Thursday, August 15, 2013

As August Passes By. . . .

August is a slow month for bar examinees. Not much to report. . . Just passing the time. As late-October nears, the wait will gradually get worse until about a week before the VBBE releases results, at which point the bar exam will be the only thing on your mind. In the meantime, you might think about which essays/MBE questions on which you screwed up, the probability of passing, or how terribly your life will spiral if you fail.

Again, don’t torture yourself like that. In the end, it provides no therapeutical benefit. 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. The bar exam will bring you down, in every way possible, only if you let it. It’s not terminal cancer; it’s just a tough exam.

I recommend taking one day at a time, one hour at a time, to distract yourself from thinking about the bar exam. Go on holiday, volunteer your time, play sports, watch movies, read books, live life. Still, a lot of examinees can’t help but wonder. To pass the time, they scour the Internet for forums, passed-but-fully-expected-to-fail stories, and other bar exam nooks and crannies. I would take all of these sources as grains of salt and with extreme caution. If we believed everything on the Internet, Bigfoot would be living in Reno. Again, the therapeutical benefit is temporary at best.

If any of you have any other questions or concerns while you wait for results, feel free to contact me. In the meantime, enjoy the waning days of summer.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Discussion Forums Added

I added two discussion forums onto the blog, one for the July 2013 Virginia Essays and Short Answers, and the other for the July 2013 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.

July 2013 Virginia Bar Exam -- Release of Results Date

The VBBE will release results of the July 2013 Virginia Bar Exam on Thursday, October 31, 2013.

Historically, the VBBE releases results on the date stated or on the preceding day. So expect the VBBE to release results on Wednesday, October 30, or else Thursday, October 31. My gut tells me that Thursday, October 31, will be the big day.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Breaking Down the MBE Curve

A number of readers have inquired about the MBE curve. While I posted on this issue in the past, it's still worth revisiting. 

First, let's squash the rumors. A tougher MBE does not mean you will receive a better score. Nor does taking the bar in July instead of February guarantee you a better score. Nor are you better off taking the bar in July because July scores are higher than February's. It's best to think about the MBE curve from two angles.

First, Mean Scaled Scores

In the last ten years, the February mean scaled score varied by fewer than two points above or below 138.6; in the same ten years, the July scaled score varied by fewer than two points above or below 143.8. What does that tell us? Only two things. 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 do tell us anything else. They become misleading when examinees assume that, by sitting for the July MBE, they will automatically achieve a higher score. Continue reading.

Second, Raw Score v. Scaled Scores

The MBE is a standardized exam. Each examinee receives two scores: a raw score and a scaled score. Raw scores from different MBE administrations (e.g., February v. July) 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, or vice-versa.) The NCBE then converts your raw score into a scaled score. The conversion is a complicated statistical process that is 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. The scaled score is the only score you will see, and the only one you care about. 

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. 

Similarly, if you received a 144 scaled score on the February administration, your level of performance would roughly equal a 144 scaled score on the July administration. Your 144 score in February 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 2008 or 2013, these variables won't affect your scaled score. The variables may affect your raw score, but they have no bearing on your actual level of performance (i.e., your understanding of the law). The scaled score will adjust for these variables because a scaled score only measures 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, August 1, 2013

Farewell to the July 2013 Bar Exam!

First, congratulations! The exam is over. Your nights and weekends are back. And in a few short months, many of you will be attorneys at law. 

Quick recap for other readers: On the essays, we saw a lot of the usual suspects: Virginia Civil Procedure, Real Property, Equity, Criminal Procedure, Domestic Relations, Professional Responsibility, Sales (U.C.C. Article 2), Corporations, Agency, and Creditors' Rights. Notably absent were Federal Jurisdiction, Local Government, and Wills -- but not Trusts! The full Creditors' Rights  essay sounded like a brute. And the short answer questions were a minefield. Nobody likes short answers, and everybody struggles on them. But chances are, they won't make or break you. Finally, the MBE was trickier than in previous administrations. All in all, the July exam was a toughie. But if you studied properly and applied common sense, you should have weathered through this exam fine. 

Second, let's briefly discuss how you feel now. All of you are exhausted and, hopefully, relieved. Some of you feel good, but I'm betting most of you just feel like an overcooked wet noodle. Maybe you're fretting over that one essay which gave you trouble. You might be bothered by the excess of one particular subject or the lack of another, or by some pesky short answer questions. For some of you, the MBE gave you trouble. And for others, the entire exam felt like a mess.

Gradually, these feelings will wear off. You will come to terms with the VBBE's essay selection. You will accept that the July 2013 exam was fair and is now out of your control. Some of you will put the whole exam in the back of your mind until a week before results are released. I applaud you. Others will not let your anxiety subside at all.

In many respects, waiting for results is harder than preparing for or taking the exam. You go from having no time on your hands, to having lots of time -- time to think, time to wonder, time to worry. But the same advice before the exam holds true now: you must keep anxiety and self-doubt in check. Otherwise, you'll go crazy. Before the exam, this was half the battle. Now it’s the whole battle. If you think you fared horribly on the exam, it’s because the wound is still fresh and it's all you can think about. You’re thinking about the things you did wrong or missed, and not about the things you did correctly or knew cold. Chances are, you're being too hard on yourself. I bet you did just fine.

The VBBE will post results in late October. The wait is long and arduous. My recommendation is to do everything in your power to distract yourself from thinking about the bar exam. Put those thoughts in a lock box and throw that box in the ocean. Because thinking will only lead to worry. And worry will lead to more worry. It won’t accomplish a damn thing.

If you can't stop yourself from thinking and wondering and worrying, or maybe if you're just curious or are simply passing time, by all means please use the discussion forums on here to converse with other examinees. Just don't use the forums to abuse yourself.

Again, congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment, and then give yourself some much-deserved rest.