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Rule statements: mastery of legal vocabulary

One important task for law students, and for law graduates studying for the bar exam, is mastery of legal language.  Just as when we study a foreign language, we need to know what words mean and how to use them in context.  When writing in a foreign language, we also need to learn to spell words correctly.

If you are a 1L, 2L or a 3L law student, and especially if you are planning on taking and passing the upcoming bar exam, you should be able to define all of the following criminal law terms.  Take 20 minutes.  Ready, set, go!

Crimes Against a Person

  1. Assault 
  2. Battery
  3. Mayhem
  4. Kidnapping
  5. Rape
  6. Homicide

Theft Crimes

  1. Larceny
  2. Embezzlement
  3. False pretense
  4. Robbery
  5. Extortion
  6. Theft
  7. Burglary
  8. Receipt of stolen property
  9. Arson

 Inchoate crimes

  1. Solicitation
  2. Conspiracy
  3. Attempt


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IRAC or IRPC? That is the question!


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The Power Trio of MBEs, Essays & Performance Tests

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Quotes of the Day & Remembering Nelson Mandela

One of MLK’s many inspiring quotes is:  “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”  I often recall those words as people  begin bar review, and as each of us starts any huge undertaking.

If you are taking the July Bar Exam, think about how overwhelming it all felt on Day 1, when the enormous box of books arrive.  Now, think for just a moment how high you are on that “staircase,” especially as compared with when you took that first step…

We cannot know all of the steps when we begin a new challenge, we cannot even be assured that we will ever arrive at all, but we can do our best, one day at a time, and move slowly and steadily forward toward our life’s dreams.  We can seize successes along the way while maintaining our sense of self and living authentically, staying true to our values as we climb.  And, we can look to examples such as the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke those staircase words, and to another life we celebrate today, that of Nelson Mandela, to be inspired, to not just hope for peace but live for peace.  And, to refuse to be embittered even when we have been beaten down.

We must also not let the enormity of great challenge be our obstacle.  We all know that feeling of fear and being overwhelmed; if we worry too much about the whole, we won’t take that critical first step, or the next essential step, or the next.  We won’t keep on moving forward, even if we start.  And, there is no substitute for dogged persistence.  Great successes simply do not come without great challenges.

So, Happy Birthday, President Mandela!  There are thousands of thoughtful posts today remembering the man on his birthday #MandelaDay

Reading through the many quotes, I found myself wanting to favorite nearly every one.  (If you read my bar exam book, you will see I am a fan of quotes!)  Many of Mandela’s great words of wisdom ring true for you taking the bar exam, and for all of us just getting through each day.

Here below, are just a few Mandela words.  Read and take a tiny break in studying and working and the day-to-day, whatever that may be, to feel the inspiration, the dignity, the humanity, the perseverance, the wisdom, passion for life, and so much more…

  • “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
  • “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  Nelson Mandela
  • “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.”
    Nelson Mandela
  • “It always seems impossible until its done.”  Nelson Mandela
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
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Bar Exams Across the United States have One Common Success Thread: Critical Reading

Over the last month and a half I have been teaching bar review sessions in many different jurisdictions.  One thing I have focused on is essays.  And, wow do they differ!  There are of course many MEE jurisdictions, with 30 minute essays (and some states that have local questions that are 30 minute essays), but there are questions of up to one hour in length (such as in California), and questions as short as only 25 minutes (suggested) per essay (in Maryland).

But bar exam essay questions are also similar, strikingly so, in one way in particular.  Success on most bar exam essay questions requires careful reading and thinking, before writing.  The temptation to do otherwise, to jump into writing before one could possibly have read and digested all the facts, is about as strong as the temptation to gobble up a delicious cup of dripping gelato that someone thrusts into your hands on very hot day.

In other words, do not be surprised if you really want to start writing right away, and if others seated next to you on the bar exam start writing just minutes after they are handed the question.  Be vigilant.  Do not succumb.  Look at the person next to you who is typing before he or she could have understood the facts, and perhaps feel a little sorry for that person, because likely he or she is failing.  You, by contrast, stay calm and focused and do the right thing (and you pass!).  What is the right thing?  Four steps to success before writing:

1) read slowly and carefully,

2) take in the significance every word,

3) spot the issues, and

4) order the main discussable issues logically in a brief outline before you begin writing.

