Wednesday

Welcome February 2010 Bar Examinees!

Photo by MC Quinn

This post welcomes you on your odyssey to pass the bar examination. I am glad you found this blog, and I hope that it can provide at least some help and comfort to you as you begin studying for the bar exam. (If you haven't already selected a bar exam study course, check out this post.)

In my opinion, the bar examination is a test that is as much about your state of mind as it is about how much and how well you have studied black letter law. It is my belief that you need to understand yourself and figure out how to remain calm during the preparation and test-taking process. You need to understand the process of diligent preparation for the act (praxis) of taking the test before you can study appropriately to learn the information needed to pass the bar examination. (You can even have some fun and study for the bar exam while playing board games.)

Recommended Reading:

I recommend that you read my posts about general mental preparation before you read the posts about studying for particular segments of the bar exam.

First, read my posts on (1) diligence, (2) anticipation of conditions, and (3) stress reduction. I suggest that you digest the contents of these posts for a week or so before reading anything else.

Second, once you have begun to implement the ideas and suggestions contained in these three posts on mental preparedness, read the posts about studying for the discrete segments of the bar examination: (1) MBE study and test tips, (2) essay writing tips, and (3) performance test tips. (Also, if you are taking the Oregon bar exam or the California bar exam, you might want to check out my Oregon bar outlines and my California bar outlines.)

Finally, a few weeks before the February 2010 bar exam (near the end of January), I suggest you read my post about how to make the actual test-taking experience a successful one.

Thank you for reading and good luck!

Tuesday

BarBri iPhone and iPod Touch App

It looks like BarBri has launched an iPhone/iPod Touch app that lets you practice and study for law school exams. It also lets you compete against fellow law students to test your knowledge about legal issues. More importantly for our purposes, it looks like BarBri has a similar pay-for-use App (called "BarBri Mobile") that will allow you to study for the bar exam.

If this seems interesting to you and you are still in law school or have time before you need to make a choice about which bar review course to take, I would suggest downloading the free App and seeing if you like the interface. If you do, it might be worth it to do your bar review using your iPhone or iPod Touch.

My main concerns with studying for the bar using a mobile device are: (1) that it will be very easy to slide into some sort of distractive behavior, such as browsing the web rather than studying (see my discussion of eliminating distractions) and (2) that it will encourage studying in short bursts rather than in focused blocks of time necessary to gain the stamina to pass the bar exam (see my discussion on anticipation of conditions).

Here is how BarBri describes the App on its website:

The BARBRI App, now available on iTunes, delivers the BARBRI Challenge and BARBRI course materials to your iPhone® or iPod touch®. Study outlines between classes. View a lecture over lunch. Do a last-minute review right before a test. The BARBRI App is that convenient!

The BARBRI Challenge is a quiz game that tests your legal knowledge. Play solo, or challenge law students across the country to multi-player games. You don’t need to be registered for BARBRI to download the BARBRI Challenge - it’s free for everyone.

When you enroll in BARBRI as a 1L, 2L or 3L, the BARBRI App gives you lectures, outlines, and practice questions for your final exams and the MPRE. Load them onto your iPhone (3G or later) or iPod touch, and you’re ready to study anytime, anywhere. When it’s time to study for the bar exam, you can upgrade to BARBRI Mobile for an additional fee.

Coloring Book for Lawyers

Ever wondered why lawyers act the way they do? Maybe you need to check out this Coloring Book. A classic of self-loathing and satire. Send a copy to everyone you know.

Sunday

SkyMall helps you pass the bar!

So, I was returning from a business trip to San Francisco, and to pass the time on the airplane, I flipped through the SkyMall catalog. You know, that crazy compendium of the ridiculous, sublime, and highly practical.

I came across what its inventors/marketers call a "bar prep supplement." It is a board game called Passing The Bar. According to the description in the SkyMall catalog, "your favorite law student will spend time studying, in an enjoyable, fun setting." (At least it does not claim the studying itself is enjoyable and fun.) The game includes 350 MBE question cards and 100 "justice cards" about the law in popular culture. You can even buy another 450 card set.

Passing the Bar
I have not seen or played the game. It might actually be helpful for passing the bar; maybe this is a novel approach to the study group? Still, it seems more like a party game for, let's say, "tipsy" 2Ls and 3Ls. But, every little bit helps.

Saturday

July 2009 California Bar Results Press Release

Below is how the California's Bar Examiners summarized the results of the July 2009 exam. What strikes me as interesting is that first-timers passed at a rate of 70%, which actually means the exam is only slightly harder than average for first-time takers. Furthermore, people who attended California ABA schools passed at 79%, which is a pretty typical pass rate on most bar exams. It is the repeaters who skew the results, with a pass rate of only 22%.

Also interesting is that 8,667 people took the examination in July 2009, and 4,888 people passed and will almost certainly be sworn in as attorneys. This is mind-boggling. There are no where near enough jobs in the profession for all these people. Still, congratulations to all who passed. If you did not pass, check out this post for some food for thought.

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San Francisco, November 20, 2009 — The State Bar of California's Committee of Bar Examiners reported today that 56.4 percent of the applicants passed the July 2009 General Bar Examination (GBX). If the 4,888 people who passed the July 2009 exam satisfy other requirements for admission, they will become members of the State Bar.

July 2009 Bar Exam Results

California Bar Exam Information & History

California Bar Exam Pass Rate Summaries

Preliminary statistical analyses show that of the 8,667 applicants who took the GBX, 71.0 percent were first-time takers. The passing rate for 6,152 first-time applicants was 70.0 percent overall. The passing rate for the 2,515 applicants repeating the examination was 22.0 percent overall.

Preliminary statistical analyses show the first-time and repeater percent passing the GBX (rounded to whole numbers) by law school type as follows:

School Type First-Timers Repeaters
California ABA 79% 31%
Out-of-State ABA 69% 27%
CA (but not ABA) Accredited 32% 12%
Unaccredited:Fixed Facility 4% 10%
Unacredited:Correspondence/Distance Learning 32% 11%
All Others 44% 20%
All Applicants 70% 22%

The applicants not included in the above totals either were attorneys admitted in other states who either chose or were required to take the GBX, attorneys admitted in foreign jurisdictions, law students in the Law Office/Judge's Chambers Study Program or law students who qualified to take the GBX through four years of law study. More detailed statistics, including passing rates by individual law schools, will be made available in approximately four to six weeks and published on the State Bar's Web site at www.calbar.ca.gov/admissions.

The three-day General Bar Examination is given twice a year, in February and July. The exam consists of three sections: a multiple-choice Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), six essay questions and two performance tests that are designed to assess an applicant's ability to apply general legal knowledge to practical tasks. The mean scaled MBE score in California was 1462 compared with the national average of 1445.

