The Almost Daily Word – Bar Graders and the Blink Moment – Create the Best First Impression of Your Essay Answer – Part 2 – Topic Headings

“Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” Malcolm Gladwell: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

In Part 1, I postulated that the California bar examination grader who reads your answer can’t avoid a “Blink moment;” an immediate and instinctive reaction that may influence the balance of his or her grading.

You can take advantage of this tendency with topic headings that reflect the call of the question, whenever possible. Try this exercise and see if you don’t agree.

Pretend you’re grading Essay Question 5 from the February 2009 bar exam. The call of this contracts question is:

What arguments can Developer make, and what is the likely outcome, on each of the following points?

1. Developer did not breach the contract with Builder.
2. Developer’s performance was excused.
3. In any event, Builder did not suffer $700,000 in damages.

Now pretend that you have two answers in front of you. Each answer has received a consensus grade at grader calibration sessions – one passed, the other did not. You have 60 seconds to decide which is which. (Don’t worry…it’s never really done this way, but bear with me.)

Answer 1’s topic headings read:
– Issue: Contract Formation
– Issue: Parole Evidence
– Issue: Mistake/Ambiguity
– Issue: Mitigation

Answer 2’s topic headings read:
– Developer did not breach the contract with Builder
– Developer’s performance was excused
– Builder did not suffer $700,000 in damages

Which answer did you chose?

If you chose Answer 2, I’m with you. Based on my 60-second scan, I already know two things about Answer 2 that I don’t know about Answer 1: That it will attempt to answer the precise questions put to it in the call; and that so far at least, it’s likely to be “logical,” “lawyer-like,” and better organized. Answer 1 has shown me a recognition of the question’s subject matter – nothing else.

Finally – pretend that you are instructed to read and grade both answers. Which do you think is more likely to receive a clearly passing or superior grade?

This is where the “deliberate” part of Mr. Gladwell’s formula for good decision-making comes into play in grading. California Bar graders read essays and performance tests carefully and base their final grading decisions on the whole answer. It’s very possible that its author will get Answer 1 organized and fully answered. It’s as possible that Applicant 2 will fail to do much more than “channel” the questions topic headings. However, based on the topic headings alone, which answer would you “put your money on?”

By the way, have you noticed that applicants can get a head start on organizing their essay answer to promise graders good things, without actually having to know the law or even anything about the question? If you have, then good for you. A piece of your grader’s “Blink moment” now belongs to you.

The Almost Daily Word – Bar Graders and the “Blink” Moment – Create the Best First Impression of Your Essay Answer – Part 1

“Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” Malcolm Gladwell: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Say you’re an experienced California Bar Examination grader, as I was. You’ve graded essay answers for ten examinations – at least 8,000 books. You’re grading Essay #5 on the February 2009 examination. (Available at You’re calibrated to the 11 or so other graders on your team – meaning that you consistently stick to the grading standards the team reached following a day and half of deliberations. You read every word of every answer, often twice, before you assign it a grade. You take your job seriously.

Do you honestly think you can ignore your first impression of each answer, or even of pieces of the answer, when you’re grading?

I graded bar examination answers – essays and performance tests – for ten years before I went on to membership on the Committee of Bar Examiners and then to becoming the State Bar Examinations Director. To each answer I graded, I almost always had an immediate and instinctive first impression, a “Blink Moment.” Malcolm Gladwell describes this phenomenon as “…[R]apid cognition … the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking about buying, or read the first two sentences of a book, your mind jumps to a series of conclusions.”

I didn’t assign a grade based on that impression – I always read every word before I decided. But I couldn’t ignore my instinct either – it was my introduction to that answer – a handshake with that applicant.

If what I’ve described makes sense to you, how are you going to write an answer that makes your grader’s instinctive reaction a good one?

Further installments on this topic will give you some tips – some easy, some more difficult, on exploiting your grader’s “Blink Moment.”

