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BarBri

I just finished the bar last week. To prepare, I took BarBri. Much as I am not happy that I had to pay more money for this I can only blame law school, not BarBri. Overall, I would say that I am happy with what I got from BarBri.

Caveat: Have no idea if I passed the bar. I passed the bar.

Why BarBri

I did not investigate any other bar prep courses. Everybody I knew took BarBri so I followed in their footsteps.

Outlines

For each area of the law required on the bar, BarBri gave anywhere from four to six outlines. First, the full outline. Second, the condensed Conviser outline. Third, the lecture notes to fill in during lectures. Fourth, the essays section of the lecture notes have at least one high-level topic outline and sometimes more than one. Finally, the essay writing handouts available on their website usually have a one or two page high-level outline. So you get plenty of outlines, with various emphasis and levels of detail in each.

I heard some complaints from people about the outlines but I thought the outlines were fine. For the most part, I usually only used the lecture notes and then added in details from Conviser. [Addendum: there were a few parts on my bar that tested material that was in the full outline but not in Conviser or the class lecture.]

I wrote my own outlines from the lecture notes and Conviser but, with two children and a job, I only had time to do this for about a third of the subject areas. If had more time, I would have written an outline for everything. I also would have organized them by attack plans.

Lectures

I was fortunate that I was able to attend live lectures. Most of the lecture is printed in the lecture notes book but there are blanks that you fill in. Depending upon the professor, it could be a single word to fill in or several sentences. I thought this worked fine because you did not have to scramble to write everything but you were forced to pay attention to the lecture.

The live lectures are little different in content from the lectures available on the website. However, you can ask the professor questions during break if you want to stand in line. The lecturers also make comments critical of BarBri at times which adds a bit of spice. They also crack on each other which is funny. Being there, you can also ask people around you for details you might have missed; however, with a video you can just rewind and get the same thing.

I never fell asleep during live lectures but I did fall asleep twice listening to lectures online while at home. Probably best not to listen to the lectures while sprawled on your couch.

For areas of the law that I had not previously studied, I followed one Barbri lecturer’s advice of reading some previous bar questions on the topic. Otherwise, I never did any pre-class prep work. I only reviewed outlines after going to the lecture.

I liked how many of the professors would give canned phrases to use in essay answers (I would see these phrases when reading my state bar’s posted model answers). That was helpful and I utilized that a lot during study and then on the bar itself.

The professors, as you would expect, vary greatly in quality. The best added context to the notes. The worst just read the material that was in the lecture notes.

StudySmart MBE

BarBri has thousands of MBE questions. The questions vary in quality. As one professor said: once BarBri has written a question, they’ll never get rid of it.

The BarBri website has StudySmart MBE which is a nice tool to practice MBE questions. Every question that is in the two printed MBE practice books is available on their website. You can pick the number of questions and the areas of law and run through ten or a hundred in one sitting. For the obsessive, you also get a nightly update of how you are doing compared to the several thousand other BarBri attendees.

It is good early on for getting practice in. However, in order to work on timing, I think that it is necessary to use the BarBri MBE books with their “Scantron” page. That way you mimic the reality of the actual test by crossing off answers in the books and transferring to the Scantron. Do the questions on the website the first month and then switch to the books in July. Do the requisite 30-50 a day in the books. If you feel the need for more practice in order to learn the law, by all means go back to the website.

BarBri also provides an explanation of the correct answer for every question and an explanation for why the other answers are not correct. This is helpful and I found it good to review even those questions I got right because, as I found out, I did not always get it right for the correct reason. I did not always agree with them but that was less than 1% of the time.

BarBri claims that their questions are statistically harder than the actual MBE. I have no idea how they know this. That being said, BarBri does have approximately 200 released questions printed in the back of one of the MBE practice books. I worked on those the week before the bar and found my scores jumping up into the 80% range. I suggest working on these near the actual bar because the writing of the questions is distinctly different than BarBri’s practice questions. [Addendum: The licensed MBE questions that BarBri had were vastly different from BarBri questions and even the MBE questions on my bar exam. There are other companies that license MBE questions and you can even buy questions directly from the people who write the MBE.]

