MPRE: Prepare to Pass

The August 2017 MPRE is this Saturday and you should be preparing for it now.  I compare the MPRE to the written test to get your driver’s license- it’s easy IF you know the material. However, if you don’t read the little booklet with the rules of the road, you won’t know how many seconds it takes for a car going 65 MPH to come to a full stop (approximately 316 feet). The MPRE works the same way- you only need to get a little more than 50% of the questions correct but in order to do this, you have to learn the material and how it is tested.

The MPRE covers a lot more material than the driver’s license test so plan to spend 12-15 hours preparing. Not all topics are tested equally so it’s not a great idea to try to learn all the material. Instead, start with the MPRE subject matter outline to see what is tested. For example, there will be at least 7 questions on conflicts of interest but only 1-2 on safekeeping funds. Also take a look at the MPRE Key Words and Phrases which is exactly what it sounds like: key words and phrases the MPRE questions will include. Once you know what is tested, you want to see how it is tested. Use the MPRE Sample Test Questions written by the NCBE. These questions are illustrative of what will appear on the actual MPRE.

Now that you have a sense of the what and how, it’s time to practice. Commercial bar prep companies have free MPRE prep classes that provide detailed outlines and plenty of practice questions. Do them and review them. You can read previous posts here and here on how to get the most out of practice questions.

You want to pass the MPRE so take the test seriously. Put in the time and effort and don’t make excuses. Pass it and move on.


Bar Exam: Taper Time

It’s the final weekend before the bar exam which means it is time to taper. Law school kitten and deerexams have conditioned you to study hard right up until it’s time to take the exam. However, this is not a law school exam. This is no 3 hour test where you’re allowed to use highlighters, wear watches, drink coffee, eat snacks. Those were the good old days. This is the bar exam. Endurance is important. You’ve been studying for 10 weeks and you are tired. You’ve probably had trouble focusing this week, each day getting worse than the one before. This is totally normal. Your body and brain are sending you a signal so listen and get some rest between now and Tuesday so you can be focused and energized for the exam.

Try to have a *normal* weekend. Put in a little study time, but also sleep, rest, watch tv, go out to dinner, interact with other people. Eat something healthy: carrots, apples, broccoli, anything that comes directly from nature. Go easy on the alcohol, soda, coffee, and energy drinks. Instead, re-hydrate with water.

  • Stop cramming. You can’t learn all the law and you don’t need to.
  • Stop obsessing over your MBE percentages. It won’t help and you’ll be fine.
  • Stop trying to get a perfect score on every essay. It won’t happen and it’s not necessary.
  • Stop doubting yourself and your abilities. You are ready for this.

puppiesTrust me but more importantly, trust yourself- you’ve worked hard, you know the material, you know what to do and how to do it.


The Bar Exam: Getting in the Zone

Tips on Getting Into (and Staying) the Bar Zone:

  • Get Your Brain on the Bar Exam Schedule: There is no doubt you’ll be able to wake up early on bar exam day but if your bar prep routine hasn’t quite followed an 8-6 schedule, your brain has gotten used to this lifestyle. Your brain has to be ready to work hard 8-12, 1-5 so it’s time to kick it in gear and get on the bar exam schedule. This will not be easy for the first 2-3 days and that should tell you something- your brain is not used to functioning like this. Of course this is totally up to you: struggle now or on the bar exam.
  • Time to Taper: This is not the time to ramp it up or go hard. You’ve already done that and your brain knows what to do. It’s time to taper and let your muscle memory do its job. Any former or current athlete can tell you that taper is essential for peak performance. You may be afraid to taper for fear of losing information and skills. You won’t gain anything from going hard now. You will exhaust yourself for the bar exam. It’s time to trust your training and give your brain time to rest and recover. Tapering does not mean sleeping all day and binge-watching Netflix. You should continue to study to remind your brain what to do but you should decrease your study time each day. For example, for a typical 8-hour study day, you could try this:
    • Monday & Tuesday 8 hours, Wednesday & Thursday 6 hours, Friday & Saturday 4 hours, Sunday 2 hours.
    • Monday 8 hours, Tuesday 7 hours, Wednesday 6 hours, Thursday 5 hours, Friday 4 hours, Saturday 3 hours, Sunday 2 hours.

