Law students often wonder: Can you pass the bar exam without taking BARBRI? Short answer: Yes.
I took two bar exams, and passed, without ever doing BARBRI. Crazy, I know!
Well, it’s actually not that crazy.
Lots of people take BARBRI and fail, and plenty of people skip it, and pass.
So let’s talk about what’s really required to pass the bar, however you prepare:
The Key(s) to Passing the Bar Exam
It doesn’t matter where you’re taking the bar exam, universally you need two things to pass:
- Sufficient knowledge of the law.
- The ability to convincingly apply that knowledge, in writing and to tricky multiple choice questions.
But here’s the catch…the second aspect is arguably more important!
So, if you were to spend most of your time drilling MBE questions and writing sample answers, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll pass — even if you don’t actually know every detail of the law. Why? Because you’ve trained yourself to be good at the actual task before you (applying your knowledge, not just learning legal trivia).
You Have to Pick Your Battles
This is classic 80/20 rule stuff. If you know the most important parts of the law cold (including the overall structure), but forget some of the details, that’s not a serious problem. There’s simply no way you can learn everything that might possibly appear on the bar exam, so it’s a lot more efficient to focus on what’s most likely to appear.
That’s one of the aspects that’s interesting about Smarter Review — they relentlessly focus on what’s most likely to come up, knowing that’s what you need to learn first.
For some people, the idea that you have to pick-and-choose what to learn is distressing. Who wouldn’t prefer to know everything?!? It seems less stressful just to follow the (very expensive and time-consuming) program you paid for and hope for the best.
But the reality is that everyone preparing for the bar exam has limited time and mental energy. Every minute you sit listening to a lecture about stuff you already basically know is a minute you’re NOT spending drilling the things you don’t know, and practicing.
Even if it doesn’t seem like it, you’re making a choice about what to learn.
What I Did
Maybe I’m just a contrarian, but I couldn’t justify the expense of BARBRI, particularly when I had the option to work part of the summer before the bar exam. So I signed up for a computerized course (now called Multistate Edge, then Micromash) which focused on the MBE, but also included state law topics at that time (now it’s just for the MBE, like AdaptiBar).
I spent several weeks drilling 3-4 hours a day on the MBE, with another several hours a day on the state law topics. All total, I probably studied 100 hours for each exam (Massachusetts and California).
I’m not telling you this so you’ll think I’m some kind of bar exam savant. I’m not. I don’t even think it’s that unusual among practicing attorneys. (Here’s the story of how my law school roommate passed New York with a week off work.)
The Bottom Line
The point is this: You can study very efficiently and pass the bar exam. You can spend tons of time studying, and still fail.
The end result is what matters:
Are you able to apply the basic legal principles you’ve learned to the fact patterns you’re given?
If the answer to that question is Yes, you’ll pass. If it’s No, you’ll fail.
If listening to lectures about Torts and Contracts is getting you closer to that goal, great. If not (and only you can know this), don’t be afraid to change course.
Ultimately, passing the bar exam is your responsibility. Bar prep programs can help you reach that goal, but they can’t make you pass the bar.
In the end, it’s you and the test. Everything else is ancient history!
Good luck, everyone.
— – —
Some other posts that might be of interest:
- Bar Study Tips: What Do You Do if You Aren’t Sure that Bar Prep Is Working for You?
- Bar Study Tips: Getting Mentally Ready for the Bar Exam
- Self-Studying for the Califoria Bar With “Be a Goat”! (Part I)
- Self-Studying for the Califoria Bar With “Be a Goat”! (Part II)
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