McGeorge Bar Prep

What You Need to Succeed on the CA Bar Exam

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MBE Changes

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on September 1, 2016

The NCBE has announced that starting in February 2017 there will be 175 scored questions on the MBE, and 25 unscored “pretest” questions. (In the past it was 190 scored and 10 unscored.)  From the NCBE:

“MBE scores will continue to be expressed on a 200-point scale. Because MBE scores are equated and scaled, scores will still be comparable to those earned when there were more scored questions. The change was made in consultation with our testing and measurement staff with the goal [of] further strengthening of the MBE. The change should require nothing different in terms of preparation for the test.”

Although they assure us that this does not affect the difficulty of the test and that it does not mean that applicants should prepare differently, fewer graded questions means that each individual question will be worth a little more.  And that’s okay, because you have plenty of time and the tools you need to prepare to knock that portion of the exam out of the park.

My advice for getting a head start on your MBE prep is to use Adaptibar every week, starting now (even if you plan to sit for the exam in July).  On the weekend, pick a subject and complete 5-10 untimed questions and review the answers — that’s it.  You don’t need to kill yourself, or even to start memorizing the law right now; but this will help you revisit rules that you may not have seen for a few years.  Don’t worry if you don’t answer all (or any) of the questions correctly right now, as long as you review every answer.  Careful, slow consideration of the questions and answers is vital, and it will help you understand the law, setting a firm foundation for when the time does come to start memorizing.

You also can use that time as an opportunity to make some flashcards, or whatever other study aid you prefer.  For example, if you review just five questions each week and make a flashcard for each rule tested, you would have a stack of 80 cards by the end of December.  Taking little steps like this now can give you a major head start later.

If you are graduating in winter 2016 or spring 2017 and do not know how to purchase Adaptibar at the special McGeorge rate, you are welcome to email me at clee1@pacific.edu. That software is required in PASS I and Remedies, but even if you are not taking those courses until next semester, you still can purchase it now, start practicing early, and retain access through your 2017 bar exam.

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Anxiety Buster: Jot Down Your Worries

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 21, 2016

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?” “Oh no, I hate [subject x]!”  “What if I didn’t practice enough?”  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 not going to pass!”).  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?  Before you go inside the test center, jot down what troubles you about that day’s exam.  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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Using the Remaining Time Most Effectively

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 19, 2016

If you follow this blog, chances are you also have been using your time this entire summer as effectively as possible.  You still may not feel “ready” to take the bar next week, but few (if any) people ever feel fully ready; there is just too much information.  What it really means to be “ready” for the bar exam is very different than, for example, what it means to be ready to present an oral argument, where you are expected to be an expert in the topic at issue.  Being ready for the bar means having done everything you reasonably could do to prepare.  Looking back, we always feel like we could have done more, so think about it objectively:  Did you take studying seriously from the beginning, simulating roughly 45-50 essays, 5-6 PTs, and 1500-1800 MBEs this summer?  Did you review every answer and take advantage of opportunities to improve?  If so, you should be in a pretty good position for bar success.  (If not, and you definitely feel unprepared — not just nervous, which is normal, but certain that you completed significantly less than what’s ideal and are really not ready — then I encourage you to contact me ASAP to discuss your options if you postpone to February, because you do have options if that’s the case.)

If you largely have been able to use your time effectively this summer, great!   Unfortunately it does not mean that you can sit back and relax this week, of course.  So what should you be doing?

The answer varies from person to person, but generally speaking, IF you have been dutifully simulating and reviewing practice essays and PTs, you might consider focusing more on outlining essay questions now.  This is not because outlining your answers is better than fully simulating them — it’s not — but this week is all about maximizing your time, and this will allow you to see more fact patterns and answer organizations in a shorter period of time.  Just make sure that you’re thinking about the applicable issues, rules, and what facts apply to each analysis, and then compare your outline to the sample answer.  There is a caveat to this strategy:  If you have NOT been fully simulating practice exams this summer, or if you are not comfortable with time management and weighting, using IRAC, or factual analysis, then you should keep fully simulating and comparing your answers so you can work on those vital skills.

Secondly, more MBE practice and review will help you keep drilling (and memorizing) the substantive law.  You may find that shorter, timed MBE exams are helpful — maybe 33 questions at a time, which equates to roughly one hour.  That way you can work on your timing skills and also review the answers before forgetting the questions.

Third, you also can work on straight rule memorization, whether with flash cards, reading and rereading subject outlines, writing the rules out by hand, or whatever works best for you.  (Personally, I condensed my outlines down to single-page checklists (front-only, two columns) that I read and reread.)

