Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Understanding the MBE Curve

I trust that all of you are warming up to your post-bar exam hangover. Remember having free time and fun? It's nice, right? At least the weather has cooled down, and the Olympics are off and running.
A few readers have inquired about the MBE curve. How, exactly, does it work? Does a tougher MBE mean a better score? July scores are higher than February's, so am I better taking the exam in July? . . . .


Mean Scaled Scores

In 2011, the February mean scaled score was 138.6, whereas in July the mean scaled score was 143.8. Those means scaled scores varied by fewer than two points when compared to February and July mean scaled scores from the preceding ten years. What does that tell us? First, that the levels of performance of applicant pools over the past decade have stayed fairly constant. Second, that a collective group of first-time takers generally score higher than a collective group of repeat takers (i.e., the July mean scaled score is five points higher because the applicant pool is comprised of more first-time takers.). The mean scaled scores tell us nothing more. They become misleading, however, when examinees assume that, by sitting for the July MBE, they will automatically achieve a higher score.Why not? See below.

Raw Score v. Scaled Scores

The MBE is a standardized exam. Each examinee receives a raw score and a scaled score. Raw scores from different MBE administrations (e.g., February 2012 v. July 2012) are not comparable because each administration carries varying degrees of difficulty (i.e., questions from the February administration might be more difficult than those appearing on the July administration.) The NCBE then converts your raw score into a scaled score. The statistical process is complicated and not worth understanding. All you need to know is that scaled scores are comparable from different administrations. Your scaled score represents the same level of performance across all MBE administrations.

For example, a particularly difficult MBE administration means that scaled scores will be adjusted upward to account for the difficulty, more so than the scale adjustment for a particularly easy administration. But the upward adjustment neither gives examinees an advantage nor a disadvantage. A 130 raw score on an easy administration might equate to a 140 scaled score, whereas a 130 raw score on a difficult administration might equate to a 144 scaled score. That makes sense, too, because the levels of performance varied (i.e., a 130 raw on a difficult exam is more impressive than a 130 raw on an easy exam). Again, the scaling of raw scores simply accounts for those variations so that your scaled score represents the same level of performance across all MBE administrations. Your level of performance, which got you a 144 scaled score on the difficult administration, would have gotten you a 144 scaled score on the easy administration, despite that your raw scores would have varied.

Similarly, if you received a 144 scaled score on the February 2009 administration, your level of performance would roughly equal a 144 scaled score on the July 2012 administration. Your 144 score in February 2009 might place you in the 65th percentile of that administration (more repeat takers = lower mean), whereas your 144 score in July 2012 might only place you in the 50th percentile (more first-time takers = higher mean). But either way, you still have a 144.

So whether an MBE administration is easy or difficult, in February or July, in 2009 or 2012, these variables won't affect your scaled score. A scaled score measures your level of performance only, and those variables have no bearing on your level of performance.

As an Aside. . . . How the VBBE uses Scaled Scores

The VBBE creates a raw score based on your essay and short answer point totals. It then converts the raw score into a scaled scale, which is equivalent to the same scale of the concurrent MBE administration. If the mean scaled MBE score is 143.8, the mean scaled written score will also be 143.8. (Again, the July exam tends to have a higher passage rate only because first-time takers generally score higher than repeat takers.) The two scaled scores are then averaged, 60% for the written scaled score and 40% for the MBE scaled score. If your combined scaled score is 140 or higher, you pass.

Let's say, for example, you received a scaled MBE score of 135 and a written scaled score of 142, both low-ish scores but helpful for our purposes here. (135 x .40) + (142 x .60) = 139. FAIL. Now let's say you got just three more MBE questions correct and received a scaled MBE score of 137. (137 x .40) + (142 x .60) = 140. PASS. Alternatively, let's say you sailed through the MBE but bombed the written portion, with 155 and 131 scaled scores, respectively. (155 x .40) + (135 x .60) = 141. PASS. Representing 60% of the Virginia Bar Exam, the written portion is the backbone. But the key to passing -- the heart of it all -- lies with the MBE. The better you do on the MBE, the better your chances are for passing the bar.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Battle is Over, Comrades

First, congratulations! No, really - you went through hell over the past few months. You just sat for a difficult exam, and now you're done. That alone is worth a celebratory beer.