The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Preparation – #1 – Meaninglessness

There was an enjoyment to being alive, he felt, that because of an underlying meaninglessness … (one) experiences life in that hurried, worthless way one experiences a mistake he could no longer get at. Tao Lin – American novelist, poet, essayist and short-story writer.

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 1 is:


Several years ago, I had what I guess you could call a crisis of meaning, or, more precisely, a crisis of living without meaning. It was brought about by a perfect storm of personal tragedies. It seemed as if nearly everything that I’d put my faith in was gone – had failed me. I was bereft. For a while, identifying what meant anything to me was both a huge challenge and a constant preoccupation.

I kept on through the sleepless nights, kept working, kept going to the gym, kept thinking, kept faith. What choice did I have? Gradually, thank goodness, time passed and life began to pick its old colors back up – and many new ones as well. My soul and spirit pulled me along in new directions. One was tutoring and, eventually, teaching at a law school. Another was this blog where, for the first time in my very private life I found meaning in talking publicly about my thoughts and feelings. Not only about the bar exam skills and techniques that I’d learned over 35 years, but also about my values – what matters to me. In particular, my view of this exam as a unique challenge to body, mind and soul.

My dark time seemed to leave me with a new kind of intuition, a knack for identifying people who may feel that they are at a crossroads; who may feel a little lost. Regardless of our differences in age, gender or circumstance, I often seem to ask a student or a new acquaintance the type of question that opens a door, starting a very important and personal conversation. What I hear is often sad. It makes me want to help. (After a life of self-centeredness, this ambition to help is probably the brightest new color on my palette.)

More than I’d suspected, many people seem to lose their bearings when preparing for the Bar Exam. On one hand, it surprises me. You’d think that this period of intense preparation and review would be the crowning achievement of academic lives well lived – intelligence validated; ambition, academic effort, generativity and growth all rewarded.

On the other hand, it hardly seems surprising at all. For many students this time can be both an abrupt ending and an uncertain beginning. Twenty or more years of schooling over, the culmination of a sustained ambition that parents, family and friends may have shared, supported, engendered, or even insisted upon. At the same time, an uncertain debarkation on unsettling seas: questionable job opportunities; a changing economy; even a set of disappointing changes from the time so long ago, when becoming a lawyer first seemed so attractive and exciting.

It is certainly possible to pass the bar exam without knowing what it means to you. But, all other things being equal, I’d put my money on the person who has decided that this herculean effort is worth it and, as importantly, has figured out why.

And so, if it is possible to offer “tips” on so weighty a subject as finding meaning in your bar preparation, I offer these.

– Although meaning and humanity’s search for it are timeless and complex, my definition of the word is simple. What is meaningful to you is what is important to you. I use the words “meaningful” and “important” interchangeably.

– There is a difficult part of this simple definition though. It is in the words “to you.” It can feel next to impossible at times to know what is important to you, especially when you are smack in the middle of the effort. It can feel next to impossible to separate what is important to you and you alone from what is important to others, especially when the others are people you love and respect: your family, your friends, your teachers and mentors. You are unique though, and even if you agree with what others believe to be important, you can only profit from making sure that the source of your opinion is truly you.

– Many people I’ve met equate mindless busyness with meaning. (See the quote at the beginning of this blog entry.) Always having a “project” can be a type of avoidance (see Deadly Sin #6). Avoidance of self-reflection, or hurt feelings, or more difficult problems. Avoidance of knowing oneself, “warts and all,” as they say – and then forgiving oneself. So, although it may feel counterintuitive, a simple way to find meaning may be just to slow down, just to sit still for a while.

– Something that may feel meaningless – difficult and unnecessary – may, in fact, be meaningful. One example is when it makes possible something that is unquestionably meaningful. A popular example may be the singer who works her “day job” so that she can sing in clubs and, eventually, compete on “American Idol.” Another example may be passing the bar exam so that you can fulfill your dream of becoming a lawyer.

