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Top Ten Reasons why People Fail the Bar Exam. And, how you can pass your next bar exam!

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You were not worried enough.You got by in law school—maybe not the top 10%, but hey, you passed, so you thought you’d nail the bar exam. Many people you know (some not nearly as smart as you) passed their Bar exam so you thought, “It can’t be that tough.”    It was that tough.

The bar exam is a whole different ball game, physically and mentally, from law school finals. First off, it is two full days, not a few hours. You will be exhausted, more tired than you’ve ever been in law school. Second, it is way more material than you’ve ever had to deal with on a single exam. Third, the anxiety level is much higher. People around you are terribly stressed out, and rightly so since so much of peoples’ future rides on that outcome.  Get with the program. Word hard, really hard, now; relax when you pass. If you’re working while studying, realize that you may not be able to do it all. Think about taking out a loan so you can give the Bar exam two totally concentrated months of full time study.

  • You were too worried. You were filled with so much anxiety that you cannot relax enough to learn the material.

To pass the bar exam, you have a lot to study and you are right to be concerned, but you cannot absorb the law if you are completely stressed. Stop. Slow down.  As you work toward success on your next bar exam, sleep more. Take breaks. Do deep relaxation and physical exercise. You cannot study effectively for 20 hours a day, and you don’t need to in order to pass. Just be diligent, disciplined and give it a good 6-10 hour day. Remember: slow and steady won the race. Also, realize you are dealing with more material, more subjects, but the depth of analysis is not nearly as intense as a law school final or law review article. You are not trying to be Justice Holmes, or have your Bar Exam answers published in the Harvard Law Review. You just want to pass.

  • You have not learned the law. Did you brief cases on your own in law school? All your cases Do you really know and understand what a case is—what the difference is between a holding and dicta? Do you know what an easement is? Do you understand UCC Section 2207? If you don’t REALLY get it, it o.k. to admit that now. You can learn before it’s too late. But don’t set yourself up to fail. We all know that people can get by in law school, passing all their classes without really ever having the whole process of legal analysis click.

To pass the bar exam this next time around, do what it takes to learn everything thoroughly.  Be able to teach every testable concept to someone else, know it that well.

 

  • You were the Dreamer. You went beyond the scope of the fact patterns. You read into things. You assumed facts not in evidence.

Next bar exam, read slowly and force yourself to stay awake. Recall what you read, take notes, and then analyze them thoroughly. Stay away from saying, “But what if the party were an adult?” If the facts say the party is a minor, work with that. Why bother with the “what ifs?” The party is a minor, period, end of story. Analyze the facts and the law accordingly.

  • You have weak reading comprehension skills. You really didn’t understand what you were reading. Either you were too nervous, trying to read too fast, or you had not trained your reading skills thoroughly enough.

The Bar Exam, like all standardized tests, is largely a test of reading comprehension. Your reading must be in top shape to pass.

Do lots of practice tests and study the model answers. Figure out what you did wrong. Re-read instructions. Also, if you want a good exercise: try reading, and summarizing in one to three sentences, all the articles in the opinion section of the newspaper each day; this will train your skills and keep you informed at the same time!

  • You are a Practicing Attorney in Another Jurisdiction. You were licensed to practice in another state, and trying to get licensed in a new state. You may have been practicing for years. You are angry at having to take the Exam in the first place. You are an attorney, after all. You are licensed. You have done your time. You shouldn’t be asked to have to take another test. It’s been a while since you were a student and you resent this imposition.  You are also knowledgeable in the real world.

It’s possible that you know too much, especially practical aspects of law. You think of too many realistic concerns and issues and get hung up on them. You need to pretend you are back in school. Think BIG issues, and write a complete analysis. And, stick to the fact pattern.  

This is not shorthand; you are not resolving a client’s problem on a bar exam essay question or an MBE. This is long hand. Give a complete analysis to prove your skills for the grader –demonstrating why the facts prove or disprove every element of every relevant rule.  You often get just as many points for showing why a plaintiff (or prosecutor) should not prevail on a bar exam as why another should prevail.

“Show the math.” In other words, make your reasoning explicit.  Write in step by step IRACs. Also, lay off the jargon unless terms are used in the problem. Don’t use flashy terms to impress the grader; you won’t. Don’t use “heretofore,” “the party of the first part” “said party” or “said issue.” Just write out a simple and logical IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion), in short but complete plain English sentences.

  • You have poor typing skills and/or you write illegibly. 

