Through our bar tutoring, we’ve seen students try just about every study method under the sun. When they hire us, we offer our advice for improving bar scores, but sometimes they ignore that advice. (Which, by the way, if you’re going to ignore all advice, don’t waste money on a bar tutor!) Over the past few years, we’ve seen more and more people following a particular method they’ve heard about on bar forums: “practicing” bar questions by repeatedly copying the model answers to those questions.
This popped up again with a student recently, and I was talking to one of our bar tutors about the method. She compared it to signing up for a marathon and spending months of “training” by watching videos of people running. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a runner, but I think that analogy is perfect because, like the model answers, running videos can, actually, be very useful! They just can’t replace actual running for purposes of preparing for a marathon.
What Model Answers Are Good For
In some ways, model answers show you what the bar examiners are looking for. So reviewing them, using them to assess your own answers, and even copying one or two to get a sense for how long it takes to just write that length of answer can all help you make progress.
Let’s think back on those running videos. If you’re preparing for a marathon, and you aren’t sure about your form, you might watch a couple of videos to get a sense for optimal ways to place your feet and pace yourself while running. Similarly, reviewing bar answers can tell you what type of information the bar examiners are looking for, the types of format they approve (note that this is not the case if your “model answers” are actually the MEE or MPT point sheets). Model answers can also show you how to use the law that you’ve been studying. Outlines are great for rule statements, but model answers show how to analyze those rules, and also how the bar examiners will be testing them.
If you’re a really dedicated runner, you might get someone to take video of you running and compare it to the videos you’ve been watching. What’s different about your stride compared to the runner you’re watching? What improvements can you make? Are there things about your model that really just don’t make sense for you for some reason? This is one of the best ways to use model answers for bar study. When you write your own answer to a bar question, it’s really important to self-evaluate. You can, of course, do this just by reviewing it when you aren’t under pressure, but you’ll get more out of it if you compare it to a model or a grading key. Models aren’t necessarily perfect, but going through them carefully will help you to more accurately assess your progress.
When you run a race, it’s useful to know how long it will take. If you expect a marathon to be as quick as a 5K, you’re going to be in for a serious reality check on race day! Obviously, videos won’t give you an exact prediction for your own running, but they are likely to give you a ballpark. In a similar vein, if you take a model answer (NOT a grading key!) and copy it out, you’ll get a sense for how long it will take you to just write those words. It doesn’t tell you how long it would take to plan, and you might be using more words or less words. But knowing how quickly you type or hand write is really useful information for planning your answers and how efficient you need to be with your words. If you’re planning to hand write the exam, it can also tell you whether that’s advisable.
What Model Answers Can’t Do
Watching a running video might show you what you need to do to have proper form, but it won’t get your body in shape. You have to get up and run! Reviewing and even (occasionally!) copying model answers can give you key information, but it won’t engage your brain. Unlike running, taking the bar exam is not about muscle memory. Any muscle memory you get from writing (and rewriting) a pre-written bar answer isn’t going to help you succeed. Taking the bar exam is about knowing how to use the law. It’s also not about rote memorization. Remembering the answers to prior bar questions will only help you so much, because the bar questions change! You have to practice spotting issues, stating rules, applying the facts (from a new-to-you fact pattern), and concluding. In other words, you have to compose and write your own answers.
I know, writing answers to bar questions isn’t a whole lot of fun. And the model answer is right there! And it’s right! (Whatever “right” means.) But copying an answer word-for-word won’t help you prepare to take the bar exam on your own. And for all the advice and help we can offer while you prepare, at the end of the day, taking the bar exam is all about what you can do – without the model.
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