Most of us who have gone to law school would probably say that we have never really failed at anything before. While that may be a good thing, it also means you probably never had to look back and assess what you could have done differently to avoid a failure. The reality is that in the current climate, a huge percentage of people taking the bar exam will fail. Depending on where you take the exam, that percentage may be larger than you ever thought possible. For this reason, you should consider the potential mistakes some bar studiers make and try to avoid them.
1. Don’t Assume You Won’t Fail
Going into the bar season with a little fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes overconfidence can be your enemy. We have all heard the statistics about how your chance of passing the bar exam on the first attempt goes up the higher your law school ranking. However, those of us who have taken the exam also have stories about a classmate who graduated in the upper portion of the class, who then failed on their first attempt of the bar exam. It can happen to anyone, so don’t assume it won’t happen to you. Use that fear, it will actually give you focus, and some additional motivation.
2. Don’t Simply Accept That What Everyone Else is Doing is the Best Way for You to Study for the Bar Exam
You just spent three or four years in law school. During that time, you probably discovered what worked for you and what did not. You know what your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to test-taking. Don’t just throw that knowledge out and accept the “herd” mentality that a particular bar program is the best way to go to prepare for the bar exam.
Explore other programs. If you benefitted from taking practice exams, consider a program that emphasizes that as part of their program, giving you feedback and repeated opportunities to explore your readiness for the exam. If you did well on essays, but always struggled with multiple choice questions, then you might want to supplement with a program that gives you a lot of opportunities to practice with a variety of MBE-like questions. Be honest with yourself – some random person who is promoting a particular bar program doesn’t know you as well as you do. Their recitation of statistics should not overrule your own understanding of what will work for you.
3. Don’t “Wing it.”
You’ve purchased the program, gotten the outlines, and been provided the list of topics you need to review before the exam. You think you have everything you need to get started and be successful – unfortunately, you would be wrong. Perhaps the most important part of the process is to develop a schedule and stick with it! I literally had a large wall calendar where I plotted out what subjects I would review on specific days. I scheduled practice exams, reserved time for workouts, and planned one or two nights during the bar season when I might go out with friends. A schedule keeps you on track and accountable. It’s a constant reminder about all the material you have to cover and makes it unlikely you will get too far behind.
4. Don’t Plan to Take the Bar Exam Right Away if Your Heart, Mind, and Finances are not in the Right Place
The standard line is that you should take the bar exam immediately after you graduate from law school – that this offers the best opportunity for success. Maybe, but not necessarily in every situation. Law school itself is extremely stressful and expensive. Studying for the bar exam is also stressful and expensive, but on steroids. You really have to consider whether you are ready for that intensity, or if a little breather would actually put you in a better mindset for success. Maybe taking a little time off to work and beef up your finances would alleviate some of that stress.
One of the smartest people I ever taught did just that. He had a family to support and made a conscious decision to sit out his first bar season to work instead, which also allowed him to spend time with his wife and children before he faced the intensity of the bar exam. He sat out a bar season but passed when he finally took the exam. He did what was right for his family and not what was expected by his school or his classmates.
Be an active participant when planning to take the bar exam. Consider all the possibilities and how they work best for you, rather than what conventional wisdom or peer pressure dictates. Avoid making mistakes when studying for the bar exam.