Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Answer Is: Goat!

And the question is: "Are you one of the Commercial-Bar-Prep-Program "Sheep", or are you a Go-It-Alone, Self-Studying "Goat"?" 

A friend has created a blog for those of us who, for whatever reason, have decided to self-study for the CA Bar Exam.  Her blog is here: Be A Goat.  She has also written an excellent book about how to prepare for the exam on your own.  I'm going to use it to study for the February 2012 exam if I don't get positive news this November. 

The book details a very comprehensive method for going it alone.  As I read it, I saw many things that I did, and many more things I should have done, to make more effective use of the time I had to study.

Her approach covers how to make the best use of your time, the order in which you could/should study the subjects, a schedule you can modify and use to plan and track your study time, and suggestions for the best supplemental materials for each part of the exam.  All in all, it's a complete methodology for preparing for the CA bar exam.  It makes tons of sense, and it has the added benefit of saving you a lot of money because you won't be spending $5,000 or more on a commercial bar prep program. 

Plus, for every book that is sold to someone who clicks through from my blog, I get a few bucks!  I've resisted suggestions from my friends to commercialize my blog, (and this is not a first step in that process.)  But I'm happy to recommend something I've always wished for; a resource to help me organize an effective personal self-study bar prep program that I can adapt to my own unique requirements and limitations, and Jessica's book does that nicely.

The link above takes you to her blog, and this link takes you to a page where you can buy her book.  It's about $65, which is a bargain compared to the cost of a commercial bar prep program.  And it's damn cheap compared to the cost of all the other stand alone bar prep resources/books/flash-cards/outlines that address just one component of the exam. 

Anyway, I like her book and I'm going to use it for the next exam (if, like I said, I have to take it again.)



Mother Goat said...

GP - Thanks so much for spreading the word about the book! I worked really hard on the book and wanted to provide tons of value for people. I'm so glad that came through in the pages. But here's to hoping you'll never have to use it! I'm crossing my fingers for great news in November! Your friend, Mother Goat

Anonymous said...

Why is her blog anonymous? Not standing behind the product?

Mother Goat (aka Jessica Klein) said...

Dear Anonymous - I completely understand your concern :) Actually, my name is Jessica Klein, and you can easily search for me on the calbar website. My name is clearly printed on the cover of my book, and the only reason I don't have more info on my blog at this time is because I just haven't gotten around to updating my "about" page. When I started the Be A Goat blog I had never blogged before, so I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about sharing my identity with the entire world (still not sure it is a good idea!). Thus I went with anonymous to be on the safe side. But obviously I have decided to publish my book under my real name, so the cat is out of the bag. I am most assuredly NOT afraid to stand behind my book. I am very proud of it and know that it will be a tremendous help to many people, so I am more than happy to take the credit. Mother Goat

Anonymous said...

Mother Goat:

I can relate to this concern over privacy. So many folks are posting all their personal info all over the place, only to have some internet whack job harrass them and/or their family.

You are wise to be concerned as to the internet. Nowadays, people act like it is something to be ashamed of--to guard your privacy. The continual pat answer is: "I have nothing to hide." Wow, guess the founding fathers were just wasting time.

John Doe Attorney said...

Hey GP,

I hope this new study approach will help. Actually, I hope it won't be needed to help you because you passed the bar exam.

Mother Goat,
It's great to see people like you are trying to help others through this test. Not everybody can do the whole going to class 5 days a week grind.

p.s. Google suspended my original blog because their robots thought it was spam! I've created a new one for now but I requested them to restore the original.

The Grand Poobah said...

Anon 7:16: Did you take a look at the picture of the book? Did you not see her name written clearly across the bottom of the front cover?

What an odd comment, that was.

Anonymous said...

I thought this may be of interest to some...

It is different from all the other rantings because it is written by a
very irritated Law Professor.. It provokes quite a discussion...

Any way I know you are going to pass this time...

Getting cold over here in Michigan.

Anonymous said...

Self-studying really seems like a silly silly idea.

(1) You've invested all this $$ to get to the point to take bar, is $3k for barbri really a big deal? $3k for Barbri seems pretty cheap compared to taking the bar 10 time or so like GP.

(2) More importantly, by taking Barbri you become part of the curve. If something shows up in the exam that wasn't taught in barbri, very few people will get it. If barbri teaches something that you don't learn on your own and that shows up on the exam, you are screwed because 80% of the test-takers will get it right.

