Bar study is uncomfortable. Our bodies aren’t wired to study for 10 hours a day for 10 weeks. You have to memorize a monstrous amount of material in more than a dozen different subject areas. You have to learn new exam taking skills because the questions are just different enough from your law school exams to feel like a different world. Everyone is telling you that you memorize in the last two weeks, but you feel like it’s physically impossible to memorize everything in that amount of time, while you simultaneously know you don’t have time to memorize now because you’re learning new material each day.
Trust the process. Your bar review company’s study plans are laid out the way they are laid out for a reason. Thousands of people have come before you, have followed the program, and have succeeded. You can too.
It’s true that you need to make some choices because it’s impossible to do absolutely everything that your bar company assigns. Trust yourself to make those choices. But don’t abandon the structure entirely.
You can memorize enough.
You can write fast enough.
You can read fast enough.
Your brain has gotten you this far. Trust it. You graduated from law school!
Trust the process to get you over the finish line.
Many students struggle with how to tackle the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The trouble with the MPT, of course, is time. The problems are not generally particularly complex, but when you are trying to process and sort through a large amount of material in a short period of time, even simple things feel complicated. That’s why the most important key to success on the MPT is to have a plan of action for how you will tackle it.
It’s important to spend time reading the assignment memo so that you understand what your role is and what type of document you have to draft. Make sure you jot down all of the tasks, so that you don’t forget to do any pieces of what you are asked to do.
Then, it’s best to jump to the library. Read the statues and cases so that you know the rules you are working with. Elementize the rules so you can see how they are structured. What tests will you need to apply?
Once you have a sense of the rules, go back to the file. Understanding the rules will help you decide which facts are relevant to each part of your analysis.
It’s important to spend enough time reading and outlining, before you dive into writing. The bar examiners recommend that you spend half the time (a full 45 minutes if you are taking the exam without extended time) on this process. That suggestion illustrates the importance of planning. Rushing that process will cost you time later as you will have to re-read the material multiple times to figure out where to go.
You can tweak the plan to suit your own needs, but make sure that you have a plan, and that you practice using your plan multiple times. You want to practice the task as you will have to do it on exam day. That means that if you are taking the exam in a state where you will have to do two MPTs back to back, you should practice doing two MPTs back to back multiple times. Force yourself to stop the first MPT after 90 minutes and move on to the second. You don’t want to get caught up spending all of your time on one MPT.
It is important, however, to make it look like a finished document. So, even if you’re running out of time, you should conclude. If you have a detailed outline written out, keep it there. You may get partial credit if the grader can see where you were going.
If you have gotten through law school, you have drafted legal documents with more complex arguments . Remember that you are more than capable of doing whatever task they throw at you. Most of the time, you will be asked to draft a memo, brief, or letter. If it is a different type of document, everyone else will be as thrown off as you will be. (And remember, you just need to be where most people are in order to pass the bar.)
Follow instructions. The bar examiners are testing your ability to follow instructions, synthesize rules, sort relevant and irrelevant facts, analogize to cases, and draft a document that looks like something a first year associate would draft. You have all of those skills. Your task is simply to show them what you can do.
A very helpful article on what bar examiners are looking for when grading the MPT can be found here. It’s from the bar examiners themselves!
A few weeks in to bar prep, it may be hard to continue to make bar study the primary focus of your life. Even extremely supportive friends and family miss you, and are wondering how they’re going to sustain the same level of support through the rest of bar study.
But it’s really only a few more weeks. It’s a short period of time. You’re not abandoning anyone. You’re not abandoning the cause. You’re giving yourself the space you need to be able to become a greater agent for change. You’re giving yourself the opportunity to use the tools you’ve been developing for the past few years.
Take a break. Have a nice dinner out. Remind everyone that you love them. But then get back to it. It will all be worth it when you get sworn in.
If you’re still holding on to obligations that are stressing you out, find a way to minimize them. Use your support networks. Talk to folks at your law school. You never know how someone might be able to help.
These are just a few of the stories dominating the headlines, and each one is triggering for different people in different ways. What should you, as someone studying for the bar exam, do about all of this?
After you do a set of MBEs or an essay, reflect on why you answered correctly, and why you answered a question incorrectly. Keep
It’s important to be thoughtful and reflective about the process of doing practice questions. Keep a list somewhere of common mistakes that you find yourself making or common triggers that you seem to miss.
a running list for yourself of things you want to remember.
Are you reading too quickly and missing key words?
Are you reading too slowly and over-thinking or over-analyzing?
Are you going straight for the answer choice that looks like a rule, without fully applying the rules to the facts and going through each answer choice to eliminate the incorrect answers?
Do you keep forgetting an important exception?
Keep a list of these things for yourself. Tape it up in your study area or somewhere in your home. Look at it every day. Once you diagnose your common test taking mistakes, you can take steps to correct yourself. The lessons will start to sink in and you’ll be doing practice more thoughtfully, and more successfully.
You’re a few weeks in. You’re in the groove. It’s starting to feel routine. But the exam still feels like it’s so far away, and there is still so much to learn.
That’s OK. You’re exactly where you need to be. Just keep going.
Don’t let poor performance on an essay or MBE set deter you. Just keep going.
Remember that you’re still in learning mode. Every rule you learn from an MBE question and every lesson you learn about how to apply a rule from an essay is more information you have gathered that will help you pass the bar. Just keep going.
Notice common mistakes that you are making, whether they are doctrinal or test-taking mistakes. Keep a list so that you can remind yourself of those common mistakes and remember not to make them. Just keep going.
