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A Major Shift
We’re currently doing a podcast series about some shifts to take as you think about study for the bar exam. The concept of study shifts is really suggested by a book called “Shift” by Peter Arnell, in which he talks about making some fairly significant changes in the way you do things in your life, in order to get different results. In this post, I want to talk about a shift that may be a bit surprising: It’s a shift about thinking, with respect to when you should start study for the bar exam.
Let me first describe what the basic premise is around when to start studying for the bar exam. Most people take their exam, whether it’s the first time, or multiple exams over a period of time, with the notion of coming out of law school, typically at the end of a third or fourth year of school, and doing nothing but studying for the bar, for an intense period of six or seven weeks. That is the presumed norm and what most people think they’re going to do. Now, nationally for about 40 to 50 percent of the people that do that, they will pass the bar. That’s the national pass rate on the bar exam. But that means that there’s an awful lot of people for whom that norm doesn’t work very well.
Now, if you’re going to an ABA-approved, top 50 law school, and you’re in the top half of the class, and you’re a prodigious studier, and you’ve paid attention all the way through law school, and you’re not going to do anything after you graduate from law school except study for the bar for six or seven weeks, a traditional bar review course in that time frame will probably work for you. You’ve got a better than average chance of passing, but that’s a relatively small number of people that we’re talking about there.
On the other hand, if you’re not attending an ABA top 50 law school, if you’re not in the top half of the class in a top school or, worse yet, if you’re attending a correspondence law school, or a state-approved law school, or if you’re in the bottom half of a bottom-tiered law school, or even the top half of a bottom-tiered law school, or if English is not your first language, or if you have failed the bar exam previously, you’ve got a problem. In any of those situations, if you wait until six or seven weeks before the bar exam to start studying, your chances of passing the test drop dramatically.
I used to say that based on experience. Now we see it empirically. Nationally, you’re probably experiencing a less than 25% chance of passing if you’re in one of those “at-risk” categories. Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t pass or you can’t pass, but here’s the shift you have to make. You must begin your studies NOW.
Too often, what occurs is that we start thinking that because the big box bar reviews say to wait until 6-7 weeks before the test to study that must be the best practice. Unfortunately, it’s just the opposite.
Why the Big-Box Bar Reviews Want a 7-Week Study Plan
Let me give you some insight into why that six or seven week period exists.
This is the way the thought process goes (I can say this confidently, having run one of the big bar exams for several years):
A large bar review company has a huge expense in putting on their bar review courses. Typically, they try to do them in some combination of live lecture, although that’s less and less these days. Essentially, what they want to do is get as many bodies into seats for a relatively short period of time. Now, some of the bar review companies pay inflated premiums to law schools for the use of rooms in the off season. Some of them pay over-inflated prices to professors at certain schools, to get them to come in and read scripts for them as a marketing tool to have a foot into a particular school.
In both of those situations, what’s happening is that the bar review company is essentially saying, “We want to maximize our revenue, and minimize our outgo, by having a relatively short period of time in which we’re conducting the courses.” As a result, the historical tradition was, that you would take six or seven weeks, put everybody in, crowd them in as tightly as possible, bring as many lecturers in as quickly as possible, and get through the course in that short time frame. Now, that makes for a wonderful business model, if you think about it. If you can put a lot of people in, you’re certainly paying the same amount for the room, whether there’s 10 people in the room or 100 people in the room. You’re paying the same amount for the professor, whether they’re 10 people listening or 100 listening.
The economics makes sense for the large bar reviews, then, to push everything into that one short time frame, before the February exam and before the July exam. The problem is, that it’s really bad pedagogy. You see, virtually no one who’s involved with teaching, would tell you that the best way to learn, is to cram or study for 12 to 14 hours a day non-stop for six or seven weeks, trying to push it all into your brain and then, somehow, in a burst of adrenaline over two or three days, you spit all that back out on the exam. The reality of the numbers prove that out.
Most people that go through a traditional big-box bar review course don’t pass for this simple reason. In fact, if you look at a jurisdiction like California or New York that has a low pass rate, (in the 30 percentile range), you’ll really see how fouled up that approach is.
A Better Approach to Study
What’s the better approach… what’s the shift? Many years ago, one of the things that I realized was that people learn much better if they took small incremental steps in learning new material. This is called spaced repetition or the “stair step approach”. The idea is to learn a little bit, wait for a few days, go to the next step and repeat plus add some new material, wait a few more days then repeat, add new material and go to the next step, then to the next step, and then to the next step. To do that requires time. This is an incremental approach and it consistently returns better results for learners and test takers. Instead of trying to study for 12 hours a day, you study for one or two hours a day, maybe four or five days a weeks, but over a period of four or five months.
Now, some of you are undoubtedly saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t have four or five months to study.” If you have to take an exam, and you’re now in something like three months or less until the test, you don’t have much choice. You’re going to have to simply knuckle down and do it. I think home study gives you tremendous advantages here, because you can tailor that study to the times of the day that you’re available, and not the times that the course is being offered, when you sit in a room and watch a DVD, or listen to an audio. More importantly I think, the shift is that you need to think about how do you pass the bar exam? How do you study most effectively?
In my experience, the best way to do that is to start four to six months before the test. Using a study guide, a plan, like we prepare for our students, you work incrementally in, essentially 10 hours to 15 hours a week of study for that period of time. Now, you’ll make a little bump in study time when you get into the last 30, maybe 45 days before the test, that’s only normal, and I don’t think you should feel bad about that at all. If you’ve been ramping up slowly, at 10 to 15 hours a week, that’s pretty manageable. In fact, what really happens from a teaching and learning standpoint is that you consolidate the gains you’ve made up to that point.
The things that you learned early on in a course like ours, you build on, you repeat them again, you learn them again, you’re reinforced on the principles again. In addition, because we know that memorization is not the skill that’s being tested on the bar exam, we’re not trying to have you retain that information (in a memory sense), for a long period of time. Instead, we’re focused on teaching you how to use the information, rather than memorize it.
To accomplish that goal, the shift to think about today is how long do you intend to study. Most people underestimate the time it will take them to study. In our experience, in the states that we prepare students for, you’re going to need, on average, 250 to 300 hours if you’re an “average” student. Now, if you’re in one of those “at-risk” categories that I was talking about earlier, or if English is not your first language, or if you went to a less-than-stellar law school. …well, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s not a knock on you or your school. It’s just the reality that if you’re in one of those situations, you need to give yourself more time.
I think if you ask anyone who’s actually taken the exam and studied for it, both in the traditional six week approach, and in an approach like ours that’s over a longer period of time, almost without exception, people will tell you that it’s better to study in small pieces, over a longer period of time. Most people can handle 10 to 15, maybe even 20 hours a week, on top of their work, or their practice, or their other family and life commitments. But if you have to study over 20 hours a week, you are essentially studying full time, so that’s the trade-off that you’ll need to make.
Our Study Advice
If you try to wait until those last six or seven weeks, and then take the traditional bar review course, frankly, the only one you’re benefiting is the bar review provider. You’re not doing yourself much of a favor. So the big shift that you’ll want to consider is starting early. Give yourself more time and in return a better chance at passing by starting earlier. That’s a shift worth considering isn’t it?
If you want to know more about our approach to shifting the bar exam, click on the button below to join me for a FREE Master Class: “How to Make the NEXT Bar Exam Your LAST Bar Exam: The 4 Powerful Steps Guaranteed to Pass the Bar!”
|This post is a bit unusual for me and In fact, I think it’s in some ways unprecedented. Those of you that know anything about me may have inferred that I have fairly strong political views, although I’ve tried very hard over the 20 plus years that I’ve been teaching the bar review to keep my “snarky” comments to a minimum in the lectures and in the podcasts. That’s because I want the law to speak for itself and my goal is to be an excellent teacher and not a political commentator.
|For those of you that don’t know much about my personal history, let me just share with you that in the last 10 years or so, my wife Sara and I have spent a significant amount of our time living in some of the poorer neighborhoods in the United States, most recently in Richmond, Virginia, working with youth in a place called Church Hill which is actually one of the poorest African American communities in the country. Prior to that, we were in financial ministry in the inner city of New Orleans post-Katrina, literally helping with rebuilding lives and families. In our experience and time in diverse communities, we’ve come to recognize the wonderful privileges that we have as well-educated, relatively affluent white Americans.