If the bar exam graders can’t read what you wrote, they won’t. They will not assume you wrote the right things. They will not give you the benefit of the doubt.  Sloppy careless typing or writing with major mistakes in spelling and grammar can bias a grader.  Lawyers are organized.  Present yourself on paper on your bar exam as you would in a job interview –as a competent, organized, clear-thinking and clear-sounding professional.

  • You didn’t manage time well enough. You didn’t bring a clock with you to the Exam, or you didn’t look at the clock you had. Either way, time ran away without you. You were caught with moments to go and unanswered or barely answered questions.

Even one question left unanswered or only partially answered is enough to fail you. Practice every day, under timed conditions.  Practice with a big, easy-to-read analog clock. (Read rules for your jurisdictions about what types of clocks or watches you may bring into the exam.)  And practice with the device you will bring in to the  bar exam with you.

  • You are not ready to be a lawyer. Maybe you went straight from college to law school, and are still a little overwhelmed. You may not even know for sure if you want to be a lawyer, and you are certainly not ready to have someone else’s life or financial future in your hands. This is common, and it is just fine.  Pass anyway; pass this next bar exam!

Many licensed lawyers do not practice law.  Getting your license does not obligate you to any kind of job, or life.  You don’t have to be an “unhappy stressed out lawyer.”  You can be and do anything you want.  Your law license will provide greater not fewer opportunities, in and outside of the law.  

If you are unsure about the career you want to pursue, put your doubts in a box until after you pass the Bar Exam.  Then research opportunities before accepting a law job. Don’t commit ahead of time to a job you are not ready to accept.  Know that there are enormous benefits to passing the bar exam and being licensed to practice even if you choose not to practice law.  And, after you take the bar exam (wholly focused on passing), meet with a trusted career advisor and think carefully about what you want. Read books on what successful people are doing with JDs.  Get informed, and keep every door open wide.  

  • You were simply unlucky last time. 

Some people do just have a bad day.  Family problems, physical accidents or other incidents happen just before or during bar exams.  Bar timing is rotten luck. If you are one of these people, just climb back on the saddle, and do it again. Pass this next bar exam.

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More info to help you pass the bar exam in Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals.  You will get there.  The next bar exam is yours to pass!

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The True “Secret” to MBE Success: Ten Tips on How to Study for the MBE:

I am, frankly, a little tired of hearing so-called bar exam “experts” telling students that success on the MBE depends on “tricks,” “shortcuts” and “secrets.”  No!  The big “secret” –shssshhhhh, get ready…  learn the law!

Success on the MBE depends on two things: knowing the law in great detail on seven subjects and reading critically.

Understand the ins and outs of criminal law and criminal procedure, torts, contracts, real property, evidence, constitutional law, and civil procedure, and you put yourself on the path to MBE success.  Train critical reading under timed conditions and you move forward on that path to MBE success.

To do this you will need to review all the MBE tested subjects and complete daily (or very regular) sets of practice MBE questions.  Then study explanatory answer.  And here I mean study.   Don’t just casually skim through answers.  Read every word and make sure you understand why every correct answer is correct and why every wrong answer is wrong.

One of my colleagues, when describing just how depending MBE success is on understanding the law, said, “If there are “tricks,” you can’t even see them until you know the law well enough to understand how the examiners may be leading you down the correct or incorrect path with a particular answer choice.”

So, here you are, just over two months before the bar exam, can you do it?  Can you learn all that law?  Yes!  It is not easy.  You must cram a ton of information in your head.  But it is do-able.  First, though, stop looking for shortcuts and get into a serious work groove.

Think about it this way, if you needed to go hire a lawyer to help you, would you want the one who found the tricks to get by, or the one who slid just barely in without really knowing what he or she was talking about?  Or, would you want to hire the person who worked his or herself to the point of true understanding, someone who really gets it. Be the lawyer you would want to hire.

Ten Tips on How to Study for the MBE:

