The Finish Line

It is just about time to get this little examination over with and move on with life, how does that sound?

Odds are that you have prepared for this exam more than you have ever prepared for any one thing in your life. As a result, you will be relieved to finally get to it. It will (unbelievably) feel good to start those first morning essays!

So you are past the time for dreading “the bar” – just bring it on, knock it out, and get to the rest of your life!

A few final thoughts:

1. Enjoy a little packing and nesting this weekend. If you have studied at the law school, clean out your locker. When you pack up for the hotel, be sure to read over the “what you can bring into the exam” list and believe that they are serious about enforcing the list.

2. For those staying in hotels, I suggest arriving early. It gets a little crazy when a bunch of bar applicants arrive at the same time prepared to argue with anyone and anything, so I suggest beating the crowd.

3. Once you arrive, take a leisurely walk around the area to get your bearings. Both the walk and the acclimation process are good things.

4. Get plenty of alarms set (wake-up call, cell phone alarm, etc.) – no need to add unnecessary stress by oversleeping!

5. Walk in with confidence. There is a difference between confidence and arrogance, and truth be told, you graduated from a school with a track record on the bar that qualifies you to walk in the room with either one. Arrogance can get you in trouble, though. Instead, walk in knowing that you have everything going for you and are in the top echelon of people truly prepared for the bar exam.

6. Pay attention to your timing. You have practiced this all summer, so it won’t be a problem. Just stay on task.

7. Finally, just do your best no matter what. As a dad, I have always told my daughters that I would be proud of them for doing their best regardless of the final result. The good news for you is that your best on the bar exam promises to produce the result you want.

It has truly been an honor to tag along with you all through the bar preparation process. I look forward to seeing many of you during a lunch break next week, and I especially look forward to the swearing-in ceremony after you accomplish what you set out to accomplish!

You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers, but I have every confidence in you.

Yours to count on,

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Home Stretch

At two weeks out there is a weird mixture of emotions – half panic, and half so sick of studying all day that you don’t care anymore.  But there you are, two weeks out, regardless.

I think the hardest I laughed all summer was somewhere around this point when a fellow studier and I had a conversation about what it would be like to get run over by a bus.  I’m not sure how the conversation started, but the gist of it was that the prospect had never sounded better.  We found this hilarious.  This is disturbing to recount now, but there you have it.

My general approach to bar study was the sheep approach.  Don’t overthink it.  Don’t strike out on my own.  Just do what I’m told and let the bar review course (I paid handsomely) lead me to green pastures.  And I did this for almost the entire summer.

At this point of the summer, however, once we made it to the end of the substantive lectures and headed into the home stretch, I decided to go a little lone ranger on the process.  What prompted my entrepreneurial spirit was the thought that I felt like I needed to review several subjects in a day instead of just one or two.  I decided to spend time with three or four subjects each day so that I cycled through all the bar subjects every three or four days.

It was a little jarring to create my own study schedule when I had simply checked off boxes created by someone else all summer long, but it was a good move for me to tailor the last couple of weeks to my personal style.

I am not suggesting that everyone should junk their bar review course schedule for the last couple of weeks.  No, the sheep approach comes highly recommended.  Instead, I just want to say that you should feel free to modify the final push to a format that makes you feel comfortable.  You are just putting the finishing touches on something you spent all summer creating, so feel free to make it your own.

If you do, just make sure you keep practicing all three areas – essays, performance tests, and MBEs.  Make sure you keep cycling through your outlines, notecards, or whatever.  Make sure you keep getting rest, nutritious food, exercise, and the occasional adult conversation.

You have survived the hardest part of the summer.  As you turn into the home stretch, take a deep breath and find a little bit of joy in knowing that if you just keep it up that you will soon cross the finish line and have reason to celebrate.

I’ll be preparing the celebratory hugs and high fives.

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Sleep, or the Lack Thereof

I never had trouble going to sleep in law school.  Never.  I did have trouble staying awake sometimes.  But I had a lot of trouble sleeping during the summer of my bar exam.  I have heard a story or two from others that convinces me that mine was not an isolated experience.

For me, it was simply the inability to turn off my brain at night.  It wasn’t that I was reviewing subject matter or anything that might have been productive.  Instead, I would just lay there and keep picturing the exam – what Tuesday morning would be like, how I would feel about the MBEs, what glorious Thursday afternoon would feel like.  It wouldn’t stop, and I wouldn’t sleep well at all, and then my infernal alarm clock would sound and my list of things to do would be long and waiting.