Quick recap for other readers: On the essays, we saw all of the usual suspects (surprise, surprise!). Trusts, Federal Jurisdiction, Domestic Relations, Sales (U.C.C. Art. 2), Real Property, Wills, Criminal Law, Corporations, and our good friend, Virginia Civil Procedure. I'm glad that Federal Jurisdiction is back, after a two-exam hiatus, although I was a little surprised not to see an essay on U.C.C. Arts 3 and 9 (Commercial Paper/Secured Transactions/Creditors' Rights) after being absent on the February 2012 exam, too. On the short answer section, the questions were fairly difficult, but not completely unmanageable. Finally, the MBE was tougher than the average MBE installment. Mortgage questions can be unkind, and often rattle a lot of examinees. On the bright side, a tough MBE means a more generous curve. (But as I will discuss in a later post, that's meaningless.)

Second, let's briefly discuss how you feel now. All of you are exhausted and, hopefully, relieved. Some of you feel good, but most of you probably feel like an overcooked wet noodle. Maybe you're fretting over that one essay which gave you trouble. You might pissed about the excess of one particular subject or the lack of another, or the seemingly left-field short answer questions. Others, too, might be recovering from, what they felt was, a slaughtering on the MBE. And still, others might think the entire exam was just a terrible anomaly.

Gradually, these feelings will wear off. You will come to terms with the VBBE's essay selection and the tough MBE. You will accept that the July 2012 exam was fair, is now out of your control, and that you gave it your best shot under the circumstances. Some of you will put the whole exam in the back of your mind until about a week before results are released. Others will not let your anxiety subside at all. While I recommend the former approach, I understand why the latter approach is hard to shake off. Preparing for the exam is hard. But waiting for results is not any easier; in fact, maybe even harder. You go from having no time on your hands, to having lots of time -- time to think, time to wonder, time to worry. But just like any anxiety or self-doubt you had before the exam, you have to keep them in check after the exam, too. Otherwise, you'll go crazy. Today, you might think you fared horribly on the exam. That's because the wound is still fresh and it's all you can think about. I bet you're being too hard on yourself. I bet you did just fine. Perhaps in a month or two, you'll agree with me.

The VBBE will post results in mid-October on either the posted date or the day before the posted date, but not before then. The wait is long and arduous. In the meantime, have a beer. Spend time with family, friends, and significant others. Get out of the country. Go to the beach. Go on a road trip. Go anywhere, do anything -- just get your mind off the bar exam . Keep yourself distracted from thinking about it. Because thinking will only lead to unnecessary worry. That's my recommendation.

On the other hand, I also understand that some of you will go insane by not thinking about the exam. So if you can't help yourself, or maybe if you're just curious or need to scratch an itch or simply pass the time, that's why I created the discussion forums. By all means, use them! Just don't use them to abuse yourself.

Again, congratulations! Now relax and celebrate!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Discussion Forums Added


I added two discussion forums onto the blog, one for the July 2012 Virginia Essays and Short Answers, and the other for the July 2012 MBE. Both of the forums are clearly tabbed on the main page.

Many of you will prefer to pass the time between taking the exam and receiving results by talking about the exam. If you are one of them, I encourage you to share on the forums your thoughts, concerns, arguments, or questions and create some dialogue with your fellow examinees. Comments are open to anyone and you can use a creative ID or be completely anonymous.

Good luck tomorrow on the MBE!



Sunday, July 22, 2012

Last-Minute Advice for the Bar Exam

Ladies and gents,

I trust that all of you are putting the finishing touches on your studying, and also preparing for tomorrow's travel. All of you know what you need to do, and how you need to do it, so I have just a few last-minute thoughts to share.

First, about tomorrow night and Tuesday night. To study or not to study? 

That's up to you, really. If you would prefer to go for a run, get some dinner, watch some T.V., and then go to bed early, I think that's a great plan. If you would prefer to get some dinner, then do some light studying before lights out, I think that's a great plan too. It's like the moments before a big athletic event. What do you see athletes doing? Some of them laugh, joke around and goof off. They perform best when relaxed. A small minority (most of them Red Sox) have beer and eat chicken wings. They perform best when their . . . full? Most athletes, however, jump or jog around, stretch out, and get pumped up. They perform best when they're mentally prepared. 

With regard to the bar, most of you will fall into the latter category. You will feel the need to review some material the two nights before testing. You'll be fidgety, still unsure about a couple issues, and will want to keep your mind active and thinking about the bar. That's normal. But just know that whatever you study is pretty much irrelevant at this point. What you're really doing is keeping your mind on the bar and not in relax-mode -- and that's the important takeaway of studying now. You never want to let your guard down, especially not now.  If watching T.V. helps you do that, do it. If doing a quick set of MBEs helps you get there, do it. 

If you want to study, make sure you cap yourself after about two hours. Don't go overboard! Again, you're not really "studying." You're simply keeping your mind on the bar and not in relax-mode. 

Second, sleep.

Don't be an idiot here. Do what you normally do. Do not change your routine. Because by doing so, you throw in a variable, and that's risky. 

