'Tis the season, they say.
But, for many law school graduates, the month of December seems like a herculean challenge because a number of graduates are preparing to retake the bar exam next February...after receiving devastating news that they did not pass.
So, let me write directly to you...to those of you who did not pass the bar exam this past summer.
First, you do not have to be a repeater. Repeaters repeat, with the same outcome likely to result. Instead, it's time to take advantage of the information and the experience that you had and turn it into a "fresh start." You see, you have "inside information," so to speak, that first-time takers lack. You know what it's like to sit for the exam, and, in most states, you have concrete information about what you did that was great along with inside scoop about where you can improve.
But, where is this inside info?
It's in the scores that you received along with your answers. The first step on your "fresh start" journey takes incredible courage but is key...grab hold of your exam questions and answers and work through them, one by one, reading the questions, outlining answers, writing solutions, and reflecting on what you learned through re-writing the exam. In the process, you'll be able to see firsthand where you can improve. That's important information that is not available to first-time takers. So, take advantage of it.
Second, don't focus on studying but on learning. You see, success this time around on the bar exam is not a matter of working harder but rather working differently. [That's why I’m always reluctant to call it studying because the focus should be on learning.]. From a big picture viewpoint, as Dr. Maryellen Weimer, Professor Emerita of Teaching and Learning at Penn State University describes, learning involves three overlapping activities focused on (1) content; (2) experiences; and, (3) reflection.
Let me be frank about the content phase of learning. We often feel so overwhelmed by the content, particularly because it comes to us from bar review companies in the form of massive detailed lectures and equally massive detailed outlines, that we never move beyond the content. In short, we don't feel like we know enough to practice. Consequently, we tend to be immobilized (i.e., stuck in) in the content stage. Instead of experiencing problem-solving first hand, we tend to re-read outlines, re-watch lectures, and in general create gigantic study tools before we have had sufficient experiences with the content to know what is really important in the big scheme of things.
And, in my experience, most often when people don’t pass the bar exam on the first time around, it is almost always NOT because they didn’t know enough law but rather because they wrote answers that didn’t match up with the questions asked. They were stuck in the content stage, spending too much time learning answers rather than experiencing questions. As mentioned above, that's because we are so naturally focused on trying to learn and memorize the law. But, I can’t EVER recall someone not passing because they didn’t know sufficient law. It’s almost as though we know too much law that the law becomes a barrier...because we write all of the law that we know in our answers...even if it is not relevant.
That’s why the second stage is so important – experiencing the content through active open book practice.
And, the third stage is critical too – reflection – because that is where we dig in to see patterns in the bar exam questions over time.
With that background in mind, let me offer a few suggestions so that you are not a repeater but a "fresh start" taker on your bar exam next February.
1. Avoid the Lectures! I would not redo the bar review commercial lectures. At the most, if you feel like you must, feel free to listen via podcasts while exercising, etc. In other words, just get them over and done with so that you can move quickly into the experiencing stage using the content of actual practice problems to solve problems for yourself. In other words, the least important thing in successfully passing the bar exam on the second go is listening to the lectures or reading outlines. Rather, as you work through practice problems, take the time to dig in and understand whether you really understood what was going one...that's the sort of experience in practicing along with the sort of reflection that makes a huge difference.
2. Daily Exercise! Establish a schedule so that you exercise consistent learning every day. The key is to be on a daily regimented schedule because it’s in your daily actions of experiencing and reflecting through actual bar exam problems that leads to big rises in bar exam scores.
3. Practice Makes Passing Possible! Right from the "get go," take advantage of every practice exam you can. Most of your days, from the very beginning of your studies, should be engaged in practicing actual bar exam problems and reflecting on what you learned. Don't try to learn the material through reading the outlines. Dig in and use the outlines to solve practice problems.
4. Reach Out To Your Law School! Meet once per week, on a schedule, with someone at your law school to talk out your work. Bring one of your written answers or a set of MBE question that you have done or a performance test problem that you just solved. You see, according to the learning scientists, when we explain to someone the steps that we took to solve a problem, it sticks with us. So, take advantage of your local ASP professionals on your law school campus.
5. Make Your Learning Work Count! Skip the commercial bar review online homework and drills. If the problems presented by your commercial course are not formatted like actual bar exam problems (essays, MBE questions, or performance test problems), don't do them. Period. That's because the bar examiners don't test whether you did the drills or the online homework; rather, they test whether you can communicate and solve hypothetical bar exam fact pattern problems. So, focus your work on the prize. Only do bar exam questions.
