Tag Archives: studying for the bar exam

Studying for the Bar Exam Using MPT Practice Exams

In just over two weeks, law graduates from all over the United States will be taking the bar exam for the first time. Approximately 80% of states include at least one Multistate Performance Test, or MPT, on their bar exam. Some states, including those who utilize the Uniform Bar Examination, include two MPTS on each exam. Each state values the MPT differently in calculating the total bar exam score, and it is important to check your state bar examiners’ website for more information about scoring.

For current law students who are just beginning to think about the bar exam and don’t know what an MPT is, here is a brief description. Unlike other parts of the bar examination, the MPT focuses on fundamental lawyering skills, not the bar taker’s knowledge of the applicable state’s law. As a result, the MPT is a closed universe exam—you are given a File, which includes any documents that provide facts for the “case,” and a Library, which includes statutes, regulations, and case law. The bar taker completes an assignment from a hypothetical supervising attorney or judge, based upon the materials found in the File and Library. Bar takers have 90 minutes to complete each MPT. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE) website, the MPT specifically requires exam takers to:

(1) sort detailed factual materials and separate relevant from irrelevant facts; (2) analyze statutory, case, and administrative materials for applicable principles of law; (3) apply the relevant law to the relevant facts in a manner likely to resolve a client’s problem; (4) identify and resolve ethical dilemmas, when present; (5) communicate effectively in writing; and (6) complete a lawyering task within time constraints.

When law graduates are studying for the bar exam, the amount of material that must be studied, memorized, and absorbed can feel overwhelming. Because the MPT is a closed universe task, it is not possible to “study” for it in the traditional way. There is no bar outline for the MPT, and flashcards aren’t helpful either. Because of these limitations, bar takers are tempted to skip over their preparation for the MPT and instead focus on studying the subjects they will need to be successful on the essays and Multistate Bar Examination questions (multiple choice). Because the MPT can be a significant portion of your total bar exam score, it can be a real mistake to not spend some time preparing for it.

So what is the best way to prepare for the MPT? Make yourself familiar with the format of the MPT and the range of possible tasks involved. The NCBE has released a number of past MPTS, as well as the point sheets that it provided into state bar examiners for those MPTS. Some states, like Georgia, have also released past MPTs—some states even provide sample answers that demonstrate what a high-scoring MPT looks like. Go over a number of these past MPTs just to get an understanding of how they are organized, what types of materials are included in the File and Library, and how you might need to organize your time to accomplish the assigned task in 90 minutes.

Most importantly, set aside time in your studies to take a practice MPT on a regular basis. The only way to really be prepared for the MPT is to have completed several MPTs prior to the bar exam. You need to figure out the proper strategy for reading and digesting the materials provided in the File and Library, organizing what you need from that material so that you can write effectively and efficiently, and completing the assigned task in the time allotted. Time can really be the bar taker’s enemy on the MPT, and it is important to understand what you need to accomplish and have a strategy for accomplishing it when you go into the bar exam. This is definitely one of those situations where practice is a key to success!

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Diagramming the Bar Exam: Using Visual Prompts to Strengthen Memory

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Studying for the bar exam is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. It’s important to not to take a passive approach to your studies. Although commercial bar prep materials are helpful when you are studying for the bar, you should go beyond the pre-packaged outlines and videos. Don’t forget what you have discovered about your learning preferences as a student in law school. Using different approaches to attack your study materials can have a significant effect on what you remember for the exam.

I have already discussed one way that you can change up your bar studies approach: flashcards. Today, I want to talk about another technique that can help you remember more of what you study: the creation of diagrams, flow charts, and other visual materials. If you are a visual learner, diagrams and flow charts can help you to remember the steps required for legal analysis of complex legal issues or how various sub-issues are related to each other. The process of creating the diagram or flow chart helps you to synthesize important legal principles, and, having studied the diagram or flow chart, you should be able to recall it more easily in the midst of the exam.

Here’s a simple example of how such a diagram or flow cart could be constructed. Let’s say you are reviewing Contracts, and you want to make sure that you remember the key steps for determining whether an enforceable contract has been created. Here’s what a simple version of that diagram might look like:contracts flow chart

Keep in mind, this would only be the starting point. As you continued to study, you might decide you want to incorporate more concepts into the flow chart, such as: (1) Mistake; (2) whether terms were definite; (3) whether promissory estoppel should apply; etc. You may make several versions of the flow chart before you have incorporated everything you want into it. The process of thinking through where all of the legal principles should fit will help you to remember them better, and in the end you will have a study aid that you can reference over the next several weeks as you study for the bar.

The key is to not get stuck studying your bar materials in a passive way—figure out a way to make it yours, and you will know it even better!

