Setting Your Pace for Bar Prep

Set Your Pace.

To succeed at any challenge in life, you’ve got to tune out the noise around you- the footsteps of others (ahead and behind), distracting “advice,” doubters who tell you it can’t be done. Instead, focus on your inner voice. Setting your own goal, charting your course and trusting your instincts take courage, but they are the surest route to crossing your personal finish line a winner.

I saw this quote years ago in a fitness (maybe running) magazine. So many years ago that I had to rip the page out instead of taking a photo. I couldn’t Instagram it with clever hashtags.
set your own paceI old-school taped the page to my desk as a reminder to focus on my goals and to not worry about what everyone else is doing. Over the years it got torn and I had to keep cutting it down to the point that all that was left was the quote. A few weeks ago the paper reached the point of disintegration that it was time to let it go. At the time, I didn’t give it too much thought: It had been there so long I hardly noticed anymore. I was more concerned about scraping the tape off my desk surface. The next day when I got to my office and sat down at my desk, my hand automatically went to the spot where the quote had been. Maybe I noticed it more than I thought. Maybe there is a reason I kept it taped there for so many years. The Internet is a wonderful thing. I’ve downloaded a new version of my quote and taped it to my desk.

I hope this quote can serve as a reminder to all of you preparing to study for the bar exam. You all have the same goal of passing but “[t]o succeed at any challenge… you’ve got to tune out the noise around you… the distracting advice, the doubters…” With about a month until the official start of bar prep, this is the perfect time to think about how to do this: what you need to do to set your pace and run your own race. After all, it is “the surest route to crossing your personal finish line a winner.”

-KSK

Prepping for Bar Prep

Preparing for the bar exam is more than studying 50+ hours a week for ten weeks. You absolutely have to put in the study time and commercial bar prep companies do a great job providing you an in-depth and structured study schedule. However, the ten-week bar prep period is fairly intense and quite exhausting. You will experience periods of self-doubt, uncertainty, and sometimes feel overwhelmed. Although you cannot avoid this completely, you can be prepared to work through it push forward with your studying. One way to do this is to start bar prep having a strong relationship with yourself.

  • Have an open mind. Be receptive to new and different concepts on how to live your best life. Don’t think of it as massive change all at once. This is a process and there are lots of little things you can do.
  • Give yourself a break. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and accept that you did the best you could. Remind yourself that you don’t expect perfection in others so you shouldn’t expect it of yourself.117520730-tumblr_n1jxj4UG3Q1qlv1neo1_1280
  • Assess your lifestyle. Identify what is and isn’t working in your life. Break unhealthy habits and develop healthy ones. A little self-care goes a long way (Check out these TED Talks on the importance of self-care)
  • Build your tribe. We tend to be like the people we surround ourselves with. Bring people into your life that reflect your best self and will support who you want to be.
  • Make time for mindfulness. Introduce a few mindful living techniques into your daily routine. Develop strategies that stop negative thoughts from taking over and learn how to refocus your energies on positive thoughts that move you forward.
  • Take control. You are not a passive observer in your life. You may not be able to control every event and person in your life but you can control how you respond. It is this response, not the event or person, which determines the outcome.

Don’t kid yourself into believing that you can simply wake up on May 15th and magically have the ability to push through the next ten weeks. In order for your brain to function at its best, you’ve got to be mentally and emotionally strong. This requires planning and preparation. Professor Dumbledore is right: “It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Make the choice now to be your best self.

-KSK

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Should You Work During Bar Prep

Some individuals HAVE to work during bar prep. If you are in this group, keep reading because you need to see that it is possible but will require top-notch scheduling and time management. However, if you do not have to work but are considering it, you definitely need to keep reading. This is for those of you who worked during law school and it was fine. In fact, it was great. You had no problem with the work-school-life balance. You can totally work part-time while studying for the bar exam.

There is one small problem with this mindset: The bar exam is not law school. Preparing for law school exams is easy. In law school you could choose classes based on the professor, get to know that professor and what he or she expects on the exam. Even if you created your own outlines, you probably relied on outlines from people who already took the class. At the most, you prepped for exams in 4-5 subjects, had an entire semester to take in information, are tested on one subject at a time, can prepare for each single-subject exam one at a time, and the exams are often open-note or take-home. The bar exam is nothing like this.

