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.

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!

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!

Steven Friedland on Bar Exam Readiness; Bar Examiners’ Visit on March 19

Prof. Steven Friedland, who has published books about bar readiness, has a great article in the current National Jurist: Using The “Four T’s” To Achieve Bar Exam Success. His advice is sound, especially what he says about staying actively engaged in your own learning process, and using active techniques to improve your learning and retention.

Spring break will be a great time to look again at “Pass The Bar!” by Riebe and Schwartz, and see where you stand in terms of their pre-bar checklists, and the bar exam risk factors and remedies they identify. The spring semester will accelerate rapidly once you all return from spring break, and graduation will be upon you faster than you expect (yay!) — then your commercial bar review courses. Please use time to your advantage now, identifying areas that may be a challenge for you on the bar exam so you can address them sooner and more thoroughly, with less pressure.

Please remember that the Director of Bar Admissions for Georgia and one of the Board of Bar Examiners, both alumni of Emory Law, will be at the law school on Monday, March 19, at 12:15 to 1:45 pm. Usually the Bar Examiner asks students to review a specific past essay question in advance, so watch for an email about that and check On The Docket for any other details. You can find past Georgia bar essay and MPT questions, and select answers, here: Georgia Bar Essays and MPT Questions. A light lunch will be served but feel free to bring your own.

Have a great spring break!

Bar Exam Risk Factors — and Solutions

If you plan to take a bar exam in the coming year, including this summer, you should take some time now to assess yourself and what risk factors you may have that could put you at risk of not passing the bar on your first try. That sounds scary, but 1) there are many ways to address those risk factors, many students have done that successfully to beat the odds; and 2) you have plenty of time between now and the summer to address any risk factors if you start now.

The book I recommend that all students read, ideally starting in the summer after their 2L year, is “Pass the Bar!” by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz. Here is a chart for self-assessment based on their list of risk factors and solutions:

Bar_Exam_Individual_Risk_Factors

Take a few minutes to read it over and ask yourself if any apply to you — they DO apply even to Emory Law students — then keep reading to find out how to neutralize them! Look for and attend our ongoing programs this semester that will help you ease into bar readiness. And feel free to visit with Dean Brokaw or Jennie Geada Fernandez to discuss how you can optimize your chances of success, starting with the MBE diagnostic exams and workshops we will hold starting this Saturday. If you are a graduating student, check your email or On The Docket for info and a registration link. The bar exam is not an aptitude test; it is an ATTITUDE test — you achieve success based on the effort you invest. Sweat equity. And that’s good news, because success is within reach of you all if you make the right choices. We’re here to help.

Happy New Year! Bar Readiness in 2018

Welcome back, Emory Law — except for this week’s snow days. As long as you don’t have school today or tomorrow, now is a great time to plan how you will use this semester to get ready for this summer’s bar exam and getting the most out of your commercial bar review course.

First, financial matters. Many students take out a “bar loan”, so they can focus on bar review after graduation and not work. For more information about this, go here. Bar loans are direct loans from a private lender to a student and are not part of the regular student loan process. However, if you have any unused eligibility for federal student loans left this semester, you may want to ask your assigned campus financial aid adviser whether it is possible for you to increase your loan.

Next, test readiness. On January 27 and on February 3, we will offer an MBE diagnostic exam and workshop to all graduating JD students. These will be provided by commercial bar review vendors, at no cost to you. Watch your email for more details and a wufoo form for registration. They will start at 9, with a morning diagnostic MBE exam of 100 questions, short lunch break (lunch will be provided for those who register), and an afternoon workshop to go over correct answers and the strategies to use to answer MBE questions correctly. We strongly advise all students to take advantage of this, as it will allow you to assess how much you do or don’t recall in the seven subject areas covered by the MBE, most of which you took in your first year. This will in turn allow you to start reviewing fundamental concepts in the subjects where you may be weaker, so you are better prepared to make the most of your post-graduation commercial course. It will also allow you to start making good use of practice MBE questions NOW and throughout this semester. We recommend doing as many as 2000 practice MBE questions between now and the real bar exam, as we know that results in a better chance of passing the bar first time. If you start in January or February, and spread out the work, it will be much easier to reach that target.

The book “Pass The Bar!” has another checklist that is relevant RIGHT NOW: 4-6 months before graduation and the start of your commercial bar prep course. If you own that book, take it out and re-read the checklists. If you don’t own it yet, consider buying it soon; it is easily available online.

Stay warm!

Bar Readiness Starts NOW

This post is meant for those of you who will graduate in the coming academic year (2017-18) and plan to take a bar exam. Many, but not all, of you are 2Ls going into your 3L year; some of you are LLM students.

As I wrote this last week, most of your friends and colleagues in the Class of 2017 were just finishing up their bar exams, finding out whether they were as ready as they had hoped and planned and worked to be. Sooner than you think, that will be you! Now is a great time for you to start thinking ahead to what you can do over the coming academic year to maximize your probability of success when you take a bar exam for the first time.

The book I highly recommend you buy and start reading NOW for overall bar readiness is “Pass The Bar!” by Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz. One of its first chapters is a set of “Action Plan Checklists” that begin 6-12 months before your post-graduation commercial bar review course starts. That window of time is now. Since many of you will file “character and fitness” applications to bar authorities this fall (they are due by early December in Georgia for those who will take the Georgia bar in July 2018), this is a great time to start getting familiar with the requirements for the jurisdiction where you will take the bar. More than half of all states now administer the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), but each state still has its own requirements and deadlines. Save yourself some stress and start getting to know them now. You may need to gather your own records to answer the detailed character and fitness questionnaires, so getting an early start on that is also helpful.

We will be doing a series of programs to support and inform you all year as you get closer to the bar exam. The first is usually the annual September visit of the Director of Bar Admissions for Georgia, who will explain the character and fitness process and answer questions in person. In the meantime, I hope you will read through the information here: http://law.emory.edu/academics/academic-engagement/index.html (scroll down to see Bar Readiness).

Enjoy the rest of your summer! We look forward to seeing you back here later this month.

Countdown Game Plan for the Bar!

The end is in sight! Most of you are done with your course lectures by now and are working on completing assignments, reviewing, etc. This week, the Law School Academic Support blog posted this helpful advice for the last two weeks of bar preparation: A Game Plan: Last Minute Bar Preparation.

The book “Pass The Bar!” also has a great checklist for these last two weeks, on page 14. We will put copies of that page outside the Office of Academic Engagement and Student Success offices, with the other handouts, so you can help yourselves.

It can be hard to stay motivated and focused now, and you’re probably tired, so just stick to a daily schedule and take good care of yourselves. When you walk into that exam, you want to know that you’ve done everything you could to succeed — that will give you a great sense of prepared confidence, and that too will help you. If you’re taking the Georgia bar in Atlanta, we’ll see you there when we offer you lunch on both days of the exam.

Keeping Up … and Drawing for Critical Pass MBE Flashcards

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 …