A Pep Talk from a Peer!

Tanisha Pinkins 17L; litigation associate, Baker Donelson

Tanisha Pinkins 17L has kindly sent the following words of encouragement for all of you who are studying for the July bar:

Hello Bar Preppers,
At this point I know you all are exhausted, anxious, and uncertain about one thing or another but now is the time where you measure where you are and start SQUEEZING so you can get what you need out of these last few weeks. Do not stop SQUEEZING. Condense your outlines, regulate your sleeping habits, identify your strengths and weaknesses then hit the switch called WILL. Start using your WILL POWER. Yes you are exhausted, hungry, and your body and mind feel like giving up but you cannot quit because you have not reached your goal yet. You have to PUSH.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Do not strive to be in a comfort zone because what you want to accomplish is not in a comfort zone. So push through that last 30, 40, 45, 50 minutes or an hour with your WILL POWER. There are no warm and fuzzy places within these last few weeks of studying for the bar exam. PUSH through the uncomfortable zone to accomplish your goal. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you. Kill those seeds of self-doubt! Eliminate all negative energy and distractions around you. FOCUS! You are more than capable. Crush the bar exam!!
Tanisha studied for and passed the bar exam on her first attempt while parenting a teenager, which I didn’t have to do on my own bar exam, so my hat is off to her. You can do this too!

Two Weeks to Go — Stay Engaged!

Two weeks from today, right now, you will have finished your first morning of the bar exam! And if you are taking the bar in Georgia, you will be eating the lunch that Emory Law provides at the bar exam site, with your classmates and a number of law school faculty and staff who will come to cheer you on.

But between then and now, you have thirteen days of study left. Remember that marathoners often say that it’s the last leg of the race that is the hardest, and studying for the bar is no exception. You may feel burned out by now, or at least disengaged. That is normal but — like a marathoner — you have to push through the fatigue and keep doing your best until you cross that finish line. Here are some suggestions that may help, based on good advice from Prof. Steven Foster:

  1. Take a break this weekend, at least a half-day completely off from bar study.  You need to take it so that your brain can digest all the studying you’ve been doing and catch up.
  2. Remember to study without distractions, and choose to do practice questions ahead of passively watching more video lectures or reading more outlines. “Multi-tasking” is a cruel myth when it comes to studying intensively and effectively — it doesn’t work. Put your phone on “do not disturb”, silence notifications on your laptop, shut yourself off from social media for prescribed periods of time, using an app like RescueTime or something similar. When you study, focus only on studying.
  3. Take a short, ten-minute study break every 45 minutes to an hour. Doing one thing for too long gets boring and retention decreases.  Get up, stretch, move around. When you resume studying, switch between study methods and/or subjects. The change will help your brain keep learning and retaining information. Use active study methods, such as handwriting your own flashcards and then using them, maybe even out loud.
  4. In these last weeks, focus on memorizing the law and practicing questions.  You will review each subject 2-3 times in the last couple of weeks before the exam.  Test your recollection of as much black-letter law as possible (flashcards or MBE practice questions), study to fill gaps in your memory, and then do practice essay questions, writing out some full answers. You can also do “half-practice” essay questions, i.e. practice your active reading skills on long essay questions and outline what your answer would be, even if you don’t write out a full answer for all questions.  You should do the same exercise as practice on some MPT questions. Keep drilling yourself with practice MBE questions to increase your score between now and the exam.  You want to peak on exam day, so continue to push improvement right up to the exam day.
  5. Last call to establish good sleep habits! If you have been staying up late to study, and getting up late in the morning, STOP! You will take this exam in the morning. You need to train your brain to be alert and ready to get to work in the morning by the same time you will start the bar exam. Start going to bed earlier and getting up at the same time you will have to get up on actual exam days, allowing for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
  6. Finally, remember that you can do this! The bar exam is hard, but you have an Emory JD, which is a huge accomplishment.  Tell yourself every morning, “I will pass the bar in 2 weeks!”

If you own the book “Pass the Bar!” by Riebe and Schwartz, look at their “action checklist” for this stage of bar preparation; it has excellent suggestions too. Stay engaged — you’re almost there!

You Took the Mock MBE — Now What?

