It is very easy to dismiss one impressive bar pass rate as a fluke. Even two in a row might possibly be dismissed. However, Florida International School of Law, ranked fifth among the 11 ABA-approved law schools in Florida, has enjoyed a bar pass rate, over the past six bar exams, that is first, first, first, second, first, and first in the state. In other words, we cannot even see the fluke line from where we are standing; instead, it’s time we recognize that FIU has found the bar pass secret sauce.
What is that secret sauce? It could not be simply having an academic support and/or bar pass program. Many U.S. law schools have implemented academic support and bar pass programs aimed at ensuring their students graduate and pass the bar exam on the first try. These programs have enjoyed varying degrees of success, but no law school has experienced anything close to the long-term, sustained success FIU has enjoyed.
The architect of FIU’s Bar Pass success, Professor Louis Schulze, has authored a law review article that provides some insight. The crux of Professor Schulze’s approach involves empowering law students by teaching them modern brain science principles and study strategies, convincing the students to implement those principles, and supporting their efforts to do so.
The full article is worth a read. Below, to whet your appetite for the full article, I detail three principles that animate Professor Schulze’s approach. For example, as Schulze explains, most students study incorrectly for their exams and for the bar exam. Instead of finishing one subject and moving onto the next, students could greatly improve their recall if they were to study and re-study (four times in all) their course material or bar subjects. The term of art is “spaced repetition.”
In fact, there is evidence that changing subjects and study methods every 45 minutes or so has a positive effect on recall (known as “interleaving learning”). (This insight is not from Professor Schulze’s article but is based on recent articles that I have concluded are credible enough to share with my students.)
Second, according to cognitive learning theory and studies confirming the validity of the theory, students store knowledge in organized structures in their brains. This insight explains why course outlining helps learning; however, this point also explains why flowcharting works as well as outlining, why course outlines that are simply lists of rules without hierarchy are not very useful, and why students really should be trained to avoid commercial or hand-me-down course outlines.
Third, students who self-regulate their learning, who take control over their learning process by planning how they will study each concept, who implement those plans while constantly monitoring their learning, and who frequently reflect on the success of their plans and adapt where necessary learn better.
In short, by teaching students to be expert students, FIU has helped its students successfully navigate the bar exam.