Important: these are EXAMPLES to give you an idea of how to taper. Adjust to fit your current needs and study schedule.

  • Have a Little Faith in Your Abilities and Capabilities: You cannot learn all the law. You don’t have to learn all the law. You have to learn enough. Trust that you have done this, stop trying to memorize the exception to the exception. You will get an essay question where you don’t know/can’t remember the rule. You will have to make one up. Stay calm, use words that sound like a rule, connect it to the facts and reason your way through to a conclusion. you are strong
  • Control Anxiety: Pre-exam jitters are absolutely normal and very necessary. It’s called adrenaline and it is actually useful because the adrenaline rush ensures you’ll operate at peak performance. The problem occurs when it interferes with performance. It will subside once you start working because you know how to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take a moment to think about all the work you’ve done to prepare. Look at the list you wrote last week- the reasons you will pass. Be confident in your abilities. I know you can do it but YOU have to believe you can. This is the one thing I cannot do for you. When you begin the exam, take a breath and then work your way through, one question after another. As you move forward, your exam preparation will take over and you’ll soon be thinking of the questions and nothing else.




The Bar Exam: Testing Skills that Form the Cornerstone of the Profession

Guest blogger Bryan Becker is a 2016 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of law, he now lives deep within the bowels of the school and can be spotted on stormy nights in a forgotten corner of the library.

I have been asked to provide some insight on how the bar exam prepares you to be better lawyers. For all of the criticism it faces, the bar exam remains the best possible tool for testing a law student’s capabilities and culpabilities of being a lawyer. Though it might not be clear to you now, you are actually learning skills that are the cornerstone of the profession. Such skills actually tested by the bar exam necessary for the practice of law include:

Before the Exam:

  • Time management: the test taker in the months before the exam must be a self-motivator when it comes planning how they should procrastinate instead of doing work.
  • Auction Law.
  • How to watch youtube videos in public without others noticing.
  • Imaging that somewhere a colleague is doing better than you, and using that information to push you to work harder so you can later destroy that colleague.
  • Negotiating with hostile parties: you will argue with your personal grader about some point in Ohio criminal law in which neither of you are correct.

During the Exam:

  • How to exhibit complete and total confidence in an answer that the writer knows to be likely false and possibly against the laws of physics.
  • Auction law.
  • Managing nervous clients: the test taker will need to feign interest in their table mate’s predicaments before the test starts while actually thinking about tequila.
  • Having to be a technological troubleshooter as you are the only person under 40 in the room who cares about your computer’s problems.
  • Writing a legal memo in 40 minutes because you wasted too much time daydreaming about tequila.

After the Exam:

  • Impulse control: the test taker does NOT immediately turn over the table and break his or her chair after finishing the exam. The test take will instead wait for the proctor to finish instructions before doing so.
  • Driving in rush hour traffic.
  • Lamenting with the hotel bartender that you really don’t have to be here, and that you’re really just one or two characters away from creating a can’t-miss sitcom and asking “hey, how do people just MAKE sitcoms? How does that work?” which the bartender properly ignores knowing that you will soon move on to a different topic.
  • Forgetting auction law.


Commercial Bar Prep Lectures are Over: Now What Should You Do?