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Flashcards and Bar Prep

By now, those of you who are studying for the July bar exam should be settling into a regular study routine. As you discovered during your time in law school, there are some legal concepts that you just have to memorize to be successful on an exam, whether it is the final exam in Torts or the bar exam. As a result, you may want to pull an old tool out of the study toolbox—flashcards. Flashcards can help you memorize important rules, tests, and definitions that you will need to recall during the bar exam. They can be especially helpful as you juggle learning and reviewing material from numerous bar subjects. Flashcards can also help you assess what you know versus what concepts you need to spend more time on, allowing you to make efficient use of limited time.

There are two possible approaches to flashcards: (1) the old school, index card type of flashcard that is either handwritten or typed (the “traditional” flashcard); or (2) digital flashcards that can be viewed on a computer, smartphone, iPad, or other digital reader. Each type has its benefits and drawbacks, as discussed below. You just have to decide which type will work best for you.

Traditional Flashcards:

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First, let’s talk about the traditional flashcard. For those of you who do not like to study from a digital screen or aren’t as comfortable using technology, the traditional flashcard may be your default approach. One of the benefits of the traditional flashcard is that many students find that the process of writing out each card actually helps them to remember concepts better, even before they actually start studying from the cards. For people who like a visual reference of what has been accomplished and what is left to learn, stacks of flashcards satisfy that need. It is possible to carry around a small number of traditional flashcards regardless of where you go, and you don’t have to worry about low batteries, loss of internet connectivity, etc.

On the flip side, making handwritten flashcards can be a tedious process, especially when you are creating them for every bar subject. They are easily lost or ruined (such as when your elbow catches that cup of coffee and knocks it over). And if you are one of those people who tries to reduce the entire BarBri outline to a comprehensive series of flashcards, you may take so much time on one subject that nothing else gets done before it’s time to take the bar.

Digital Flashcards:

So what about digital flashcards? Digital flashcards also have their benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits of digital flashcards is their portability. If you have a smartphone with a flashcard app, you literally can carry your flashcards with you everywhere you go. As I’ve talked about before, there are any number of basic flashcard apps available on the internet for free or at a low cost, such as Flashcard Machine and Quizlet. You may have already discovered a program that works really well for you. Depending on the program, there may be limitations though. It may be difficult to separate out cards that you want to concentrate on for a single study session, or the ability to temporarily combine particular subjects together in a random way (how it will be on the MBE) may be limited. Not all apps work on all devices either. Some only work on Apple devices, while others work with android platforms. Very few seem to work with Blackberries, if you happen to have one of those.

Another benefit—and drawback—to many digital flashcard programs is that they allow you to share your flashcards with others. On the plus side, this means that you and two of your best friends could divide and conquer the flashcard creation process . . . if you trust those people’s judgment calls about what is flashcard-worthy. On the negative side, most people end up knowing best the cards that they created themselves.

A New Type of Digital Flashcard for Law Students and Bar Takers: SeRiouS:

There is also a new digital flashcard program specifically for law students and bar takers called SeRiouS.

Here’s a video explaining how SeRiouS works:

From my exploration of the SeRiouS platform, there are two different ways that you can use it. First, you can utilize flashcards, created by law professors, on a variety of bar subjects. As it stands right now, there are over 600 different flashcards on mostly MBE topics, but it appears that more will be added over time. Second, you and your friends can create your own cards as well. The benefit to SeRiouS is that it draws upon scientific research regarding memory. As you go through each flashcard, you rate how confident you felt about your answer. Based upon your level of confidence, SeRiouS applies an algorithm to determine how often you see that flashcard as you study—a process called spaced repetition. The principle is that, as you start studying a topic, you need to review it frequently in order for it to be stored in your memory. As you continue to review that same topic over time, however, you need to see it less and less often to maintain it in your long-term memory. (I’m not an expert on the subject, but this is how I understand it.) One of the drawbacks to this program is that the website is a little hard to navigate at first until you figure out where everything is located, but it shows a lot of promise. A plus is your ability to chart your mastery of the cards (it gives you an update about your status) as well as gentle reminder emails to get back to reviewing your flashcard deck. At this point, SeRiouS is in the beta stage and available without cost to law students and bar takers at least through the July bar exam period.

**This blog post is not an endorsement of any product mentioned herein; I am just providing some suggestions of resources that are available for you to explore.

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Accountability Creates Motivation: Studying for the Bar Exam, Part 3

It’s now only two months before the July Bar Exam, and everyone should be busy studying at this point. At times, it can be hard to find the motivation to study, especially when the exam date still feels like it’s far away. Your commercial bar prep program may seem a little monotonous, as you seem to do the same thing every day: watch a lecture (whether in person or online), study the outlines and supplemental materials, complete the practice questions, repeat. It can be tempting to watch TV, play computer games, or do something else when you should really be studying. Keeping yourself motivated at this time is key, and one way to motivate yourself is to establish some type of accountability system.

