Guest Post on Bar Exam “Trigger Words”

Dr. Kirsten Schaetzel, a linguist and our Emory Law ESL specialist, has written this excellent advice that will help all bar-takers, not just those for whom English is not a native language. The bar exam will play tricks on you; awareness and practice will help:

“Pay attention to trigger words!

Bar questions, both multiple choice questions and essay questions, often contain words that may seem insignificant, but instead carry much legal meaning and usually have an impact on the answer you choose or the answer you write. We call these words “trigger” words because just like the trigger on a gun, these words have an impact! When you pull the trigger on a gun, a bullet shoots out; when a question contains a trigger word, it has an impact on the way you interpret a situation. Some bar questions may have more than one trigger word.

Trigger words concern time, place, and manner (the way something is done). These usually have a legal impact. Examples of triggers are:

  1. Adverbs, such as immediately, recklessly, accidentally, quickly, severely
  2. Negatives, such as not, does not, did not, and prefixes such as il- (illegal), im- (imperfect), in- (inhospitable), and un- (unconscious)
  3. Descriptive qualifiers, such as a person’s age, any physical limitations, gender, familial or business relationships
  4. Dates, distances, and times (may be clues to causation and statute of limitations)
  5. Place, such as country, state, county, city (may be clues to jurisdiction)

A few examples of trigger words in sample MBE multiple-choice questions are listed below (http://www.ncbex.org ):

  1. The man has “Beware of Dogs” signs clearly posted around a fenced-in yard . . .
  2. The neighbor was attached by one of the dogs and was severely
  3. A major issue is whether the train sounded its whistle before arriving at the crossing.
  4. A daughter was appointed guardian of her elderly father . . .
  5. The sales agreement did not mention the shutters, the buyer did not inquire about them, and the buyer did not conduct a walk-through inspection of the home before the closing.

Notice the underlined “trigger” words and think about the impact they have on meaning.

As you read the prompts for multiple-choice questions and the fact-patterns for bar essay questions, keep your eyes open for trigger words and phrases!”

Thanks, Dr. Schaetzel! I recommend, in this final stretch of bar study, doing as many practice MBE questions as you can and use “active reading” by underlining or circling trigger words and other key words on the questions themselves. This will remind you to notice them on the real bar exam (and you should underline or circle them on the real questions too). Time will be tight — you can streamline your pace of answering questions by practicing now how to focus on the essentials.

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!

 

Great Advice from the Class of 2018

Dear bar studiers: Happy Friday! Bethany Barclay-Adeniyi, who graduated last year, has kindly written down specifics of what helped her most to pass the Georgia bar exam in February. Bethany took BARBRI and supplemented the course as below. Here are her thoughts:

Below are a few things that really helped me during the bar prep process:

  1. Mental Focus, First and Foremost
    1. Without peace of mind, bar prep will go in vain. Without a stress-free environment that allows you to focus and retain information, bar prep will go in vain. Getting your mind in the right place, and keeping it there throughout the study process, is key to success. Whether it be prayer, exercising, or some other form of stress relief or means of staying encouraged, finding ways to stay motivated, at peace with yourself, and focused are key to bar prep success.
  2. Consistent MBE practice
    1. I tried to maintain 32 MBE practice questions per day. Given my work schedule, some days I could only get through 10 or 15 questions, and then I would make up for the remaining amounts on the weekend. When I took my leave from work solely to study, I upped my MBE practice to 50 questions per day – 1 set of 25 in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

                   (I realize this may be a large amount for students going through the BARBRI course for the first time, especially in the first month given the lectures can be time-consuming. I do wish, though, that I had incorporated more MBE questions in lieu of some of the BARBRI AMP questions. While helpful in learning the black letter law, AMP questions are simply not formatted like true MBE questions).