In addition, the Committee announced that 107 (32.5 percent) of the 329 lawyers who took the Attorneys' Examination passed. The Attorneys' Examination, which consists of the essay and performance test sections of the GBX, is open to lawyers who have been admitted to the active practice of law in good standing for at least four years in another United States jurisdiction.

Successful applicants who have satisfied other requirements for admission - those who have not been reported by local district attorneys for being in arrears with family or child support payments, who have received a positive moral character determination and who have passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination - may either take the Attorney's Oath individually or participate in admissions ceremonies held throughout the state during December 2009.

[CLICK HERE for the same story on the Cal bar website.]

Wednesday

Uniform Bar Exam -- Not Likely

Thanks to Calbarrepeaterblawg, I came across this article about a move to create a national Uniform Bar Examination. The UBE would include the current MBE and, so it seems, essays based on federal law.

The article at issue is brief, but states that there is a movement afoot to create a single bar exam that would be accepted in all states and thus let attorneys move between states easily and practice in all states that accept scores from the UBE. Now, as a person who took the Oregon Bar Exam and then had to take the California Bar Exam when I relocated, I can appreciate the utility of a UBE. In fact, I am in favor of it. I certainly would have been able to get a job much quicker than the 10 months it took between my move and my receipt of California bar passage results.

The pragmatist in me says that this is not something that the "several states" will ever adopt on their own. As the article says, the state bars of New York, California, Texas, and Florida have not expressed support for this idea. Why should they? These states are already over-saturated with lawyers, and permitting people from other states to move in without jumping through the hoops established by the Guild will make it even worse. "It will drive down fees and increase competition." "Increased competition will lead to sub-par and even unethical legal work and further decrease the reputation of the legal community as a whole." Of course, the federal government could probably use its Commerce Clause power and require such a thing; after all, the practice of law certainly affects interstate commerce, so regulation of the practice of law is within the purview of Congress.

As to having a test that focuses on federal law, I wonder about the wisdom of this. Perhaps the best way to create a national bar examination is to determine which are the top, say, ten areas of law used by practicing attorneys, and then test on those. So, criminal law, employment law, business entities, and family law would likely be included. The test could then focus on the majority rule and the top two minority rules in the various areas of law. It could also focus on the federal law for each area, if there was such law. Thus, the exam would test federal employment law, but there is no federal family law (other than tax law) to test. If the idea of the bar exam is to certify "minimally competent" lawyers, then this approach would be best. If, on the other hand, the idea is to make entry into the profession difficult in order to keep fees high, then such an approach is counter-productive.

In short, a UBE would be beneficial for individual attorneys, but if we are going to make such a change, let's make sure the test actually forces applicants to learn useful information rather than the nonsense learning currently required by bar examiners. (Or maybe, since the advent of the internet, we should all just pass a legal research test.)

Monday

Terminator vs. the California Bar

Are you sure you really want to be a lawyer in California?

The governor of our great state has just vetoed legislation that would allow the Bar to collect annual dues from its members. Governor Schwarzenegger has called the Bar "overly political, unresponsive … and inefficient." The amazing thing is that, according to this article, this is NOT the first time a governor of California has slapped the Bar in this manner!  Even more astonishing . . . the current president of the California Bar calls Schwarzenegger's concerns "legitimate."  Damn.

Well, at least I'll have an extra $410 next year, though at the cost of my pride.

Epilogue:  Another great quote from Ah-nold -- "The conduct of the State Bar itself must be above reproach," Schwarzenegger wrote in his veto. "Regrettably, it is not."

Thursday

The Importance of Stillness

In a prior post I wrote about the need to calm the mind in order to succeed on the bar exam. I recently ran across this short video from Eckhart Tolle in which he discusses the importance of Stillness in gaining peace and being present in the Now. These are important qualities for life generally and for remaining calm when others might become stressed -- such as during the multi-day licensing exam we affectionately call the "bar exam".

Sample quote from the video: "In between words is the canvas on which phenomenal existence is painted."





If you found this video useful, you should look into reading some of Tolle's books. For me, the best one is The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Tolle writes like a cross between Heidegger and a mid-1990s popularizer of Buddhism, providing extraordinary insights while remaining on a logical path that points you toward the previously-obscured obvious.

(In the interests of full disclosure, yes, Tolle was selected by Oprah to teach her audience about another one of his books, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.)

Friday

Oregon Bar Results

According to the Oregon Bar website, results come out today at 2:00pm. Good luck to all who took the July 2009 Oregon Bar Exam!

Click here to check the results.

Sunday

Fear of Bar Exam Failure

I was afraid of failing the bar exam both of the times that I took it. I was most afraid of failing the California bar exam. Not so much because of the content of the test itself, but of the consequences of failure.

My wife and two children and I had just relocated from another state. We were burning through savings and imposing on the hospitality of relatives. We had some other pretty heavy things going on in our lives. If I failed, what would I do for money? How would I get a job? What would happen to all of our dreams and goals?

Of course, it all turned out okay, but it would have been nice to have some peace of mind prior to the day on which the exam results were released. I have discovered the technique for doing so: define your fears, and define the consequences of those fears.

This technique comes from the Stoics, via Tim Ferriss, who wrote The 4-Hour Workweek.

The basic technique is: define the worst case scenarios, list all of the things you could do to minimize the worst case scenarios from happening, and then define how you will recover if any of these scenarios come to pass. It is devilishly simple, but to be effective, the definitions must be thorough and precise. Thus, this technique involves real, intense effort.

Rather than try and explain further, watch the video below and, if you want a more detailed explanation, go to Ferriss' blog posts On the Shortness of Life: An Introduction to Seneca and Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs.






For more strategies on beating bar exam fear and anxiety, check out my Bar Exam Mind Strategy Guide.

Should you take bar topic courses in law school?

At least one study says there is no correlation between taking bar courses in law school and passing the bar exam.

The correlation that exists is that people who do well in law school generally pass the exam at a high rate, while people who do poorly in law school generally pass at a lower rate.

While I am surprised that there is not a greater correlation between bar exam passage and taking bar topic courses in law school, I am NOT surprised that there is a strong correlation between success in law school and success on the bar exam.

It should not come as a surprise that people who figured out how to study and pass tests in law school should be able to figure out how to study and pass the bar exam.

What the study shows is that diligence in one's studies and test preparation is a transferrable skill.

Regardless of the results of this study, I would still take as many bar courses as possible during law school. There is, in my opinion, no harm in being exposed to the bar exam topics as many times as possible before the Big Test.


Saturday

Should the Bar Exam be Required?

As everyone out there is waiting patiently/anxiously for their bar exam results, I thought it might be a good idea to post a link to an article that appeared in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin a few months ago. This article raises the issue of what a waste of time and money the bar exam really is. It suggests that people who attend law schools in a state should be able to waive into that state's bar. It further suggests that new graduates as well as attorney transplants should serve as pro bono lawyers for a few months in order to gain basic legal skills and to contribute to their legal community. Then, their service rendered and basic skills acquired, they should be automatically admitted to the bar (assuming they pass the moral character background check).