So if you sleep on five hours every night, don't change your routine. Sleep five hours. If you try to get between 7-8 hours, try to get 7-8 hours. If you need 9+ hours, get 9+ hours. A word to wise, though: falling asleep before bar exam days is tricky, so just factor that in. Your mind will be racing, you'll be anxious, you'll be unsure. Try to put as many of those distractions out of your mind. Tell yourself that, by getting a poor night of sleep, you'll be jeopardizing tomorrow. Do you really want to jeopardize tomorrow?

Third, Talking About the Exam Between the Exam

This one's like studying the night before. If you don't want to, don't. If a person doesn't want to, respect that. But most of you will have to talk about the exam during lunch and at the end of the day. Don't suppress the urge; it will only distract you. But, like studying, don't get carried away. Talk about it -- then drop it and move on. 

Some other pointers here: First, just because someone had a different answer, doesn't mean yours was incorrect. For some Virginia essays, several approaches can be correct. You also don't know how the VBBE will weight the various issues within each essay. Second, answer what the VBBE asks you to answer, nothing more. Some examinees will write about extraneous issues, trying to show off to the VBBE. That approach will get them no love. Third, watch out for fellow examinees who try to scare you afterward by talking about irrelevant issues or making a big spectacle about the ones you forgot or the essay on which you struggled. They're only trying to psyche you out with hope that doing so will give them an advantage. Chances are, you're going to forget an issue or two. You're going to screw up an essay too. That's OK. Don't let some stranger make you think differently. Don't let him throw you off your game. Stick to your plan

Fourth, ABC: Always be Confident.

You can't pass without it. Tuesday and Wednesday will really test your confidence. You have to push hard through all of it. Messed up a morning essay? That was the morning. Now's the afternoon. Four more essays to make up for it. Messed up on an afternoon essay? Move on. Nothing you can do about it now. Get ready for Wednesday. Messed up on an MBE question? Focus on the other 199 questions. 

We often fret over all the issues we missed, the questions we know we got wrong, But never about the majority we got correct. The essays we aced. The MBE questions we knew cold. Nope. All we think about is the negative. More on that after exam. For now, give it your best, keep your head up, keeping moving forward, and let the chips fall where they may. 

Rest and relief awaits you in just a few short days. Good luck, everybody! You can do this. You will be fine. The bar exam is not the end all-be all. Life will go on, even if the worst happens. Keep telling yourself that. 



P.S. Let me know how the exam went! I hope to set up a forum or some sort of discussion board here, so that, if fellow examinees wish, they can commiserate afterward. More to come soon enough.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Your Trip to Roanoke: Logistically, What to Expect

Hey, kids!

I could go on and on about smaller issues, but I just want to cover the important logistical ones. If you have other questions specific to the test days, about the test center or Roanoke, which are not covered here, feel free to ask. 

First, the Drive

If you're traveling from the Washington, D.C. metro area, the drive is roughly four hours, all highway - all the way west on I-66, and then all of the way South on I-81. The drive, at least, is gorgeous and runs through the heart of the Shenandoah.

Second, Roanoke

City slickers will look down on the small city of Roanoke. Sure, it has a civic center, but so does Richmond, so does Norfolk, and Fairfax, Reston, Charlottesville, probably Virginia Beach too. . . . Of all the places to hold the July bar exam, why Roanoke? At least Richmond would make sense - it's the capital, and it's centrally located. But Roanoke, really? I read somewhere that W. Scott Street, the Secretary-Treasurer of the VBBE, is a Roanoke native. If that's true, I doubt there's a coincidence. . . .  Anyway, no matter. Roanoke is where you were called to test; Roanoke is where you will pass.

I'm sure Roanoke has admirable qualities. Unfortunately, few Virginia attorneys ever see or experience them. They travel here for one mission, and one mission only - to pass the Virginia Bar Exam. Get in, go big, get out. I doubt, too, that you'll be any different than your predecessors.

Third, Lodging

A lot of examinees obsess over the proximity of their hotel to the civic center. Some want a place close enough to walk to the civic center.

People - why? You drove hours and hours to get to Roanoke. Another ten minutes won't kill you. Don't be surprised if Roanoke hotels jack up prices for these two nights. But the closer you stay to the civic center, the steeper the prices. And for what? There's no credible reason. It will not be any more convenient. Do you really want to walk in the July heat in a suit carrying a laptop under your arm?

I recommend finding any decent hotel within a 15-minute driving radius. You should save money, too, and don't worry about being alone. Everybody else in the hotel, whichever one you pick, will be there for the bar exam. You can't get away from stressed out suit-and-ties. Just be sure to account for morning traffic, which, in Roanoke, shouldn't be too bad. But better safe than sorry. You'll be up early anyway. Light sleep, morning jitters, ready to rock. . . . Hard to avoid them.