But I made it through the summer in spite of fitful sleep patterns, and the actual exam finally approached.  At that point, I wondered how I would sleep on the nights of bar exam week?  Would I still struggle and then wake up groggy and listless to face a six-hour exam when I needed to be on top of my game?

Well, there turned out to be both good news and bad news, but the good news was far better than the bad.

The bad news first: I slept fitfully on the nights of bar exam week, too.  I just did.  Same story, could not turn the old brain off at night.

But there was unexpected good news.

I have already shared my Hurricane Katrina story, but since it is the source of the good news, I have to share it again.  In the aftermath of Katrina, I remember being amazed at how the human body responds to trauma.  I was not in good physical shape when the storm came through, but in the days that followed, we would wake up early in the oppressive Mississippi heat, work manual labor all day long, go to bed late in night on a hard floor without a mattress or electricity, sleep a few hours, wake up early, and do it again.  Day after day after day – and miraculously, we didn’t even feel exhausted.

I learned that when facing a traumatic experience your body kicks in to do what it has to do.

I was standing outside the Pasadena Convention Center at one point during the bar exam when it dawned on me that I was reliving the lesson learned in Katrina.  Even though I slept fitfully throughout the summer – including nights between the bar exam – when the alarm sounded each morning, I popped out of bed and was ready to do what I had to do to get this exam behind me.

True story.

I guess the realization that the bar exam qualifies as a traumatic experience does not sound much like good news.  But it is, simply because your body will kick in and carry you through.

Maybe that will even help you sleep better, but if not, just remember that you can sleep well when the bar exam is over.  And you will.

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Fourth of July: Independence?

Independence Day is sort of a misnomer for bar applicants – unless you mistake independence for loneliness, which from my experience would make a little sense.  But if you think of independence as not being chained to something ugly, then the Fourth of July is not really a day when those preparing for the bar exam feel all that independent.

I do remember attending a Fourth of July cookout where Deans Gash and Perrin were in attendance during my bar exam summer.  I remember them being kind to me, but I also had the feeling that they felt sort of guilty that they could enjoy the holiday while I was watching the clock tick on the bar exam.  I now know how they felt.

From listening to many of my fellow bar applicants following that summer, it seemed that many found July 4 to be some sort of a watershed day – a day where they kicked it into high gear, or started to freak out, or some other important moment in the process.  Maybe that will be your experience, but it wasn’t so much for me.

I remember July 4 as a day when I took a little more time off than usual, enjoyed some food and friends, and then went back to the program and followed through to the end.

So I hope you all can take a little time to enjoy the holiday.  I know if you watch some fireworks, you will imagine the potential torts.  Or, if you reflect on the founding of this great nation of ours, your mind will naturally wander to whether the founders considered the negative implications of the commerce clause.

But, whatever.  You are almost there.  Keep up the good work, stick to the program, and soon enough you will be glad to put this entire process behind you for good.

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HK Pic

I became homeless on August 29, 2005.  Hurricane Katrina flooded our little house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that Monday, and without flood insurance, we were left feeling a little bit overwhelmed.  The magnitude of the destruction around us only intensified the feeling.

At the time, I felt as if I wore three hats – the family hat (husband/father), the job hat (pastor of a local church), and the community hat (president of our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate).  I was overwhelmed on all three fronts.  My family was suddenly homeless, a full one-third of my church was homeless, and, of all things, our Habitat for Humanity affiliate was trying to eradicate poverty housing from our community – we were suddenly going backwards!

The shock wore off more quickly than you’d think, probably because of the sheer size of the work staring us in the face, and we rolled up our sleeves in the Mississippi heat and got after it.

Somewhere in the weeks that followed I had an epiphany (I get those from time to time).  Out of nowhere, it instantly became clear to me what my goal needed to be for all three groups for which I felt responsible – my family, my church, and my community organization.  Survival.  That was the goal.  Not excellence, or perfection, or any other grandiose term.  Just survival – that was plenty to shoot for, and truth be told, it was a pretty lofty goal.

It may not surprise you that I found a lot of connections between Hurricane Katrina and studying for the bar since both apparently qualify as traumatic experiences!  These were the two times in my life when “overwhelmed” was a word I thought about several times each day.

So it stands to reason that I think my life goal in 2005 is a decent goal for you to adopt ten years later.  It is unlikely that you will ace the bar exam and that really shouldn’t be a thought in your mind anyway.  No, you’ve got a lot coming at you, so just commit to something else that is rather impressive in its own right.  Be a survivor.  Get up each day, face the daunting pile of work, give it your best for the day, and then get some sleep.  Rinse and repeat.

Before long, you will see that you have done it – survived.  That is an accomplishment for which you will forever be proud.