All of these suggestions — outlining and reviewing written answers, MBE practice, and straight rule review — depend on where you feel most and least comfortable.  If you feel great about your MBE practice, for example, then maybe you should work more with the writing component.  If you feel really confident about Torts but not so much with Con Law, then your focus should adjust accordingly.

If you would like to discuss your study plan this week, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Otherwise, keep pushing forward — you’re almost there!  If you start to feel panicked, think back to all of the hard work you’ve done to prepare, proving that you’ve got this, and that you really are “ready” to show off the results of that hard work next week!

 

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Prep Tip: Mimic the Bar Schedule

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 14, 2016

Now that we’re about two weeks out, it’s a good idea to start mimicking the bar schedule:

Mornings:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you plan to drive to the bar and did not attend the Convention Center Meet-Up this week, pick a day to drive to your test center at the same time you will do so during Bar Week to scope out traffic and parking — preferably on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

Afternoons:

  • 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 unnecessary stress to your day with traffic, parking, etc.).  You can leave it in a cooler in the trunk of your car or in your hotel room, or perhaps if a family member will be nearby s/he can bring it to you.  You are permitted to leave it in the main hallway outside of the exam room, but it will not be monitored.
    • 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 bet it was worth half the points!”)  Don’t listen to other people!
  • You do not need to simulate a PT every day, of course, but if one is in your study plan — or perhaps more MBE practice is — complete it between around 1:30 and 5:00.
  • If you are a smoker, adjust those breaks to accommodate the bar, too.  Now is not the time to change habits (wait until July 29 to quit!), but you won’t want to take 5-10 minutes away from your exam time because your body is craving a cigarette.

Evenings:

  • 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.

By waking, eating, practicing, and sleeping 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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Convention Center Meet-Up

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 11, 2016

If you plan to sit for the bar at the Convention Center downtown, you are welcome to come check it out with me and some of your fellow graduates at 8:30 a.m. this Wednesday, July 13.  This will give you a chance to experience what general traffic is like at that time of day/week, and you can scope out the parking situation and other logistics.  (The contact person at the Convention Center recommended Memorial Garage for parking during the exam, which has a full-day “Early Bird” rate of $6.00. For more info about area parking, see this site.)  I just received confirmation that we will not be permitted into the actual exam room on Wednesday due to security purposes, but we at least can get into the main hallway area.

It’s important to remove every source of stress that you can in advance, so even if you do not come out on Wednesday, it’s a good idea to visit your testing location on your own on another Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning this month so that your first time making the trip is not July 26.

If you would like to join us this Wednesday, we will meet at the entrance at J Street and 14th Street at 8:30 a.m. (see photo below).

sacramento-convention-center - Sacramento Convention Center-1ece9a642d90424e55324a7721ac5a48

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Simulations Everywhere!

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on July 6, 2016

First of all, congratulations and great job to everyone who submitted the PR Extra Feedback essay last week!  If you need the sample answer, you can find it here.

There is only one more Extra Feedback exam left:  Contracts, which is due by 6:00 p.m. on Monday, July 11.  For more information and a copy of the question, click here.

But wait, there’s more!  There will be a full-day writing simulation on campus on Saturday, July 9, at 9:00 a.m. in Room C (it will start promptly on time, so arrive early to get set up).  You will write three essays, break for lunch (not provided), and then write a PT.  The review session for this simulation, conducted by bar tutor Belia Ramos, will take place the following Friday, July 15, at 5:00 p.m. in Room A.  All graduates are welcome at the simulation and review, including those not taking the exam for the first time this summer.  No RSVP is required.  UPDATE:  The review session now will occur on THURSDAY, JULY 14, at 5:30 p.m. in Room A.

As if that’s not enough, most bar review companies also plan to hold simulations this week.  And that’s great!  Every time you simulate the exam, you will be that much more prepared to attack it on the Big Day(s).  It will be exhausting, but it’s still early enough to allow time to recover both physically and mentally.  I compare it to running:  If you decide to wake up early to go for a run, when your alarm goes off, there will be a thousand reasons not to follow through — your clothes aren’t clean, your shoes are broken down, you need to make breakfast for someone, etc., etc. — but you know that if you just lace up those shoes and get out there, you will feel better.  Even if it’s awful, and your knee hurts, and you’re slow, you will be so glad that you did it, and you will that much better next time as a result.  Think of simulations like that:  There are a thousand reasons not to get up and drive to the exam and slog through the questions, but if you do it (and review the sample answers), you will be that much better next time.

So hooray for simulations, and for being one and done!

