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Organize and Outline Before Writing

Here’s an example of why it helps to organize and outline.  Version A below shows how you might “tell” a friend about your dinner, bouncing from appetizer to dessert then back to main course, throwing in a random note about the server, the company, etc. But if you are writing an exam or a paper to turn in to a professor, Version B is better. The clear organization of Version B shows the reader exactly where your thoughts are starting, heading, and concluding.  The words, “The company was great, the food delicious, and the service superb” tell the grader/reader to expect that you will first discuss the company, then the food, and then the service.  They know what to expect; you deliver.  And, notice the difference in slang and tone in A versus B.  Try hard to use a more professional writing tone when writing for school than you would, for example, when texting with friends.

Most of us do not “talk” like Version B.  So, we have to take extra time before writing, to plot out (brainstorm about) everything we want to say, put it into a logical order (outline), then write using your outline as your “road map.”

Practice with topics you like and are comfortable talking about, such as food, and see if you can transfer the organizational process to writing for your courses and/or exams.


Version A

We ate at Chic.  It was so good!  Steak was awesome.  It should get a Michelin star. Waiter was so cool, nicest dude ever, came back after every course asking how we were. He killed it.  Chic is new restaurant.  My soup was yummy.  The strawberry shortcake rocked. Fresh tomatoes from vine and strawberries like they were picked just before dessert.  Oh, the bread on the soup, actually on the side of the soup –appetizer was a soup and grilled cheese combo thing. That bread was freshly baked deliciousness. Waiter brought soup out in a kick-ass ceramic bowl and told us all about the origins of every food on the table.  Steak was perfectly cooked, served on a cedar plank.  Bill is doing well.  So are Susie and John.  We all picked up right where we left off.  I used to work with them every day and haven’t seen them for ages, but we still have so much in common.

Version B

I went with Susie, Bill, and John to Chic Restaurant last Tuesday.  We had a wonderful evening.  The company was great, the food delicious, and the service superb.

The company: Susie, Bill, and John

Susie, Bill, and John are former co-workers. They are each funny and bright.  We used to work side-by-side every day, and it was heart-warming to catch up with them and realize we still had so much in common.

The food: stylish comfort cuisine

This new restaurant served “comfort foods” in truly a chic manner.  (They earned their name as Chic Restaurant.)  For my appetizer I ordered a mouthwatering tomato bisque garnished with rustic grilled cheese.  It was presented in beautiful ceramic dishes with a garnish of fresh herbs. The cheese, a sharp cheddar, was perfectly melted in between two slices of a right-out-of-the-oven sourdough delight.  That bread was amazing.  It reminded me of the safety and security of Mom’s after school snacks with the exquisite flavors of gourmet bread, cheese, and vine-ripened tomatoes. My main course was a perfectly cooked and seasoned steak, served on a cedar plank.  And, my dessert was an outrageously whipped cream covered strawberry shortcake.  I shared it, but could have eaten the whole thing myself it was so tasty.

The service: 5 Stars

The fellow who waited on our table, it seemed, knew every item on the menu. He not only described in detail how every dish was prepared but told us the origins of all the ingredients, where the produce was grown, where the meats were raised, and more. He made us feel welcome, and continued to be attentive throughout our entire meal. The graciousness and knowledge of the server helped make the entire dining experience a truly lovely one.

I am not sure what the newspaper reviews of Chic Restaurant will look like, but in my book it should definitely get a Michelin star.


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Final Exam Success Tip of the Day

Many law students and college students are in the home stretch now, with final exams in the next two months.  That seems like a long way off.  It is not.  Now is the time to start thinking about finals –not the week before the exam.

It is an empowering feeling to walk into a final exam ready and prepared to the best of your ability.  It is an uncomfortable destructive feeling to go into an exam knowing you are winging it.  The choice is yours.  Start now!

How to take advantage of the lead time?