I get it that barbri isn't for everyone and I can see trying something differnet if you've already taken barbri and can't pass this thing. That said, you still need to know everything that is in the barbri lectures or you'll miss being part of the curve.

Mother Goat said...

I appreciate your comment Anonymous 8:29. I think you bring up some good points about the inherent differences of thought of going Barbri vs. self-study.

The first thing I'd like to point out is that self-studying is NOT for everybody. But if there's anything I'd like to change about the bar prep world is to let people know that there IS an alternative, and it is a truly viable alternative. I think anyone who reads my book will see that self-study doesn't have to equate to failure. Rather, it is a a truly comprehensive preparation option that, if you follow the program, will ensure you are as prepared for the bar exam as any other candidate. And in fact, probably more prepared than many of them.

As for your first point, I've heard the same sales pitch. I don't like it because it is a fear-based pitch - "you've already sunk more than $100k in school loans, what's another $3k? Better be safe than sorry." I agree that you don't want to have anything hold up your career at this point after you've made the huge educational investment, but I don't grant the premise that you'll be sorry (ie, fail) if you don't take Barbri. Besides, if you're thinking of spending that much on bar prep, wouldn't it actually be more fiscally responsible to spend $65 FIRST, to see if you really do need to spend thousands or if there's a better option for your situation?

The barbri instruction/curve point confuses me. Do you believe that Barbri and the board of bar examiners are one and the same? Barbri doesn't have a monopoly on the material that is on the bar exam. You can get instruction on all the bar subjects from many different places. In fact, I think people put too much faith in what barbri says as though if barbri says something won't be on the exam it won't, and vice versa. In July 2008, all my barbri friends were freaking out because there was an essay on a topic that barbri says never gets tested so not to bother studying it. All those people listened to them as if they were the ones who wrote the exam.

(cont. in next comment)

Mother Goat said...

(cont. from above comment)

Additionally, as far as preparing for the bar subjects goes, there are going to be major issues and minor issues. Everyone going into the exam should know the major issues down cold - self-studiers included. My approach makes sure you will know those major issues. So if people are missing anything, it will be a minor issue at most. But if you have done enough practice exams, you will have experience with many, many essays and will have hit on all the usual issues the bar exam tests. IF the bar tests a minor issue that has never been tested before (or at least not in a long time), then everyone is in the same boat. Those who can recall the rule and do a good analysis will get those points (only a few points mind you, because it will be a minor issue). Those who can't remember, and can't come up with a good analysis, won't get the points. Again, it has nothing to do with whether you took Barbri or not.

As for your point - "if you've already taken barbri and can't pass this thing" - it just goes to prove that barbri doesn't guarantee a pass. And how could it? When it comes down to it, passing is all about whether the student does what is necessary to prepare and other considerations such as whether they have poor writing habits that need to be corrected, etc. So since it comes down to your own effort (and good instruction), both of those can happen without barbri. I don't think anyone will argue that barbri does NOT have a good reputation for giving individualized instruction and helpful feedback. So if you need help with your writing, etc, you won't get it in the regular barbri class. I address these issues in my book and, more importantly, show people how to fix these problems and get help.

And no, no one wants to fail the exam over and over again. If that is what is happening, and the person is truly doing the requisite work to prepare, then there are some other issues. It could be writing issues, test anxiety, etc. But I find that a lot of time people fail because they try to study part time after a long day of work and truly just aren't giving themselves a fighting chance, OR they are doing things that really don't help them prepare for the exam, such as making outlines instead of taking practice exams. Each person is different and they will need to take a long, hard look at what they're doing. Hopefully they can get some good instruction and insight as to where they're going wrong. I address a number of issues in my book that should help people pinpoint preparation errors so they can be fixed.

Again, self-study isn't for everyone, but it could be a great option for a lot of people, not just people who don't have much time or money. And people are not going to be on the outside looking in if they don't take barbri. There are a number of helpful things in my book that you simply can't get at barbri, and I've had positive comments from people who took barbri and appreciate what I offer that barbri doesn't. If you're wondering about the self-study option, $65 is not very much $ to find out if it's right for you. Even if you decide not to go the self-study route, there is lots of helpful information, tips, and worksheets in my book that you can use no matter what course you take. So it's certainly not wasted money.

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Not sure you follow my point on the barbri curve.

The point isn't that barbri is colluding with bar examiners or has some special insight as to what will be on the test (even though they do have far more people studying bar exam trends than most).