Many of you took your bar review course’s simulated MBE last week, and many of you may have been disappointed in your results. Now is the time to put on a final, focused effort to make sure you get the scores you need to pass! Even if you were pleased with your simulated MBE score, now is NOT the time to relax. Four weeks from today, you will be in the bar exam for real. If you keep up the good work and continue your diligent, targeted strategies to improve your own performance, there is no reason why you cannot achieve success! Here is some great advice from the Law School Academic Support blog:

The key is to use the feedback to improve.  I highly encourage everyone to sit down with the Academic Support or Bar Support person at your law school.  Bring the score analysis from your bar review company.  Create an improvement plan for July.  You can absolutely improve 20 questions by getting 3 more questions correct in each subject.  Everyone can learn enough law for 3 questions per subject.

Efficient studying in July gets the 3 extra questions per subject.  Most of June focused on the MBE, so much of July will be spent on essays.  Most students worry about how to find time to improve.  I agree that no one has time to add in an extra 2-3 hours memorizing outlines for each MBE subject, but you don’t need to.  My biggest suggestion is to spend 10-15 minutes at the end of the night on the most important sub-topics.  Use the score report to identify 1-2 small topics you struggled on that are highly tested in each MBE subject (ie – hearsay, duty of care, etc.).  Spend 10-15 minutes right before bed looking at flashcards, an outline, or even practice questions on only that sub-topic.  Switch subjects every day between now and the bar.  The focused study on only areas needing improvement will help gain the couple questions per subject.  Focused studying is the key in July.

If you’d like to meet with me or Jennie next week to discuss your simulated MBE score, we will be happy to talk over strategies you can use in the next four weeks. If you have the book “Pass the Bar!”, remember to review their action checklist that applies to this time period, it has great suggestions. Make sure to keep up with your course’s assigned work and keep your completion rate as high as you can — students who finish 75%, 80%, 85%, and more of their commercial courses have the highest odds of success (above 90%), and the more you do, the better your odds. If you have to choose which assignments to complete and not do others, I recommend focusing on practice questions in all areas of the bar: MBE, MPT, and essays. Enjoy your Fourth of July — but keep studying. With that effort and focus, you can make sure this is the last Fourth you have to spend studying for a bar exam — because you will pass it this summer! Keep calm and carry on.

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.

Getting SeRiouS with Spaced Repetition; and a discount

If you are studying for the July bar, you know by now how much material you have to master and you have probably outlined a work calendar/schedule for the next eight weeks. (If you haven’t done that yet, now is a good time to do so).  Making the most effective use of your study time is crucial. A tool that may help is available now from www.SpacedRepetition.com, a start-up that has adapted “spaced repetition” technology to be used in studying for the bar exam, especially the MBE. Its founder is a law professor, Gabe Teninbaum, and you can read about the technology and its application here, SRS Info, and here: Top 20 Legal IT Innovations 2017.

The site uses a unique algorithm to help students learn far more in far less time. “An important focus for SpacedRepetition.com is helping law students succeed on the bar,” he says, adding that thousands of American law school graduates fail the exam every year. “But it can also be used by students and lawyers in other contexts to help them retain other legal knowledge. It has applications beyond law, too, but law is the current focus.” Combining psychological research and web technology, the system is built on a series of electronic flashcards. The core content, called the Boost Deck, is written by law professors. “A student spends about ten minutes a day studying them, and for each flashcard they see, they rate how well they know each one on a scale of 1 to 5,” explains Teninbaum…

Users are projected to improve their score by about eight points on the bar. This has dramatic potential, according to Teninbaum, because “between a third and half of people who fail the bar fail by less than that margin”.

Prof. Teninbaum is offering a 25% discount to all Emory Law grads who want to buy the basic “Boost Deck”, which normally costs $99 for a year’s access. Go to the SRS website, sign up (you can try it for 7 days for free) and use the discount code emory25 for 25% off. If you have to list a “referrer”, put Katherine Brokaw or try Emory or Emory Law. You can also follow Prof. Teninbaum on Twitter: @SpacedRep.

This system works best if you use it consistently and daily, but it takes very little time; you get automated reminders when you should do more review. It could be a refreshing change from your primary study methods. If you try it, let me know what you think!

Congratulations to our February bar takers!

I just received the results for the February bar exam in Georgia, following results we already had from a number of other states. Congratulations to all who passed! We are very proud of you. We know you are glad to be finished, whether this was your first bar exam, or a repeat attempt, or you were taking an additional bar to get admitted in another state. We wish you a happy, pleasant, and restful weekend!

