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 …

What You Can Do Over Spring Break …

to keep getting ready for the July bar exam. If you have the book “Pass the Bar!”, which I highly recommend, it has action checklists, including one for 4-6 months before your commercial bar review course starts. If you haven’t done the things on that checklist yet, spring break is a good time to catch up! If you haven’t decided where to take the bar, consider taking it in a UBE state, as those scores are portable. Both New York and DC are now UBE states, although Georgia is not. It is most important by now to have signed up for a course and started doing any preliminary work they offer. Most commercial courses will also let you switch between states where they offer a course, so ask about that.

Have a great spring break!

What I Did During Winter Vacation — To Get Ready For the Bar

Dear graduating students: I like the sound of that, don’t you? I hope you are all enjoying a well-earned break and the holidays! One thing you can do over the winter break that will relieve stress for you when you return is to start your personal “bar readiness” planning.
If you haven’t yet signed up for a bar review course, you should do that ASAP. A great guide to choosing which course, and getting ready generally, is “Pass the Bar!”, by Riebe and Schwartz; they have created helpful “action checklists” and the first one is relevant right now, as it suggests actions to take 6-12 months before your commercial bar review course starts. If you are unsure about which state to choose because of job uncertainty and therefore delayed choosing a course and getting ready, I advise choosing a UBE jurisdiction. The Uniform Bar Examination is now required in more than half of all US jurisdictions, including two of our top four job markets, DC and New York, and the score is portable. You can find out more about that and the subjects tested at www.ncbex.org. If you commit to a course soon, you can start using review and practice materials now, before time pressure kicks in. Check with the course provider to make sure you can switch to a different state course if you need to.
If you haven’t yet subscribed to this blog, Emory Law Bar Readiness, I encourage you to do that now. We will be doing a lot of bar readiness programs for you in the spring semester, including MBE diagnostic exams, MBE Overview sessions, etc. Watch for details here, as well as in On The Docket as soon as you return in January. Please don’t be swayed by lawyer friends who took the bar more than a couple of years ago! Many will tell you that you don’t need to work that hard. The MBE has gotten harder and has added topics since most current lawyers took the bar exam. It has been changed in some ways that I think are unpredictable; the only safe way to give yourself the best chance to pass first time is to over-study and start early.
Enjoy your break — and give yourself a break, by thinking about the bar now instead of later!

Important Bar Information Session for Graduating Students

Sally Lockwood 78L, Director of Bar Admissions for Georgia, will explain the “Character and Fitness” review process to all graduating students who plan to take the bar in July 2017. In Georgia, the application deadline is in early December. The process is similar in most states, so come learn even if you do not plan to take the bar in Georgia. The first 100 students to attend and sign in will get a free copy of “Pass the Bar!”, a book I highly recommend for its detailed strategies for success on the bar, including action checklists you can start working on now. You must stay to the end of the program to claim your book.

For detailed, official information about Georgia bar applications, deadlines and fees, go to the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions website. For official information about admission to the New York bar, go to the New York Board of Law Examiners website. For official information about admission to the Florida bar, go to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners website, which also has its own official summary of Florida bar admissions information. For other states, it is simple to link to their bar admissions offices through the website of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Please remember that bar admissions officials will expect you, as the applicant, to know their requirements and meet their deadlines, and they will expect you to keep yourself informed and up to date, as it is possible for their information to change. Now is a good time to read through their rules and requirements thoroughly, set up an applicant account if that is available, bookmark their webpages and make a habit of checking those regularly. While this blog is an occasional source of reminders, it is NOT the final word on bar admissions, nor is it updated daily or even weekly, so please do not rely on it alone for tracking deadlines.

What to Do for the Next Seven Weeks

By now, you should have started your bar review course, whichever one you chose. Your best chances of success come from a steady routine of scheduled, systematic study and work, for 48-60 hours per week. That means 8-10 hour days, six days a week, starting now if you’re not already in that routine. Here’s what Profs. Michael Hunter Schwartz and Denise Riebe recommend for this stage, in their terrific book “Passing the Bar”:

  • Do at least 34 MBE practice questions every day, striving to get your timing down to less than two minutes per question;
  • Do at least two essay practice questions every week;
  • Do at least one MPT practice question every week if your state administers the MPT or another “performance” test;
  • Master doctrinal law for three subject areas (for the MBE plus the essay topics) every week;
  • Refresh your learning of at least two subject areas every week;
  • Take a ten-minute scheduled break every hour; take a break every evening if you’ve met your daily goals (and you should schedule daily goals for yourself every week to accomplish the practice questions above);
  • Take off one day/week if you’re up to date on your daily and weekly goals.

My additional advice: use all feedback mechanisms your course offers, including practice questions, practice tests, turning in essay question answers in time to get feedback, etc. The bar exam is harder than you may expect, but it rewards “sweat equity”, i.e. putting in the time as if studying is your fulltime job.

Also, get your brain and body used to being alert during the hours when you will take the bar exam. Now is the time to reset your body rhythms if you aren’t already a “morning person”. Establish the habit of getting up by 7 a.m. or so and getting to work on your bar study before 9 a.m. If your brain thinks it shouldn’t be awake until 11 a.m., why would it suddenly do so on the days of the bar exam, when you need it to be in top form? Try to go to sleep by midnight every night so you get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. More and more research is showing us that sleep (or lack of sleep) directly affects learning, retention and retrieval of information. Yes, I know it’s the summer, but you will have many other summers when you won’t be studying for a high stakes professional licensing exam, and there’s always August. This will be over sooner than you can imagine!

You Graduated. Now What?

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

Congratulations — you graduated and you earned a law degree! BUT … you don’t get to practice law until you pass the bar. Sooooo … it’s time to really focus on getting ready for success on the bar. Even before you start your bar review course (and start listening to Professor Freer again!), here are some suggested actions to take right now, from the excellent book “Pass the Bar”, by Riebe and Schwartz:

  1. Develop a written bar preparation schedule for yourself that includes:
    1. Time to review bar review outlines
    2. Time to attend bar review classes.
    3. Time to master or recall the substantive law.
    4. TIME TO DO PRACTICE QUESTIONS.
    5. Time for sleep, exercise and relaxation.
  2. Make sure you have sent all bar-related paperwork in by your state’s deadline: check here: National Conference of Bar Examiners. E.g., in Georgia you must file separately to take the exam, with separate paperwork, once you have been certified as eligible through the Character and Fitness process. Deadline to do so for the July bar is June 1!
  3. Contact all the people who are important to you, explain how crucial it is that you pass the bar exam and how much time it will take you to get ready, meaning you will be less available to them — i.e., at least fifty hours/week.
  4. Do at least one thing you enjoy that you won’t have time to do once your bar review course starts, until the end of the bar exam.
  5. Remind yourself frequently of your strengths and how they will help you pass the bar exam.
  6. Any other planning ahead you need to do for things like housing, meals, childcare, pet care, other obligations.

Stay in touch and let us know how it’s going! And congratulations again on your achievement in earning your law degree!

Photo: Frank Chen, 2016.