Law school is hard and hectic. However there are a number of things you can do during law school that will help you with the bar study process. You will be much better off going into the bar prep period if you have a strong sense of who you are as a learner. Bar prep (and law school) is full of advice – people telling you what to do based on what they did. But the only way to successfully complete the bar exam is to do what works for you. You will have a tremendous advantage of you know what that is before you enter the bar study period.
This is where law school comes in. You have three or four years to figure out what study materials work best for your brain.
One of these main tasks you will have to accomplish during bar prep is to understand and memorize a large amount of material. The more active you are in your own learning, the better off you will be. Some students like to make linear outlines, some make flashcards, some make mind maps, some make charts or diagrams, some write notes on giant posters or white boards, some record themselves and repeatedly listen to themselves reciting doctrine, some write or type out rules over and over. The most successful students do a combination of these things, or find other creative ways to learn the material they need to know in law school. You should use your time in law school to try different methods of memorization and see which method work best for you.
One of the traps that students fall into during bar prep is trying too many new things. Sometimes students will succumb to peer pressure. I hear over and over that other people are using flashcards so a student feels like she needs to make flashcards even though she has never used them before and they don’t work for her. Bar study is not the time to try something new or use something you aren’t comfortable with, especially just because others are doing it.
The other skill to perfect during law school is, of course, exam taking itself. You will be confronted with a number of in class exams in law school. Many of these will include multiple choice questions and essays that are modeled after to those you will see on the bar. Even if the questions your law professors test you on are not in bar exam format, the analytical skills you will need to do well on them are substantially similar to the skills you will need on the bar exam.
You want to practice writing essays and doing multiple choice questions as much as you can. You should seek out practice questions from your faculty, school exam files, and academic support professionals. If all else fails, use commercial sources like study guides and bar review books.
But, it is not enough to just do questions and look at the answers. You have to be thoughtful and reflective. It’s important to figure out why you are answering a question incorrectly. Is it because you didn’t know a rule? Did you forget an important exception? Did you read too quickly and miss an important word or fact? Did you read too slowly and overanalyze? Did you add a fact that wasn’t actually in the question?
You should start keeping a journal of these types of tidbits beginning in your first semester of law school. You can develop valuable insights about yourself as learner and your own learning processes. Then you can begin to develop strategies to strengthen your weaknesses and avoid common pitfalls.
Many of us go through years of education without knowing how we learn best. Paying attention to this in law school will give you a tremendous advantage when you begin to study for the bar exam.