It seems like a very interesting idea to explore. While bar associations are essentially the keepers of the guild who want to keep competition down and fees up, the route suggested above seems like it still meets those goals. First, only people who attend law school can get into the bar; second, people who normally can't afford a lawyer get legal assistance. Thus, the bar associations keep the numbers down and fees up while still looking like advocates for justice.

Check out the article by CLICKING HERE, and let me know what you think.

Thursday

Good Luck!

Good luck to everyone who will be sitting for the bar exam next week. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my test day tips.

Remember, relax . . .


and do well.

Keeping Things in Perspective

Sometimes, in the midst of a trying time in one’s life, it is important to step back and take in the big picture. Here is a poem called “River Run” by Charles Wright from his collection, A Short History of the Shadow: Poems:

RIVER RUN

In spite of armchair and omelette,
In spite of the daily paradise and quid pro quo,
Like Lorca, I wait for
the things of the other side,
A little river of come and go,
A heartbeat of sorts, a watch tick, a splash in the night.

Wherever I turn, everything looks unworldly
Already,
the stars in their empty boxes, the lights
Of the high houses glowing like stones
Through the thrones of the trees,
the river hushed in a brown study.

What isn’t available is always what’s longed for,
It’s written, erased, then written again.
Thus Lost and Unknown,
Thus Master of the Undeciphered Parchment, thus Hail and Farewell.
It’s not the bullet that kills you, as the song goes,
it’s the hole.
It’s not the water you’ve got to cross, it’s the river.

Saturday

Test Day Tips for the Bar Exam

The big day has (oops, I mean big days have) arrived: the bar exam. For the next two or three days, you will be a test-taking robot. You have diligently studied, you have practiced under test-like conditions, and you are (relatively) relaxed and at peace. Don't let the self-imposed pressure of taking the actual test destroy everything for which you have worked.

The following is my list of tips gained from having taken two bar exams. I hope that they will prevent you from making some of the mistakes that I made.

If you don't feel like reading this post, you can watch this video instead:


 

1. Where to stay

I am a believer in staying at a hotel. If the bar exam is being held at a convention center with an attached hotel, try to stay at a different hotel. The hotel you chose should be reputable enough to guarantee a clean room and responsive staff if there is a problem. It should also be close enough to the test site that you can walk or would be able to walk there if your car won't start.

Will you fail the bar if you stay at the same hotel as the majority of takers? Not if you have studied. However, staying at a hotel with a bunch of stressed-out people, some of whom are only now starting to realize that they did not study enough and are likely going to fail, is not pleasant. When I took the bar in Oregon, the test site was a horrid old Holiday Inn near the Portland airport. The rooms were small and noisy; my room had an air conditioner that sounded like a out-of-tune V-8. I could hear people pacing the hallway outside my door in the middle of the night. They were reviewing their notes and muttering to themselves. It was utter insanity. Add to that a decent level of stress and anxiety, and I probably only slept 3 hours the first night of the exam. (Note: If you are having trouble sleeping in the days leading up to the exam, you may want to try some melatonin to reduce your stress and assist you with sleep.)

Flash forward to the California bar. I took the bar exam in downtown San Diego. Fearing a repeat of my Oregon experience, I did not want to stay at the "test hotel." I looked for nearby hotels in downtown San Diego, but all were either full or exorbitantly expensive. So, I booked a room at the test hotel. It was actually fine. With the exception of a few police sirens and the surprisingly loud SD Trolley rolling by, there was little noise. The only real distraction was the mini-bar, which, upon noting that the cost of 1.5 ounces of Maker's Mark was $8, I avoided.

So, stay at a hotel, preferably one near the test site, but not the hotel designated by the bar as having the "special discount rate." Don't worry about getting stuck in traffic or about your car breaking down . . . stay in a hotel, even if you think you can't afford it.

2. Arrive Early to your hotel

If check in time at the hotel is 2pm, get there at 2pm. Set up camp in your room. Make sure everything is comfortable. Unpack your clothes and arrange them. You should not study anymore. You know enough. If you are in an urban area, get out of the hotel and explore. See a movie. Maybe a friend, spouse, significant other, relative (who is NOT taking the bar) can drop you off at the hotel and stick around to see a movie and have dinner with you. This will help ease your mind. If you are a drinker, have one beer or glass of wine (but not more than that) to help you relax.

By 7pm, you should be alone. Plan out tomorrow (the first say of the exam; see below) and arrange everything you will need. Double check and then forget about it. Watch TV or read a book until 9 or 10, and then turn off the lights and sleep.

Some of you will have a hard time sleeping. I don't think I ever got more than 6 hours of sleep on any exam night. That is why it is important to lie down and try to sleep. Don't stay up until 3 am because "you're keyed up." You may be able to survive the first exam day on adreniline and coffee, but you will be screwed for the second day.

3. What to bring to the testing site

The answer will depend on your jurisdiction. Most jurisdictions will allow you to bring pens, pencils, and a watch, and oftentimes a pillow to sit on the extremely uncomfortable chairs that seem to plague bar exam administrations. Some jurisdictions will allow you to bring in food and drinks. This was the case with the Oregon bar at the time that I took it. The California bar examiners are much more uptight: no food or drink inside the testing area! You must place all of your belongings in a tiny plastic bag and leave your backpack or other bag outside of the actual testing area. Nevertheless, you may bring food and drink if you leave it in your backpack. Therefore, if you get hungry or thirsty, you must stand up, exit the site, and go to your backpack in order to eat or drink. Even though the California system shows a complete lack of trust for the bar exam examinees, it is a good system in the sense that it will force most people to get up at least once or twice during the three-hour testing sessions in order to stretch their legs, take a break, and drink some water. (I'll discuss break taking and its importance below.)

Okay, give me some specifics, Bar Advisor. First, you need to bring all the tools necessary to take the bar examination. Therefore, you will need to bring your pens, pencils, laptop computer, and watch (for keeping time). Second, you'll need to bring some snacks and water. And if you're a coffee drinker, I would advise bringing a thermos of coffee so you can get a little boost halfway through each three to four-hour testing session. (This brings up an important issue. Although each testing block during the bar exam is typically a given number of minutes, such as 90 or 180, there is normally some administrative task(s) to be taken care of before the start of each session. Therefore, always add 20 to 40 minutes to the official test session duration in order to budget for bathroom breaks, etc.) For snacks, I would advise things that can be eaten quickly and provide great energy: CLIF bars, bananas, trail mix, nuts, et cetera. That, and your wits, is really all you need to bring to each test day.