– Something that once felt meaningful can lose its meaning. Time changes things. “To everything there is a season…” This situation can be the greatest challenge. However, as I’ve come to know recently, the rewards of acceptance and of moving on can be the greatest of all.

And, so, with best wishes to you in your studies, please remember always:

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”

The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #2 – Mindlessness

Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet. Thich Nhat Hanh – Zen Buddhist Monk

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 2 is:


Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s attention to a present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

Many bar applicants, it appears to me, are entirely unable to be mindful. Their worlds are vortexes of distraction, preoccupation, conflict, aspiration, delayed gratification, projection, introjection and drama – much of it realistic and understandable, but much of it invented and dysfunctional. These worlds often appear to live on a diet of under-acknowledged anxiety – even panic – along with caffeine, alcohol and/or marijuana, poor nutrition and physical lassitude. If my observations are correct, what room is left to consider the study of the law from a place of serenity, enjoyment and gratitude? And, if there’s no room left for those perspectives, why study law at all?

Can you sit still and quiet for five minutes continuously without dwelling on your latest preoccupation (e.g. the bar exam? Duh!)? If you can’t (and many people can’t) or if the effort leaves you anxious or depressed, you may be a candidate for these simple mindfulness exercises, all taken from the excellent website “Pocket Mindfulness.” (Also consider trying for a minute at a time, to “walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”)

1. One Minute Breathing
This exercise can be done anywhere, any time. All you have to do is focus on your breathing for just one minute. Naturally your mind will wander, but just try to just return to the rise and fall of your breath and let your thoughts, as they arise, just fade away.

2. Mindful Listening
This is the same as one minute breathing, except for just one minute listen to a piece of music you like. Try not to think about it, just listen. If you can’t find any music you like you can simply listen to the noises around you. Don’t try and determine what the sounds are, just listen and effortlessly absorb the experience.

3. The Game of Five
In this mindfulness exercise, all you need to do is notice five things in your day that usually go unnoticed. They could be things you hear, smell, feel on your body, or see. For example you might see what’s hung on the walls, hear the birds, feel your clothes or smell the flowers. Of course you may already do these things, but are you really aware of them and the connections they have with your world?

Learning to be mindful; that is, to bring your full attention to any task, including bar exam study, on a moment to moment basis, is very different from most of the things you do in your life. There is no “ultimate goal,” no delayed gratification. As the saying goes: In mindfulness, practice doesn’t make perfect – practice is perfect.

The goal of mindfulness practice is present, immediate and simple – just relax and focus on one thing. However, if you begin to practice you may well notice that this skill starts to spread to other things you do. You may be less likely to reflexively predict the outcome of what you’re doing – good or bad. You may find that instead of a pressure-and-stress-filled ordeal, your bar studying may start to feel a little less harried and a little more relaxed. For periods of time (not all the time for sure) you may even feel more connected to and taken by what you’re studying. And when you do, among many other good things, you will be “kissing the world with your brain.”

Full of equanimity,
of benevolent thought,
of tender thought,
of affectionate thought,
of useful thought,
of serene thought,
of firm thought,
of unbiased thought,
of undisturbed thought,
of unagitated thought,
of thought fixed on the practice of discipline and transcendent wisdom,
having entered on knowledge which is a firm support to all thoughts,
equal to the ocean in wisdom,
equal to the mountains in knowledge,
rich in many good qualities….
they attain perfect wisdom.

The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #3 – Being Out of Shape

To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. The Buddha

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 3 is:

Being Physically Deconditioned

In 2011 the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommended minimum daily exercise standards for adults wishing maintain cardiovascular fitness. They said “…all healthy adults aged 18 to 65 years need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days each week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days each week.”

Since earlier research disclosed that fewer than half of US adults met these standards, and that nearly 25% of all American adults don’t exercise at all, I’d bet that a significant minority of graduating law students go into the bar exam way out of shape. If I’m correct, I have to ask: “What are they thinking?”

