5 Ways to Improve Bar Exam Essay Scores Podcast with BarIssues.com (Episode 020)

by Dustin on

Today we bring on another special guest to help you out with your essays, this is Nadine from barissues.com who is going to come on and tell you five ways to pass and five things you can do to improve your essay score. Also at the end of the program she is going to tell you lot about here awesome, awesome cool program they have called Bar Issues and how it can help you out on your bar exam so be sure to stay tuned at the end there to hear about that and also how you can get a discount on your copy of bar issues.

You will hear more about it on the show but just briefly if you want to know what mostly like to be tested on your bar exam and also if you want to take practice exams that test specific issues, so let us say you have specific issues you want to practice like common law first amendment or contract UCC questions, then you definitely want to listen up at the end to hear what Bar Issues is about because they created a great service to help you practice those and to be better prepared. So without further ado let us go into the interview with Nadine from barissues.com.

Hi, hello and we are here with Nadine from barissues.com that is going to come on today and tell us the five ways to improve your essay scores this bar exam season.

Dustin: Hi Nadine how are you?

Nadine: Hey Dustin I am great thanks for having me.

Dustin: Thanks for coming on great to have you here today

Nadine: Yeah

Dustin: So tell the listeners kind of your story about when you took the bar and kind of how you struggled through and how you made it through and just generally speaking some of your background on that.

Nadine: Okay sure. Well you know there is just so much to study on the bar exam as we all know, particularly the California bar being three days long and I think one of the biggest challenges I found was just the whole overwhelming aspect of it all and what really, really helped me was one of the things I am going to talk about which is planning in advance and  kind of visualizing what I am going to be doing and really, really getting….I probably spent inordinate amount of time on the planning, but it really, really did help a lot. So that was something I think that really helped me and being able to use the tools that Angela and I developed, bar issues helped a lot too as far as knowing what issue were important, and just staying focused in general I think is really important.

Dustin: Right. When you say overwhelm what were you overwhelmed by, I mean I can make a guess but just specific idea.

Nadine: Well I think the fact that there is 15 subjects and we kind of count them as fifteen, we still separate some of the subject although they have kind of been combined now, I am thinking of corporations and partnership and that, but basically we looked at it as 15 subjects and yeah I mean it is overwhelming especially knowing that when it comes to the essays you are not going to be necessarily tested and all 15 subjects and it is just the rules of law, the number of rules of law, the amount of material is what I found really overwhelming.

Dustin: Right and how do you kind of I guess deal with that, because there were other students out there they are probably dealing with the same thing, how did you guys…..?

Nadine: Well, what we did was, we kind of came up with an action plan here and we really like I said, we spend a lot of time on the planning in advance just so that we knew….I was really afraid of running out of time to get everything, to study everything to make sure that I covered up all the subjects so by planning in advance and that is one of our first tips. Get out your calendar, plan it in advance, figure out exactly what subject you are going to study, when , how many practice essays you are going to do and which days. It really, really helps to put things into perspective and just knowing that you really do have enough time on the calendar to cover it all is a big help already.

Dustin: Okay that is interesting. How did you guys plan that out, like how far in advance did you plan out and also did you guys kind of stick to that schedule or did you modify it as you went through?

Nadine: We did modify it. Angela and I both actually took the bar exam at different times, she took the February one, I took the July one, but yeah we did pretty well stick to it, but we did re-planed and re scheduled, we used spread sheet to actually know what, how many essays we had plan to practice and how many we actually did practice, same for the MBE’s, how many we planned to do and how many we did and same for the performance test. So we really, really worked on making sure that we had enough time to get it all done.

Dustin: I am curious. When you guys talked about planning in advance as your first tip, how many did you guys planned for essays, MBE’s, performance test and then how many did you guys ended up doing?

Nadine: Well we both actually honor…on our website we have an essay tracker where I wanted to list all of the essays since 2001 on a chart and I listed them by subject and with a brief little blurb on what the essay was about and my goal was to actually cover off every single essay starting with 2001. I did not practice writing out every essay, but I can say and Angela too that we either wrote, practiced or at least issues spotted every essay which we think gave us a good foundation going in.

Dustin: That is a great tip because I think a lot of students missed that point about the importance of doing essay, so the fact that you hit every essay I think that is great.