6. Two-Thousand! Okay...here's a number to remember. According to a recent successful "fresh start" taker, the number is 2000. That's right. A recent taker said that she/he did just about 2000 MBE questions. That's really experiencing the content. You see, it’s important to work through lots and lots of bar exam problems because that helps you to see fact patterns that trigger similar issues over and over. And, if you do that many questions, you don’t really have time for commercial bar review online homework or making gigantic study tools or re-watching the lectures over and over. Instead, you’ll be using your time...wisely...for what is really important, learning by doing. In particular, focus your learning (not studying!) on probing, pondering, and reflecting through every available essay and MBE question that you can. Unfortunately, we often hear of people slowing down in the practice arena during the last two weeks to make big study tools and to work on memorization. But, memorization doesn’t work without content...and content doesn't work with out experiencing lots and lots and lots of practice problems. In other words, by practicing every possible problem that you can get your hands on you are actually memorizing without even knowing it.
7. The Final Two Weeks! In the last two weeks, while you are still spending the bulk of your time practicing problems, for an hour or two a day, start to run through flashcards, or your old study tools, or posters, or your subject matter outlines. But, do so in a flash. It doesn’t matter whether you use commercial flash cards, your own note cards, or your own short subject matter outlines, etc., just pick something and use it to reflect on your learning. Here’s a suggestion: The learning science experts say that it is important to “elaborate,” i.e., to explain and talk through what you are learning and ask why it is important, etc. In other words, as you run through your study tools, put them into your own words, e.g., vocalize them, sing them out if you’d like, or even dance with them or put some “jazz” into them. In short, make your study tools live! However, always remember that the best way to make your study tools come to life is to use them to work through lots of bar exam problems throughout the last two weeks of bar prep.
8. Be Kind-Hearted To Yourself! Realize its okay to have melt-downs. Note, I said meltdowns not just a meltdown. Everyone has them, and they happen more than once. That's being human. So, be kind to yourself. Feel free to take time off for short adventures. The important thing is to take some time to rest and to rejuvenate, in whatever form works for you. My favorite is ice cream followed by a close second with hiking and even watching Andy Griffith shows (you’re too young to know what that is!).
Well, with that learning background as a foundation and these steps in mind, I wish you well as you prepare for success on your upcoming bar exam! (Scott Johns).
December 7, 2017 in Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation, Bar Exams, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)
In order to assist applicants in preparing for the written portion of Maryland Bar Examinations, the State Board of Law Examiners provides the following materials:
- PDF reproductions of each session of the Board’s Written Test beginning with the July 2014 General Bar Examination. (Please note that essay questions for General Bar Examinations prior to July 2014 are reproduced within the text of the Representative Good Answer document for each exam session.)
- PDF reproductions of the Extracts provided for each session of the General Bar Examination. The extracts provide selected materials from the Maryland Rules or other articles of the Annotated Code of Maryland which are intended to assist the examinee in answering one or more of the essay questions.
- Two (2) representative good answers for each Maryland essay question since 1998 and two (2) representative good answers from each Multistate Performance Test question given since 2007. The Representative Good Answers are provided to illustrate how actual examinees responded to the Maryland essay questions and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The Representative Good Answers are not “average” passing answers nor are they necessarily “perfect” answers. Instead, they are responses which, in the Board’s view, are successful answers written by applicants who passed the Maryland General Bar Examination. These answers are reproduced without any changes or corrections by the Board, other than to spelling, font and line spacing for ease of reading.
- The Board’s Analysis for each Maryland General Bar Examination essay question from 1998 to February 2015, when the Board, by policy ceased to release this document. The Board’s Analysis consists of a discussion of the principal legal and factual issues raised by each question on the Maryland general bar essay test. It is prepared by the Board. The Board’s Analysis is not a model answer, nor is it an exhaustive listing of all possible legal issues suggested by the facts of the question.
- PDF reproductions of each Maryland Out-of-State Attorney (OSA) Examination beginning with the July 2014 OSA Examination. (Please note that questions for OSA Exams prior to July 2014 are reproduced within the text of the Board’s Analysis document for each exam session.)
- The Board’s Analysis for each Maryland Out-of-State Attorney (OSA) Examination question from 1998 to February 2015 when, by policy, the Board ceased to release this document. The Board’s Analysis consists of a discussion of the principal legal and factual issues raised by each question on the Maryland OSA Exam. It is prepared by the Board. The Board’s Analysis is not a model answer, nor is it an exhaustive listing of all possible legal issues suggested by the facts of the question.
- Two (2) representative good answers for each Maryland Out-of-State Attorney Exam since February 2016. The Representative Good Answers are provided to illustrate how actual examinees responded to the Maryland Out-of-State Attorneys’ Bar Examination. The Representative Good Answers are not “average” passing answers nor are they necessarily “perfect” answers. Instead, these are the two (2) highest scoring overall exam responses for this session. These answers are transcribed from the hand-written answer books without any changes or corrections by the Board, other than to spelling and formatting for ease of reading.
Exam Questions & Answers
Exam Questions & Answers Archive 1998-2012