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.
That might just be your ticket to learning it: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/06/30/opinion/sunday/forgot-where-you-parked-good.html?em_pos=medium&emc=edit_sc_20170703&nl=science-times&nl_art=3&nlid=27366739&ref=headline&te=1&_r=1&referer=
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.
It’s almost July. The very idea that the bar exam is in the same month that appears on your calendar, often creates anxiety. Plus, those of you who have (incorrectly) been told by attorneys that June is low key and bar study really ramps up in July, are probably trying to figure out what that ramp up looks like.
The truth is, many of you do not have room to ramp up. If you’ve been putting in 10 hour days watching lectures, making study materials, and doing practice every day, you’re in excellent shape and you should continue to do what you’ve been doing. Once your bar review lectures end, you’ll have the opportunity to memorize and practice, instead of learning new material. But, you don’t need to radically increase the time you have been studying.
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, July is intense. Whether you’ve been on top of your game or not, it is natural to feel more pressure in July. 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!
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!
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.
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.