A Few Last Words the Day Before the Bar Exam

black and white laptop

Well, it’s finally here. Tomorrow, thousands of law graduates around the USA will sit for the first day of the bar exam. You’ve prepared for this for months, if not years (counting your entire law school education). You’re ready!

Now is the time to do your final non-academic readiness check. Do you have all your materials and equipment ready and in good working order? If you will take a remote exam at home, have you prepared your test space in compliance with your jurisdiction’s instructions? If you will take the exam elsewhere, have you planned your route, parking, meals and snacks? Do you have a mask, if required by your test location or your own health? If you will be allowed any materials for some parts of the bar, have you checked those specific instructions and organized your allowed materials? Will you be able to get access to them easily when appropriate, and put them away when required? Have you set your alarm to wake you up in plenty of time each morning?

Aside from logistics, here are some day-before tips adapted from Profs. Riebe and Schwartz:

1. Get plenty of sleep the night before each day of the bar exam. A well-rested brain will help you in the inevitable situation where you encounter something unfamiliar on the bar; you’ll still be able to make an intelligent guess, or craft a coherent analysis, even if you don’t know or remember much about a particular topic.  If eatings carbs at night helps you sleep, consider doing that. Avoid alcohol.

2. Stay focused, persistent, and resilient. Use your healthy stress management strategies. If talking to friends or family members causes you stress right now, ask them to give you some space and reconnect after the last day of the exam.

3. Turn off text and social media notifications on your phone, and avoid social media this week.

4. Carefully review all instructions from your jurisdiction, including any published on the website of your bar admissions office and all emails from your jurisdiction.

5. On the day of the exam, If taking the bar outside your home, arrive early. It’s better to wait and have plenty of time to settle in than to rush in at the last minute.

6. Remind yourself to use your time wisely during exam sessions.

7. Make yourself forget each question after you finish each answer; every question and every exam session are fresh opportunities to do well.

8. Avoid talking with other bar-takers about the exam, or comparing notes, after each session ends. It won’t help you, and it might sap your confidence during the exam — even if it turns out your answers were right and someone else’s were wrong.

9. Remember that you CAN pass the bar exam! 

We wish you all the best of luck tomorrow and on Wednesday!

Go get it!

Building Endurance NOW for the Bar Exam

Bar studiers, as you know, the bar exam starts two weeks from today. A recent research report from AccessLex confirms some of the advice you’ve been hearing for a while now, so here’s a summary. To maximize your odds of passing the bar on your first attempt, try these in these last two weeks.

  1. Sleep about 8 hours/night. The bar exam requires endurance and persistence, which are fatiguing. Your brain is part of your body — treat them both well so they can both support your success! Adequate nightly sleep in the next two weeks is essential. Taper back your caffeine intake so you can sleep soundly on a regular schedule.
  2. Put in full study days, up to 10 hours daily (now including on weekends), taking 30 minute breaks between study sessions of at least two hours. Breaks allow your brain to process what you’ve been learning or fine-tuning, as well as to switch between subjects in ways that support learning and retention. Getting some exercise during one of your breaks will also help!
  3. Study in the morning for 3-4 hours (not counting breaks). In the research study, bar-takers who studied in the morning had significantly higher odds of bar success. This may be because they have “trained their brains” to be alert and focused on bar topics and questions at the time of day when they will actually take the exam. If you haven’t done this yet, now is a good time to shift your sleep and study schedule so you are getting up at the same time every day when you’ll have to get up for the actual exam, and studying during the same hours when you will take it. If you’ve been working, now is the time to cut back on work and focus on bar readiness. Ask your employer to give you this week and the next off so you can study in this final stretch, during normal work hours.
  4. Take more practice exams under test conditions, both timed and sitting still in a specific location. Endurance matters when you take the bar exam — both mental and physical. You’ll want to practice answering every kind of question (MBE, essay, MPT) under the same time and space restrictions you’ll have on the real bar exam. Emory Law grads this year have access to the full set of practice materials from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, including several practice MBE exams that provide explanations once you finish the full simulations. Practicing with real, released MBE questions from NCBE is the best preparation at this stage. Not all bar courses provide those, so make sure you practice with questions made available by NCBE, and thoroughly assess your own performance so you can keep improving.
  5. Practice actually writing and producing the kind of written work product on essays and the MPT that bar examiners expect to see. Attention to instructions and details matters a lot and can affect your grade — both are entirely within your control. Use a clear format like IRAC for essays, and closely follow the instructions for content and format on the MPT questions. Review released MPT questions and point sheets.
  6. Eat nutritious food and stay hydrated. Again, your brain is part of your body, and both need good nutrition for peak performance! They also need hydration and it’s easy to forget that in the heat of summer and the final days of bar study. Staying hydrated is known to actually improve academic performance, so why not give yourself that edge?

