McGeorge Bar Prep

What You Need to Succeed on the CA Bar Exam

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Tant que je respire, j’attaque!

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 27, 2015

It’s FINALLY here! Hopefully you have set a time today to stop studying so that you can relax and attack the exam with a fresh mind tomorrow morning. (Trust me, you’ve been studying all summer; a few hours will not make much, if any, difference.) As you start to wrap things up, here are a few last-minute — and hopefully repetitive — reminders:

Mind the clock!

If you forget every other suggestion you’ve heard this summer, please remember this one: DO NOT EXCEED 60 MINUTES ON ANY ESSAY QUESTION!! I promise you that no good can come from spending more time on one answer at the expense of the others. A friend of mine admitted that when we took our exam, he or she spent about 80 minutes on the first (racehorse) question on Day 3. That person got an 85% on that answer…but guess how we know that score.

Follow IRAC!

You have no greater friend on the bar exam (aside from your watch) than IRAC. Even if you encounter a “throat-clearer” issue, you can still use IRAC and make your grader happy. For example:

Common Law vs. UCC

The UCC governs the sale of goods, which are tangible, moveable objects. Since the dispute centers around the sale of a car, which is a tangible, moveable object, the UCC governs this transaction.”

That is a very short analysis, but it still follows a strict IRAC format. IRAC is what your graders will want and expect to see, so don’t deviate!

Zip your lips!

No matter how tempted you are to rush out of the Convention Center at lunch and double-check every detail of your answers with your friends before you forget, DO NOT TALK ABOUT IT!! You know that the graders look at your answer holistically, so why bother comparing your thoughts with someone else? There is a Contracts question on file where the two released answers each decide differently on the UCC/CL issue. Can you imagine if those two applicants had discussed their answers with each other after the exam? Each would have spent the next four months fretting about failure, when in reality they wrote the published answers.

Don’t panic!

This one is difficult, but important: if you encounter a question on which you draw the dreaded blank, DO NOT PANIC. As mentioned below, all panicking does is waste time. Instead, there are a couple of proactive measures you can take:

What would my mom say?

When I took the exam, Question 2 dealt with a topic our Bar/Bri professors promised would hardly be anywhere on the MBEs, let alone in the essays. Yet there it was. Instead of freaking out and thinking about how certain I was that I would fail (okay, maybe I did that for a minute), I thought about the question from a lay perspective: what would my mom, who never went to college, say if I asked her this question? Remember, these questions are not written to trick you. If you think about them logically, you will probably kick-start your brain and be able to pick out the issues and even remember some (or all) of the rules.

Reverse Engineering

Those of you who took PPLW may remember this technique. If you draw a blank regarding a rule, read through the facts again with a critical eye. WHY was Fact A included? WHY was Fact B included? The Bar Examiners tailor their questions so that almost every fact can (and should) be used in an applicant’s answer. By reading through the facts and hunting for clues, you can probably “reverse engineer” the rule by picking out the facts that illustrate the elements.

Finally, and most importantly: NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!!

I was reasonably sure that I failed that second question. I’m still not convinced that I got a passing score on it, but it doesn’t matter because I passed the exam as a whole. I was also “lucky” enough to encounter a couple of other questions (not just one) that I did not expect to see at my sitting. On top of that, I felt confident about five MBE questions. Literally, FIVE out of two hundred! (I found them so difficult that I kept track.) Again, though, it doesn’t matter, because I passed as a whole — just like you will!

So you encounter a curve ball, and you swing and miss. So what? That’s only one strike. If you throw down your bat and walk away, you might miss out on hitting the game-winning home run! Cheesy analogies aside, you simply have to stay positive and keep attacking each question with confidence, even if you have to fake it.

The title of this entry is a quote from Bernard Hinault, who won the Tour de France five times in the 1980s. Translated to English, it means, “As long as I breathe, I attack.” Take that attitude with you into the bar exam for the next three days, and no matter what they throw at you, don’t let it phase you. As long as you breathe, you attack!

