I am an Associate Professor at CUNY School of Law, and I co-direct the bar support programs. I've helped many students pass the bar exam. I'm hoping to share some of what I've learned through that process, and help give you the confidence that you, too, can pass the bar exam. I also want you to know that the struggle will be worth it in the end.
Congratulations and thank you! Congratulations on getting through the longest bar season ever! We’re used to long hard summers that lead into tough fall semesters. But, having to continue to support all of our bar studiers while welcoming 1Ls and teaching our other courses took things to a whole new level this year. We also had to respond to the increased emotional, physical, and financial needs of our bar takers while trying to figure out how to navigate our own lives in a COVID-19 world. It hasn’t been easy.
Yet, despite all that we were dealing with, the kindness and support that the academic support community showed one another was unparalleled. Thank you to all ASPers for the work that you do, and your unwavering support of your colleagues across the country. I feel extremely grateful to by part of this community. I have learned so much from so many of you, and have grown as a teacher because of every interaction I have with one of you.
I know the the bar ending has come just in time to help students prep for midterms, and February feels like it’s just around the corner. But, take a moment – or even a whole weekend! – to recognize how much you have done over the past several months and to celebrate you. The legal profession and the legal academy are so much better because of you.
Congratulations to everyone who took the bar this week. You did it! You got through the most grueling and horrendous bar season in history. You pushed through and you took the exam. You should be very proud of yourself!
Give yourself a chance to rest and to celebrate. You are amazing!
You may not be sleeping very well at this point. The bar exam is only a few days away and you may not have the healthiest routine. That’s ok, but now is the time to try to get yourself ready for exam day.
If you’ve been staying up late studying and sleeping late, try to get yourself on your bar exam day schedule. Gradually begin to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier so that your body gets used to it.
You will probably not sleep well the night before the bar exam. That’s ok, but it can be disastrous if you also haven’t slept for several days before. Sleep is not only important for focus, it actually aides in memory retention as well.
Now is not the time to burn the midnight oil. Now is the time to move yourself into a regular sleep pattern so you can be fresh for exam day.
I’ve heard from a lot of people in the past day or so who are very concerned because their practice MBE scores are going down. Unfortunately, this is very common. It does not mean that you are forgetting everything, or that you are going to fail the bar. It happens to plenty of people, and they go on to pass.
There are a number of potential reasons for this decline, but the important things to remember are 1) you’re in good company, and 2) you’re still going to pass the bar.
Keep pushing forward. Try switching the source of your MBE questions. Try focusing on essays. You want to see as many fact patterns as possible, so read through several essays every day, issue spot, and read the model answer. You can even copy down the model answer if that helps you learn.
Be active. Don’t just read and re-read your outlines. Talk, write, test yourself.
You’ve only got two weeks left. Don’t try to master everything in a subject before moving on. You’re better off seeing everything more times, than spending 3 days on contracts/sales and never getting to wills and family law. Move through the subjects quickly, practicing to break up the memorization throughout the day. Follow the method of spaced retrieval. Here’s an article about it.
Most importantly, just keep going. You don’t have to know everything, and indeed it’s impossible to know everything. You will know most of it, and that will be enough.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died tonight. The country lost a shero. There is real fear about the days, months, and years ahead. But we can look to her life as an example of what we should do now.
She would want you to keep going. Justice Ginsberg fought and led for you to be where you are. I know it may feel absurd to pursue a law degree or license right now when it feels like everything is being dismantled. But that is exactly why we need you right where you are right now.
I know everyone needs to cry tonight. She deserves to be mourned. But tomorrow, pick up those books again. She made it possible for you to be in this space in this moment. She believed in the power of education and legal advocacy. She changed the world. Your presence in the legal profession matters just as much as hers did. We need you too.
At this stage, it’s common to feel like you’re missing something, or doing something wrong, and everyone else is on a better path than you are. They’re not. Everyone is doing things in their own way. Everyone still has to memorize and practice more.
