Archive for the 'Best Practices' Category

Oct 14 2009

Passing the Bar

Published by under Advice,Best Practices

A lot of wonderful folks yet to take the Bar ask for my advice these days, and I think it’s time to share my enlightened wisdom with the masses…

1. To Thine Own Self Be True

By the time you sit for the Bar, you’ve been through three long, hellacious years of law school. And passed! By now, you ought to know what works for you and what does not when it comes to studying. If you don’t, then you can stop reading now because nothing else I say is likely to help you. Really. I mean that. Just stop.

Realizing that different material often requires different study techniques (e.g. I flow-charted Con Law, flashcarded (not a word) the hell out of Torts, and outlined Wills until my eyes blurred), take some time to seriously asses the beast you face and the best way to kill said beast. Will you make flashcards? Outlines? Practice hypos? All of the above?

The only correct answer is the one that will enable you to pass the Bar, regardless of what your professors, BarBri, and your ever-wise friends may tell you to the contrary.

2. It’s NOT About the Hours!

The single most asked question regarding the Bar exam is, “How many hours are you putting in??”

The single best answer to this question is, “Who gives a crap!? Bugger off!”

Passing the Bar is NOT a question of hours spent studying! IT. IS. NOT!!!! Do not be fooled by the “Oh, I arise with the dawn and study ceaselessly until the bewitching hour” idiots. They’re probably going to fail. Because they’re “studying” a lot, but they’re probably not studying well.

Studying for the Bar, in my humble opinion, should be a checklist, not a stopwatch. Make a list of things you must accomplish before you sleep. Then make a list of things you’d like to accomplish, but could always do on Sunday if sleep finds you sooner rather than later. Crack down the list until the list is finished. Then STOP.

If it took you 12 hours, oh well. That’s life during Bar study. If it took you four hours, DO NOT FEEL GUILTY! GOOD FOR YOU!! W00t!!!

Now, in the manner of Jesus, a parable to prove my point:

Two lumberjacks competed to see who could cut down the most trees (in the pre-environmentalist days … today it would be bamboo, but I digress). The first lumberjack worked day and night. He took no breaks. He barely ate or slept. He was a machine. The second lumberjack took a nice lunch break every day. He took an equally charming dinner. Called his wife to tell her he loved her (I added that part).

When the time came to see who won, low and behold! It was the second lumberjack. The first was confounded. “I worked around the clock! I never stopped! How did you beat me!?”

The second lumberjack replied, “Easy. I cheated.”

JUST KIDDING!!! THAT’S NOT WHAT HE SAID!!!

The second lumberjack replied, “It’s true that I took breaks. But I used those breaks to sharpen my axe.”

Cool, huh?

3. RELAX!!! Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

Stressing yourself out will NOT help you pass. IT. WILL. NOT!!! Admittedly, stress is part of the game. It just is, so accept that fact and don’t let it eat you alive. And DON’T make it worse!

I suggest easing into Bar study. The first week of BarBri (or whatever) is not an ultimate predictor of success. It’s a time for you to figure what the heck is going on and what happened to your once happy life. Ease in. Remain calm. Everyone else is just as lost, hopeless, panicky, and freaked the heck out as you are. EVERYONE. (And if they say they’re not – like on Facebook – they’re lying.)

After about a week or two, kick it into gear. Now you have an idea of what’s going on and how little you learned in law school. Make your checklist. Attempt finishing it every single day. DO NOT EXPECT SUCCESS. The point of BarBri is to set you up to succeed … eventually. If you could pass the Bar in the first week of the class, you wouldn’t need the class!! So relax!! Everyone else is failing to some extent, too. EVERYONE. (And if they say they’re not – like on Facebook – they’re lying.)

When BarBri (or whatever) ends, you’ll be a couple weeks out from the Bar. Ease out. OUT!!! I SAID OUT!!!! If you’ve kept up with your checklist, then you’re right where you need to be. If you made 1,200 flashcards (ahem), now would be a good time to learn them. While sitting on your balcony. With a beer. Then a coffee. Then a Bible. Now is also a good time to write practice essays. And re-write them. And RE-write them. (We Charter Class members are quite good at re-writes. Just ask us. We’ll tell you. We’re “masters.”)

When you’re a week away, accept that Jesus still loves you even if you fail; that you cannot possibly know everything you will need to know for the exam; that you’re powers of BS are exponentially higher now than they once were; and that now would be a good time to review, as opposed to learn. You will not learn. Anything. Nothing. Zero. What’s there is there. Sorry. Deal with it.

If you ease in, crank it up, then ease out (a lot like certain other pleasant life activities that work kinda well that way .. ahem), you’ll arrive at the exam a lot less stressed than a lot of people. Again, you WILL be stressed. But it’s better to be stressed, well-rested, and well-fed than just stressed. And your chances of success should increase dramatically.

4. Here’s What I Did, So If You’re JUST Like Me…

Again, I stress that success on the Bar depends on doing what works for you. That said, here is what worked for me.