What do I mean by accountability? Sometimes it is easier to not focus on what we need to be doing when we feel that no one will know about our lack of progress on our studies. If your bar review course gives you the option of attending lectures in person or watching them online, attending them in person may help you to be more accountable for your studies—the people around you will notice if you are missing. It can also help to set up some type of accountability system with a friend who’s also studying for the bar exam. It may be that you just touch base with each other every couple of days to make sure you are each on track with your study goals, or you may actually schedule study sessions where you quiz each other on material that you have just finished reviewing. Another way to create accountability would be to reach out to someone in charge of Academic Success or Bar Skills programs at your law school. Explain what your study goals are and that you want to create some type of accountability system to keep you on track.

When you know that someone cares about your achieving your study goals and will know if you don’t achieve them, you will be more motivated to stay on focused on your studies. Accountability creates motivation!

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Countdown to the Bar Exam, Step 2: Creating the Right Study Environment

Photo courtesy of Apolonia/freedigitalphotos.net

Photo courtesy of Apolonia/freedigitalphotos.net

One important element of studying for the bar exam is creating the right study environment. You can have the best intentions, but the wrong environment can derail your entire study plan. One key to effective studying is a location that allows you to study efficiently and without distractions.

Here are some things to think about as you decide where to study for the bar:

What were the things that distracted you from studying when you were in law school? If you are constantly tempted to turn on the TV, then studying in your living room may not be for you. If studying in the law school library meant that you visited with friends rather than getting work done, then the same might hold true as you study for the bar. Some people prefer the background noise of a coffee shop, while others find themselves listening in to every conversation at the tables beside them. Be realistic in your assessment of what distracts you, and choose a study environment that avoids those distractions.

What do you like to do when you take breaks from studying? If you want to be able to take a short walk, then setting up your study station at the local coffee shop may not make sense—you won’t want to have to pack up your stuff every time you take a break. On the other hand, if your idea of a great break is checking your email and spending 20 minutes playing computer games, then a more public location may not be an issue. Just make sure that your study location is conducive to taking study breaks.

What space do you need to study? Some people prefer to study at a desk or table, where they can spread out their materials and have plenty of space to work. Others prefer to sit on a comfortable couch, overstuffed chair, or even the floor. Think about what type of space makes you feel most comfortable when you are studying—you’re going to spend a lot of time there.

Do you want to be able to eat or drink while studying? This is an important consideration, as many people like to have snacks and drinks available as they study. If you want endless amounts of coffee or periodic snacks of pretzels, fruit, etc., a library with a strict food and drink policy may not be the place for you. Likewise, if you are on a tight budget this summer, an expensive coffee shop may not work as well. Choose a study location that fits with your snacking habits.

Finally, do you like the routine of studying in the same space all the time, or will you need to change things up periodically? For some people, maintaining the same routine every day—studying at the same place at the same time—works best. For others, a little variety in the order and location of the routine helps them to stay focused. Depending on your own preferences, you may find that you want to change up your study location sometimes. Periodically reassess your study environment and make sure it still works best for you.

The perfect study environment is a very personal thing—experiment and find out what works best for you!

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Countdown to the Bar, Step 1: Introduction to Studying for the Bar Exam

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Congratulations to all of those 3Ls out there who have just graduated or are about to graduate! You have made it through law school! It’s a great accomplishment, and you should definitely celebrate with friends and family. It doesn’t take long though for the realization to dawn that the bar exam is looming in the distance. That’s why it’s a good opportunity to talk about how to approach studying for the bar exam.

In reality, you have learned most of skills you need for bar exam success during your years in law school. Although studying for the bar exam is a pretty intensive experience, if you continue to apply the types of techniques that contributed to your success in law school, you should be on your way to success on the bar exam as well. With that in mind, here are some suggestions as you begin the countdown to the bar exam:

First, if you have not done so already, sign up for a commercial bar review course, such as BarBri, Kaplan, or one of other state-specific bar prep courses. Most law students take a bar review course, and it’s been my experience that students who do not take one tend to not pass the bar exam. Although these courses cost a significant amount of money, that money is a good investment in your future. It is much more costly not to pass the bar and therefore not be able to practice law. You should research your options and determine which bar review program works best for you. It should be specific to the state where you are scheduled to take the bar exam, and you should consider your personal learning preferences, need for structure and discipline, etc. in deciding whether to take a course in person or over the internet. Most of these courses begin in the next week or two, so if you have not chosen a course you should do so quickly.

Second, treat studying for the bar exam like a job. Regardless of whether you take your bar review course in a classroom, view videos online, or study solely from workbooks and other printed materials, you should schedule your study time each day. Set a specific schedule for yourself, just as you would during the school year during law school. Get up at the same time each day, set specific times to go over new material or review material already covered, and set aside specific times that you will take practice exams or go over practice questions.

Third, don’t forget to take good care of yourself during the next few months as you study. It’s important that you eat well and get a good sleep every night so that your brain functions at its best and you don’t wear down your immune system. Take regular breaks from your studies, and don’t forget to get some exercise. Studying for the bar exam is not a sprint, but a marathon—you have to take care of yourself for that journey.

Stay tuned to this blog over the next few weeks, as I continue to give you tips about studying for the bar exam—let the countdown begin!

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