Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date



educational psychology and metacognition, teaching methods, study methods


"Bar examination pass rates are plummeting. Many laws schools are searching urgently for some way to stem the tide of decline. Silver bullet cure-alls are attractive, all too often adopted, and almost never fruitful. So what should schools do?


"The right questions do not focus on what we can do to change results but on what students can do for themselves. Although scholars have rightly focused on how to change curricula and pedagogy to meet the current crisis, there is far less research on changing what students do instead of what law schools do. My claim in this Essay is that proposals to change law schools, while certainly significant, tend to overlook the important fact that most students learn and study wrong; fixing that ailment is where the academy should focus its attention.


This Essay will detail how to begin to make that happen. Using the example of recent successful efforts at Florida International University College of Law ('FIU Law;), this piece will detail some of the cognitive science and educational psychology methods that build better learners. Part Two discusses FIU Law’s recent approach of expressly teaching cognitive science and educational psychology concepts to law students. Part Two also briefly discusses the successes our students have achieved in the wake of those changes -- earning the top bar exam pass rate in Florida in five of the last six exams. Part Three then details the theories of cognitive science and educational psychology that facilitate more optimal learning: metacognition and self-regulated learning; retrieval practice; spaced repetition; and cognitive schema. Part Four then constructs a broader picture of these methods, noting how to leverage specific study methods that lead to better learning for law school, the bar exam, and a life of practicing law.