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Kaplan Bar Review

Bar Review, California Bar Exam

By the time you read this, I will have taken the exam, and possibly have gotten the results (depending upon when I publish this). This blog post was started on December 10, and it’s my intent to add to it often up until the time of the test, with pictures and thoughts.

I’m keeping an old school diary of the whole experience, so I’ll add a little information from the previous two months as well.

One of the 7 dry erase boards in the Bar Cave.
One of the 7 dry erase boards in the Bar Cave.

I’m using Kaplan Bar Review, for multiple reasons, but I think any upper tier bar review would provide the tools necessary for success. As much as it seems to be the opposite sometimes, there really is a finite amount of material, there are techniques to learn that will give you an advantage, and anyone is capable of the skills with enough practice.

Here's another. Early on.
Here’s another. Early on.
Final statistics
Final statistics

Kaplan markets its Bar Review program as an 8-week intense, 7-day-a-week, 12-hour-day effort. I’m sure thousands of folks have had success doing it that way – I can’t imagine it. My brain is done and done after 8 hours in a day. I have known for a long time that I am a morning person, have high energy and go strong until about 2pm, when I start a long, slow slide into evening. Therefore, I took Kaplan’s 8-week program and turned it into a 16-week, 6-8 hour a day schedule. I’ve been totally happy with it.

Color-coded, dry erase life.
Color-coded, dry erase life.
January and February
January and February

My life circumstances are favorable for this study schedule. I’m not working, my kids are all grown and independent, I live alone, my honey lives in another state and comes and visits occasionally. I have a small hobby farm in middle Tennessee with cattle, donkeys, goats, chickens, which all require maintenance and care, but that’s minimal, and the balance is they are a delightful distraction and helps to ground me.

Elvis, the longhorn steer.
Elvis, the longhorn steer.

My study partner and co-student Liz is on the same schedule, and I don’t want to underestimate her contribution to my progress. It’s not that we study together that often – it’s more passing questions back and forth through instant messaging, and the solidarity and companionship of a fellow student. She and I have shared rants about everything from tedious lecturers to impatient family to poorly-written hypotheticals to stress management tricks. She has not only made it tolerable, but has been fun and funny and a huge academic help. (*6/5 edit: Liz was one of our co-valedictorians at graduation – how lucky am I?!)

Liz, the legal brainiac!
Liz, the legal brainiac!

My posse of friends have been beyond supportive. Last fall my honey put out the word that he was seeking help with a 100-days-of-encouragement calendar. The response was overwhelming, and opening each envelope in the morning before study begins is my favorite part of the day.

String of support
String of support

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1.4.15

I’ve been eating Paleo for years. Meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds. I still loves me some onion rings now and again, and wine is a food group as far as I’m concerned.

I knew before I began bar review that I needed to be careful about medicating with food. I know the physiology of the sympathetic/parasympathetic systems, and that food elicits the relaxation response that I would desperately need undertaking this monster. I know I sleep better, concentrate better, everything better when I eat clean. The extended nature (4 months) of bar review could lead to a disaster of biblical proportions (pants-wise) if I entered the venture unprepared for the phenomena.

So why do I want macaroni and cheese, cornbread, apple crisp, hashbrown casserole, and snickerdoodles? I have never wanted comfort food as badly as I want it now. I’m sure it’s about the insecurity I’m feeling, the anxiety about the test, the need for everything associated with that food – the caretaking that went into that food, both when I was the consumer and the creator, the memories of the family environment that accompanied the meal, not to mention the actual food, with its taste and effect of excitotoxins that evolved in the grains to make me want to eat more to distribute the seeds for the immobile plant.

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But in my effort to avoid emotional comfort eating, I’m undereating, and having a weird aversion to eating anything, for fear of medicating with food. So in this whole psycho Bar Review process, I’m having to revert to old-school, food-logging, calorie-counting, structured eating, because I’m not able to properly assess if I’m hungry, or stressed, or full, or whatever. Sheesh.

My sweet hens looking out for me.
My sweet hens looking out for me.

 

1.19.15 MCQs

Gah. What an experience. I’m at the 5-weeks-out point, and I alternate between panic at how fast the time is passing to not being able to face one more day and can’t wait for the end of this intense academic challenge.

