As you shift more and more of your time toward doing practice questions and mock exams, it is useful to practice with sets of earlier, actual MBE questions which are released for that purpose by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. You can either buy sets of 100 as online practice exams (OPEs) at their website, www.ncbex.org, for your personal use, OR you can check out either or both of the Emanuel books “Strategies and Tactics for the MBE”, the fifth and sixth editions, which I’ve put on reserve at the law library circulation desk. The sixth edition has OPE Set 4 and the fifth edition has OPE Set 3, both with answer keys and explanations. You can also buy a personal hard copy of those books online through Amazon et al.
Here is excellent advice from the Law School Academic Support Blog, about doing practice essays questions now, as part of your preparation for the bar exam in one month. I strongly advise doing practice essay questions now, if you have not yet done any, and turning them in ASAP for feedback if your commercial bar review course offers that service. Students sometimes avoid doing practice essay questions because they fear them. Here’s the thing: if essay questions scare you now, how do you think they’ll make you feel on the real bar exam? The good news: if you tackle that fear now and don’t avoid doing practice essays, you will be much less intimidated when you have to answer the real thing. Your first attempts may not be very good. That’s okay, you have time to practice and get better. None of this is based on aptitude or intuition.
- Just do it. If you wait until you are fully comfortable with the law to write an essay; you will never do it. You will never be fully comfortable with all aspects of each and every subject area but you can get better by writing.
- Build your muscles. You must dive in to build tough skin when it comes to critique/feedback. When you are faced with the unknown you will develop a strategy. You do not want to face your worse fear, the essay, on the day of the exam. It just won’t work. “Remember that no one shows up for a marathon without preparation so why should you?” (Dean of Student Engagement quote)
- Keep it real. Be completely honest with yourself and the people who are trying to help you. Complete timed questions, honestly critique your responses,and start to do it closed book.
- Close the book…or you will never get the timing right and you will never memorize the rules. Only after you have made a good faith attempt and done your best should you look up rules you do not know or understand.
Another word of advice for Georgia bar exam takers (and it may be relevant in other jurisdictions too): the exam will almost always include an essay question that raises issues of professional ethics. It will likely appear as part of a question on a different, bigger topic — because that is how ethical issues arise in the legal profession, they emerge when you are trying to handle a specific matter of law. On the February bar exam, which you can see online here, Essay Question 1 mostly concerned Evidence. However, one of the questions asked whether or not a prosecutor should turn over certain evidence to the defense. This is a specific scenario where the Georgia rules are slightly different. To do well on all of this essay, examinees needed first to know to discuss the rules governing professional conduct as well as evidence, and the Georgia distinctions.
Thanks, to all of you who are working so hard and entered the drawing for the Critical Pass MBE flashcards! The winner, drawn at random via random.org, is Raquel L., who will get an email confirming her win. Congratulations to all who are exceeding the statewide average completion for their bar courses!
And for those who are not: please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you get and stay on track. These next five weeks are crucial to making sure YOU have maximized your own chances for first-time success on the bar exam. And that’s not random, it is within your control! Hang in there!
Here is a basic checklist you can use to assess your progress to date and make any necessary adjustments to your bar study routine. The bar exam starts five weeks from today. You still have time for self-assessment, feedback on practice questions, and adjustments to your study plan to keep your chances of passing first time as high as possible! Make the most of it!
- Review the bar study schedule you put in place at the start of your review course. Are you able to stick to it and stay on track? Does it include enough time for review AND doing practice questions? If not, consider revising it.
- Start shifting time from reading material to answering practice questions, both MBE and essays. Do what your course recommends for MPT questions.
- Acclimate yourself to the bar exam’s schedule by getting up and studying at the time of day when you will take the exam.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and managing wellness/stress by eating right, taking reasonable study breaks and getting some exercise, even if just a 30-minute daily walk. Mens sana in corpore sano.
- Identify areas of strength and weakness among subjects, using all the tools your course provides. Target your weaker subject areas with more review and practice questions. Don’t avoid doing questions in your weaker subjects, that’s where you need the most practice.
- Increase the number of practice questions you do daily, with the goal of having done at least 2000 MBE practice questions and 5 or more released essay questions from the jurisdiction where you will take the bar, in addition to essay and MPT questions offered by your course, by the date of the bar exam.
- Check directions, instructions, technology and logistics for the bar exam site where you will be tested. Remember that in Georgia, Emory Law provides lunch on both days for all bar-takers at the GICC. Check especially to understand what you can and cannot take into the bar exam; enforcement is very strict and every year, there are examinees who are not allowed to take the bar or are disqualified because they overlooked instructions.
- If you will use a laptop, check now to make sure it is up to date and in top working order, with no viruses or bootleg software that could cause problems during the bar exam. Make sure it will get charged and stay charged during the exam and be sure to bring all necessary/allowed items such as chargers.
- Keep calm and carry on!