Nadine: Yeah, yeah, and the nice thing about having a chart like that is to just be able to check them off as you do them it kind of you know it is kind of boring having to study all the time, but you can kind of make a game out of it by oh gee, today I got three done I am going to check these off and it just makes you kind of feel like you are getting somewhere with everything.

Dustin: Cool awesome. So that would be your first tip, planning in advance. Some student email me like 6 month out like should they start studying now or should they start studying 2 months ahead like when should they…..?

Nadine: We kind of looked at it as a 3 to 4 months period. I would recommend at least 3 months personally, maybe 4 if you can do it. Maybe some people think that is too long but most bar prep courses I would think are also in the 2 to 3 month range.

Dustin: Okay cool. What would be your second tip?

Nadine: Our second tip is endurance. You really have to give yourself total commitment to just staying on track and if you are studying for the February bar exam coming up that means you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that you are going to be a party pooper throughout the entire holiday season and if you are studying for the July bar exam like I did then, you are going to have to realize that there is a lot of summer activities that …maybe you have a young kids or whatever family that are out of school you are not going to be able to necessarily partake. So if you kind of set yourself up for that in advance and know how to deal with the fact when your friends or family might tempt you with offers of going out. Be prepared on how you are going to deal with that and it will just make things so much easier.

Dustin:  What is a good way to be prepared, like how did you kind of handle that one distraction to another?

Nadine: Well, one thing is and Angela and I talked about this a lot, one thing that Angela did because she was during that Christmas time studying, she told everyone in advance look, I am only going to two functions this holiday season, I am going to my law firm’s Christmas party and one family party and that is it. So she knew that those were the two that she had planned to attend and any other offers no matter how tempting, no matter how people, no matter how people saying, oh come on, just for a little while or just stay for dinner, she was firm and said nope sorry, I am committed to this and that was her and it worked for her.

Dustin: That is awesome. You guys are planner, planner aheader …

Nadine: Yes, yes, yes (chuckling)

Dustin: You guys have this plan…let us say you woke up one morning, you have like this plan to do something and then you just like did not feel like studying or you could not study, how did you deal with that? Did you just or take a break what did you do?

Nadine: No I think it is important to if you really wake up feeling like that to take a break and yea I admit there were times when did not follow my plan exactly and you cannot beat yourself up about that, you just have to realize that sometimes you do need a mental break, a physically it is very demanding as well. So along as you kind of look forward and readjust, okay so I did not get this done today, let me put on for my tomorrow plan and let me squeeze in an extra hour to do that so, I think that is perfectly fine.

Dustin: Okay cool. Anything else for enduring or making sure your endurance make it through?

 Nadine: No I think you know of course the obvious thing is being physically fit to see it through taking care of yourself, nutrition, exercise and make sure you get enough sleep that kind of stuff is important in order to have your mind be able to be mentally fit as well so I would just add that.

Dustin: Okay awesome. Thank you for sharing that one and what is your third tip?

Nadine: Well the third tip I can offer you is all about timing and when you think about the essays on the California bar exam they make up 39% of your score so you really need to make sure you do well on the essays in order to pass the bar and what I recommend is really get used to timing yourself in advance if you are doing these 1 hour essays try out the software if using your laptop, the software called exam soft and figure out in advance how to set your timing intervals because the last thing you want to do is run out of time of course on the essays.

Dustin: That is such a huge tip because some people though spend a couple more minutes even going 5 to 10 minutes more on one essay can be detrimental is that right?

Nadine: Exactly, exactly. So what I recommend and I found this really work good for me is, think of it as two time intervals, first set your timer for 15 minutes which is the amount of time which you are going to give yourself to reading the question, making your notes as you go through, maybe circling dates names, whatever your method is briefly outline on your scrap paper, you may even need a diagram subjects like wills, trust, properties when there is so many parents, children, stepchildren all that keeping the name straight can be a challenge so, take that first 10 to 15 minutes and do all that , then set your timer for the second interval of 45 minutes where you are actually going to write out the essay and you have got to watch the clock constantly and like you said you just do not even want to spend more than 5 minutes on any given essay.

Dustin: When you were practicing, did you do like 3 hour block or did you do for an hour 1 hour?

Nadine: Yes. In the beginning I first just did 1 hour essays, but you do need to just simulate a bar exam experience in advance by challenging yourself to sit down and do three in a row because it is quite demanding, so you really do need to do that definitely.