Can we stipulate that studying all day, nearly every day, for this life-changing rite of passage is stressful? Can we also stipulate, without further explanation, that there’s beaucoup stress associated with taking the bar exam – for 18 hours or more over three or more days – and even more stress associated with failing it?

Who does not know that exercise produces endorphins, (the body’s own “feel-good” neurotransmitters), boosts the immune system and combats stress? You may not know that exercise increases the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the hippocampus, the portion of the brain that controls learning and memory. More BDNF equals better memory. Exercise also increases concentrations of serotonin and norepinephrin, neurotransmitters that combat depression.

So … knowing that that brisk half-hour walk in the sunshine would improve your mood AND your memory, returning you to your studies happier, fresher and, in a way, even smarter, are you prepared to get going? To say no would really be a sin.

The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #4 – Obsessiveness

Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back to the same question and never get an answer. Norman Mailer – American writer.

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 4 is:

Being Obsessive

Let’s define our terms. “Devotion” is “the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal.” Being “obsessive is “[being] excessive, often to an unreasonable degree.” One way of thinking about whether you’re devoted to, or obsessive about, your exam preparation may be in terms of what you’re doing and what you’re not doing.

In my opinion, you’re devoted if you are doing these things:

1. Developing a general plan for your summer study before or promptly once your bar course begins. Start with a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. It’s best to do it yourself – you know yourself better than anyone. Relying on someone else (a trusted professor, a close law school classmate) is the best of second best, but only if you agree with the result.

Setting your priorities: realistic time allocations for prep course attendance, group study (if that’s your thing), individual study, practice exams, tutorial time – everything you can think of. The whole thing is like a financial budget – only the finite resource is time.

This plan must take into account that you have a life outside of studying. (You’ll see what I mean if you keep reading.)

2. Preparing a realistic day-by-day schedule. Some prep courses are very schedule-heavy. A good thing if you want this type of thinking done for you, but only if it will work. Your priorities (see step 1) may dictate otherwise. Will the time allotted to each bar course you are seeing for the first time suffice? If not, you may have to tweak your schedule, “on the fly,” and “as the clock runs down.” Start thinking about it – the earlier, the better.

3. Sticking to the realistic schedule you’ve set for yourself throughout your studying. And, changing the plan only for good reasons which you’ve considered carefully.

In my opinion, you’re obsessive if, because you’re studying so much, you’re not also doing these things:

a. Exercising. Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain, improving alertness, attention span and mental acuity. It helps curb feelings of anxiety. And it makes you less prone to catching a cold or the flu – two things that will throw your studying way out of line.

b. Eating right. A 2012 study in the journal Population Health Management links unhealthy eating with a 66 percent increased loss of productivity among workers in three large American companies. Eating right is not rocket science. In a nutshell, it means less salt (sorry pizza!) less fat (sorry again!), and less sugar; and more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. It also means proper hydration and moderate consumption of caffeine and alcohol.

c. Getting enough rest. A study in the Journal of Vision from Brigham and Young Women’s Hospital shows that the more sleep deprived a person is, the worse his or her work becomes. “The longer a person is awake, the more the ability to perform a task … is hindered, and this impact of being awake is even stronger at night,” says Jeanne Duffy, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s.

d. Hugging (and being hugged). Hugging, cuddling and kissing (feel free to go on from there) a loved one all raise the amount of oxytocin in your blood. Oxytocin helps to decrease anxiety and blood pressure, and even boost memory.

The bottom line is study effectiveness – right? Scheduling realistically in and actually doing the right things in addition to studying will improve your bar performance. It will improve your overall health and state of mind. And, since you’re going to be healthier, happier, and more alert, it may provide more quality time for you to knock down the rule against perpetuities – without getting obsessed about it.

The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #5 -Pride

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. C.S. Lewis – Author

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 5 is:


Pride can be something to be pleased about or to disapprove of depending on how you define it. For example, a “reasonable or justifiable self-respect” is essential to a healthy and fulfilling life.