But the truth is that I live in the same world that all of you live in, and it’s important to me and it’s important to us as a business, to recognize and understand where we are in the bigger scheme of things.
|Over the last month or so, since the last presidential election, it’s become increasingly clear that the rule of law is in danger. The things that I have presumed I would never see in my lifetime, we are now confronted with on a daily basis. The specter of racism, the clear implication of the white nationalist movement and its influence, the possibility of an attorney general who was so racist that he couldn’t be confirmed for a federal judgeship 20 years ago, and so on continue to dominate the news.
|Now I recognize that in those statements I’ve just written, some of you have instantly decided that I am a bleeding-heart liberal, a Hillary supporter, and you’re never going to do business with us. I am sorry for that but I can not stand by any longer and be silent when fundamental Constitutional rights are in such grave danger. And I am confident that a diverse legal community is one of the most effective ways to stand against tyranny and despotic behavior, no matter its source.
|So for over 20 years, one of the driving goals behind Celebration Bar Review has always been to bring people to the Bar who might not have otherwise made it to the next step in their career. We’ve made a point of reaching out into the minority communities, to women, to foreign-trained attorneys, to people who are marginalized because of race or sexual orientation, and tried to be clear that we want those individuals to become a member of their Bar. We believe that the Bar is better, the community is better, when it represents and is represented by people who look like the community. The reality for us is that when the Bar becomes nothing other than privileged white men over a certain age, we’ve lost something (And I say that as a privileged white man over a certain age.)
|But I also recognize that it is vitally important right now that we have women in the Bar, and members of the LGBTQ community in the Bar. That we have Hispanics and African Americans in the Bar. That we have Muslims and foreign-trained attorneys in the Bar. And therefore, a major part of our work over the last few years, both in the bar review and in our personal lives, has been to empower people who might otherwise have not had that opportunity.
|So why am I talking about this now? I think if you’ve been watching us at all, or following what we do, you’ve probably noticed a trend. I tend to highlight the stories of people who otherwise would not have been probably very successful, but they overcame great hurdles in society and in their lives, to become members of their Bar. You can find many of their stories here. That doesn’t mean we don’t interview straight white old men. We do. You can check out last week’s podcast episode for an example. But I also know that it’s important that we be able to demonstrate that there are people who don’t fit that mold who are becoming members of the Bar and this is, I think, a major part of our purpose and our mission now, and certainly for the foreseeable future.
|I want to say to those who are reading this post today, who may have felt marginalized or set-aside or whose feeling is that because of your faith or your background or your skin color or your gender, that you are not being heard in the conversation about the law: The best way to get into the conversation is to become a member of the Bar. I think it’s great that you went to law school. I think it’s awesome that you’re in that position, and you’ve heard me say in other times and places that you’re already a winner just by having gotten to the point where you can take the Bar Exam.
|But you cannot fully participate in this conversation about the law and the importance of the rule of law, whether it’s dealing with social rights or economic justice or literally business as it operates day to day, unless you’re in the game. And you can’t get in the conversation fully unless you pass the Bar Exam. That’s the way the process is set up, fair or not. And that’s why it matters who becomes a Bar Member.
|Sadly, there are far too many people that should be Bar Members but are not. These are the people who are ripped off by the traditional approach to law school and to the bar exam. Perhaps you’re someone who went to law school and you put yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and then you took a “big-box-bar-review” and they did an information dump that just gave you all the information and then left you on your own, and at the end of the process you were more in debt, more confused, and still not a member of the Bar because you failed the exam.
|That probably describes the circumstance for many of you that are reading this blog. If you’re in that situation, I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. For years, we have helped people climb out of that situation and pass the Bar to become productive members of their legal community. I’m so proud of those folks, and we’ve got a lot of their stories featured on our testimonials page.
|If you visit that page and watch some of the interviews, you’ll see the amazing people who are now living out their dream to be part of the legal community. It’s inspiring!
|My point in getting up on my soapbox is to tell you that I’m don’t intend to be quiet about this situation. I’m not going to sit back and let the rule of law be trampled in the name of political propaganda and fake news. I’m not going to stand quietly while people who otherwise would be qualified to be a member of the Bar be intimidated into silence, or to be told that they’re less-than their privileged counterparts or marginalized and taken advantage of, where I can stop it. I am going to do, (along with my staff), absolutely everything we can to help those individuals succeed. If you’re in one of those groups, or feel you’ve been treated that way in the past, I certainly hope you’ll consider our course.
|I believe, as I always have, that society is better for all of us when we Celebrate our uniqueness rather than demonize it. If you believe that there’s room in the Bar for people of a wide range of faiths, religion, sexual orientation, age and gender, then really, isn’t it time that we work together to make that a reality for even more people?
|I’m really troubled by what’s happened, as I know many of you are. I’m scared for the future, I’m worried about what it means for our country, for our security, for our family, for our children and for our grandchildren.
But I am assured by the fact that every week I see bright, new faces coming to me who are saying, “I want to be a member of the Bar,” and they represent the entire spectrum of the human rainbow. And so, I’m really looking forward to the next year, to working with many of those individuals to help them pass their bars in California, in Texas, in Florida, in Georgia, in New York, NJ and DC in the 20+ states using the Uniform Bar Exam, and in the 49 states that test the MBE.
I hope that you feel the same way and want to join me on that journey together.
If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing please join me for a Free Webinar:
We’ve officially entered the ‘waiting’ season for the next Bar Exam. Depending on your jurisdiction, you’ll receive your bar exam results anytime between mid April and late May. Read on to find 5 things to do while you wait for your bar exam results!
For some people, the results come so quickly that they are almost caught off guard but for most bar takers, this time of waiting can be excruciating.
Some people just take the bar exam, move on with their lives and don’t think about the results until they arrive. They’re probably not the ones reading this blog today, though, are they? Nope, if you’re reading this, it’s likely because your head is filled with a bunch of what-ifs and should-haves and periodic flashbacks.
If that describes your situation, rest assured that I’m not making fun of you. This condition could easily be categorized as similar to (if not full-blown) “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” and it can be debilitating. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. There are coping mechanisms you can use now. Here are a few of my favorites, culled over 25 years of bar exam experience:
1. Move On
Find other interests to replace your previous bar study time while you wait for your bar exam results. If you don’t have full time legal work, consider some volunteer/intern opportunities. It’s a great way to network, gain some practical experience and do some good for the community. It may also remind you why you started this journey in the first place. If you’re not sure where to get started, check with your local bar association, legal aid offices, churches and non-profits in the community. Trust me, they’ll be glad you offered.
2. Hug it Out
If you’ve got a family, friends or a job (maybe all 3?) this is a great time to reconnect. You remember all those missed date nights, hangout times and work assignments you blew off to study? No? Well, believe me, everyone else around you does remember. And you’re going to want to make up for some of that now by being extra-attentive. I know you’re tired from the bar exam but to the rest of the world, the test is over and your presence here on planet earth is now required. No excuses. Just be there and engage. Bar exam results will come soon enough.
3. Talk It Out
Many bar takers just can’t get the test out of their systems, but as noted in Items 1 and 2 above, the rest of the world is so over you and the bar exam and (wait for it) they. don’t. want. to. hear. about. it. any. more.
Harsh, isn’t it? Still, if you’ve got to talk about it, be sure to do so. Create a journal, write a blog, go digital. Tweet-storm and Snapchat to your heart’s content.
Still, if you want the experience of saying it out loud, find a sympathetic, patient friend (or better yet a small animal?) and recount the experience in detail. But- when you’re done – you’re done. Don’t keep rehashing the event.
If you’re in a Celebration Bar Review course, stop by our private Facebook Group, “The Extra Mile for Bar Exam Takers” to share your post-exam stories and thoughts. It’s free and part of your course offering but you do need to request membership. If you’re not in our course, find a way to vent the experience. It will help avoid the emotional “volcano” from erupting at a later date.
Along those lines, if you’d like to discuss your bar exam with me, just click the Button Below to schedule a private conference. I’ll be glad to listen and post-mortem the exam as well as explain how we can assist you if you need to retake the exam.
Click Here for a Free Consultation
4. Assume the Best
Bar Takers (and lawyers in general) are terrific at finding the “Parade of Horribles” and running to the front of the line to lead. While it’s entirely possible that you failed the exam, it’s also possible that you passed. Your gut reaction about the bar exam result is probably not incredibly accurate (unless of course you didn’t write anything on several essays or only completed 75 out of 100 MBE questions in each session) but outside those extremes, the exam is tough and the line between passing and failing is too narrow for most people to discern with accuracy.
So what should you do? Begin restudying now? I don’t suggest that. If you think there’s a strong possibility that you failed, however, follow the suggestions above, clear the decks now in case you have to start studying after results are released, and use the time to recharge your brain and physical resources.
5. Do Your Research Now
If it turns out that you failed the exam, the hours following the release of bar exam results will be painful and for some people, emotionally destabilizing. That will not be the best time to consider what bar review you should choose, whether you should take the next exam or sit out an administration, change jurisdictions or a myriad of other decisions that have to be made. Instead, think about those things now. Check out bar review courses now. Talk to the mentors and owners.