I’m doing between 8-10 hours per day now, and the schedule is strict and tight. I take one half-day off per week, which requires a whole other post to describe the significance of getting in my car and driving, seeing people, buying food. As of today, I have 37 days left to prepare for this undertaking. I cannot yet say that I’m confident I’ll pass. What I am confident of is that I am doing all I can to prepare to be ready. It is not hard for me to stick with the schedule. I’ve done an Ironman, and I know what discipline is. What is hard is doing it with a positive spirit.

No, the schedule is not the challenge. The challenge is the beatdown.

So here’s how it goes. I do 50 multiple choice questions every morning between 6 and 7:30am. I did well in law school, graduated with honors, passed what’s know as the Baby Bar on the first go (California’s First Year Law Students Exam, required when you attend a freaky-deaky online law school like mine). I consider myself a smart person. The detail and the volume of information one must know on these multiple choice questions is staggering. The bar review course I’ve chosen allows the option of practicing the MCQs in timed mode, or in what they call tutor mode, where you can reveal the answer after each question, absent the ticking clock, with the explanation of why the correct answer is the correct answer.

On tutor mode, the 1-2 paragraph question has 3 or 4 potential points of law, and of course the answers each address one of those potential issues. Sometimes there is more than one correct answer – you must choose the BEST answer. The Corrector answer, as Colbert might say. Before I select, I get my outline out, look at my rule statements, read and research each possible answer of the 4 choices, finally make a choice (this process may take 10-15 minutes). Choose. Check answer. Wrong. Review the answers – why correct is correct, why wrong is wrong. Notate outline/rule statement. Recite aloud what I didn’t know that made me choose the wrong answer, and what I now know about why the right answer is right. Move to next question. Repeat. Times fifty. Times every day.

All of that work for that one answer, memorizing the issue, correcting misinformation, adding minute detail to the already vast accumulation of knowledge from 4 years of law school and 3 months of bar review. Then, move to the next question, until cycling through to a similar question as the one I described first. Read the fact pattern – I know this! I just figured this out a few questions ago! Let me check to be sure I understand it … review all 4 answers, refer to outline, select, check…wrong.

And that is just the multiple choice portion of the test.

That’s what I mean by the beatdown. There are 8 subjects tested on the MCQ, 14 on the essays. That’s a helluva pile o’ facts to cram into one 6-pound brain.

6am-7:30   50 multiple choice questions

7:30-8:30   chat with honey, feed dogs, let the chickens out, make coffee, check email, troll FB

8:30-12:30    review 50 questions, review essay topic, write 1 essay, review, read/outline 2 essays

12:30-2:00    feed/water barn animals, laundry/housework, take dogs for walk while listening to lecture or chatting with one of the kids, have lunch

2:00-5:30   review essay topic, write essay, review, read/outline 2 essays

5:30-6:30  chat with honey, feed dogs, make supper, put chickens up in coop

6:30-8:00   another 10 questions, clean up anything unfinished, plan out next day

8:00-10:00    return phone calls, check email, watch MSNBC and try to care about something else, troll FB

10:00   turn on lecture and fall asleep, listening to the voices of my instructors, trying patiently to explain to me the difference between the Privilege and Immunity Clause of the 14th Amendment, and the Privileges and Immunity Clause of Article IV.

 

1.26.15 Essays

Essays.

Law school essays.

The heart and soul of the California Bar Exam.

So here’s how it works. There are 14 subjects that can be tested on the essays. Unlike undergraduate essays, this is not about chatting on for an hour about everything you know relating to say, criminal law. Law school and bar exam essays are precise, highly structured, strictly-timed essays testing on issue-spotting, concise statements of law, analysis of the facts in the hypothetical to the rule of law, and a reasonable conclusion.

There are 6 essays on the exam – 3 on Tuesday morning, 3 on Thursday morning. Here are a few to look at, along with CalBar’s opinion of 2 passing answers. Even if one is able to write 2 essays per day during Bar Review, it still takes an entire week to get through all the subjects. The components of practice include a sufficient set of rule statements, which are better understood as definitions of issues….maybe it’s better to show by example:

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress:  Intentional Infliction of emotional distress requires (1) extreme or outrageous conduct (2) intentionally or recklessly caused (3) that in fact causes extreme emotional distress.

Extreme Conduct: P will argue that B’s saying “You made me mad so now I’m going to shoot you” is extreme and outrageous. It would be outrageous to an average person, because they might think they were going to die. They might think about their children or live lives, and be very disturbed. Therefore, this is met.