Preparing for the bar exam is a 10-week, full-time commitment.The bar exam is closed-universe and tests 12-14 subjects at once over a 2-3 day period; you only have 10 weeks to learn the material and the skills; you don’t know what, how, or when something will be tested.  In spite of the differences, you still think you can work while preparing for the bar exam. I hear this from students all the time. The conversation usually goes like this:

Student:  I can work part-time during bar prep because I’m better when I’m busy.

Me: That’s great. You need to devote 40-50 hours a week to bar prep.

Student: No problem. I’m working now and have four classes. 

Me: Super. But to be clear, that’s a minimum of 40 billable hours: on-task and studying.

Student: Yeah, yeah. Sure. I’m only going to work part-time, 20 hours a week.

Me: Awesome. Just to make sure, can we do the math?

Student: Math?

Me:  Yes, math. Let’s start with the limited resource of time. There are 168 hours in a week. This is what we have to work with so let’s break that down into chunks of time. To make it simple, we’ll have you work in the mornings and study in the afternoon. Again, we’ll keep it simple and do 6 hours a day, 7 days a week. That gets you to 42 billable hours a week, slightly above the minimum.  

Then we sketch out a typical daily schedule:

Typical Workweek: Monday-Friday

7am: get up, shower, dress, breakfast, get to work.

8-12: work

12-1: leave work, eat lunch, maybe change clothes, commute to study location, set up lecture materials.

1-4:30: watch bar prep lectures (3 ½ hours a day is standard).

4:30-5:30: exercise, break, give your eyes a rest from staring at a computer screen for 3 ½ hours.

5:30-8 do assigned bar prep work.

8-9: go home, prep/order, eat, clean-up dinner.

9-12: watch tv, hang out with friends, read for fun, talk/text, social media.

12: go to bed.


This doesn’t seem too bad, right? Assuming you are on-task 100% of the time, you will have no trouble doing things like eating, exercising, socializing, and getting plenty of sleep. It’s true this example schedule does not account for anything like doctor, dentist, counselor appointments, but that shouldn’t be a problem because you’ve got 3 hours of free time every day. Easy to find time for other things.

The weekends will be even better because you only have to study 6 hours a day. Since you are already putting in 10 hour work/study days during the week, 6 hours will be easy. You can sleep til noon! Of course you won’t do that but you can sleep in.

Typical Weekend:

9am: get up, shower, dress, eat, get set up to study or commute to study location.

10-1: do assigned bar prep work you didn’t get to during the week.

1-2: eat lunch, stretch, take a break, etc.

2-5: do regularly assigned bar prep work.

5-bedtime: free time! This is plenty of time to do things like work out, socialize, do laundry, basic cleaning, go to the grocery store, get gas in car, get a hair cut, etc.

Note: If you go to church, make sure to either get up earlier or add two hours to the day as you’ll need time to dress, commute to and from church, change into study clothes.


This weekend schedule also assumes that you will be 100% on task for those 3-hour blocks of time. But that shouldn’t be a problem because you will disengage from all distractors and not need to take any unplanned breaks. This schedule doesn’t sound too bad, right? You can do this every day for 10 weeks.

Again, assuming you are 100% on task for the 42 hours of study time, you have 25-35 hours of free time every week. You can do whatever you want. Go to the dentist, clean your apartment, binge-watch something on Netflix. What’s really great is that your time is flexible so if something comes up, all you have to do is adjust your schedule accordingly. For example, if you don’t want to study one weeknight, you can move those hours to Saturday or Sunday and just put in a full day then. If you have plans to go out of town for the weekend simply add 2 hours of studying to each day during the week. Or if you are attending a friend’s wedding, if it’s in the evening, you are good to go because you can get 6 hours of studying in easy, especially if you get up earlier. And if you’ll need to sleep off the celebrating, you can just study Sunday evening.


One and Done


The bar exam is the final step to becoming a licensed attorney. You want to pass the first time so you can actually practice law. If you don’t have to work, then don’t put this at risk. If you still think working during bar prep is a good idea, get a copy of the detailed bar study schedule from your commercial bar prep company. 40 hours a week will get you through 70-75% of the material. If, after seeing the sheer volume of material and assignments, you still think working and studying is a good idea, go talk to the bar support person at your law school. Let that person help you create a structured schedule that will keep you on track. Once you fall behind (and you will), it is extremely difficult to play catch-up.

