A Helpful Approach to the Bar Exam

By: Prof. Quentin Huff, Assistant Director of Bar Success at Wake Forest University School of Law

A student anxiously cramming for the bar exam

Everybody knows the bar exam is difficult. Indeed, it’s the very magnitude of the difficulty that causes us to lose sight of what’s important on the exam.  In my view, when examinees misinterpret the rule of thumb that the bar exam is testing “minimum competency”, they risk losing sight of the many skills they acquired and developed through law school.

The bar exam tests what you can do in addition to what you know. So, before we get to that, let’s first breakdown the basics. I divide bar exams into two types: (1) the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and (2) state-specific examinations.

The Uniform Bar Exam

The National Conference of Bar Examiners creates the UBE, which consists of three primary components: (1) the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) (200 multiple choice questions); (2) the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) (six essay questions); and (3) the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) (two closed-universe problems).  Completion of all three components results in a test score out of 400 possible points.

The jurisdiction where you sit for the bar will determine the required passing score, sometimes referred to as the “cut score”. Passing scores range from 260 to 280. Alabama’s passing score of 260 is an example of the lowest. Alaska’s passing score of 280 is the highest. North Carolina falls in between, requiring a minimum passing score of 270 points.

MBE: Over a total of six hours, the MBE’s 200 multiple choice questions cover various areas of law, including Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts (including Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code), Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. The subjects are tested based on “majority” rules, such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, comparative fault instead of contributory negligence, and common law principles of criminal law instead of the Model Penal Code. The MBE is graded by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

MEE: The essays for the MEE’s six questions may cover any of the subject areas tested on the MBE as well as other topics like Business Associations (including Agency, Partnership,  and Corporations, LLCs), Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Secured Transactions, Wills, and Trusts. The jurisdiction administering the exam will grade these essays.

MPT: For the MPT, the test makers provide the statutes, rules, and precedent necessary for examinees to complete a specific task. The examinee may need to use the materials to respond to a client letter or a directive from a senior partner, resulting in the synthesis of the given statutory material and case law into a particular type of written work product, such as a memo, contractual agreement, proposal, or other document. For many examinees, the MPT will resemble an assignment from a law school legal writing course. Once again, the MPT is graded by the individual jurisdiction where the examinee sits for the exam.

State-specific exams, on the other hand, tend to incorporate one or more of the above components, either created by the state bar or by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Some states administer short answer questions. Others administer 12 or more essays. State-specific exams usually require knowledge of state law, so examinees in these jurisdictions must be able to pivot between the “majority rules” of the MBE to the state-specific distinctions raised by the essay questions.

With this foundation, let’s now discuss “minimum competency”. Continue reading “A Helpful Approach to the Bar Exam”

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The Forgetting Curve

By: Professor Steve Friedland, Elon Law School

Clear Light Bulb

My first teaching opportunity arose less than a year after graduating from law school when I was asked to teach Evidence to approximately 70 upper level law students at a law school in South Florida. Without training or guidance, I did what many people probably would have done under similar circumstances — essentially replicate what I had seen as a student. I covered assignments day-by-day and waded through the traditional doctrinal topics contained in the traditional casebook I had chosen. For me, it was all about segmented coverage of material.  From a student’s perspective, though, I am sure the class felt very different, more like a grueling teen tour through Europe — 13 countries in three days.

By framing my class as an educational assembly line, I thought I had done my job – cover doctrinal material and foster critical analysis. Now it was the students’ job to learn and apply the substantive doctrines on their own for the exam. Yet if I knew then what I know now, my teaching approach would have been dramatically different.

In the past two decades, scientists using advanced technology have learned so much about the brain, including more about how learning takes place. Scientists have studied what happens to information that is communicated to learners in a class.  Do students immediately store that information in brain files like computers do for ready and easy access whenever the information is needed? Does the process of note-taking mean students can access what they have learned at any time?  Does multi-tasking affect the learning process? If yes, then how?

The scientific answers to these questions are both nuanced and complex.  They tell us that teaching does not equate to learning, especially long-term retention and recall.  If the goal is to become a self-directed and effective learner, what first counts is paying attention, focusing on information, and then engaging in useful retrieval practices to make that information stick. Continue reading “The Forgetting Curve”

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Of Books and Pen: Steinbeck’s Advice and Mine on Writing Your First Book

By: Professor Abigail L. Perdue

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.

John Steinbeck

I first dreamed of writing a book when I was nine years old. A precocious fourth grader with a vivid imagination, I had always been an avid reader, going off on grand adventures from the comfort of my father’s study. The walls of that tiny room – not much larger than a closet – were covered from floor to ceiling with books on every topic imaginable. I would crawl on his chair and reach for the classics on the highest shelves. That’s where I first met Alcott, Austen, Hardy, and a host of other beloved childhood companions. I lost myself in his library, but perhaps I found myself too.

Like many insatiable readers, I soon discovered that I enjoyed creating stories almost as much as reading them. In the fourth grade, my teacher entered my short story – The Eagle’s Eye[1] – into a writing competition. Much to my surprise, I won, and my first story was published. That unique experience reinforced two burgeoning desires – my passion for writing and my dream to one day publish a book.[2]

Fast forward several decades later, and I’ve published two books and am currently waist-deep in a third. All the while, Steinbeck’s ghost has been whispering in my ear while I revisit his Depression-era classic – The Grapes of Wrath. So here are a few things I wish I’d known before naively embarking on my first book-writing journey: Continue reading “Of Books and Pen: Steinbeck’s Advice and Mine on Writing Your First Book”

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Untangling Students’ Fears about 1L Oral Arguments

By: Professor Heidi Brown

It’s 1L oral argument season again. Many legal writing faculty colleagues are eagerly gearing up to schedule argument practice rounds for their students as part of the course curriculum. I’ll admit, this component of our 1L legal writing curriculum gives me residual angst. I sit in my office staring at my syllabus and wishing my students could just slide their appellate briefs into a dropbox and skip right to summer break. I know, I know…I’m the educator now, not the traumatized 1L student I once was. My disastrous oral argument was nearly three decades ago. I should be over it by now, right? I should be excited to impart wisdom to my students about the substance and style of oral persuasion. I’m not. Instead, I absorb the anxiety and fear that many of them experience about this law school rite of passage. The anxiety and fear are real. They’re palpable. Continue reading “Untangling Students’ Fears about 1L Oral Arguments”

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Educating The Whole Lawyer: Mind, Body, and Spirit

By: Kathleen Elliott Vinson & Shailini J. George

“I am anxious, stressed, and tired all the time.  I have a headache, and my body aches. I feel stupid.  I’m not good enough. Why am I the only one who doesn’t get it?  I’ll never get all this work done.  I feel so overwhelmed.  I feel like I am surviving but not living.”

Does this sound familiar: negative thoughts, physical tension, anxiety, and stress?  You are not alone.  This message plays in the mind of many students, colleagues, and even clients.

Lawyer well-being should begin in law school.  While law school tends to focus on teaching students how to “think like a lawyer” to prepare them for practice, what about students’ psychological, emotional, and physical well-being?  How are students learning these important skills that are also essential in preparing them for the stresses of law practice?  They may be more important than you think to enhance lifelong resilience and success.  To be an effective advocate for your client, you must first take care of yourself.  It is hard to be a good lawyer if you are not a healthy lawyer. Continue reading “Educating The Whole Lawyer: Mind, Body, and Spirit”

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