For the actual MBE, I did find that there was an odd mix of difficulties. Some were so obvious that I took no more then ten seconds. Most were straightforward. And then there were the definite oddballs that made me wonder if I had even studied the proper material. However, I did think that BarBri’s simulated questions did an excellent job of testing the law and helping you learn the material. For example, they test every element of burglary in many different ways so by the time you are done, you’ll really know what to look for with burglary.

My one complaint here would be that there was no official BarBri guide or lecture on general MBE strategies. There are lectures on many of the practice MBE by topic and the lecturers give lots of tips about what to look out for. But the nitty-gritty details such as how to schedule time, how to make up time, and how to keep track of questions to review were not communicated clearly. Or how to avoid getting sucked into a single question and losing five minutes on it. Or how to go about transferring answers to the scantron.

One video before the simulated MBE had a couple suggestions about working on timing. One video reviewing the crimes simulated MBE had a suggestion on how to track questions for review. That was all that I found in the standard materials. (Maybe I missed something as I did miss a few days due to work.)

Doing the math, you have 1.8 minutes to do an MBE question. That is one minute and forty-eight seconds. I strove to get down to 1.5 minutes and thus gave myself 30 minutes to review questions that I got stuck on or that I guessed on. I found it best to just keep track of my timing about every fifteen to twenty questions.

On the last page of the MBE booklet I had two columns. One was for questions that I struggled with and had to pick an answer I was not sure about. The other column was for questions that I did not know and just picked the best sounding answer. I reviewed each of these in the last thirty minutes.

Rather than fill in the bubble for the scantron for every question, I would just transfer answers over before I turned a page. You have to be careful about correctly transferring the questions but you save time as you go to your scantron less often (about 25 times rather than 100).

Finally, one professor suggested using “mulligans” whereby if you didn’t know the answer in a reasonable amount of time, just eliminate the answers that look wrong and pick one of the remaining. Then move on and forget the question (and mark it in your “to review” list in the back of the MBE booklet). Remember, there are 200 questions and you don’t need all of them to pass.

Essays

I liked the professors who taught the essay writing. I also watched all of the essay writing tips videos which are distinctly different material than what the essay professors give. BarBri provides a guide for every area that is tested on the bar. The guides have checklists and brief overviews. I found these helpful and worked on memorizing the checklists. Overall, BarBri has excellent resources available online for working on essays.

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to turn in any graded tests – due to my personal schedule – so I am not sure how good the feedback is from that.

The BarBri practice essays book has six to ten essays questions for each tested area. These were all the actual released questions from previous bars. Also included are an issue outline and a BarBri sample answer for each essay question. Two quibbles here. First, the outlines and sample answers were not written in a single hour so they can make you feel inadequate. Second, they do not give a lot of information about what actually were the major issues to hit in a passing essay. I do have to add that BarBri also has a lecture for each essay on the website but I did not have time to watch those so maybe they covered more details about determining what were major issues and what were minor issues.

As a final note, in the last weeks and only if your state bar releases actual model answers written during the bar, I think it best to only review those questions for which you have the model answers. This gives you a more realistic idea of what you should do on the exam.

Performance Tests

What to say? My bar exam had it. The lectures here were a little overblown as there is not much that can be done to prepare. It appears that the development of Performance Tests is still a work in progress so sometimes they are poorly written. My actual PTs were straightforward.

I found BarBri’s most useful advice to be “sweat the details” when reading the directions. There were also some practical advice about organizing the answer and the materials. I followed what BarBri said and I think it helped me a lot in this regards.

The Performance Test lectures themselves appear to be about 2/3 inspirational speech and 1/3 how-to. This is fine because you need those pep talks and horror stories to help you cope with the stress.

Interactive Paced Program

Probably the most hated and most useful aspect to BarBri’s website is the interactive paced program. I did not even know about it the first week so I was quite lost until I discovered it. Basically it is a guide to plan your study for each day. You check off boxes as you do the work.

It can be quite daunting. In particular, there is a percentage meter that keeps track of your progress. Frankly, as a parent of two children, I found the paced program to be overwhelming. Therefore I just did what I could each day. When I found the spare time, I would go back and find things that I had not “done” enough to check off and then I would do them. All in all, it was fine for keeping track of what needed to be done. But do not become a slave to it.