I’m talking about “inordinate self esteem.” “Inordinate” as in “I’m in the top quartile of my class.” I’m too smart to fail the exam,” or “…to have failed the exam,” or, in some instances “… “to have failed the exam multiple times” …. “Something must be wrong.” Inordinate as in “I can’t find time to study because I’m too involved with my ___ .” (You fill in the blank … but “start-up,” “clinic,” “volunteer work” and – believe it or not, “[full time] work” – are all ones I’ve heard).

This type of pride hides from the prideful the realities of preparing to pass, on the first (or the next) attempt, an 18-hour examination (longer for some applicants) on 13 legal doctrinal subjects and additional practical skills. It may also hide from them the consequences of failing the bar exam the first time, or of never passing it. You may not want to think about it, but those consequences can be dreadful.

In Marooned: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduates Who Fail the Bar Exam (Journal of Legal Education, Volume 60, Number 1 (August 2010)) Jane Yakowitz, then on the faculty of the UCLA School of Law, considered the consequences of bar failure. In a complex and thoughtful article, she summarized her findings this way:

Law school graduates who never pass a bar exam have a very difficult “first term.” Five to ten years out of law school, they lag behind lawyers on every measure – earnings, employment stability, even marriage and divorce rates. Moreover, as a group, they fare worse than college graduates, despite their better-than-average undergraduate grades. [Although] … they spring back and out-perform the average college graduate in the latter half of their careers, … they never catch up with their lawyer peers … the earnings of the median individual do catch up with the 25th percentile lawyer …

Ms. Yakowitz’s recounting of the emotional tolls of failing the exam are consistent with my own anecdotal observations, made across numerous tables – in my office, libraries, coffee shops, borrowed classrooms – all the locations where I meet with and tutor bar exam repeaters.

Interviewees … provided descriptions of their careers that are so uniform they sound like a single response fed through a thesaurus. “Unemployed,” limited,” “my life is on hold,” “stuck in a rut,” “stuck,” “career purgatory,” “it’s just killing me” … The emotional response to bar failure was so strong and homogenous across the interview pool. … At least in the short term, bar failure seems to be the nightmare come true.”

Are you hiding behind excessive pride, jeopardizing your chances at first-time (or next-time) bar success? When is pride excessive? Try rating how you respond to each of these situations on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 representing “not at all” and 10 representing “all the time.” It may be difficult, but be as honest and accurate as you can.

1. What I want is all that matters. When we make decisions together, what you want, your concerns, your feelings.. these are mere whispers, inconveniences and irrelevancies. When we discuss issues, my opinions are right. Yours are wrong or else of minimal importance. If you expect to have input, you are undermining me.
2. I know more, I know better, I’m more interesting, When we talk, it’s mostly about me. In conversations, I take up most of the air time. Maybe that’s why people say I suck up all the air in a room. When I want something, I need to have it. Never mind how you feel about it; it’s all about me. I’m big and important and you are merely also here, mostly to do things for me, like a third arm.
3. I can …, cut into a line where others are waiting, cheat on my taxes, and ignore rules that get in the way of my doing what I want.. Rules are for other people to follow.
4. If you insist on my listening and taking your concerns seriously I’m likely to get mad. Criticism hurts. I can criticize others, and often do, but if you criticize me you’re hurting my feelings so I’ll hurt you back.
5. I can’t be expected to apologize or to admit blame. I’m above others and above reproach. You shouldn’t have… . Don’t threaten me with expecting me to say how I’ve contributed to a problem or I’ll get mad at you.
6. You made me mad. You didn’t listen to me. You criticized me. You’re trying to control me. Your view is wrong. So you need to apologize, not me.
7. It’s never my fault if things didn’t go well. I’m not responsible for the problem. Someone else is. I’m not responsible either for my anger. If I’m mad that’s your fault.
A bit of all of these traits just comes with being human. However, if your score is 30 or higher, it’s time to make some habit changes or even to commit yourself to some serious personal growth before you take the Bar Exam.