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Mid-Prep Motivation

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on June 30, 2016

With Bar Month approaching and more bar applicants hitting the wall of stress and exhaustion, now might be a good time to share some motivational thoughts for the last leg of the journey. I have been where you are: I felt frustrated, tired, scared, overwhelmed, and sometimes even like an imposter (like it must have been a typo somewhere that let me graduate from law school in the first place). Hundreds of thousands of others have been there, too, and thousands more are here with you now. We did — and you will — get through it. Here are some things to keep in mind as you climb that wall:

1. The bar is an opportunity, not a punishment. 

You may feel like you “have” to take the bar because you’ve spent so much time and money and you need to get/keep that job, etc., but taking the bar is a choice.  Even if it may feel like the only one, you still GET to take the bar…and we are so lucky to have that opportunity!

There are so many people who never get to this stage and would give just about anything to be where you are: people living in repressive cultures, people who could not make the grades or find the funds to go to law school, etc.  You do not have to look far to find them.  And of course we’ve seen far too many news accounts this year of people whose lives were cut short by acts of terrorism and hate. We are lucky in so many ways, and being able to make the choice to take the bar exam is a big one. Be grateful.

2. This may be the last time in your life that you’ll only have one thing to do.  Enjoy it! 

Okay, “enjoy” might be a little strong, but honestly, I often am nostalgic for my bar prep days.  Every morning, I knew I had only one thing to do (even though that one thing had many components, like writing practice, MBEs, flash cards, exercise, etc.).  It was tedious (understatement), but I could be selfish with my time, and the people around me allowed it. Once you begin your career, it probably will be the opposite, as people pull you in all different directions at once and your devices don’t stop ringing and beeping with problems you need to fix yesterday…but for now, you are in control of your time.  Try to appreciate that.

3. No matter what, everything that really matters will be okay.

The bar exam is a test — that’s it.  It’s an important, difficult test that we all want you to pass on the first try, but it’s still just a test. Think about the things that really matter to you:  your family, your friends, your pets, your faith, your values, etc.  You have been working so hard, and you are going to pass the bar; but regardless of the outcome, your family and friends will not go away or stop loving you, and those things that really matter will not change.

4. The graders want you to pass. 

Graders are regular people with regular legal jobs who grade as a public service and who want to see applicants pass.  They did not write the questions, and they are not the enemy!  The bar is your chance to show off all the hard work and preparation you’ve done.  Graders have to get through huge boxes of answer books in short periods of time, but you know how to write your answers in such a way as to make it easy for them to toss your papers onto the “pass” pile. Don’t dread the bar exam; be excited to take it, because it’s your opportunity to show the graders how hard you’ve worked, and how awesome of an attorney you will be when they pass you.

5. Doable goals can help. 

I’ve talked with a lot of graduates so far this summer, and almost every one — from the top of the class to the bottom — feels like s/he is behind. If you feel similarly, don’t look at the list of tasks you still have to complete as one giant mass; break it down into pieces.  For example, if there are four essays and 30 MBEs you needed to simulate but haven’t yet, don’t assume you need to find an open span of five hours to finish them.  Move one essay and maybe ten MBEs to one day, another essay and another group of MBEs to another, and so forth.  Set smaller, doable goals each day, and create a checklist for them.  (Do not underestimate that joy that comes from crossing something off!  I still do that every day and it gives me a thrill each time, no matter how small the task was.)

6. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 

Law students are accustomed to working as hard as humanly possible to be the best. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s good to aim for perfection, but don’t lose sight of the fact that there is no Witkin for the bar exam.  Do not get so caught up in “bar drama” that you lose sight of this; yes, it’s hard, but acknowledge that and keep going rather than wallowing in it.  The only way out is through, and as noted above, hundreds of thousands of others have made it before, and so will you.

Related to that, be careful not to allow anxiety to sabotage your efforts.  You graduated from a law school with a rigorous academic curriculum, and you can do this, too.  Keep practicing and working hard, and know that you absolutely, positively CAN PASS the bar exam!!

And-now-that-you-dont-1

Take a couple of hours on the Fourth to recharge, and maybe reconnect with those important things from point #3, and come back refreshed and ready to attack.  You’ve got this!  One and done!

 

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The MBE Is Not Your NME

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on June 25, 2016

Make no mistake:  The MBE is tough. I’ve never met anyone who (a) felt fully ready to tackle it by Game Day, or (b) left the exam room feeling fully confident.  As I took my own bar exam, I kept track of the questions I felt sure about…and let’s just say that chickens can count that high.  (Chickens are surprisingly intelligent and can indeed count — you can have fun with that Google diversion at your next study break — but still.)

If your MBE scores are not where you’d like them to be, consider a few things:

At this point, the name of the game is QUALITY, not quantity.  I would rather see someone answer 30 questions in a really focused, engaged, careful manner, with similarly meticulous answer review, than 100 questions just for the sake of knocking out 100 questions.  Yes, you should have completed a significant amount of practice prior to the bar exam (most studies suggest 1500-1800 questions); but it is less about the number than it is about what you LEARNED from that practice.  If you complete 1600 questions, great, but that means little unless you used those questions to gain a better understanding of the law.