Know that I will be thinking of and rooting for every one of you this week!!

keep-calm-and-crush-the-bar-1

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Anxiety Buster: Write Down Your Worries

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 25, 2015

Feeling anxious?  Welcome to the club!  Nervousness and a degree of anxiety around this time are very normal for bar applicants.  If you weren’t nervous at all, that might be something to be anxious about!  Try to use those butterflies in your stomach to your advantage; imagine your nervousness turning into energy, funneling down your arms to your keyboard or pen, keeping you awake and alert throughout the exam.

If your anxiety has a less desirable outcome, such as causing your mind to go blank when the proctor says, “Begin,” there might be something else you can do.  One reason this happens is because your working memory — the part of your brain that you use to retain information from the fact pattern and link it to the law so you can craft stellar analyses — finds itself preoccupied with worries: “What if I can’t remember the law?” “What if there’s a [subject x] question?  I hate [subject x]!”  “What if I didn’t do enough practice MBEs?”  And so forth.  Instead of allowing you to filter through the facts given in your essay, MBE, or PT question, your brain is wasting time and energy juggling all of those concerns, and it can’t be bothered to pay attention to what D did to P or V.  So how can you empty your working memory and allow it to help you perform better next week?

Trying writing down your worries.

Seriously!  Studies show that people perform better on tests when they take ten minutes to write down everything that concerns them — from the specific (“I’ll never remember all of the hearsay exceptions for when the witness is unavailable!”) to the big and general (“I’m going to fail!”).  Write down everything.  It sounds dubious, but writing down your worries appears to free up your working memory, and high-stakes test takers who do it consistently score higher than those who do not.  (See the full study here.)

What have you got to lose?  Bring a note pad to the bar with you, and before you walk in, jot down what troubles you about that day’s exam.  (I might even take it a step further and symbolically throw the list in the trash on my way in, but that wasn’t part of the published studies.)  Open up your working memory to give you every opportunity to shine on the bar like we all KNOW you can!

One and done!!

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After-Hours Bar Exam Study Space

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 21, 2015

From the Office of Student Affairs:

“Classrooms G and H will be open for your use, from when the Library closes each night until it opens each morning.  Classroom G will be reserved for quiet study and Classroom H will be reserved for group study.  These classrooms will remain available to you through the morning of July 30, 2015, the last day of the Bar exam.

Good Luck!  We look forward to seeing you at the reception in your honor at the conclusion of the exam.”

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Your scores do not define you!

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 20, 2015

It’s crunch time, if that’s even possible (hasn’t the entire summer been crunch time?).  This is the period where you’re not encountering new subjects or attending lectures, so you’re just writing practice exams and reviewing the law (and re-reviewing…and re-reviewing…).  It’s tedious, but that’s okay, because you’re memorizing so much, and everything is sticking, and your practice scores are soaring, right?

Maybe not so much.  If that’s true for you, fantastic; keep that momentum and be sure to keep taking care of yourself.  If that doesn’t apply to you, then you’re like most bar applicants.  Everyone taking the exam had the same amount of time available to study, and the same amount of content to learn in that time.  If you are stressed about not feeling like a walking legal encyclopedia right now, you are not alone!  Of course it would be terrific to know it all and be scoring in the top percentiles on everything, but that isn’t necessary.  Remember, you are quite literally just trying to meet a bar here.  You want to pass, not to win.

This is directed to those of you who have given bar prep your all since May — reading outlines, writing and reviewing countless practice exams, practicing MBEs, and trying to exercise, eat healthfully, and sleep regularly.  If you lounged by the pool until mid-June drinking cocktails all day and joking that you’ll “start really studying tomorrow,” or spent most of your study time on Facebook posting about how hard bar prep is rather than actually doing it, then maybe you should be a little concerned.  (Those are true scenarios from recent repeaters.)  But if you are like everyone with whom I’ve met this summer, you have consistently worked hard and followed the plan.  You studied; you practiced; you took care of yourself and tried to remain calm and focused when you really just wanted to panic; and you’re continuing to chip away at the material with the same determination you’ve shown for the past three months.

