There is not much debate about practice when it comes to learning a new skill or getting better at something. I’m guessing that some of you have heard of Outliers by Malcom Gladwell and the idea of the 10,000 hour rule to achieve mastery in a field. Since none of us have 10,000 hours to study for the bar exam you may be interested in the concept of Deliberate Practice which was introduced by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist from the University of Florida. Ericsson has been studying the science of expertise for decades.
The basic idea of Deliberate Practice is that being great at something has less to do with what you were born with (natural ability) or what you learned in law school, but is more closely related to consistent and deliberate work to improve performance. There’s no question that a genetic characteristic such as being tall benefits someone trying to get better at basketball but in most areas motivation and deliberate practice can overcome even differences in cognitive abilities (brain power). This is good news for those of you studying for the upcoming bar exam.
Practice as you well know is essential to any preparation method for passing the bar exam. However, the quality of your practice matters. You must learn from your practice in order to improve performance. Here are the components of Deliberate Practice and how they can help you become great at taking the bar exam.
From K. Anders article on Deliberate Practice, there are four essential components of Deliberate Practice:
- You must be motivated to attend to the task and exert effort to improve your performance.
- The design of the task should take into account your pre-existing knowledge so that the task can be correctly understood after a brief period of instruction.
- You should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of your performance.
- You should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.
Let’s first delve into Motivation. I think it goes without saying that you must be motivated to pass the bar exam. You have either borrowed in excess of $150,000, or spent someone’s (a parent, a spouse’s, or your own) hard earned money on a 3 year law school education. This alone should motivate you to want to put in the time to improve your bar exam taking skills. We know that this process is not fun. But consider the additional time and effort you spend studying for the bar exam as a further investment in your skills and your future as a lawyer. Remember that you went to law school to be a lawyer, and you cannot do that without passing the bar exam.
Second, when studying for the bar you should take into account your pre-existing knowledge (and yes, we hope that you actually listened in some of those class lectures and read some of those cases). What I am saying is that you need to address your weaknesses and challenge yourself by studying and practicing what you do not know. A good way to start is to take your outlines (whether you use bar prep course outlines, make your own, or buy lean sheets) and make a list, highlight or underline the areas where you aren’t as comfortable or that you don’t remember. Those are the areas you should focus on studying.
As you practice essays and MBEs another good idea is to track the areas within each particular subject that you are consistently missing. There are several good on-line tools for targeted practice including Adaptibar and BarIssues. Adaptibar will give you more questions in areas you consistently miss and Bar Issues allows you to search for essays discussing individual issues so that you can do targeted essay practice.
Thirdly, a discussion of bar preparation is not complete without mentioning feedback. It is essential that you get some feedback on your practice in order to improve your performance and be able to pass the bar exam. You can self-evaluate your own work by comparing your answers to available samples or outlines or get the necessary feedback from an on-line tool such as BarEssays. BarEssays allows you to compare your answers to real student answers. You can also hire a tutor for individual feedback (we do that here at bar exam toolbox.) Not everyone can afford a tutor however K. Anders article suggested that one on one tutoring greatly reduced differences in achievement between students of different cognitive abilities. My point here is that you are smart enough to pass this exam. However, you need to know where your weaknesses are in order to improve.
Finally, as K. Anders says we need to talk about repetition. To be successful you will need to keep practicing, every single day. When you are memorizing rules, write them over and over again until you know them off the top of your head. When you are practicing essays, rewrite essays or issues that you struggled with. Come up with a plan for writing essays that you can use and practice using it every single time. Commit to practicing 20 or 25 MBE questions every single day between now and the bar exam. Whatever the number of questions that you practice, just remember that the quality rather than quantity is more important. Better that you practice less and leave time to review each multiple choice question, essay or performance test.
Taking the bar exam is not a sprint, but is more like a marathon. With consistent and intentional practice you can successfully cross the finish line. Good luck and happy studying!
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Are You Wasting Time Studying for the Bar Exam
- Can Taking a Break Save Your MBE Score
- Four Bar Exam Obsessions You Can Live Without
- MBE Trouble? Tips for Studying Again
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