The bar exam is a scaled test. In Cal, generally speaking between 60-70% will pass in the summer and 40-50% in the winter. My numbers might be a bit off, but the point still holds true that if the entire bar-taking universe misses an issue the entire test-taking population will not fail the question. (This is particularly true on the multi-state where barbri goes as far to tell people to answer "b" on question they don't know - which can result in a question that barbri didn't teach getting thrown out because too many people chose the wrong answer).

So here's the outcomes that can happen:

You take barbri / what they taught is on the test --> You are part of the big curve that are all writing answers the same way. You shoot right to the mean if you have the intellect.

You take barbri / what they taught is not on the test --> You have to bs an answer, but the good news is so does the other 80% that took barbri (maybe 10% of those who took barbri knew the answer from law school or did some extra barbri reading - point still holders). You are no worse off. Since 80% of the testing population is bs'ing an answer, the curve will adjust accordingly (50+% of the testing population won't fail a question if everyone is messing up or missing the same issue).

You don't take barbri / what barbri teaches is not on the test --> Maybe you got lucky and learned the subject on your own, but most likely you bs'ing an answer like everyone else so you are no better off.

You don't take barbri / what barbri teaches is on the test --> You probably learned it on your own, and are maybe at a little disadvantage because you are conveying what you know differently than 80% of the people taking the test. However, if you didn't learn it or otherwise say it in a manner materially differently from barbri (when 80% of people are defining a three part test the same way; any little difference can be perceived as incorrect) you are screwed because you are missing points that 80% of the people will get.

The general point is that you just want to be in the big bell curve when taking the bar exam. Of course you can end up doing fine on the bar exam if you learned everything that the barbri folks learned, but it is a riskier proposition because of the size of the barbri population.

Know what everyone knows (what's in the barbri lectures) and how to write an exam the barbri way and you automatically become an average bar taker, which is generally enough to pass if you have the intellect.

I think the bigger problem for your business model is that realistically firms reimburse for bar exam courses so it isn't like barbri dollars are coming out of students pockets.

If you want to study on your own, that's fine. I am a transplant and looked into getting a private tutor to supplement barbri, but you better know everything that is in the barbri lectures (my tutor said the same thing) and better be pretty confident in the advice you are getting in how to answer questions if you are departing from the barbri curve because your answer will be different, and different to a bar exam grader who is spending probably 2 minutes issue spotting an essay very easily equates to wrong.

Mother Goat said...

You are making things WAAAAAAAAY more complicated than it really is.

Each essay tests certain issues and each issue is assigned a certain number of points. Get the issue and do a proper analysis = points for that issue. It DOES NOT MATTER if you learned the rule/analysis with barbri or otherwise. And IT DOES NOT MATTER if 80% of test takers miss the issue. The bar graders aren't going to just throw it out and say it doesn't matter because barbri didn't adequately prepare their students to spot the issue and address it properly.

Now let's put your complicated analysis into perspective. Each essay is worth 6.5% of your entire score. Each issue within the essay (especially the minor ones) are worth even less. So let's say you miss 5 points (a minor issue) on 1 essay...... you do the math. That will not cause you fail the entire exam, regardless of what barbri students are doing.

Your point about not sounding exactly like all the other barbri students isn't any better. The ONLY way a bar grader might notice this is by the choice of wording in rule statements. The analysis, which is where most of the points are, is going to vary from person to person anyway. You get points for doing a good analysis, including the issue, etc. Again, this isn't something barbri has a monopoly on.

Besides, I don't know where you get your unstated assumption that self-studiers are going to come up with off-the-wall rule statements such that they are going to stick out like sore thumbs to the bar grader. Or that their essay answers in general are going to stick out because they haven't learned how to answer questions. The bar examiners dictate how bar answers should be written by their instructions on the front of the questions. Not barbri. It is no secret. And self-studiers can learn how to write the answers that the bar examiners want to see just as well as any barbri student.

The reason that you've heard you need to know what's in the barbri lectures is simply because the barbri lectures cover the law that is tested on the bar exam. It's as simple as that. Like I said in my above post, you can get that many other places. Barbri doesn't teach some magical bar exam law that no one else can find out about.

If you actually have read what's in my book you would understand why all your concerns are either non-issues or aren't nearly as important as you think they are. What if instead of looking up all those statistics, or listening to people impress you with them, you spent your time doing practice essays, MBEs and PTs? Since you're not going to be asked to list bar exam statistics on the exam, it would behoove you to not waste your time on things that get you no points on the exam.

