Why practice tests matter

I have written elsewhere of my belief that practice tests must be part of your bar exam preparation.  Most bar students will do lots of practice MBE questions, but might skimp on practicing essays and performance tests.  Well, a recent article in the New York Times discusses a study published in the journal Science that provides strong empirical evidence that practice tests matter, and not necessarily full-blown practice tests.

The main conclusion of the study is that "retrieval practice" testing helped students learn more about a topic than any other method.  Retrieval practice is quite simple:  you study whatever you need to learn, then you take some time immediately after study to try and recall everything you just studied, then you compare what you remembered with what you studied to see what you missed, then you do another retrieval practice test.

It is clear that this format works well with small bits of information, but how to apply it to the bar exam monster?  One suggestion is to read your outline (or Conviser Mini Review, or whatever study source you have) on a particular topic, say Civil Procedure.  Then do the retrieval practice as discussed above. 

This could be a bit cumbersome, trying to retrieve an entire outline all at once, so maybe a better approach would be to break an outline into chunks.  So, for Civ Pro, you might read the part of your outline that deals with subject matter jurisdiction, then try to retrieve it from memory, review, then try retrieving again.  Then, move on to the next sub-topic.

Still another example would be to read a set of flashcards, then test with those flashcards, then read again, and test again.

Of course, do not forget to practice complete essays and performance tests, because a solid performance on the bar exam requires both knowledge retrieval and the ability to logically connect what you retrieve and put it into a written format.

[Photo: dcJohn]


Replace the bar exam?

A while back, I wrote about an article in the Oregon Bar Bulletin about allowing people to waive into the bar if they go to law school in the state in which they practice or, if they move in from out of state, participate in a pro bono program for a few months before waiving in.

Well, the Oregon Bar Bulletin is at it again.  This time suggesting that candidates for the bar be given the choice between taking the bar exam and serving in a pro bono apprenticeship program.  If a person chose the pro bono route, it would require them to serve in a pro bono capacity for a few months.  That way, they could gain lawyering skills while under the supervision of experienced attorneys while helping out people who normally cannot afford legal help. 

The author sums it up like this:  "It is time — past time — for the leadership of the bar to work with the leaders of Oregon’s law schools to formulate and present to the bar and the Oregon Supreme Court a solid proposal for letting all Oregon bar applicants choose between the bar exam route or one involving supervised pro bono practice. Let’s take a novel approach to the pro bono shortage."

It seems like it is past time for all states to consider this option.  I certainly would have liked to have this choice.

[Photo: ponchosqueal]


What do the MBE and Erosion have in common?

Not much. 

Actually, surprise surprise, the comparison is a metaphor.  Here is the metaphor:  no matter how hard a rock is, water will eventually wear it down to dust if the water just keeps dripping against the rock.  See where this is going?

If you were like me, you probably have been scoring pretty poorly on the first practice MBE questions you have been taking as you start your bar exam preparations. When I studied for the Oregon bar exam, I signed up for the pre-BarBri six-day PMBR course.  I drove to some deserted business park, took practice exams, got only 50% correct or worse (I think I got 30% correct on the Real Property portion), and spun into a cycle of fear.  To make matters worse, after day 3 of the course, I got a horrible stomach virus, and was "purging" for 2 days straight and did not attend the remainder of the class.  I was convinced I would never pass the bar exam.

Of course, I did pass the bar exam.  In Oregon, the written portion is weighted 50% of your final score and the MBE is 50%.  So, I must have done sufficiently well on the MBE.  (Oregon does not release scores to people who pass the exam.) 

How did I go from getting at least half of my MBE questions wrong to passing the MBE two months later?  I became like the water and went with the flow, slowly wearing down my confusion with the MBE.  I practiced as much as possible, taking the time to understand why I got answers wrong so that it would not happen again. 

The key is to be focused while you study.  Don't think doing 2000 MBE questions alone will make you pass.  You must understand why you are getting the answers wrong.  You could probably answer only 500 practice questions and pass so long as you learn the lesson of each incorrect answer.


For more, check out my MBE Tips and my free MBE Outlines.

[Photo: Hamed Saber]


Bar Exam Study is Overwhelming ... At First

As I post this, BarBri -- the most popular of the bar review courses -- has or is about to begin for the February 2011 bar exam.  For all you first time bar takers out there, I am sure that one of the most common feelings at the start of bar review is to feel overwhelmed.  This feeling is made worse by staring at the 18-inch thick stack of BarBri course books when you first receive them.

As you begin to attend lectures and read through the course materials, this feeling of being overwhelmed will likely increase; at least, it did for me when I studied for the first of my bar exams (Oregon).  It probably took me about a week and a half to settle into a routine where I thought I was learning something each day and not feeling distraught about how much I still had to learn.  It took a week and a half to actually believe that I could learn enough to pass the bar.  After that, I just had to plug away and stay on schedule

Even so, it was still a few more weeks (three or four) before I believed I would learn enough to pass the bar exam.  This was a great, breakthrough moment for me.  A "light at the end of the tunnel" moment.  You will get there too if you are conscientious and dogged in your bar exam preparations.

Finally, it was probably about 10 days before the bar exam, as I was reviewing criminal law for the millionth time, that I was able to say to myself, "If I took the bar today, I am pretty sure I would pass."  After that, my worry was not about failing to learn enough, but was actually about forgetting what I had already learned before the bar exam date!

Make your own luck.  Study hard.  You'll get there.


Need some help with bar exam stress and anxiety?  CLICK HERE to learn more about my e-book.

[Photo:  whitneyinchicago]
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