I am NOT an outline reader. I do NOT have a photographic memory. I don’t care which genius professors tell you to just read outlines (ahem), if you can’t recall and use what you’ve read, then it’s useless. Needless to say, reading outlines and taking notes on said outlines is the thing I did the week before the Bar when I wasn’t going to learn anything anyway. It is NOT something I did prior to that point.

My checklist:

BarBri in the morning. No laptop. NO LAPTOP! GET OFF THE INTERNET YOU FREAKING CHILD! THIS IS THE DAMN BAR EXAM! GROW UP!!!!!

Excuse me. Terribly sorry. Where was I?

Right. After BarBri, I made an outline (made, not read) of the lecture notes. Then I typed flashcards based on that outline (50-100 per subject).

If I was still awake, I worked practice MBE problems either in the BarBri books or online.

Then I went to bed. Sometimes having (gasp!) not worked practice MBE problems! Oh, the shame!!!

Saturday was a day of practice essays. All day. Like 30 essays. In a day. Every Saturday. Sometimes I’d write the same one five or six times in a row until the law was nailed into my brain. But then, I really enjoy legal writing so it was kind of fun. Yep, I am that much of a dork.

And then I’d play golf.

Sunday was a day of rest on which I always felt too guilty to rest so I’d review flashcards. While watching golf.

All the other advice you [don’t] need will be heaped upon you in droves, rest assured. And whatever happens, you’ll most likely survive. And the sun will still shine. And all will be well in the end.

2 responses so far

Jun 04 2009

Three Things I Learned Writing a Book about How to Succeed in Law School—Part III

1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School This is the third and final installment of guest posts derived from my recent book: 1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School (Thomson West 2009). Part I addressed psychological distress in law students. Part II explored the perilous second semester. This post discusses academic research that provides answers to a hodgepodge of important/interesting questions about legal education and success in law school.

III. Surprising Empirical Answers to Law School Questions You May have Wondered About

Scores of studies have been conducted about law students, legal education, and teaching and learning in general, yet this research data is often overlooked in giving advice to law students.

Did you know that the LSAT is not nearly as strong of a success predictor as most people assume? That students who sit in the front of classrooms get higher grades than those who sit in back? That women participate in law school class discussion at lower rates than men? That, contrary to student belief, the brain cannot multitask in class without one of the tasks suffering? That the conventional wisdom to not change initial answers to multiple-choice questions is completely backwards? Read on. (As with my other posts, I’ve omitted the citations, but can provide them on request.)

LSAT Correlation to First-Year Grades. Most law school applicants and students are aware that the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the most heavily weighted factor influencing law school admissions. I’ve served on admissions committees at three different law schools. At each school, I’ve protested while seeing students with undergraduate GPAs barely above a 2.0 get admitted because of a good LSAT score, while students who have proved themselves through four years of college with outstanding GPAs get rejected because of average LSAT scores.

Validity studies do show a positive correlation between LSAT scores and first-year grades, but the correlation is not nearly as strong as most law students believe. Correlation is measured by a coefficient for which 1.00 represents a perfect correlation and zero shows no correlation beyond one attributable to random chance. In 2005, the Law School Admission Council, the good folks that administer the LSAT, conducted a validity study using data from 181 law schools.

The median correlation between LSAT scores and first-year grades was only .34. The correlation varied wildly among schools, from a high of .56 (reasonably strong correlation) to a low of .04 (virtually no correlation). The correlation was higher when LSAT scores were considered together with undergraduate GPAs, ranging from .24 to .65, with a median correlation of .46.

So take heart. While the LSAT does measure several important abilities―primarily the abilities to engage and manage complex text―your LSAT score does not predetermine your fate. Like all law profs, I’ve seen students with low LSAT scores excel and students with chart-topping scores flunk out.

Seat Location as Tied to Academic Performance. I always encourage law students to sit in the front of the classroom, convinced it enhances their law school experience. Now I have some research to back up my recommendation. Non-law school educators have conducted a variety of studies on the relationship of seat choice to student personality type and academic performance. They support one proposition quite clearly: students who choose to sit in the front of the room are disproportionately better students. They have higher GPAs, participate more frequently in class, and receive better grades in the course. One study, for example, found that students sitting in the front received higher percentages of As and students sitting in the back received higher percentages of Ds and Fs.

Several studies have linked this better performance to personality differences between students who choose to sit in front and those who choose the back. In other words, with regard to the cause and effect relationship between seat selection and academic performance, research suggests that students who sit in front by choice do better because better students choose to sit in front. But at least one study suggests that sitting in the front is actually causally related to better academic performance.

Don’t be a backburner! Grab a seat near the front in all your classes.

Class Participation Rates between Men and Women. Unsurprising to anyone who has been involved in legal education for any period of time, several surveys show that female students voluntarily participate much less frequently in law school classes than male students (although my Torts class this past year was a notable exception). For example, a survey of students at the University of California at Berkeley found that a majority of women, and also persons of color, never asked questions or otherwise voluntarily participated in class, while almost two-thirds of white male students reported doing both. The survey is dated, but the results are consistent with current experience.