4. Taking breaks

Please do not underestimate the power of taking breaks during the examination. Unless you are an automaton, you must get out of the test area in order to relax and clear your head. I recommend leaving the testing area at least once per hour. This is easy during the essay portions of the California bar examination because each essay is timed to last one hour. Therefore, after you complete each essay, get up from your spot, walk outside of the bar test area, get a quick drink of water, eat something, go to the bathroom if necessary, and return to your seat and start working on the next essay. A little five-minute break like this serves two purposes: (1) it allows you to stretch your legs and replenish your body's energy reserves and (2) allows you to take your mind off what you just worked on and change to a new topic.

Also, if you are working on an essay or PT and are drawing a total blank and there is no other task to move on to, get up and take a short walk. If you can get near some windows, look out at the trees, grass, buildings, cars, people . . . whatever is outside. Take deep breaths to help get oxygen to your body and brain. This should help clear your head and may get your mind working again to enable you to respond to the question at hand.

During the MBE, I always took at least one break at the 50-question point. I would recommend doing at least that, though a break after each third of the test (at 33 and 66 questions) would probably be ideal since you'd be getting up and stretching each hour. If you don't feel you have the time to take two breaks during the MBE, make sure you take at least one.

Finally, for those of you who feel you absolutely cannot spare 5 minutes to get up and leave the testing area, at least take a one-minute break. Sit back, close your eyes, and think about something other than the bar exam: the ocean, your favorite food, your significant other, nothingness, etc. Just try to focus on something else and relax.

5. Lunchtime

The day of your arrival at your hotel, you should locate a two or three restaurants near the test site that look like they serve a good lunch. You need to choose multiple restaurants in case one is extremely crowded. When you get lunch, I would advise ordering something that is fully cooked and avoiding any cut fruits or uncooked vegetables unless you are eating a washed, unsliced apple or a banana or something similar. Call this paranoia, but it would be awful to fail the bar examination because you're in your hotel room vomiting continuously due to some sort of foodborne pathogen.

An even better option would be to bring food from your home and keep it in your hotel room and then return to the hotel room for lunch. (One bar taker reported pre-ordering breakfast and lunch room service so food was waiting at the hotel room in the mornign before the exam and during the break. Good idea, even if a bit pricey.) I did this during the first day of the Oregon bar exam, and I think it was a good idea. The benefit is that eating lunch in your hotel room by yourself allows you to stretch out on your bed and relax while avoiding the crush of anxious bar examinees in the restaurants who are wolfing down a sandwich and convincing themselves by speaking out loud that they just failed the bar exam because they did not know a single answer during the morning session. Avoid such talk and such thoughts.

My choice for lunch out during the bar exam is a grilled chicken sandwich or chicken burrito, a banana or an apple that I brought with me from home, a glass of water, and a cup of coffee (to keep the energy up).

NOTE: If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you will need to be especially diligent with preparing for your meals. Make sure you have that figured out well in advance so that it does not become another source of stress during the bar exam itself.


6. Nighttime

After you complete the afternoon session of the examination, go back to your hotel room and relax for at least 30 minutes. If you're a bit stressed out about your answers, feel free to run through them in your mind, but do not obsess about them. Once the 30 minutes is up, try to completely forget about the test that day. Your mind needs to relax. Go out and get some dinner (same rules for food choices apply from lunchtime). If you are a drinker, definitely have a glass of beer or wine, but no more than one. If you're staying in a hotel where there are nearby attractions such a mall or a waterfront or a movie theater, take advantage of them.

Be sure that you are back in your hotel room by 9 p.m.. Organize the supplies that you will need for the next day of the exam. I would advise not reviewing any notes, outlines, or flashcards. If you simply must do some review, I would advise doing it before 8 p.m., that way your brain can have a chance to slow down and relax by 9 or 10 p.m..

You need to be as relaxed as possible and try to get as much sleep as possible so you can perform at your best during the next bar exam day.

7. Repeat for each day of the bar exam.

****

[UPDATE: Here is another post with links to test day tips from other authors.]

Thursday

Bear in Mind the Rules of Grammar

I am currently working on a detailed post about how to deal with the actual test days of the bar exam (e.g., what to bring, how to budget time, where to stay, etc.). In the meanwhile, here is a basic refresher course (and a comedy break) for those of you now deep in the preparation phase for essay and performance test writing. For the older among you, I hope these bring you fond memories:







Monday

Time to Build a Belief Board?

Check out this great post from Steve Pavlina about creating a "Belief Board."

I think building a "Belief Board" while studying for the bar examination is a great idea. Your belief board could be some notes posted on your study carrel, on a bulletin board, or even on your computer screen (using some sort of digital Post-It note).

The best part about the belief board concept is that it can be applied to any goal in your life at any time in your life.

Tuesday

Bar Exam Essay Tips

The proper way to write an essay will depend greatly on the jurisdiction in which you take the bar examination. The first thing to look at is how much does the essay portion count toward your total grade. If it is less than 30%, then you can probably make it your lowest priority. If it is over 50%, then it should be your highest priority. If it is somewhere in between, then you should adjust accordingly.

The second factor is to determine what are your time and length constraints. For example, in Oregon, you are given 90-minute blocks to write three essays, which works out to 30 minutes per essay. This is not a lot of time to digest a 1/2- to 1-page long fact scenario and write a good essay. The Oregon bar examiners have thought of that and so have imposed page/character limits. If you handwrite the exam, you get three pages; if you type the exam, you get a maximum number of characters which works out to almost exactly one single-spaced typed page. In such a situation, issue-spotting and rule statements are most important, while analysis will be kept to a bare minimum.

In contrast, in a jurisdiction like California, you have 60 minutes per essay and no page limit. Thus, even if you take an excruciatingly long 10 minutes to read the fact scenario and outline your essay, you still have 50 minutes to write. This is why some of the sample answers posted on the bar website read like law review articles. With that much time, analysis becomes king. While it is important to spot all the issues and explain the legal rules applicable or potentially applicable to the situation, if the analysis is lacking, you will fail the essay portion.

Lastly, if possible, get your hands on copies of real essays that have been submitted and graded. Read a few (3-6) for varied subjects before you ever practice writing an essay so that you can get a sense for the format for your jurisdiction. For Oregon, BarBri had copies of actual graded essays in the BarBri essay preparation materials. These were invaluable for at least two reasons: (1) demystifying the process of what gets points from the bar graders and thus lowering stress and (2) seeing that some pretty bad essays earned passing grades and thus raising my confidence level. In California, you can see copies of very good essays on the California bar website. These can be intimidating because many of them are extraordinarily well written. If you go to baressays.com, you can see one sample essay that earned a passing grade of 70 points. You can see that it is good, but not great. Again, confidence building here. [If you are aware of resources for other jurisdictions, please post a comment below. Thanks.]

