Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tutoring Inquiries


This season's number of inquiries about tutoring was significantly larger than in previous years, so it's taking me a bit longer to sift through and process. I apologize for the delay. Rest assured, for those who have emailed me recently, I will reply back this week.

Thank you,


Thursday, September 24, 2015

New York Times Article About Bar Exam Passage Rates

I read an interesting article this morning about bar exam passage rates. Definitely worth a read by any prospective bar exam taker or law student.

The answer is not an easy one. Both sides have salient points. And the "law-school-is-a-business" argument is nothing new or unique to law schools. Nonetheless, the ratio of law graduates to available law jobs is staggering, and I would like to see admissions offices taking more accountability. We're already suffocating the market. How much more can it take?

I have no data to back up my claim, but I doubt the addition of Civil Procedure to the MBE is why passage rates have dipped. The subject is already heavily tested on the state portion of almost every bar exam, so students aren't "adding" another subject to the list. However, one benefit of the addition is that it means fewer Contracts and Property questions on the MBE -- typically, the two hardest subjects on the MBE. Coupled with the relative straightforward ease that we've seen in these new Civil Procedure questions, I think the addition, if anything, can benefit students. 

Botton line is, even though I'm a bar tutor, I don't over-analyze the bar exam or the opinions of it. My goal is to get my students to pass whatever bar exam comes our way. Yes, the MBE is hard and heavily weighted on most bar exams. But because the environment is very controlled and repetitive, I think it's the easiest portion in which to make progress and gobble up points. Believe me: if you have the right strategy, the MBE can be your best friend. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bar Exam Behind, Results on the Horizon

The bar exam is over. Great job, everybody! I hope you're not reading this post, fretting over your answer to an essay or random MBE question. You should be enjoy the light in August. Get outside!

Anyway, here's a quick recap of what we saw on the Virginia bar exam. Nothing unusual to report; the exam was very tough but fair. We saw many of the usual suspects: Virginia Civil Procedure, Federal Jurisdiction, Sales, Agency, Local Government, Real Property, Criminal Law, Corporations, Professional Responsibility, Commercial Paper, and Secured Transactions. Other than the absence of Wills or Trusts, this mix of subjects was about as typical as it gets in the Commonwealth. Heavy emphasis on Tier 1 and Tier 2 subjects, and a couple Tier 3 subjects to keep things interesting. On the short answers, half were low-hanging fruit and half were impossibly detailed. Totally normal.

The MBE was a mirror of what we saw in February. Equally tough but fair, and the Civil Procedure questions remained fairly straightforward.

As late-October nears, the waiting game for results will gradually get worse.  Try not to think about the exam, the results, or what will happen if you don't pass. Literally, try to forget about all of it. It's out of your control now. Every time, I encourage students to follow my advice. Every time, most don't listen. And I get why; we've all been there. In many ways, waiting for results is harder than prepping for the exam. Just remember to keep this thing in perspective: Nobody's dying here. It's just a tough exam.

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.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What to Study in the Last Week

With the bar exam just around the corner, it's time to focus-focus-focus. If you took the right approach this summer, now's the time when all the pieces should come together and when all your hard work should pay dividends.

Unfortunately, not everybody took the approach that worked best for them. Or perhaps life got in the way this summer and now you're playing catch-up. Or perhaps you're taking a commercial program and you're dissatisfied with it. You ditched your pre-formulated study plan and are simply studying like a lunatic. Deep down, you're wondering whether all these long hours and anxiety and stress will be enough. Fear not: You are not alone.

We can't change the past and get back lost time. All we have left is 11 days, so let's pick ourselves up, let's stop stressing, and let's make the most of this time! The last week or two is the most important.

First, be honest and practical about what you study. Think small at this point. Ditch the big outlines and books. Rifle through your index cards instead, three or four subjects per day. If you didn't make cards, then use your lecture handouts or, better yet, your essay book. 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.

