Monthly Archives: February 2020

Last Minute Advice for February Bar Takers

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

It’s less than a week until the start of the February bar exam, and I’ve been having conversations with some tired, stressed-out bar studiers. I think it’s time for a pep talk, so here is my advice for the final days of bar prep:

First, assess your weaknesses and come up with a daily plan for the remaining days of bar prep. This is not the time to study all of the bar company outlines cover-to-cover. What are your weakest, actually-tested subjects? What topics within those subjects do you find most challenging? Focus your energy on those things, rather than attempting to review everything. When you review cover-to-cover, you are actually spending a lot of time on law you already know, and there’s no value to that approach in the final days.

Second, quit paying attention to your scores on your multiple choice practice sets. I always get emails from bar studiers in the last few days before the bar exam who are panicked because their scores suddenly dropped at the end. Your scores in the final days are usually not predictive of your ability to pass the bar. Instead, they may reflect the fact that you are tired, you are not taking adequate breaks from your studies, you aren’t sleeping, or you are rushing through the questions and not focusing enough on the details of each question. View practice MBE questions as an opportunity to just continue reviewing the law, regardless of whether you get the questions right or wrong.

Third, keep using essay questions in your studies. Even if you don’t have the time to fully write out your answers to the essay questions, take the time to issue spot and evaluate whether you have a plan for completing the analysis for each issue. This can be a great way to spot topics that you need to spend a little extra time on in the final days.

Fourth, run through your bar exam preparations. Have you checked the emails from the bar examiners as well as the bar examiners’ website to make sure you know what you are required to bring with you to the exam, what you are allowed to bring in the room, and what is prohibited? Get everything together so that you aren’t scrambling at the last minute. Evaluate how long it will take you to get to the bar exam location from where you are staying, and add significantly more time than that to ensure that you will have plenty of travel time regardless of emergencies. Want to know more about what to expect on the days of the exam? Most law schools send representatives from Academic Support, Student Services, or the Alumni Office to support their students on bar exam days, and they will have insight into some of the logistical concerns you may have.

Finally, and most importantly, make your health the highest priority in the final days of bar prep. Get on a sleep schedule that mirrors the timing you will need on bar exam days, and go to bed at a time that will allow you to get 8 hours of sleep (even if you don’t actually sleep that entire time). Sleep is the most important priority at this point – you will focus better if you have enough sleep, adequate sleep helps you manage stress better, and you will remember what you have studied more if you’ve protected your sleep. Eat regular meals, and make sure that they are nutritious. Your brain isn’t fed by junk food! And finally, take regular breaks. Bar studiers often don’t take enough breaks because they feel that the breaks take away from their study time, but breaks help your brain recharge so it can continue doing the hard work. If you find your attention wandering or you just can’t remember things you have known before, it often means you aren’t taking sufficient breaks.

Keep focus in these last days of bar prep, and know that your hard work will pay off in what you accomplish next week. It’s time to go out there and rock the bar!

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Filed under Bar Exam, Stress and Mental Health

Asking for Help in Law School

Every year at this time, I meet with first-year law students seeking to do better than they did last semester. Those meetings may be required because of their academic performance. We usually start our discussion by exploring their approach to their studies in the Fall. There are often common themes to what they tell me. Many struggling students weren’t able to effectively manage their time, and in an attempt to get their work done they took shortcuts. Perhaps they relied on canned briefs rather than reading cases themselves, or they used a commercial outline to study for exams instead of synthesizing course material for themselves. They didn’t do practice exams in the weeks leading up to finals, perfecting their approach to essays and multiple choice questions before grades were attached to their work. All of those choices were important to their first-semester outcomes, but there is another common trait at the heart of those results: these students almost never sought help in the midst of their struggles.

So why is it so hard for law students to seek help when things aren’t going well? Some law students are embarrassed to admit to their professors that they don’t understand course material or don’t know how to complete a particular type of assignment. They believe that their professors will think less of them if they ask for too much help. Other students believe that they must “figure it out” on their own, and if they aren’t able to do that they just don’t belong in law school. There are some who don’t even realize that asking for help is an option. They may be first gen students, not knowing that their classmates who weren’t first gen already knew the process for asking for help. Or maybe their undergraduate institution didn’t really have an “office hour” culture, and so the idea that professors could be available to answer students’ questions outside of class didn’t even occur to them.

There may be a variety of reasons law students don’t seek help, but their choices end in common results. Rather than developing strategies and processes for long-term success, the struggling student reinforces bad habits that perpetuate the challenges they’re facing. Their first-semester grades come in, and they are in academic difficulty – often on academic probation, or not far from that line. They start off their second semester of law school discouraged, overwhelmed, and still not sure what they should be doing to improve their studies.

Does this post so far describe you? If so, you are not alone. And most importantly, there is an opportunity to change course. Help may already be on the way, if your law school has required you to meet with your academic support department. But there are also things that you can begin to do, on your own, to initiate those conversations and get the help you need for law school success.

What can you do to get help? Most law schools have at least one professional academic support person, and you may already know who that person is. If they haven’t reached out to you, take that first step and reach out to them. If you don’t know who provides academic support at your school, contact your Dean of Students to find out who can provide help. But don’t stop with academic support. Talk to your professors. Get feedback on your performance on your exams last semester. Ask questions about things you don’t understand. Go to office hours. Ask your classmates questions. Seek out a study group (as long as that group is actually productive). These are all things that successful law students do, and you should do it too. Seek help to break out of the old, unproductive habits from last semester, and use that help to develop new habits that build your confidence in your ability to be successful.

Finally, don’t delay. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you will be on the right path for your future academic and professional goals!

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Filed under Study Tips, General, Law School Exams, Grades, Stress and Mental Health