Reasons offered by scholars as to why the Socratic method negatively impacts women include increased feelings of alienation and fear, the adversarial and competitive nature of the method, sexist conduct by certain male professors, an interest in protecting the sanctity and integrity of one’s beliefs, less willingness to engage in grandstanding, a lower interest in dominating class discussion, and—I love this one because it’s so true—better recognition by women than men of the limits of one’s knowledge. In short, male students, as a group, are more willing to engage in the adversarial, competitive “sport” of the Socratic method than women. As noted, the same surveys show that minority students also participate at lower rates.

This data is important because class participation carries several benefits with it, some tangible and some intangible: (1) Active student participation in class discussions adds to the energy level and sense of community in the classroom, making for a more lively and memorable experience for everyone; (2) You will better remember the classes in which you participate and feel more satisfaction about your law school experience; (3) Participating sharpens your oral communication and group speaking skills, essential abilities for all lawyers; (4) Your professors want to get to know you, but with so many students, we can=t realistically accomplish that unless you speak up from time to time; (5) It is an established fact of legal education that if you volunteer even once in a while, you will get called on less often when you are not volunteering; (6) Finally, many professors raise grades for class participation.

Multitasking with Computers in Class. The use of computers in law school classrooms is quite controversial among law professors, with some professors banning them and others threatening to do so. Profs Kibosh Students’ Laptops blared a headline in the American Bar Association Journal. The Washington Post published an op-ed piece by a Georgetown law professor advocating a classroom computer ban. Every time I think the great law school computer debate is about to die down, some prof will stir it up again on the lawprof listserv, igniting yet another torrent of email on the subject.

A primary concern professors have with computers is that too many students check out of the class discussion to web-browse, check email, send instant messages, etc. Gen Y and Millennial students respond that they are so skilled at multitasking that they really can learn law and check sports scores at the same time.

Is it true? Research suggests the answer is “no,” or at least “not as effectively.” Studies regarding the ability of the brain to engage in simultaneous tasks show “almost without exception” that the performance of one or both tasks directly suffers.

In one study, researchers tracked the wireless computer activity of students during class. Not surprisingly, the study showed students used their computers for a wide range of functions unrelated to the class, such as email and web-browsing. The researchers then divided a class into two groups. Prior to a lecture, one group was told to use their computers as usual, while the other was asked to close their computers. Afterwards, the researchers gave the students a surprise test. The students who used their laptops during the lecture performed significantly poorer on the test. Two months later the researchers replicated the test by switching the two groups of students and got the same results.

Another study suggested that even if multitasking does not necessarily decrease the overall ability to learn, it negatively affects the kind of learning used to acquire new concepts and information and to engage in deep analysis—learning abilities that are critical to law students. Researchers did MRI brain imaging of fourteen twenty-somethings engaged in dual-task learning. The brain imaging showed that multitaskers engaged in “habit learning” rather than “declarative learning.” Habit learning relies on a portion of the brain used for repetitive skills, whereas declarative learning involves a portion of the brain used for storing and recalling information. Basically, the researchers concluded that even though people can learn while multitasking, they can’t learn the material as well or be able to adapt it to changing conditions.

Even if you’re adept at multitasking, the research suggests you can’t do all the tasks well because of the brain’s limited processing ability. So if your professor is defining the Rule Against Perpetuities at the same moment you’re updating your Facebook status, something has to give.

Changing Answers on Multiple-Choice Questions. Ever since I was in elementary school, teachers have admonished not to change initial answers to multiple-choice questions because it’s more likely you will change an answer from right to wrong than from wrong to right. Well, guess what? The advice is completely backwards. Study after study, some of them dating back to the 1920s, consistently show that changing multiple-choice answers is more likely to increase—not decrease—test scores. An example: a study of upper-level accounting students showed that 95 percent of the students changed answers on their multiple-choice examinations (changing a total of 5.6 percent of the answers). Fifty-six percent of the answers were changed from wrong to right, while only 21 percent were changed from right to wrong. The remaining 23 percent were changed from one wrong answer to another wrong answer. These results are consistent with other studies.

Conclusion. Thanks to the CELL blog editors for giving me the opportunity to share some of the things I learned in writing my book about first-year law school success.  It’s been fun!

One response so far

Mar 22 2008

Tapping into a University’s Resources on Teaching and Learning

The faculty of my school invited the director of the undergraduate teaching and learning institute, Peter Felten, to speak with us this past week. He was very helpful and I left the room with new ideas and perspectives. He talked mostly about metacognition and how people learn. He recommended a book that might not make the “Oprah Book Club,” but would have a chance to make its law equivalent. It is accessible not only in the way it is written, but also because it can be read on-line. The book, “How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice” (The National Academy Press 2000)(M. Suzanne Donovan, John D. Bransford and James W. Pellegrino, Editors), can be found at www.nap.edu/catalog. As Peter noted in his presentation, Chapters 2 (Key Findings) and 3 (Responses from the Education and Policy Communities) are particularly useful.

Peter’s site also has some terrific resources. If interested, go to http://org.elon.edu/catl/resources.html.(Peter has no idea I am promoting him, his site or his material.)

–Steve Friedland

No responses yet