Fourth, the Civic Center

The first day, the state-specific essay day, is laptop day. A thousand-plus examinees will line up outside - in suit-and-tie, on unshaded concrete, in July heat, holding laptops and a Ziploc bag of bare essentials. You will arrive when the VBBE instruct you to arrive, and you will proceed to stand there, like an idiot, with everybody else, for about 40 minutes, until finally the VBBE open the doors. Hot, sweaty, and annoyed. Great way to start the morning. Thanks, VBBE!

Once inside, you will quickly realize that the civic center is a minor-league version of major-league civic center. Small, outdated, a little dumpy - but good enough. The first half of the alphabet will proceed to a large, convention hall-type room. The second half of the alphabet will proceed to the floor of the hockey rink.

As you walk into your respective room/rink, you will see fold-out tables lined up in rows, row after row after row. A sudden wave of anxiety might rush in. OMG. Shit just got real. . . . This is really happening.

Don't panic. Breathe, and remain calm. The find-your-seat process is actually very quick and easy. A big sign will direct you to a row of tables where your last name, and those closest to it, are assigned.  Go there. Your I.D. card (showing your name and photo) and several instructions will be waiting for you at the very seat to which you are assigned. This seat will be your seat for the next two days. Boot up your laptop, follow the instructions, and remember to keep breathing. Technicians are all around to help you, if necessary.

Fifth, Attire

In case you haven't noticed, the VBBE requires courtroom attire to sit for the Virginia Bar Exam. For women, that's a suit. For men, a suit and tie.

The VBBE also lists on their website things that you may bring into the testing room - and only those things! Cellphones, wallet, lip balm (and a lot of other everyday items) are OFF the list. Carefully read the list. Leave prohibited items in your car.

Sixth, Exam Logistics

Essay Day

Laptop day is the longest. A proctor will get on the microphone and direct everybody through a step-by-step process. Directions for registering and testing software will seem dumb and redundant, but just be patient. Then the VBBE will pass out of the morning essay questions. (By the way, you may have noticed that the VBBE, throughout the application process and in their regular communications up to this point, were cold and grouchy. They're the exact opposite at the actual exam - very friendly and helpful.)

The last few minutes are agonizing. The entire room waits until everybody has successfully uploaded the software and are at the screen where you type-in your essay answers. The Windows folk will take longer than the Apple folk. Older laptops will take longer than newer ones. Somebody's computer might take exceptionally long. Your exam is lying face-down in front of you. And you're just sitting there, ready to go. Again, just remain calm. Say a prayer, meditate. . . Do whatever you do.

And then, the proctor tells you to begin. Each session, morning or afternoon, will fly by. The essays might particularly feel like a time crunch. I expect all of you will have enough time to finish, but you'll have to hustle to get there. Read my previous posts here on timing and here on short answers. Remember: 35 minutes per essay! You must stay on schedule!

(You repeat this entire process in the afternoon session.)


The MBE day is more streamline - no laptops, just pencils! The proctor will get on the microphone and direct everybody through a similar step-by-step process where you fill in a bunch of registration bubbles. Then the VBBE will pass out of the morning MBE questions.

Each session will fly by again. You might also feel a time crunch on the MBE questions. Again, I expect all of you will have enough time to finish, but you'll have to hustle to get there. Read my previous post here about basic MBE tactics. Be smart with your time. Don't get behind!

(You repeat this entire process in the afternoon session.)

Seventh, Food

If you're part of a big Virginia or D.C. law school, be sure to sign up for their hosted lunches. They're quite convenient.

If you're not from such a school, several lunch options are nearby - mostly fast food, I think. But the VBBE gives everybody ample time for lunch, specifically for people like you who might have to drive somewhere to eat.

For breakfast, I recommend eating at your hotel. Again, just more convenient. For dinner, Roanoke has some half-decent options, although nothing that really stands out or is memorable. But treat yourself to a good meal. You need the energy!


I'll probably make one more post before the exam next week. Good luck, everybody! Have confidence in yourself. You can do this!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Knowing the Hierarchical Tiers of Bar Exam Subjects and Using That To Your Advantage

A reader asked me to elaborate on the subject tiers to which I commonly refer. The tiers below aren't fast and hard - they're very fungible - but generally, they align with the frequency at which the VBBE tests on the various subjects. You should organize your studies accordingly.

FIRST TIER (probably one full essay each for two of the three subjects)
- Wills/Trusts
- VA Civ Pro
- Fed Jur.