Applying the Information

Now that you have gathered all of the background information necessary to get the "lay of the land" for your jurisdiction's essay portion of the examination … how to study? As I indicated above, this will depend on the jurisdiction. So, I'll list two study formats: (1) jurisdictions where analysis is minimal (e.g., Oregon) and (2) jurisdictions where analysis is at a premium (e.g., California, Washington – which is an all-essay bar exam, etc.). But first, one thing that is the same no matter where you take the exam is that you need to write out lots of practice essays. I'd recommend at least 5 per subject, which amounts to between 70 and 85 practice essays at a minimum. This means you will need to do several per day on average. You should write these sample essays under varying situations, such as writing a Criminal Law essay immediately after studying Criminal Law for 3 hours and writing a Criminal Law essay a week later after not having studying it for several days. Write essays in blocks under timed conditions simulating your jurisdiction's examination (e.g., Oregon – 3 essays in 90 minutes; California -- 3 essay in 180 minutes). If you don't practice writing essays, you are almost guaranteed to fail the written portion.

Minimal Analysis Jurisdiction

As I mentioned, the premium in a Minimal Analysis Jurisdiction is on issue spotting and setting forth the applicable rule(s) of law. Therefore, ability to spot issues is the most important thing. When you are at the beginning of your bar preparation and are practicing essay writing, be sure to spend an overly long period of time ferreting out every possible and tangential issue from the fact pattern. Write out a basic outline containing all the issues you can find. You can use sample essay questions from other jurisdictions to do this as well since issue spotting is the same no matter who gives the test. Of course, you will not, during the first few weeks, be able to spot all the issues in any given fact pattern because you will not have memorized enough law to do so. This is o.k; give yourself permission not to be perfect because, after all, you are not and cannot be so. The key with the intense issue spotting practice is to learn how the bar examiners in your state “hide the ball.” In other words, you need to start learning which fact patterns are common for particular issues, which issues seem to always or almost always appear together, how the call of the question relates to the issues appearing in the facts, etc. (NB: this is part of the creation of issue pairs that I mention in another post.)

If your jurisdiction imposes a page limit for essays answers, make sure you practice paring down your writing to get all the necessary information in to that length. This can be difficult, especially when writing an essay where the various issues have numerous subparts (e.g., constitutional law, torts, criminal law). During the first few weeks, feel free to exceed the limit. The important part to begin with is to get all of the issues, rules, and analysis in written form. Once you feel comfortable doing that, being to edit yourself. If possible, review examples of actual passing essays to see what information is necessary and is rewarded with points as compared to what information is superfluous and not point-worthy.

Practice writing as many essays as you have time for in the final 2 or 3 weeks before the examination. If you feel you have mastered writing complete essays, then review as many essay questions as possible to practice issue spotting.

Premium Analysis Jurisdiction

What I wrote in the first paragraph under “Minimal Analysis Jurisdictions” applies here as well. The first couple weeks are to learn how to issue spot – in my opinion, you should resist, during the first week of your bar prep course, the temptation to start writing out full-length essay answers. Writing out essays during the first week just induces frustration and anger. You are so overwhelmed at that point that writing bad essays (and they will be bad during the first few weeks) may send you over the edge into self-doubting oblivion.

Unlike with the Minimal Analysis Jurisdictions, the trick with a jurisdiction that gives you a large time allowance and no page limit is to build up stamina. For example, if you spot 5 main issues (each with, of course, multiple sub-issues) in a fact pattern, then you are going to have to write a lot in one hour to provide a thorough analysis. In order to build up the stamina (mental and physical) to accomplish this, you will need to have practiced writing in full numerous essays under exam-like time pressure.

But building up stamina is something that must be done over time. After all, you don't learn how to complete the IronMan triathalon with 1 week of training. I recommend the following steps.

1. Beginning in the second week of your bar prep course, make time to write out several essays per week, either using a pre-made schedule (e.g., PACE) or a schedule of your own creation. These essay responses should be as developed as possible. You will inevitably miss issues, get the law wrong, and make silly mistakes. That is okay, you are building up stamina. Write as much as you can for as long as you need to. Compare your answer to the sample answer. Be proud for the points you got, but acknowledge that you need to do a lot more studying.

2. About the fourth week of bar prep, you should have at least a few subjects fairly well understood. Likely, one of the subjects that appears on the MBE will be at your command to some extent (e.g., Torts, Criminal Law). Whatever subject you feel most knowledgeable about at that time, select at least two essay questions from that subject and write answers to those essays under timed conditions. Write the answers back to back. Review by comparing your answers to the sample answers. Now is the time to start fine tuning your analysis and essay responses. If you missed any issues, make a note to review those topics. The key now is to start determining what analytical steps you are missing and why your interpretation of the facts differed from the sample answer provided. The goal is to get to the point where your essays approximate 85-90% of the sample answers.

3. Rinse and Repeat. In other words, as you gain mastery of the various topics on the essay portion of your jurisdiction's bar examination, write out several essays in a row and analyze what you did right and what you did wrong.

4. Finally, at least once during your bar prep (ideally twice), do a simulated essay day. If your bar has a full-day essay session, do a mock version of it. If it is only a half day essay session, do a mock version of it. The key is to practice under conditions similar to the actual bar examination.

Mental Health Note: if at any point you write 3 or 4 essays in a row that are terrible, take a break from writing essays for a few days. Concentrate on MBE and reviewing outlines. The worst thing you can do while studying for the bar exam is to get to a point where you are constantly telling yourself that you can’t do something or that something is too hard. The bar exam is not harder than law school. The bar exam is, however, a mindf*ck extraordinaire . . . if you let it become one.

In addition to building up stamina, writing essays in a Premium Analysis Jurisdiction requires a much greater depth of knowledge than in a Minimal Analysis Jurisdiction. The greater depth of knowledge is necessary so that your analysis will be complete. If you have enough knowledge, your essays will often be extraordinarily lengthy and even one hour may not seem like enough time to write a response.

The only way to get this depth of knowledge is to study your bar prep materials a lot and know them cold. Honestly, though, this will not be accomplished by reading over each outline 500 times. You need to apply the knowledge in a practical ways in order to truly learn it: (1) writing out essays; (2) developing issue pairings and checklists that make sense to you; and (3) explaining concepts to yourself orally (do this where no one will hear you and think you are a raving lunatic). In short, learn the information and then solidify it through application.

Confidence.

 ***********

If you would like more help with writing bar exam essays, be sure to get my book, How to Write Bar Exam Essays: Strategies and Tactics to Help You Pass the Bar Exam, available on Amazon, BN, Audible and iTunes.

***********

[Photo: Enokson]

Saturday

Performance Test Tips

To start with, there are two kinds of Performance Tests: the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) and the California Performance Test (CPT). Both are essentially the same, except the MPT is only 90 minutes while the CPT is 3 hours. Although I am unsure of exact totals, at least 33 jurisdictions (66% of them) use the MPT. If you plan on taking the test in a non-PT jurisdiction, consider yourself lucky.

