The first time I took the bar in July of 2017 I was, like most examinees, fresh out of school, still burned out from my final semester, and absolutely dreading studying for the exam.
Actually, as of three weeks before my last day of classes I was convinced I didn’t have to take the exam. It wasn’t until one of the staff attorneys at my judicial internship goaded me into signing up for it in front of her that I even settled on which jurisdiction to take it in.
Since deciding to take the bar exam, I now find myself in an epic class of repeat takers who include Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and John F. Kennedy Jr. Below, I’ve outlined the five things I wish I had done the first time, that helped me tremendously the second time.
1. Accept That You Are Taking the Bar Exam
Like I said, the first time I took the bar exam, I was in denial. I was going through the motions. I had done a brief amount of research on bar prep companies and settled on one because it was cheaper than the other. I went to the library each day, watched the lectures, speed read the outlines, filled out the handouts, and practiced, but nothing sunk in.
I never accepted that I was taking the bar exam, and I think that prevented me from really opening my mind up to what I was learning. Instead, I spent a considerable amount of time worrying about what I was missing out on.
The second time I studied, I made a point to accept that I was taking on this huge, scary endeavor once more. This helped me come up with ways to keep myself calm and focused so that I could learn the material without feeling overwhelmed.
2. Figure Out How You Learn
There are different kinds of learners: kinesthetic, reader/writers, visual, and auditory. I myself am a mix of kinesthetic and reader/writer. That is, I learn better when I am teaching myself and moving around. But I didn’t know this when I studied for my first bar exam.
Instead, I followed the bar prep company’s schedule to a T. It took me four weeks and many 33% MBE scores to realize I was not learning the material. Early on in my prep, I decided to hire a Bar Exam Toolbox tutor, and she encouraged me to determine how I learn best. Unfortunately, I didn’t really dig into that until four weeks into studying after I’d had a panic attack during one of our weekly phone calls.
The last few weeks of my prep, I started to teach myself, but it wasn’t until my second attempt at the bar, that I really embraced my particular learning styles. I started my second prep period reading and annotating outlines, writing out rules to create muscle memory for how the words flowed together, and took to walking with my notes when I got antsy.
3. Schedule Studying
The first time around I relied on a company to decide when and what I studied. This left me feeling wholly unprepared and uncomfortable every day.
When I began studying the second time, suddenly it was up to me to put together a schedule. I had hired the same tutor, and she provided a study schedule, but I found that seeing all the weeks lined out actually elicited a tremendous amount of anxiety. So, I used them as templates and crafted my own. I broke it down into individual months, then individual weeks. Each morning, I decided what I would do that day, and having this control helped me not get so overwhelmed with the amount of work I had to complete.
4. Review Everything
I knew during my first attempt that I should spend time reviewing my answers, but I only made the time to review the ones I got wrong. I assumed, incorrectly, that I was getting the right ones right for the right reasons (say that five times fast!).
But, during my second attempt, I made a point to review every single practice question that I did, whether it was an MBE, MEE, or MPT.
After each MBE set on AdaptiBar, I would quickly read through the question again, then the four potential answers, and, if I had gotten it wrong (or right, but wasn’t sure why), I would write out the rule by hand. I also consistently reviewed how I was doing in each topic so that I could practice more of the ones I was having a harder time with, and focus on those.
For each MEE or MPT, I would read through the sample answer, identify what I had missed, and (for the MEE specifically) write out the rules. Most of the time, I would rewrite the entire sample answer just to get a feel for how long a correct answer would take to type and how the examinee had used the IRAC structure.
I strongly believe the reason my MBE score improved so much is because I had reviewed thousands of questions and familiarized myself with right and wrong answers.
5. Take Breaks
Studying for the bar requires a lot of stamina, not just to make it through the daily grind, but also to keep studying week after week.
That first summer, I took very few breaks. Instead, I sat for upwards of nine hours straight, choosing to get through the work all at once rather than have to come back to it later. The second time, I made a point to get up and walk around for a few minutes every 45 minutes or so. And every couple of hours I’d take a longer break to regroup. I also took off one whole day a week where I did not crack a single book. These breaks helped me show up to my study sessions fresh and ready to focus.
I wish I had known during my first attempt that these five things would have made such a big difference for me, but I believe everything happens for a reason. I hope that they can be of some help for you all. And remember, this just a test. Be kind to yourself and you’ll make it through.