    1. Adaptibar helped me greatly as well. Not only did it help me break up the monotony of study days, but it allowed me to track which areas I consistently got questions wrong in so I could target those topics more. While a good way to “switch it up” and keep my brain engaged, there is no substitute for putting a pencil to paper and marking up actual questions, given this is what happens on exam day
    2. Reading the explanatory answers helped because they are structured like a well-written essay question (for the most part). So MBE practice helped in all areas of preparing for the exam because it helped me learn law that is potentially also tested on the essay portion of the exam.
  1. Prioritized mastering the GA essay topics based upon which were tested more frequently, but also making sure I did not neglect any one subject.
    1. It is key to prioritize which subjects are tested more frequently (in general), but I didn’t spend a ton of time tracking which essay questions had been tested each year, etc. I know some people get a little too caught up, in my opinion, with trying to predict which essay questions will be tested based upon previous statistics. I found it more helpful to not waste energy poring over what I thought would be tested, but rather spend time learning enough information about each subject so that I would be prepared to write a well-formulated essay no matter the topic.

                    i.      For example, I think Professor Freer’s BARBRI “go-by” he provides about how many times essay topics have been tested in previous years is enough to prioritize a study strategy for essay topics. I personally did not look at another source, and was able to divide my time efficiently between subjects.

    1. When practicing essays I also kept in mind that generally each fact was in an essay question for a reason. So even on exam day, I kept that thought in mind and the facts helped jog my memory about what legal concept was being tested.
  1. Practice, Practice, Practice
    1. Consistent practice of MBE questions, essays, and MPTs

                    i.      I didn’t neglect MPTs, and followed the “Pass the Bar!” book’s suggestion of doing 1 MPT per week, and 2 essays per week. Some weeks I did more depending on how secure I felt with my performance.

    1. Timed Performance: I started off doing a few essays and a MPT untimed. However, after that I did timed performance. I found timed performance to be invaluable because I was able to get a more accurate picture of the work product I can produce while under pressure/my MBE performance (exactly what will be happening on exam day).
    2. Sidenote: I broke out the MBE practice as its own section above because I think people underestimate the importance of the MBE in general. I also think I did not realize how important it is to practice those MBE questions religiously because, when I did, I started seeing patterns, common distractors, and my performance improved drastically. On exam day, I was in a rhythm when it came to MBE questions. It greatly helped, given you are also dealing with anxiety and nervousness on the day of the exam, to have my mind already trained and familiar with the rhythm and pace to take when doing MBE questions.
  1. Picture yourself succeeding
    1. As someone told me, and what I often got tired of hearing to be quite honest, was that bar prep is a marathon and not a sprint. While cliché, it is absolutely true! You have to pace yourself and take it one day at a time. Each day, it is important to imagine yourself succeeding, and picture yourself crushing that exam. I even went so far as to picture myself sitting in the exam room, sitting at a table while doing MBE questions, practice essays, or practice MPTs (for those who don’t know what the exam room looks like, a picture is online on the GA bar admissions website). Keeping my end goal in mind was key.

Thanks, Bethany, for sharing your words of advice and encouragement!

 

Freer Speaks!

Flyer for Prof. Rich Freer's presentation on overview of Multistate Bar Examination

Or rather, Freer spoke, on January 30, to be precise! Here again is a recording of the MBE Overview program he did for us in January of this year: MBE Overview-Prof. Freer 1-30-19. It’s a good reminder right now, as you continue to work in your commercial bar review courses, of his excellent advice. The MBE Subject Matter Powerpoint shown onscreen in this recording is also available on this blog, under Online Learning Resources (above), with the other MBE Subject Matter outline Powerpoints I created for these faculty-led sessions. They are drawn directly from the MBE Subject Matter Outline document on the website of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

You have seven weeks until the bar exam. It may be helpful to look again at those outlines occasionally, to see how the sub-topics within each major subject on the MBE relate to each other, while you continue to do practice MBE questions regularly in sets to test your knowledge. Don’t freak out if your results look worse when you do “mixed sets” of questions in different subject areas, as opposed to “blocks” of questions in one subject like Torts, or Contracts. That is normal, and part of the learning process! Don’t give up on doing the mixed sets — push through the challenge and keep doing them, knowing that you probably won’t score high for a while. Mixed question sets are a very effective way for most students to learn material, especially for an exam like the MBE where you won’t know what subject a given question is testing until you try to answer it. Doing them over an extended period of time, instead of cramming all the practice in at the end of your bar study, is also an effective learning strategy.

