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! 

Staying Composed During The Bar Exam

You’ve absorbed so much information already about exam-taking strategies — this is not that. These suggestions come largely from Professors Riebe and Schwartz, my favorite bar readiness authors (“Pass The Bar!”):

  • Get plenty of sleep the weekend before, and each night before, each day of the bar exam. (I will add, stay hydrated; it does help!).
  • Check your technology and allowed materials. Make sure your laptop and charger are in good order.
  • Get set up in your test location early, to allow for any unexpected situations, whether it is in your home or somewhere else.
  • After test sessions, DON’T talk to your fellow bar-takers about the exam or compare notes. They don’t know any more than you do, and you could end up feeling discouraged without there being a real basis for that.
  • Stay focused on your goal, use stress management techniques that work for you before, during, and after exams, stay positive and think of “success” as doing your own personal best.
  • Pay close attention to all instructions, before the exam and on the exam itself, and make sure to follow them.
  • Think ahead and remind yourself how you plan to use your time wisely during the test sessions.
  • Forget each section or questions as you finish it; put it behind you and focus on the next opportunity to do your best, i.e. the next section or question.
  • Remind yourself how far you’ve come and why you believe you will pass the bar.

I’ll also add, after the end of your last session, breathe deeply. You’re done. It will be a while before you get results. Try to put this whole ordeal behind you and refocus on aspects of your life that you may have had to put on hold since May. This stage is over. Be kind to yourselves and to each other. We’re very proud of all your hard work and resilience this year.

New York Removes Questions About Mental Health History From Bar Application

Wellness word cloud

The State of New York will change its character and fitness questionnaire to relieve applicants from worry that seeking mental health treatment might affect their admission to the bar, according to an announcement today:

New York State’s court system will remove questions about mental health history from its bar application, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced Wednesday.

After debate and study, the court system plans to revise the application, DiFiore said in her 2020 State of Our Judiciary address.

“The amended application will no longer ask intrusive questions about a candidate’s mental health conditions or treatment history,” she said in her prepared remarks. “Instead, the application will focus on disclosure of behavior and conduct that is relevant to a candidate’s fitness to practice law.”

The presence of mental health questions on the bar exam, and stigma around mental illness, have proven to be barriers to treatment within the legal profession, according to a New York State Bar Association report. DiFiore said the mental health and well-being of New York’s lawyers is of “paramount importance.”

Six Weeks to Go! A Plan, and Pets

Six weeks from today, most of you will be almost through your first day of the bar exam. Now is a great time to reassess your bar preparation plan and make any adjustments. If you haven’t yet established a productive daily routine, you should do that this week. You should treat bar study as a fulltime job if you aren’t working: getting up every morning at the time you will need to get up on the actual exam days, attending class (in person if that is an option, to reduce distractions), practicing good self-care, studying new material and reviewing older materials daily, keeping up with bar course assignments, and doing practice questions.

For most of this work, you should try to work in 60-90 minute blocs of time, then take a 5-10 minute break; human brains struggle to stay mentally focused for longer than 60-90 minutes at a time. Track your progress by using your bar course’s system to log your work; keeping up will help you stay motivated and on track. I recommend staying comfortably ahead of your cohort’s completion statistics, as those include people who have stopped studying and/or don’t plan to take the bar, so they pull down the averages.

Speaking of practice questions, some bar experts believe you should aim for doing AT LEAST 2000 practice MBE questions by the end of bar preparation. If you did the diagnostic workshops we held in February, you did 100 practice MBE questions in each workshop, and those count as long as you assessed your performance on them. Add up how many you’ve already done by now, and figure out how many more you need to do to reach 2000 by the weekend before the bar, then divide that up by how many days you have left and assign yourself that number to do every day, using all the resources of your commercial bar course and other supplements you may have. If your course offers spaced-repetition exercises or practice questions, that is an effective learning technique.

Profs. Riebe and Schwarz recommend doing MBE practice questions in sets of 34 per session, as that is how many you should ultimately be able to do in one hour on the real exam (100 questions per 3-hour session, morning and afternoon). One approach when you’re practicing is to start by seeing how long it takes you to finish 34 with a high level of accuracy; it will likely be more than one hour! Work on balancing accuracy, timing, and endurance, and develop a rhythm by daily practice. The goal is to work up to finishing 34 practice questions in one hour with a high percentage of correct answers. “High” is anything above 65-70%.