Ask questions and consider the alternatives to doing the same old thing the same old way (I’m particularly talking to those of you in the ‘BigBox’ Bar Review courses – you know who you are!). Be prepared. If your results are good news – terrific! You’re done and can throw all the research away. But if not, you’ve got a plan prepared in advance and you can get right to your studies with a minimum of disruption.
Want to know more about how to study for the bar exam? Join us for a FREE Master Class: “How to Make the NEXT Bar Exam Your LAST Bar Exam!” Just click on the button below to claim your Free Seat and learn the 4 Steps to a Passing Bar Exam Result.
| What’s so important about accountability when you study for the bar exam?
Plenty. In fact, it can be THE difference maker for many applicants and a key determinant for a successful bar exam result.
Keep reading to find out why…
One of things that I’ve learned is that bar takers tend to be naturally isolated. Even if you’re sitting in the big box bar review, elbow to elbow with the people that you despised for three years in law school, it still feels like a pretty individual, isolated experience.
|The reality is that when you’re isolated, when you feel like nobody really knows what you’re doing or not doing, it is very easy to become distracted. Let’s face it, hardly anyone gets up in the morning, (other than me perhaps!), and says,”I get to study for the bar exam today, how cool is that!”
It’s just something that you have to do, and because it’s not fun, and it’s a grind and a hard task, the reality is that your Facebook feed looks pretty interesting, and your Instagram account needs some updating, and oh look, there’s a cute video on YouTube of a cat or a dog doing some ridiculous thing, or maybe a small child just being adorable. The reality of all of this is that before you know it you’ve really blown up your study time and now you’re behind.
|When you’re not accountable to someone, or some other group of people, the reality is that you’re going to end up not using your time wisely, or perhaps not doing all the work that you need to do.
So what’s the answer?
What I’ve discovered over the years is that successful bar takers generally have some sort of an accountability group, or typically more then one individual that they report to and check in with on a regular weekly basis.
I heard a great example of this the other day in a podcast. The host was talking about accountability and said, “It’s much easier to be accountable if you’re in charge of a big company than a solo entrepreneur (or lawyer). So, if you’re Mark Zuckerburg, you’re accountable to your share holders and to your board of directors, and when you come to work if you’re the head of a large organization, that’s who you’re accountable to.”
It’s easy to get a lot of work done when you’re accountable to other people. But if you are a solo lawyer or a law student and you’re studying on your own, who are you accountable to? I think the answer for a lot of people is really no one. Being accountable to myself is a good start, but it’s usually not enough.
|An Action Step You Can Take Right Now
I want you to reach out and make a list of three to five people that you think you need to be accountable to when it come to your bar study. This might include your bar review mentor. (If you’re in our course, I absolutely want to be on that list!) If your bar review doesn’t know who you are and doesn’t care, okay, I don’t think they’re good to put on that list. I would look at close family members. mentors, teachers, people that you worked with, people who know you’re taking the bar, people who’s opinions matter to you.
Once you’ve identified these individuals, send each of them a note, or give them a call and just say, “I’m going to be studying for the bar exam coming up here in a few months and I really believe that I need to have just some accountability partners on this. Would you mind if once a week I just checked in with you by phone, or email, or some other way to just let you know what’s happening in my studies and how it’s going. I promise not to bore you with the details of the rule against perpetuities and so on, but I just want to let you know what I’m doing and if I’m not keeping up with the goals I’ve set I’d like you to hold me accountable for that.”
|If you do that you’re going to find that it really does spur you on. When you get up in the morning, instead of wasting away the time, now you think, “I’ve got to really say something to my spouse, or to my boss at a work, or to a professor, or a teacher, a mentor, a friend, someone who is a member of the bar, my bar review mentor, and I really have to do this work.” Being accountable will drive you in a way that I think otherwise is almost impossible to do.
|Joining a Private Group on Facebook for Accountability
I also want to suggest that another way to be accountable is to join a Facebook group. I admit that I said Facebook could be a time waste, however, there are some good uses for this social platform. One of them is our private Facebook group called The Extra Mile for Bar Exam Takers. If you’re in the Celebration Bar Review course you’re automatically entitled to membership in this group, but if you’re not a member of our course you can join the group for only $77 a month paid as a monthly subscription. Part of the reason there’s a fee is because we want you to participate and be an active part of the community.
|Our Facebook Group is a type of accountability group for those who may not be comfortable asking friends and family to do this task. It’s a place where you can post privately, (and your post will not show up anywhere else on Facebook) about what’s happening; your challenges, your successes, what your goals are that you’re setting,and how you’re doing with those. Within the group are current bar takers, past successful bar takers, as well as my staff and myself. In short, it’s designed for you to have a built-in accountability group.
So, that’s the first of 3 important habits you need to develop for success on the bar.
In the next couple of posts I’ll be talking about the other 2 habits for success: Scheduling and Measurement.
If you’d like to know more about these topics, check out our Podcast here or join us for our Free Master Class: “How to Make the NEXT Bar Exam Your Last Bar Exam.” Just click on the box below to reserve your Seat.
While the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday has enormous implications and impact on the political and legal worlds, it may also have an impact on the Bar Exam.
A quick bit of background: A divided Supreme Court can avoid highly controversial cases by refusing to hear them or remanding to a lower court. This has the practical effect of stalling some of the major decisions that would be facing the Court such as abortion, affirmative action, union dues and challenges to the ACA. In the case of those matters already argued before the Court, it’s certainly possible that the decisions rendered by the remaining 8 Justices will result in a 4-4 verdict. This has the practical impact of upholding the lower court ruling without setting a national precedent. If, as seems possible right now, there is a protracted delay in filling Justice Scalia’s seat on the Court, it is possible, even likely, that this term and the next might proceed with only 8 Justices.
Each of those scenarios create a potential impact for the bar exam. Typically, examiners draft their questions for both essays and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) 6 months to a year in advance of their use. When a case is before the Supreme Court, that topic is generally held out of the upcoming exam so that the law may be settled before it is tested and used on the bar exam.
With so much uncertainty over not only the outcome but the timing of the outcome, the effect will be to push certain topics out of the bar for a prolonged period of time. I think we will see far fewer essays in Federal Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure and an emphasis on only those well settled questions of law for the MBE.
The longer the delay on these major decisions, the less likelihood of testing the principles behind the cases, like equal protection, due process, the Establishment Clause and so on. For those cases that end up in a virtual no-decision, the impact on the bar exam will be to keep that rule as it is interpreted by various lower courts and thus, make that kind of problem fundamentally unavailable for use in a national bar exam like the MBE or the Uniform Bar Exam (now being used in over 20 states including NY and the District of Columbia).
While the national implications of the death of a sitting Supreme Court Justice are significant it bears watching to see how various bar examiners decide to select questions and topics for their exams in the interim.
If you’d like to know more about how to study for the bar exam we invite you to attend our FREE Master Class: “How to Make the NEXT Bar Exam Your LAST Bar Exam.” Just click on the button below to reserve your seat.
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In an earlier blog post I began a discussion titled “Bar Exam Truths.” Today we’re looking at one of the most difficult truths to pin down: Pass Rates. Here are 5 Truths about Bar Exam Pass Rates that you should know:
Prefer to Listen Rather than Read this Post? Click Below
The only pass rate that really matters is your pass rate. There’s either a 0% pass rate or a 100% pass rate. I think, often what people do, is that they start looking at all these varieties of passes and pass rates, and they lose sight of the fact that your situation and your circumstances are unique. Therefore, the only pass rate that really will matter is your pass rate. When you lose sight of that, when you start saying, “Well, I’ll just follow the herd, I’ll do what everybody’s doing,” you’re going to discover a couple of things. One, pass rates are highly deceptive and they’re used in really, extraordinarily misleading ways. But even if they were being used accurately and given accurately, it doesn’t really make much of a difference, because what might work for somebody else, may not work for you.
People use pass rates to make a decision about how to study or what course to take or what platform to use or where to go, which state exam to take? I’m not sure that that’s really a good decision making process. What you really want to do is look at your own strengths and weaknesses, your own history, first time taker or repeat bar taker or distant bar taker (that’s someone that’s either a long way away from their past exam or maybe took an exam in a foreign country). You want to look at those factors before you look at pass rates. It should be way down on your list of things. Because frankly, it doesn’t matter if someone says they have 90% pass rate versus 10% pass rate. If you pass, you pass, 100%. If you fail, you fail, 100%. You really want to be locked in that your pass rate is the one that matters and everything else is really peripheral information.