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Overwhelmed: THE Official Word of the Bar Exam

I once attended a “clickers” presentation delivered by Professor McNeal. In it, he cited a study done by Michael Hunter Schwartz on learning retention. I once had the chance to sit next to Professor Schwartz on an airplane, and I relished the opportunity to pick his brain. He is considered by many to be the leading expert on “learning” in the legal education community and is now the dean of the law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

This study claims that you remember 30% of what you “see” but 90% of what you “speak and do.” I’ll emphasize the “do” part more than the “speak” here, but the bottom line is that you remember much more from practice than from simply studying outlines. In the last few years, studies confirming this concept were published in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

You say, “I made it through law school without practicing that much!” True, but you are now asked to do something different, at least in one respect: You are asked to prepare for twelve finals at once (with admittedly less depth of knowledge required) instead of taking one at a time.

Think about it: It makes sense that the word that kept playing in my head when studying for the bar was “overwhelmed.” It makes sense because my normal way of studying could not conquer the bar like it could conquer a law school final – in fact, given my way to study, I should be overwhelmed.

Let me explain a little further:

My typical law school outline for a single course was about 25 pages. If I did that for the 12 bar subjects, then I would have to memorize about 300 pages of outlines for the bar! I could never do that (which is why I limited my normal outlines to 25 pages — that was about my limit). Let’s say I cut down all the bar subjects to bare-boned 10-15 page outlines so that I only included rules I needed to know, factors, etc. – that would still be 150 pages of outlines!

So, here is the good news. All the bar review companies know this is too much for rote memorization, which is why they design their programs to have so much practice. Practice is the big dog in memorization world. You really do retain significantly more if you “do” than if you just “see” outlines and flash cards.

Now, an important caveat: Practice is only helpful if you spend quality time reviewing the practice tests to figure out what you did right and what you did wrong. That is when the learning/memorization takes place, and the learning/memorization that takes place in that review is simply more “sticky” than reviewing outlines and flash cards.


If it makes you feel better (and it did me), then create a little bit of extra “review” time where you approach studying a subject as you did in law school. You have permission!!!

But don’t back off on the practice essays and MBEs. That is where you defeat the bar exam monster.

Hang in there, my friends. Reach out to me whenever.

Yours to count on,

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Been There, Remember That

There is a VERY familiar question that dominates the bar-studying mind at just about this point each summer.  The question is: When do I actually learn all this stuff?

Sure, the lectures tell you exactly what you need to know, but that is still a lot to learn – per subject.  Then, you are given multiple choice sets to complete, and essays to write, and at least several of us start wondering – When do I get time to process it all?

Here is my advice:

1. Follow the program.  It is tempting to tell yourself that you need to “learn it first” before doing the practice questions, but that would be a big mistake.  Trust me when I say that practicing is very important in the memorization process.  You should follow the program, do the practice sets and essays, and make sure to thoroughly review your answers once you are finished.  Every reputable bar review company has you do lots of practice for a reason – it is a time-tested process that works for those that take it seriously.

2. Use your “review” time wisely.  This is the big question – what to do with the “review” time in your daily calendar.  My suggestion is to decide early on if you prefer using outlines or flashcards (or something else?) to summarize all you plan to know – prompted by the lectures – for each subject you are responsible to learn.  Then, after a lecture, use the review time to assemble your outline or set of flashcards that summarize what you need to extract from the lectures.  Eventually, once you have composed these study aids, you will use your review time to work through them and continue toward the goal of memorization.  (I should also mention that you will continually tweak your outlines/flashcards throughout the summer as you take practice tests and discover bits of information you did not originally include.)

3. Remember the myth of the leaky bucket.  A friend of mine told me that studying for the bar feels like your head is a bucket with twelve holes in it.  You feel like you start to “get” a subject, then you move on to others, and when you return to the first subject, it feels as if everything you learned has leaked out!  This is exactly what it feels like, but it is simply not true.  Instead, studying for the bar is more like adding layers of paint to a wall.  The first time through, you get a layer.  Next time through, you add another layer.  If you keep following the program, by summer’s end (which is your destination), you will discover that you have added many layers of memorization and are amazingly ready to test on a wide variety of subjects.

So, to answer the original question – When do I actually learn all this stuff?  Surprisingly, you already are.  Keep following the program, start composing the study aids that will help you the most, and in time you will discover that you have added plenty of layers necessary to pass the bar.

Please feel free to stay in touch with me all summer.  You can post questions/comments on the Facebook group, on the blog, send me personal emails, come see me, or give me a call at the office (x7695).

I am rooting for you all.

Yours to count on,


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