Beginning to prepare for the bar exam can make anyone anxious, but breaking from your classmates and preparing for the bar exam in a state where your law school is not can ratchet up the anxiety. The Uniform Bar Examination has resolved this struggle for many, but not all. If the jurisdiction you want to take the exam in has state-specific sections, many questions will nag at you – Can I learn the state-specific subjects? How much different is that state’s law? Can I compete with in-state applicants?
For me, as a 3L in Washington, D.C., planning to take the Texas bar, thoughts of oil and gas law and a three-day exam frequently filled me with dread and self-doubt. But don’t second guess yourself. Plenty of great reasons can lead to being an out-of-state applicant, whether personal or professional. If you are already committed or just considering taking the leap outside of your law-school state, hopefully, this post will give you at least 5 reasons to shake the unproductive anxiety and strengthen your resolve to conquer the bar of your choosing!
Unless you are planning to take the exam in Louisiana or Puerto Rico, the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), gives you 200 reasons to be confident. The MBE is a 200 multiple-choice question exam component that is the same in every state. The percentage varies depending on the state, but the MBE is always a significant portion of the overall score – generally 40-50%.
For the MBE, you are just as prepared coming out of law school as anyone. If you are worried about other sections, at least mentally, work to make this a strong suit and plan to “run up the score” here. By studying hard and practicing smart, you can make this portion a strength. There are plenty of ways to prepare for the MBE, even online tools you can access from anywhere like Adaptibar. Even if you haven’t decided where to take the bar yet, this is a great place to get an early jump on preparing.
(Also check your jurisdiction for the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). Many jurisdictions administer this component that tests lawyering skills rather than substantive knowledge. Mastering the MPT is another great way to improve your score before you even get to state-specific law.)
2. In-State Applicants Are Human
Even if the jurisdiction has unique subjects or different law, realize that even in-state applicants do not take every state-law course that will perfectly prepare them. You should certainly take note of new material to learn, but just like you did not take every course in law school to prepare you for the bar, neither did in-state applicants. Even if they did take that state-specific procedure course you didn’t, maybe their professor loved theory not tested on the bar exam or maybe they took it as a 1L and already forgot it. In-state applicants may have some background in the state-specific law you don’t, but familiarity is not an insurmountable advantage.
3. Everyone Relies on Bar Prep
On a related note, everyone relies on bar prep. Law school (at least hopefully) is designed to teach you the fundamentals of the law and prepare you for practice, not just teach you to pass the bar. Everyone took courses not tested on any bar, everyone spent endless hours laboring on journals or law review, and everyone tackled time-consuming internships. Applicants everywhere rely on their bar exam preparation to get ready for exam day. Whether you plan to go with a bar prep course, a tutor, or self-guided study, you can control much of your destiny by making the most of your bar prep. How you prepare in the months before the exam can cure most any deficiency you have, so just stay focused on what you can control during your preparation.
4. You Have Time to Learn
Building on the importance of the bar prep period, if you are new to a subject or your jurisdiction’s approach is unique, you have time to learn. Making it through law school is proof that you know the fundamentals of the law and that you can quickly digest complex new material. If you maintain a calm focus, your months to prepare for the exam will allow the time to learn.
Learning the material with the exam in mind can actually be beneficial. Unlike in-state applicants, you won’t confuse yourself with law-school-style wrinkles and legal theory. Focusing on the way the subject will be tested on the exam, you can learn the essentials and prepare for only the content you will need on exam day.
5. You Can Have Some Weaknesses
Expecting perfection is a common mental block of smart applicants that have been acing tests since first grade. The bar exam is different. Your goal is different. You are trying to pass, not get every question correct. This is important to how you prepare. Don’t be too preoccupied with what you don’t know. Having a weak area or two is only a problem if you let it undermine your broad-based study strategy.
With these in mind, be confident. Acknowledge the challenges, but let your natural anxiety spur you to work even harder to overcome any disadvantages you might have (or perceive). Before you jump into the subject matter, remember to research your particular jurisdiction’s bar to determine its make-up and content. And then, get on to preparing!