If you’re still reinforcing your knowledge of substantive law in some subjects, it’s fine to do your 34-question sets in one subject for now. After you do them, review both correct and incorrect answers to understand why each is right or wrong. As your recall and knowledge get stronger, you must shift toward doing mixed-subject practice sets. For instance, if you’re able to finish 34 practice questions in a single subject, in one hour, with 65% or more correct, you’re definitely ready for mixed question sets (you may be ready sooner). Don’t panic if your accuracy drops quite a bit when you go from single-subject sets to mixed-subject sets — it will! Pushing through that stage and persisting is where a lot of learning occurs. Keep doing the mixed sets, those are what you will see on the bar itself, and you WILL get better.

If you’ve persisted this far and you’re still reading, here is your reward: Happy Tails volunteers and their lovely dogs return to the law school tomorrow, Wednesday, June 19, to offer some puppy love and pet therapy. They’ll be in the Law Student Commons from 12:30-1:30 pm, so please join us! Doing something rewarding for yourself at the end of every productive day should also become part of your routine. You can do this!

 

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!

Law School After Charlottesville

I have felt disturbed and distracted for a week now, since I became aware of the white supremacist gatherings at UVA and in Charlottesville. I was so proud of Emory President Claire Sterk’s ringing rejection of any such ideology:

Message from Emory President Claire E. Sterk:

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, serve as a stark reminder that although we have made tremendous advances in civil and human rights, we have work to do. We are fortunate to live in Atlanta: the heart of the civil rights movement. With great privilege comes responsibility. Now is the time for speaking the truth.

Emory’s core values call us to be champions of equality, inclusion, and the pursuit of knowledge. I stand committed to our values and am proud that Emory strives to be a place where people can hold difficult conversations respectfully. But let me be clear: supremacist groups are not engaged in the difficult work of informed civil discourse. Theirs is a different project. These groups seek to undermine the fabric of civil society through ignorance, fear, and violence. Their actions stand in contrast to everything we strive for as members of an academic community committed to the discovery and application of knowledge for the greater good.

I believe that education still matters. I believe that the liberal arts, the sciences, and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake still form the foundation of civil discourse in this society. Supremacist ideology does not, and will not, have a seat at Emory University’s table.

As President of Emory University, I am proud of the courage shown by those who stand for our shared values.

What more is there to say? She said it so well, and this blog is for discussions of bar readiness and academic support, not politics (and I am not inviting comments).

The emotions churned up by the weekend’s shameful events understandably consume attention, energy and focus among our students, as discussed here: Law School Academic Support Blog. But one student’s reaction restored some of my own energy. The keynote speaker at our Welcome Week program was Aloke Chakravarty 97L, who successfully prosecuted the surviving bomber of the Boston Marathon. Both he and Dean Jud Graves 75L highlighted the recent crisis in Charlottesville in their remarks to all new students in our auditorium, noting that the rule of law, and the social contract to accept and abide by the rule of law, is what stands between the peace-loving majority and the few who would violently impose their points of view. As each of them said, the “rule of law” is much more than just words, and the people who bring law to life are lawyers. An international student who has studied law in his home country told me later that he knew at that moment why he wants an American law degree and what he wants to do with it.

So all of us in legal education must recommit ourselves to helping our students become the very best, the most enlightened, the bravest lawyers they can be, in defense of the rule of law. We can’t be distracted. We must help them keep their eyes on the prize.

You Made It!

By the time you read this post, if you took a bar exam this week, you will be done. Wow. I know most of you are just heaving a sigh of relief that it’s over. Now begins the long wait for results, which don’t come out until the fall: in Georgia, the end of October. What can you do in the meantime?

Well, you can’t do anything more about the bar exam for now. You’ve given it your very best shot, and you have earned a break. Here is some excellent guidance from the Law School Academic Support blog: Congratulations To You (and a few tips while waiting for results). As Prof. Johns writes, many well-meaning people will tell you to relax, you’ve passed. And it may not feel that way to you. I suggest that you take the first part of their advice: relax. Don’t ruminate. Get LOTS of sleep and lots of time with friends, family, loved ones. Do some of those summer things you’ve been putting off, whatever they are: vacation, staycation, new book, old hobby, etc.