If that describes you, but you’re still not getting the scores you want, try to focus instead on how much you’ve done and how much you’re learning. Easier said than done, I know, but your practice scores do not define you!  Just because you’ve been getting 60s on your practice essays does not mean that you won’t hit the mark on the bar.  You’re also likely retaining more than you realize.  As we’ve said here before, mistakes are cause for celebration in bar prep, not dismay!  The more mistakes you make now, the less likely you are to make them when it matters.  If you forget a rule or make some other error on a practice exam today, analyze what happened, and be grateful for the learning opportunity.  That’s the whole reason we harp on the importance of practice exams:  A failing score today can lead to a passing score tomorrow.

You also might take a little comfort in a few things:  First, MBEs are incredibly difficult (for everyone); but the answers always will be there.  If you have at least a fundamental knowledge of the law, you can find them.  Second, rules on the essays do not have to be 100% perfect.  That’s ideal, of course, but as long as you get the main idea and elements, you can analyze the specific facts and earn at least partial credit.  Finally, each PT is worth about two essays in terms of points, and there is no memorization required for those!

So try to be positive, even if it’s not always easy.  Remind yourself of how hard you’ve worked.  Sometimes it helps to think of an attorney you don’t respect very much (there’s got to be at least one, famous or otherwise), and say to yourself, “Hey, that person passed.  Surely I can pass, too!”  Your attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy:

whether-you-think-you-can

You’ve got this!  If you’re still concerned about your practice scores or that you’re not memorizing as much as necessary — or about anything else bar-related — you are welcome to contact me (email or just stop by; I’m on campus almost every day).

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Study Tip: Mimic the Bar Schedule

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 17, 2015

If you haven’t already started, now is the time to start mimicking the bar schedule:

  • Wake up and eat breakfast when you plan to do so during Bar Week.  If you work out in the mornings and plan to keep that up during the bar, add that in, too.
  • You do not need to do this every day, but if you plan to drive to the bar, at some point you should drive to your test center at the same time you will during Bar Week and scope out traffic and parking — preferably on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
  • If you plan to simulate essays on a particular day, do so between around 9:00 and noon.  (You can write and review more later as well, if necessary.)  If you only planned to write one or two essays that day, practice some MBEs during this time, too.
  • Eat lunch between noon and 1:30, and try to eat similar things to what you will eat during Bar Week (i.e., if you wouldn’t eat a heavy, sleep-inducing meal then, don’t do so now).
    • It’s not a bad idea to pack your lunch during the bar, if possible.  That way you do not have to stand in the looong lines at nearby restaurants, or move your car and drive somewhere (adding all kinds of unnecessary stress to your day with traffic, parking, etc.).  If you do choose to walk somewhere and buy your lunch, do NOT talk about the exam or listen to anyone else talking about the exam.  True story:  Certain attorneys who work nearby find it entertaining to go to a restaurant during Bar Week, stand in line with frazzled bar takers, and loudly share made-up stories about mythical hidden essay issues.  (“Did you notice the Torts crossover in Question 2?” “Yeah, I almost missed it but thank goodness I didn’t!”  “I know!  It was tricky but it was huge, and I bet it was worth half the points!”)  Don’t listen to other people!
  • If you are a smoker, adjust those breaks to accommodate the bar, too.  Now is not the time to change habits (wait until July 31 to quit!), but you won’t want to take 5-10 minutes away from your exam time because your body is craving a cigarette.
  • If you plan to simulate a PT (or practice more MBEs), do so between around 1:30 and 5:00.
  • After 5:00, use the time as you’d like — dinner, exercise, more practice, flash cards, etc.  The most important thing you can do now, and probably the hardest thing, is to go to bed when you plan/hope to go to sleep during the bar.  Being fresh and able to focus is one of the most important weapons in your bar pass arsenal, and making yourself go to bed at a particular time (even if you can’t fall asleep right away right now) will make it more likely that you will be able to sleep at that time during Bar Week.

Don’t underestimate the benefits of mimicking the bar schedule like this.  By waking, sleeping, eating, and practicing at the same times now as you will later this month, you will help train your mind and body to be as prepared as possible.

One and done!!

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Stay focused and stay positive!

