A Pep Talk from a Peer!

Tanisha Pinkins 17L; litigation associate, Baker Donelson

Tanisha Pinkins 17L has kindly sent the following words of encouragement for all of you who are studying for the July bar:

Hello Bar Preppers,
At this point I know you all are exhausted, anxious, and uncertain about one thing or another but now is the time where you measure where you are and start SQUEEZING so you can get what you need out of these last few weeks. Do not stop SQUEEZING. Condense your outlines, regulate your sleeping habits, identify your strengths and weaknesses then hit the switch called WILL. Start using your WILL POWER. Yes you are exhausted, hungry, and your body and mind feel like giving up but you cannot quit because you have not reached your goal yet. You have to PUSH.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Do not strive to be in a comfort zone because what you want to accomplish is not in a comfort zone. So push through that last 30, 40, 45, 50 minutes or an hour with your WILL POWER. There are no warm and fuzzy places within these last few weeks of studying for the bar exam. PUSH through the uncomfortable zone to accomplish your goal. Don’t let your mind play tricks on you. Kill those seeds of self-doubt! Eliminate all negative energy and distractions around you. FOCUS! You are more than capable. Crush the bar exam!!
Tanisha studied for and passed the bar exam on her first attempt while parenting a teenager, which I didn’t have to do on my own bar exam, so my hat is off to her. You can do this too!

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!

Life Happens, Even When Studying for the Bar

The Law School Academic Support blog always has much wisdom to share, and its most recent post is no exception: The Inevitable Roller Coaster: Bar Review. All of it is worth reading, and I hope you will, but I wanted to highlight this section:

Life Happens

At a bar exam program presented several years ago, a speaker announced that everything that can go wrong will go wrong during bar review and everything you have ever wanted to do will become a possibility during bar review. She continued that bar review is only a few weeks and months out of your entire life and you will likely have the opportunity to experience many of the things you miss out on at some point in the future. Over the years, I note that Bar Studiers experience a range of life occurrences including: death in the family, breakups with significant others and spouses, issues with character and fitness on the bar application, car accidents, financial challenges (even with planning), lack of food, familial demands and expectations, emotional and physical impact of socio-political events, and much more. Life does not simply stop because you are studying for the bar exam. You will have both good days and not so good days and your reaction to and feelings about everything will be amplified.

You might waste a day or a half a day attending to real life situations and that is okay and necessary but it does not mean that you will be unable to complete your preparation for this exam. If however, life completely takes over and when you assess the situation you recognize that you are unable to sustain the pace and expectations of bar review then you might want to have a conversation with someone. You want to discuss alternatives or develop a new game plan to achieve your goals. Be open and honest with yourself and those helping you. (emphasis added).

I believe you still have time to readjust your bar study schedule now for success on the bar exam in July. But please do not avoid having this honest conversation with yourself. Avoiding the issue will not solve it. Addressing the issue by taking concrete action is likely to solve it, at this point in time. At some point soon, that window may close. Don’t take that risk — assess what’s going on with your life and bar readiness now, and you will improve your odds of success!

Improve Your Chance of Bar Success; Persist!

By now, any initial burst of energy you might have had when you started your commercial bar review course has likely worn off. You have probably done a good amount of work already, and your enthusiasm is flagging. Or, you haven’t really engaged with your bar review course yet and you’re behind in the assigned work, but you hope you can cram for the bar (hint: you really can’t). I hope these simple statistics will motivate you to get engaged and stay engaged, to improve your chances of passing the bar this July. These are school-specific statistics:

If you complete less than 70% of your bar review course, your odds of passing the bar are less than 60%.

If you complete 70-100% of your bar review course, your odds of passing jump to 91%.

Many of you are taking courses that allow you to track your progress in completion against what has been assigned, and/or the average of how much other students in the course have completed. Remember that the latter data includes students who started the course but have stopped doing it for any one of many reasons, including that they have decided not to take the bar exam at all, so they have stopped studying. That average completion rate is somewhat misleading and is irrelevant to your own odds of success, as it does not reflect the work completed only by students who fully intend to take and pass the bar this summer on their first attempt. Also, because the bar exam is not graded on a curve (it is scaled, which is different), you should not gauge your chances of passing based on just staying a little ahead of other enrollees’ average completion rates.

You should remain focused on doing the work your course has assigned, steadily and daily. Your goal should be to complete, simply, 70-100% of your course before the end of the last week of the bar study period, and make sure you have also done even more practice questions than your course may require. Do practice essay and MPT questions offered by your course, and submit them in plenty of time so that you can get and use meaningful feedback on those, if your course offers feedback. It won’t help you to submit practice questions just before the cut-off for whatever re-take option your course may have. Even if you get feedback, it may not come in time for you to make meaningful changes in your approach.

It also won’t help you to generate slapdash practice answers just to meet the guarantee requirements. Do your best to generate substantive answers to all such practice questions, and assess where you need to improve, based on feedback or self-assessment, then do more practice questions and try to incorporate any necessary changes. Even if you get positive feedback on your practice answers, keep doing them, because the more you do, the more automatically you will be able to generate strong written answers on the real bar. And that is a big help when you take a two-day exam!

Now is the time when persistence counts in your favor: think perspiration, not inspiration. Focus on effort, not enthusiasm. (You may be past being able to muster much enthusiasm for bar study by now — I know I was!). Plan your study time to build in breaks; I often recommend studying one subject or doing one task for 60-90 minutes, take a ten minute break that includes getting up and moving, then study a different subject or do a different task for 60-90 minutes. Take your next ten-minute break, and switch subjects or tasks again — including going back to the first subject if you wish. Just keep alternating like that for your whole day of study. It’s the change of subject combined with a short break that helps your brain persist. Grit, persistence, resilience — those will carry you over the finish line.

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 …

Nine Weeks …

Nine weeks from today, most of you will be done with the July bar exam! That’s hard to envision, since most of you also just started your bar review courses. Here are some pieces of good news, which I hope you will find encouraging:

  1. In nine weeks, this will be over. No, it won’t be the best summer of your life, but it will be over before August and you can still go to a beach, lake, or whatever destination fits your budget and your need to relax.
  2. You have NINE WHOLE WEEKS to focus on getting ready to pass the bar on your first attempt. If you manage your time well, keep up with your courses’ assignments, and treat bar preparation as a daily job, that is a good amount of time. Don’t let one of those workdays or weeks get away from you — it might feel good now, but it sure won’t later.
  3. You are a very bright student community and most of you WILL pass the first time — IF you put in the time, do the work, and do more than 1800 practice MBE questions. If you took one of our diagnostic MBE workshops this spring, those count toward your total! If you didn’t, you can still pick up the practice questions from all three workshop providers, outside G145.
  4. The bar exam is not an aptitude test; it’s all about “sweat equity”, and you control that. No matter how bright you are, if you don’t study enough, you are unlikely to pass. But even if you struggled academically in law school, you can still pass the bar first time by investing focused, daily effort in your preparation and doing up to 2000 practice MBE questions. This is within your control, unlike so many law school courses. Seize the moment and take that control!
  5. Slow and steady really does win this race. Don’t panic or freak yourself out — there’s no need, and it won’t help. Just plug away at your course assignments and practice questions, 6 days/week (you can and should take a day off weekly, if you are otherwise keeping up).

Check your Emory Law email for the list of support programs we are offering this summer on Wednesdays here on campus! We were glad to see many of you today for the first one — complete with celebrity cameo appearances by Prof. Rich Freer and Dean Schapiro. Whether or not you are here in Atlanta, know that we are here and we are rooting for you. Let us know how we can help.

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.

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.