St John’s LLM Summer Pre-Bar Prep Program

This summer we are excited to roll out our first-ever Summer LLM Pre-Bar Prep Program. This is a self-study program for St. John’s LLM students who are planning to take the bar exam in 2019, and it focuses on helping those students continue to improve language fluency as well as general and specific knowledge over the summer months.

The self-study curriculum will consist of:

1. An extensive reading program to build vocabulary, reading speed and fluency, and background knowledge.

  • Time is perhaps the biggest challenge for LLM students on the bar exam. It takes LLM students longer to read the questions and process the information. Additionally, vocabulary and background knowledge can be significant impediments to comprehension. e.g., A fact pattern that references American football. And the best way to “tackle” all three of these aspects is extensive reading, i.e., 1) reading a lot; 2) of texts that are easy to read (90% of vocabulary is familiar); and 3) and of texts that are enjoyable to read (because if it’s not enjoyable, then students don’t read a lot).
  • For our extensive reading program, we rely in a large part on Newsela, which contains a very large and constantly growing library of actual news articles and other texts, all re-written at 4 additional (and easier) levels. In other words, if an article is too difficult, you can simply choose an easier version to read. Or viewed from another perspective, there are tons of very easy-to-read and genuinely interesting texts which is fantastic for building reading speed and vocabulary. Additionally, Newsela has a trove of articles on law and American legal history and culture–all written at 5 different levels–including the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Brown v. Board of Ed, and Plessy v. Ferguson. All of this content, including the non-legal content, is great for building the kind of cultural and background knowledge that American students learn growing up and that professors and test makers assume students possess.
  • Additionally, each article (and each level of each article) has a 4-question quiz that can be used to check and see how well the student understood the article.
  • Drawing on this resource, we put together a collection of law-relevant content that students can choose articles from each week.
  • Using the tools provided via our Newsela account, we can easily track the students’ reading and quiz scores over the summer.

2. A book club, with online and in-person discussions led by Ashleigh Kashimawao, Director of the Office of Graduate Studies and a former public defender. This is to further build on reading speed, vocabulary, and background knowledge as well as incorporate oral discussion in a communal setting designed to help increase motivation. The book club will also create a point of contact during the summer months for students to be able to feel connected but also for us to keep a finger on the pulse of the students’ summer experience and get feedback on what’s working, what isn’t working, and what else might be helpful.

3. A legal writing practice program, with support from Prof. Kathryn Piper, involving sample bar-style MPT questions which students can submit to us. The goal is to get the students comfortable with the form of the questions and the structure of the process they will use in answering the questions. We chose to focus on MPT-style questions because no specific topical knowledge is needed, and it can help students start building awareness of gaps they need to fill in their reading and writing process.

4. An English grammar program, based on the Elements of Success grammar for academic English series by Anne Ediger (my professor from my MA TESOL program), Linda Lee, Randee Falk, and Mari Vargo. Students have the option of selecting topics of their choice based on their perceived needs and interests. Topics include:

  1. Reporting Ideas
  2. Expanding and Condensing Information
  3. Softening and Strengthening Statements
  4. Adverb Clauses (e.g., subordinated clauses)
  5. Determiners
  6. Noun Phrases (much of academic writing is noun phrases connected with linking verbs)
  7. Noun Clauses
  8. Adjective Clauses (i.e., relative clauses)
  9. Gerunds & To- Infinitives

We look forward to an additional post at the end of the summer to share reactions and reflections on this program.

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