FIRST TIER- / SECOND TIER-HYBRID (probably two full essays or partial essays on four of the six subjects)
- Domestic Relations
- Equity
- Sales
- Crim Law/Proc.
- Local Government Law
- Professional Responsibility

SECOND TIER (probably two full essays or partial essays on two of the seven subjects)
- Real Property
- Corporations
- Agency
- Partnership
- Commercial Paper
- Secured Transactions
- Creditors' Rights

THIRD TIER (One full essay unlikely. Maybe one partial essay, if at all)
- Conflict of Laws
- Torts
- Taxation
- Personal Property
- Suretyship

Also, as I said before, study similar subjects together. Commercial paper, secured transactions, and creditors' rights go together. If there's a transactional essay, it'll likely be from one of those three subjects. Corporations, agency, and partnership go together. If there's an entity essay, it'll likely be from one of those three subjects. Study Real Property and Sales while you study for MBE Property and Contracts/Sales, respectively. VA Civ Pro, Fed. Jur., and Equity go together. And so on. The majority of Virginia essays are mixed subjects, so it's best to understand how the various subjects interrelate with each other.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How Best to Use the Final Two Weeks before Your Bar Exam

Hey, Kids! Listen up --

By this point, many of you have let your study plans fall to the waste side and are now studying like a crazed lunatic. Practice questions, practice essays, outline after outline, or index card after index card – you’re desperately trying to drink a fire hose-worth of bar exam knowledge. Two weeks left to the biggest exam of your life; you want to make the most of every hour leading up to it. Sound familiar? While I don’t recommend this plan, I do understand.   

Rather than lecture you about how you should have studied earlier or how you should now be studying, I’m better off just helping you not totally screw up the next two weeks. So here are six pointers to keep in mind.

1.  Review Smart 
  • If you’re comfortable with all of the major issues for each subject, then move onto the details. If you’re still trying to nail down all of the major issues, focus on them—and forget the details.
  • Think small at this point. Ditch the big outlines and books. Rifle through your index cards instead, three or four subjects per day. In a week, all of your cards should be second nature to you.
  • At least three times before the exam, run through all of the short answer questions.
  • Pop off 25 MBE practice questions per day—but review each explanation!
  • Pop off 7-10 practice essays per day. If you went through Barbri’s Virginia Essay book cover to cover, switch over to William & Mary’s collection of previous Virginia Bar Exams. Do the four or five preceding bar exams. The VBBE love to recycle previous essays. If bar examinees bombed a particular essay on February’s exam, don’t be surprised if you see the same or similar issue on July’s exam. The VBBE test on what they think is important. 
    • NOTE: When you read through previous bar exams on the William & Mary website, you will recognize that you read the same essays in Barbri’s book. Re-read them anyway; it’s good practice. Also, some of William & Mary’s model answers will be different from Barbri’s model answers. That’s fine, too. Some essays will have several acceptable answers. The point is, just do as many essays as possible. You want to be in essay-mode from this point forward. Let no essay scare you!
2.  Recharge Your Body
  • You can’t afford to get strung out or sick in the next two weeks. You’ll risk being out of commission for some time or, even worse, carry your exhaustion or sickness into the exam days. Now is the time to begin physically preparing for your exam days. Get sufficient rest (minimum 7 hours per night, preferably 8 hours), eat healthy foods and drink lots of fluids. Your body needs to be physically prepared for two grueling days.
3.  Recharge Your Brain and Psyche
  • With two weeks to go, emotional meltdowns = BAD. Avoid crying in a stupor about your preparation or progress, or lacks thereof. At this point, those issues cannot be completely addressed. Also, avoid crying in a stupor about the bar exam, which lies dead ahead. Fretting over it won’t make it come sooner and go away or get any easier. It’s coming. Deal with it.
4.  Keep Up Your Confidence
  • This one’s crucial! You have to keep your head up. You must be confident in your abilities, even if you don’t quite feel that way. The bar exam is like a premier professional athlete. It wins by finding your weaknesses and exploiting them. Don’t let that happen. Build an impenetrable wall around yourself. When you feel an urge of anxiety or fear rushing upon you, smack it back with a pep talk.
  • I cannot stress this point enough. If you walk into the bar exam feeling like shit about your ability to pass, chances are you’re not going to pass. Keep calm and hold fast. You can do it. I know you can.
5.  Failing the Bar Will Not Ruin Your Future
  • IF you feel there’s a strong possibility you’re going to fail, or IF you want to know what to expect IF you fail, then read below. Otherwise, move onto #6.
    • OK. Worst case scenario: You fail. That’s it. You fail. You retake it in February, you pass, and you move on with your life. A couple months of setback; that’s all there is to it.
    • First, put your predicament into perspective. If you barely studied, then you deserved to fail. If you didn’t study properly, then get a tutor and study right the second time. If you missed passing by just a few points, then know that you’re not far from passing in February. But none of these predicaments involve embarrassment. Many attorneys before you failed the bar exam, many of them smarter than you. And your friends and loved ones won’t think any differently of you either. You’ll think they will and you’ll be too self-absorbed to think otherwise—but you’ll be wrong. You’ll think you let them down, too, and still you’ll be too self-absorbed to think otherwise—but you’ll be wrong again. A few clowns might silently judge you, maybe even a colleague, but I doubt it. You have a Juris Doctor. That means you’re smart and you have drive. So if you want something, go get it. Period. If you want to talk about your plan in getting there, contact me any time. But you WILL pass. I know you will.
6.  You’re on the Home Stretch
  • You’re almost there! Your bar exam woes are nearing their end point, only to be replaced by long nights at the office. Oh - joy of joys! Take a minute to appreciate just how much effort you gave this summer, how you put your mind to it, how badly you wanted this, and just how much law you now know. Honestly, you know more law right now than you might ever know in your entire career. That’s impressive!
You’re rounding the turn for the final 100 meters. Don’t let up know, finish strong, but finish smart. Don’t be a dummy in these last two weeks. They can make or break you. GOOD LUCK!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Overview of the Remaining MBE and Virginia Subjects