There is no single pass rate. I continue to be surprised at how often people talk about pass rates as though there is one, uniform pass rate in a jurisdiction, or even in a particular exam. Let me give you an example. When you look at the statistics that the National Conference of Bar Examiners produce, and they produce these yearly on bar pass rates, they break the rates down by a number of different criteria. For example, the people that went to ABA accredited law schools who are first time takers. People that went to non ABA accredited law schools, foreign trained attorneys. People who are repeat bar takers. People who are repeat bar takers and licensed attorneys in other states. It is a nearly endless collection of numbers. The problem, of course, is that when you start parsing the rate down by all of these categories and subcategories, you get down to such small numbers, particularly when you’re talking about individual states that it’s very difficult to come up with a meaningful pass rate.
For example, if someone were to say, “Well, what’s the pass rate in the New Mexico exam for ABA approved law school students who are repeat bar takers?” Really? We’re probably talking about 5 people. It’s very difficult to come up with a single pass rate in that situation. Even with that, there’s no single pass rate. Or for example in California, you have a first time pass rate, you have an overall all takers pass rate and then you have an incredible collection of differentiated passing rates based on where you went to school, (if you’re a first time taker, repeat taker, multiple time taker, foreign trained attorney and so on). When you hear about pass rates, it’s very difficult to know which pass rate really matters. If you’re a repeat bar taker that went to a non-accredited instate law school, should you be looking at the first time bar taker pass rate for that state? I’m not sure that pass rate really applies to you. (See Truth #1, the only pass rate that mattered was yours.) Since this number doesn’t describe your circumstance, I’m not sure it tells you anything.
The implication of this lack of a single pass rate is that the only way you can use it, this one single number, is if you’re comparing one state to another. If you want to know what the pass rate is in Florida versus the pass rate in Texas or California, it gives you some comparison that way. Again, it’s not even entirely accurate from that standpoint because it depends on what your group is in those two jurisdictions or three or whatever it might be.
In addition, if you’re comparing a large jurisdiction, like California with a small jurisdiction, or more likely if you’re taking the UBE in New York in July and comparing that to the UBE in South Dakota, it’s very hard to compare a jurisdiction with just a few bar takers with a jurisdiction with a huge number. Added to that, you’ve got some states like California, Texas, and New York that allow foreign trained attorneys to come in and then have historically, a much lower pass rate. This group of applicants bring the pass rate down in those jurisdictions. In other words, there’s so many different way to parse the numbers that when people talk about a single pass rate, they’re really simplifying to the point of really making that number almost useless in most situations.
The “bigbox” bar review companies would like you to forget all about pass rates. They would like you to never mention the word. If you look at their materials very carefully, you’ll notice that they never talk about pass rates. There’s a reason for that. They represent, because they combine for probably well over 90% of the market in almost every jurisdiction. As a result, whatever the state pass rates are, that is also the pass rate for the big companies. There’s no way they can live with that, because it’s not a particularly good number in most cases. In fact, when it’s broken down to these smaller groups, like repeat bar takers, the numbers are horrible. The big companies don’t want you to think about pass rates at all. For many years they were perfectly happy to let the discussion of pass rates go on and to just sort of implicitly allow it to occur without having to say much about it because most people were passing and that was good.
Now, as we see more and more people not passing the bar, there’s more tension, more focus on what these big companies are doing and it’s not very good. This is particularly true for repeat bar takers. There’s a huge drop off in results between first time bar takers and repeat bar takers in every jurisdiction. When the big companies are dealing with repeat bar takers, they’re almost off the table in terms of their lack of success. The last thing they want a potential applicant to do, is to look at pass rates for their company. If you’ve gone to the table at your law school and said, “Hey bigbox bar review number one, what’s your pass rate here?” they’re going to give you the bovine stare. They have no idea what the pass rate is and if they know, they don’t want to discuss it. They’d much rather tell you that everyone takes their course or that they gave a lot of money to your law school or wouldn’t you like some free swag? Or, “Hey, look at this, we’ve got this really impressive professor who will make a 3-hour cameo appearance,” and they don’t really look at the results. They’re simply not results based in their marketing.
It’s necessary to compare similar categories to your circumstances in order to determine your potential pass rate. In other words, I think what you want to do is to look at where you stand. Where did you go to law school? Was it in state or out of state? Are you a first time taker or a repeat taker? Are you a foreign trained attorney? Are you someone who hasn’t taken a bar exam in many years? You should look for those kinds of categories. If you’re in a state like California that offers state accredited and unaccredited correspondence schools, you should look at the pass rates for correspondence schools and unaccredited schools. Then, you should look for repeat takers versus first time takers. What you’re going to discover, of course, particularly if you’re in California, is that you get down to these groups where they are 25 people in your group taking the last bar exam and one or two passed.
Now, it’s very difficult to do that. I know that what a lot of people do is instead is to say, “Well, I’m going to look at my law school and see how my law school did on the pass rate.” I guess I could say that along with truth number three about the big bar reviewers who would like you to forget pass rates, most of the law schools would like you to forget about pass rates as well, because it’s hard for them to group all of their students. Do they put the students that took the bar exam first time right out of school together with people that didn’t take the exam for 4 or 5 years and then took it? Or people that took the bar exam 20 years after they graduated? Or people that failed and then came back or changed jurisdictions? How do you begin to parse all of that information?
For you, as a consumer, one of the things that you need to do is to look very carefully at the similar categories for your pass rate to get a baseline before you have any conversation with a bar review or a provider or a tutor or anyone else. Because frankly, unless you’re looking at those numbers, you just can’t make a reasonable comparison. Anyway, where do you get that information? Some bar exam jurisdictions will publish their numbers, some will not. Frankly, that makes it more challenging. The NCBE does offer some broad categories and then individual states will provide some information. Some states like California, provide a lot, Florida provides less. Some states provide virtually nothing. You’ve got to dig into the site, find out and you can only go so far. Some jurisdictions simply won’t tell you what a repeat bar taker from an out of state law school did. Then you’re stuck, there’s no way to come up with a pass rate.
Select a bar review course or a tutor or a mentor, based on how they can help you, given your current situation and not on pass rates. As I said at the beginning, the only pass rate that matters is yours and not everyone is the same. If you’re having trouble with writing, you should focus on a course that can assist you with your writing. If you’re having trouble with the multistate, you should focus on a course that can assist you on the MBE. If you’re having difficulty with test anxiety, I think you’re going to want a course where you get a lot of personal attention. If you’re someone who is at the top of your law school class, you’re a 3L on law review, you’re a gunner all the way through law school and you’re proud of it, then you’re probably going to go take the bigbox bar review, because you’ll get it for free since the big bar reviews need your inevitable passing scores. That’s how that game works.
But the reality is, for most regular people, you have to select a course, based on how it can help you. Don’t select a course based on pass rates. It’s not a particularly good measure of anything. Because the pass rates may not be applicable to your situation or to your particular needs. I find that sometimes people try to use this pass rate comparison as a shortcut to making a good informed decision. Celebration Bar Review isn’t right for every student, admittedly. I routinely turn potential students away, because I don’t think we’re a good match. I don’t know if that’s true across the board in other courses, but I know that our particular comparison, or criteria is that we want to make sure that we can help you. Because if we can’t help you pass, there’s really no purpose in having you in the course. I think any ethically designed course would take it the same way.
Our Take on Pass Rates at Celebration Bar Review Because of these five truths, we don’t publish pass rates. There is no single number that we could give you that would identify anything of meaning. Now, we can tell you that over a one period of time over 10 years, 15 years, or the 20 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve got thousands of students who successfully passed the bar in every jurisdiction that we teach. One of the reasons we made the decision to not publish pass rates is that we looked at all of the factors that can affect even the publication of any pass rate. For example, should you include someone that buys a course but then doesn’t do the work? In other words, they buy the box and it sits unopened on their living room floor. It doesn’t feel like that would affect your pass rate or should affect a pass rate. So, do you not include them? If you’re going to go down that road then do you include the people that only did 25% of your course? Or 50% of your course? Or 75% of your course? How about the people that decided that they bought the course and then they were going to add on some other courses from other people or maybe they were just going to do the state materials from you and multi state from somewhere else and back and forth. I think you can see very quickly, it’s very difficult to know who should be included and who should be excluded. Do we include the people that were foreign trained attorneys and couldn’t speak English when they sat down for the bar? I don’t know. Is that fair to look at an overall pass rate like that? Again, I don’t think you can make that comparison, unless you’re a foreign trained attorney who doesn’t speak English, in which case you should be looking at the pass rates for that group. Here’s a spoiler alert, they’re not very high. Seems to me, that when you start looking at all those different factors, any company that tells you that they’ve got a pass rate is probably fudging and not telling the truth. Or they’re manipulating those numbers to include only certain situations and certain people and certain circumstances. I’m not sure that that makes the number very useful for anyone. So to put together a pass rate in February 2015 in the UBE jurisdiction of New Mexico by announcing our pass rate was X% is really pointless.
