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.
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 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!
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.
ractice 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.
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.
First of all, don’t panic! Many people, if not most people, bomb the practice tests. It’s just practice. It’s not the real thing. It can be very valuable, if you stay in learning mode.
The key now is to learn as much as possible from the experience. Pay attention to which sub topics you struggled with. Notice when you answered several questions in a row incorrectly and see whether it was a lapse in focus, or if you let a difficult question break your confidence and infect the next several questions.
Make note of how you felt at different parts during the day. What distracted you? When did you get hungry or tired?
This score is not dispositive. Keep studying and stay focused on learning. Your score will improve significantly from now until exam day as you learn more, memorize more, and practice more. You’re not in exam mode until the day of the exam.
To get the most out of your post-exam review, you may want to review your score and study strategy with the bar support folks at your school.
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!
Don’t get lost in the daily grind of just going through the motions to check things off of your bar company’s to do list. Make sure you take the time to reflect on each task after you have done it. It’s not enough to say “oh, I got that wrong, I don’t understand mortgages at all.”
You want to dive a bit deeper. Ask yourself why you got a question wrong. Was it because you didn’t know the doctrine? Ok, what are you going to do to make sure you learn the doctrine? Did you put that rule into your outline, or on a flashcard?
But chances are, you’re also getting questions wrong for test-taking reasons, not doctrinal reasons. Pay attention to those reasons too. Look for patterns, such as reading the question too quickly and missing something key, or reading too slowly and over-analyzing or adding something in that isn’t there.
Every day you should think of 2-3 takeaways – general lessons that you learned and will take forward to the rest of bar prep. Think globally, beyond each individual question. Use those takeaways to change how you approach future questions. Reflection is how we grow.