Dustin: Yea, when I was practicing I did, I typically did only 1 hour sessions, but when I got on the bar it is a little bit of a different dynamic when you have three back to back, not only…..

Nadine: Exactly

Dustin: ……stamina wise but also timing because it is so easy to spend that extra 5 to 10 minutes, even for the most discipline of us, but you really got to cut yourself off after the hour.

Nadine: True, true I have talked to so many students who said yea I spent 10 minutes extra on the first one and then I ran out of time on the third one and oh yea it can be a nightmare.

Dustin: You really need the hour and if you do not have the whole thing you are going to miss writing something.

Nadine: Because you never know what the next question is going to be, do not think oh gee, this question is such a race horse and I have really got to take that extra 10 minutes to like get it right. The next question could be more of a challenge you just do not know so stick to 1 hour, just watch the clock constantly and use the timer feature in examsoft if you are using your laptop, because it really, really works really good.

Dustin: Okay, awesome. What is tip number 4?

Nadine: Tip number 4 kind of goes back to the initial planning and it is to come up with a systematic approach and what I mean by that is, look for the tools that are going to make your process as easy as possible and for example let us say you are doing a contract’s question, what I was able to do by using bar issues is I was able to just click on the contracts box and in the software and it gives me a listing of all the exams that are published by the state bar and then I would just select the exam that I am going to work on print off the first page for the question and then start working on that particular essay and this way I was even able to just quickly issue spot the essay if I only wanted to do that and test on, hey did I actually get all the issues in this essay? I could just click on the essay name in bar issues and up would come a neat little pop up giving me a list of just the issues so that I could quickly go through and see oh gee you know I miss that or yea I got them all. So just figure out a really good systematic approach.

Dustin: That is awesome! I looked briefly at Barissues idea and we will talk a little bit more on it as well. That is so helpful because knowing which issues are going to appear, I think it just really helps a lot, so you are not studying everything else out there, but you kind of can ….not only just which topic show up the most which bar issues provides, but also which specific issues within the topic.

Nadine: Right, right and you will find certain patterns too, you will find that there are certain issues and sub-issues that just always get always get tested together so that if you are finding that you spotted one issue if you know hey, this is often tested with something else it would much easier to look for that in advance.

Dustin: Also then of course people can save time because they are focusing on the stuff that actually get tested not everything in that book or everything under the sun.

Nadine: Right exactly.

Dustin: Very good. And what is tip number 5?

Nadine: The final tip is something that I think a lot of students often neglect and it is learning to spot cross overs a cross over is an essay that covers more than one subject and this is really becoming more common on the bar exam, actually our stats show us that the average number of cross overs essays questions on the California bar exam, starting from 2001 to 2014 was 1.7 so you are likely to have at least one cross over on the bar exam maybe even two and again using bar issues it is really easy to spot them and to figure out some of the patterns that cross overs often take.

Dustin: What are some specific keys to spotting a cross over because sometimes…I remember take I do not know if it was the practice exam or actually bar like I was reading something and something was like, it was on professional responsibility but I felt it read to something else but I could not quite pinpoint it so, how do you figure that out?

Nadine: Well, the key to figuring that out is to really look in advance to see which historically, which types of subject have been tested often as cross overs, for example remedies is always going usually be with contracts, or torts, community property is often going to be together with wills, you mentioned professional responsibility, that is often tested with another subject often it is corporations and this is so easily apparent when you do look at our website and you just run down the list of every subject and see, oh yeah you know criminal law of course with criminal procedure and evidence, look for those three together. So when you are looking at the call of the question and know that one of these subjects is definitely in the call, look for the other possible cross over as well.

Dustin: Ok awesome. Good those were awesome tips. Speaking of bar issues tell us a little bit more about the program, kind of who it is for, what are the offers and things like that?

Nadine: Okay, okay. Well you know it is…like I said in the beginning there are so many legal issues that are tested on the California bar exam and it is often overwhelming you know it just feel like you cannot possibly learn them all. Angela and I actually counted based on our you know some of our out loan books that we came up with, it was about 3000 rules of law that span the 15 subjects tested on the exam. So we knew that we could not possibly memorize everything perfectly, so by using bar issues you are able to actually really drill down to what is most important and as we like to say focus on what counts and make sure that you know the top 20 to 30 issues within each subject cold, because most likely you will be tested on those. Not to say that you should not know all the rest but you definitely want to make sure that you focus on what is really, really key.