Taxation (Block) and Suretyship (Kraus) (Grades: C-)

A 4-hour Barbri lecture for a subject that’s sparingly tested? No. Taxation and Suretyship are the only two subjects you are justified in blowing off, particularly taxation. Why? Two reasons. First, Taxation is not like other bar exam subjects that are new to you. Unless you took Taxation courses in law school, taxation will vex and overwhelm you. You will not understand the subject as well as other subjects without twice the time and effort. Secondly, the VBBE rarely devote an essay to Taxation. Expect one short answer question worth one point. One point is not worth twice your time and effort.

The worst case scenario is the VBBE devotes a partial or full essay to Taxation. Chances are 95% of the people around you won’t have a clue either, so most examines will cancel each other out, rendering that particular essay moot. That’s a waste of an essay—and that’s why Taxation is not a great subject on which to test examinees. The subject rewards a few tax nerds at the expense of all other examinees, which does not allow the VBBE to assess its applicant pool as well as other subjects can.  

So while skimping on Taxation is a risk, it’s also a calculated one. I recommend reading through, and getting comfortable with, the few essays and short answer questions for taxation. Apply the remainder of your time to more important subjects, like Virginia Civil Procedure, Wills & Trusts, or Sales.

Suretyship is like Taxation in that the VBBE rarely tests it—for the same reasons. But Suretyship rules are much more straightforward than Taxation’s. If you read through the one or two essays related to Suretyship, you should be fine. Again, skimping on the subject is a risk, but it’s a calculated one. Everything about studying for the bar exam is calculated.

MBE Torts (Schechter) and Domestic Relations (Schechter) (Grades: B-)

Schechter does not use pre-formatted outlines. Basically, he gives long-winded lectures and you take notes. Helpful in law school. . . but not in a bar exam crunch.

For MBE Torts, use Emanuel S&T's (see my post here) brief Torts outline instead, and then start working the MBE practice questions (from S&T and PMBR’s Red Book). Couple them with the PMBR lecture CDs. Listen to the Torts CDs at least once, preferably two or three times. Make index cards from the S&T outline and from the practice questions that you get incorrect or had to guess on. That's how you learn Torts for the bar. To pass the bar, you don’t need to know everything, but you do need to know the right things. When you try to learn everything, you’ll likely overwhelm yourself. Knowing the right things is hard enough; don’t overwhelm yourself.

For Domestic Relations, read through all of the essays instead and make your index cards from them. The VBBE frequently tests on Domestic Relations, usually as a full essay. In July 2011, the VBBE did not test on Domestic Relations. In February 2012, they devoted a partial essay to the subject. The good news is that Domestic Relations is a straightforward subject with which you should feel comfortable after some review. Domestic Relations essays are the easy points you NEED to rack up. Don’t skimp on this subject; know it cold.

VA Secured Transactions / Commercial Paper (Franzese) (Grades: C+)

These Barbri lectures are the opposite of Franzese's long-winded Property outline. They’re too brief! These subjects aren’t terribly difficult, but they’re not so easy as to be brief about them either.

What scares people away from these subjects are their terms and definitions. Once you understand them, the rest will fall into place. So, again, read through all of the essays instead and make your index cards from them. Expect the VBBE to devote a full essay to transactions, which will test either on Commercial Paper, Secured Transactions, or Creditors’ Rights (or a combination of the three subjects). Translation: These subjects are important. Don’t skimp on them; know them cold.