Intent:  B need not have intended to cause extreme emotional distress, he just need have recklessly done so. Recklessness is extreme indifference and beyond gross negligence. A person would clearly know this action would cause extreme emotional distress.

Emotional Distress:  P will claim this is met because she fainted, and the court will likely agree. It may be bolstered by psychiatrist testimony.

Conclusion:  Therefore, P will succeed in proving this tort.

 

 

Sometimes the particular rule statement needs to be dissected further, with sort of mini-analysis of each element of each rule. 3 essays per session, 1 hour each essay, one session on Tuesday morning, one on Thursday morning. While one may choose to spend more time on one essay, mathematically that subtracts time from one of the remaining essays, and we have heard repeatedly from professors and bar review materials to strictly limit oneself to one hour per essay.

 

2.2.15 PTs

PT is short for Performance Test.

It is the most lawyerly portion of the Bar Exam. I’ll take the liberty to speak for my fellow test-takers and say that this assignment would be delightful – a gratifying challenge allowing us to shine and show the bar graders our brilliance as legal strategists and negotiators – were it not for the fact that we have to show all this genius in 3 hours.

Upon the word GO, and within 180 minutes, the 30-page packet is opened, the assignment is read, the file is reviewed, the library is studied, the task is outlined, and the paper is written. In our 3rd year, my fellow students and I spent 6 months, SIX MONTHS, on one brief.

Here are two, plus passing answers, from July 2012. There is a one PT on the Bar Exam on Tuesday afternoon, and one on Thursday afternoon.

6.6.15

I realize this post is all out of sequence, and is a hodgepodge of entries.  Here are the related posts regarding the test itself, and my initial mini-Bar Review summary. And graduation!

 

And on the 15th of May, 2015, at 8pm, I logged into the California Bar website and…

AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!
PASSED!!!!!

 

 

Thanks for reading!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bar Review Summary

This post is the third in the series linking to the actual Bar Exam experience and law school graduation. I’m going to hold off on commentary until results are released in May, 2015, so it will be void of helpful hints and suggestions. I kept a journal during Review that I plan to post later; until then this is simply a summary and description of what I did in the months and weeks leading up to the California Bar Exam.

I attended and graduated from Concord Law School. Concord is a non-ABA-approved online law school. Graduates are allowed to sit for the California Bar Exam, and with a passing score, are allowed to practice law in California. Some graduates have been admitted to Bars of other states, although on a case-by-case basis.

I chose Kaplan Bar Review for my review program. Most law students choose a commercial Bar Preparation program. It’s a review of all the law learned through the years in law school, in a format designed to prepare the student to take the Bar Exam of his or her state. Typically these programs are marketed as a 2-to-3 month, 6-day-per-week, 8-10 hours-per-day review.

Let's get this out of the way. I'm a color-coded, dry-erase, schedule junkie. This is early review.
Let’s get this out of the way. I’m a color-coded, dry-erase, schedule junkie. This is early review.

I began my Bar Review in October, in preparation for the February, 2015 Bar Exam. The months of October and November were spent in a soft review of all of the testable subjects, on about a 6-hour-per-day schedule. In December I transitioned to longer days and more intense study.

I stuck with this pretty closely; I know once you begin negotiating with yourself, everything gets too loose.
I stuck with this pretty closely; I know once you begin negotiating with yourself, everything gets too loose.

There are 3 portions of the California Bar Exam, each of which requires a different type of study. Additionally, there are about 14 topics upon which the testing can be based, and the California Bar does not reveal before the test the subjects that will be tested. Predictions are made, some with more accuracy than others, but ultimately, students have to be prepared for any subject that may appear on the test.

A very important part of Bar Review: Vaughn and Darwin. My constant companions, exercise buddies, room odorizers, bed warmers, and rule statement practice audience.
A very important part of Bar Review: Vaughn and Darwin. My constant companions, exercise buddies, room odorizers, bed warmers, and rule statement practice audience.

On a personal note, in October, my honey reached out to my social networking family and sought a little note of encouragement – one for each of the 100 days leading up to the Bar Exam. He got an overwhelming response, and each day’s study began with the opening of the envelope. Each note was encouraging and sweet and kind and loving and supportive, and I am grateful to him for starting the project, and to everyone who participated!

