How Do You Know You’re Practicing Correctly?

Remember our discussion a few weeks ago about the one non-negotiable study strategy?

Welp, everybody pack up and go home because that practice-and-feedback framework is probably the closest to a “secret” to studying there is (there isn’t one).

It’s a nicely boiled-down pearl of a learning approach, after draining and dusting off all the tips and tricks and various tactics that get stuck around it like barnacles. Of course bar takers get lost when there are so many different ways to go about preparing.

But I also love it because it identifies those who are perpetually looking to be “ready”—

 

The Inquisitor: Asks question after question.

I have a generous three-strike policy where I just stop talking to them if they ask three dumb questions in a row. “How many questions do I need to do to pass?” Up to you. “Do you recommend X? Where can I find Y?” It’s literally in the email you responded to. “I’m taking the bar exam in Z. Any advice? Sent from my iPhone” I now have more questions than you.

Questions are fine! The most successful students are proactive (have done their legwork already) and specific with their questions. Then they get to work, report back in a few months, and pass their wisdom forward to the community.

If you’re feeling frazzled, unmotivated, and overwhelmed, I recommend joining the 2nd round of the Mental Engines closed beta, which I will open access for a few days next Saturday (6/23) for email subscribers only.

The Hourly Biller: Does anything but feeling their brain squeezed from conscientious mental exertion and accepting blows to their ego. Thinks it’s all good as long they put in the time.

Reading outlines day after day, chasing after that percentage meter, listening to 4 hours of exhausting lectures every morning, religiously filling in the blanks, doing one untimed essay for the rest of the day…

You’re your own client. Would you pay for the time you spent? Don’t make me cut all your hours.

The Tool Collector: Jumps from one program or study tool to another that will somehow plug them into the Matrix and upload everything they need to know for the bar.

The resources out there can all be useful in their own ways, but their utility depends on how you use them.

Like with anything else, having too many moving parts only complicates your life. Keep it simple. The right things are often the simplest, but not necessarily the easiest.

Right about now is a good reminder of the above framework if you’re not yet thinking about moving on from the knowledge-stockpiling stage.

Stockpiling knowledge was acceptable a month ago.

Just “knowing” a rule is different from knowing how to apply it to a fact pattern. Just “knowing” about issues is different from being able to identify and organize them.

I get it. It’s tempting to convince yourself that you’ll be able to feel your way through the questions as long as you’ve memorized the rules.

And let me be perfectly honest here: Winging it just might work for you! Don’t let me stop you from doing your thing. I’ve seen it go either way. Gamble with your future if you want, but hope is not a strategy.

Just be aware that underestimating the exam and overestimating yourself are the riskiest things you could do on the bar.

“Knowledge without practice can create a kind of arrogance that is dangerous.”—Kyle Eschenroeder

The reason the scores on my first attempt were poor was not practicing enough, let alone practicing effectively. I could write beautiful rule statements. I thought that equipped me to pass. But apparently I couldn’t actually solve the problems I needed to.

I knew just enough to be dangerous to myself.

“But there’s so much time left. I’ll manage. Plus, it’s nice out.”
“My classmates might think I’m weird for deviating from The Plan.”
“I want to make sure I know as much as I can first.”

Yes, do your lectures and outlines and flashcards as needed, but don’t obsess over them. They’re tools for YOUR benefit, not the other way around.

“OK! Just ‘practice practice practice,’ right?”

Here’s the kicker, though:

Yeah, I said it: PRACTICE ALONE is NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

What good is doing problems if you don’t know whether you did them right? Just practicing is like getting off the scale and then getting back on without changing anything.

Here’s something else I learned about learning during my rematch with the bar:

YOU NEED FEEDBACK. SELF-CRITIQUE.

By “feedback,” I don’t mean you should get a tutor (up to you). Rather, critique your own work, be open to being wrong, and have the persistence to use that valuable information on your next attempt. I want YOU to become a bar expert!

This is where the learning happens—the part where you review your work to figure out what went right and wrong, not when you’re doing the work itself.

This is a subtle difference but an important one. How did I only manage to do 800 MBE questions when others were talking about doing 3,000+ (and still didn’t pass)? You can’t improve what you don’t evaluate.

Improvement comes from constant feedback and learning every time you try to solve a difficult problem.