Also, all three subjects are similar, so study them together; i.e., during one session, or one right after the other. The majority of Virginia essays are mixed subjects, so it's best to understand how the various subjects interrelate with each other.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Three Weeks Left: How To Act, Starring Your Index Cards, and Gearing Up for Virginia Short Answers

Studying for the bar is like a corkscrew. Every week you turn the screw a little tighter. Every issue I've discussed - proper study method, index cards, hierarchical subjects, sleep, exercise, etc - becomes more important. Gradually, everything converges.

The Next Three Weeks

With a little less than three weeks left, you're now in the thick of it. Whether or not you studied diligently in the previous two months, the next couple weeks will be critical. The good news is, from hereon out, you should be able to retain just about anything you study. The even better news is, the studying should be easier now - if you're studying properly! Subjects will be more familiar. Issues will be clearer. You should see progress on your MBE practice questions, and the practice essays as a whole will no longer be the confidence killers they once were.

The bad news is, now is the time when students can fall prey to a damaging mindset: "Shit! Only three weeks left! I need to go into overdrive. 16 hour-days from hereon out. No exercise, no decent meals, no rest, no perspective, minimal sleep. Nothing but the bar exam on my mind. . . . And yet I'm already way behind on the Barbri Pace Program. There's so much I feel like I still don't know. I have to know everything in three weeks. How is that going to happen? Holy crap! I'm freaking out!"

How to Act

Don't be that person. While you need to work hard in the next three weeks, you also need to work smart. Don't put in more than 8-10 solid hours of study per day. If 8-10 solid hours of study per day is taking you 16 hours, then I don't need to tell you that you're being distracted and inefficient. Also, take care of your body! Eat strong, healthy foods - not junk food. Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Relax for at least an hour per day. Go for a run, hang out with family, do something mindless - anything that removes you from bar prep.

Better yet, have your significant other or nearby friend or family member step in and force you to balance your time. Have them tell you, "Study for the next two hours; then we're playing a game of basketball," or "I'll pick you up at 8:00 PM for dinner; use your time wisely until then." Whatever the activity is, work it into your schedule. This approach will force you to be as efficient as possible with the time allotted. If I'm repeating myself, it's because this issue is important - and I know how easy they are to ignore.

How Not to Act

The alternative approach is a recipe for poor studying. If you gave yourself an extra hour or two of studying per day, instead of mindless relaxation, you won't be better off. What would normally take you an hour to review will now take you an hour and a half, because psychologically you know you have more time to spread out over. Throw in a couple more breaks and some distractions, and - poof! - you're back to being a poor studier.

When you're studying for the bar, the rest of your life shouldn't go on hold. I realize that, at times, your life will feel strained by bar prep, but it's important to keep a healthy balance as best you can - especially towards the end!

Index Cards - Starring Them

You should be finished with making your index cards, and headlong into learning them. You'll find that reviewing 50 index cards for a big subject will take substantially less time than reviewing that subject's 50+ page outline. You did the hard work already - filtering the important issues out. Now you need to learn those rules cold, and how to apply them.

For each subject, you will have important cards and less important cards. Star the important ones and put them in one pile and the rest in another pile. Essentially, you want two "piles" for each subject. Whenever you rifle through a subject, learn the starred cards first. Once you're comfortable with them, then move onto the non-starred cards.

Examples of starred cards could be issues that S&T's outlines highlight, or that frequently reoccur in the Virginia essays or on MBE questions, or that Professor Freer stressed in his lecture. Examples of non-starred cards could be MBE questions that tripped you up but which aren't commonly tested, or an issue in a Virginia essay you thought was worth noting.

Virginia Short Answers

On the written portion of the Virginia Bar Exam, you will have nine essays worth ten points each and ten short answers worth one point each. Students tend to blow off studying for the short answers, thinking that by preparing for the essays, they'll be prepared already.

Not really. Barbri's Short Answer section is there for a reason, and it's actually pretty good preparation. The problem is that Barbri's Pace Program doesn't address the short answers until about the last week, which is way too late. Barbri thinks you can go through these questions once and be OK. Not true.

Here's my recommendation: tear out this section and make three or four copies of it. Then, starting this week, take one copy and go through all of the questions. I expect you'll get 50% correct. Don't worry. Go through the answers and learn from your mistakes. At the end of this week or early next week, take another copy and go through every question again. This time, I expect you'll get 75% correct - a marked improvement. Again, go through your incorrect answers and learn from your mistakes. After a third run-through, you should be getting 90% correct. After a fourth run-through, you should be getting 97% correct. Getting 97% correct on actual, previous short answers questions is as good as it gets. There's no better way to prep for short answer questions.