Simulated Days

BarBri scheduled a day for the simulated MBE and another day for simulating the essays. I found the MBE day useful because you sat there working on the questions for six hours. The essays I found less helpful and left after an hour.

For those, there was not enough space for everybody who showed up and there was not enough power so we were swapping power outlets. Maybe the real bar has been like that for some but I didn’t think it was worth my time. Moreover, the simulated essay questions were written by BarBri and I only wanted to spend my time on previous bar questions by that time.

General Advice

As noted above, I did not think that we got enough general advice about the MBEs and strategies for those. However, we did get lots of general advice that I found helpful. To wit:

  • Learn the law by practice
    • Practice writing essays every day
    • Practice MBE questions every day
    • Review the answers
  • Simulate the environment of the exam
    • Practice at the time that you will be taking the bar (that means getting up early)
    • Get used to three or four hours with water and no food
  • Prepare yourself for laptop failures or other difficulties
  • Step away and relax often
  • Realize that there is too much material and you will have to triage:
    • What you need to work on
    • What you don’t need to work on
    • What you will not have time to learn
 
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Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Advice

 

Changing the Format of Law School

One of my first posts here was to ask why law school was more than one year. Today I read this post on TaxProf Blog (quoting The American Lawyer) about ways to revamp law school.

As we learn from reading this, law school is designed the way it is in order to keep law professors gainfully employed. Preparing students to become lawyers… not so much.

The medical route is four years of med school with a couple years of internship. This makes sense as there is a lot to learn so that new doctors don’t kill their patients. Why is the the legal route three years of law school with five years of photocopying briefs?

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2009 in Opinion

 

Baby Advice

Babies and law school do not mix. Before my baby, I was in the top 5%. Two semesters after baby and I’m out of the top 10%. Looks like my plan of relying on my non-legal work experience will be tested.

Crying Babies

We used two sources to deal with our son when he was crying. They were Happiest Baby on the Block and Dunston Baby Language.

We did not buy Dunston Baby Language because the price was around $50. But, if I knew how much we would rely upon it, and how much easier it made our lives, I would shell out $100 or more for it. We were fortunate to be able to borrow it from friends.

The Dunston DVDs are a little overdone in my opinion (fifteen minutes of baby crying for each “word” in the “language” is a bit much) and Ms Dunston herself is not very comfortable on camera. On the other hand, learning the “words” was such an important part in understanding what our son was crying about, that I wholeheartedly recommend Dunston Baby Language.

What Dunston Baby Language is about is understanding the different sounds that your baby makes. Once you can distinguish the sounds, you can understand what the baby is crying about. There are five “words” in the language for (1) feed me (2) burp me (3) sleepy (4) gassy and (5) uncomfortable. (Update: I was not going to post the words but you can see them on Wikipedia.)

In practice, we could only distinguish the sounds for hunger, burping and sleep. The other two were harder for us to hear. However, what we could interpret are really the important ones anyway.

Keep in mind, though, that babies appear to grow out of this language after five or six months.

Happiest Baby on the Block was useful as well. The method of calming a baby was quite good. If it takes a while to understand the “word” that baby is crying, then you may have a meltdown on your hands. The swaddle and shush technique from Happiest Baby was useful in getting our son from meltdown to the point where we could address his needs. We did not ever use the swaddle when sleeping though I know three other parents who swear by it.

You can order both from Amazon or other online retailers.

Pattern Matching

I am not even a year into parenthood but I think one of the most important skills is pattern matching. Your baby shows certain signs over and over. When baby does ____ it means ____.

Once you start recognizing those, you can determine what is going on much more easily. For example, our baby had an ear infection a few months ago. He did not show the “usual” sign that we’d read about (pulling on his ear) so we didn’t think it was an ear infection.

Just two days ago he started showing some of those signs again. We disagreed on whether there were enough signs to be sure that it was an infection. However, most of them were there. Diagnosis today: ear infection.

This time was much milder than last (probably because we caught it earlier) but if we hadn’t matched the patterns, we might have gone a few more days until he was really miserable.

Really, Dunston Baby Language is pattern matching as well. If baby cries a certain sound, it means _____(hungry, sleepy, gassy, &c).

