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.
The bar exam is tomorrow. Stop reading this blog. Stop searching the internet for last minute advice and essay predictions. You have put in a lot of work, and you need to have confidence that it will pay off.
Make sure you have what you need to get into the exam, including your seat ticket and photo ID. Make your lunch. Then go do something to get your mind off of the bar. Your brain really needs the break.
Remember that this exam is not a measure of your worth as a human being, or as an attorney.
Remember that you have been preparing for this moment for years, and you are ready.
Remember that you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Let the love and light of those who came before you and sacraficed to allow you to be in this moment, guide you to the finish line.
Enter that exam room proud, bold, and confident. You deserve to be here.
It’s common to feel like nothing is sticking, no matter how many hours you put in. But, that feeling doesn’t mean it’s accurate. You know a whole lot more than you think you do.
If you feel like something isn’t working, switch to a different activity. Changing methods frequently is good for your brain. It helps with memory retention.
Remember that this is not a test where someone is going to be asking you to recite the details of various rules. The rules will be triggered by the MBE and MEE fact patterns. You will be amazed at how much comes out of you during the exam, once you see the fact patterns.
Make sure you stay active with your learning. Don’t just read and reread. Talk things out, write things out, do practice questions. Just keep moving forward.
Keep practicing. You want to learn the test, not your outline.
You’ve got one week of studying to go! That’s a really good thing – only one week before you can put this exam behind you.
Your bar review company likely has a lot of tasks assigned for you this week. Those schedules are designed for the masses. You should see those assignments as a suggestion. Only you know what you need to do in this final week.
If you need to spend more time memorizing, do it. If you feel like you need to improve your essay issue spotting, read through more essays each day. If MBEs have got you down, do more MBE practice (on paper please).
The best thing you can do for yourself this week is to trust yourself, and take care of yourself.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Loving, happy thoughts may be the last thing on your mind with the bar exam two weeks away. But, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come and how much you have done.
You have taken on a monumental task, you have worked really hard, and you haven’t given up. Treat yourself to something nice today. Allow yourself to be a little pampered. It will be good for your brain, and will ultimately help it maintain the stamina it needs to retain all of this material.
Sending you lots of love from The Activist Guide to Passing the Bar!
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.
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.
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. That means having practice MBEs, essays, and MPTs printed out in front of you. It means paying attention to your timing. It means doing two MPTs back to back at least twice. It means doing six essays back to back at least once. It means doing 200 MBEs in one day, at least once.
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.
Bar applicants often second guess themselves on MBE questions, and choose the wrong answer over the right answer they picked originally. It’s important to recognize this pattern and interrupt it.
Make note of how often you pick the right answer and then second-guess yourself and choose the wrong answer, and figure out whether this is a big problem for you.
If it is, make a pact with yourself that you will only change an answer if you can articulate a reason (in IRAC format) why you are changing it. This means that you can’t change an answer just because you think another answer choice looks prettier, or the question must not be as simple as it seems. You can only change an answer if you missed something, or forgot something, the first time.
Sometimes people will change their answers because they think they have too many of one answer choice in a row. The bar examiners aren’t thinking about whether there are three “B”s in a row, or whether there are patterns created by the answer choices. There are actually multiple MBE booklets with the questions in different orders to prevent cheating. So, there are bound to be some weird patterns. (That also means don’t be freaked out if the person next to you is turning the pages at a different speed than you are.)
With three weeks to go, you may feel like you need to already have everything memorized. You don’t. That would be impossible. You have plenty of time between now and the exam to get the law to stick.
Remember to stay in learning mode. Right now your days and nights are filled with memorization and practice. While you should be moving into doing practice closed book, that doesn’t mean you are expected to have everything memorized perfectly. It’s important to practice writing down what you know, and reasoning through the rest.
Every time you do an essay, MPT, or set of MBEs, think about 2-3 lessons that you can take away from that experience and carry with you to a similar fact pattern in the future. Write these lessons down. If they are rules, put them in your outline. If they are test-taking tips, keep them in a separate journal or on a separate list.
Everything you do is in service of internalizing and memorizing the rules. True memorization takes time and repetition. It won’t happen overnight. Fortunately, you have just enough nights left to make it work.
It’s February! That means you have about 3.5 weeks left. Seeing the word February on your calendar can create anxiety, but it doesn’t need to. You are almost done, and that should bring some sense of relief.
You should pivot shortly to memorization and practice mode (from learning, creating materials, and practice mode). You may be worried about finding time to do more than you have already been doing. If you’ve been studying 10 hours a day, there is no time in the day to ramp up. That’s ok. The truth is that you don’t necessarily need to spend more time. You won’t be spending time watching lectures or making study materials.
If you haven’t put in the time, however, you really have no time to lose. You need to step up your game immediately. Make sure that you are doing some form of practice every single day – MBEs, essays, or MPTs. Ideally, you’ll do more than one type of practice every day because you don’t have as solid of a foundation of practice as you would like to have.
You also want to make sure you have a solid plan for what you will use to memorize. If you haven’t been making study materials, make sure that what you have from your bar review company, or the materials that were passed down from a friend, will actually work for you.
Make no mistake, February is intense. Whether you’ve been on top of your game or not, it is natural to feel more pressure in February. But remember that you are only human and there is only so much that is humanly possible to do. You still need to take breaks. You still need to eat well, exercise, sleep, and have some fun.
You’re almost at the finish line! The light at the end of this tunnel should provide you with the motivation you need to get through the final weeks!