This was a really long post because deciding to work during bar prep is a huge decision and it should be an informed one. Make the decision that will best help you achieve the goal of passing the bar exam.

-KSK

Changes to the MBE: Substance

A few months ago I wrote about changes to the MBE in the number of scored questions. Instead of 190 scored questions, there are now 175. In addition to this, the NCBE has changed how it tests Evidence and and what it tests in Real Property.

Evidence: There are five categories in Evidence: I. Presentation of Evidence (including impeachment); II, Relevancy (including character evidence and expert testimony); III. Privileges; IV. Writings, Recordings, and Photographs; and V. Hearsay. Up through 2016, the question breakdown was:

  • 33%- 8.3 questions- Presentation (including impeachment)
  • 33%- 8.3 questions- Hearsay
  • 33% – 8.3 questions-Relevancy, Privileges, Writings, Recordings, and Photographs

What has changed? The substance of each category has not changed but the number of questions per category has. Now the new subject breakdown is:

  • 25%-6.25 questions- Presentation, including impeachment
  • 33%-8.3 questions- Relevancy, including character evidence and expert testimony
  • 25%-6.25 questions- Hearsay
  • 17%-4.25 questions- Privileges and Writings, Recordings, and Photographs

Why should I care? There used to be two “big rocks,” Presentation and Hearsay, but now there are three: Presentation, Hearsay, and Relevancy. In addition to knowing Presentation and Hearsay really well, you also need to have a good understanding of basic relevancy and how character evidence and expert testimony work within the general relevancy rule(s). Relevancy used to be a “pebble” with 2-3 questions so you didn’t have to spend a ton of time on it. Now you cannot afford to skim. So, without sacrificing Presentation and Hearsay you have to figure out how to devote more time to Relevancy.

Real Property: There are five categories in Real Property: I. Ownership; II. Rights in Real Property; III. Real Estate Contracts; IV. Mortgages/Security Devices; and V. Titles.

What has changed? The weight given to each category is the same (20%, 5 questions) but the content has increased. The following six topics have been added to Real Property:

  1. Ownership: Conflicts of law related to disputes involving real property
  2. Rights in Real Property: Property owners’ associations and common interest ownership communities; Transfer of easements, profits, and licenses
  3. Titles: Requirements for transfer by deed; Drafting, review and negotiation of closing documents; Persons authorized to execute documents

Why should I care? You might be thinking, “No big deal. So there might be a question on property owners’ associations, I can do that.” Multiply that by 6. There are 6 topics so there is the very real possibility of getting at least one question from each. This is almost 25% of all the Real Property questions. You might be thinking, “No big deal. They won’t test all 6 new topics.” You could be right but do you know which topics won’t be tested? You might be comfortable taking a chance because, it’s only one topic. So where do you draw the line? 1? 2? 3? What about the other MBE subjects? Is it ok to blow off 1 topic from each? Now you are at 7. It’s a slippery slope and you have to be careful where you draw the line.

The purpose of this post is not to scare you. The purpose is to inform you of what to expect so you can plan and prepare.

-KSK

Passing the Bar Exam: 4 Easy Steps

Four Steps to Achieving Your Goal

You’ve survived law school and graduation is right around the corner. Soon you’ll be a juris doctor. There is one more hurdle before you can achieve the ultimate goal of putting “esquire” after your name. You must prepare for and pass the bar exam.

The bar exam is a bit intimidating. You’ve heard the myths, legends, and horror stories. You’ve seen your friends morph from confident law students into unkempt, irrational, unsure bar studiers. The bar exam does not seem like fun at all. You may not be sure you are up for it. Trust me, you are. The bar exam will not defeat you. You will take it one step at a time and you will achieve your goal of becoming a lawyer.