Toys and Books

At this point, our son doesn’t really like to do anything with books other than try to eat them. As for toys, I try to stick with a few simpler toys since all he does is try to eat them. It is amusing though that we spend so much on books and toys and he is just as happy to grab a magazine and tear it apart.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2009 in Advice

 

Take Home Finals

I had my first take home final this past semester. Obviously I have little good advice to give. I was given a week for my exam but I know people who have had 24 hour take home finals.

I will say this: create an outline even if you have a take home. I did not create an outline and spent a lot of time flipping around the book and my notes to find material.

What is the point of creating the outline even if you have the time to go through the book and your notes? In my opinion, organization and re-familiarization. Since I hadn’t created an outline, I didn’t remember a lot of what we had learned. I also had difficulty finding the material.

On the other hand, it takes me three or four days to create an outline from scratch. Would I waste that much time looking for information while working on the final? Of course not.

In the end, I think the ultimate result of not creating an outline for my take home final was an increased level of stress.

How about you, dear reader? Any advice for handling take home finals?

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2008 in Advice, Exams

 

How Law School Changes Your Thinking

Often you hear, “Law school changes the way you think.” This is actually true. Here is an example.

One of my favorite books as a child was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remember reading it over and over again. Every time I read it, I would savor the justice that each child received for being so rotten: turning into a blueberry, getting dumped in trash, etc. When reading it, these punishments sounded so perfect.

Yesterday I watched a little bit of the Johnny Depp movie version of the book. After five semesters of law school, I could only think about the legal liabilities involved in each child’s “punishment.” Permanent physical disability, emotional trauma, etc, etc.

I would also think that OSHA would like a look at that factory.* And then the Oompa-Loompas: looks to me like immigration and labor law violations.

*Yes, I know that it is set in England. Roll with it.
 
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Posted by on December 16, 2008 in Filmed Entertainment, Opinion

 

Losing Weight – Tips

Despite the fact that 95% of my posts are about law school, and the other 5% about Xbox 360 games, I get quite a few hits due to an offhand comment regarding weight loss. I started writing a long post about my experience (I lost 85 pounds five years ago and have gained back half of it but have been fairly stable the last year). Unfortunately, that post got lost in the WordPress ether. The part I hadn’t written was some of my tips and tricks that worked for me. (And after two years of law school and work and marriage and baby, I’m finally working them back into my routine.)

Tip 1 – Count Calories

The absolute best way to lose weight. I did not really start losing weight until I reigned in my bad eating habits.  This was after two years working with a personal trainer.

Know how much you are eating and how much you are burning. Read labels. Get a general understanding of how many calories are in the types of food that you eat. No need to get super precise (“I ate 135.6 calories for that snack”) but just have a good idea of how many calories you consume in a given day.

Tip 2 – Low Fat Does Not Help

It might be okay for milk and a few items. The problems:

  1. Usually tastes awful
  2. You eat more because “it is low fat”
  3. It might have more calories than the high fat (compare peanut butter and low fat peanut butter)

If you need to cut fat out on doctor’s orders, by all means do so.

Tip 3 – Don’t Drink Your Calories

A normal can of soda runs from 120 calories to 180 calories. Drink two or three and you are close to a full meal in terms of calories. Even worse: free refills at a restaurant.

Tip 4 – Diet Soda + Lemon Juice

Lemon juice (not lemonade) has zero calories and does wonders as a counter to that nasty diet soda aftertaste. I usually pour an ounce or so of lemon juice in a glass for each can of diet soda. You’ll have to figure out the appropriate balance for your own taste buds. (Side note: Jones Soda’s Sugar Free Black Cherry Soda, available from Target, is quite good even with out the lemon juice.)

Tip 5 – Fiber One + Cinnamon

You need to eat a lot of dietary fiber. It helps you feel full and is a good calorie choice. Fiber One is the tastiest cereal out there and has the highest fiber content I know of. However, it is still a bit bland so I add a some cinnamon (almost zero calories) for flavor. Make sure you put the cinnamon on the cereal BEFORE adding milk. And go to your local big-box grocery store and get a big, cheap container of cinnamon. (Side note: Target is usually the cheapest place to find Fiber One.)