  1. Take a  reliable bar review course that gives you detailed materials with which to learn now only main rules but exceptions (and exceptions to exceptions), such as #PMBR.
  2. Practice sets of MBE questions every day.  Do MBEs as a “habit” or “ritual,” at the same time each day.  For example, complete your daily set of MBEs with coffee when you wake in the morning, or at the end of the day before your pre-sleep routine, or both.
  3. Approach each question with a strategy, reading the call of the question, then the fact pattern, then the call, and then considering each answer choice. More on this in Chapter 8 of Pass the Bar Exam.
  4. Work on timing and stamina.  Start with a small number of MBE questions in each sitting each day now, then build up the quantity (while keeping the timing), just as you would build muscle when starting a weight lifting routine.You need to be able to comfortably complete 100 questions in a three-hour period.  Start now with 5 questions in 10 minutes or so.  (If you need more time initially, that’s ok, but increase your speed incrementally each week.)  Build up to doing 17 questions in 30 minutes, 33 in an hour, 66 in two hours, and by mid-July you should practice at least several sets of 100 in three hours.
  5. Train deep understanding.  Now, which it is still a long time before your bar exam, take as long as you need to study the answers to your daily sets of 5 MBEs, so that you clearly see why the wrong choices are wrong and why the correct answer choice is the “best” one.   Note: the best answer may not be perfect, but there is a reason why it is deemed the best of the four.  Don’t fight the question or answer and get angry that it is not the perfect answer as you may have learned it in law school.  Just understand why it is considered the best of the four choices and understand that reason so clearly that you could easily explain it to a 1L if you were tutoring someone.
  6. Read carefully.  Practice reading with sight, hearing, and touch.  Read each word aloud (mumbling under your breath) while touching each word on the screen with your finger.  So many students tell me that just switching to reading questions and explanatory answers aloud was the step that improved their MBE scores more than any other single strategy.
  7.  Practice on paper.  Practice some MBEs regularly on paper.  At the very least, complete your 5 morning and/or evening sets on paper and the others in bar review on line. (On line tracking is helpful to see where your strengths and weaknesses are, so you know which subjects and which kinds of questions you need to study in greater details.) When completing paper MBEs , touch each word as you read aloud (mumbling under your breath), with your pencil, circling,or underlining key words.
  8. Don’t get discouraged.  Remember, every question you get wrong now is the opportunity to get it right on the exam.  It’s good to miss questions in practice so you see how to improve, fill in knowledge gaps, and correct any misunderstanding of rules of law and applying them to fact patterns.
  9.  Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. All of that will help you come to each practice question sharp, alert, and with a mindset that is ripe for learning and training your skills and packing knowledge into your brain. It is hard to learn when you are too exhausted or stressed out to absorb information.
  10. Train other parts of your bar exam as well as MBEs, so that you are completely ready for everything you will be tested on.  Remember that MBE fact patters resemble mini-essays.  Know the difference: with MBEs you know the rules and analyze how the facts apply to those rules in your head and simply bubble in the best choice.  With Essays, you must write rules from memory and then articulate explicitly how the facts prove or disprove each element of each rule.  The process is similar but not identical.  Resist temptations to practice only MBEs.  Practice MBEs, Essays, and Performance Tests (if they will be on your bar exam).

Avoid fear-mongers or scammers who tell you there are tricks or shortcuts.  Solid hard work, strategically implemented, is the path to success on the MBE.  Spend extra time you might have studying and training with practice exams rather than seeking “magic bullets.”   And, if you need reliable information about the MBE, go to the source: http://www.ncbex.org/exams/mbe/

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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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Are you studies ever hampered by procrastination?

A great read that may help combat procrastination and get back on law school and bar exam success is at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2016/03/a-plethora-of-procrastinators.html

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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!

IRAC or IRPC?

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Failed the Bar Exam? No, you just haven’t passed yet! February is your exam to PASS!!!!

“To bear failure with courage is the best proof of character that anyone can give… ” Maugham, W. Somerset

One of the biggest barriers repeat takers face is moving past the hit to your confidence.  Even for people who accurately diagnose what needs to be fixed, it may be rough to shake off bad feelings. Remember, you are not a failure. You never have been.  You never will be.  This is not a referendum on who you are or what you are capable of.  It is news, not good news but news that can inform you if you let it.  You can learn a great deal about what path to take next on your road to success. 

Learn from your past; don’t let it define you. If you weren’t frustrated you would not be normal. How can someone invest so much and not be. You put in years of study –your time, your money, your sweat and your pride. But, you are not alone, and you can turn it around. You did not pass this past bar exam, but you did not fail as a person. Once you get over the disappointment, you can turn this into a challenge, go into problem solving mode –figure out how to pass next time. If you think “success” means never failing, think again. Learn from this so-called failure and make it your step to success this next bar exam.

 

The passage above is excerpted from Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals, http://www.passlaw.com/pass-the-bar-exam-aba-publishing-2013/ 

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The Power Trio of MBEs, Essays & Performance Tests

http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/cypress/nationaljurist0215/#/28

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7 Tips to Prevent Bar Exam Burnout

Note: This post is relevant to everyone studying. Whether you are in high school, college, law school or any other graduate study, if you are giving it your all, you will burn out from time to time. Here’s how to re-charge!  

