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How to Study For the Bar Exam and Select a Bar Review Course
Before you graduate, your dean of students, a professor, or general knowledge will tell you that the bar exam is not to be taken lightly, that you need to take your bar exam preparation seriously. But until you dive deep into sample bar exam essays and practice questions, it’s hard to truly understand how challenging and all-consuming the bar exam can be.
Generally speaking, successfully studying for the MBE and your state bar exam is an immersive process; It requires dedication, focus, and time-management. It involves more than you’re used to from law school, where just 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 bar review materials, and taking practice bar exams is just a starting point. The hardest part of studying is finding the best method that allows you to study most effectively and adapt your study habits to retain the information load in a short period of time. You need to balance the increased work load with the need for healthy eating and exercise.
This article will give upcoming bar-exam candidates creative 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 study style during law school, pick up positive habits and be disciplined enough to eliminate negative ones, before embarking on your study marathon that summer. Remember, you want this to be a one-time deal and it’s never too early to start preparing.
(1) For 1Ls and 2Ls: Prepare during law school
It’s 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 actively avoid bar-related classes because they assume they will only learn essential topics during a formal bar-review course. What they fail to realize is that in a day or two your bar prep course will likely address that topic, not easy-to-learn topics like wills, trusts, and estates. Your law school does not require you to 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 a second time, by definition, makes it more familiar. Bottom line: It’s going to be easier for you when you start studying a subject with which you already have a foundation.
We recommend that you consider signing up for the following classes during law school:
Commercial Sales (UCC Article 2)
Constitutional Law I and II (First Amendment class will be useful)
Criminal Law (most law students we surveyed report this subject as being easy to learn during bar review)
State subjects (Will vary depending on your state, but generally includes topics such as):
Trusts and Estates
State Civil Procedure
State constitutional law
State Criminal Procedure
Trade Association | Corporations
(2) Bar review course
So you’re thinking: “I’m not a 1L or a 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, but if you’re reading this article, you’re probably not one of them. There are Bar/Bri and PMBR (which have been around for a long time and have helped many law students clear the bar exam). But also consider the many competitors of traditional Bar/Bri and PMBR, which students are finding more helpful and effective. MicroMash, Supreme Bar Review, and AdaptiBar are such examples. Do some research, because everyone learns differently. One curriculum’s methods of teaching bar subjects may be more effective than others.
(2) (a) For those wishing to remain in traditional lecture-style bar review courses (Bar/Br, PMBR, Kaplan):
If you decide to do Bar/Bri and PMBR, attend every class and be in the moment. It sounds simple. But many students are tempted to log on to the Internet and check email. Stay focused because, literally, every minute counts during the summer and it’s important to maximize your time while in class. Make sure to get to classes early, as they start at 9:00 am on the dot. (May vary from city to city) And, as they are videotaped, the teacher does not wait for anyone! Be aware, in large law schools, there will be a ‘live’ room and everyone else will be forced into alternate rooms where you will watch the lecture on a video feed. So if you think there’s an advantage to seeing a bar-reviewed professor in person rather than on a screen, make sure you get to your class extra early.
It is highly suggested that you do not hesitate to call the BarBri and PMPR ‘Telephone Help Desk’ at the facilities for any substantive queries you may have regarding the material. Bar review topics are confusing, especially when you start comparing federal law with state-specific laws on a certain topic (such as evidence). Also, it’s almost impossible to ask any questions during the actual class (or impossible if you attend on video).
Note: Kaplan has recently launched its own lecture-style bar review course to compete with Bar/Brie. We have received several reports from the July 2009 bar exam that the Kaplan materials contained errors and that the practice questions were inadequate in their opinion. It looks like they are working out the kinks. Disclaimer – This is not the opinion of the author.
(2) (b) For those who want to take online courses (Adaptibar, MicroMash, etc…):
Convenience is a double-edged sword. Some law students may not have the discipline to get out of bed early in the morning with the temptation to get a few hours of sleep and the knowledge that they can start studying at any time of the day (instead of a set time each morning). Or it can be tempting to take one day off and double up the next. If choosing an Internet or DVD bar-review course, set an alarm clock and stick with the program!
A big advantage to online bar review is the ability to memorize subcategories of difficult topics. For example, when studying for the bar using a lecture/book style course, you’ll only see a certain number of double-hearsay-related evidence questions, and only each time. If that particular subcategory of evidence is giving 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 you can to get 10 double-hearsay questions. (in a row) Correct. Most online courses identify your specific problem areas for you and provide this highly beneficial, and in the author’s opinion more efficient and less stressful, method of ensuring that you have a solid understanding of each bar topic.
(3) Do practice questions and sample essays
At the beginning of your bar review, it will not be unusual to spend 10-12 hours per day studying for the bar. As you approach the bar exam, you’ll find yourself having many nights where you feel like you’ve been there for 14 hours—literally studying from sunrise to sunset with only quick breaks to eat and 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 will “learn the formula.”
The practice questions are thought-provoking, but complex. It is imperative that you do at least 50 questions well on a daily basis. Part of passing the test is choosing the “least wrong” answer from the four “wrong” answer options using the process of elimination techniques.
There is something special about writing. A really useful trick is to make sure you don’t neglect the essay. Aim for at least 1 essay per night from the first day of studying for the bar exam, and increase the number of essays as the bar exam approaches and your study-routine improves. Do not passively read the answers to the sample essay answers. Make a subject-wise running outline of frequently tested areas and then study that outline. It also helps with both essays (obviously) and multiple choice questions.
Another source of bar-exam failure is those recent law graduates who work while studying for the bar exam. Personal finance is always a concern. But if possible, the author recommends not working while studying for the bar exam.
Hypocritical as it may seem, the author also urges you to maintain quality of life. While partying is definitely out of the question for two months or so you’ll be devoted to bar study – grabbing a beer (singular) once a week won’t hurt you. Limiting your alcohol (and, of course, drug) intake is important. Regular exercise is essential. Taking an hour break to walk, run or lift light weights can be energizing and definitely helps the study process. Sleep is also important. Studies show that your brain needs enough sleep to best process the barrage of information you learn, understand and remember every day.
The bar will be a very stressful time in your law school career. The goal is to make sure it doesn’t become painful. It’s hard to understand how challenging it is mentally, physically and emotionally until you actually experience it. But remember – try to keep the exam in perspective and if things go wrong, you can retake the exam. Check out these extremely successful and powerful people who have tried the bar and failed…but never failed at life: 1) John F. Kennedy (failed 3 times), 2) Florida Governor Charlie Crist (failed twice), 3) Democrat Kevin A. Callahan (failed 10 times), and 4) New York Senator Hillary Clinton (DC bar 1 time failed).
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. It only takes two months of dedication. This is really a hedging process. But, you’re not alone and, once you pass, you’ll look back fondly on your time studying the bar – albeit many years later. May luck be with you
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