Tip 6 – Reduce Carb Intake

I don’t recommend going Atkins. Just reduce the carbs as your body turns that into fat. I mean candy, sugar drinks, chips, french fries, &c, &c. Try this: give up french fries (or something else you eat regularly) for a week and see if you can survive. If so, give it up for a little longer. Rinse and repeat.

Tip 7 – Werther’s Original

If you have a sweet tooth like me, finding substitutes is a pain. Hard candies are a good choice because they last longer thus making you feel like you got more. Werther’s are 20 calories per candy and last about 5 minutes (compare to a 25 calorie Hershey’s kiss that lasts 3 seconds).

Tip 8 – Weekly Weigh-In

You need to weigh yourself weekly and keep track of your weight. Since you are on a computer, I assume you have access to a spreadsheet. Use it.

Steps for the weigh-in:

  1. Once a week on the same day (if possible)
  2. In the morning (or after you have slept)
  3. Before eating or drinking anything
  4. After going to the bathroom (yes, I mean that)
  5. With the same scale
  6. Naked

Your body weight fluctuates constantly based on a large variety of factors. Too frequent weigh-ins can be frustrating. Too infrequent and you don’t catch bad behavior or reward good behavior.

Tip 9 – Frequent Aerobic Exercise

You need to burn more calories than your you do in the course of your normal activities. You must do something aerobic that raises your heart rate (to a safe level) for ten or more minutes per day. Whatever it is that you can do that will not lose your interest, do it. Dancing, biking, walking, hiking, treadmill, elliptical trainer, swimming, rowing, jazzercise… Make it routine and do it several times a week.

Tip 10 – Eat at Home, Cook at Home

It is cheaper. It is easier to portion control. It is easier to control what goes into the food. Learn to use spices to give flavor. Here are some of the recipes that I used

  • Vegetable Soup from Picture Perfect Weightloss Cookbook
  • Turkey Chili from Cook’s Illustrated (you can get it off their website)
  • Turkey Meatloaf from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Cookbook or on foodtv.com. Note: You can cut the recipe in half or even down to one-quarter the amount. I HIGHLY recommend using a pan with sides so you can more easily do portion control (the recipe calls for a cookie sheet)
  • Spuma di Tonno from Michael Chiarello’s Easy Entertaining or on foodtv.com. This tuna puree has slightly more calories than desirable but if you use veggies to dip: perfect
  • Broccoli Puree from Giada de Laurentis on foodtv.com. An easy to make mashed potatoes with pureed broccoli. Even my vegetable hating brother likes this. Reduce the sour cream to save calories
  • Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup from Cook’s Illustrated (you can get it off their website). Uses bread rather than cream for texture.

Restaurants serve too much food (it is the cheapest way to entice customers back) and add too much fat via butter or oil. Avoid them if possible. If not, eat half and put the rest in a to-go container. And don’t eat the bread they bring out while you wait for your entree.

Tip 11 – Eat More Vegetables

One of my big problems is that I don’t like vegetables. For weight loss, and general health, you need to eat more veggies. I’ve listed a few recipes above that have helped me increase my daily serving of vegetable but it is a struggle. I’m always on the lookout for vegetable dishes that will appeal to me the carnivore/garbagevore.

Tip 12 – Be Patient, Be Diligent

It takes time to lose weight. There are no magic pills (though science is trying hard). So you need to be patient because it will take a while. You need to be diligent to stick with slowly changing your eating habits. Don’t fall for the “eat only ____” type of diet. “Diets” don’t work, only changing your diet works.

Tip 13 – Cheat

It isn’t easy giving up foods that you really like but aren’t good for you. However, if you know that you will get them from time to time – and you balance the rest of your day around them – then go ahead and cheat every once in a while. Besides my sweet tooth, I love pizza. So when I was losing weight, I would have a slice of pizza every Wednesday. That way, on the weekend, I could tell myself, “Don’t eat that pizza now. You’ll have another slice on Wednesday.”

Good Luck

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2008 in Advice

 

Should I start my outline?

That is, as always, up to you. In one of your classes, have you finished a topic and started a new one? Then it might be time to throw a few small things together for your outline.

I have more advice on outlines here. I have exam advice as well.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2008 in Advice, Outlines