Bar Examiners, as a general rule, are not trying to “hide the ball.”  Facts that trigger issues are often obvious, but only if you read them and think about them as you read.  In my workshop today, for example, I dealt with an essay where a couple (two people) were injured riding on a single-passenger snow mobile.  “Why did the facts tell you it was a single passenger vehicle,” I asked, as we read the question together.  And, everyone saw how that fact may have been hinting at contributory negligence on the part of the driver.  Had I not asked the question, I am not sure everyone would have spotted it, but as soon as I asked everyone saw it.  All it took was pausing for a moment to think.

What I was trying to help train was a habit, to read and think about (and question the significance of) each word as you read. You can and should be training that habit every single day now so that it becomes second nature.  Every time you complete a bar exam practice essay question, read slowly and carefully, touching each word with your finger or pencil, and mumbling the word under your breath so you read with three senses: sight, touch, and hearing  (Much more on reading with three senses in Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals.)

What continues to be so striking as I travel the country is just how important reading and thinking(!) are to success on the bar exam essays, no matter how much time you are expected to use in fully answering the question.  Let me put numbers on this.  Even in a 25 minute essay, a successful applicant may need to spend a full 10 if not 15 minutes reading and outlining before writing.  In a one-hour essay, nearly everyone must spend at least 15 minutes reading and outlining.  (Many successful students spend much more time, some up to 20-25 minutes reading and outlining before writing, especially if they are fast typists.)

In other words, the primary difference in successfully answering bar exam essays,  even in bar exam essays of significantly differing lengths, is not how much time you spend reading but how much time typical applicants take in writing the answer.  Even in the so-called shorter questions, successful applicants must still spend a relatively long time reading and thinking before writing.  (When you have less time, you may have to spend up to half the allotted time reading and thinking before you write.)

If you know the law (the basics) and you read carefully and critically, and think as you read, asking yourself questions such as why certain words are used, why words are in quotes, and why words or concepts are repeated, etc., you will see issues pop out at you.

One of my favorite former students (now a successful lawyer licensed in both California and Massachusetts) used to describe issue spotting on bar exam essay questions as somewhat like “Easter egg hunting.”  He’s right.  And, like that springtime rite, issue spotting on bar exam essays can be (dare I say) “fun.”  OK, well, if not fun then it can be an empowering process, and rewarding to to know just how much you are able to see the significance of, if you slow down and read carefully and critically.

One last note, to conclude my thought for the day on careful reading, and while I am thinking about the Maryland bar exam, I will recommend a document that I believe has very helpful tips for bar exam essay writers everywhere.  It is from the Maryland Board of Law Examiners, but I strongly recommend it, no matter what essay you are taking.  It is called “SUGGESTIONS FOR SUCCESSFULLY ANSWERING ESSAY QUESTIONS.” It is in a document called Description and Tips on the Written Test for the General Bar Exam, (toward the end of the document).  These suggestions are brilliant.  (And, it should be no surprise that one of the suggestions is to “Read each question carefully and in its entirety.” Check it out.  See if any of the suggestions help you.  I am betting they will.

To all you taking the July bar exam, keep up the hard work!  You are in the home stretch!!

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The July Bar Exam: Looking ahead; get ready now!

Many of your colleagues and classmates just finished the February Bar Exam.  For them, May (and results) are what concerns them the most.  Hopefully they will find a way to put the bar exam aside for a bit, focus on jobs, resumes, gaining practical experience volunteering in law offices, and, perhaps most important, reconnecting with friends and family after that time away studying.

For you who are taking (and you better also be expecting to pass, if you are planning to take) the July Bar Exam, what are you doing now to prepare?  There are many things to be done now to “get ready” to pass the July Bar Exam.  I’ll list a few here, and do get a copy of Pass the Bar Exam to read in full now so you can get all the tips and strategies you will need:

1. Work on mastering the performance test portion of the bar exam as part of an effective “early start” strategy.  Do this with Pass the Performance Test, both the online course and Study Guide.  Get in now and learn how to effectively write passing answers to any performance test question that they may throw at you. Because this is an open book portion of the exam, it is the best part to start on early, and master.  Once you learn the skills, you won’t forget how to do a PT.  (Essay and MBE work, by contrast, depends on both memory and skills!)