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 15, 2015

Great advice from Benjamin Alba (Director of Academic Support, Student Advising, & Bar Passage at DePaul College of Law):

“Stay focused.  Use your stress management strategies.  Stay mentally tough.  Recognize that you have invested hundreds of hours of intensive study into this.  All (or nearly all) of the rules you have been diligently memorizing will NOT suddenly fall out of your brain.  A positive attitude will maximize your performance.

Staying positive is also a big key to surviving the next two weeks and passing the exam.  If your performance on the practice exams is not exactly where you want it to be, identify the specific topics (e.g., res ipsa loquitur, not just “torts”) in which you are weakest and focus on closing the knowledge gap.  Now that you have finished your commercial review course, you can devote all your time to memorizing rules and doing practice questions without new material constantly being dumped into your brain, and your performance will improve.  No matter how prepared or unprepared you may feel, expect a great sense of uncertainty in the exam room – this is NORMAL among nearly everyone who passes.

These last eight weeks have marked a period of tremendous professional and personal growth for you.  In the end, you want to walk out of the exam room feeling that – no matter what the outcome – you did your very best to prepare for the bar.  You shouldn’t ask for more than that.  This attitude went on to serve me well in my former litigation career, especially after arguing a motion, trying a case, or writing an appellate brief.

Keep up the momentum.  Keep pacing yourselves.  You can do this.

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“The Bar Is Finally Over” Reception

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 13, 2015

It’s hard to imagine that there is an end to this process, but after you finish your final PT on the 30th — don’t panic; there still is time to study and practice! — celebrate your accomplishment and join us for a congratulatory reception across the street at the Sheraton.

Find more information here.

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Final Extra Feedback Essay (PR) Due Monday!

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 10, 2015

Your last chance to get Extra Feedback — on the most commonly tested subject, PR — is this Monday, July 13.  Submit your answer to mcgeorgebar@gmail.com by no later than 5:00 p.m.  One and done!

PR Question

2015 Summer EFP Schedule

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Mindful Meditation for the Bar Exam Playlist

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 8, 2015

After talking with some graduates, I (Courtney Lee) decided to record some of the guided meditations we did this summer, plus a couple of new ones, and make them available to anyone preparing for the bar.  Please note that these were not recorded in a professional studio with high-tech equipment, and I am not a certified meditation instructor (yes, those do exist!). I tried to create sessions in manageable time blocks (most are around 10 minutes long), and I geared them specifically to the bar exam.

Meditation is personal, so although I tried to craft concepts and visualizations that apply to most bar applicants, you might not relate to all of them.  You may even not care for the sound or cadence of my voice.  If for any reason these do not work for you, you are welcome to adapt the ideas for your own, individual practice.  Of course you also can just meditate in silence and focus on your breath; you do not have to think about the bar exam to reap benefits that might boost your performance there. See this earlier post for some other available research and links, or simply do a search online, where there are a multitude of free resources.

You can find the bar-specific guided meditation recordings here.  I hope they are helpful in preserving your peace, focus, and sanity, and as always, I wish you all the best.

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Study Tip: Exam Exchange

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 5, 2015

A great way to improve your bar writing is to put yourself in the shoes of your graders, and the best way to do that is to grade another person’s work.  Sure, you can — and should! — review your own answers and assess how they measure up to the sample answers, but you know what you meant to say.  Even if only subconsciously, you will read that into your review, when a grader might not see it.  Seeing another person’s errors makes it more likely that you will avoid those mistakes in your own writing.

Give this a try: Find at least one other person who would like to take a particular practice exam with you. Find a quiet space where you can simulate the exam under realistic, timed conditions. When you’re finished, review the sample answer, swap answers, and spend a few minutes writing comments on your friend’s exam. Is it written in IRAC format and structured in a way that is easy to read quickly? Were the issues the same as those in the sample answer? Could you understand the logical flow of the analyses? Were enough facts incorporated and explained?  You can use this model even if you don’t want to sit down and write the exam together; just exchange answers via email.

Why not give it a shot this week? Your friend will have the benefit of another set of eyes reading his or her answers, but most importantly, you will be surprised by how much you learn just by (constructively!) critiquing someone else’s work.

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