Don’t get me wrong. Remembering the material and doing problems are great things to do. You would improve your MBE, essay, and PT scores even more using these “Practice + Feedback” loops:

For MBE:

  1. Review the material
  2. Pick a handful of MBE questions (mixed subjects or not) with more of your weaker subjects
  3. Do the questions
  4. Get feedback by thoroughly studying and understanding each answer explanation for every question
  5. Repeat this cycle, while keeping track of your worst three subjects and adjusting step 2 as your “worst three” ranking changes. If you run out, do them again or find new ones

Timing example: Step 1 can be done in one day. Steps 2 and 3 can be done the next day. Closed book and keep time (1.8 minutes/Q at most) in the final month.

For essays:

  1. Pick a handful of essays (4 to 10) per subject that cover a broad range of issues
  2. Review the material
  3. Do an essay, or “cook” it (identify the issues and recite the rules)
  4. Get feedback by comparing your issues and rules with those of sample or model answers (or ask a tutor or grader if you extra help)
    1. If you’re in CA, you can also use BarEssays.com to look at actual answers and the scores they got (sign up for my weekly emails to get a $25 offer code)
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 for the other subjects. If you run out, do them again or find new ones

Timing example: Steps 1 and 2 can be done in one day. Steps 3 and 4 can be done the next day. Closed book and keep time in February, assuming you’ve started by January.

For PTs/MPTs:

  1. Pick at least one objective-type (memo to supervisor) and at least one subjective-type (brief to judge) assignment
    1. If you’re in CA, you can find plenty of 90-minute MPTs that are similar to the new CA PT:
      1. MPT assignments and sample answers since 2000
      2. Different sample answers to same MPTs from 2005
      3. Point Sheets from older administrations of the MPT
  2. Do 1-2 PT per week
  3. Get feedback by checking the rules and facts used, and seeing if you were able to hit a rough benchmark of spending less than half the allotted time for outlining (~40%) and finishing the writing in the allotted time (part of the task is to put it together within time)

Timing example: I liked doing and reviewing a PT every Tuesday (the day of the written portion). Doing a PT on a slow Sunday is another way to get one done.

 

My SAT tutor friend tells me that this is the part only 1% of people ever do. He says the problem is HOW to get students to actually evaluate their work.

I don’t know the answer to that. Yes, bar prep can be an agonizing experience. It’s confusing and boring and ridiculous. Then again, you’re an attorney candidate, no longer a high schooler. I’m not going to tell you what you need to do, so I guess it’s up to you. There are many ways to get to the final destination.

What I do know is that there may be painful moments where you go down your MBE answers and mark a bunch of them wrong. Or AdaptiBar says you’re still in the 50, 40, 30% range. Or the effort you spent on an essay seems to be wasted because it looks completely different from the model/sample answer.

GOOD!

You have to bomb. You have to savor these failures. These failures are fodder for your next victory, as long as you learn from them and build foundations.

Honest critique of your own work can be one of the psychologically toughest things you can do to yourself. But you only get enough experience points to level up if you face challenges, not easy enemies.

Don’t confuse one failure for a total failure. Being wrong and embarrassed enough times will be the Drano® that punches through the gunk and frees you from your fever.

Hey, no need to lament the bleakness of your future just yet, friend. It’s good that it’s happening now so you can get it out of the way before it counts during bar week.

You can make yourself better, or you can make yourself feel better by avoiding feedback.

Passing feels the best. So make yourself better by evaluating your weaknesses and strengths. Ask yourself questions that make you uncomfortable but improve your bar skills, such as…

  • Why did I get the question wrong? Why did I get it right?
  • How would I change my approach if I were to redo the question?
  • Actually redo it. Am I sure I learned something?

Your heart might sink in the moment, but realize that you’re getting valuable feedback. Ultimately, it makes your life easier down the line.

It reminds me of the times I spoke with my job interviewers for honest critiques. I found out exactly why they didn’t want me. It’s not always about the technical skills. Interesting!

It was embarrassing to hear someone tell me that he can’t see himself having a beer with me after work. It was embarrassing to drive for hours to interview and then hear that my reason for wanting to move to their city wasn’t good enough.

But I’ll trade my ego for useful intel any day. I found out that they weren’t right for me either. And maybe next time I won’t be such a “polished” interviewer.

As you continue to internalize the feedback you get, you’ll end up thanking yourself for the times you decided to accept truth and discomfort with open arms.

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”—Sigmund Freud

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