You’ve come a long way since May! By now, if you’ve been working steadily, actively, and constructively, you should feel very confident that the work you have done will serve you well during the real bar exam. That confidence will give you a boost too!            

   

 

Three Weeks to Go — You Can Do This!

We’ve been thinking of you all, and we know how tired everyone is by now, just three weeks before the bar exam starts. You can do this! As we always say: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The final stages are crucial. Here are some tips that might help you keep going over these last weeks:

1. Finalize your plan for where you’ll take the bar exam, including reminding any roommates or family what your needs will be on those days. Make sure any laptop you have registered to use is in good working order and conforms to the requirements of the bar officials and the bar exam software. Review and follow all related instructions, paying attention to any deadlines.

2. Review the daily schedule and FAQs for your bar exam; Georgia’s are here: https://www.gabaradmissions.org/july-2021-exam-faqs

3. Quiz yourself to test your recall of all bar topics as often as possible, even in short bits of time, using flashcards, apps, or whatever you have been using to test your memory.

4. Keep doing practice questions daily: about 34 MBE questions in mixed-subject sets, every day. If you haven’t yet taken your course’s practice MBE exam, do that now and review your scores and answers carefully to make sure you understand what you got wrong, why, and how to answer correctly next time.

5. Keep doing weekly practice essay and MPT questions: 2 essays weekly, 1 MPT (and attend our online MPT workshop on July 15).

6. Take care of yourself so you’ll be in great shape for test-taking: take breaks, give yourself little rewards for completing study goals, exercise daily, eat right and stay hydrated.

7. Adjust your sleep and study schedule to be consistent with actual exam days; i.e., go to sleep as early as you will before exam days to get enough sleep and be fully alert at the time you’ll take the exam, and start getting up at the same time you’ll need to be awake on exam days. 

8. Study during the same hours when you’ll take the actual exam, to “train your brain” to be fully alert and in the habit of doing good work at that time of day.

9. Stay on top of stress, using good self-care practices, and plan ahead for how you’ll handle any stress you might feel during the exam. Remind yourself of all the work you’ve done so you can feel confident about passing the bar.

10. Plan a safe celebration for after the exam! 

Six Weeks to Go — and 80%

I attended a conference this week on bar success, and some research presented showed that bar studiers who consistently did 80% or more of their bar course’s assignments, week-by-week, dramatically improved their odds of passing the bar exam on their first attempt. They did better than the bar studiers who had completed 80% or more by the time of the bar exam but had not done so consistently over the weeks. Slow and steady wins the race!

So here we are: six weeks from today, the July bar exam will be over. Your goal between now and then should be to make sure you are completing, every week, at least 80% of your weekly assignments from your bar course. To do that, if you have to choose among bar course assignments, ALWAYS choose the most active option, which in most cases means doing practice questions. Watching videos is more passive and it’s easy to lose focus on them. So while they’re helpful, all the research shows that doing as many practice questions as possible, including practice essays and MPT questions, is by far the most productive use of your time. This is especially true if you work up to doing them under timed conditions.

Bar studiers who didn’t do any timed practice questions in this study failed the bar at a much higher rate than those who did timed practice. This is totally within your control! You can ease into it by doing essays with open notes, but holding yourself to 50% more time than your bar will allow per essay. See what you’re able to produce. Compare your work product to the model answer, and review any gaps in your knowledge. Next time you do a practice essay in the same subject area, do it in the same time you will get on the actual bar exam, still with open notes. Review any gaps. Finally, start doing closed-book practice essays and comparing your answers to the model answers. Keep reviewing any gaps in your knowledge while you also practice your timing.

What if you feel as if you’re already behind the 80% or more target? Prof. Melissa Hale suggests aiming to do 80% or more of your weekly assignments from NOW forward, taking this approach:

First, stop thinking of it as “catching up” and realize that it’s about making progress. … It wasn’t just 80% that did the trick, but rather a CONSTANT 80% over the weeks. So, no cramming at the end!  But don’t give yourself the pressure of “catching up “ – work forward and do what you can!

