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.
It’s important to make a plan for exam day. You want to know when you have to wake up, how you’re getting to the test site, what you can bring to the test site, what you’ll eat, and how you’ll get home. You also want a plan for what you’ll be doing during each portion of the exam.
Stop by the test site before exam day so you don’t have any anxiety about getting lost. Make sure you give yourself plenty of extra time to deal with every day issues such as traffic and transportation delays. Make a back up plan in case your first transportation plan doesn’t work.
Thoroughly review the security policy for your jurisdiction so you know what you are permitted to bring in to the test facility, and what you are not permitted to bring in.
Map out a plan for your day.
If you’re taking the UBE on the east coast, your schedule will look like this:
9:30-12:30: 2 MPTs
2:00-5:00: 6 essays
9:30-12:30: 100 MBEs
2:00-5:00: 100 MBEs
(On the west coast, your MPTs will be in the afternoon and your essays in the morning.)
It is your responsibility to keep track of your timing, so know what time you should be at each point. At 90 minutes, move on to the second MPT (that’s 11am). Spend no more than 30 minutes on each essay. For the MBEs, you’ve got 1 minute and 48 seconds per question. That’s roughly 17 questions per half hour, 25 questions per 45 minutes, or 33 questions per hour.
Make a schedule for yourself and look at it every day. Memorize it. Write it out on scrap paper next to you as soon as the exam begins so that you can stay on track.
It’s also recommended that you bring your own lunch. Many test sites will offer meal services. However, if you bring something you 1) won’t have to wait on line and 2) can make sure the food won’t upset your stomach or make you sleepy.
Wherever you are taking the bar exam, dress in layers. The room will either be too hot or too cold. You want to make sure you are comfortable and not distracted by your body temperature.
You may be hitting a wall right now – too exhausted to continue studying while simultaneously feeling like nothing you do is working.
Unfortunately, this feeling is normal. It’s all part of the process. You’ve been studying for a long time and you’re tired. Take a break this weekend. Go out to dinner. Watch a movie. Do something completely unrelated to the bar exam.
Confidence is a huge part of success on the bar exam. Trust yourself. You have come so far since you first walked into law school as a 1L. You graduated from law school. You know how to do this, even if you can’t articulate it. You’ve been studying for this exam for two months. You can absolutely pass the bar exam. You have all the skills you need.
Trust the process now and trust yourself. If you feel like something isn’t working, do something else for a while. You know more than you think you do, and more is sticking than it feels like is in your brain.
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 a bit to focus on what works best for them. 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.
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.
Most bar review companies schedule simulated exams in early July. You may feel like you are not ready yet because you do not have enough memorized. You may feel like you do not have the time to spend two days on a practice exam because you are behind schedule. You should still do the practice exam.
Remember that you are still in learning mode. Your job now is to learn as much as you can from everything you do. The practice is exam is not a crystal ball. It will not tell you how you will score on the bar exam. But, it will give you valuable insights that make it worth doing.
Take note of how you do on specific sub-topics. The simulated exam can give you a good idea of particular sub-topics that are giving you trouble, so you know where you need to spend a little extra time.
Look at your MBE scantron. Are there places where you get several questions wrong in a row? That may mean that your focus is waning. Make a note of that and come up with a plan. On actual exam day, a few questions before the point at which your energy began to fall, have a snack, drink some water, close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Do something that will force your brain to re-engage.
Similarly with the essays, did you find yourself drifting off at essay 3 or 4? Take note of stamina issues and make a plan for the essays and MPTs.
Was the person next to you driving you crazy tapping their pencil? Did you suddenly become starving at MBE question 92? Did you forget to drink anything and become dizzy at essay 5? Were you freezing? Were you sweating? All of these are important things to take note of, and make a plan for dealing with on exam day.
The simulated exam isn’t just about the doctrine and your score. It’s about the simulation. It’s worth doing.