  • Prepare a timeline.  Note when any papers or other assignments are due between now and final exams.  Note when each of your exams will take place.  Write what each exam will test and in what format.
  • Try to clear your calendar as much as possible to prioritize your studies in these last laps. Tell people (family, friends, etc.) you will see them more in June (or after your exams are completed) and lay the groundwork to declining all social invitations when you need to prioritize studying.  Say No to any new commitments such as with organizations, clubs, and internships.
  • Plan a study schedule that allows you to spend time on each course respectively –paying attention to factors that allow you to determine which finals (which courses) will demand more of your time and energy to adequately prepare.

Future posts will provide other final exam preparation tips, but, for Today’s Tip of the Day, as part of your slow and steady final exam preparation:

  • Find out if any of your professors have released any of their former exams and if so, get copies of those exams.  Exams given by your professor(s) in the past will often give you insights into how particular professors test, what might be covered on the exam, etc.  In addition, it can be helpful try to obtain “practice exams” from other professors who have taught the same course.  It can be helpful to take past exams as practice exams, under timed conditions, to prepare.

Set yourself up for success.  Start on finals preparation now!

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Collecting Bar Exam War Stories

For years I have collected bar exam war stories, and I am renewing that mission now. Many have heard tales of something horrible that happened during the bar exam: earthquakes during the bar exam, people passing out during the bar exam, and applicants continuing to write as a fellow test taker was taken out of the bar exam test site on a stretcher. But there are so many untold near tragedies, and a few really comic ones at that.  Do tell!

Just a few days ago a student told me that on Tuesday of this past February Bar exam in California, apparently the fire alarm went off at 8:45 am, at the Ontario location. Allegedly the bar exam applicants all had to leave their seats and started moving towards the exits, just minutes before start time.  Thankfully, the situation was resolve and they did not lose any time in taking the actual exam.

A recent graduate told my class of her stories of being seated near the back of the room during her bar exam, close enough to the bathrooms to literally hear people throwing up throughout the exam.  She said in a perverse way it made her feel better.  (She may have been nervous but at least she wasn’t literally sick, she was better off than the folks she was hearing through the walls.)

A close friend of mine had a contact lens drop out on day one of his bar exam, just as he was about to read the first essay.  (He did not have glasses with him.)

What is your bar exam horror story?  Please share!!

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How Quickly Do You Answer Essay Questions?

Slow down!   Consider this strategy for & essays.
     -Read very slowly and carefully. Read fact patterns three or four times. Read while touching each word with your pencil or finger.
     -Ask what every fact relates to.
     -Show how facts support or refute each side’s arguments with respect to every main (or possibly disputable) issue.
     -Organize thoughts.
     -Outline your answer.
     -Then write.
     -Proofread if you have time.
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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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How many Practice Tests should I do to pass the bar exam?

How many #barexam practice tests should you do?  Well, think about how many practice shots great athletes take?  Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Many of my students who passed this last bar exam completed anywhere from 3000-5000 multiple choice questions, another 30-50 essays, and at least 1-2 dozen performance tests.

It’s not all about quantity.  Vince Lombardi put it this way: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”  With bar exam studies, you get to the perfection (or competence —after all, it’s a pass fail test!) by practicing and learning and improving from quality sample answers.

So how many practice questions should you do?   A whole lot, with quality study of reliable sample answers –working every step of the way to improve.  Start now!


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Taking the July 2016 Bar Exam? Think “tortoise and hare.”

This year is a tough time to be graduating law school and taking a bar exam.  It may be one of the most challenges years in decades.  I hear students every day expressing fear –justifiable fears. The headlines are all about the lowering pass rates, and varying opinions about the causes for such falls.

The fears are certainly justified.  But is wallowing in fear the best place to invest your energies?  Not if you are going to sit for an upcoming bar exam.  No way.

Enough of the negatives.  If you are currently in law school now, especially if you have made it through your first year, you don’t have to buy in to the fear-mongering.  If you are taking the bar exam this July 2016 or in the next couple of years, you must fight back.

If you are sitting for the July bar exam, do not read the bad press now.  It will distract and discourage you. Instead, focus your energy on doing everything you can do work to pass this upcoming bar exam.  You have invested too much to succumb to fears at this point.

The bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint.  You are running your last laps.  Now is not time to rest before summer.  Now is the time to lay the solid foundation so that bar review is really “review.”

