To Law Schools and Professors
- Why is the Bar Examination important?
Students who pass the bar examination on the first try have professional and personal advantages over those who do not. Law schools with high bar examination pass rates are more successful than those with low pass rates. Law school accreditation may depend on the school maintaining a certain bar exam pass rate for its graduates.
- Is the Bar Exam a threat to academic freedom?
Yes! “Teaching to the test” is antithetical to creative thinking and intellectual curiosity.
Yet legal education is changing along with the legal industry. Why not cut a year off of law school? The President of the United States thinks law school should be two years instead of three. Why not just make “law” an undergraduate degree and eliminate law school altogether?
Faced with these very basic questions, law schools are paying more attention to the bar exam and to producing graduates with marketable professional skills.
- Is there a wise approach to incorporating the Bar Exam into the curriculum?
Yes. Law schools should acknowledge the importance of the bar exam and create a culture where passing is expected. A key element is for the school to create its own intellectual property for the bar exam (see the next bullet point below).
Law schools should test the main bar exam subjects in ways modeled after the bar exam. What practical or intellectual interests are served by testing the material in any other way? How many law professors in the USA would complain if they didn’t have to grade exams anymore?
- How can a law school develop its own intellectual property on the Bar Exam?
Law schools should have their law students write it under faculty supervision!
The written materials for any bar review course include outlines, practice essay and MBE questions and answers. Why not build a vast interactive outline of issues for each subject, connected to practice MBE questions and other issue-spotting exercises?
All bar review outlines are based on the ones from the National Conference of Bar Examiners (creators of the MBE, MEE and MPT). The comparative importance of topics within each subject outline is based on the number of MBE questions the Examiners administer on the MBE. Why should law graduates pay a corporate bar review for outlines? Shouldn’t that be part of law school?
If every first-year law student had to write a couple dozen MBE questions for each subject tested on that exam, it wouldn’t take long for a serious law school to have thousands of good “in-house” MBE questions and answers. Similarly, a law school that devoted attention to the bar exam in first-year legal writing classes could develop their own substantial and authoritative materials.
If every recent graduate was invited back to school for a debriefing, with notes on the content of the exam added to the school’s proprietary bar exam data base, it is hard to imagine the school’s pass rate suffering as a consequence.
- How should a recent graduate prepare for the Bar Exam?
The most common mistake bar candidates make is to study too much and not practice enough. The second most common mistake is to work too hard and not rest and unwind enough.
Although there are plenty of individual differences among bar exam candidates, the basic approach to preparing for the exam involves studying the law and doing practice essay and MBE questions. My approach to preparation uses the practice questions as a disgnostic tool to help identify issues a student needs to study more. The less time a student spends on material he or she already knows, the better.
Knowledge, skills and physical-emotional health are the keys to success on the bar exam. Knowledge includes both substantive law understanding and practical knowledge of how the material is tested. Skills include time management and practical experience with MBE and essay questions. Physical and emotional health issues vary significantly among bar candidates, but attending to them is wise.
Law schools gain a competitive edge by taking the bar exam seriously. It is possible to integrate awareness of the exam into the curriculum and strengthen the program as a result.