There are some harsh truths to be aware of when it comes to the bar exam. It is important to prepare yourself for the realities so that when you encounter them, they do not discourage you. Just like law school, the bar exam is not easy. However, you are strong, smart and can do hard things with determination!
It’s Not About What you Know, but What you can Show
A major frustration across bar examinees is that they knew the law but could not apply it on the MEE. The best response I have heard is that the graders will only see what you put down on the paper, not what is inside your head. Whether it is pleasant or not, it is critical to practice real MEEs under timed conditions to see if you can show what you know.
Similarly, when you are reviewing the MBE questions, re-write the correct and incorrect answer choices to get the most review possible. When you review these rules try to articulate them without looking at the outline or answers. Put yourself in a position where you have to come up with a simple rule explanation. Try the best you can to write it down or explain it aloud. People often suggest imagining you are explaining the law to a family member or friend. This habit of review helps you from keeping the information solely in your mind, and forcing yourself to show what you know.
A little discomfort before you feel ready to do it will take you far! It is better to be uncomfortable in your preparation than on exam day.
Law school is different from Bar Prep
By the time you are a 3L, you have gotten this law school system down to a science and know what it takes to succeed. The harsh truth is that testing for the bar is a different game altogether, and you need to learn the new rules in this new system. Learn what is expected of you by reviewing rubrics of how bar exam graders will assess your writing and review previous exams posted by your jurisdiction.
You may realize during bar prep that your favorite subject in law school may still be a challenge for you on the bar exam. Approaching the bar like a law school test will not prepare you well. To make that major shift, it will benefit you to practice bar exam questions from the three sections you will be tested on: MBE, MEE, and MPT. Get to know patterns for highly tested subjects, note how the facts appear, and how topics are tested. Start early so that you can adequately familiarize yourself with the exam format and expectations from graders. During preparation, you may discover your weakest law school subjects are actually bar exam strengths.
Limited Time and Pressure
The bar exam is a timed exam, requiring stamina to get through two days of testing (note that jurisdictions may differ), and held in a large venue shared with other test takers. This can be a major change for you from previous standardized exam experiences. The best way you can prepare is to simulate the real thing. Take practice questions at a café to get used to taking the exam with background noise so that if your proctors are chatting, it won’t derail you. Add a timer of 30 minutes for an MEE, 90 minutes for an MPT and similarly time yourself on MBEs. By timing yourself, you’re learning to think under the time pressures so that exam day is not the first time you face the music.
Get Used to Mistakes
Much of the bar exam preparation is learning through doing. This means your review will entail taking practice questions, essays and performance tests. When you review these questions, you can expect to see that there is a learning curve. In other words, it is going to take daily practice to see improvement in your exam performance. Oftentimes students are discouraged by their practice quiz scores and essay scores. Remember the point is to learn from the mistakes and not be defined early on by scores and grades. The only score those matters is the final score. Before then, you are learning, developing new habits and implementing changes for improvement. Adopt a growth mindset so you can redefine mistakes and failures as opportunities to improve for the big day.
Bar Prep can be Expensive
Be aware of exam registration fees so that you can save money. Waiting too late can double the cost of registering for the bar. Additionally, these fees are even higher if character and fitness completion is required first.
Additionally, there are traveling costs to consider if you plan to travel to the exam including transportation, lodging and food.
Aside from logistics, you may be considering a tutor or bar prep provider to prepare you for the exam. Be sure to maximize your investment by going with services that match what you need. You can schedule a consultation to get started. Take recommendations from friends with a grain of salt, as this is your studying process, and your needs may be different than what works for them.
Repeat to yourself, “I can do challenging things!” whenever you encounter a new difficulty. You made it through law school and you can conquer the bar!