Do not wait.  Start now.  You have months to go.  Use them.  There is much time left to learn the law you will need to know and to master the skills necessary to pass the essays, MBEs and performance tests, but there will not be that much time if you wait until July.

Even for top students from top schools, it is not easy to pull a “two-monther” –the bar exam equivalent of an all-nighter.  Starting now allows the material to sink in slowly and steadily.  Starting now allows for the skills to build, like muscle.

Would you advise someone seeking to get fit to wait until just before the big event to start a diet and fitness routine?  No, you would tell them to get started.

But, students ask, “How can I make time now?  I am too busy.”  So many students are busy during law school, incredibly busy. They are working to pay for the steep tuition, they are caring for family members, they are volunteering in organizations, clerking, interning, serving as T.A.s and Mentors for 1Ls.  They spend time commuting.  They spend time networking and building resumes to improve their odds of finding jobs when they graduate.  All the law students I know are busy.  But as hard as it is, you will serve yourself better by doing what it takes to pass the bar exam first time around than doing almost anything else.  Students must tear themselves away from many of these commitments and get to the daily “heavy lifting” of studying and taking (and learning from) practice tests now.  Not in June, not in July; you must start now.

As I wrote in Pass the Bar Exam, you are not a statistic. I teach some students who have a nearly 100% chance of passing based on the most reliable indicators of bar passage.  I teach many others whose chances of passing are statistically much lower. There is often just as much anxiety among those nearly certain to pass as among those who have lower statistical success rates. There is one critical difference. The nervousness of those more statistically likely to pass is nonetheless grounded in a belief that they will ultimately pass.  But bar exam applicants from pools with lower pass rate indicators often harbor deep concerns that they may not pass.

In order to pass, you must not only change your study approaches, you must change your attitude.  No matter your “statistical chance” of passing, you must understand the tools in your arsenal and use them to the best of your ability.

As the saying goes, Study hard and study smart.  But get studying now –study slowly and steadily.  Do not waste any precious time wallowing in the negatives, 0r, worse still, the potential negatives. You can do this!


Note: If you need information on specifically what work to get a head start with, talk with your ASP/Bar Success faculty, and read Pass the Bar Exam.



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Bar Review Starts: You CAN PASS this coming Bar Exam!

Here are excerpts from a talk I gave my students when they began bar review:

You are competing in the July 2015 Olympic Games, your Olympic Games.  You qualified to compete. We watched you, this Saturday at Graduation.  You proved yourselves these past three or four years.  Now, what do Olympians in training need after qualifying?

1) The ability, which you have!

2) A great coach, and we and your bar review are here for you as coaches.  And,

3) Time focused on hard work.  Hard work —every day, sweating, falling down and getting hurt but getting back up and trying again, every day all day until “the games” begin.

This is your two months. It is all about you.  You have everything you need.  Now bring it.

Bring your grit, your commitment, your stubborn need to learn as much as you can and get as competent as possible in taking Essays, MBEs and PTs. Those are the three events you are competing in!  Just as the athlete in your shoes is now ready to give it her all, you too must you give this your all.

You must need to pass.  Don’t just want it. Don’t just try. Need this. Hunger for it. Push for it. Do everything in your power to make it happen.

Now take a moment and picture yourself at the Swearing In ceremony after you pass the exam. That is our Medal Ceremony. Imagine yourself raising your right hand and taking the attorney’s oath as the newest members of the state bar.  It will be a day of joy, of pride –your sense of accomplishment will be unparalleled.

Keep that image concrete in your mind.  Then stop thinking about what is next. Just get licensed.  Have that power tool in your arsenal: your law license.  Then, decide what to do with it later. If you have a job, great; don’t think about it until August.  If you don’t have a job, don’t worry about it until August.  Everything is on hold until August. Whatever you decide to do in the future, you will be better served because of the effort you put in now.

Everything is about now, about this summer.  Get as much as you can out of every minute of every lecture; read, study, and practice, practice, practice.  

Remember, you CAN do this!  You can pass this bar exam!!!

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The Power Trio of MBEs, Essays & Performance Tests

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