What we do instead is that we invite you to talk to me and talk about your situation. You can schedule a private conference by clicking here. Instead, what we’ve done, because we don’t publish pass rates and because we think there are so many factors that can affect it, is that we’ve put testimonials that past students have given us voluntarily. We don’t force them to do it, but they give us their testimonials and we put their name and their testimonial and their picture on our website. It’s by no means an exhaustive list. It would take far too much space than that we put on our website. But we think those testimonials are useful for people to look at and say, that’s kind of like my situation and that makes sense to me.
We also offer our private Facebook group: The Extra Mile for Bar Exam Takers. Within that group, we’ve got prior successful students who come online and offer their suggestions and their insight and their advice. Obviously, if you’re a regular follower of this group, you know that I do interviews with former students on a regular basis to let them share their stories and let you look at what they’ve done and say, yes, that feels like my situation and I can relate to that and that worked or didn’t work for that person.
What You Should Not Do
Here’s what I don’t think you should do. I don’t think you should put much value in the anonymous trolls that hover around the internet these days. You could certainly find people that are unhappy with us, with me personally, with every bar review that’s out there. But one of the things I’ve noticed about the people that particularly troll our course is that they’re all anonymous. I have no idea who they are or what they’re doing. The few times I’ve been able to dig in and find a little bit deeper, I found that some of those anonymous trolls actually ended up working for other bar review companies. Go figure, isn’t that amazing? But I also think, if somebody is not going to be honest about who they are and what they’re doing and what their results were (in other words, if they don’t tell you that they then went out and passed the bar) and you can find them and here they are and they’re an attorney. I’m not sure that their guidance or their advice is terribly useful. While I think it’s wonderful that the internet gives people the ability to search for anything. I’m just not sure that it’s terribly helpful when it comes to evaluating a course. Because each course and each process is different for an individual we invite you to talk with me personally to see if we’re the right fit for you.
Another way to tell if we’re a good fit is to attend our Free MasterClass: How to Make the NEXT Bar Exam Your LAST Bar Exam. Just click on the button below to reserve your FREE SEAT. Claim My FREE Webinar Seat
I think if you look at our information, if you look at the testimonials we’ve received, if you go to our Facebook group, you’re going to get a lot of input about what our course is like. I would put more weight in that, I think, that in some troll that’s out there from 10 years ago who says, “I don’t like that course, she was mean.” Really? What does that mean? Did you pass? Were you likely to pass? Did you fail 10 times before you took the exam? Did you go through the course? What happened? There’s no way to know. I think that that’s part of the reason that that entire line of inquiry just doesn’t go very far.
Really, when we think about the truth about the bar exam in this respect, I think pass rates are something that really don’t tell us much. They don’t give us much insight. They don’t help you as a consumer or as a bar taker. I really encourage you to ignore that and to dig in to what works for you.
5 Bar Exam Truths You Need to Understand
Today we focus on 5 bar exam truths – trends you should know about that are going on in the bar exam world these days. As I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, there is a basic narrative about the bar exam that certainly is prevailing today. The narrative goes something like this, “The exam is way harder than it’s ever been.” The narrative goes on to say, “Bar takers, law students in particular are stupider, less qualified, less prepared than they’ve ever been.” The narrative then goes on to say, “When you combine the harder exam, the less prepared students and the lack of a legal job market, you’ve created the perfect storm, so the bar exam doesn’t work and isn’t going to work. People aren’t going to pass it.” There are some elements and kernels of truth in some of that, but there’s an awful lot of that generally in that narrative that just doesn’t make sense and isn’t true.
I would encourage you to not buy into that. At least examine it and explore it and certainly over these next few posts that’s what I want to do is to really dig into some that and to show you based on my perspective why I think that might not be the case. You can then decide for yourself and proceed accordingly.
What the Bar Examiners are REALLY Doing
I thought a good place to start with this discussion would be to look at what the bar examiners are really doing. As I said, there are some narratives around what is perceived to be happening but I’m not sure that they really hold up under specific scrutiny. In my view there are 5 basic things that are happening by the bar examiners right now. I’m going to look at those 5 things that are going on. In the next post I’m going to look at a group of items that I think the bar examiners are not doing but sometimes people think they’re doing and in a later post, we’re going to talk about how you need to respond to those particular realities.
For now, I just want to set out what I think the examiners are really doing based on my experience and my observations in working with lots of people in lots of jurisdictions for a long period time.
Protecting the Profession, Not the Public
The first thing I think the examiners are really doing is protecting the profession of law, but not necessarily the public. Often the rhetoric that you hear from bar examiners is that they are working hard to assure that all new attorneys are competent and qualified to practice law and protect the public. It all sounds really good, certainly no one can disagree with that premise. The reality is lots and lots of people pass the bar who should never practice law. I think you can all just stop for a moment and think of some people that you know who are in the practice of law.
You probably shake your head and mutter and say, “How in the world did that person ever pass the bar and get into the practice of law?” There’s undoubtedly a substantial number of people in the profession who are not particularly ethical, who are not particularly following the rules and the concepts of the right practice of law. They’re not behaving properly with respect to their clients or their opposing parties or the court or anyone else. Yet they seem to get away with it. What’s going on here? What are the bar examiners doing? I think that the reality is they give lip service to protecting the public. The primary focus of the bar examiners in every jurisdiction that I’m aware of has really been to protect the profession. What I really mean by that is in a era in which law jobs were plentiful and applicants for those jobs were scarce. The bar examiners responded to that economic pressure and more people passed the bar. It didn’t take as much to be successful on the bar exam as we’re going to talk about in a moment.
The examiners filled in some gaps, they had lower passing thresholds, and it was just generally easier to pass the test. I would say over the last 25 years there have been a number of times where it had been objectively easier to pass the bar than it is today. What’s going on now? As you know, undoubtedly there are fewer jobs available in virtually every jurisdiction for lawyers and lots of people who want those jobs. The pressure on the existing local bar to not allow everyone into the bar is enormous.
To protect the profession, the bar associations limit the number of passing applicants. This means that it is tougher in that sense to become a licensed member of the bar. I think you have to begin with this reality in mind. The bar examiners are not trying to make sure that you are totally knowledgeable or completely ethical, ready to practice law on your first day as a member of the bar. That would be nice and it sounds good. It’s an aspirational piece, but the reality is that they’re making sure there’s not an oversupply of lawyers for the amount of legal work and jobs that exist in their jurisdiction. If you watch this carefully you can see that there’s a very clear trend line in virtually every popular jurisdiction to reduce the number of passing applicants. We see this in California, in New York, in Florida, in Texas, in Georgia, New Jersey and most of the larger jurisdictions. In every one of those states which are popular jurisdictions for new attorneys, the trend line has been down in terms of the passing applicants.
If you’re in a state like North Dakota or New Mexico where they need a few more attorneys, you don’t see that trend line the same way. You don’t see it in states where there’s growth in the legal industry or at least a level amount. I think it’s important to understand that this is part of the reality that we’ve got today.
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Bar Examiners are Cutting Their Costs
The second bar exam truth about what the examiners are doing — and this is important to understand if you’re a bar taker — is that the bar examiners are cutting their costs. I don’t know many jurisdictions, many states in which budgets and expenditures by state agencies aren’t under a lot of scrutiny. The days of wild profligate spending are long gone. Again, I’m going to use Florida as an example, but it’s not the only one. For many years the Florida Bar examiners had one of the largest investigative teams, even bigger than the state police had. Which was crazy, it made no sense, they spent money like mad. They were a fiefdom unto themselves.
That’s not the case any longer and that’s not true in most jurisdictions any longer. The bar examiners are faced with budget cuts, so what do they do? One of the ways that they’ve dealt with it is they don’t spend as much time, money and energy in the process of reading essays from likely failing applicants. Here’s what happens: If your multistate score (which is machine scored) puts you in a failing position such that you would need extraordinarily high essay scores to pass, then in a number of jurisdictions your essays are either not read (either by statute, like Georgia) or they’re not read with any care (like in California or in New York). In other words what the examiners make a rational decision and say, “Look, this applicant has a 110 scaled multistate score, that isn’t going to be passing in our jurisdiction. They would need nearly perfect essay scores to pass.”
