Law school and bar exam tutoring

Bar Exam Prep: Downtime Remains Important

Seemingly every day, another study is published confirming the effectiveness of test-taking techniques that LEX has been teaching for decades.  This confirmation is worth revisiting periodically so that students can feel confident that are preparing with America’s best law and logic teaching company.

Anxiety-driven studying

Students preparing for the bar exam naturally tend to feel a need to put a good effort into their studies.  After all, passing the bar exam is a necessary step on the path toward which most law students have been working for three years or more:  practicing law.  They feel that it would be a mistake, financially and otherwise, to slack off at this crucial moment.  This understandable feeling can give rise to a desire to “burn the candle at both ends,” to spend every waking hour memorizing rules of law—and to minimize the sleep they get at night or the breaks they taking during the day.

This give-it-all-you’ve-got attitude may feel comforting in that it may serve as a shield against anxiety.  The bar prep student may say to herself, “I’m feeling anxious about the approach of the bar exam, so I need to study right now and can’t afford to take a break.”  When she concentrates on that task, the anxiety disappears for a while, which feels good and confirms the feeling that she is doing the right thing by staying glued to her chair.

Reminder: what does—and does not—get you points on test day

However, it’s important to remember that the bar exam does not award you any points whatsoever for how hard you studied.  If you spend eighteen hours per day memorizing bar exam law, that fact, by itself, is worth exactly 0.0 points on test day.  The bar exam doesn’t care how you prepare; it only gives you credit for what you actually deliver.

Again, the bar exam doesn’t care how you prepare; it only gives you credit for what you actually deliver.

And delivering the goods—right answers—on test day depends on many factors. Study time is one factor in test-day performance, to be sure, but it is just one of many.  For instance, maintaining self-awareness and remaining resilient are hallmark abilities of a great test-taker.  But racking up 18-hour days of memorization may or may not help you cultivate these test-taking abilities at all.

Effective recall

Another hallmark trait of a great test-taker is the ability to recall the right information at the right time.  Effective recall partly relies upon storing the information in the first place, of course.  But mere data storage is definitely not enough to bring about effective recall when the test-day clock is running.  Effective recall is affected by one’s energy level, the will to bring up that information rather than curl up and go to sleep.  It is also impacted by one’s state of mind; anxiety interferes with recall.  And it is also impacted by how one stored the information in the first place, e.g., whether the information was learned in isolation or in connection with other information.

Downtime

Downtime—taking breaks from one’s bar exam study—plays an important role in setting oneself up to deliver on test day.  That topic will be specifically addressed in this second part of this article.  Coming soon!

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Bar Exam Prep: Augmented Reading

Maximizing the “return on investment” of solitary study time

While time spent in passive activities, such as attending a bar review class or meeting with your bar exam tutor, is beneficial, the reality is that most of your bar prep time will be spent alone.  This alone time will, for the most part, comprise reading, writing, and test-taking.  Maximizing the return on investment—the “ROI”—of this time calls for, among other things, creating the right study environment.

Disrupted reading

Reading comprehension can get derailed when a person encounters a word that she doesn’t fully understand, even with respect to the words in the given passage that she does understand.  It’s as though that one gap disrupts the entire mental apparatus required for effective reading comprehension.  This disruption may occur because the reader loses concentration, or experiences an increased sense of anxiety, or doesn’t feel certain about how to mentally “file” the remainder of the passage in the absence of the missing information.  Whatever the reason, this disruption is bad for one’s ROI.

Augmented reading

In order to avoid such disruption, LEX recommends that all bar exam study be performed in an “augmented reading” environment.  Some aspects of an augmented reading environment—good lighting, for example—are covered elsewhere; the present article focuses on the presence of other materials in one’s environment during the reading process.

In particular, when a person is reading bar exam materials, such as bar review books pertaining to torts or contracts, one should always have the following items within arm’s length, i.e., literally “within reach” so that you can stretch out your arm and pick them up:

  • a recent hard copy of Black’s Law Dictionary, or equivalent
  • a recent hard copy of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, or equivalent

Presence and proper usage of these resources will allow you to offset the reading-comprehension disruption discussed above while also allowing you to move boldly through the material in confidence that you’ve “got backup” when you need it.

NOTE:  a physical copy (“hard copy”) of the above two dictionaries is highly preferable.  Electronic, and particularly web-based, dictionaries are much less desirable. Reading comprehension for electronic publications is lower generally, and looking up something in such a resource is itself disruptive, particularly if the given resource also includes a bunch of clutter (advertisements, etc.).

Process for Augmented Reading

When reading your bar review materials, each time you encounter a “regular” word—i.e., one that has no special meaning in law, is not a “term of art” for law—that you do not fully recognize, stop right then and there (at the end of the given sentence) and look that word up in your Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Even if you just feel a little “shaky” on the meaning of that word, look it up.  Study the definition until you’ve “got it” and then return to reading, either at the beginning of the sentence that included the word, or, if you’ve lost the context, at the beginning of the paragraph in which that word appeared.

Similarly, any time you encounter a legal word—one that does have a special meaning in or occurs exclusively in law—that you don’t fully recognize, look it up in your Black’s Law Dictionary and follow the process as described above.

Through augmented reading, you will improve the return on investment of your study time: better reading comprehension, better retention of what you’ve learned. You’ll also decrease any anxiety you may experience while studying.  And you’ll also increase your vocabulary along the way—always a good thing for people entering a word-intensive profession like law.