Dustin: That is awesome. So what I briefly looked at bar issues, so it shows not only like what main topics come up and how often like I think was the evidence I think was one of the most tested essay subject?

Nadine: Yeah, yeah exactly. You can find out from bar issues which..not only which subjects are tested most frequently and like you said evidence is one that seems to be at the top all the time lately, but also which issues and sub issues are tested most frequently, so you often have a gut feeling or you may hear your professor say to you, oh this issue is frequently tested on the bar exam. Well, you know gut feelings are not always are what we want to go by, so let us really look at the stats and look at the data and that is what we have done. We have gone back and analyzed all of the essays, like I have said we read through all of them, read through all the students answers A and B and methodically categorized all of the issues and sub issues and you can rank them so you can look at any given subject and rank then in order of frequency to see which is tested the most, and then you can easily hone in on a weakness that you may have. Let us say you are really struggling with a particular area in contracts, you can actually click on a given issue and it will give you all of the essay that have had all that issue tested and then you and practice more easily.

Dustin: Yea and I love how easy the interfaces you guys made it. It is very easy just to go in there and search and then you actually pop up the essay right then and there. Tell me which essay it is and you pop it up right then and I have to like go back and click (cross talk) …

Nadine: I remember when before we even started studying for the bar exam, we did frequently go on the state bar website to view some of the practice, to view some of the essays and it was so hard to just sieve through, pages and pages, like some of those files are almost a 100 pages long and if wanting to zero in on a specific essay or a specific category  it is really hard so yea, you are right we make it really, really easy to just find what you are looking for within just one click.

Dustin: And every little thing of technology helps when you are overwhelmed by the bar exam.

Nadine: Exactly, exactly this can really make life much easier for the essay portion, definitely.

Dustin: Very good. Also the listener too because you are giving a discount code for my people, is that right?

Nadine: That is correct, that is correct.

Dustin: So at the end of the call I can get that as well. That is great so great tips. Thank you so much for coming on.

Nadine: Well, thank you for having me and hopefully everyone can check us out and we wish everyone the best of luck.

Dustin: Thanks Nadine and tell Angela your co founder we say hi and we will talk to you later.

Nadine: Ok great thanks Dustin.

Dustin: Thank you, take care.

Nadine: Bye

That was Nadine from barissues.com giving you her 5 tips. I checked out bar issues they look like a great program, there are three people are three reasons why you may want to get your hands on a copy of Barissues, for one you want to see what is most likely tested. What is really great is that you can go through their list of essays that they have, they have lot of issues, basically you do a couple of clicks and you see within each category whether it is contracts, common law, torts or whatever, you can see which issue is tested the most and when they came out specifically.

For example when you go to contracts, you can look under contracts and look at the most tested issues, I will tell you that the second most highly tested issue for contracts since 2001 is the statute of frauds. It has shown up 10 times on 10 exams since 2001 for common law for example standing and strict scrutiny they are also the most tested, they have shown up 9 times since 2001. So they have this for every single topic and every single issue that shown up in California in and you know they may extend to other state at some point, but right now I think California that have shown up, you can get that  for every single issue.

So you know what to kind of prepare for, where to focus your energy most, and what is also great it tells you the specific essay that it showed up on and you just click and that is it, it pops up right there. If you want to practice specific issue in those areas, you can just go in click and it shows up, and you can do that for any kind of issue that has ever shown up. Maybe it is the common law first amendment you want to practice or contracts UCC questions, so that is the second reason why you may be interested in this program because of the very specific issues that you can search and if you want to practice it you can go in there find where that showed up rather than trying to dig through year and years of exams where showed up and when.

You just go to their search database very quickly; just a couple of click and it will tell you where those specific issues showed up so you can go ahead and practice them. The third one is you want to take, if you want to practice your issue spotting, you can go through and search the years of these essays and you just click on the essays and it pops up all the issues that showed up on that specific essay, so that is another great way to practice your issue body, so go click, bam there are all the issues that show up so after you take a practice essay or you practice issues body for an essay you click it and you could see what has shown up and what has not.

For those reasons I think it is a great program something very cool to check out and you could save $10 on your subscription to bar issues just head on over to ipassedmybarexam.com/bi and that will pages put your email in and I will email you the coupon code. They do not want the coupon code going viral so you got to email me or just go to ipassedmybarexam.com/bi and I will automatically send you that code so you can use it on your subscription.

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