Here’s something to lighten the mood a little on a stormy Friday five weeks before the bar exam and after a tough, sad week in Orlando. I have a complete, new set of “Critical Pass ” MBE flashcards that was sent to me by the company after I went to the annual conference for law school academic assistance. I understand that those of you who are taking commercial bar review courses (which I hope is all of you who will take a bar exam in July) can gauge your progress on completing assignments during the course, against the average for all others taking the same state course from that provider.
If you are an Emory Law grad, Class of 2016, taking a bar exam this July, email me a screen shot of whatever system your course uses; if it shows that you have done MORE assigned work than the average for your course, in your state, I will enter your name in a drawing for the set of MBE flashcards (I know, thrilling, right? But they’re not cheap and some 2015 grads really liked them). They cover all the MBE subjects, including the 2015 addition, Civil Procedure. You must be able to pick the set up from the law school in person and you must email me the screenshot before 5 pm on Monday, June 20. Good luck!
Georgia’s Office of Bar Admissions has posted the February 2016 questions online here: Ga. February Bar Essays and MPTs. It is well worth your time to read through them so you have a better idea of what you will see on the actual bar exam. They have not yet posted sample answers for the February questions, but you can see sample answers for earlier bar exam essay questions and MPT questions going back as far as 2000. The New York Bar also has past questions and sample answers but the most recent ones they have posted are from July 2015.
No matter where you are taking the bar, make sure to look at the actual past bar exam questions that most jurisdictions make available. At this stage, you may not be ready to tackle them by doing practice answers but the more familiar you get with them by reading them over, the easier and more effective that practice will be when your bar course assigns you to do some (or you’re ready to do some on your own). Actually doing lots of practice MBE questions and writing out practice essay and MPT answers can mean the difference between passing first time and not. And make sure to think carefully about the “call” of each question; practice reading those closely, so you have more confidence that you know what the bar examiner actually wants to see in your response. Fight for every point!
By now, you should have started your bar review course, whichever one you chose. Your best chances of success come from a steady routine of scheduled, systematic study and work, for 48-60 hours per week. That means 8-10 hour days, six days a week, starting now if you’re not already in that routine. Here’s what Profs. Michael Hunter Schwartz and Denise Riebe recommend for this stage, in their terrific book “Passing the Bar”:
- Do at least 34 MBE practice questions every day, striving to get your timing down to less than two minutes per question;
- Do at least two essay practice questions every week;
- Do at least one MPT practice question every week if your state administers the MPT or another “performance” test;
- Master doctrinal law for three subject areas (for the MBE plus the essay topics) every week;
- Refresh your learning of at least two subject areas every week;
- Take a ten-minute scheduled break every hour; take a break every evening if you’ve met your daily goals (and you should schedule daily goals for yourself every week to accomplish the practice questions above);
- Take off one day/week if you’re up to date on your daily and weekly goals.
My additional advice: use all feedback mechanisms your course offers, including practice questions, practice tests, turning in essay question answers in time to get feedback, etc. The bar exam is harder than you may expect, but it rewards “sweat equity”, i.e. putting in the time as if studying is your fulltime job.
Also, get your brain and body used to being alert during the hours when you will take the bar exam. Now is the time to reset your body rhythms if you aren’t already a “morning person”. Establish the habit of getting up by 7 a.m. or so and getting to work on your bar study before 9 a.m. If your brain thinks it shouldn’t be awake until 11 a.m., why would it suddenly do so on the days of the bar exam, when you need it to be in top form? Try to go to sleep by midnight every night so you get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. More and more research is showing us that sleep (or lack of sleep) directly affects learning, retention and retrieval of information. Yes, I know it’s the summer, but you will have many other summers when you won’t be studying for a high stakes professional licensing exam, and there’s always August. This will be over sooner than you can imagine!
We just got the pass list for the February Georgia bar exam, and other states’ results are starting to come in. Congratulations to the 31 Emory Law grads who passed the Georgia bar in February! Those of you who will take it in July — take heart! You too can do this.
Shown above, with permission: Al Haidar, December 2015 grad, at his swearing-in.
I hope you all had a pleasant Memorial Day weekend! By now, most of you have started your bar review classes. If you have NOT started yet, you need to start NOW. Eight weeks from tomorrow, you will be finished with the bar exam! Some of you will be finished eight weeks from today! To make sure you will succeed and pass on your first try, the next seven weeks are crucial and doing practice questions is an important key to success. One analysis last year showed that students who did 2000 practice MBE questions scored 13 percent higher on the MBE. That can mean the difference between passing and not, so why leave it to chance?
Similarly, practicing with essay questions (actually writing and submitting answers to your bar review company in time to get meaningful feedback) is very valuable. No amount of reading the material and model answers can prepare you, or show you where you have gaps, as well as writing out your own answers and getting feedback in time to adjust and improve your approach. By practicing, you will also build up familiarity with the format and the look and feel of bar exam questions, which will reduce mental stress and allow you to engage more quickly and effectively with real bar exam questions. It’s a little like riding a bike; doing it over and over makes it more automatic each time you try.
If you want to practice with actual MBE questions written and tested by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, you can buy them directly here: MBE Online Practice Exams. But ask your bar review company first whether they have licensed use of those questions and will provide them to you as part of your course in addition to the ones they draft themselves.