How to Study For the Bar Exam and Select a Bar Review Course
Before you graduate, your dean of students, a professor, or common sense will tell you that the bar exam is a test not to be taken lightly, that you need to take your bar exam preparation seriously. But until you are immersed into the depths of sample bar exam essays and practice questions, it is very difficult to truly fathom how challenging and all-consuming the bar examination can be.
Generally speaking, studying successfully for the MBE and your state bar examination is an immersion process; it requires dedication, focus, and time-management. It entails more than what you are accustomed to from law school, where merely showing up for class (while IMing your classmates or playing on facebook) can still get you an “A”. Attending a daily bar review class or participating in a structured online bar preparation course, memorizing the bar review materials, and taking practice bar exams is just a starting point. The hardest part of studying is figuring out the best approach that will allow you to study the most effectively and tailoring your study habits to retain loads of information in a short period of time. You have to balance an increased work load with the necessity of eating healthy and exercising.
This article will give upcoming bar-exam candidates constructive tips that other law students have found useful when studying for the bar exam. The most important thing you can do is honestly assess your studying style during law school, draw-upon positive habits and be disciplined enough to eliminate the negative, before embarking on your studying marathon that summer. Remember, you want this to be a one-time deal and its never too early to start preparing.
(1) For 1Ls and 2Ls: Prepare During Law School
It is never too early to start preparing for the bar exam during your law school career. Many law students regret not taking more bar classes during law school. Some law students even actively avoid bar-related classes because they assume they will just learn the subjects needed during the formal bar-review course. What they fail to realize is that its not easy learning subjects like wills, trusts and estates in the one or two days your bar prep course will likely tackle that subject. Your law school probably does not require that you take every bar subject as a graduation requirement, and it is certainly possible to pass the bar exam if you avoid taking these subjects. But studying a bar subject for the second time, by definition, makes it more familiar. Bottom line: it is going to be easier on you when you begin to study a topic with which you already have a foundation.
We suggest you consider signing up for the following classes during law school:
Commercial Sales (UCC Article 2)
Constitutional Law I and II (a First Amendment class would be helpful)
Criminal Law (most law students we polled report this subject as being particularly easy to learn during bar review)
State Subjects (will vary depending on your state, but will usually cover such subjects as):
Trust and Estates
State Civil Procedure
State Constitutional Law
State Criminal Procedure
Business Associations | Corporations
(2) The Bar Review Course
So you’re thinking: “I’m not a 1L or 2L. I’m a 3L about to graduate. I need a plan of attack now!” We believe that taking a Bar Review class is fundamental to your summer study plan. Some choose not to do so, but if you’re reading this article, you’re probably not one of them. There’s bar/bri and PMBR (who have been around for a long time and have helped many law students pass the bar exam). But also consider the many competitors to the traditional Bar/Bri and PMBR, which students are finding very helpful and effective. MicroMash, Supreme Bar Review, and AdaptiBar are such examples. Do some research, because everyone learns differently. One course’s methods of teaching bar subjects may be more effective than others.
(2)(a) For those who intend to stay with the conventional lecture-style bar review courses (Bar/Bri, PMBR, Kaplan):
If you decide to do Bar/Bri and PMBR, attend every class and be in the moment. This sounds simple. But many students are tempted to log on the internet and check email. Stay focused because, literally, each minute during the summer is crucial and it is important to maximize your time while in class. Make sure to get to the classes promptly, because they start on the dot at 9:00a.m. (may differ from city to city) and, as they are videotaped, the teacher waits for nobody! Be aware that, in the larger law schools, there will be a ‘live’ room and everyone else will be forced into alternative rooms where you will watch the lesson on a video feed. So if you think there is a benefit to seeing the bar-review professor in the flesh, rather than on the a screen, make sure you get to your class extra early.
It is highly suggested that you not be shy about utilizing the BarBri and PMPR ‘Telephone Help Desk’ call in features for any substantive questions you may have regarding the material. Bar review topics do get confusing, especially when you start comparing federal law to state-specific laws on a certain subject (e.g. evidence). Also, it is nearly impossible to ask any questions during the actual class (or impossible if you attend the video).