Second, prioritize practice. Practice essays. Practice MBE. Practice MPT. Make sure you are doing something active. Yes, you need to learn the law – so videos, and taking notes, IS important – but you should really make active practice your number 1 priority. This means making perfect flashcards, or outlines, or “reviewing” pre-made outlines over and over again, are not as effective as writing essays. I even suggest that you write some essays as open note, because THAT is active review. You can also turn multiple choice questions into “mini essays” by taking off the answer choices, and writing a paragraph long “essay.” Do this with open notes and it will help you remember the law, work on your essay skills, AND help you with multiple choice questions in general. So, even though they aren’t “assigned”, they are a great way to review law in an active way.

Now is also a good time to make sure you are training your brain to be alert and in top form during the hours when you will actually take the bar exam. This means getting up daily at the time when you will get up on bar exam days, and starting your active study at the same time you will take the exam. You can see the daily schedule for the two days of the Georgia Bar Exam here, and time your daily study sessions accordingly: July 2021 Georgia Bar Exam Schedule. For more information about the July 2021 bar exam in Georgia, go here: July 2021 Georgia Bar Exam FAQs.

A Seven-Week Action Checklist

By now, most of you have started the assignments in your bar review course. If you have NOT started yet, you need to start NOW. Seven weeks from tomorrow, most of you will be finished with the bar exam!

Success on the bar exam is less about aptitude and more about attitude — that is, it’s all about sweat equity. The more time and effort you invest in your own bar passage, the better your chances are. You have a lot of control in this process. You want to invest time and effort wisely and efficiently, so try to be thoughtful and intentional with your study plan.

Think about incorporating these steps into your course’s study plan, in addition to making sure you “attend” bar classes daily, do the assignments on time and keep up with them, review material covered in class daily, and do plenty of practice questions. Profs. Riebe and Schwartz strongly advise doing about 34 practice MBE questions every day; 2 essay questions per week (from the MEE or your bar jurisdiction’s website); and one MPT question every week. You should make sure that the work you are doing for your commercial course, plus what you add to that, total those numbers daily and weekly.

If you want to practice with actual released MBE, MEE and MPT questions written by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, remember that Emory Law has paid for all graduating students in the class of 2021 to have free access to the full suite of NCBE study and practice materials. Details were sent to you via Emory email, so please check your inbox if you didn’t keep the instructions; or you will also find them on The Fourth Floor page of Emory’s Canvas system, under Bar Readiness.  If you set up your account for the study aids this spring, you should be able to log in at https://studyaids.ncbex.org, on any device. Your names were provided to NCBE as part of our institutional subscription; if you have any difficulty with the study aids, please contact NCBE.

To make sure you will succeed and pass on your first try, the next weeks are crucial and doing practice questions is an important key to success. One analysis some years ago 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 and MPT questions (actually writing and submitting answers to your bar review company in time to get meaningful feedback) is very valuable. No amount of watching videos, reading the material, and even reading 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.

You can still use the West Academic Assessment subscription also, to bolster your understanding of bar-tested subjects. Instructions for using the West materials are also posted on The Fourth Floor page of Canvas, and so is the Winter Break Study Plan sent to all graduating students in December to suggest specific ways you can use the West materials for bar preparation.

I recommend taking a scheduled 10-15 minute break after an hour of bar study, then switching topics. After your next break, you can go back to the first topic, but switching will probably help your brain process and retain what you’re learning more efficiently. Bar study is a full-time job, and you will give yourselves the best odds by working at it for 8-10 hours daily, so you’ll need those breaks! I also recommend sticking to a daily schedule that includes getting up as early as you will on the days of the exam itself, so your body and brain will adjust to being alert then; then take a break at the end of the day and do something for your wellbeing — a run or other exercise, or a walk with a friend, or a good meal. At this stage, I also recommend taking one weekend day off every week, if you are keeping up with assignments.

Your class has persisted through the worst global pandemic in a century. You can do this! The next seven weeks are in your capable hands.

Sign Up For A Bar Mentor!

If you’ve just graduated from Emory Law, congratulations! Most of you will have started your commercial bar review course by now. For some years, young alumni of Emory Law have volunteered to be “bar mentors” for individual new graduates of Emory Law who are studying for a July bar exam. Each graduate who wants a mentor is matched as closely as possible with a young alum (most have graduated in the preceding ten years) in terms of the state bar jurisdiction and House. The mentors are asked to stay in weekly contact with their mentees, to offer proven guidance at various stages of bar study, meet for coffee if feasible and if both parties want to do so, and generally be a sympathetic and knowledgeable resource for this year’s bar studiers.

