Studying for the bar exam often involves some information-overload—especially if you’re using a typical once-size-fits-all bar review program that requires day-by-day checklists. More often than not, the students we see in these types of programs feel completely overwhelmed and are already behind on their checklists by this time in the bar study period.
Why is this a problem? Well, you still have a number of weeks left before you take the exam. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be careful of burning out and getting too exhausted this early in the race. Also, having a never-ending to do list piled on top of you every single day can make many students feel like they never accomplish enough, which can in turn make a lot of people start feeling defeated.
Since this exam requires self-confidence and since a positive mindset can actually help you learn and retain this information better, getting too bogged down can be doubly dangerous. So, what do you do if you feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose? The answer is to simplify.
Simplify Your Rules and Then Memorize Them Verbatim.
Imagine if you went to write an essay on the exam and you already knew going in every major rule that could be tested in that subject. Better yet, what if you knew each rule in a really easy-to-write, concise format, and you knew each buzzword, or element by heart? Your only job on the essay would be to spot the issues at play and match up the facts and law together to write the analysis (see below).
By simplifying your rules before you try to commit them to memory, you’re doing yourself a huge favor. A shorter rule is easier to remember. Also, if you take some time to figure out the required elements for each rule and memorize those, even if you forget the other wording, you’ll have the basics of what you need to do good analysis. Then, on your essay, just go element-by-element and plug in facts.
Note here, I’m not saying you should know every single rule in your bar review books—that’s too much—way more than you need! Focus instead on learning the finite list of big ticket items that tend to show up. Prioritize these ones. Learn the less commonly tested rules too, but keep in mind what the usual biggies are.
Simplify Your Attack Plans to Just Headers, and Memorize Them.
Think of a great essay that spots every issue. It will use headers and sub-headers to call out major and minor issues to the grader, and to show the hierarchy within each discussion (e.g. which pieces are overarching and which are sub-parts of other pieces). If you can figure out and remember what the usual headers and sub-headers are for every potential topic within each subject, you’re well on your way to making really useful attack plans.
Force yourself to make attack plans that give you just the guideposts you need to hit. Just use the headers to give yourself a blueprint. It’s important to be able to see this blueprint without the rules clouding it up. Also, the minute you start filling in rules, you’re basically making a full-blown outline, which takes a lot more time and also makes these attack plans harder to memorize on there own. These frameworks you make will stay the same every time you use them. The good thing about material that stays the same is that it’s much easier to memorize.
The idea here is to simplify and standardize your attack plans (and rules, see above). That way, on an essay, all you have to do is:
- Spot the issue;
- Remember the attack plan that goes with that issue;
- Remember the rules that go with that attack plan;
- Plug in the facts that correspond with the elements of those rules;
- Write your analysis.
I’m not saying your analysis will be the same every single time you see a particular issue. It won’t. This is because the facts will always be different. What facts you get dictate which issues will be big and which will a If you have a standard attack plan and rules, though, you don’t have to spend so much time figuring out how to structure your discussion or phrase the rules you write. You can focus on fitting in and using the facts and just writing.
Simplify Your To-Do List.
This really comes down to prioritization. For many students (especially those in big bar review programs), not every task or assignment will actually be a good use of their time. Some people memorize better when they say rules out loud. Others find it a lot more productive to write rules out by hand. We are all different, and what works for us is different too. When you sit down and look at your schedule for the day, ask yourself what activities take the longest, and which ones give you the most bang for your buck. See what ways you can find to really challenge yourself and balance your time so you’re getting the most out of each hour you spend. The bottom line here is that you need to figure out what activities actually push you and make you improve while still being cognizant of the time you’re spending to get that benefit.
One major caveat here, practice is non-negotiable! There’s no getting out of writing full essays and PTs and doing MBE questions. I know, I know, you don’t like them. You don’t feel like they’re helping. Believe me, if you’re practicing effectively and reviewing thoughtfully, this is absolutely helping you. If you think you can successfully study without these steps, you’re just deluding yourself.
If a particular task (besides practice) feels like a waste of time for you, though, it probably is. This is one of the tricky parts about mass-marketed bar study programs. Some things may work well for you but not other people, and vice versa. Don’t be afraid to follow your gut instincts and use the tools you have which actually seem to be working. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know what has worked well for you in the past. Anything really feeling like busy work? Back burner it and consider throwing it out entirely.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Can Taking a Break Save Your MBE Score?
- What You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Bar Exam
- Exercises for Your Brain
- Should You Start Thinking About Your Bar Exam Mental State Now?
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