Now that all the bar courses started a couple of weeks ago, it’s time for you to assess your own plan to do as much constructive study as possible between now and late July. Note that I said CONSTRUCTIVE study! Passive memorization or review of materials alone, no matter how many hours you spend on that or how little sleep you get, won’t get you across the finish line. Here is a great post from the Law School Academic Support Blog about two paths commonly taken by bar studiers right now, neither of which is particularly constructive or effective.
Let’s take a deeper look at the student the author calls Dwayne BarStudier:
The key piece of advice he has received is to strictly follow the bar review schedule and he is guaranteed to pass the bar exam. Dwayne is doing just that but gets sick over failing to complete some assignments and therefore stays up all night to complete them. He monitors his daily and weekly progress in completing his bar review program and is for the most part on task. However, Dwayne is unable to answer questions about basic elements and requirements for simple concepts and has significant difficulty issue spotting or starting an essay randomly selected from subjects recently covered in his bar review program. Dwayne is also unable to give a good broad overview or synopsis of major topics in any subject area thus far. He has not thought about what this means as he is simply following his bar review program. He may wish to think about what he is doing, be self-regulated about his process and not simply “do-to-do.”
Here is what Dwayne is doing right: 1) trying to strictly follow his bar review schedule and complete assignments; 2) monitoring his own daily and weekly progress toward completion; 3) staying on task.
Here is what Dwayne is NOT doing right: 1) he is depriving himself of sleep, a fatal error when it comes to the critical, analytical thinking and writing required to pass the bar; 2) he is not synthesizing the information he is reviewing so that he can produce correct, adequate responses, exactly what he has to do to pass the bar; 3) he is not assessing himself and his performance beyond the mere fact of having “done the homework.”
What should he, and you, be doing? Stay on track; complete assignments but especially all practice questions; assess your own performance on practice questions; get feedback; use your self-assessment and feedback to improve your actual performance on practice questions. And take care of yourself.
Yes, it is important to complete as much of the assigned work as you can, as soon as you can. Every bar course allows a student to compare his or her completion compared to what has been assigned, and what others in the course have completed. WARNING: the course averages include students who began the course but for whatever reason, have already decided they won’t finish it or take the bar. As a result, the coursewide completion average, in my view, is LOWER than where your completion rate should be. You should try to stay ahead of it most of the time, but don’t go crazy. Completion of assignments is an effective means to an end — bar passage — not the end itself. Being able to produce correct answers on the exam is the goal of all the work you’re doing, so make sure to do plenty of practice questions, both MBE and essay/MPT, regularly.
Staying ahead of the coursewide completion rate in most weeks is the only consideration you should give that information. As said about other BarStudiers described in the other blog, do not dwell too much on what other bar studiers are doing or blindly use whatever they are using. You must think deeply about what methods have always worked well for you to achieve academic success, and play to your strengths as you study and do practice questions, then ASSESS how you’re doing and whether those strategies are still working well for you, specifically as you prepare for the bar. Assess where you are making the same kinds of mistakes and figure out what to do about that. Some great information and templates for how to do exactly that are in Part Four of the book “Pass the Bar!” by Riebe and Schwartz.
Taking sensible care of yourself this month and next is essential. Rote memorization and cramming can undermine you on the bar exam. Yes, you need to know, and be able to retrieve quickly, specific information and black-letter law. But you will be required to take that and USE it in analytical fashion, including on the multiple choice questions. If you are sleep-deprived, dehydrated, and stressed by poor nutrition, anxiety, etc., analytical thinking is one of the first things most people lose in that situation, and you will undermine your own success. Sleep right. Eat right. Get a little exercise every day, even if it’s just walking. Drink plenty of water, and not too much coffee. Schedule some healthy down time. Get up and go to bed at the same times every day, and make those times mirror the timing of the exam itself (i.e., be awake and alert regularly at the time when you will go to the exam). All of this helps, trust me.
Do not develop a false self-confidence based on completion of tasks alone. Some students have expressed their belief that the bar exam is graded on a simple curve and they are confident they will do well if they are close to the statewide completion rate and the other bar-takers in their cohort go to a lower-ranked law school, for example. FALSE. MBE scores are scaled, not curved, and adjusted for year-to-year comparability, then the same scale is applied to essay scores. The only safe path is to prepare to overshoot the passing score. People who try to minimize effort and aim for the lowest passing score usually … fail. The MBE has been made more difficult in the last few years, including a statistically significant change for this year (more experimental questions that don’t count). Please don’t listen to anyone who tells you not to spend “too much” time studying.
Now, how can you get a set of free Critical Pass MBE flashcards?? I have a set of gently used, almost mint Critical Pass flashcards, kindly donated for this purpose by one of last year’s grads who used them and passed last July. If you take a screenshot of your completion progress chart (or however your course shows your progress) as of Friday, June 16, at 5 pm, you have done MORE than your course’s average completion rate, and you send that to me before midnight on 6/16, I will enter your name in a random drawing for the flashcards. Winner will be notified by email to your Emory Law email address by 6/23. You can enter even if you’re outside Atlanta; I will mail the set to you! Keep calm and carry on …