Do 25 or 33 MBE practice questions per day, with 45- and 60-minute target times, respectively. Each day, do all of your questions out of one subject only, but switch up the subject every day. That way, you cover each MBE subject once per week. The last time you saw Contracts was 6 days ago, so the law should still be fresh in your head (and so on for each subject). Review every answer explanation! Seriously, if you don't review answer explanations, then don't bother doing practice questions. You'll simply spin your wheels without a shred of improvement to show for it.

For you Virginia applicants, read through Barbri's Virginia Essay Book cover to cover. At this point, just read it and don't worry about writing out answers. Whether or not you realize it, the essay book is your best friend. Big long outlines are not. If you're already comfortable with the essay book, then take advantage of William & Mary’s collection of previous Virginia Bar Exams. Do one exam per day, starting with the most recent exam and working backwards. Just briefly outline your answers with quick, bullet points and compare them to the bulleted answers. Bullet point answers will allow you to complete a full exam in just 3 hours, giving you time study other things the rest of the day. 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 until examinees get it right.

Second, take good care of your body, mind and soul. You can’t afford to get strung out or sick in the last week. Now is the time to begin physically preparing for your exam days too. 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. If you take care of your body, it will take care of you.

Third, take good care of your mental well-being. Emotional meltdowns are a waste of energy. If you feel the urge, get up and go for a walk and think about something fun. Avoid crying in a stupor about your preparation or progress. At this point, you have limited control over both items.

Finally, keep up your confidence! You have to keep your head up. You have to be confident in your abilities, even if you don't feel that way. When you feel an urge of anxiety or fear rushing upon you, smack it back with a pep talk. Believe in yourself -- You got this!

Confidence is more than half the battle against the bar exam. I think it's even more important than studying properly. Because if you walk into the bar exam feeling down on yourself, chances are you're not going to pass. Doesn't matter how well prepared you are; without confidence, you're climbing Mt. Everest with your hands tied behind your back.

You’re rounding third! You're on the home stretch! 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!

Don’t let up know, finish strong, but finish smart. This last week could make or break you. I wish all of you the best of luck! Knock 'em dead!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

District of Columbia Proposes to Allow Laptops for the MEE (Essay Portion)

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a proposed rulemaking to amend the governing provision concerning how applicants may write their essay answers as part of the bar exam. Previously, D.C. allowed only bluebooks or typewriters (not computers). The amendment now specifically includes computers as a third option for applicants. Needless to say, this amendment is long overdue. Virtually all applicants who plan to sit for the D.C. bar exam will welcome it.

The comment period ends on June 30th, so it's not out of the question that the amendment will take effect before the July 2015 bar exam. However, until further notice, plan on handwriting (or typewriting) the exam. More details to follow.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bar Exam Results; Passage Rates

Late last month, the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners released the results of the February 2015 Virginia bar exam. The overall passage rate was 59.8%, while 67.13% of first-time takers passed.

Early this month, the Committee on Admissions released results of the February 2015 District of Columbia bar exam. The overall passage rate was 37.27%, while 47.2% of first-time takers passed. 

Special congratulations go out to my students who passed the exams! Your hard work last winter paid off. Our strategy plan worked! Whether you're a first-time taker or a fourth-time taker, no challenge is too big.

While we're talking about passing, I'd like to add a brief word about passage rates. Passage rates are a bit misleading. Less than 60% of applicants who sat for the Virginia bar passed in February, whereas only 37% of applicants in D.C. passed. Does that mean the District of Columbia bar was "harder" than Virginia's? What about the nearly 70% of Virginia students who passed last July? Does that mean taking the bar in July would have increased your "chances" of passing?