With thanks to “Are You a Narcissist – 6 Sure Signs of Narcissism” by Susan Heitler, PhD (Published in Psychology Today on October 25, 2012)

The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – # 6 – Avoidance

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. Saul Bellow – Nobel Prize Winning American Author

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 6 is:

Being Avoidant

I am no stranger to avoidance. When I was still practicing in a law firm, I once let conflict of interest waiver letters to two clients – letters I had already signed – sit on my desk, unmailed, for three weeks. For all that time, I did work for both clients. Each day when I arrived at work, the letters would be the first things I saw. All I had to do was mail them – even those increasingly older dates at the top probably wouldn’t have mattered. But I didn’t, and didn’t and didn’t, until finally, I did. Fortunately, there was no harm. The conflict was only “potential,” the need to do anything else never arose, and the only blip on anyone’s radar was on my own. However, things could easily have gone very very differently, with consequences to everyone that would not have been good, or easy to justify.

All these years later, my behavior in this and several other similar instances remains largely inexplicable to me. Did I not take things seriously enough? Was there some unconscious explanation? You know what? It doesn’t matter. I was invested in ignorance. I behaved stupidly and I could have paid the price.

As a bar exam tutor and law school faculty member, I see law students’ avoidant behaviors all the time. They tell me that they are unable to study because it makes them “too nervous.” They put off submitting information to the State Bar that they need to turn in to become lawyers. They don’t show up for class or for private tutoring, don’t turn in assignments on time, break counseling appointments. I’m not talking about real conflicts with other obligations, or legitimate emergencies. What I’m talking about is not doing something for no good or even articulable reason.

The great tragedy is that the avoidant bar exam repeaters that I’ve worked with have not only avoided studying, they have also avoided passing. And the great irony is that, absent a miracle, until they change, they will be unable to avoid taking the exam over and over again. When I pick up an avoidant “vibe” from a first-time taker, it makes me very concerned.

In an interesting article in Psychology Today psychologist Alice Boyes calls this type of behavior “avoidance coping.” She believes that: “Avoidance coping causes anxiety to snowball because when people use avoidance coping they typically end up experiencing more of the very thing they were trying to escape.” As a (hopefully) analytical lawyer and a lifelong “overthinker,” I recognize myself in these words: “When people engage in … overthinking … they are typically trying to think their way out of uncomfortable emotions” One emotion Dr. Boyes cites is “uncertainty.”

She has three prescriptions for beginning to overcome avoidance:

– Recognize that it doesn’t work.
– Recognize its costs.
– Learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.

I would like to add some prescriptions of my own:

– Remember how successful you are, and then “fake it ‘til you make it.” You may have paid the price for avoidance in the past, but that didn’t stop you from getting pretty “high on the food chain.” Even in this wonderful and prosperous country, relatively few people graduate from college, let alone law school. You have it in you to prepare for and pass the bar examination. Even if you can’t do it all the time, act successful by promptly tackling each problem for as long as you can last. The odds that you’ll follow through once you start are definitely better than they would be if you did nothing.

– Recognize when you’re uncomfortable. I completely agree with Dr. Boyes’ suggestion that we “avoidants” learn to tolerate emotional discomfort. But, with respect, I’d pull her back one step first. That’s because, in my case, it was only after the fact in each instance that I recognized that I had been avoidant because I was uncomfortable and uncomfortable because I was avoidant. In the moment, that avoidance felt like just another annoyance not to pay attention to, like not getting a seat on the bus to work. That kind of thinking can hurt you though. Even if you’re not ready to “tolerate,” you may be ready to “recognize.” And if you are, you should.

– Admit you have a problem. Then forgive yourself, but don’t excuse yourself. It is heartening to me when a student concedes that he or she is avoidant. And it helps a lot. That’s because, with the issue out in the open for examination and discussion, it can become just another one of the issues that can be dealt with before the exam.