As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I have passed both the Oregon and the California bar exams. The Oregon bar exam uses the MPT. I found the 90 minute format to be rather easy. There is only so much you can do in 90 minutes. In contrast, the 3-hour format of the California bar PT is onerous and, as a lawyer might say, overbroad as to time and scope. The PT is, allegedly, designed to test how you can think and write as a real lawyer. I think this is BS since no "real" lawyer would digest 3-5 cases, review an entire litigation file, and draft and finalize a memo in 90 or 180 minutes. At least, I hope no real lawyer would do this.

OK, Bar Advisor, enough narcisistic intellectual masturbation: tell me how I pass this thing.

As with all portions of the bar exam, the key to success is practice. (Of course, stress reduction and visualization matter as well.) To be successful, practice must be done in an efficient and useful way. Let me lay out the steps to go through as you advance in your bar preparation.

General Preparation

Step 1: Read at least two examples of PT questions and answers. This will give you a sense for how the diverse information contained in the Library and File portions (see below) of the PT get converted into a passing answer. For those of you taking the California bar exam, you can get some examples on the Cal Bar website by CLICKING HERE. For those of you taking the PT in an MPT jurisdiction, you will probably have to rely on sample answers given by your bar prep course. I would also suggest reading one or two sample answers from the Cal Bar website as well.

Step 2: At the proper time in your study schedule, do your first practice PT. Do not write the answer out, but merely outline the answer. Then read the sample answer and see how much of the information you gathered and how closely you got the order. You probably missed a few things. That's okay, make a note of what you missed and try to figure out why. This is the key: self-knowledge and understanding of your errors. You can plow away and write 30 sample PTs, but if you never review and learn, you will have much less success.

Step 3: At the proper time in your study schedule, write out an entire PT. I would suggest doing a maximum of 5 sample PTs in their entirety. I think I probably did 5 when I took the Oregon bar and 3 when I took California. For me, writing out an entire PT is soul-killing. The PT has nothing to do with memorization or knowledge and everything to do with how you spot relevant pieces of information. So, once you can do that, there really is no need to practice writing them out. The real reason to practice writing them is to make sure you can get the job done within 90 minutes or 3 hours. In other words, you need to practice writing out entire PTs only until the point when you know the time pressure is no longer an issue for you. Then, you can just review PT tests periodically and do outlines to make sure you can spot all the relevant facts and legal authority.

Okay, so now I have given you the high-altitude overview. What about the neighborhood map? In other words, how do I write the thing. Here is my approach. Think about it, try it once. If it works for you, great; if not, try to figure out why not and then modify it to suit your style.

Structural Anthropology of the PT

The PT consists of a File and a Library. The File contains the assignment memorandum, format guidelines, and the facts you need to complete your task. The Library contains the various legal authority (statutes and cases, usually) you need to interpret those facts.

First, read the assignment memorandum in the File.

Second, skim (spend a max of 5 minutes) the entire Library, looking for anything that might be useful (e.g., multi-pronged tests, key words in statutes, etc.). Put a check mark in the margin next to these useful bits.

Third, skim (again, max 5 minutes) the entire File, noting facts that seem to relate to the assignment memorandum and the Library. Check marks in the margins again.

Fourth, read the assignment memorandum and the format guidelines memo (if there is one) carefully. Write down the major topics in basic outline format on a separate sheet of paper. [NB: some people who type the exam will type the outline into their computer and then fill in the written portion of the PT. Although I typed both of my bar exams, I could not do that. If I could, I probably would have as it seems to increase efficiency and permit more time to write.]

Fifth, read the Library carefully and fill in the various legal tests and statutory language that is relevant to the topics you generated by reading the assignment memorandum. If necessary, re-write your outline on another sheet of paper.

Sixth, read the File carefully for facts applicable to the legal authority you have culled from the Library. Write the basic fact and a citation (i.e., the page number so you can find it again) to that fact.

Seventh, review the outline and make sure it makes sense. If anything seems confusing, find the needed information to de-confuse. [By now, a maximum of half your test time should have expired.]

Eighth, write . . . quickly.

Comments?


Friday

MBE Tips and Study Strategy

The proper study strategy for the MBE can be summed up in three words: repetition, repetition, repetition. Chessy, but true. The MBE is really a test to see how well you take a test. It is not a test that truly tests knowledge.

[Click here for my free MBE outlines!]

If bar examiners only wanted to test knowledge, then the essay portion would be sufficient. After all, if you cannot explain something in writing, then (absent some sort of disability that leaves you unable to express your thoughts in writing) you likely do not understand it.

A test to test your test-taking ability

What do I mean by this? In my opinion, the MBE is designed to trick you. The answers to many of the multiple choice questions turn on minor distinctions that the question narrative makes as opaque as possible. Both times I took the MBE (in Oregon and California), I left the testing center with an uncertain feeling. I did not necessarily feel like I failed, but I had no idea if I passed. I thought I had answered many of the questions correctly, but I also thought that I had gotten many of them wrong.

The important thing, therefore, is to practice on as many questions as possible. Thousands of questions is ideal. When I studied for the Oregon bar and used PMBR, I did about 1500 of the questions. When I studied for the California bar, I completed every single one of the Adaptibar questions (1250, I believe) and then did a few hundred of the BarBri questions as well. [Note:  see my post on selecting a bar prep course.]  By the time the examination rolled around, I had a pass rate on the practice questions in excess of 80%, so I figured that I would be able to pass the real thing. Both times I passed the bar exam, so I assume I at least did average on the MBE, though I suspect my actual score was above-average.

[By the way, I think Adaptibar is great.  You can check out my adaptibar review video for more.  I even arranged a special deal where you can get $50 off the Adaptibar course if you buy it via my affiliate link.]

Practicing

So, you plan to do in excess of one thousand MBE questions. Good. Now, how do you organize this? If you are doing BarBri and following the PACE program, just do what it says. If you are modifying the PACE or are doing some other study course, then here is my suggestion. I would do 25-40 questions (more is ideal) for each subject whenever you have set aside time to do MBE questions. So, for example, if you have set aside 2 hours to study Constitutional Law MBE questions, then do as many questions as you can in 90 minutes, and then take the last 30 minutes for review. Since the MBE is geared to finishing about 33 questions per hour, you should initially get through at least 40 questions in 90 minutes and should be at about 50 questions per 90 minutes when you approach exam time.

The important part of the practice is the REVIEW. When you get a question correct, skim the answer explanation to make sure that you got it right because you understood the question, not because you got lucky. If you got lucky, then follow the same protocol as for the questions you missed.

For the questions you missed, do the following: 1) read the explanation carefully; 2) review the text of the question to see -- bearing the explanation in mind -- if you understand where you went wrong; 3) determine if you were tricked by the question or if you simply did not know the rule, test, or theory being tested [if you were tricked, spend a minute understanding what exactly tricked you; be on the lookout for such tricks in the future]; and 4) if you did not know the rule, then write a flashcard so that you can review that rule repeatedly in the coming days/weeks before the bar exam [don't overdo the flashcards; probably should try to limit the new ones to 5 per review session].