We’re proud of all the hard work you did to get to this point. Have a GREAT weekend!

Award-Winning Bar Advice — and Food Truck!

Healthy brain food graphic

The publication Texas Bar Today gives awards for law-related blog posts, and this academic support blog post was a recent winner! It’s great advice, so I share it with you: Bar Review Learning: What Happens in Lectures …

We look forward to seeing those of you who are in Atlanta today at 1 pm to enjoy a nutritious lunch from the Blaxican food truck! I’m not sure you can quite call it brain food, but the owner calls it Mexican soul food, and good nutrition does support better academic performance, which is good for the soul. This Atlanta-based food truck has won many food truck awards, including best in the US in 2015. Get a ticket voucher and an Emory Law bar readiness swag bag from Tanisha Pinkins 16L, Sei Yoshioka-Cefalo, or Jennie Geada Fernandez 03L, in Gambrell Hall. The food truck will be on the surface parking lot behind the law school from 1-2:30 pm, for this week’s “Well-Balanced Wednesday”. And for the rest of your bar study period, here’s a list of healthy, easy-to-find brain food snacks in addition to those pictured below, and here is another list with recipes. Enjoy!

Brain food; https://memory.foundation/2015/05/18/brain-food-recipes/

Top image from www.snacknation.com.

Bar Results

If you took any state’s bar exam in July 2016, you likely have your results by now. Most of you are thrilled and relieved; some of you are not. Let me share some wise words and advice from Scott Johns, a law teacher who posted this on the Law School Academic Support Blog :

First, if you passed the bar exam, congratulations!  What a wonderful accomplishment!  As you celebrate your success while waiting to take your oath of office, here’s a quick suggestion.  This a great time to reach out to your support team (family, friends, colleagues, mentors, etc.) and personally thank them for their encouragement and inspiration.  And, with respect to your law school colleagues that did not pass, its important that you reach out to them too.  Send a quick email.  Invite them for coffee.  Let them know that you personally stand behind them and for them no matter what.  Most importantly, just listen with kindness, graciousness, and compassion.  In short, be a friend.

Second, if you did not pass the bar exam, please know that the results are not a reflection of who you are as a person….period.  Lots of famous and successful people did not pass the bar exam on the first try (and some after a number of tries).  Yet, they are some of the most outstanding attorneys and successful leaders.  So, be kind to yourself.  Take time to reflect, cry, and ponder.   Most importantly, just be yourself.  Then, in a few days or a few weeks, reach out to your law school.  Make sure you order your exam answers if they are available in your state because looking at your exam answers can give you inside information on what you did that was great and where to improve too.  Contact your bar review company for a one-on-one chat.  Overall, though, the most important task at hand is to be kind to yourself, and please remember, your value comes from who you are and not from the bar exam at all.  Period.

We are proud of all of you for undertaking something as challenging and exhausting as preparing for a bar exam. We will be offering resources to those who did not pass, but feel free to contact us yourself for support, whether in bar passage, employment or a fellowship. To the advice above, I would add that you should absolutely get as much information about your own answers as you can from your bar jurisdiction; make sure you know the deadline for making that request. In New York, for instance, it is 60 days after the date of notification that you did not pass.  Also, in most jurisdictions, you can request hand-scoring of your MBE answer sheet if you think that would make a difference. Contact your state bar jurisdiction for instructions on how to do that, as each of them has different rules. In Georgia, the process is:

Send a request in writing to the Office of Bar Admissions containing:

Your Name/Address/Phone Number/Email and Applicant Number

Month/Year Bar Exam Taken

Signature

Include a money order made payable to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE):  $50

The address is:

Office of Bar Admissions — ATTN MBE Hand Score Request

244 Washington Street; Suite 440

Atlanta, GA  30334

If you passed the Georgia bar exam, you should have heard from our Alumni Relations team inviting you to join your classmates and members of the Emory Law community to be sworn in at a special ceremony hosted here at the law school next week. If you did not get that information, please contact Bethany Glass at bethany [dot] glass [at] emory [dot] edu. You must RSVP and bring the original of your Georgia Bar certificate to Rm. G120 in Gambrell Hall. We look forward to hearing from you or seeing you soon.

Featured image provided by Al Haidar.