If you’re not yet in a routine, you don’t have any more time to lose. Figure out what is preventing you from sticking to a routine. Take affirmative steps to form a schedule and stick to it. Use those around you to help yourself stay accountable to your schedule. Set up a reward system for yourself. Try to move out of your own way.
There will be a moment on the bar exam when you will stare at an essay and won’t know the rule. I’m not talking about when you forget an element, or you kind of know the rule but aren’t sure if what you put down is the whole rule. I’m talking about when you have no idea what the rule is. I’m talking about when you would swear you have never seen that rule before in your life.
But, I was prepared for that moment, and you can be too. I actually remember saying to myself, “OK, this is my moment. I don’t know this rule. I am going to make it up and move on.”
I knew that if it was a crime, I could say something about actus reus, mens rea, and causation, and that I would need elements. I made up some elements, applied them methodically, and moved on.
That is what you want to do – make up a rule and move on. Not knowing a rule will not result in you failing the bar. Panicking and spending too much time on something that you don’t know, may cause you to fail the bar. Thinking about it when you should be focusing on a later question, may cause you to fail the bar.
Say to yourself, “OK, this is my moment. I’m going to make something up.” You will know a lot of law by the time you sit down to take the bar exam. Follow these six steps:
Situate yourself in the doctrine and remember your general knowledge of the doctrine. (For example, if you’re in torts, for example, think about a reasonable person standard. If you’re in UCC Article 2 remember that Article 2 exists to make sale of goods transactions easier and more practical.)
Look at the facts and decide which party you think should win.
Make up a rule that takes those two things into account.
Apply whatever rule you made up.
Move on to the next question where you do know the rule, and put it out of your mind.
This happens to everyone somewhere on the bar exam. You want to become comfortable with it by practicing essays in this same manner. It’s great to do essays open book for most of bar prep. However, you want to sometimes practice doing an essay without looking up the rules so that you become comfortable with not knowing.
Around now, a lot of people express dissatisfaction with their commerical bar review companies. It’s kind of like when you’re a teenager and you hate your parents. It’s completely normal. It’s absolutely true that they don’t understand you. But it’s probably not true that a different bar review course (or set of parents) would understand you better.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between bar review companies. There are some. But, choice of bar review company is not the reason people don’t pass the bar exam.
You’ve paid for the bar review course. Use it for what it’s worth. Bar review companies gear their programs to what they think a typical student needs. But typical students don’t exist when it comes to bar study. (It’s kind of like the reasonable person in Torts. Who is this mythical being who lacks race, gender, sex, class, and human emotion?)
It is true that your bar review company will grossly underestimate the amount of time you will need to spend turning their materials into something that works for you. It is true that some things that your bar review company tells you to do won’t be the best use of your time. Don’t do those things. Do other things.
Take control and own this process. Your bar review course may feel terrible, but it’s more useful than not. Use it for everything it’s worth. It’s up to you to figure out how to learn best and how to get the most out of your bar review program.
So, go ahead, hate them. Many people do. But don’t let those feelings get in the way of your success.
The bar exam is still given on paper. Even though you can type your answers to the MPT and essays, you are still given those questions (and the MBEs) in paper booklets. Therefore, it’s important to practice reading questions on paper as well.
Bar review companies boast about their fantastic online technology that allow you to highlight, underline, and make notes on questions on your computer screen. While these technological advancements are great, they’re not the same as putting pencil to paper.
While people read and retain information differently on paper and on computer screens, the real concern regarding practicing on an electronic device, as opposed to on paper, is timing. Many students have reported that after doing MBE practice primarily, or exclusively, on a computer, their timing was vastly different on the actual MBE. That timing discrepancy threw them off, and in some cases meant that they didn’t come close to finishing the exam.
Don’t put yourself in that position. Practice what you will need to do on exam day. You wouldn’t take a road test after only playing driving video games. Don’t practice in the wrong medium for the bar exam either.
You want to do three things each day – watch your lecture, make/tweak your study materials, and do some form of practice. This means doing MBEs and essays every day (or at least every other day), and at least one MPT per week.
The only way to do well on the bar exam, is to get ready for the bar exam. That means practicing what you will be doing on exam day, every single day. It is not enough to memorize the law. If you don’t know how you apply it, and how the bar examiners will test you on it, you will not be successful.
You can use the checklist each week to make sure that you are doing the minimum practice each week that you will need to succeed. The more practice you can do, the better, but you want to make sure that you are doing it thoughtfully. Don’t just race through 50 MBE questions, for example, tally your score, and move on. You need to go through each question (yes, even the ones you got right), and make sure you understand why you answered it correctly, or incorrectly. If you learn a new rule, add it to your study materials.
Reflect on why you are answering questions incorrectly. Are you reading too quickly and missing important details? Are you adding facts that aren’t there, or over-analyzing? Once you begin to notice patterns, you can come up with solutions to correct your common mistakes.
Practicing essays, MBEs, and MPTs, also helps you get into the head of the bar examiners. What do they think a reasonable person would do? What are they trying to trigger when they include certain facts? As you begin to practice, you will begin to recognize patterns in the questions, and in what doctrine is heavily tested. On exam day, you will see some questions that are very similar to what you have studied. That is the goal – to see some questions that you feel like you’ve seen before.
In this way, the bar is similar to any other performance you are getting ready for, or any other big day. You wouldn’t get ready for a sporting event, concert, speech, or play without practicing or rehearsing. Don’t minimize the importance of rehearsing for the bar exam either.