“Forced retrieval”, which is what you are doing when you give yourself practice questions and tests, is a highly effective learning technique. Remember that it’s not the initial results you get that matter, no one else is watching! What matters is the process of making yourself answer questions, over and over, and then reviewing your results to understand what you got wrong and how to answer correctly next time. Active learning, retrieval and practice always win over passive “recognition” (re-reading and re-watching material you’ve seen before, without then testing yourself on it).

Remember the MPT!

Dear bar studiers: some of you will be tempted to do scant preparation for the Multistate Performance Test (“MPT”) portion of the bar, because it doesn’t require as much memorization as the MBE and the essays. This is a strategic error that can mean the difference between passing and failing the bar first time. Emory Law students, especially, should be able to do well and gain points on the MPT, because of the strength of our legal writing courses and the fact that so many Emory Law students take Contract Drafting and other similar classes. However, our review of recent bar performance and results suggests that some bar-takers are underperforming on the MPT enough to cost them a passing score.

It is pretty simple for you to make sure you don’t fall into that trap in July. Take the time now to get familiar with the MPT and how it works. Look at the past MPT questions used on the bar exam you plan to take, whether the Uniform Bar Exam (“UBE”) or the Georgia Bar, which posts past questions and sample answers, to both essays and the MPT, here. July 2018 questions are here.

Prof. Mary Campbell Gallagher, founder of BarWrite and author of books on passing the bar and of a blog on the same subject, gives a detailed analysis, below, of one of last summer’s questions that proved difficult for many bar-takers, including our graduates. She explains what was needed to score well on that question, and how bar-takers may have fallen short, to their cost; most importantly, she suggests how to do better. Because it’s possible to fail the bar exam by one point, you should make sure you are well prepared to grab every point available to you, and I believe our graduates could pick up more points on the MPT with more strategic preparation. Practice doing the close reading of MPT instructions Prof. Gallagher describes, using real MPT questions, and practice outlining how you would respond to them. Write out full practice answers to a few, looking for questions that ask for different types of written work product, and compare them to sample answers. Remember that your answers on the MPT will be graded on your responsiveness to the instructions regarding the task you are to complete, as well as on the content, organization, and thoroughness of your responses.

You may be asked to produce a memorandum to a supervising attorney, a letter to a client, a persuasive memorandum or brief, a statement of facts, a contract provision, a will, a counseling plan, a proposal for settlement or agreement, a discovery plan, a witness examination plan, or a closing argument. You should know what those look like and how to create them with specific reference to the instructions you are given. Yes, you must do your very best on the MBE and the essays, and that will require memorizing a lot of material, but don’t leave MPT points on the table. Those points count too! Go get them!

Bad News on the First July 2018 MPT Task

Muscle Memory and Bar Readiness

I’m reposting this from the Law School Academic Support blog because it is such sound advice, from a longtime academic success educator: Muscle Learning and Bar Prep Success. If you came to Study Smarter as a 1L, to the session when I teach how to outline, you’ll know that I do believe deep learning is like weight-lifting: your brain only gets stronger when you do the heavy lifting and do the written work yourself, just as your muscles only get stronger when you actually lift the weights instead of reading about someone else’s weightlifting.

Muscle memory is also one reason why I suggest doing at least some of your (thousands of) practice MBE questions using pencil and paper, such as on the tests found in Emanuel’s Strategies and Tactics for the MBE, a book you can buy online (I’ve put a copy in the law library for you to look at if you wish). Not only does the Emanuel’s book use actual released MBE questions licensed from NCBEX, but practicing on paper with the kind of pencils you will use on the real MBE can only help; it certainly won’t hurt. If getting familiar with that helps your brain earn you one or two more points, that can mean the difference between passing and failing the bar exam. So use all the strategies available to you to fight for every point. Given the many changes in the MBE in recent years, it is NOT safe to aim for the minimum passing score — you should overshoot. You don’t have to ace this, but you do want a comfortable margin of points above the minimum score, to make sure you pass.