That's all for now. If you're freaking out and desperate for some crash-course tutoring sessions, feel free to contact me. Good luck, everyone, and keep on trucking!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Should I Study on the Fourth of July?

Well, I can't answer that for you. You know yourself best. But what I can tell you is that one day will not make or break you. One day, one afternoon, one evening will not determine your fate. Studying for the bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. It's decided over the course of months, not days.

A distance runner puts in hours of training every day -- six or seven days per week. But he also knows that his training requires rest and taking care of his body and mind. If he doesn't, he'll burn out or get injured. When it comes to training, you have to be smart. You also have to be honest with yourself.

In the past six weeks, you put in your endurance mileage by making your index cards and working through all of the law. Over the next three weeks, you'll incorporate sprint workouts into your mileage. Which is to say, by learning your index cards and applying them to targeted practice sets, you'll begin to finely hone your testing skills and understanding of the law.

So can you take off a night and watch the fireworks? You're an American - damn right, you should! Can you take the whole day off? If you do, simply plan accordingly in your schedule. But don't let the fear of falling behind deter you from having a little fun on the Fourth. Take a break, let it give you a boost of energy, and remember to smile. But be safe. No Frank the Tank!

Review of Barbri's Virginia Professional Responsibility Lecture (Velloney)

Review of Barbri's State-Specific Professional Responsibility Lecture (Velloney) (Grade: C-)

The lecture is a waste of time. The subject is NOT. The VBBE loves to zing bar examinees with Professional Responsibility (PR) essays. In July 2011, the VBBE devoted one full essay and one half essay exclusively to PR. So be warned. 

That being said, Barbri's lecture rambles. Chuck it and head straight to the PR essays. Make your index cards from them. Afterward, take a look at the Convisor outline for PR. Just skim through it once and see if anything jumps out at you. Mostly, though, let the essays and short answers teach you bar exam PR.

While my suggested approach to PR is not 100% fool proof, it'll give you a great leg up over the rest of the crowd. Most bar examinees completely blow off PR, thinking it's BS-able. Don't be one of them! The VBBE take Virginia PR very seriously, and it's quite unlike the MPRE or that joke course you took in law school. Nothing's worse than hitting 1.5 essays on a subject you don't know a lick about. If you read all of the PR essays, which isn't many, then make your index cards from them and diligently learn your cards, you'll be in better PR shape than 98% of the bar examinees around you.

Review of Barbri's MBE Contracts & Sales Lecture (Epstein)

Review of Barbri's MBE Contracts & Sales Lecture (Epstein) (Grade: B+)

60 pages. Ugh. Three days. Double ugh. But once you filter out the fat, this one has some teeth. Epstein is old-man funny, and in another life he was probably a cattle rancher or cowboy. His examples often begin with, "Now you're probably thinkin' - Epstein, son, what in the hell are you talkin' about?" I imagine words like "bo diddly" and "hinky" often enter his vocabulary.

This one of the few MBE lectures that's good. The drawback is that Epstein bogs down his lecture with an excess of examples. I also think his overarching Armadillo-Jay-Z-whatever mnemonic is very unclear, never mind unhelpful. But once you sift through some of his excess, you'll find that his outline is good. Get to know those portions well. And, yes, you should chew on a few of his examples in between. I remember early on having trouble distinguishing common law options from U.C.C. firm offers. My index cards weren't helping either, so I went back to Epstein's outline. Here, his numerous examples were helpful. I made a couple more cards for myself, and never felt the need to return to his outline again. Your primary text should be your index cards - almost never the lectures.

Epstein's outline should supplement S&T's Contracts & Sales mini-outline. Translation: the S&T outline should garner far more of your attention. You will find that the greatest strength of Epstein's outline will be in solidifying the points that are made in the S&T outline.

Remember: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Start at 60,000 feet (just the basics). Get comfortable with the most common, testable issues first. This is where S&T's outlines shine. These will serve as your most important index cards. Then, once you're comfortable here, move to 40,000 feet, which will include Epstein's outline and S&T's practice questions. Keep making noteworthy index cards. Once you're comfortable with this material, then take her down to 20,000 feet and begin to tie in PMBR's practice questions. Make more index cards as necessary. Once you're comfortable here, get to know all of your index cards COLD. Apply them everyday to your practice questions. Take the time to really learn from your mistakes. The more practice questions you hit, the more explanatory answers you read, the quicker you'll spot repeat questions, tricks, and traps. That's how you get to be a cold-blooded MBE killer.