My previous post about understanding the MBE curve is particularly relevant here. Please refresh yourself on it. The bar exam is a creature of scaling. Whether a particular exam is easier or more difficult than the preceding exam has little to no affect on how likely you are to pass the exam. A bar exam measures your level of performance only, and your level of performance is also unaffected by how people around you scored. Your level of performance on one bar exam is measurable across every bar exam in that jurisdiction, and whether the exam was easier or harder will almost never change the outcome. If you failed in February, you probably wouldn't have fared any better last July, and if you passed last July, you probably still would've passed in February. Generally, your level of performance will stay constant unless you change your approach.

With regard to comparing the passage rates of two or more jurisdictions, tread carefully here, too, because state jurisdictions vary so widely. Different law, different format, different essays, MPT or no MPT, different grading processes... the reasons are obvious. All bar exams are hard. That said, there is a spectrum of bar exams. For a variety of reasons, some jurisdictions are definitely "easier" and some are genuinely "harder." However, the same distinction cannot be made between passage rates. Higher passage rates do not identify the "easier" bars, and vice versa. Ultimately, passage rates should have never influence where you decide to take the bar. Take the bar that makes the most sense for you. That's the first step toward passing. If you're struggling on that decision, let's talk.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

February 2015 Bar Exam -- Goodbye!

Congratulations to all of you who sat for the February 2015 bar exam! I trust all of you are enjoying the return of a more "normal" life (what that means). If you haven't already, give yourself a much-needed break -- you deserve it. For those of who are curious, let's quickly recap the local exams.

In Virginia, we saw the return of Virginia and Federal Civil Procedures. Back to business as usual! Other core subjects included Wills, Sales, Partnership, Agency, Creditor's Rights, and a mix of Equity and Personal Property. That's a healthy pull from the subject hierarchy: all three Tier 1 subjects, two Tier 2 subjects, three Tier 3 subjects, and one Tier 4 subject. It pays to prioritize. 

However, a few core Virginia subjects were absent. Local Government finally ended its blistering string of essays, and Criminal Law and Procedure were, disappointingly, left on the cutting room floor. It happens, albeit rarely. Corporations and Real Property are also pretty important subjects for any first-year attorney. What happened to them as well? I think the explanation is simple. The VBBE cannot test on every subject on every exam. This exam, like virtually every exam, has a smattering of lower-tier subjects present to keep applicants on their toes, but also enough core subjects to not be considered too far off base. Ultimately, the balance remained as fair and reasonable as ever. The essays were straightforward and offered a healthy balance of soft and hard balls. Still, I was a little disappointed by the absence of Local Government and Criminal Law and Procedure.

In the District of Columbia, we saw a lot of usual suspects: Federal Civil Procedure, Wills and Trusts, U.C.C. Art. 9, Agency, Torts, and Constitutional Law. But for the tricky nature of the Wills and Trusts issues, the essays sounded very manageable. The MPTs were also straightforward, with an objective memo and a persuasive letter. If you prepped for the MPT well, these should've been a slam dunk. 

The MBE was typical: tough but fair. We saw a healthy mix of easy, intermediate and difficult questions being pulled from the normal range of issues. Many of my students also commented that the new Civil Procedure questions were easier than expected, so that's a plus for everybody. 

Virginia will release bar exam results on or around Thursday, April 23rd. The District of Columbia will continue its tradition of being one of the last jurisdictions in the country to release results -- this time, in late May.

Now, let's briefly discuss how you're feeling. All of you are exhausted but relieved. Some of you feel good, but I'm betting most of you feel like an overcooked wet pasta 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 hot mess.

Gradually, these feelings will wear off. You will come to terms with the essay selection. You will accept that the February 2015 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 or sitting for 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 today: 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 well. Chances are, you're being too hard on yourself. 

Waiting for results is long and arduous. My recommendation is to do everything in your power to distract yourself from thinking about the bar exam. Thinking will only lead to worry, worrying will only lead to more worrying, and no part of this vicious cycle will accomplish a positive net benefit. 