Please remember, as I’ve posted before, that our analysis of Emory Law’s bar passage rates over the last couple of years tells us that if you are an Emory JD student with a cumulative law school GPA below 3.2, regardless of LSAT or undergraduate GPA, you are at some risk of not passing the bar the first time you take it. If your Emory Law GPA is below 3.05, you are at higher risk of a poor outcome on the bar. Law school GPA is not the only risk factor an individual student might have; for more information, see the handouts outside Dean Brokaw’s office that have a chart of risk factors and how to address them. MOST IMPORTANTLY — RISK IS NOT DESTINY. You can dramatically improve your odds, in spite of any risk factors you may have, by identifying and addressing them strategically and thoroughly. We see this every year — students whose diligent, intelligent, disciplined summer study overcomes risk factors like low LSAT scores or GPAs, so that they pass the bar on their first attempt.

You’ll be hearing from us more often here as the bar gets closer; Jennie and I are here during the summer and we’re always happy to offer guidance and/or sympathy. Sometimes we have snacks.

Facebook Live Event: Pass the Bar Exam; 5/2, 1 pm

The AccessLex Institute will host a Facebook Live event tomorrow at 1 pm, on how to pass the bar exam. Details are here. The AccessLex Institute is a leading organization in the study of the bar exam and which students succeed on it, and how. I highly recommend this Facebook Live event to all law students who plan to take a bar exam this summer. You don’t know what you don’t know until you ask!

Practice for Success on the MBE!

Dear graduating students: Congratulations on entering your final semester of law school! Although this May will mark the end of your formal legal education for most of you, we know you are very aware that the biggest test is yet to come: the bar exam. We want to help you position yourselves for the best chance of success on it the first time, as there is much you can do between now and the end of July, in a less time-pressured way, to improve your odds of passing the bar first time.

 

First, some data. Our analysis of Emory Law’s bar passage rates over the last couple of years tells us that if you are an Emory JD student with a cumulative law school GPA below 3.2, regardless of LSAT or undergraduate GPA, you are at some risk of not passing the bar the first time you take it. If your Emory Law GPA is below 3.05, you are at higher risk of a poor outcome on the bar. Law school GPA is not the only risk factor an individual student might have; for more information, see the handouts outside Dean Brokaw’s office that have a chart of risk factors and how to address them.

Second, some solutions. The same chart suggests multiple ways to counter any risk factors you might have. One is that with early, diligent self-assessment and practice, you can improve your bar readiness well before you begin your commercial bar review course. A valuable first step is to take an MBE diagnostic exam and workshop. This year, the Office of Academic Engagement & Student Success is offering two such MBE workshops in February, as previously listed in On The Docket. The first one is this Saturday, February 9. If your Emory Law cumulative GPA suggests that you may be at risk, and you do not plan to take this first workshop, we strongly recommend that you register for the second one, which will be on Friday, February 22. Even if you will take the 2/9 workshop, sign up for 2/22 — you can take both! 

Dozens of your classmates have already registered, but there’s room for more of you. The registration link is in the email sent to all 3Ls and LLM students previously.

A number of Emory Law faculty will also present MBE overview sessions this semester, to introduce you generally to the topics and sub-topics that can appear on the MBE portion of the bar exam. The first MBE Overview session took place last week, with Prof. Rich Freer talking about the MBE generally as well as the Civil Procedure portion of that test. While we do not routinely record these sessions, Prof. Freer did allow us to record his, and the link to that recording can be found on this blog in a recent post. Upcoming confirmed dates for more MBE subjects are:

2/18 – Evidence with Prof. Shepherd in 1E from 12:15 – 1:45pm

2/20 – Contracts with Prof. Pinder in 1C from 12:15 – 1:45pm

2/27 – Constitutional Law with Prof. Fred Smith, 12:15 – 1:45 pm, room TBA (see upcoming On The Docket)

3/4 – Property with Prof Dinner in 1E from 12:15 – 1:45pm

Date pending confirmation: 3/6, details TBA. Save the date!

There are links to additional, useful, bar-related information on this blog. We suggest that you subscribe to it so you get an email whenever new information is posted. We look forward to helping you cross the finish line to start your new careers!

MBE Overview: Prof. Richard Freer

Emory Law Commencement 2016 led by Professor Richard Freer, by Frank Chen.