Endurance

You need to follow the same system everytime you practice the MBE questions. Consistancy creates familiarity which leads to proficiency and therefore bar passage.

As you review your outlines and checklists, be cognisant of the areas with which you have had problems while studying for the MBE. Slow down when you review these portions of your outlines and checklists so that when you come across this area of law in your practice, you will engrave the concepts into your mind and have full command by the time the exam rolls around.

In the end, repetition creates confidence. Confident people pass the bar exam.



Monday

The current (2009) job market.

The Bar Advisor knows that everyone is worried about the job market in 2009 -- the year of our Lord's Slaughter of the Innocent. I wish that I had something inspirational and soothing to say to you, but I do not. This is a tough time. The Bar Advisor has been through some tough times in his life: financial and personal. The best advice I can give is that you should do your best to survive.


It is important for you to pass the bar.

Even if you have some misgivings about wanting to become a lawyer and whether you will be able to find a job as a lawyer when you pass the bar, you must study diligently and pass the bar. Passing the bar will give you yet another option when you are looking for a job to survive the next couple of years.

If you are one of the many people who have become disillusioned by lawyers and the law after attending law school for three years (NOTE: the Bar Advisor knew many people like this at his law school and, from time to time, counts himself among them), then view this financial bloodbath as an opportunity for you to make a change. Few people will question/blame you for not getting a job in this financial climate. You can strike out on your own and do that THING that you always wanted to do.

You may have always dreamed about becoming a lawyer and receiving a nice fat paycheck, but dreams, sometimes, have to adapt to circumstances. Do not be depressed. Do not get down on yourself. This is not your fault. Be proactive. Study hard, pass the bar, and then do something. Maybe you will get a job as a lawyer, maybe you will start a business, maybe you will work at a coffee shop. Whatever it is that you will do, do it well and proudly.

Bar Advisor was a janitor while he was in college. People often treated Bar Advisor poorly when he was a janitor because they thought he was a f*ck-up and a loser who could do no better than to work as a janitor; they did not know that Bar Advisor was on track to graduate cum laude from his undergraduate institution; they did not know that many of the janitors with whom Bar Advisor worked were intelligent people who cared about the world and their families. Do not let what other people think affect you.


Be strong.

Move forward.

Succeed.



For more advice on the current job market (with a special focus on those of you seeking employment with BigLaw), see the blog Hiring Partner's Office.

Wednesday

Free Oregon Bar Exam Outlines

Here are my Oregon bar exam outlines. As with my California bar exam outlines, these outlines are free for your non-commercial use and you can pass them along to others for any non-commercial purpose.

I make no guarantees that anything in these outlines is correct. It is possible that the law has changed, so don't rely on these outlines as your only study resource. These outlines were prepared for the July 2006 Oregon bar exam.

Administrative Law (state and federal)

Civil Procedure (state and federal)

Constitutional Law

Contracts and UCC

Criminal Law

Criminal Procedure

Ethics

Evidence (state and federal)

Federal Taxation

Property

Secured Transactions

Torts

Wills and Trusts


CHECKLISTS

In addition to the full-blown outlines, I am including my "checklists." The checklist is a BarBri idea. You pare down your knowledge into a short (ideally 1 page max) list. Then, during the last couple of week of study, you just review the checklists and fill in all the detail with your memorized information. It is actually a really good method to see how much you truly have memorized. If you are just starting to study, I am sure you can't believe that these meager lists convey any information at all, but I assure you that, if you study well, these lists are all that you will need in the final days before the exam.

Administrative Law Checklist

Agency Checklist

Civil Procedure Checklist


Constitutional Law Checklist

Contacts/UCC Checklist

Corporations Checklist

Criminal Procedure Checklist


Criminal Law Checklist

Ethics Checklist

Evidence Checklist

Federal Taxation Checklist

Property Checklist


Secured Transactions Checklist

Torts Checklist

The last two checklists show a minimilist approach and more more detailed approach. I can't remember which of these checklists I actually used to study for the exam, but I suspect it was the longer version.

Wills and Trusts (long) Checklist

Wills and Trusts (short) Checklist

Saturday

Free California Bar Exam Outlines

These outlines were created for the February 2008 California bar exam.  These PDF versions of my outlines are free for your non-commercial use and you can pass them along to others for any non-commercial purpose. 



If you would prefer newly-updated California bar outlines in easy-to-edit Microsoft Word format, head over to my other site to get more information.




Business Associations

Civil Procedure (state and federal)

Community Property

Constitutional Law

Contracts and UCC

Criminal Law

Criminal Procedure

Evidence (state and federal)

Professional Responsibility

Property

Remedies

Torts

Wills and Trusts


Thursday

Selecting a Bar Preparation Course

GENERAL BAR PREP COURSE

The selection of a bar preparation course is generally fairly easy, especially for someone who has never taken the bar. If you are a first time taker or are taking a bar exam after practicing for an extended period (i.e., at least 5 years), then I recommend BarBri.

BarBri

Although BarBri has a reputation like Microsoft of the mid-1990s, there is no denying that it does a good job of giving you all the information you need to pass the bar exam. The lectures (whether live or on video) provide a good summary of the important bar exam issues and cut through the fear created by looking through the massive outline books BarBri also gives to you. It seems generally true to me that if you can learn/memorize everything that you hear in the BarBri lectures, you will know enough to pass the bar exam.


BarBri also provides you with lots of opportunities to practice essays and get feedback. While the feedback may not be extremely valuable, it does, at the very least, give you a kick in the pants. That is, the first few essays you turn in for review will come back with comments like "what?" and "analysis?" and "incorrect." BarBri also provides you with a study schedule (called the PACE program) so you don't have to worry if you are studying enough or engaging in enough review.
I had two main criticisms of BarBri: 1) the PACE program was overburdensome and 2) the sample MBE (i.e, the multiple choice test) questions weren't very good.

As I discuss in more detail in my post on DILIGENCE, the PACE program essentially demands that, in addition to the 3-4 hours you spend in class, you spend another 5-9 hours studying and reviewing. This is crazy and inhuman. I guess if you are getting ready to work at BigLaw, then you should get used to it. For everyone else, I honestly believe you can quit studying at 5pm every day and can take at least one if not two days off each week. (See, again, my post on Diligence.)

For me, the BarBri MBE questions seemed anemic and the explanations of the answers confusing. It did not seem to test the material very well. I must prefered PMBR (see below). I felt that the people who wrote the questions for BarBri hadn't spent enough time editing them to make sure they made sense. Maybe they were trying to make the questions tricky (as they can be on the actual MBE exam), but the result was making them opaque and nonesensical. Still, I had friends and acquaintances who liked them far better than PMBR and they were successful on the bar exam.

