Monday, June 16, 2008

Open Letter to Barbri

Dear Barbri,

I am dissatisfied. I am dissatisfied with most of your product. I shelled out the couple of thousand for your bar review course for a couple of specific things: 1) the materials (books, cd/dvd, lectures), 2) the services ("grading" of practice essays and a simulated practice exam), and 3) your schedule. Allow me to illustrate why I am dissatisfied.

First, for being a gigantically, fear-instilling box of materials, they are, well, a little light on some of the most important parts. Out of the thousands and thousands of pages that you sent, maybe 200, if I'm feeling really generous maybe 300 pages are actually specific to my state. They are shoved at the beginning of my conviser, usually with no rhyme or reason as to where it goes in the big or conviser version of the main outlines. You rarely show us "hey, dummy, this is what is different!" This is what I needed from you. I learned the federal and majority rules and odd minority rules in law school; what I was expecting from you was help with my specific state's laws since you know, I am after all taking MY STATE'S bar! However, at this point, I do realize that however paltry your assistance is for my own state law, it is surely much better than I could have gathered on my own over the course of the summer.

The essays are maddening. The conflicting instructions from my essay lecturer to many of the comments given by the content lecturers are irritating. Should I or should I not argue both sides?

The lecturers. Hmm. Many of them are excellent. Some of them are less so. And a few are down right obnoxious. (Of course, maybe I wouldn't find them as obnoxious if the guy you hired to push the DVD in the player and click play wasn't hard of hearing and we didn't have to listen to the damn lectures at top decibel until our ears ring.) Almost all of the workbook fill-in-the-blank materials are great. In fact, I think the 4 lectures I had without that were the worst and bespeaks laziness on the part of whoever was responsible for creating them (which I have gathered is the lecturer).

Second, the services are half-assed. As I look at it, other than the "materials," you have said that you will grade my essays and practice test, provide proctors for the lectures, and a local attorney available to answer our local questions. It is not extraordinarily helpful for me to get the same grade again and again (which all my friends get as well, coincidence? I think not) that basically tell me, great writing, great organization, but the law is wrong. No kidding. The law is wrong? The law that YOU told me not to memorize yet??? Shocking result. And could we get a couple of proctors who, I don't know, do anything other than press play and volume up? I went to the night lecture a couple of times when I had conflicts, and I could kiss that proctor. He puts on the board at the get go: "This lecture is x minutes long." I like that because even if it's awful, I know BEFORE to call kiddie backup or can just mentally prepare myself for a nastily long haul. He also puts up a reminder of when the next essay is due or if something has come back. He's useful. He's not just taking up space, and his hearing, happily is better than his day time compadres. Now, I could harp on the local attorney thing, especially his particularly awful lecture on essays (all stuff you should have learned in high school), but I'll just highlight the main problem: coming in once a week (or more like every 9 or 10 days) for 15 minutes right before the morning lecture = less useful.

Third, the lectures run too long without warnings (and sometimes appropriate breaks) and the self-paced schedule is ridiculous in light of the goals YOU told us when we started.

When the lectures last more than the 3.5 hours listed on the schedule. We need to know about it--in advance. Why do I separate this out? Because it is not the lecturers' fault that you marked ONE SINGLE day on my calendar notifying me that we were going to go an extra half an hour. People have outside commitments: whether child care, work, or countless other obligations. If I'm told that the lectures will end everyday by 12:30, except for the one time noted on my calendar that will go until 1:00, then I PLAN MY LIFE accordingly. It has been exasperating to have lecture after lecture go anywhere between 15-45 minutes over the scheduled time. And in an effort to make up time, some of the longest lectures (I'm looking at YOU evidence) make the breaks only after much longer intervals than normal. This is hard stuff. A normal person only has so much room in his head and attention span to fill that space. It's no good to have the wiggles for 20 minutes at a time as the lecturer goes over and a student thinking: hope my babysitter can stay a little longer, or hope the partner will understand that I'm late, or dammit I have to pee! Now, I understand that because you retape new lectures every year (which I am grateful for) makes it impossible for you to know when you make up the initial schedules how long the time is going to run. But would it kill you to have a place on the web site that we could check for updates? Then those of us with other commitments could continue to plan our lives around you, but with far more accuracy.

And last, but certainly not least, and currently most dear to my heart, your self-paced program is unrealistic and fairly demoralizing. You should build a one day break in every week. People would perform better if they had a chance to rest. Or even use it as a chance to catch up. My biggest problem with the self-paced program is that it starts to feel like a bunch of meaningless exercises. You told us not to worry about memorizing right now. To be a robot and just follow the schedule, that July is the time for memorizing. And I get that to a certain extent. But writing essay after essay that tests me on the exception to an exception to the rule? It's just demoralizing. And panic-inducing. Maybe that's what you want: if everyone panics then they will try harder to be superman and keep your schedule. But, I'm telling you, it's a waste of time. Instead of coming to the exact opposite conclusion and spending a full 30 minutes articulating carefully the rules and the reasons why... only to discover it's some obscure rule that I read in the big outline and wasn't mentioned in the lecture and therefore not reviewable when I reviewed my lecture notes. I understand that those kinds of questions are fair game on the bar. But perhaps, for every one's sanity (not to mention making the grading a wee-bit more worth the time), how about assigning us the constitutional law question that talks about ANYTHING we covered in the lecture instead of some weird criminal law point on ineffective assistance of counsel and appeals. After all, I thought the point of the essays now was to get us used to the funky faux IRAC for the bar . . . and NOT to memorize and therefore be able to regurgitate the right answer to weird questions.


Yayarolly, one dissatisfied customer

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