Note: Kaplan only recently started their lecture-style bar review course to compete with Bar/Bri. We have had several reports, from the July 2009 bar exam, that Kaplan materials had errors and that the practice questions were, in their opinion, inadequate. It seems that they are working out the kinks. DISCLAIMER – this is not the author’s opinion.
(2)(b) For those who intend to take online courses (Adaptibar, MicroMash, etc…):
Convenience is a double-edged sword. Some law students may not have the discipline necessary to get out of bed early in the morning with the lure of a few more hours of sleep and the knowledge that they can begin learning any time during the day (rather than a set time every morning) or may be tempted to take a day off and double up the following day. If choosing an internet or DVD bar-review course, set the alarm clock and stick with the program!
The great benefit to online bar review is the ability to tackle sub-categories of difficult subjects head on. For example, when studying for the bar utilizing a lecture/book style course, you will only see a certain number of double-hearsay-related evidence questions and only every so often. If that particular sub-category of evidence is causing you trouble, the BEST way to deal with it is to (a) review the course material, and then (b) do as many practice questions as it takes to get 10 double-hearsay questions (in a row) correct. Most online courses will identify your particular trouble areas for you and provide this highly beneficial, and in the author’s opinion more efficient and less stressful, method of making sure you have a firm grasp on every bar subject.
(3) Do Practice Questions and Sample Essays
At the beginning of your bar review, it would not be atypical for bar-studying to take 10-12 hours per day. As you get closer to the bar exam, you will find yourself up numerous nights where you will realize that you’ve been at it for 14 hours – literally studying from sunrise to sunset with quick breaks just to eat and hopefully shower!
Remember, there are only so many questions the bar exam can throw at you. The more you practice (essays and questions) the more you “learn the formula.”
The practice questions are thought-provoking, yet tricky. It is imperative that you do at least 50 questions thoroughly, on a daily basis. Part of succeeding on the exam is picking the “least wrong” answer from the four “wrong” answer choices by utilizing process of elimination techniques.
There is something special about writing. A really helpful trick is to make sure you do not neglect the essays. Aim to do at least 1 essay per night from the very first day of studying for the bar examination, and increase the number essays as the bar exam approaches and your study-routine improves. Do not passively read the answers to the Sample Essay Answers. Make a running outline, by topic, of the frequently tested areas and then study that outline. This helps for both the essays (obviously) and multiple choice questions as well.
Another source of bar-exam failure are those recent law graduates who work while studying for the bar exam. Personal finances are always a concern. But if at all possible, the author highly recommends not working while studying for the bar exam.
While seemingly hypocritical, the author also urges you to maintain some quality of life. While partying is most certainly out of the question for the two months or so that you will dedicate to bar studying – grabbing a beer (singular) once a week wont hurt you. Limiting your alcohol (and, of course, drug) intake is important. Exercising regularly is a must. Taking an hour break to walk, jog or lift light weights can be invigorating and will most definitely help the studying process. Sleep is also important. Studies show your brain needs adequate sleep to best process that barrage of information you will be learning, understanding and memorizing each day.
The Bar will be a very stressful time in your law school career. The goal is to make sure it avoids becoming traumatic. It is hard to comprehend how challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally it is until you actually experience it yourself. But remember – try and keep the exam in perspective and if worse comes to worse, you can take the exam again. Look at these highly successful and powerful individuals who have attempted the Bar and failed… but have not failed in life: 1) John F. Kennedy (failed 3 times), 2) Florida Governor Charlie Crist (failed two times), 3) Democrat Kevin A. Callahan (failed 10 times), and 4) New York Senator Hillary Clinton (failed D.C. bar 1 time).
The author sincerely believes that if you are smart enough to get into law school and graduate, you are smart enough to pass your state bar exam. All it takes is two months of dedication. It really is a hazing process. But, you’re not alone and, once you pass, you will look upon your bar studying time fondly – albeit many years later. GOOD LUCK