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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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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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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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Top Ten Reading Strategies for Success Exams

Just heard an amazing presentation from a colleague about the use of facts, or, more precisely, the failure to adequately use facts, being one of the most significant problems for law students on law exams.  An example was referenced regarding a cause of action that required that the party in question have a close relationship with the deceased in order to prevail.  A number of students missed key words that clearly revealed that relationship.

In order to write an effective exam answer, the first step is successfully reading the question –a topic I have frequently addressed in this blog and in my book, Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals  (which, FYI, can be as helpful while you are in school as when you are taking the bar exam.  Just replace the words “bar exam” with “final exams” as you read. You will get practical help right now and strategies for long range success.)

For all students reviewing your midterms and thinking about how to improve on final exams, here are today’s Top Ten Reading Strategies for Success on Law Exams:

  1. Read the fact pattern slowly.
  2. Read the fact pattern more than once.
  3. Start at the call of the question, then read the facts, then re-read as necessary, then outline, and then write your answer. (You must outline to organize before writing!).
  4. Read the facts aloud (under your breath, but so that you see and hear them at the same time.) By reading aloud and touching each word as you read, circling, underlining and highlighting as necessary, you read with three senses and are much less likely to miss key words and much more likely to see the significance of every critical word. (As noted in Pass the Bar Exam, all credit for teaching the power of reading with three senses to UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller).
  5. Interact with the reading.  Any time you see a word that triggers or possibly triggers an issue, write that in the margin. (So for example if on a criminal law exam you see a person “breaking” into a building, underline the word “breaking” and in the margin write: “burglary ?”)  Any time you think of a potential issue, note it either in the margin or on scratch paper.  Many students when polled after exams say they “saw” issues but forgot about them when writing their final answer.  (Credit here to one of my brilliant law professors, Kenneth Graham, for teaching us the power of writing in the margins, and not just highlighting but taking thoughtful notes while reading).
  6. Pause after each paragraph to think, then draw a line or make a note in the margin indicating what cause of action, crime, defense, or other legal theory these facts relate to.  (This is especially helpful if there are multiple interrogatories).
  7. Diagram the scene -especially helpful on real property exams; (Forgive the walk down memory lane but this point was reinforced every day I had the honor of being in the late great Jesse Dukeminier’s property class). 
  8. Make a chronology of important dates (particularly helpful in certain subjects such as contracts, causation in torts, or in community property, where key facts may be out of order and the order and/or dates may be legally significant).
  9. Circle parties’ names (all credit here to my colleague, Professor Steve Bracci, for constantly reminding students that the first time a party is mentioned in a bar exam fact pattern, there is often descriptive language about who that party is and the role that party will play in the “story.”  If later on as you read or write, you forget who someone is, just look for the circles and you see that description. By tracking parties throughout, (circling the first time and underlining the next times you see those names), you will connect key facts about those people that may be revealed at various points in the fact pattern. Bar Examiners and law professors love to put legally significant facts out of order to test whether students are reading carefully and thinking critically.  And,
  10. Cross out facts as you use them in your answer.  If while you are writing, you look back at the fact pattern and notice a whole paragraph where you have not crossed out any facts, ask yourself what is legally significant about the facts you have not yet used, what issues do they raise, how can they help you draft your answer.

 More suggestions on exam taking strategy to follow in future posts.

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Professor Berman’s Ten Top Tips for Ten Days Before the Bar Exam

In sessions I regularly lead each week before the bar we talk about pertinent issues of the week.  This week it’s all about how you are spending the last days before the exam.  Next week, we’ll walk through each exam day and evening and talk about how to stay strong until the last time is called, and how to prevent derailments.

Today, Professor Berman’s Ten Top Tips for Ten Days Before the Bar Exam:

1. Be sure you have your admission ticket. 

2. Read the rules on what you can and cannot bring into the exam.  (And, note differences on different bar days.  In some jurisdictions, MBE days have different rules.)

3. Keep working on one-page “cheat sheets” that summarize the main points of each of the tested subjects.

4. Keep reviewing practice questions and studying sample answers.  (Look out for frequently tested areas.)  At this point you may be issue spotting and outlining more than writing exams out in full, but still do some practice questions under timed conditions so you are on target with the speed as well as accuracy.

5. Continue training your critical reading skills.  Missing questions because you did not read carefully is most frustrating.  Keep practicing reading every word, and reading with your eyes, ears and fingers.  (Mark up fact patterns and write in the margins as you read, so you do not miss anything.)

6. Memorize rule statements.  Work those flashcards.  The biggest difference between knowing rules for MBEs and for Essays is that on the latter you have to be able to quickly and concisely articulate those rules.  So practice.  Practice writing rules, and saying them out loud.

7. Stay away from destructive people. (Re-read the section on Supporters and Saboteurs in Pass The Bar Exam.)

8. Make any last minute arrangements so there is nothing other than the bar exam to worry about during bar days. (Pay any outstanding bills, arrange for childcare, dog-sitting, etc.)

9. Take a minute to plan something fun for yourself and if you have a family or significant other you want to include do so.  It can really be helpful to have something to know you will be doing as a giant reward after that last time is called.  And it will really help keep those who love you from going stir crazy in the next two weeks just watching you.

10. Exercise and eat right.  It’s critical to maintain the stress levels now.  From this moment, until the last “time” is called by the proctors during your bar exam, you must stay strong and and be able to turn anxiety into action, and panic into power.

 

You got this!

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Taking the July 2014 Bar Exam? What are your main concerns now, looking forward?

It helps immensely, before you go in to intensive bar studying, to clarify what are your strengths and weaknesses, what are your fears and concerns.  I’ve had students come in  to my office and go through all the subjects tested on the bar, ordering them from strong to weak.  We then make a plan to spend extra time on the weaker subjects. What are your weaker subjects?

Other students come in and meet with me about distractions.  Some have family responsibilities and need help in explaining just what the bar exam will entail and how they must be “gone” for two months.  We set schedules, even “office hours” so family knows when the bar exam applicant will be gone and when s/he will be available.  Then we talk about sticking to the schedule.  If every day, you make excuses, bend the rules, and family see that you are not gone but still taking care of them, they will be more apt to interfere with your studying.  If you go to your study spot (a library, office, even a coffee shop) every day and you are gone, family and others may respect that you have set firm limits.  But also be sure to be home when you say you will be home.  They know when you will be available, and they’ll be better able to wait until you are there rather than interrupting you in the middle of the day.

One student came in a few weeks ago to tell me her mother expected her to be at a family reunion this summer.  But, she knew she should not go.  We talked about how to explain that.  What words to use.   Parents tend to think their soon-to-be lawyer children can handle everything –studying for the bar and being there at family events.  Unless they are lawyers, or other professionals, it may be very difficult for them to realize that you actually do need every minute of the next months for the bar exam.  Your job is to explain all of that now, clearly, before bar review begins.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming bar exam?  What will likely be your distractions?  And, what can you do now, to plan for success?

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