There are some prevalent misperceptions among bar takers about what you should be spending your time on every day. For the most part, everyone agrees: you should memorize law, write essays and PTs, and practice MBEs. However, the way you carry out these tasks is crucial. If you’re studying for the bar, you may have found yourself wondering if what you’re spending your time on is actually going to get you the results you want. Perhaps it feels too easy, or like a bunch of busy work. If you’re just going through the motions in some of the following ways, don’t kid yourself. You’re doing it wrong.
Soaking up the material versus diving in.
If you’re trying to learn by osmosis, or if you think that just reading your outline or watching videos for hours on end will help you understand and retain the material in the way that is required to pass this exam, don’t kid yourself. You need to jump in and wrestle through the material in a much more active way in order to be ready on exam day.
Outlining essays but never writing them out.
If your practice consists of merely issue spotting essays and outlining them on your screen and you expect this to prepare you for writing full, hour-long timed essays at break-neck speed, don’t kid yourself. You should be writing essays that mimic exam conditions to the extent possible. Issue spotting is great, and it’s an important skill to hone, but it’s not the only essay practice you should be getting.
Being indulgent rather than strict with your practice.
If you are taking breaks, going off the clock, not using a clock, having snacks or drinks or looking at your notes or phone during essays and you think this will get you into top performance condition by exam day, don’t kid yourself. What you should aim for is hour-long (or three-hour long) timed blocks, earplugs in, watch ticking. If you can’t do it during the real exam (e.g. answer a text, consult your outline, chew gum, etc.) don’t do it while you’re practicing MBEs, essays, or PTs.
Learning the buzzwords but not the underlying substance or triggering facts.
If you know the elements of an equitable servitude, but you don’t know what one is, when it applies, or how it differs from a restrictive covenant or an easement, don’t kid yourself. This is not enough to pass an essay that hinges on these topics. You need to know the rules well enough that you can spot when they should apply based on the brand new facts you get in the fact pattern. If you don’t know now what the facts are that tell you when to apply a particular doctrine or rule, you need to spend some more time reviewing those rules.
Recalling the rules like a stroll in the park rather than a fire drill.
If you were walking down the street (without your flash cards) and someone randomly came up and asked you to shout out the rule for the excited utterance exception to hearsay, would you be able to do it? What about all of the hearsay exceptions? What about all the distinctions between the federal and state rules on all of the hearsay exceptions? If your response (in this admittedly absurd situation) would be slow or meandering (like a stroll through the park), don’t kid yourself. The goal on an essay is not to wander around and get to the point eventually. Your recall of the rules you’re learning should be more like a fire drill: a quick, practiced trek along a path you could walk in your sleep if you had to—one with a clear direction and a step-by-step plan to get there.
Letting weak subjects stay weak.
If you have a “weak” subject, this is understandable. We all have subjects that are more and less intuitive for us. If, however, you’re not actively working to hoist this subject up onto the same level in your comfort zone as your strongest subjects, don’t kid yourself. You aren’t doing enough of the heavy lifting. I’m not saying all subjects are equally likely to appear on the exam, they’re not. I’m also not saying you need to know every single nuance of every single sub-topic. But, you do need to triage, and balance your time so you are learning the minimal amount required for each and every subject you could potentially see on exam day.
Deluding yourself into complacency by taking the easy route.
If you’re practicing all your MBEs on “easy” mode, not mixing subjects when you practice, or going through a bunch of questions you’ve seen so many times you have them memorized, don’t kid yourself. Your high percentages are not really as great as you think they are. Test yourself more realistically. Work through the difficult unfamiliar questions, take a mixed review practice test, try a subject you’re not already good at.
Skimping when you review your own work.
First of all, if you’re practicing but not reviewing your work afterwards, stop. You’re doing it wrong. Writing the essay or PT or doing the MBE questions is only half the battle. You should also be painstakingly, actively go through your answer choices and written responses once the clock stops. If you think the issues you’re missing and the rules you’re misstating now are just going to go away, don’t kid yourself. The only way to make sure you don’t miss them again on exam day, is to revisit what you’re doing wrong now and start learning from your mistakes.
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- Does It Take 10 Weeks to Study for the Bar Exam?
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