MicroMash

I have heard good things about MicroMash, but have not actually seen the program. My understanding is that MicroMash provides recorded lectures that allow you to study on your own. MicroMash will also allow you to purchase only the review portions that you want. For instance, maybe you are repeating the bar exam and feel that you need another system for MBE preparation. Thus, you can purchase the MicroMash MBE prep only. Finally, MicroMash is more affordable than BarBri and looks to be about half the cost of BarBri. So, if you are paying for your bar prep course with your own money, you might explore MicroMash as an affordable alternative to BarBri.

Local Resources

Other than the massive bar prep mills, you may want to find a local bar prep company that has met with success and has good recommendations from prior enrollees. A fellow associate at my firm took just such a course from a local bar guru in San Diego. The person provided outlines, study techniques, and testing techniques. My colleague recommends this course to anyone who asks. So, check around with alumni from your law school or ask recently minted attorneys if they did something other than BarBri that helped them pass the bar.

MBE-SPECIFIC PREPARATION

PMBR (now called Kaplan)

PMBR is the grand-daddy/800-pound gorilla of MBE-only bar prep. Its massive red and blue books are instantly recognizable by people enrolled in bar review. I loved PMBR when I took the bar for the first time. The questions were very densely written and maddening, but logical. The explanations of the answers were detailed, thorough, and (as far as I could tell) accurate. I figured that if I could succeed on PMBR at a good percentage, then I could do well on the MBE. I will say that compared to the PMBR questions, the questions on the actual test were much more concise and less confusing. Of course, there were still questions I encountered on the real exam that dumbfounded me. I just marked a bubble and moved on. Nevertheless, I think I knew more about the common law thanks to PMBR than I could ever have learned just using the BarBri practice questions. PMBR offers several courses. If your firm is paying for it, you may as well sign up for everything. If you are paying for it, just pay the least amount of money that will get you the questions books and then answer as many questions as possible. My firm paid for everything, so I took the entire course. The six-day pre-BarBri course is essentially useless. All it serves to do is scare the hell out of you and make you think that you are going to fail the bar exam. BarBri or any other prep program can do that, so save your money.

AdaptiBar

When I took the California bar, I had intended just to use the PMBR books again. However, when I attempted to study from the books, I felt a massive depression surge over me and knew that I could not use them. So I began looking around for another prep course. That is when I found Adpatibar.   Check out my video review of Adapitbar below:


(Want to try Adaptibar and save $50 off the regular price? Click here and sign up.)

CONCLUSION

In the end, probably just about any bar prep course will work so long as you diligently study and review. If anyone has taken any courses not mentioned or has a different opinion compared to those expressed above, please post a comment.

Tuesday

Stress Reduction

The third of the three techniques needed to pass any bar exam is stress reduction.

The key for stress reduction is using techniques that will make your experience of anxiety lower without decreasing you performance. Drugs like alcohol, marijuana, opium and numerous manufactured pharmaceuticals, while they will be effective for reducing stress, will destroy your ability to learn and retain information; therefore, they are not useful for this purpose.

The two best ways to reduce stress and actually increase performance are meditation and/or visualization. Ideally, you would be able to do both, but the world is not ideal and so you may need to choose which to do. If you can only choose one, then choose visualization. Mediation is really a lifestyle change, whereas visualization is a focused technique that can be implemented for a short-term goal (e.g., pass the bar exam).

Meditation

Since visualization will work for everyone, I will only discuss meditation in outline. Meditation involves calming the mind. Meditation trains the mind to shut out all extraneous information and stimuli (whether the stimulus is generated by mind activity or by external sensory inputs).

[UPDATE:  See my much more detailed post about meditation and the bar exam over at my new blog:  BarExamMind.com.]

For those who want to learn more about mediation, I recommend reading Real Happiness:  The Power of Meditation, by Sharon Salzberg, or getting an audio meditation like Thich Nhat Hanh's Touching The Earth. For those of you interested in a quick, online guide to meditation, check out this website.

Visualization

If meditation seems too "out there" for you, try its little brother: visualization. Visualization is generally as effective as meditation in the short term. Where mediation normally changes your entire life, visualization is highly effective for a single goal. Since your singular goal is to pass the bar examination, visualization is probably a good compromise. (For a good book on visualization, check out Creative Visualization.)

Here is a good (though somewhat hokey) video explaining the process of visualization as well as its power:




Incorporating Vizualization into Your Study Routine
You need to set aside ten minutes at the same time each day. For example, I always did my visualization when I was in bed during the 10-20 minutes immediately before I went to sleep. In my opinion, those last few minutes before you fall asleep are perfect because, in that tired state, your brain is very susceptible to suggestion. You can, of course, use any period when you can have 10-20 minutes of uninterrupted silence. Next, you start to visualize.

What should you visualize? You can visualize whatever you think will help you, but I suggest visualizing three things that will help ease anxiety and create a positive outlook for your examination taking:

1. visualize walking into a very crowded room (500-2,000 people) with rows and rows of tables. One each table are four laptop computers. Thousands of people are rushing among the tables, trying to find their seats. The people are in a panic; it is chaos. You calmly locate you assigned space. You boot up your laptop and sit down. You wait serenely for the test to begin whilst everyone else is totally out of control. [This visualization is to show you that even in the worst possible scenario where you are surrounded by chaos and extraordinary levels of stress, you will keep your cool and be calm during the examination.]

2. visualize writing a great essay, performance test, or having a great MBE session. You can switch it up and visualize each of these three things on different nights, or you can focus on whatever you feel is your weakest subject. The important thing is to visualize a great testing performance. [This visualization will confirm that you can do well on the regurgitation component of the bar examination – i.e., you will be able to recall and/or explain the required legal concepts.]

3. visualize receiving your results and passing the bar examination. Most states post the results online. Sometimes the results are made available publicly so that everyone knows at the same time who passed and failed (e.g., Oregon), other times you need to log in with an ID and password and you can get the results before anyone else (e.g., California). Check how your state does it and visualize using that process. Continue the visualization by telling your family or significant other that you passed: the sacrifice of the last two months has paid off and you are now a lawyer. This is a happy moment for you, enjoy it. [This visualization gives you the added confidence and drive to take the examination because you have visualized how satisfying it will be to pass.]

4. visualize the swearing-in ceremony.  Check out this post for a video of a real swearing-in ceremony to help with your visualization.

Maybe you think visualization is a bunch of hocus pocus hippie foolishness. I will tell you that I visualized passing the California bar exam before I took it. I visualized the entire examination: three morning essays and one afternoon performance test the first day; two 100-question MBE sessions the second day; and three essays and one performance test the third day. I repeated this visualization at least 3 times a week; it normally lasted for 10-20 minutes. I passed the examination on my first attempt when 60% of the others who took the same examination failed.

For more on visualization and the bar exam, check out BarExamMind.com.

Believe.

********

UPDATE 9/6/2009 -- Check out my post on dealing with fear during the bar exam. One of the techniques for dealing with fear is negative visualization (i.e., imagining all the worst things that could happen and becoming immune to them and they fear they engender).

 
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