If you are a graduating Emory Law student and were unable to attend yesterday’s kick-off of our spring “MBE Overview” series, with Prof. Rich Freer talking about the bar and the MBE in general, and specifically about the topics that can be tested on the MBE under Civil Procedure, we are able to provide the recording several of you requested, thanks to gracious permission of Prof. Freer. The recording can be found HERE. Please note that this is a service provided for the use of Emory Law students and not to be distributed elsewhere.

Keep reading On The Docket and watching the electronic bulletin boards for announcement of future sessions in February and March!

Happy New Year! Bar Readiness 2019

Welcome back to all Emory Law students, but a special welcome back to you who will be taking a bar exam soon! We have a busy schedule of programs every spring semester to help you get ready to get the most out of the commercial bar review courses you will likely take after graduation, so please look out for announcements in On The Docket and in flyers on the electronic bulletin boards. You can also subscribe to this blog to get an email when there is a new post.

We will kick off our annual spring semester series of in-house “bar readiness” programs in late January, but you should take some steps now, before our first program (which will be on January 28, at lunchtime). That will be a Q&A session with Jennie Geada Fernandez about the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, or MPRE. We will then start a series of “MBE Overview” sessions, led by our own faculty, with Prof. Rich Freer walking you through the topics that can be tested under Civil Procedure, on 1/30, during the community hour. Save the dates! And watch On The Docket for details about location, etc.

1) Inform yourself about the requirements and testing for admission to the bar where you hope to be admitted. Every state has its own bar admissions rules and office, and you MUST comply with that state’s requirements. You can view them in detail at the website for the National Conference of Bar Examiners, www.ncbex.org. We strongly advise you to bookmark that site, as well as the official bar admissions site for your chosen jurisdiction. If there is any contradiction between the information provided, it is the state’s official bar admissions website and rules that will supersede any other guidance, so you need to read those carefully. NCBEX writes and scores tests such as the Multistate Bar Exam (“MBE”), the Multistate Performance Test (“MPT”), the Multistate Essay Exam (“MEE”), and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (“MPRE”). The last, the MPRE, is given three times a year, separately from the rest of the “bar exam.” Not all states administer all three standardized tests that are given together (the MBE, the MPT, and the MEE). For instance, the state of Georgia writes and grades its own state-specific essay questions, instead of the MEE. States that DO give all three standardized components are giving a “Uniform Bar Exam”, or UBE. You should educate yourself about that at the NCBEX website.

2) We recommend the book “Pass the Bar!” by Riebe and Schwartz. Although some of its information is out of date, such as the exact coverage and breakdown of the MBE, it remains one of the most useful bar readiness books available, since it includes action checklists and various charts to help you keep track of what you are doing to prepare, in addition to sensible, humane, time-tested advice for success on the bar exam. You can see a copy in the law library if you want to take a look at it before you decide whether to get your own copy.

3) The law school will provide at least two MBE Workshops this spring, at no added cost to you. The first one will be on February 9, from 10 am – 4 pm, and will be given by Kaplan. Watch On The Docket for more details and information about how to sign up. These workshops involve you doing a number of practice MBE questions, and then a professional bar lecturer explaining those questions and answers, and the strategies for doing well on the MBE.

4) If you haven’t yet signed up with a commercial bar review course, you should get that done before the end of this month. We don’t endorse any course over another and we suggest that you use the tools in “Pass the Bar!” to make an individual assessment as to which course is right for you. However, NOT taking a strong commercial bar review course is a known risk factor for failing the bar on the first attempt, and no one wants that to happen to you. Find the course you want, and sign up for it now! Most will offer you some “early start” materials, and working on those between now and May will likely reduce the time pressure and resulting stress you may feel during the intensive bar study period after graduation.

5) Plan a “bar vacation” for AFTER the bar exam! It’s fine to take a short week off after graduation before your commercial course class sessions start, but save the long vacations for August, after you’ve taken the bar. Your fulltime job between graduation and the end of July is to prepare for, take, and pass the bar exam. You’ll enjoy your vacation so much more once that is over!

Again, welcome back, and happy 2019! We look forward to helping you get ready for graduation and the bar exam.

Emory Law Commencement 2016 led by Professor Richard Freer, by Frank Chen.
Commencement 2016; photo by Frank Chen.