So, the examiners reason, if we have to read the essays of likely-to-fail candidates, we’re not going to spend any time or effort on that. We’re going to hand those essays off, get them read very quickly, very superficially. We’ll give those applicants a basic superficial score. In California we call it the ‘gentleman’s 50 or 55.’ It’s a failing score but it doesn’t mean your essays were necessarily good or bad. It just means the examiners were not really reading them because there’s no way your essays could be good enough for you to pass with your current MBE score. We’re seeing that approach incorporated more and more jurisdictions like California, New York, Texas, and New Jersey where you can’t just pass one part of the exam.
Another way the examiners are cutting their costs is that in many jurisdictions they hire under- or unemployed-Bar members to grade essays. You might say, “How does that cut their costs?” In most jurisdictions the examiners are now paying just over $3 a test booklet to their graders.
So, if you want to make a whopping $1,000 grading Bar essays this year in California you can do that. You’ll get paid $3.10 per exam that you grade. Instead of using professional graders like academics or law professors or partners in law firms or even senior associates in law firms, they’ve gone to the lowest common denominator. Again in California as an example, you can be someone who has failed the California Bar previously, but then passed and still be eligible to be a bar grader.
Another way the bar examiners are cutting costs is using and repeating questions. We’re seeing a lot of retread questions. They’re taking questions from law school professors and only doing modest revisions to change them into bar exams. It’s pretty noticeable in certain jurisdictions. What’s worse is that these are not particularly well designed questions. They’re not well focused or well structured for the bar exam. We also see that in jurisdictions that use state multiple choice questions. In Florida, the examiners repeat their multiple choice questions over and over and over again (and with a great deal of pride, although I’m not exactly sure why because they’re just horribly written).
Another way that the examiners are cutting their costs is that the broad open ended essay questions of the past have now been replaced with more specific calls of the question. This is because it’s easier to grade an answer when it’s a very specific call of the question. The range of potential answers and the things you have to calibrate for are much smaller than when you’ve got an open ended question.
Standardized Uniform Testing
The third bar exam truth about the what the examiners are really doing, is moving to more standardized or mass produced kinds of tests. What we’re seeing is more and more jurisdictions moving to the nationalized kind of test. This is most obvious in New York when we’re moving in July of 2016 from a state specific exam to the uniform bar exam. One thing that does happen is that we go to a more standardized generic set of questions that are not state specific at all. That’s happening in more and more jurisdictions. We see that also in California, the other large Bar jurisdiction, they will be moving in 2017 to a new format of shorter exam going from 3 days down to 2 days. That’s part of their cost cutting measure. It’s obviously easier to administer a 2 day test. They’re cutting down from a 3 hour performance test to a 90 minute performance test and might end up using the multi-state performance test.
Clearly we’re seeing this trend towards the more standardized kinds of questions. The trend line is clear. A few years ago the UBE was being used in just 5 or 6 jurisdictions and now we’re up to 14 or 15, and continue to see growth in that uniform bar into more and more jurisdictions. This obviously is a reflection that the smaller jurisdictions for the most part, (New York’s the exception) just don’t have the resources anymore to write full length bar exams and so they’re abandoning those and moving to a standardized kind of test. Because of that, it doesn’t mean you can study once and then be good in every jurisdiction. That’s one of the fallacies about what’s happening, because the UBE is not as transferable as some people would have you think. Clearly it means there’s a move toward that kind of testing or the standardized 30 minute essay, the standardized 90 minute performance test. The standardized multi-state bar exam over a one day period with 200 questions. I think we’ll see more and more of that, not less and less of it. That’s the third thing I think that they’re doing.
Ethics Matter More Than Ever
The fourth bar exam truth about what I think the examiners are doing is that they’re emphasizing ethics as a testable subject. I see this almost across the board. Florida has gone crazy testing this subject, which I find ironic considering the number of incredibly unethical members of the bar that every year crop up in Florida. Ethics was a subtopic on all 3 essays that they used in their latest bar exam. We see ethics being tested in California, Georgia, and New York. In Texas, it pops up in the multi-state performance test. We see it in New Jersey as a rollover, a crossover topic on their exam. Every jurisdiction that we’re aware of is testing ethics in some form or fashion. The multistate professional responsibility exam (MPRE) has become required in the number of jurisdictions, replacing the old requirement of a passing grade in your law school professional responsibility class.
Does that mean you have to be more ethical to be a member of the bar? No, it just means you have to know those rules. You need to understand that ethics play a role in many of the questions that you’re going to see both essays and performance tests. This is one reality that ethics are clearly a point of emphasis across the board, every jurisdiction that I’ve examined.
Weeding Out the Uncommitted
The fifth and final bar exam truth with respect to the examiners is that they’re weeding out the people who are uncommitted to the process of being a member of their bar. They’re weeding out the hobbyists, the people who are dabbling, just playing with the idea of passing.
I got a phone call over the the New Year’s holiday weekend from someone who wanted to take the New York bar exam. They were licensed in another state. What they told me was that even though there were only 55 days or so until the bar exam, they didn’t want to bother with lectures or do much reading. This individual thought if they practiced some questions for a week or 2 that would be enough to pass the bar. I told them, (quite bluntly as I’m prone to do) that they have almost a 0% chance of passing the bar exam. They were deeply offended that a couple of weeks wouldn’t be enough to study because they were so bright and so talented as a lawyer. I don’t deny any of that, but the reality is that the bar examiners have simply made the exam such that if you don’t commit yourself with enough time to study the nuances of the test you’re taking, you’re not likely to pass. In my experience that has meant about 250 to 300 hours of study. That’s true whether you’re taking California or New Jersey, whether you’re doing a UBE exam or the Florida exam. It’s about the same in all of them. You just simply can’t get through and pass the exam with just a handful of hours or a little bit of cramming at the end. Frankly, if that’s your level of commitment you’re just not going to get into the bar.
The examiners are saying, “Look, we don’t need you in our bar, we don’t need more competition. We’ll write a test that’s not necessarily harder but it’s more detailed. As a result if you’re not putting in the time to study, you’re not going to be successful on the test.” Now that’s going to irritate and annoy a lot of you and you’re going to say, “It’s not fair.” You can try to swim against that tide but the numbers tell a very clear story that people who study for a short period of time, people who are repeat bar takers and don’t do much to prepare and then repeat have a very, very low pass rate percentage.
Another way that they weed out the uncommitted is that character and fitness background checks are becoming more onerous. There’s a lot to do. It used to be that Florida was the only state that I thought was really over the top. A lot of jurisdictions now are asking for a lot more information, particularly if you have been licensed in another bar before you’re coming to this one. It’s more work, it’s more paper, it’s more things that you have to create. This is particularly true if you’re a foreign trained attorney. There are a few more jurisdictions that you can apply to sit for the exam in now that you used to. There’s a lot more character and fitness, there’s a lot more that has to be done to get your credentials evaluated. If you’re not willing to go through all of those procedural hurdles and hoops, you’re not likely to be successful.
Then the final way that I think they weed out the uncommitted is that the examiners make this a very costly process. The application, the cost to sit for the exam, the cost to retake the exam are all going up. This may be in part to help pay for the costs of the bar, but I think it’s also a way to weed out the people that just aren’t serious. I can’t tell you how often I hear from people that say, “I don’t want to spend any money to study or I don’t want to spend the money for the application or I don’t want to spend the money for the ticket or for the travel to the bar site.” The reality is if you’re not willing to do that you’re not going to become a member of the bar. If you’re not fully committed to being a member of the bar, don’t waste your time, don’t waste your money, don’t waste your effort. You’re just not likely to be successful.
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I want to share a children’s story with you. It’s one that I’m pretty sure was read to me as a child, and I know I read it to our children. It comes from a book published back in the 1950s by Kathryn B. Jackson. The book is called “Sly Little Bear and Other Bears”. It’s a classic and actually has 3 separate stories but for this post I want to use the story “Hasty Little Bear”, although I’m going to call it “Hasty Bar Students”, because the truth in the story really does apply. It’s a great opportunity to see into the way that behavior affects your bar studies. If you will permit me to paraphrase a part of “Hasty Little Bear”, and then I’m going to tell you how it actually, in my view, applies to bar students… or you can listen to the story in the link below…
The Story of Hasty Bear
“Hasty Bear,” his mother said one day, “would you please hurry out and pick some colored, pretty leaves for me?” “Yes, ma’am. I will,” said Hasty Bear. Off he went in such a hurry that he never heard his mother saying, “Only don’t pick the shiny, red, three-leaved kind with berries.” By the time she was saying, “Because they’re poison ivy and they make you itch,” he was well into the woods looking for the brightest leaves he could find. Sycamore leaves were a beautiful yellow, and he thought they’d be nice until he saw how red and bright the maple leaves were. He thought, well, I’ll just get a big bunch of those. Then he saw some still redder leaves, shiny ones, three together on a stem with beautiful berries. He picked and picked until he had a most enormous red bunch, and he started back home. Halfway home, Hasty Bear rubbed his nose and it began to itch. His paws felt itchy, too, and so did his toes and the edges of his ears.
