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.

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!

 

Practice (Questions) Makes Perfect, or at Least a Pass

I hope you all had a pleasant Memorial Day weekend! By now, most of you have started your bar review classes. If you have NOT started yet, you need to start NOW. Eight weeks from tomorrow, you will be finished with the bar exam! Some of you will be finished eight weeks from today! To make sure you will succeed and pass on your first try, the next seven weeks are crucial and doing practice questions is an important key to success. One analysis last year 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 questions (actually writing and submitting answers to your bar review company in time to get meaningful feedback) is very valuable. No amount of reading the material and 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.

If you want to practice with actual MBE questions written and tested by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, you can buy them directly here: MBE Online Practice Exams. But ask your bar review company first whether they have licensed use of those questions and will provide them to you as part of your course in addition to the ones they draft themselves.

Managing Your Time on a Multiple Choice Exam (MBE!)

As you may have found during law school, it can be very challenging to plan and manage your time on a long multiple choice exam over a few hours — and yet that is exactly what you will need to do to maximize your success on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). As a reminder, the MBE is the day-long, standardized, multiple-choice exam that you take in two sessions, morning and afternoon, of three hours each. Here is the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ description of the MBE:

The MBE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions: 190 scored questions and 10 unscored pretest questions. The pretest questions are indistinguishable from those that are scored, so examinees should answer all questions. The exam is divided into morning and afternoon testing sessions of three hours each, with 100 questions in each session. There are no scheduled breaks during either the morning or afternoon session.

Yike. And your MBE score is very important; a high score can compensate for some weakness on the essays, making the difference between passing first time or not; and it may be transferable to another jurisdiction if you need to be admitted in another state (note: not all jurisdictions accept transferred MBE scores; you must check with specific jurisdictions).

Law School Academic Support blog to the rescue! Here is a very clear and helpful blog post about how to use a “time chart” to manage your time on a long multiple choice exam: Time Management on Multiple Choice Exams. As you do practice MBE questions this summer, I recommend learning how to create and use this kind of time chart to stay on track.