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Essential Tips for the June 2020 First-Year Law Students’ Online Exam

Are you looking for tips on how to tackle the June 2020 First-Year Law Students’ Exam (FYLSE) based on the Supreme Court of California’s April 27, 2020 news release announcing that the exam will take place online rather than in the traditional in-person format? We will provide you with tips  on how to approach the First-year Law Students’ Exam based upon the information about testing conditions that the State Bar of California sent to examinees on May 18, 2020. For your convenience, we have included the instructions to the examinees below (but we have omitted the form that must be acknowledged and returned to the Examiners no later than May 25, 2020, at 5 PM  Pacific Standard Time).

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What should examinees be mindful of regarding testing conditions?

Disclaimer: All examinees must read the entirety of the instructions carefully. Please do NOT  only rely on the provisions that JD Advising has highlighted. We are simply highlighting some of the rules because of the significant impact they will have on test day.

1) The exam must be taken on a laptop computer that has a functional internal webcam.

Make sure you have a laptop that has a functioning internal webcam. Examinees are NOT permitted to the exam on a desktop. The Examiners may require test takers to use their webcam and scan the entire room they are sitting in so that they can see whether the room is clear of prohibited items, people, and animals. Further, the internal webcam will be used for remote electronic monitoring throughout the entire test day. The State Bar of California takes cheating very seriously. As noted above, a violation of the testing code of conduct could result in “a zero for the flagged exam session, a zero for the entire exam and a negative impact on an applicant’s moral character determination.”

If an applicant does not have a laptop that meets these requirements or does not have reliable internet access, the Examiners may permit a limited amount of applicants to handwrite the exam at a designated location in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Applicants must consult with the Office of Admissions to make such arrangements. That being said, if you generally have not handwritten many exams during law school, we advise taking the test on a laptop.

Additionally, we suggest taking the exam on a laptop with a larger screen so that you can read the fact pattern and outline your answer comfortably, especially if the software permits a split-screen layout. Do NOT assume, however, that the testing software will include this format! You will have a better idea of the online testing environment when you download the testing software and complete any required mock exams.

2) Make sure that you have updated your operating system.

Even if you have a laptop with a functioning internal webcam, it is necessary to make sure that your operating system is up-to-date. As detailed above, the Examiners require all laptops to have Windows 10 or MacOs 10.13, 10.14 or 10.15. Take the time to make sure that you have upgraded your operating system as required rather than wait to do this at the last minute, when it is more likely for problems to arise (and also more stressful!).

3) If your internet disconnects or malfunctions, examinees will NOT be permitted to re-enter the exam session.

Because the risk of taking the exam online is placed upon examinees (even more so this June),  we strongly recommend that all applicants purchase an ethernet cable and the necessary adapters for their laptop to ensure that they have a more stable and reliable internet connection. Set it up and test it out as soon as possible.  If an applicant’s internet disconnects or malfunctions, they will not be allowed to re-enter the exam session (this could mean getting a significantly lower score on an essay or multiple-choice section, even a zero). We certainly do not want applicants to fall short of a passing score just because their internet connection peters out.

4) Examinees are NOT permitted to leave the view of the webcam except for permitted breaks.

Again, we cannot stress enough that the Examiners are taking any possible attempt at cheating very seriously. Once an exam session has begun, exam takers MUST remain in their seat at all times, unless they happen to finish the session early and upload their answers. Therefore, use all breaks wisely – that is the only time when applicants may leave the testing room to get a snack, beverage, or use the restroom.

5)  Make sure the room in which you choose to take the exam does NOT contain prohibited items or materials.

Examinees may be surprised to see that many items are not permitted in the testing room, including but not limited to watch, clocks, digital timers, books of any kind, scratch paper, food, beverages (including water and coffee), radios, stereos, etc. Further, no other individuals or animals may be in the room. Also, exam takers are not allowed  to have any outlines, notes, study materials, or cell phones in the room.

Thus, our tip for the First-Year Law Students’ Exam is to choose which room of your house or apartment you will use to take the exam as early as possible and take steps each day to make sure that your testing area conforms to the testing requirements. We do not recommend waiting until the last minute to do so because that can be very stressful, and an applicant may forget to remove a prohibited item from the room, which could result in a variety of sanctions, including but not limited to receiving a zero for the whole exam.

What should examinees be mindful of regarding the format of the exam?

1) The morning session will require examinees to complete four essays.

The First-Year Law Students’ Exam has always required examinees to write four essays, which test  Contracts and Sales, Criminal Law, and Torts. However, in the past, applicants wrote these essays in one four-hour block. Now exam takers will write an essay, upload their answers, and take a mandatory 15-minute break. What does this mean for examinees? Examinees cannot go back to a question that they wrote earlier, so it is necessary to become more comfortable writing  essays in the order that they appear. If you encounter a fact pattern you feel unsure of, our tip for the First-Year Law Students’ Exam is to see whether you feel more comfortable with the second or third call of the question and start there. The exam rarely requires utilizing your answer from an earlier sub-question to answer another one.

Further, the new format means the morning session will be longer because of the breaks—45 minutes longer, to be precise. While this may not seem like much of a difference, it can affect an exam taker’s stamina because it stretches out the test day. 