But I think you should definitely take barbri because it clearly makes you feel safer and you seem to be impressed and convinced by the fear-based sales tactic which makes students feel like it's very dangerous not to take barbri.

By the way, you needn't be worried about my business model. Just stay focused on building barbri's business model for them.

Good luck on the exam!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous I agree with you 100%

All the people I know who graduate in 2008 & 2009 used the Barbri course to study, every single one of them, passed the Bar Exam in the different States that they took the exam in, on their first try..
We were all able to move into our jobs that were waiting for us after our swearing in..

What you stated is a known fact..If it was not on Barbri do not worry... If it was.. You better know it..

Anonymous said...

This blog is now a contest between someone selling a self study guide and agents for BarBri. It is no longer the sympathetic stuggle of one person to pass the California Bar Exam. It is rapidly losing its credibility and interest.

Mother Goat said...

Anonymous 7:44 - you're absolutely right and I definitely didn't intend to have that effect with my comments. I certainly don't want to negatively impact GP's blog, so I'm not going to post any more comments about self-study here. If people are interested in self-study, how to do it, etc., then I would be more than happy to share my knowledge on my blog and engage in further discussion there. And I'm happy to hear from people who have contradictory opinions, too :)

The Grand Poobah said...

Anon 7:44: Take a chill pill, please. One day's worth of comments on a single subject does not a trend make.

Anonymous said...

Mother Goat -

It is not complicated at all. We disagree one basic premise - what happens if 80% of the test miss a major issue.

You believe that 80% of the exam will fail the question. That is just wrong and mathematically impossible given the grading system.

My premise is very simple - being part of the mean by learning what barbri has to teach you is a safer way to go.

Can you pass if you don't take barbri. Sure. It is a riskier proposition though to deviate from the mean.

The Grand Poobah said...

Anon 11:28: Everyone who graduates from law school knows enough law to pass the bar exam. The challenge for most people is the transition from the style of writing required to get a passing grade in law school and the style of writing required to get a passing grade on the bar exam.

My personal opinion is that recent law school grads only need to learn to change their writing style to pass the bar exam. This, of course, begs the question, "If that's so, how come you haven't passed the bar exam yet, GP?" The answer to that question, for me, is long and convoluted, and involves too much personal information to go into here. However, if I knew then (back when I graduated), what I know now, I would have done things in a completely different way. I certainly would not have spent so much money on commercial bar prep programs.

Having said all that, I will add that many people need those large programs for organization and the motivational support required to properly prepare for the exam.

For the others who don't need such a structured program, or who are short of funds or large blocks of free time, Jessica's book is a great option.

Again, my intent is not to turn this blog into an advertising arm of Jessica's vast global commercial marketing machine, but I hope that someone who has read the book would post their opinion of it here. Alternatively, they could post it where it would do the most good, on Jessica's blog!


Julia said...

I don't understand people who pay $100k for law school, don't want to fork out at least 20 percent of that to pass the bar.

My bar program was nearly $10k, worth every dime.

The Grand Poobah said...

Hey Julia,

Agreed. Unless, of course, someone doesn't have another $10k to invest in a bar prep program. The expensive commercial programs are great if the funds are available. But if someone doesn't have the financial resources, a good self-study plan is the only option.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Grand Poobah said...

Sorry, but I haven't the patience to deal with idiots right now.

Floridabartaker said...

I am of a mind that taking a bar review course is extremely helpful in order to pass the bar. Granted, I took the California bar way back in the late 90's, but I absolutely believe that the bar review courses I took helped me pass the test the first time.

The multi state lecture was great, hit on many points, taught the nuances needed to go through the 200 multiple choice questions, etc. The bar review course for the essay portion was informative, had most of the necessary material in convenient outline format, and basically provided a structured environment to study for the test.

Is it necessary to take one of these courses? Of course not. But I'm going to take the Florida bar next February, and I'm taking a bar review course once again. Note that I haven't practiced law since joining the bar almost 15 years ago, so I need a BIG refresher in the material.

Anonymous said...

I think self-study works fine for those who are self-motivated, but I firmly believe that buying a guide on how to self-study is a waste of money. The kind of people who can successfully self-study aren't the kind who need a book on it. In fact, I would say anyone who is really unsure of how to go about self-studying are exactly the people who really should take a course instead.

That being said, the bar exam is a big deal and studying for it is very stressful. If spending money on a course or a guide book helps you sleep better at night, then spend the money. You'll need your rest for the exam.