Step One: Break it into steps. When you first set the goal of becoming a lawyer you knew there were smaller goals you had to achieve: First you had to graduate high school and be accepted into college. Next you had to earn good grades in college and get a strong LSAT score in order to be accepted into law school. Now you are facing the final goal of passing the bar exam. The distance between where you are now and where you want to be probably seems very far. This is why you need to take steps towards the goal. Studying for the bar exam has been analogized to running a marathon. Just as you wouldn’t attempt to run 26.2 miles on day one, you don’t tackle the bar exam all at once. Identify the steps you need to take in order to pass the exam. Sometimes the steps will be too big but that doesn’t mean you quit. It means that you break it down a bit more. Some days you might not feel like you’ve moved forward at all but looking back over a week or month you’ll see how far you’ve progressed.

Step Two: Make a plan. Once you’ve identified the steps, you have to plan how you will do it. Identify the tools you need from the very basic “signing up for a commercial bar prep course,” to creating a detailed daily and weekly study plan. Create a plan that is comprehensive and flexible. Write it in pencil, not permanent marker. So many students have these grand plans of 12-hour study days, 7 days a week, for 10 weeks. They will complete 100% of the commercial bar prep course and be on-task all of the time. I tend to see these students about a week or two into bar prep and they are a bit of a mess because, surprise, their plan isn’t working. On paper it looked great but they forgot to account for this thing called life. Don’t be discouraged if your initial plan doesn’t work. Instead, adjust the plan and keep going.

Step Three: Do it. This seems obvious  but oftentimes people are so afraid of a mis-step path-to-successthat they take no action at all. However, inaction is a sure way to fail. Taking action is imperfect but it is movement and it will get you to your goal.Having a goal, steps, and a plan takes away a lot of the scary unknown. You will not be perfect but you will have a sense of where to go and how to get there.  Imperfection is not failure. Quitting is failure.

Step Four: Repeat steps 1-3 as needed.  If you look back at the journey that got you to this point, you will see that you did not travel a perfectly paved straight, flat road. You will see a foot path with twists and turns, mud puddles, a few uphills and downhills. But you traveled this path and you will continue to do so. The goal is close and you can and will achieve it.

-KSK, juris doctor, esquire.

 

Choosing A Commercial Bar Prep Course

Choosing the “Best” Commercial Bar Prep Course

The bar exam is the final hurdle to becoming a lawyer. It’s not a time to take chances so you do need to purchase a commercial bar prep course. There are several reputable companies that all want your business, so how do you pick the “best” one?  A few things to look out for:

  • Pass Rate: Not as important as you think. Companies post their pass rate in big numbers but they’ll also include an asterisk. Take a look at that information because it usually says something like “pass rate for examinees who completed X% of the course material.”
  • Guarantee: Again, not as important as you think. That guarantee is not absolute. Look for the fine print that qualifies the guarantee. It usually requires you to complete a certain percentage of the course, minimum number of practice questions, essays, etc.
  • Bells & Whistles: “We’ve been around the longest.” We’ve got the most cutting edge technology.” “We provide the most flexibility.” This is called advertising and it is designed to promote and sell the particular product. Look beyond the commercial and evaluate the actual product.

Based on my experience, I haven’t seen a correlation or connection between passing the bar and any one particular commercial prep course. The connection I have seen is people who work hard and work smart pass the bar exam.

Don’t let a salesperson tell you what you need or that their company is the best.You have to decide what is best for you. A salesperson doesn’t know your academic foundation, learning style, or your lifestyle. You do. If you are unsure of what is the best option for you, find an objective person to help you evaluate the pros and cons of each company.

The bottom line is that you need to purchase a reputable commercial bar prep course but don’t expect to get a shortcut or secret formula to passing the bar. Reputable commercial bar prep courses provide comprehensive material, a detailed study schedule, opportunities for feedback, and multiple ways to learn and practice. Make the commitment and do the work: 10-weeks, full-time. Use the commercial bar prep company and learn the material, understand how it will be tested, and practice the skills.

-KSK

The Bar Exam: It’s Finally Over

It’s finally over. All those years of school, the weeks of studying, the stress, the uncertainty. The bar exam is now behind you. Yes, you’ve got to wait a few months for results but it’s out of your hands. You did all you could to prepare, you did your very best during the exam. Worrying won’t help anything and it won’t change the results. Thinking about all your perceived mistakes accomplishes nothing. It’s time to move forward and get back to real life.

dontlookback

– KSK