friends.  Then what?   Another test!   Crazy, right?  You accomplished perhaps the biggest goal you have ever achieved and you hardly have time for congratulations.  Would be nice in a way if you could take the Bar first and then have the big party and festivities. But, for most people it doesn’t work that way.

So, acknowledge this graduation with your one or two days of celebrating.  Then, gear up again, this time in the highest gear you’ve ever been in for your July bar exam.  Trust me, the joy you will feel when you learn that you that you pass this bar exam will more than outweigh the delayed gratification of waiting to really and fully celebrate your graduation.

In just a few weeks, you will walk into Bar Review classes.  You will deal with yet again with ridiculously heavy outlines. (You thought carrying casebooks would kill you!)  You will spend two months review more than a dozen subjects.  But you will do it.  And, in about July you will feel so strong, so empowered.  Everything that may have seemed vague in law school will come clearly into focus. You will be ready to answer any question the examiners throw at you.

So, after finals, clear your calendars of everything that is not essential between now and the exam.  No more distractions, no more errands, parties, etc.  Eliminate or reduce obligations unless they are absolutely essential.  Read Pass the Bar for success on the exam.

And, one more thing.  As soon as possible, if you haven’t done it yet,  plan the most fun thing you can think of for August!

Practical tips to help your focus during finals

Some of you will soon face final exams.  How do you concentrate when not everyone around you is as serious as you are about doing well on exams?  It’s hard to motivate with the sunshine out, and especially if anyone around you seems to be playing or having fun while you’re “stuck” studying.  Remember, it’s only a couple of weeks.  (Well, if you happen to be studying for the bar exam right after finals, it’s a little bit longer stretch.  But, even the two months will fly.  Read Pass the Bar Exam for all the tips you need!)

Most important, try to see the “study glass” as half full.  You are not “stuck” studying; you get to study.  It’s an incredible gift to be able to sit quietly in a safe place and learn.  It sounds corny, but it’s really true.  You are on the path to help yourself to do well and to do good.

Here are some practical tips to help your focus during finals:

1. Pick a study spot. Maybe it’s the library, maybe it’s s a coffee shop, maybe it’s your home.  Wherever it is,  make sure it’s a place you can concentrate where people will not bug you.

 Try studying in a different spot once or twice to see if you are more productive in a different setting.  (For example, some people study in the library but spend more time socializing with friends than studying.  It may be that an office, a home, a public library, or even library in another school at your university may be where you need to hide during finals.)

2. Let your friends and family know you are in finals mode, and tell them when to expect you will be free.  Say “No” to all plans, social invitations, and even to family obligations unless absolutely necessary during the couple of weeks before exams.

If you are a working student with a job outside of school, see if there is any way to take some time off before exams.

 If you have young children or aging parents, plan well ahead of time, think about whether it is possible to arrange for someone reliable to provide the care you usually give, at least to free up some time for you to study.

Saying “No” ahead of time to social invitations frees you up to decide if you feel like you have time to socialize.  If you have put in a good day or evening and want to drop by that party you were invited to, go ahead.  But only after your work is completed.

If after studying you just want to go to sleep, let yourself.  Brain work takes much more energy than most of us realize.  A good friend of mine who was appointed to the bench told me she had never been more tired than in her first months on that job.  There was nothing physically demanding, but she was certain that she was using more brain power than she ever had before.

3. Plan something special to look forward to after finals  –either by yourself or, if you have family or a special someone who will miss you during this intense study time, plan something fun for them to look forward to doing with you after finals are done.

4. Take a social media break, and, don’t answer texts or phone calls while you are studying. Pick a set time (a short break time) in the evenings after studying is over for the day to read messages.

        Again, good luck on finals!  And best wishes for a great summer after exams.