By the time the little bear got home, he held the leaves out to his mother, he was itching all over. Are you feeling a little scratchy, yourselves? What was worse, his mother backed away from the leaves. “Oh, Hasty Bear,” she cried. “After all I said, you picked poison ivy leaves.” “Have I?” Said Hasty Bear. “I said don’t pick the shiny, three-leaved kind with berries, because they’re poison ivy and make you itch,” said his mother. “Now let me scrub you and put the lotion on you for the itching.” “Oh, yes,” said Hasty Bear, dropping leaves in one spot, clothes in another. “Please do.” (I’ll spare you the picture of the naked bear.) Pretty soon Hasty Bear was much more comfortable, itching just a little and all dressed in clean clothes. “I’ll get you some maple leaves,” he said. “Fine,” said his mother, who was busily sweeping the poison ivy ones out the door. “Maple leaves are lovely.” This time, before he went running out, Hasty Bear waited for a whole minute to be sure he had heard everything his mother had to say.
Are You One of the Hasty Bar Students?
Hopefully the moral of the story comes out pretty clearly. One of the things that happens to bar takers in this process, as they start to get into studying actively, within typically a 90-day window for the exam, is that they become hasty. They become so preoccupied with results that they don’t listen to all the instructions. They don’t follow process. I tend to see this a lot, particularly with practicing attorneys who are getting ready, and trying to run their practice, and take care of their families, and take care of business, and everything else. The result is that they tend to jump around. I get phone calls from students who just enrolled who just jump right in, like Hasty Bear, and they don’t follow the syllabus. They don’t follow the steps involved in the learning.
You might say, “Well, what’s wrong with that? Why can’t I just jump in? Why can’t I just get to the things I want to get to?” The answer is that a good course has some pedagogy behind it, it has some design behind it. In our course, the design is built on the idea of stepped repetition, that you will take a step, and then move up a little, and repeat a little, and then take another step, and repeat a little again. In order to make that system work, you have to go through these stepped repetitions. In addition, a course like ours will be very specific about how long each assignment should take. Very often, I’ll hear students say, “Well, it took me five or six or seven hours to do a reading that you said should be three hours, but I didn’t understand the subject well enough so I spent more time with it.”
On its face, that sounds like a really good decision, but it’s a really bad decision because of the design of the course, designed to go back through and work through in repetition, and give you time to get through all of those subjects. What happens is that in the haste to get started, to jump in and just make it all happen, this flurry of activity, we get people who don’t pay attention to the rules. What happens to them? Just like Hasty Bear, there’s usually some painful effect, some itching, because suddenly they realize they don’t know how to do the writing, or they’re multi-state performance isn’t as good as it should be, or they’re frustrated because they can’t figure out how to organize the reading and the lectures and the question practice, even though all that information is provided for them. They end up having to go back and redo that material, or go back through those assignments again.
Perhaps you’re one of those people. Although, two sentences into this post, the Hasty Bears among us probably left when I said I was going to share the contents of a children’s book. If you’re with me this far, the point I really want to emphasize to you is the critical nature of following directions, of believing in process. Even if you’re not in our course, you should follow the process that’s been set forth for you in the study materials that you have. That process, no matter whose it is, is going to be better than what you just randomly came up with in chaos and frustration and panic and fear. You want to follow it. If you’re in our course, I can tell you that process is what allows us to get our students to the finish line with good results consistently, year after year, exam after exam.
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When people don’t follow that process, inevitably what happens, like Hasty Bear, they end up being very uncomfortable, making their mentors uncomfortable, making their course of study uncomfortable, but more importantly they waste their time. In an effort to be doing the right thing, to show so much energy and so much activity, just like Hasty Bear, they forget to pay attention to the directions. If you’re in our course, the warning I would give you is to pay attention to your study guide and syllabus, or, if you’ve got a question, to contact us and let us direct you properly. If you’re not in our course, check with your bar review provider and make sure that you’re doing what they want you to do. Don’t just flail around wildly and with fear and frightened. It doesn’t get you very much.At the end of the day, you end up having to go back and do that work again. If you’d like to know more about how to study for the bar exam, click the button below for our free eBook, “How to Study for the Bar Exam.”
I want to talk about your brain.
You have a million dollar brain account! When we think of the brain, most of us tend to think of this piece in the front that we think of as the pre-frontal cortex, but I’m going to be talking about your whole mind, your whole brain, and really focusing a little bit on the back of the head, the pre-conscious or sub-conscious mind. Now the relevance of this for the bar exam is that when I talk to bar students typically what they’re saying to me is something like, “I’m really struggling with how to get all of this information into my head and retain it for the purposes of the exam.” They really focus on memorization which is unfortunate because memorization essentially is limited to the capacity of our pre-frontal cortex.
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Most of the current research says that most of us can hold 6 or 7 ideas consciously in our brain at one time. That’s really not a lot and it’s why mnemonic devices become so popular because they’re a link to one of those 7 things that maybe links to 10 or 12 others or where you create an attack outline for writing. Essentially you’re still looking at a finite capacity and most people that have studied that way will tell you that it’s frustrating, time consuming, and ultimately fruitless.
I was trying to figure out how to explain the difference between using that part of your mind and using your whole brain the way that we teach and the way that we use, for example our PhotoReading product, a course developed by Learning Strategies out of Minneapolis, almost 20 years ago now.
PhotoReading is a technique in which you literally flip the pages on the material that you’re looking at very quickly. The material goes to your subconscious brain and you then activate that material through what we would describe as neuro-linguistic programming and some techniques that help get at what’s in your whole mind. The goal is to give you access to the material but the ‘catch’ is that it’s not in your conscious brain, not where you’d expect it to be. As I was trying to explain that to a student the other day, I thought of this particular analogy and I wanted to share it with you because I think it’s a good one.
A Visit from Your Banker
Assume for a minute that you are a struggling lawyer or law student and by struggling I mean you’ve been struggling to pay your bills. You’re looking at the bank balance every day, it’s really low, it’s tight. You’re worried about overdrafts and all of those kinds of problems. You’re really struggling every day to figure out just how am I going to eek out enough to keep that balance above zero today. You’re working at it and working it, and you’re looking at your mint.com account, you’re online and you’re doing all the things that you can do to figure out how to keep yourself from not overspending what little you’ve got in that account. It just never seems to be enough.
Imagine your surprise when you get a text message or an email, or phone call from your banker. They contact you and they say, “Hey, Mr. and Ms. Customer, we’re a little confused by something. We’ve been watching all of this activity that you’ve been engaged in and transferring funds around and doing things, and trying to keep your bank balance just above zero. We’re a little confused about that because we see what your checking account balance is, we have a question for you. Why aren’t using the million dollars?” “Excuse me? The million dollars? There must be a mistake.” “No, no, there’s no mistake at all. You have another account with a million dollars in it which you haven’t touched. I mean, you rarely touch it all, in fact it’s been years since you’ve opened the account but you still make daily deposits.” “Wait, I don’t have a million dollar account. Of course I don’t have a million dollar account.” “Oh yes you do. We’ve got the records they’re right here, you just haven’t touched the funds.”
So, what’s this million dollar account? For our purposes the million dollar account is your subconscious, it’s your pre-conscious brain. It’s got a wealth, literally, of information and material. Your pre-conscious brain holds everything that you’ve learned. It’s got everything you learned all the way through life including law school and the practice of law, and maybe even the prior times you took the bar exam if that’s relevant for you. All of that is there. The problem is you’re not accessing any of it. To go back to our example you think for a minute about this banker contacting you and you say, “Well that can’t possibly be because I don’t remember putting a million dollars into a bank account.” The banker says, “Well, it wasn’t all at one time and it wasn’t a big event, it was just a little bit every single day that got dropped into this account. You continue in fact to be making deposits to the account and it’s earning interest. In fact it’s now worth more than a million dollars because of that.”
“If it’s really mine, how do I get access to this million dollars?” The banker says, “Well it’s really very simple, you just transfer the money into your regular account and use it.” “Oh my gosh.” How many of you wouldn’t do that if that was a real scenario. I mean think all of us at that point would say, “Yeah, give me some of that, that would be great.” The same thing is true with our brains, we can use what’s in our pre-conscious and subconscious brain. If you’re reader of the popular science kinds of literature out there, the most prolific and successful writers is a man by the name of Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote a book called Blink a few years ago in which he talked about this intuitive sense, this pre-conscious mind that we’ve got that allows us to retain information and then we use it typically almost subconsciously or unconsciously to form decisions, make judgments. To evaluate situations that we’re faced with. The same is true here.