Sign-ups for Emory Law’s Class of 2021 to request a bar mentor opened a week ago and are open through this Friday, 5/28. More details are on this flyer:

Reminder: Apply for ADA Accommodations on Georgia Bar Exam By May 1

If you plan to take the Georgia bar exam in July 2021 and you believe you qualify for ADA-related test accommodations, you must apply separately for those by May 1, 2021. Information and application forms are here: Georgia Office of Bar Admissions ADA Testing Accommodations. You should contact that office directly with any questions.

Don’t Miss Bar Exam Application Filing Deadlines!

If you will graduate this May (2021), you have probably been planning your summer of bar study since last summer, or at least last fall. However, please make sure you are doing or have done all the paperwork related to actually signing up for the bar exam. State jurisdictions have different deadlines and requirements. For example in Georgia, you must clear the character and fitness review before you can apply to take the exam itself, it’s a two-step process. Once you get that certification, you file your application to take the exam, starting in early April.  In New York, you are reviewed for character and fitness for admission to the bar after you take and pass the exam and meet New York’s other requirements.

Many state deadlines to sign up for the bar exam range from the spring to the summer; a few have rolling late deadlines with increasing late fees, until the final late deadline is reached. Make sure you know the deadlines for your bar jurisdiction! NCBE publishes this helpful chart of states and deadlines in its annual Comprehensive Guide to State Bar Requirements.

If you don’t yet know where you will be working after graduation, i.e. a specific employer, don’t let that stop you or delay you from signing up for a bar exam — you can and should sign up to take it in a Uniform Bar Exam (“UBE”) jurisdiction and earn a transferable score, unless you are sure you will be in a specific non-UBE state for reasons other than a particular job (for instance, your family or your partner’s job is located here in Georgia). If you are sure of your future location, regardless of employer, sign up for that state’s bar. It is simpler to find a job after graduation if you have already taken and passed a bar exam, even if you end up seeking employment in a different jurisdiction.

A Cautionary Tale and Some Heartfelt Advice from a Bar-Taker

This post just appeared in a Reddit forum for bar-studiers; it includes heartfelt, sound advice from a bar-taker who just found out that s/he failed the bar for a second time. As the poster writes, this is AVOIDABLE! There are specific steps you can take as a bar studier to maximize your chances of success.  But the struggle is real, especially as we’re not yet through this pandemic and its impact on our physical and mental health. Here it is:

I failed for the second time. The first time I took it, I completed all the [commercial program’s] lectures and some MBEs. I didn’t do any MPTs or MEEs. The sheer anxiety of taking an in-person bar during the midst of a pandemic as an immuno-compromised person paralyzed me. I couldn’t study no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t finish two MEEs and guessed on around half of the MBEs. So, I wasn’t surprised when I failed with a dismal 234.

The second time around I decided to redo the [commercial] program since I didn’t really finish it the first time. I got past some of the lectures but I remembered most of the lectures so it felt repetitive. I fell off course again. Four weeks before the exam I snapped back to reality and bought [a supplemental commercial course]. I watched all the lectures and rewrote lecture notes by hand until I had them memorized. I barely did any MBEs and didn’t do any MEEs or MPTs. So, unsurprisingly, I failed again with a 244.

I’m not sure why I repeated the same pattern of not doing any practice for the second exam. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of discipline or motivation that’s serving as a roadblock. It could have been my depression and anxiety, my bruised ego or a combination of all three. I have no one to blame but myself. So many of my loved ones feel sorry for me because I failed again after trying so hard. But, I didn’t. I really didn’t. I have too much shame to tell them the truth so I decided to tell strangers on the internet instead.

I’m in a better place mentally this time around. I’d be an absolute idiot to not do practice this time. I already have a game plan, unlike last time… The key is to just do the damn practice exams.

Yes. Active learning is more effective than passive learning, always. As you continue your bar readiness journey, do as much of the recommended work as you can, making bar study your fulltime job as much as possible after graduation. If you’re short on time, always choose active learning options like practice questions, followed by careful self-assessment, over passive options like watching online lectures. When you watch lectures, take active notes, ideally by hand as that is know to improve retention for most learners.

It’s mid-April. You have plenty of time to create your own plan for success on the July bar. You can do this!