The important thing is to trust yourself and trust the process.
Be active when you memorize. Don’t just read. Speak, write, test yourself.
Practice MBEs and essays every day.
That is all that you can do, and that is enough. There is no magic, and no one else is any better at this than you are.
Your bar company will include the most heavily tested material in the lecture outline. However, they cannot include absolutely everything that can be – or has ever been – tested on the bar exam. As a consequence, you will come across additional rules as you do MBE and essay practice. Make sure you find a way to incorporate those rules in your memorization materials. They are important.
It’s not a glitch or a failure on the part of your bar review company. It’s all part of the process. Trust the process, and trust yourself. You’ve got this!
By now, your bar company’s lectures are over or coming to an end very soon. That often leaves bar studiers uncertain about next steps.
Your bar review company will give you a schedule that you can follow, if you feel like it works for you. Most people tweak the schedule, and do not strictly follow it. This period of time, like all of bar study (and life in general, it seems), is all about balance. You need to balance memorization and practice. Some days that might mean 50/50 memorization/practice, while other days it might mean spending 70% of your time on memorization and 30% on practice. It depends on what you think you need.
Memorization takes time. Sometimes bar review companies underestimate how much time needs to be spent on this task. Make sure that you keep two things in mind as you memorize: 1) in order to be effective, you must be active with your memorization, and 2) it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Many people make the mistake of passively reading through outlines and thinking that means they’re memorizing. Studies show that reading is actually a pretty terrible way to memorize. You want to be more active – write things out, say things out loud, test yourself, walk around while going through flashcards, teach the law to your cat. There are many ways to be active with memorization. Figure out which ways help the material stick in your brain and do them.
Unlike your law school professors who expected to see rules on your exam in the manner you discussed them in class, the bar grader doesn’t know what you have in your outline or on your flashcard. People are learning the rules with variations in language. That should be comforting to you. If you have those rules that just won’t stick perfectly, but you understand the concepts, and can write generally about them, that will be enough. Don’t get hung up because the way you remember the rule isn’t exactly what you wrote on your flashcard. If you’ve got the concept, move on.
In terms of practice, you want to simulate exam-like conditions as much as you can. It means paying attention to your timing.
That said, if you are doing your regular daily practice and come across an issue in an essay that you can spot, but for which the full rule hasn’t stuck yet, it’s still ok to look up the rule. You want to practice with the correct rule so that you don’t end up memorizing the incomplete or incorrect rule you put down in the haste of a practice essay. You are still in learning mode. Every piece of practice you do will help you learn something that you can use on exam day. You are not in exam mode until exam day.
Practice will help you memorize as well, so schedule practice essays on subjects that you haven’t looked at in a day or two. Do mixed MBE sets to train your brain to switch subjects rapidly.
Don’t forget to build in time to take care of yourself. Eating, sleeping, exercise, and fun, are just as integral to a study plan as memorization and practice questions. You need to be in good shape for exam day.
You applied to law school with a dream. You wanted to be an attorney. Something pulled you towards a law career. Something was important enough for you to spend countless hours studying for the LSAT and writing and re-writing your personal statement. Remember WHY you embarked upon this journey in the first place. Hold on to that.
Bar study can be tedious, monotonous, and demoralizing. There is always more to do than can be done in a day, and every practice session can feel like negative feedback. The world is going on without you. There are concerts and protests, marches and picnics in the park.
Unfortunately, this is all part of the process of bar prep. But when you get down and feel like it’s not worth it, when you feel like you would be making more of a difference if you were out there organizing now, instead of inside studying, remember why you came to law school. Remember why you are doing all of this, sacrificing so much and working so hard. Remember all of the people who would love to be in your position – given the opportunity to be in a safe place studying, on the cusp of obtaining a law license.
This is a short period of time in a long life of service. It is all worth it in the end. Always keep your end goal in mind. Keep your dream alive.