Drawing on Your Account
When you’re taking the bar exam, if you can learn to activate your pre-conscious or subconscious mind, now instead of having the limited capacity of your pre-frontal cortex, you’ve got the entire massive capacity of your whole brain working on your behalf. Paul Scheele at Learning Strategies describes it this way. He says, “The pre-frontal cortex, the conscious mind is like a little eye dropper, a little tea drop but our whole brain is like a huge fire hose.” Now, when you think about that, that’s an incredible benefit to have on the bar exam. If you can have access to all of that material, all of that information, the fire hose of information instead of little tiny tear dropper of our conscious brain, who wouldn’t want to do that?
That’s what we’ve experienced over the last few years as we’ve integrated PhotoReading as an option for our students but even if you’re not using PhotoReading, if you’re simply skimming and then activating the material through the lectures and the practice questions as we lay out in our program of spaced repetition, you’re getting at least a part of the benefit of that million dollar mental bank account. Here’s the really cool thing, it’s there whether you use it or not. It is there for every person who’s reading this post. All you have to do is to begin to tap into it. Part of what we do in our bar review is to help you access your own accounts, in other words, we show you the password, and how to enter it to access your brain account.
That is what we call (and I mentioned it earlier) as activation in neuro-linguistic programming terms. It simply means to take the material that’s already in your subconscious and to be able to reach into it and grab it and use it when you need it. In our course we show you how to do that on a multiple choice question, on an essay, on a performance test. It results in amazing improvements for people, once they get used to the idea that they’ve got a million dollars in their mental bank. It changes the way they live, it changes the way they study. It can do that for you as well. I hope I peaked your interest at least a little bit today and even if you’re not taking our course, even if you don’t want to do PhotoReading, even if you think all of this is crazy, (and I assure you that none of that is true) just think back for a minute to all of the things that you’ve known intuitively but didn’t know consciously, couldn’t think of right on the spot word-for-word memorized but you knew. That’s the reality of what your conscious brain and your unconscious brain can do. If you’ll start to tap into the unconscious brain you’ll find yourself with a wealth of information, ideas, abilities that you probably didn’t know that you possessed before. You don’t have to be great at memorizing and mnemonics and forming attack outlines, and having all sorts of clever devices to help you cram more information into your brain and then spit it out on the bar exam. What you really need is the opportunity to get at what’s already in your account using that to its maximum effectiveness. When you do that, I think what you’re going to discover is that you’ve got a million dollar brain! Want to know more about how to access this ‘hidden resource?’ Join us for our Free Master Class: How to Make the NEXT Bar Exam Your LAST Bar Exam. To reserve your free seat, click on the button below and we’ll see you soon.
NY bar exam pass rates just came out and it’s probably nothing short of a train wreck for the vast majority of people. The overall pass rate was in the mid 60% but that’s really a misleading number because the repeat bar taker number was much, much lower and the really staggering number was the very low pass rates for foreign trained attorneys.
What we saw in New York was the foreign trained attorney pass rate for first time and repeat bar takers was 33%. It’s probably even lower – 15-20% – for repeat bar takers or foreign trained attorneys. The drop across the board in New York represents probably the lowest overall pass rate that we’ve seen in a very long time.
There’s a lot being written and said about why the pass rates are coming down. The National Conference of Bar Examiners are saying, “Well, we have a less qualified group of bar takers. The law schools were admitting those less qualified individuals …” but that’s not really so. Law schools responded that “We’re giving people an opportunity to law school who might not otherwise. There’s not really a correlation between the two.”
Less Qualified Students?
I think that the truth lies between those two statements. The for-profit law schools, the ones that are really sort of on the edge of academic legitimacy, are probably pushing it when they accept some of their students. I’ve worked with some of those students and I’ve worked with number of them who passed the bar exam in states like Florida, California and New York. It’s certainly possible for those students to pass too. I don’t find these students to be less intelligent or less dedicated or less motivated but I do find the quality of the legal education they get is often really low.
I find students from the lower tiered and unaccredited schools less developed writing skills, analytical skills, and their ability to really get a sense of what’s happening in a bar exam fact pattern may not be as well developed as someone who attended a better law school. They just simply haven’t had the exposure that a student in a higher ranked, more traditional law school might have had. Still, this is not wildly different than what we’ve seen, for example, in Georgia over the years, with the state-accredited schools like John Marshall and Atlanta Law a few years ago before they were fully ABA-accredited schools, or in California where we’ve got the state accredited and the correspondence law schools. We see students out of all of those schools who pass all the time. So I’m not entirely convinced that the problem really is that we’ve got a lower performing group of bar takers. Does it have some impact? Well, undoubtedly. But not enough to show these overall big drops in scores.
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A Harder Test?
The second possibility is that the test itself got harder. Now, that feels intuitively like it should be right but I don’t think it is. When we look across the board (and we teach Florida, Georgia, California, Texas, New York, New Jersey and the UBE so our sample size is pretty large), when we see all of those scores, we’re not seeing big drop off at all in our student scores. In other words, we are not really dealing with a whole of folks about whom I would say, “That exam is just too difficult and they can’t do it.” Specifically, the addition in 2015 of civil procedure on the multistate I think was actually in that positive and statistically it turned out that way for our students, at least in the jurisdictions that we are currently getting reports on. The reason for that result, in my view, is that federal civil procedure and federal jurisdiction are rule based. Because they’re rule based, I think, if I had my choice, I would rather have seven questions in civil procedure than seven questions in the property or Constitutional law. Anyway, as we look at what’s going on in the world of exam itself, is the exam tougher? Well, I don’t think it’s necessarily tougher and the feedback from my New York students after the July exam was not that the exam was tougher. Certainly, there were a few subjects that were a little more challenging and not as expected as usual, the big five or six essay topics didn’t all show up on the test so I think that in reality, the test was slightly harder. But again, it was not substantially harder.
Are the Graders Worse?
If it’s not the bar takers, if they’re not stupid or the test is not harder, what else could be happening? I think the third option is that the grading of the exam is becoming more difficult. Look, here’s the real problem with how the bar exam is graded. Essays are graded, for the most part not by bar examiners but by hired individuals who come in to read a certain number of essays on a particular question. They’re trained and they’re taught how to work through those essays and how to give them calibrated scores but the reality is that the people that are doing this work are across the country, not particularly well qualified or well paid. In fact, the average pay to be a bar exam grader, brace yourself, is $3.10 an essay. I got more attention for my cup of coffee this morning than you got on your bar exam when it was being graded in most states.
Are the Bar Review Courses Competent?
The final factor that I think is happening and is kind of the elephant in the room that no one actually really wants to talks about has more to do with finance and economics of the bar review industry. For most of the time that I’ve been in the bar review business, there have been one or two very large companies. I call them ‘bigbox’ bar reviews. They’re the ones that prepare most of the students taking the exam. Now, when everything is going well for that group of people, when those bar takers are doing well, the bigbox courses are happy because they are the state pass rate and for many years that’s been a perfectly acceptable score. There’s really very little incentive for the bigbox guys to improve the quality of their teaching, to improve the quality of their materials, to improve anything that they’re doing because whether they do well or they do poorly, they still get the same market share and it doesn’t really change their profitability. Well, unfortunately, what’s happening now is that if you take those first three factors: a slightly less prepared group of bar students coming out for the exam, plus a number of foreign trained attorneys, you add a slightly more difficult test, you combine that with a slightly less engaged and forgiving bar grader, then suddenly the old line approach of we’re just going to stand and deliver a lot of information and push it out to passive bar taker students doesn’t really get very far.
Headed Over the Cliff?
I think the reality is that if you’ve been planning to take the traditional approach to studying for the bar, particularly if you’re a repeat bar taker, you’re going over the falls without a canoe. You got very little chance of surviving the plunge. If you’re a first time bar taker and you’re taking the bigbox course, you got a statistically marginal chance of success. That’s the best you’ve got – a marginal chance. I don’t think that is what your expectation about passing the bar in NY (or elsewhere) should be. Just because everybody’s doing it is no longer a compelling argument when most everybody’s failing. Failing shouldn’t be what you expect. Instead, I think you need to expect more from a bar review. I think you should expect a bar review that actually knows how to teach, that understands the pedagogy of learning, that understands the test as it’s changing and the standards for grading change with it. A competent bar review course can give you the advantages of effective studying, using technology and educational approaches that we now know work much more effectively than memorizing and reciting.
The Next Step
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We’ll see on Thursday and show you how to pass your bar exam!
Jackson Mumey is the lead educator at Celebration Bar Review. He’s been teaching the NY Bar Exam for over 25 years and has helped thousands of students to pass their exams. You can reach him at email@example.com