2) The afternoon session will require examinees to complete 100 multiple-choice questions.

The First-Year Law Students’ Exam has always required examinees to complete 100 multiple-choice questions, which test  Contracts and Sales, Criminal Law, and Torts. However, in the past, applicants completed these questions in one three-hour block. Now exam takers will complete 50 multiple-choice questions, upload their answers, and take a mandatory 15-minute break. Then they will complete the final 50 multiple-choice questions. Examinees cannot go back to the first 50-question set after that session has ended. Also, it means the afternoon session will be longer because of the break—15 minutes longer, to be precise. Again, while this may not seem like much of a difference, it can affect an exam taker’s stamina because it lengthens the test day.

How should examinees tweak their study habits to prepare for this online exam?

1) Know in which time zone you will be taking the test!

Because the exam will take place online, if you are living out-of-state or abroad, you still have to begin the test by at leas by 7:30 AM Pacific Standard Time on June 23, 2020.

Therefore, our tip for the First-Year Law Students’ Exam is to make sure you begin to alter your study times and take practice exams accordingly so that you are not affected by the time difference.

2) Practice at least 10 essays per subject in an online format.

Previously, Examinees received printed booklets with the four fact patterns. Now, all of these fact patterns will be online. Many students say that they find it harder to concentrate when looking at a computer screen, so it is imperative that applicants transition into this as soon as possible. Do not assume that you will be able to strikeout or highlight any information on the screen. Try to complete at least 10 essays per subjects under timed conditions to get used to this new format. Past essays and high-scoring student answers from 2012-2019 are available for free on the State Bar of California’s website. Do not assume that you will be able to copy and paste portions of the fact pattern into your answer! Type out any information you want to incorporate from the fact pattern (otherwise, you might encounter serious timing issues on the exam day!). And, always scroll through the fact pattern to see whether it continues onto a second page (this way, you won’t forget to answer any questions). 

3) Get used to digital scratch paper.

Yes, sadly, it is time to put away the pens, highlighters, and paper. As applicants are not permitted to use physical scratch paper on test day, we suggest you stop doing this now! Instead, as you practice an essay, you could, for example, open a blank Word document and take notes and make your outline.

4) Figure out how much time you need to read, outline, and type your answer.

We always recommend that students figure out all timing issues long before exam day. Because most people typically use physical scratch paper when taking the test, it may take a bit of time before you figure out your timing for an online exam. Try spending no longer than 10-15 minutes reading and outlining your answer, and the remaining 45-50 minutes writing your essay. Your outline can be brief and contain a list of issues you need to address for each call of the question.

 5) Practice all multiple-choice questions in an online format.

Previously, Examinees received printed booklets with the multiple-choice questions. Now, all of these fact patterns will be online. Many students say that they find it harder to concentrate when looking at a computer screen, so it is imperative that applicants transition into this as soon as possible. Do not assume that you will be able to strikeout, highlight, or dim any information within the fact pattern or the answer choices. As physical scratch paper is not permitted, open a blank Word document, for example, and take notes and practice diagramming. Do not rewrite the fact pattern, but be mindful of whether it is a criminal case or a civil case, who the parties are, what the cause of action is, whether any defenses are being raised. Also, develop shorthand for words that commonly appear in fact patterns to diagram faster. Please see our blog post for some common abbreviations, but feel free to add to it! Diagramming comes in especially handy for Contracts questions!

 If you are looking for some sources for online multiple-choice questions, there are several options including the JD Advising MBE Qbank. While it is geared more towards the bar exam, it includes questions for Contracts, Criminal Law, and Torts, which are similar to the multiple-choice questions on the First-Year Law Students’ Exam. The MBE Qbank contains real released questions from the National Conference of Bar Examiners. You can create custom practice sets by designated how many questions from each subject you want to practice.  The system will track your accuracy both overall and within each subject.  Explanations are provided for every answer choice. You also have the ability to make notes on the questions you complete.  You can sign up for a free trial to receive access to 100 simulated MBE questions!

6) Make sure to complete practice exams.

Taking a practice test may seem like an enormous task, but you do not have to complete the essay and multiple-choice portions on the same day. Instead, you can take smaller tests that consist of a portion of what an actual test would be. You may want to take several practice tests while you are studying for the exam to increase your performance and efficiency. For instance, each week, you may take a mini-test that incorporates a portion of the exam.  In one week, you can take a test of 25 multiple-choice questions.  During another week, you can take a test consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions.  Later, you can take a test composed of one or two timed essays and a set of 50-multiple choice questions. This way, you can gradually work up to what is required for a full-length exam.

 7) If you are not a fast typist, work on increasing your typing speed.

With the entire exam taking place online, it is more important than ever to feel comfortable with typing—and typing quickly. To that end, our final tip for the First-Year Law Students’ Exam it to practice typing. There are many free typing games available online. By focusing on this skill for just 20 minutes each day, you’ll be able to increase your words per minute and write a lengthier essay or diagram more quickly when you complete multiple-choice questions.

We hope that you found our tips for the First-Year Law Students’ online exam helpful. We wish you the best of luck on the exam!

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