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

Game Day Tips for Next Week

I trust that all of you are putting the finishing touches on your studying, and also preparing for your travel on Sunday or Monday. 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 Monday night and Tuesday night. To study or not to study? 

That's up to you, really. If you would prefer to exercise, 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. Most of you, I'm sure, will prefer this latter option. 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 at this point is pretty much irrelevant. What you're really doing is keeping your mind on the bar and not in relax-mode. You never want to let your guard down, especially not the night before the exam.  If watching T.V. helps you do that, do it. If doing a quick set of MBEs helps you get there, then do that. 

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.

However, if you decide to run through a couple essays or a light MBE practice set, make sure you previously covered the essays or MBE questions and did well on them. After Sunday evening, you don't want to do anything that will compromise your confidence. Confidence is the key to bar exam success!

Second, sleep.

Don't be a dummy here. Do what you normally do. Do not change your routine. Because by doing so, you throw in a variable. At this stage, variables are 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, and 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 sessions

This one's like studying the night before. If you don't want to do it, don't. If another person doesn't want to do it, respect his/her choice. 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 essays, several approaches can be correct. You also don't know how the examiners will weight the various issues within each essay. 
  • Second, answer only what the examiners ask you to answer, nothing more. Some examinees will write about extraneous issues, trying to show off to the examiners. 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. This sort of over-confidence often screams of insecurity. In other words, this person is likely trying to psyche you out with the hope that doing so will give them an advantage or make them feel better about their own tepid grasp of the law. Chances are, you're going to forget an issue or two. You're going to screw up on 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 the MBEs tomorrow. 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, or the MBE questions we knew cold. All we think about is the negative. I'll talk more on that post-exam. For now, give it your best, keep your head up, keep moving forward, and let the chips fall where they may. 

Rest and relief await you in just a few short days. Good luck, everybody! You can do this. The bar exam is not the end all-be all. You're going to be fine. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

How to Maximize Your Home Stretch of Studying

Well, it's that time of year again. With the February 2015 bar exam a little less than two weeks away, I encourage you to keep a few pointers in mind. These tips should help to maximize your home stretch of studying.

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. A week from now, all of your cards should be second nature to you.

Do 25 MBE practice questions per day—but review every explanation! If you don't review the answer explanations, don't bother doing any practice questions. Waste of time. Also, although this priority is secondary, try to complete two run throughs of the short answer questions before the exam.

Do 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 the previous exam, don’t be surprised if you see the same or similar issue on the forthcoming exam. The VBBE test on what they think is important.

Please note that 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, as it is 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.

Recharge Your Body

You can’t afford to get strung out or sick now. 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 exam days.

Recharge Your Brain and Psyche

Avoid emotional meltdowns. Avoid crying in a stupor about your preparation or progress, or lack 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. What is the best defense against emotional meltdowns? Confidence and effective studying, in that order. Which leads me to the next point. . . .

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 beats you 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, reject it with a pep talk.

Again, I cannot stress confidence enough. No matter how well you know the law, if you walk into the bar exam feeling under-confident, chances are you’re not going to pass. Keep calm and hold fast. You can do it!

You’re on the Home Stretch

You’re almost there! Take a minute to appreciate just how much effort you gave this winter, 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!

In short, 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!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

NCBE Removes Commercial Paper from the 2015 Multistate Essay Exam (MEE).

Effective with the February 2015 bar exam, the NCBE will remove Negotiable Instruments (U.C.C. Art. 3) (a.k.a. "Commercial Paper") as well as the excerpts of Art. 4 (Bank Collections) from the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE).


Many students will welcome this news. If you did not take Commercial Paper in law school, it can be intimidating. But what a lot students under-appreciated was that the terminology made Commercial Paper difficult -- not the subject itself. Once you understood the terminology, the material was rather straightforward. But alas, for those taking the D.C. bar or bars in several mid-west jurisdictions, you now have one less "daunting" subject to cover. Enjoy the belated Christmas gift!