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.
Many bar studiers have moments when they think they’re going to fail. Chances are, you won’t. The odds are that you will pass on your first try. You’ve graduated from law school and you are more than capable of passing.
But, it’s true, you may not pass on the first try. So then what will you do? You’ll take it again. That’s it. It will hurt. It will mean another few months of your life devoted to studying for the bar. But, that’s all it is.
It doesn’t mean you won’t be a fabulous lawyer. It doesn’t mean you won’t land your dream job. It doesn’t mean you can’t change the world.
You are not your bar exam score. Your life’s worth isn’t connected to the bar exam. It’s certainly not tied to how many times you take the exam.
Everyone hopes to pass the bar exam the first time, and that should be your goal. You should approach studying as if it’s important to you to pass on the first try.
But, it may help to think about what will happen if you do not pass. Free yourself of that burden and anxiety now. That way, you can focus your energy on studying because you will already have worked through the worst case scenario.
Have compassion for yourself. What would you tell your best friend if they were worried about not passing? What would you tell your best friend if they didn’t pass on the first try?
The truth is that life will go on. You will take it again, and you will pass. Everyone will still love you. And you will still be the amazing advocate you are today.
Check out the incredible Sherrilyn Ifill, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund speaking at the CUNY School of Law commencement. From minute 1:01:48-1:02:13 she reminds you that, while the movement needs you, right now we need you to focus on studying for the bar exam.
Most bar review companies will tell you that you can memorize from their outlines alone, and making your own study materials is a waste of time. Most people, however, find that relying on the bar review outlines is not enough; they have to make the materials their own in some way. It’s important to engage in a process of making/working with your study materials every day. Think ahead to the last two weeks when you will be memorizing. What do you want to have ready for that process?
You will not have time to create study materials at the end (and use them), so you have to make them now. You will learn a tremendous amount of material with each new lecture, and you have to be finished with your study materials before you leave each subject (which means every 1-3 days, depending on the subject). This means that you need to work quickly and efficiently.
What you did in law school to make the perfect outline, or the best flashcards, may not work now. Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for usable. If you’re spending more than three hours per day on creating study materials, you need to change your approach. You also need to leave time for practice questions every day.
Use the bar review lectures as a guide for what you should focus on. Only go to the bigger outlines for reference. The lecture handouts will include the most heavily tested material, and that should be your foundation. As you practice essays and MBEs, you should add rules that you learn to your outline/flashcards/charts.
Make the study materials that work for you and your method of learning. That might mean that you have more than one kind of study material – an outline and a large flow chart, for example. It is best for the learning process if you make it yourself. But, if that takes too much time, or if didn’t make your own study materials during law school, find a way to make the bar review company’s materials your own in some way. The process of working through the lecture material after the lecture will help you synthesize and solidify the material. That process of learning, understanding, and beginning to internalize the material is the first step towards memorizing.
The key is to find a balance – don’t skip the study materials, but don’t spend all of your time trying to make them perfect.
Most commercial bar review courses begin this week for students studying for the Uniform Bar Exam. The first week or so can feel overwhelming. (It can also feel like it’s not as bad as you predicted. Don’t get too comfortable, the work will increase.)
Make sure that you spend time getting to know your bar companies’ website and the materials that they have sent you. You want to familiarize yourself with the resources you have, so that you know everything that is available to you. Only then can you make informed decisions about what will work for you and what will not.
Most bar review companies will assign more work than will be possible to complete. Remember that your goal is to do three things each day: watch the lecture, make study materials, and do practice questions.