So, if you think you might be avoidant, don’t delay! Start thinking about this challenge, talking to others about it, and seeking help. And … from one avoidant person to another – Good Luck!

The Almost Daily Word – The Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #7 – Naivete

It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption. James Thurber – American author, cartoonist, and celebrated wit.

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 7 is:

Being Naive

One common definition of “naïve” is “lacking in worldly wisdom.” A law school colleague offered this cold and, I think, accurate take: “…no experience with adversity… never been called out.”

“Naïve” and “innocent” are commonly used interchangeably, and to be naïve is often considered charming, as in: “Andy had a sweet, naïve look when he smiled.” However, more hard-hearted synonyms may be more appropriate in describing some 3-L’s, 4-L’s and, especially, repeaters: “unrealistic,” “gullible,” or, (we’re talking really cold-hearted here) “ignorant.” I admire the definitional distinction drawn by one person on “Yahoo! Answers:” “Naïve is when you already know. And innocent is when you shouldn’t know yet.”

In my opinion, if you are preparing for the California Bar Exam, you are being naïve if you presume that a commercial bar preparation course alone will suffice if:

– You have taken seven or fewer “bar courses” in law school, even in an ABA school.

The California Bar Exam tests 13 different areas of doctrinal law. All are taught in law school courses that typically last at least one semester. All are also taught in commercial bar review courses that typically last about two months. Seven is a number that I’m picking out of the air. But let me ask you this: How much real thought have you given to evaluating your ability to learn enough about the remaining six substantive bar exam topics in two months to pass the exam?

You may argue that there is a common understanding among law students and commercial courses that some subjects and, within those subjects, even some topics, are less likely than others to be tested. My response, as a former member of the California Committee of Bar Examiners and a former California State Bar Examinations Director is this: Both the Committee and the staff of the Office of Admissions believe that applicants should be prepared to address any topic within the scope of the examination. Ignore this tip from an insider at your peril.

– Your cumulative GPA in bar subjects in law school is 2.8 or less.

At least one longitudinal study has indicated that students at an ABA-accredited school who have taken seven or fewer “bar” courses in school and who have achieved a cumulative GPA in those course of 2.8 or below are as much as twice as likely to fail the exam on their first attempt as their classmates.

If this profile fits you, let me ask you this: If your law school offers bar preparation classes, have you taken all of them? If your law school offers individual academic support counseling, have you taken advantage of it?

If any of the clues to Sin #7 rings a bell with you, are you prepared to adjust your law school study or Bar Exam preparation? If you’re not, are you being innocent or naïve?

The Almost Daily Word – The Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation

“Don’t let your sins turn into bad habits.” – St. Teresa of Avila

I’ve been thinking about the California Bar Exam for over 35 years. Scary? – I know!

During that time I’ve been:

– A Bar Exam grader (10 years, about 20,000 answer books)
– A Committee of Bar Examiners member (policy maker, nationwide testing network participant)
– The State Bar Examinations Director (former frightened exam-taker, now in charge – sort of)- A Bar Exam tutor, and
– A law school faculty-member.

During that time, just as most applicants typically are, I’ve been preoccupied with what skills a student must take into the exam to succeed: legal analysis, legal application, organization, perceptive reading, topic heading composition, rule statement memorization, how to write essays, how to write performance tests, MBE strategies … the list seems endless.

Only lately (better late than never?) I’ve begun to reflect on something that has been ubiquitous, but that I noticed only over a long time and only with my “emotional peripheral vision.” Something that I may having been trying to avoid without realizing it. Something that may be none of my business. But something that feels critical to me as a human being struggling to achieve his own successes and deal with his own failures, who wants to share his thoughts with any willing reader.

What self-defeating traits of character do unsuccessful applicants have in common?

Over the next seven entries, bluntly and candidly, but, hopefully, also with the humility of a person who has ignored more than his full share of good advice and often paid the price, I will, indeed, share my thoughts.

I hope you’ll stick around to read them.