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Recent results released by the California State Bar Association for the October 2015 administration of the First Year Law Students’ Exam (FYLSE) show that 87.5% of first time takers passed the exam. Of all exam takers, 66.6% passed. Also, 25% of repeaters passed. The overall cumulative bar pass rate for St. Francis on the FYLSE is 65.8% over the life of the program. These results show what a high-quality, well-run online law school can accomplish.

First year law students studying in California

One difference between St. Francis School of Law and some other online Juris Doctor programs is the preparation course for the First Year Law Students’ Exam (FYLSE) that is included in the St. Francis curriculum. The California State Bar has authorized law schools to offer bar review courses for credit; not all online law schools do so. At St. Francis, students do not need to take a commercial preparation course for the First Year Law Students’ Exam. As one student put it, “The prep class, along with diligent self-study, prepared me well for the exam.”

The First Year Law Students Exam is administered by the State Bar of California twice a year. Students take the exam at the end of their first year of law study. The one-day exam requires students to write four legal essays and answer 100 multiple choice questions. The exam tests students’ knowledge of the three subjects taught in the first year of law school: contracts, torts and criminal law.

FYLSE preparation activities at St. Francis include an optional series of weekly essay writing workshops and a mandatory FYLSE Preparation course. In the workshop series, taught by Professor Karen Travis, students practiced writing legal essays, while working on their legal analysis of hypothetical fact patterns in the process. All students received detailed feedback on their essays. Students who participated in the workshops thought that this was a great way to begin preparation for the exam. The workshops functioned as a diagnostic tool that enabled students to determine the doctrine that needed review.

Following the workshops, students began the FYLSE Prep class. Professor Karen Travis taught the torts and contracts sections and Professor Ryann Jorban and Dean Carole J. Buckner taught the criminal law sections of the course. Students wrote legal essays, then discussed and analyzed them during class. Again, students received feedback on their writing in terms of content, substance, and format. Students also practiced answering the type of multiple choice questions included on the FYLSE.

According to students and their professors, the most effective exercises in the FYLSE Preparation course are three simulated or mock FYLSE exams that students took. These ‘dress rehearsals’ allowed students the opportunity to work on their test taking techniques and to develop the physical and mental stamina required to succeed in the long day of testing. As one student noted, “Having run a few marathons…, prepping with long runs gives you the confidence to go the distance, so that race day is just another run… When I hear other classmates say the exam seemed ‘easier’ than expected, my interpretation is that… we did so much preparation and simulation in advance that the actual exam, while challenging, wasn’t unexpected. The best surprise is no surprise.”

Recent results reflect the high quality of the students enrolled at St. Francis School of Law and the effectiveness of the curriculum in the St. Francis JD program. On behalf of the faculty and administration, congratulations to all of our passing students, who now are one step closer to earning their Juris Doctor degrees.