You might feel a little uncomfortable because the commercial bar prep lectures are over if-you-can-see-your-path-laid-out-in-front-of-you-joseph-campbelland although you have a study schedule, you are not sure about following it exactly as given. This is a good thing because it means you have a sense of what you need to do to prepare. It means you don’t need to rely on commercial bar prep for every little detail. Use the commercial bar prep schedule as a base and adapt to what works best for you based on your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you scored above average on the practice MBE, you probably don’t have to spend as much time on MBE prep. In general, I recommend covering 2-4 two subjects a day and for each subject:

  1. Review notes;
    • How you review is up to you. There is no one right way to do it.
  2. Work through practice essays and MBEs.
    • in time, NO notes;
  3. Review your responses, modify as needed.
    • Compare essay responses to released responses and reconcile difference, figure out why you missed an MBE question.
  4. Repeat

Whether you study 2, 3, or 4 subjects a day is up to you. How much time to spend per subject and per component depends on your comfort-level and how you like to learn.

Keep studying and practicing and working your plan.  While you should take note of your failures, you should also recognize your successes. This is what helps you stay in control and move forward.


MBE: Practice the Process

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. Focus on quality, not quantity. Doing thousands of practice questions is not an efficient or effective way to prepare because it puts the emphasis on the product instead of the process. If you miss questions you need to figure out why. And in order to change the outcome, you have to change the input. This means taking time to review- not your answers but your process.multiple-choice

Reading answer explanations is not the best way to review. Instead, identify the correct answer choice and then figure out why it is correct and why your choice is incorrect. This is not fun because it requires effort and forces you to do the work. However, if you can identify the mistake in the process, you can address it.

Most people make mistakes because 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 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.
    • You need to control the question, not the other way around.

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


Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome

You’ve been studying for the bar exam for weeks now and you are proud of yourself for working so hard and learning so much material. Things are starting to come together and you are just about to be cautiously optimistic when you get taken down by the Impostor Syndrome.

You on the outside: You get top grades. You have a great job lined up. People describe you as amazing.
You on the inside: I’m a fraud, my past successes have been flukes and any minute everyone is going to find out I don’t deserve to be here.

If you’ve ever felt this way, you are not alone and this feeling has a name: The Imposter Syndrome. In a 1978 study psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Immes identified the impostor syndrome as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” These people “are highly motivated to achieve [but] live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”

You feel like each step forward pushes beyond the bounds of your ability. The self-doubt is overwhelming, almost paralyzing.

What do you think you’re doing?

Who gave you permission to be here?

What made you think you could do this?

We imposters hold ourselves to impossibly high standards that we’d never expect someone else to be able to achieve. Our thinking tends to be, “If I don’t know everything then I don’t know anything.”

The Impostor Syndrome causes us to overthink and second-guess ourselves. We spend too much time worrying about how everyone else is judging us (FYI: they’re not). Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy writes, “Impostorism steals our power and suffocates our presence. If even you don’t believe you should be here, how will you convince anybody else?”

I hope you noticed how I’ve used “we.” That’s because almost everyone experiences the Impostor Syndrome. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in my office struggling to get work done because I’m caught up in feelings of inadequacy. I’m afraid I’ve fooled everyone into thinking I’m more competent than I actually am. I did not earn this success and there is no way I can sustain it. And then I whine about it to one of my sisters and get a much needed reality check: my success is not a fluke and I know what I’m doing.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why, in spite of past achievement, do we view ourselves as imposters?

A big part of it is failing to internalize our success. The good news is that there are things we can do about it.

  • Normalize it. Imposter syndrome is a situational phenomenon so call it out when it hits. Take away the power of the feeling by talking about it. Not only will you feel a sense of relief by putting it out there but you’ll see that other people feel the same way.
  • Own your achievements. Accept praise and positive feedback. Allow yourself to feel good about what you’ve done and acknowledge that you earned it.
  • Stop being your own worst critic. It’s impossible to know everything so give yourself a break. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Don’t diminish your contributions. Present your ideas without qualifying them with negative disclaimers like, “this is probably dumb but…” or “you’ve probably already heard this but…”

This is easier said than done and although our feelings of inadequacy won’t disappear instantly or even completely, we don’t have to let the Impostor Syndrome control our lives.


Want to learn more?

Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, Your body language shapes who you are, or read her book, Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.