Speaking of which, misunderstanding the law is one of the two most common reasons people miss MBE questions.  The other is reading too quickly.  In either case, at least for the next couple of weeks, slow down.  Try reading the “call of the question” (the line just before the answer options) first to see if it gives you an idea of the subject area; then read the fact pattern; then pause and try to think of the answer.  Once you have an idea, then read the answer options and see if one coincides with what you predetermined.  Read the answer explanations immediately after answering every question so you have a better opportunity to internalize the rationale before moving on.  (Do this even for the questions you get right, because you may get them right for the wrong reasons.)

If you got something wrong because you read it too quickly, practice slowing down a little and reading mindfully.  (Remember that post about how a mindfulness practice can help with bar prep?  This is one way how.)  If you got it wrong because you did not know the rule, don’t just nod, move on, and hope you get it next time; stop and make note of it, whether it’s on a flash card or in a separate notebook.  Keep those flashcards or notes somewhere easily accessible so you can skim through them whenever you have a spare moment — while brushing your teeth, waiting in line, just before bed, etc.

And don’t forget that one of the best ways to strengthen your grasp of the substantive law is through essay simulation.  Struggling with the rules over the course of 60 minutes in the context of a fact pattern is one of the best ways to really learn — not just memorize — the law.  (Memorization fades; learning stays.)  It doesn’t matter if it felt horrible, you didn’t know the rules, and the answer you wrote was embarrassingly bad; it is all about that moment when you review the model answers, compare them to your own, and think to yourself, “Ooh!  So THAT’S how I should have discussed it…”  If you experience that moment, it was worth it.  The essays may not cover every little substantive nuance the MBEs will test, but they certainly help.  Essay and MBE practice go hand-in-hand.

So yes, the MBE is difficult.  Acknowledge that, and the fact that you will not be — nor are you expected to be — an expert in all areas of all subjects.  That’s okay; you do not need a perfect score to pass the bar exam.  Most importantly, keep practicing with the main goal of learning, not just reaching a certain number.  The more you learn, the more the MBE will start to feel like your friend, not your enemy.

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PR Essay Due Monday

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on June 23, 2016

Professional Responsibility is the one subject you are almost guaranteed to see on the bar next month, and your opportunity to get grader feedback on a PR essay is here!  The deadline is Monday, June 27, at 6:00 p.m.  If you feel overwhelmed and don’t want to write another essay right now, stop and check your files, because you may already have written this essay for your review course.  If so, all you have to write is an email (and even then, all we need is the exam attachment — no message required).  Easy!

2016 EFP Schedule

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Hitting the Wall

Posted by mcgeorgebarprep on June 19, 2016

You’ve been at it for about a month, and all the excitement and adrenaline surrounding graduation has diminished.  You’re now left with a pile of thick bar review books and a review schedule that makes training for an Olympic decathlon seem pretty doable.  You’ve been diligently attending lectures, filling in blanks and bubbles, and even the sequence of your dreams follows IRAC format; but lately it seems like you’ve been given a new substantive topic to cover way before you feel comfortable with the previous one, and you wonder whether you’ll ever be given a few precious moments just to come up for air.  It gets harder and harder just to find the energy and motivation to move forward.

You are not alone!  I have yet to meet anyone studying for the bar exam who does not hit this wall.  Some hit it now, some later; but we all hit the wall.  (I certainly did when I was studying!)  When it happens to you, maybe you’ll need to take a deep breath, take a walk, or take an evening off to reboot.  Just keep your eyes on the prize, and you will climb over that wall.  You still may have moments of frustration and exhaustion, but you will get through it.

Whatever you do, just do not fall into the trap of not keeping up with simulating practice exams!  Simulation — fully writing out each assigned exam under timed, realistic conditions, regardless of whether you feel comfortable enough with the law to do so — should be your top priority for the rest of the summer.  Hopefully you will not find yourself in a position where you feel like you have no choice but to cut something from your list, but if you do, do not let it be exam simulation. By far, the most common comment from repeat-takers is, “I didn’t write enough practice exams.”

If you fall behind overall, look at every missed assignment individually, and parse it out over the next week or so.  (Did you miss doing 30 MBEs? Move ten to each of the next three days. A three-hour video? Do the same with one-hour chunks, etc.)  Looking at things this way makes them seem much more manageable than viewing them together as entire days’ worth of material.

Bar prep is no fun, but remember: You GET to take the bar — you do not HAVE to take the bar, no matter what you believe is at stake.  This is your choice, and you are so fortunate to have been able to make it.

Keep working hard!  I’m very proud of all of you!

 

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