2. Handle details and logistics that will come up in May-July now, and/or determine what can be postponed until August. (Get finances and housing squared away, arrange child-care, secure time off from work, etc.)

3. Prepare your family and friends that you will be gone from May-July. (Much more on that in Pass the Bar Exam including a full chapter on dealing effectively with friends, family, colleagues, supporters and saboteurs.)

4. Enroll is a reputable full service bar review company, a program that you trust and will follow.  If you want to get a head start, enroll now in a supplemental writing and/or PT course such as those offered by Professor Steve Bracci at and/or go to to sign up today.   If there is a particular law school course you did not take or feel weak in, now is a good time to take a special class on just that subject to fill in the gaps.

Now is the time to learn the subjects you will be tested on so that bar review is really a review.

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Law School and Bar Exam Success -Tips for 2014

Just returned from AALS conference in NYC.  Learned many new points, and also had many of my own theories and observations confirmed.  Seems the challenges are the same with law students (and likely students in most areas of education) all over the country.

Law students, though, know this:  all of your professors are in agreement; we want to do everything we can to help you excel in law school and to pass the bar exam first time around!

I will post about this again many times in the near future, but I want to start today thinking together about READING.  Yes, reading.

Seems like the simplest of concepts: law school requires a lot of reading. But the word is that many law students are not reading a lot, some not really much at all, and that many law students are not reading with the kind of focus and attention to detail that will help people thrive as lawyers. (Several professors had learned that many of their students were “Googling” the holdings of cases instead of reading the cases themselves in preparation for class.  Bad idea.  First, there are many errors on the internet.  And, perhaps more important, you will have to learn to brief cases on your own.  You’ll have to do it well and quickly on the performance test portion of the bar exam and in practice.

Many students fail the performance test portion of the bar exam because they do not know how to read and brief cases.  The only way to learn this is to do it.  Do it yourself.  Do it every day of law school.  Spend three long years, or four years for part-time law students, reading —read cases, hornbooks, and articles.  Read, read, read.

Why is reading so important for law students?  Because reading carefully and critically is the lifeblood of lawyers.  You have all heard about lawyers sued because they missed a word in a contract.  Makes sense, right?  Would you want to hire a lawyer to represent you if that lawyer were not on top of every single word?  What if a term for $100,000 were mis-written as “$1,000.”  Make a difference now?   What if the word “not” were overlooked?  (Imagine yourself being falsely accused of a crime. You want to plead NOT GUILTY.  But, your lawyer reads your email or text quickly and skips the work “NOT” —is the importance of every word clear now???)

I often begin many of my classes reading practice exams aloud, and asking my students to read out loud with me.  Inevitably, many law students complain. They feel insulted.  Why should I “waste” their time reading out loud?   Soon they learn.  1) I share my reading techniques (often “talking right back to the exam out loud as I read each word, analyzing its meaning as I hit each term), and 2) When my students read out loud, they often are hit hard with the realization that when they read the same material to themselves they skimmed and they missed words.  Sometimes, they didn’t know the meaning of a word, and simply “hoped” to get it with context clues.  They realize that may become a trap that quickly causes them to lose points.

As far as reading tips go, that was the focus of one of the meetings I attended this weekend.  Several professors were placed into small groups and we were asked to read certain documents and share our techniques with the larger group.  I worked with 4 other professors from all over the country; together we read a case.  It was fascinating.  We all interacted with the document in an extremely active way.  We ripped it apart.  We wrote all over it.  We “talked to it” —asking questions about what terms really meant, what hidden agendas might be behind the words.  We read and we re-read.  We looked at headings, dates, names of documents.  We looked carefully at quoted language.  We summarized and put the court’s words in our own words.   And, we all did this together, instinctively.

When we got back together and talked about it all, it was clear that we were trained this way.  Reading critically is habit.  But how to make this process habit for our students?

Law students reading this post: how do you read?  How carefully do you read? Do you understand what you read?  Do you take notes?  Do you skip words you don’t understand or do you look words up every time you do not fully understand the meaning of a term?

