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.
Remember that you’re still in learning mode. All of the practice you are doing now is designed to help you learn how to take the bar exam.
It is understandable that missing issues/rules on MBE questions, essays, and MPTs is frustrating to you. But remember the purpose of the practice is to learn – not to test you. You are not in exam mode until exam day.
Your goal right now, particularly with essays and MPTs, is to see if you have spotted most of the correct issues, and learn how issues are triggered. If you didn’t know that a certain rule required certain analytical steps before you did an essay, now you know. If you didn’t know that a certain fact was enough to trigger or satisfy a certain rule, now you know.
If you learn a new rule, or a new piece of a rule, write it down. Put it in your outline or on a flashcard.
Stay in learning mode. Every piece of positive information you can take away from practicing questions is a bonus. That’s what you’re doing it for.
A perfect score is mythical. No one gets a perfect score, or even close to it, on any part of the bar exam. You want to get half the points on the essays and MPTs, and about 60% on the MBEs. If you’re close to that, you’re doing fine.
Stay in learning mode so that you can learn as much as possible. Try to turn your frustration and annoyance at the bar exam into something positive – learning as much as you can from the bar examiners so you can pass their test.
You can’t know absolutely everything that is testable on the bar exam. But, you can (and will) know most of it.
Most bar companies will give you big outline books. You don’t need to know everything that is in those outlines. You also have your lecture notes. Focus on those. The bar companies will give you the most important (most heavily tested) material in lectures. It won’t be absolutely everything, but it will be enough. Spending a lot of time outlining from, or trying to know everything in, the big outline books is not a good use of your time.
You will also learn new rules through essay and MBE practice. This can be very anxiety-producing for bar studiers. However, it is all part of the process, and you’ve got to trust the process. Take what you learn from your practice and add it to your lecture notes. That will be what you memorize from.
Strong students find it particularly stressful to not know exactly what you will be tested on. But, this isn’t a law school exam with a closed universe of testable material. The universe for the bar is enormous. There will be something you don’t know. But, that’s ok. You will still pass.
Recently, my son has gotten into watching The Magic School Bus Rides Again on Netflix (a spin-off of the original Magic School Bus updated for today’s tech-savvy kids). The educational program teaches kids about science. Their beloved teacher Ms. Frizzle’s favorite catch phrase is “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.”
This also seems like a good mantra to keep in mind for bar studiers frustrated with their performance on practice essays, MPTs, and MBEs.
Do the practice before you feel ready.
The best learning happens from making mistakes.
Take the time to fully understand why you got things right, and why you got things wrong.
Make sure you understand both your doctrinal mistakes and your test-taking mishaps. Add new rules into your study materials, and keep track of test-taking tips in a journal so that you can figure out strategies to help you avoid similar mistakes in the future.
Active learning – actually practicing the test over and over – is truly the only way to succeed on the bar exam.
Concluding the series on doing each component of the UBE online for the October non-UBE bar exam, let’s talk about essay writing. For the October remote exam, there will be 3 essays instead of 6. Of course, you do not know which subjects will be covered, so you still have to know all of them. But, you don’t have to have the stamina to get through 6 essays in 3 hours, so that’s positive. Be sure to practice doing 3 essays in a row on a computer several times before exam day.
Although I don’t know exactly what the software will look like, it is likely that you will be able to highlight on the question itself and type on a notes or scratchpad feature. This is helpful. But, you don’t want to highlight every line in the essay question, as doing so will eliminate the utility of the highlight function. You will end up re-reading everything multiple times because you won’t be able to differentiate what goes where. Notes are much more helpful than highlights. Highlights don’t actually tell you why a sentence matters or what you were thinking when you chose to highlight it.
As always with an essay, read the call of the question first. If the call of the question is open-ended like “What result?” read one or two lines prior to the question prompt. This should help situate you in the subject and sub-topic.
Then, read the fact pattern, making notes of the issues that pop into your head as you read the facts. (Side note – remember that just because a rule is not met, does not mean it is not triggered. If you think about it, it is probably triggered, even if your ultimate conclusion is that a rule fails. Too often students don’t include a rule because they analyzed it in their head and decided the rule isn’t met. Don’t be that student. Put the analysis you did in your head onto the computer, or you can’t get any points for it.)
I would normally suggest at this stage that you be writing notes on the essay prompt paper, but it may make more sense now to write the notes directly into your answer document. Most bar essays (though not all) introduce facts in the order in which they are relevant. So, if you begin jotting notes of the rules you think of and the facts that triggered those rules for you, you will likely have a thorough outline you can follow when you draft your essay. You should also practice writing out in words things that you would typically draw out in a diagram or timeline. Develop a practice of words or symbols to indicate what you previously drew in pictures.
Remember that careful reading and planning are key for all components of the bar exam, including the essays. That means that you should spend roughly a third of your time – 10 full minutes – reading and planning before you start writing. That way, you can be sure you’re heading in the right direction and you know what rules you will address in each sub-question. Racing into the writing portion will likely lead you to ultimately spend more time going back and forth between the fact pattern and your answer field.
The MPT is the most difficult section of the bar exam to do on a computer. There is a lot of material to sift through, and having handwritten notes on a paper next to your computer is a bit easier than having to scroll through the documents on half a laptop screen. But, it is doable. You just need to practice MPTs in this manner from now until the bar exam.
I suggest that you do at least one per week between now and the bar exam. (Now is where I would usually suggest that you do two back to back MPTs at least twice in the weeks leading up to the exam, but since the online October exam only has 1 MPT, you don’t need to do that. Sliver linings!)
You will likely be able to highlight and make notes on the MPT on your screen. You should practice doing this with every MPT you practice. Develop a system that is comfortable to you, and allows you to easily go back and find what you are looking for without re-reading everything multiple times. Your general plan should be the same:
Read the assignment memo closely and make note of your role and your tasks. You can often write out point detailed headings at this stage.
Go to the library and identify the relevant rules and rule structures. Write them down.
Go to back to the file and read through the facts, connecting facts to the relevant components of the rules.
I generally recommend that you write a fairly detailed outline as you go through the material on the MPT, but with the MPT online it is even more important to draft a detailed outline as you read through the material. This will prevent you from having to scroll back and forth too much. It will likely be a bit more time consuming to find your notes on the computer than it would be if you had a paper packet, so put as much as you can directly into an outline in your answer field. (Highlighting everything just means you will go back and re-read everything, which is time consuming.) Then, when you are done reading through the materials, you can go back and write the complete document directly from your outline.
As always with the MPT, be very mindful of your time. You want to spend 45 minutes reading, processing, and outlining. Then spend 45 minutes writing the document. Don’t skimp on the first 45 minutes to try to rush to writing. That will only cause you to have to go back and forth through the MPT documents more times. It is better to spend time planning in the beginning. It will ultimately make your writing more orderly and complete.
It will be an adjustment to do the MPT online. But you can do it. The key, as with all of bar study, is to plan and practice.