I’ve written before about eight “red flag” situations in which you may need more than the average bar exam preparation routine. Assuming you don’t fall into any of these categories, and assuming you are studying hard and practicing, how do you know if you need to be doing things differently?
Here are five warning signs that you need to change up your study game:
You don’t have concise attack plans
Vague familiarity with the legal concepts tested on the bar is obviously not enough to pass this exam. More often than not, though, the problems I see aren’t about not knowing the law well enough. They’re about knowing a lot of law (maybe even too much!) but not being able to see the forest for the trees and extract the crucial elements in each topic. This is where attack plans come in.
You should have a short list of rule elements memorized for each topic in each subject area. If you don’t, then you probably don’t know the law well enough and it’s probably not in a useable format the way it’s currently stored in your head. Let that sink in a minute. This is a hard one for some students. So, what do you do? Take the rules you have and turn them into numbered elements. Then, work on memorizing not only those rules, but also those concise lists of elements as well.
You’re not planning your essays and PTs well
You need to have a plan before you start writing any essay or PT. Coming up with a strong plan will probably take longer than you think it will, so it’s important to practice the planning as well as the practicing. If you don’t come up with a consistent routine for how you want to plan each essay and PT, then you will never get faster or more efficient at this process, and it will never become second-nature to you.
For most students I work with, the planning process for both essays and PTs needs a lot of work. The biggest pitfalls I see are either spending too little or too much time planning, not matching up facts to rules in a precise enough manner, and wasting time taking too many notes that don’t actually contribute to a good essay plan (e.g. just reiterating laws or facts but not plugging them into each other). If any of these sound familiar, you’re probably heading for bar exam trouble.
You’re practicing, but not realistically
There’s a time and place for open-book essays and PTs that take 4 hours instead of 3. That time is at the beginning of bar study when you’re still getting a feel for what this exam requires. At a certain point, though, you need to cut yourself off. Strip away the security blankets and crutches and practice the actual testing format the way it will be on exam day.
If you have a matter of weeks left to study and you’re not able to crank out an essay, PT, or set of MBE questions in the time you will have on the real exam, that’s a problem. Don’t wait to get to this point. Sure, give yourself training wheels at the beginning while you’re still learning—you have to be able to balance before you go fast. However, once you get that balance, you need to crash and burn for a while so you can teach yourself how to get better. If you’re planning on coasting through the exam doors on training wheels like extra time and using notes, you’re definitely going to find yourself in exam trouble.
You’re not learning from your mistakes
How can you possibly know what to do going forward if you don’t know what your past mistakes were? Better yet, if you haven’t been actively working on fixing these mistakes, how can you possibly expect not to duplicate them in the future?
Here are some red flags I see really frequently that you should try to avoid:
- You’ve failed the exam but you’re not willing to review and critique your essays and PTs line by line once you get them back in the mail.
- You’re writing essays and PTs, but you’re not actually reviewing them. Or, you’re “reviewing” by just reading through the sample answers. You need to be doing those uncomfortable tasks if you want to improve.
- You’re not keeping track of which MBE questions you’re getting wrong and the reasons why
- You’re not rewriting every essay and PT that you really miss the boat on
Face your mistakes and keep track of them. Actively work on improving your weakest areas. This is the only way to improve your skill set.
You’re not putting yourself on track for success in your personal life
We all have a different set of bad habits and obstacles when it comes to this exam. And, we’ve seen it all—procrastinating, not sleeping enough, trying to study while multi-tasking at work or at home, letting dramatic friends or partners derail your concentration, drinking so much caffeine that you throw up every afternoon—the list goes on and on.
Ask yourself this: “If I don’t pass this exam, what will the reason be?” People fail the bar for all kinds of reasons—yes, even highly intelligent people who think they’re doing everything right. And no, wanting to pass just won’t cut it. But you have to at least put yourself in shape to pass.
What does this mean? Well, you can start by getting adequate sleep, nutrition, and quiet, calm study time. Put your life in order to the best of your ability. You can’t control which essay subjects come up or what the new experimental MBE questions look like, but you can control your life—at least to some extent. Fix the problems you can fix. Don’t let them stand between you and passing the bar.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Steps to Making Your Own Bar Exam Schedule
- Why Really Wanting to Pass the Bar Exam Isn’t Enough
- What You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Bar Exam
- Can Studying Early Help You Pass the Bar Exam?
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