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Besides the world’s best partner, I also had in place a tremendous support group in family and friends. I live alone, which is very conducive to study, but left to my own devices, I would overstudy and underrelax. My kids checked in with me regularly, and my local girls’ group (the Ish Girls: we meet a noon-ish, for a glass of wine or 2-ish, for a couple of hours-ish) held me accountable for taking some down time. Emily, Susan, Caroline, and Maddie Mae – you will never know what that half-day off per week meant!

November. I had lovely, lovely people taking care of me to be sure I didn't stay hermitted up in my home, which is my inclination.
November. I had lovely, lovely people taking care of me to be sure I didn’t stay hermitted up in my home, which is my inclination.

Because each segment of the exam tests a different set of skills, each must be studied differently. For the most part, I followed the guidelines given by my Bar Review.

 

ESSAYS

The essays use compound skills, and each skill must be developed both separately and jointly. Legal essay writing is not like college essay writing, where those of us with the gift of gab can just prattle endlessly about any one topic for an hour. Legal essay writing is structured and concise, and requires recognizing a legal issue, declaring a memorized statement of law, analysis of facts to that law, a reasonable conclusion, and so forth, catching all legal issues in the hypothetical.

The skill of essay writing has been practiced in law school, and becomes refined even further during Bar Review. There are anywhere from 60 to 160 statements of law, so to speak, in each subject, for a total of about 1400 statements. Do you have to memorize them all? Only if CalBar tests them. So yes.

There is debate about the detail and length of the definitions. CalBar clearly states that the analysis portion is much more important than the memorized rule statement, but the analysis can only be done if the elements of the statement are present.

During the course of my Bar Review, I submitted 60 essays for grading, and outlined nearly 40 more.

Another shot of my support team.
Another shot of my support team.

MBE

MBE stands for Multi-state Bar Exam, which is the multiple choice segment of the exam. These questions are written in a manner to test very fine distinctions of law. I once heard a lecturer say that the answer can turn not just on one sentence, not just on one word, but on ONE LETTER of one word. (The defendant LIVES in the house with his girlfriend/The defendant LIVED in the house with his girlfriend: in one sentence the defendant has standing to object to an unconstitutional search, in the other he does not.)

There are hundreds of concepts which can be tested, and thousands of ways in which to test them. There may be a more productive way to study for these without practicing them, but I don’t know it. My posse of fellow students all experienced a similar phenomena in that, toward the end of bar review, after having practiced piles upon piles of these questions, they became the most “enjoyable” part of our daily study. I think it was because they were short, and contained, and eventually you begin to get good at them.

I worked over 2500 multiple choice questions over the course of my review.

December. What would I have done without my girls? For one delicious half-day per week, I ran away from the books and lectures to these beautiful faces.
December. What would I have done without my girls? For one delicious half-day per week, I ran away from the books and lectures to these beautiful faces.

 

PERFORMANCE TESTS

The final segment of testing is the Performance Test. We call it the most lawyerly portion of the test. If you’re interested, they’re posted here, complete with 2 good answers for each test. If you weren’t under such time constraints, they’d be fun; it’s a puzzle with clues to the answer, and it’s a challenge to find the answers. However, when you feel the pressure of the minutes ticking, it takes a little of the joy out.

Bar review suggests working 2 PTs per week for the 8-10 weeks leading up to the test. I submitted 12, and outlined 12 more.

Brought out the big guns for January.
Brought out the big guns for January.

In January I transitioned from 6-8 hour days with a focus on review and outline construction to 8-10 hour days of skills and memorization.

Oh well, good study weather.
Oh well, good study weather.

 

Did you doubt my devotion to the Almighty Dry Erase?
Did you doubt my devotion to the Almighty Dry Erase?

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My study group was a fabulous bunch of brilliant women from law school. In particular my study buddy (and class co-valedictorian), Liz, was patient and tolerant as we messaged and skyped and emailed questions back and forth. Our freakouts parallelled, and having someone who understood where you were, what you felt, and the emotions you were going through was one of the most valuable things I took away from Bar Review.

 

February. Ran out of propane on the day of the big ice storm. Oh, hello, Murphy.
February. Ran out of propane on the day of the big ice storm. Oh, hello, Murphy.

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A last few shots of the Bar Cave:

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Law school in a bookcase
    Law school in a bookcase

 

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Off to California!
Off to California!

Thanks for reading!

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