One of the things we law professors came up with is that we need to put reading exercises into class.  We need to give quizzes on the reading, have our students articulate what they have read, why it’s important, and where answers to certain questions come from in the reading.  We need to help people learn to read actively, learn how to note take and/or highlight meaningfully.  We need to share our techniques.  In my recent book Pass the Bar Exam: A practical guide to achieving academic and professional goals (ABA 2013) I spend a lot of time talking about reading with three senses: reading aloud so you hear the words and see the word, and touching each word as you read.  I believe strongly that this method of careful reading is one of the great keys to passing the bar exam.

One thing is abundantly clear, you, our students, you will do better in law school, on the bar exam, and in law practice the better your reading habits are.  Know that careful reading takes time, much more time than you would think.  Be patient.  Allocate a lot of time to reading.  Take breaks when you are tired.  Try reading aloud.  Try touching each word when you read.  Read with friends occasionally and test each other on what you are reading.  Make reading the highest priority.  Read, read, read.  Success will follow.


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Taking the February 2014 Bar Exam?

So, are you passing the February bar exam?  That is the question.  A crazy question you may say to yourself when likely you are just getting started with bar review.  Well, if you are taking the February bar exam, commit to PASSing the February Bar Exam: no ifs, ands, or buts.  Do not commit to trying to pass.  Commit to passing.

If you doubt yourself, you sabotage yourself.  Don’t do that.  Develop, and stick to 100% certainty —and putting every ounce of energy you have behind making this effort become a resounding success (a shouting from the rooftops success!).

Prepare your family and friends now for your being gone for the next couple of months.  Clear the decks.  You need their understanding.  This exam will take everything you have.

If you have non-bar exam obligations between now and March, try to handle as many of them now as possible, delegate or postpone, arrange for childcare, etc. Do what it takes to give yourself the tools you need for success.

And, remember, you are not just preparing to take a test.  You are preparing for battle.  You are going to war.  You must get yourself ready to soldier.  Boot camp begins now.

Post your study schedule somewhere you look every day, and somewhere the people who live with you can see (so they know when you are studying and when you can sit with and talk with them).

Know that these holidays will be different.   Sure, you can take off Christmas if you celebrate that, and New Years.  But the rest of the month, you must be studying.

Your family and friends may not get that, but they are not taking the exam.  You are.  They need you to pass.  And, you need you to pass.

Plan something very fun and rewarding for March.   Let people know you will be “back” then.  But for now, you need to focus.

And, you need total focus –none of this half-hearted studying while checking FB or texting.  No way.  No distractions.  Total focus.  How else will you be ready to give the exam your 100% undivided attention?  Start now.

So, are you ready to pass the bar exam???



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Free Contracts Review: Get set for Success!

Want help in understanding Contracts and getting ready for success on your contracts exams?  We would like to introduce you to PASS Academic Support and invite you to enroll in a complimentary contracts review course: Bracci on Contracts.  Enrollment is limited, so sign up for your free PASS account and enroll in this free course today using the Enrollment Key PASSContracts14.

In this course, Professor Steve Bracci explains contract law in simple easy-to-understand language.  Students will review and complete practice tests in main areas of contract law including contract formation (offer, acceptance, consideration and more), performance, breach (material breach and minor breach), contracts remedies (damages, restitution, specific performance), and contracts involving third parties (third party beneficiaries, assignments and delegations).

This course provides over 5.5 hours of lectures that put all the complex concepts you are learning into plain English.  Students will review how each item on the checklists work in Contracts, as well as review and write their own answers to 14 different hypotheticals. Professor Bracci will take you step-by-step through the checklist and teach you a logical method of approaching any contracts exam question.

If you are confused in contracts, or even if you have a solid understanding and just want a comprehensive review, this will clarify and make it all come together. It all starts with the checklists.  These are logical plans for how to approach all the main tested areas in the particular subject -constructed so as to help you learn in the way you will likely see the issues appear on exams.  For example, in most contracts questions, you will have to do a thorough analysis of formation issues before you can moving on to performance, breach and other discussable issues.  Unless the question says you are dealing with a valid contract, formation is at issue.  And, while offer and acceptance seem easy to understand, students often trip up when there are multiple communications, sometimes an offer is revoked, or there is a counter-offer.  You need to be able to stick to a logical approach that help you understand the whole deal — from formation to performance and every step in between.

This course is free until March 31, 2014, so sign up now.

Create a PASS Account then use Enrollment Key PASSContracts14

Login and Enroll Now

And when you are done with Contracts, feel free to browse our many other courses at

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