IRAc Your Way to Success on the MBE

People either love or hate multiple choice questions, there is no in between. Unfortunately for all the haters, if you want to pass the bar exam you better learn to at least like multiple choice questions. However, doing 1500+ practice questions is not an efficient or effective way to prepare. You may be getting some questions wrong because you don’t know the law but the top reason for getting an MBE question wrong is missing the issue. Most people miss the issue because they look for it in the answer choices. You read the hypo and then go straight to the answer choices for help. Don’t. The answer choices are not there to help you. They are not your friends. Three of those choices are there to distract you from the best one. They look attractive with shiny words and pretty facts. Don’t get seduced. Get back to the fact pattern because that’s where the central issue is waiting. It’s your rock so find it and hold on to it. Once you’ve got a solid grip on the central issue, put wax in your ears and sail past those sirens.

Rely on your good friend IRAc to help you work through the question  without getting distracted or seduced by those answer choices.

  • I: read the call of the question to get a sense of the general issue, then read the hypo and identify the central issue triggered by the facts.
    • When practicing, it’s a good idea to write this down. It will serve as an anchor when those answer choices try to seduce you away.
  • R: once you know what the central issue is, recall the relevant rule.
  • A: apply this rule to the answer choices and eliminate any that aren’t both factually and legally correct.
    • Factually correct: addresses the central issue.
    • Legally correct: applies the relevant rule.
  • c: stay in control and don’t be distracted or seduced.
    • If this seems simple, it is. You need to control the question, not the other way around.

Keep practicing but focus on the process instead of the product.


How to Construct an Essay Response

The bar exam doesn’t test knowledge, but it does require it. Yes, you have to memorize the material, but knowledge is only one part of passing the bar exam. Knowing the answer is the easy part. You also have to know what your audience wants and how to do it. You do this by familiarizing yourself with how the material will be tested and then learning how to communicate your understanding of it in a way the bar examiners expect.

    1. Familiarize yourself with the material and how it is tested by going through essay questions.
    2. Learn  what the bar examiners expect by going through released/sample responses.
    3. Learn how meet those expectations by constructing essay responses.

At this point you are not answering the question. You are figuring out how to answer the question. You are not yet performance ready. You are practicing for performance. Therefore, you are constructing essay responses by:

  • Using your notes/outline.
  • Not worrying about time.
  • Focusing on form and substance: write what your audience wants in the way they want it.
  • Spending equal time doing and reviewing (after you construct a response compare with released/sample responses, check to make sure you identified the issues, have the relevant rule, used the facts, etc.).

Is this the only way to study and prepare for the bar exam?  Of course not. What matters is that you study the material every day and practice for performance.


The Practice MBE: Tips & Strategies

In the next week or two you will take your simulated MBE. Keep it in perspective and focus on the process, not the product. Don’t skip ahead to the score you want or think you should get. First you have prepare for the exam experience. This is an exam simulation so simulate exam conditions:

  • Start at 9am and follow the time permitted (100 in the AM, 1 hour break for lunch, 100 in the PM).
  • Use a regular #2 pencil, but no pens, highlighters, separate erasers or pencil sharpeners allowed.
  • No notes, watch, cell phone, snacks, cell phone, ear plugs, or drinks other than water.

Remember, this is not the actual bar exam and even though you think you should know the material, you don’t. Your brain has been so busy taking in new information that it hasn’t had time to process it. You are not going to do as well on this practice test as you will on the actual bar exam. 45% or more correct is a good score. Let me repeat that: anything over 45% is a good score. Again, it’s about the process not the product. Your score is a starting point. A lot of learning will take place in the next few weeks so figure out why you missed questions- didn’t know the law, didn’t understand the question asked, misread something, you were tired, hungry, bored. These are the things you need to know in order to improve.
In the weeks that follow continue simulating the exam experience when you work through questions:

  • Do mixed-subject sets.
  • Don’t use notes/outlines. You need to force your brain to recall the information.
  • Be cognizant of time: 34 questions in 60 minutes.

Most important, keep the MBE in perspective. You don’t have to get an A to pass.
Check back tomorrow to learn about how to approach the MBE just like an essay with IRAc.


Find the Motivation to Keep Going

In yesterday’s post I said that motivation is intrinsic and comes from within. This is true but sometimes it’s not easy to find the internal drive.  There are times when you forget about every success  ever achieved and are convinced you won’t pass the bar exam. We all get a low score on a practice essay, miss a bunch of multiple choice questions, or have a generally bad day. When that is the case, you might need a little push from external factors.

It’s okay to have setbacks. It’s not okay to give up. Giving up is easy. What’s hard is giving 100% not knowing if it’s enough (it is). I’ve found that oftentimes, people who fail the bar exam do so because they are afraid to fail. Sounds weird but think about it- if you give up and don’t study you can blame failure on that. But what if you work really hard and fail? Then it’s personal and you’re not good enough. Some people can’t handle this so they quit. It’s called a fixed mindset and it means that you spend too much time worrying about how adequate you are and how other people perceive you. Someone with a growth mindset focuses on the process and effort. Having a growth mindset is what allows you find that inner drive and keep moving forward.


Passing the Bar Exam: Earn It

Believe it or not, we are almost halfway there. Here in Ohio we are celebrating the Cavs championship but we’ve  got a bar exam to pass and like the Cavs, the only way to do it is to earn it.

