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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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MBE Strategy: Get Ready for Success in July!

The most important part of MBE work in  May and June for July takers is daily, repetitive, completing of questions and carefully studying explanatory answers.  Study must include why the wrong answer picks are wrong and why the correct answer was correct; the more detailed your learning the better.

MBE questions are much like essay questions, only with pointed answer choices. Each wrong choice takes you down an incorrect reasoning path or an incorrect understanding of the law.  The more thoroughly you debrief after completing practice sets the better your understanding.  For that reason, I often suggest that at the beginning of bar review you do fewer questions if need be but really try to understand them thoroughly.  I urge you to complete regular sets of MBE questions every single day, as a ritual.

As the summer goes on, increase the numbers of questions you complete each day, and be sure to do some full sets of 100 questions to train your endurance. Also increase your speed so that you get to completing questions in 1.8 minutes per question by mid-late June.

One of my students who just passed the February Bar Exam said he only had time to complete 17 MBE questions daily, but he did them (in one half hour) every single day for months before passing the bar exam.  He spent 30 minutes completing the daily sets and 30 minutes reviewing the answers. One hour on MBEs religiously every single day, and slow and steady won the race.

How many MBEs are you doing each day?

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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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The Power Trio of MBEs, Essays & Performance Tests

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

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Bar Exam Debriefing

Celebrated this weekend with some of my students (recent graduates) who took the July Bar Exam.  They said essays and MBEs went well but Performance Tests threw them.  (Current law students, heads up.  Start PT practice now!!)

One of my greatest joys as a professor is having students who graduated want to step up to help me to help their future classmates pass the exam.  They call it “paying it forward.” They volunteer to mentor, or they share their stories.

If you took the bar exam, write in and tell me what if anything threw you, and what advice you have to help future takers.  Eager to hear!

 

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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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Student’s “Aha Moment” distinguishing essay and MBE strategies

So recently I was meeting with a student, going over one of his essays.  I wrote red marks all over it, and he was trying to understand all of my comments and make the improvements needed to pass the bar exam this July.

We talked about each comment, and nearly every one he nodded, acknowledging that he understood my critique and suggestions and saw how to improve.  (Key by the way, is for law students to see how to improve before getting to bar review so that during bar review you are training the already established good habits!)

One major problem with his writing was organization.  And, one problem he repeated was including attacking the elements of the prima facie case as a defense strategy under the heading of “Defenses,” rather than including those “attacks” in his analysis of the relevant elements of the discussion of the cause of action and reserving discussion of affirmative defenses for the section headed “Defenses.”  This might not seem important, but I think it was, in how his writing presented.

Let me illustrate.  Let’s say a student were discussing a negligence issue.  So, under Duty and Breach (the first elements of the prima facie case) the student should have discussed all the applicable reasons why, given the facts in the fact pattern), the defendant met or failed to meet the standard of care.  For instance, let’s say the student wanted to say that P would argue D breached a duty by failing to inspect a tear in the carpet, and that the student predicted that the Defendant in the situation would argue that she had no duty to inspect the carpet, for certain reasons.  (If she had no such duty, then she didn’t breach any duty, and the Plaintiff’s case would lose.)  Instead of discussing that under Duty, he put it under defenses.  Now, it is absolutely true that a main defense strategy is to poke holes in the plaintiff’s case.  But bar graders will likely expect to see the entire discussion about breach of duty under Duty and Breach in the Plaintiff’s case for Negligence.  (That means, all of the factual argument why there was or was not a duty and why D did or did not breach any such duty.)  In the section of the essay answer the student labeled defenses, the grader would expect to see any relevant issues the defense might raise affirmatively, for instance whether the Plaintiff himself satisfied or failed to satisfy his own duty of due care, i.e.  whether the plaintiff was contributorily or comparatively negligent.

My question was why the student wrote/organized this way.  After our discussion it became clear that he was focused on MBE strategies of “knocking out” the plaintiff, at Plaintiff’s failure to prove all the elements of the prima facie case before using affirmative defenses –in order to choose the “best” answer (if there were two “correct” answers).  This MBE strategy became muddled with essay writing and he lumped the attacks on the Plaintiff’s case together with the Defendant’s affirmative defenses, precisely because, when he thought of defenses he had trained himself to stop and think, “Well, wait, is there any way I can knock out the P’s case first?”

Not sure if this makes sense to any readers, but it made perfect sense to both my student and myself.  I predict with every confidence that his writing will change radically after our meeting, and after studying sample passing answers for both content and organization. Why?  Because the need to make the change now made sense to him. It wasn’t just that someone was telling him, Write this way, or Write that way, but we were discussing why.

I recently was honored to have a judge speak in one of my classes as a guest lecturer.  He talked about how one main difficult new lawyers seemed to have was really getting a handle on the case as a whole, who wanted what and why, who was entitled to what and why –the big picture.  To me, it was as if he were saying the details would never quite flow correctly if the new lawyer didn’t see the whole.

In some ways, maybe legal education helps students see only segmented slices and not the whole.  For many of my students, taking part in trial advocacy and clinical classes and other practical, experiential learning is the transition that they need to see the big picture.  For students who don’t have time to take such classes, I suggest a few trial advocacy type books:  Trial Advocacy in a Nutshell by Professor Paul Bergman, or Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case by Professors Paul Bergman and Sara Berman.

And, students, especially if you are taking the July bar exam, go now to talk with your ASP and Bar Support faculty.  Do practice tests now and start studying sample answers.  Start training the good habits by learning how to write effective bar essay and PTs.

 

 

 

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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 passlaw.com and/or go to courses.passlaw.com 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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Bar Exam Applicants: Have you done your “Daily MBEs” –and have you done your daily physical exercise??

So I have been saying for years that leading up to the bar exam, students in their last year of law school and anyone in bar prep should be taking daily practice tests under timed conditions and studying model answers.

Why practice tests to help prepare for success on the bar exam?

  • Learning from practice tests helps you understand rules in context, so you learn rules, how to apply them, and you are less likely to forget them.
  • Taking a fixed (but certain) quantity of practice questions each day is do-able.  (It’s like a 15 minute walk.  More on that below.)  It’s not like sitting down and suddenly forcing yourself to complete 100 questions in three hours and then getting so freaked out you don’t want to practice at all, and just go into the bar exam “hoping” you’ll do fine.  (Not a good strategy!)
  • You train skills and substance at the same time, making practice test study a good “bang for the buck.”

Why exercise every day while preparing to pass the bar exam?

  • You will have more energy for learning and memorizing when you exercise regularly.
  • You will release the inevitable stress build up.
  • You will think more clearly.
  • You will have a better attitude.

As to that last point, attitude, it’s key!  I remind all my students loudly and frequently, you can choose to think of the bar exam as “torture” if you want.  But you can also look at it as a door to a lifetime of  opportunity.  And, remember, if you completed law school you worked hard to earn the right to take this exam.

So??  Have you completed your daily practice tests and exercise???  If not, get moving!

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