Congratulations, Emory Law graduates! On to the bar exam!

Dear Emory Law graduates: first and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS! You made it! You earned the law degree in which you have invested so much effort, expense, and time. That is a wonderful achievement and I hope you take some time to savor it.

Second (of course), if you plan to use that degree to enter the legal profession, as the great majority of you do, you must take and pass the dreaded bar exam. Fear not! You can do it. But like your degree, it will require effort, some expense, and time. You don’t have to reinvent strategies for success on the bar exam, either. There are many excellent sources of guidance by people like academic support staff who have been coaching law students to succeed on the bar exam the first time they take it. And if you are taking a commercial bar review course, which we highly recommend (not taking one is a known risk factor for failing the bar first time), they will spend the next two months preparing you to pass.

Beware of bar-related advice from lawyers who are only drawing on their own anecdotal experiences with the bar exam. There have been a number of statistically significant changes to parts of the bar exam like the MBE in the last few years, so anyone who took it more than a year or two ago took an exam that may have been easier than the one you will face. Even excellent advice from knowledgeable sources must be viewed in light of those changes. For example, I often recommend Schwartz and Riebe’s book “Pass The Bar!”. It is an outstanding guide to first-time success on the bar exam and it includes action checklists for each stage of bar readiness. However, it was published before Civil Procedure was added to the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). So do use it, but remember that it won’t discuss that subject being on the MBE.

Because of the changes to the MBE in recent years, my best advice is to aim for overshooting the passing score in your jurisdiction. Those who aim only to meet a passing score often fall short. It’s just not worth it! As long as you don’t exhaust yourself, there is no harm in doing more preparation than you may think you need. Again, beware of lawyers who tell you not to bother studying too much. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t pass first time, but it’s not a pleasant experience and not one we want any of you to undergo. It can mean the end of a job offer you hoped to get, so underpreparing is not worth the risk.

The good news for Emory Law grads is that there is really no reason you can’t pass first time, as long as you prepare diligently and make full use of the next two months. You are very capable students, and the bar exam is not an aptitude test — it is all about well-managed, diligent study and practice, which are completely within your own control. If you will be studying here in the Emory Law library and building, the Office of Academic Engagement & Student Success will be hosting regular study breaks for you starting the week of May 21. Specifically, we are hosting a study break/bar review kick-off on Monday, May 21, with King of Pops and the King of Civil Procedure, Prof. Rich Freer, at 1 pm. Watch your Emory email and Facebook pages for details from me, Jennie Geada Fernandez 02L, and Sei Yoshioka-Cefalo! We’ll be here all summer, so you are also welcome to drop by for encouragement and coffee.

We’ll be sharing information periodically on this blog between now and the bar exam itself. For example, here is some great bar-related guidance (and post-bar guidance) from lawyer Paula Edgar, CEO of a speaking, executive coaching and diversity consulting firm in New York: Bar Exam and Beyond: 11 Strategies for Law School Graduate Success.

Once again, we are VERY proud of you and all that you have achieved. We look forward to cheering you on, toward and across the bar exam finish line!

Great Advice From Emory Law Grad!

Christen Morgan, Emory Law 16L

Christen Morgan 16L published a great post last month with some excellent advice for all law students with regard to bar readiness: Three Things I Would Have Done Differently for Bar Prep at The Girl’s Guide to Law School. Her points are valuable for 1Ls, 2Ls, and other continuing students as you consider your course selections for next year; and for 3Ls and soon-to-graduate LLMs as you continue to increase your “bar readiness” this semester and once you start your commercial bar review course for a bar exam this summer.

For more specifics on how you can choose courses to optimize your readiness for success on a bar exam if you will return to law school in the fall, and on how to manage your own bar readiness if you are in your last semester, go to the Office of Academic Engagement & Student Success webpage and click on links for Bar Readiness, Choosing Courses, and Practice-Focused Academic Guidance. Some are behind tabs you will see if you scroll down the page a bit.

If you are wondering about course selection for the fall, you can also come to “Academic Advising in Practice” on Monday, March 26, during the Community Hour, when Jennie Geada Fernandez and I will give an overview and an introduction to resources and strategies for choosing courses, then follow up individually with one of us or with the relevant faculty members for additional guidance. See Monday’s On The Docket for details!