Life Happens, Even When Studying for the Bar

The Law School Academic Support blog always has much wisdom to share, and its most recent post is no exception: The Inevitable Roller Coaster: Bar Review. All of it is worth reading, and I hope you will, but I wanted to highlight this section:

Life Happens

At a bar exam program presented several years ago, a speaker announced that everything that can go wrong will go wrong during bar review and everything you have ever wanted to do will become a possibility during bar review. She continued that bar review is only a few weeks and months out of your entire life and you will likely have the opportunity to experience many of the things you miss out on at some point in the future. Over the years, I note that Bar Studiers experience a range of life occurrences including: death in the family, breakups with significant others and spouses, issues with character and fitness on the bar application, car accidents, financial challenges (even with planning), lack of food, familial demands and expectations, emotional and physical impact of socio-political events, and much more. Life does not simply stop because you are studying for the bar exam. You will have both good days and not so good days and your reaction to and feelings about everything will be amplified.

You might waste a day or a half a day attending to real life situations and that is okay and necessary but it does not mean that you will be unable to complete your preparation for this exam. If however, life completely takes over and when you assess the situation you recognize that you are unable to sustain the pace and expectations of bar review then you might want to have a conversation with someone. You want to discuss alternatives or develop a new game plan to achieve your goals. Be open and honest with yourself and those helping you. (emphasis added).

I believe you still have time to readjust your bar study schedule now for success on the bar exam in July. But please do not avoid having this honest conversation with yourself. Avoiding the issue will not solve it. Addressing the issue by taking concrete action is likely to solve it, at this point in time. At some point soon, that window may close. Don’t take that risk — assess what’s going on with your life and bar readiness now, and you will improve your odds of success!

Improve Your Chance of Bar Success; Persist!

By now, any initial burst of energy you might have had when you started your commercial bar review course has likely worn off. You have probably done a good amount of work already, and your enthusiasm is flagging. Or, you haven’t really engaged with your bar review course yet and you’re behind in the assigned work, but you hope you can cram for the bar (hint: you really can’t). I hope these simple statistics will motivate you to get engaged and stay engaged, to improve your chances of passing the bar this July. These are school-specific statistics:

If you complete less than 70% of your bar review course, your odds of passing the bar are less than 60%.

If you complete 70-100% of your bar review course, your odds of passing jump to 91%.

Many of you are taking courses that allow you to track your progress in completion against what has been assigned, and/or the average of how much other students in the course have completed. Remember that the latter data includes students who started the course but have stopped doing it for any one of many reasons, including that they have decided not to take the bar exam at all, so they have stopped studying. That average completion rate is somewhat misleading and is irrelevant to your own odds of success, as it does not reflect the work completed only by students who fully intend to take and pass the bar this summer on their first attempt. Also, because the bar exam is not graded on a curve (it is scaled, which is different), you should not gauge your chances of passing based on just staying a little ahead of other enrollees’ average completion rates.

You should remain focused on doing the work your course has assigned, steadily and daily. Your goal should be to complete, simply, 70-100% of your course before the end of the last week of the bar study period, and make sure you have also done even more practice questions than your course may require. Do practice essay and MPT questions offered by your course, and submit them in plenty of time so that you can get and use meaningful feedback on those, if your course offers feedback. It won’t help you to submit practice questions just before the cut-off for whatever re-take option your course may have. Even if you get feedback, it may not come in time for you to make meaningful changes in your approach.

It also won’t help you to generate slapdash practice answers just to meet the guarantee requirements. Do your best to generate substantive answers to all such practice questions, and assess where you need to improve, based on feedback or self-assessment, then do more practice questions and try to incorporate any necessary changes. Even if you get positive feedback on your practice answers, keep doing them, because the more you do, the more automatically you will be able to generate strong written answers on the real bar. And that is a big help when you take a two-day exam!

Now is the time when persistence counts in your favor: think perspiration, not inspiration. Focus on effort, not enthusiasm. (You may be past being able to muster much enthusiasm for bar study by now — I know I was!). Plan your study time to build in breaks; I often recommend studying one subject or doing one task for 60-90 minutes, take a ten minute break that includes getting up and moving, then study a different subject or do a different task for 60-90 minutes. Take your next ten-minute break, and switch subjects or tasks again — including going back to the first subject if you wish. Just keep alternating like that for your whole day of study. It’s the change of subject combined with a short break that helps your brain persist. Grit, persistence, resilience — those will carry you over the finish line.

Practice Questions and Another Free MBE Diagnostic Assessment

Some of you have let us know that you’d like to try more practice bar questions. Some of the printed materials available for doing practice questions for bar study, in addition to your commercial bar review course, come from www.rigos.net. That company also offers a free, online MBE Assessment, which consists of 30 multiple choice MBE-type questions to be done in 60 minutes.  After you complete the exam and submit your answers, you get a summary of your results for each of the MBE subjects. You also receive a detailed description of answer rationales to the questions. This is a timed assessment, which can help you get an idea of the timing you must master for the MBE.

If you’d like to try it this weekend, go here: Rigos MBE Assessment. Remember, practice makes perfect — or if not perfect, better. Other resources for additional practice on MBE questions are available at www.ncbex.org; the Emory Law library also has copies of two editions of Emanuel’s Strategies and Tactics for the MBE, now most recently in its sixth edition. Each one contains 200 actual, released MBE questions from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the same ones you can buy online from www.ncbex.org.

Remember to do practice essay questions also, and some MPT practice questions. Sometimes student believe (or are told) to focus mostly on the MBE. While the MBE score is essential to bar success, and it takes lots of dedicated effort and time to memorize everything AND get used to answering MBE questions, Emory Law students should be able also to gain needed points on essay and MPT questions, since you get such a thorough grounding in legal writing. Don’t overlook preparation to claim those points too, which can make the difference between passing and failing! Even if you don’t always write out full answers to essay or MPT practice questions, you should practice actively reading them (circling key facts, reviewing the “call” of the question, etc.) and outlining answers in writing. You want those skills to become automatic, which will help you a lot on the bar exam itself. You will find old essay and MPT questions on the websites of the bar admissions office of the state in which you plan to take the bar exam, for example at Georgia Bar Exam Essays and MPT Questions and Answers. Past New York bar questions and answers are here: New York Bar Exam Questions and Answers.