You earn it today, not tomorrow. Not July. Now. We are five weeks out from the exam and there is no more time for foolishness. Pretty much everyone is a little slap-happy and social media is filled with bar exam posts, photos, tweets, and hashtags. I get it: you are a bit tired and it’s hard to focus. This is totally normal but it cannot go on and on. You need motivation, the psychological drive that compels you towards a certain goal. It is intrinsic and comes from within. You must attribute your results to factors under your control and believe you have the skill to reach your goal. Think about what you want to achieve and how to do it instead of going through the motions and making excuses. The Cavs did not win a championship in one game or in seven. They worked for it all season, every day, every game, win or lose. You will not pass the bar exam because you performed well on the two-three days of the test. You will pass  because you’ve been preparing for three years and this summer is the final push. You have to want it and keep working for it.

Stop looking for shortcuts and do what it takes to pass: work, dedication, persistence.


Address the Stress


Yesterday’s post was about the E + R = O mindset and how you can’t control what happens to you but you certainly can control how you deal with it. Below are some tools and strategies to help you embrace E + R = O as you deal with the challenges and stress of studying for the bar exam:

  • Re-work your study plan and get rid of busy work. Stop “actively reading” the bar company outlines as if they are novels. Think of the giant commercial outline as an encyclopedia and stop  attempting to read it from cover to cover. The outlines are reference tools that we go to when we don’t know something.
  • Stop micro-managing yourself. Yes, you need a daily schedule but some days are better than others. Set goals in terms of ranges instead of absolutes (40-60 hrs/week, not 10 hrs/day); track what you have accomplished instead of what you haven’t, and accept that you are human and no one (even the bar examiners) expects perfection.
  • Focus on practicing how to learn. You don’t know the material yet so stop trying to answer questions from memory. Use your notes and outlines to answer questions and learn in context. You will go off-note the first week of July when your brain has had time to process the material.
  • Know your limits. Every day you will reach a point where your brain doesn’t want to cooperate. Your brain is trying to tell you that it’s done for the day. Listen to it. Stop studying and find something else to do: talk a walk, clean the apartment, spend time with friends, play with your dog, go see a funny movie.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat right and exercise. You don’t have to give up caffeine or run 10 miles a day. Just drink some water, have an apple or carrot, walk around the block. You will be amazed at how much more energy and focus you have.
  • Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Sleep makes an enormous difference in being able to manage stressful situations. It gives your body the defenses to fight disease. Getting sick will only add to your stress so get to bed before midnight and sleep 6-7 hours a night. Every night. Playing catch-up with sleep does not provide your body with the rest it needs.
  • Avoid external stressors. If someone stresses you out because of their attitude, competitiveness, panic, etc. then stay away from that person. You can use the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech and (nicely) say that you are having trouble studying/focusing and are going to find another place to study.
  • Believe in yourself.  Enough said.


E + R = O. How studying for the bar exam is like preparing for a football game

It’s mid-June and the honeymoon is over. The confidence is still there but  stress, anxiety, uncertainty, self-doubt are creeping in. You’ve only been studying a few weeks but are already feeling tired and worn out. Lots of professions have tough exams but none seem as daunting or induce as much stress as the bar exam. You are an incredibly successful and accomplished person, yet here you are questioning yourself and your ability to pass the bar exam: Why can’t I remember this material? How is everyone else so far ahead of me? I had a perfect plan so why can’t I stick to it?

You might not be overwhelmed but you are starting to feel the pressure. You are experiencing what I call “the battle of contradictions.”

  • You feel like you just got started AND like you’ve been doing this forever.
  • You know what you are supposed to do YET you don’t really know what to do.
  • You are motivated to work hard BUT are tired and find yourself putting things off until “tomorrow.”

The reason for this contradiction is that you are not quite at the half-way point of bar study so you aren’t feeling the intense pressure of the exam pushing up against you but you know you have a lot to do and only a few weeks to do it.

I’m not going to pretend that the stress, anxiety, and panic won’t happen. However, you have to acknowledge it, deal with it, and not let it control you. Taking a page from Coach Urban Meyer’s playbook, you have to: E + R = O. Event + Response = Outcome.

This mindset is why THE Ohio State University Buckeyes, led by their third-string quarterback, won the first ever College Football Playoff national championship. Most of the country called the wins over Alabama and Oregon “upsets.”  However, not a single Buckeye player was shocked or surprised. Coach Urban Meyer had built a team that embraced the concept of E + R = O.  This is based on the idea that you can’t prevent challenges but you can overcome them. That’s what the Buckeyes did when RB Ezekiel Elliot broke his left wrist and, for 8 weeks, could only carry the ball in his right hand.

When starting QB Braxton Miller injured his shoulder and was out for the season.

When early in the season the team lost to Virginia Tech.

When QB J.T. Barrett broke his ankle at the end of the regular season.

When third string QB Cardale Jones had a week to step up and lead the team in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The Buckeyes knew what outcome they wanted- a national championship. In order to achieve it, they could not allow external events to be the deciding factor. Instead, how they responded to the events is what determined the outcome. E + R = O.

E + R = O is why the Buckeyes won the 2014 National Championship. The bar exam is not a football game, but the mindset and approach is the same. You can’t prevent challenges and obstacles but you can overcome them. You can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you deal with it. Don’t blame an external event for an outcome. Your response is what determines the outcome. Change what is in your control: what you think, what you do.

Check back tomorrow for more on how embrace the E + R = O mindset.