You are perfectly normal if you are thinking, “Not another day of this stuff!  I cannot handle any more studying.  Not another lecture, paper, or practice test.  I need to sleep.  I need a day off.  I need my life back!” You will have your life back when exams are over.  But, for now, “Another day of this” is precisely what you must do. Another, and another, and another –all in  high gear.  You must remain totally motivated, batteries fully charged, util the last “time” is called on the last day of your last exam.  For the upcoming bar exam, that is a full month away still.  So you have lots of time.  But you must make the most of it.

How to re-charge?  How does one maintain that kind of persistent motivation?   It’s not easy.  I remember the first week of July when one of my classmates said, “Just bring it on already.  I am so [expletive] sick of studying.  I just want the test now.  I’m tired.”  I have to confess at the time I felt so un-ready for the Exam that I could not relate at all.  I wanted every single day that remained to practice.  I wanted every minute to get ready.  I was happy to wait.  But, I can relate now.  Thousands of students later, I see how some people have just had it even by this time.  Others want even more time to pull it all together.  (They wish the exam were two more months later.) Wherever you fall on this spectrum, give yourself a break if you are feeling stressed and burned out. Stress and burnout are normal

Bottom line, you have no choice.  You are taking this exam at the end of this month, are you better believe with all your heart, soul, and might that you going to pass!  Done deal.  No options.  (To quote Apollo 13: “Failure is not an option.”)

What will you do on actual bar exam days?  You will go in and do your very best. That is what you owe yourself.  That is what must be done.  So, how do you get through from now until then?

Here are 7 Tips to Prevent Bar Exam Burnout:

1) Exercise. 

Most people are stressed, quite normally so.  The best way to burn off the excess stress is to burn it out, with exercise.

Do something active every single day.  Walking, yoga, biking, swimming, weight lifting, jogging, spinning, skating.  Whatever you do, don’t skip a day.  You must think of time exercising as an investment in your own success.  It is never a waste of time.  (If you simply cannot justify taking “time off” to exercise, then study while you are on a treadmill, or walk while playing a bar review lecture in headphones (or listening to a recording of yourself reading rule statements, see below.)

2) Pace yourself. 

Take breaks.  Remember even during the bar, you get close to a 2 hour lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions.  So, feel free to take long lunches now, each day.  Stop fully and relax.  Then get back into it.  And, when you’ve put in a full day of studying, take off at night to relax before you get a good night’s sleep.  And, make sure to get a good night’s sleep, each and every night.

3) Reward Yourself –daily and weekly.

Give yourself some daily reward.  At the end of each evening, do something before you go to sleep that acknowledges a hard day’s work.  (For some, that’s a mindless TV show.  For others, a glass of wine.  For others, a few minutes on social media.) And, give yourself a bigger treat to mark the end of each week of hard work.  Every Sunday night, for example, go out to a really nice dinner, or watch a movie.

4) Plan (and book) an after-bar vacation.  For those in college or graduate school, plan something fun for Spring break and summer!

Schedule something as soon as possible after the exam, something you really look forward to.  Just thinking about that and knowing that you have something definite in August will help alleviate some of the burnout today.  It can also be a great way to reward family and a significant other for letting you have time and space to study this June and July.

5) Shake up your study routine.

If you are tired of reading quietly, read aloud to yourself.  One of my students found the way to keep motivated (and better retain the material) was to read aloud in a funny accent and record her voice reading rules.  She played them back to herself  while driving and laughed while learning.

Try charting, try flashcards, try re-typing sample answers.

Study in a different location one day.  Explain the rules/theories you are most afraid will be tested on the bar exam to a lay person.  (If you can explain something correctly to someone else, likely that means you have mastered it.)

Variety can go a long way to helping stop burnout before it drags you down.

6) Get comfortable with “practice test days.”

Practice days are critical.  They will help you train the skills to pass.  And, if your practice work has simulated the intensity of the real thing, you will be able to walk in to the actual exam with power and strength.  You will have a  ”been there, done that” attitude and confidence.

7) Above all, be kind to yourself.

This IS one of the hardest times in your life, one of the steepest mountains you will ever have to climb.  The good news is, once you get through, it’s a lifetime license.  You never have to do it again.  Just pay your yearly dues and remain ethical, and you’ll keep your license for life.

PS. Be sure to eat lots of chocolate, and ice cream!  It won’t add brain cells, but it should put a smile on your face!!!!!

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