Last time, I wrote about how to get the most out of your bar exam tutor. Now, I’d like to tackle the commercial bar preparation courses. Each bar season, law students and graduates flock to Barbri and Kaplan as the default methods to prepare for the exam (full disclosure: I used Kaplan). Firms often even pay for their new associates to take one of these two courses, so there’s a real incentive to use them. But since these courses are so popular with a wide variety of people, the downside to them is that they take a one-size-fits-all approach to studying that provides little in the way of individualized feedback. There’s always a danger that you may not be making the best use of the course materials for your individual studying needs. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your course:
Use the Practice Materials Provided to You
The first and most important thing that you need to do is actually use the course. Kaplan and Barbri both have hours of lectures, huge banks of essays and answers, and thousands of multiple choice questions. In order to pass, you’ll need to sign into the online portal (or physically show up to class) and start plugging away. The best resources that the programs have to offer are the hundreds of essays, performance tests, multiple choice questions, and model answers to practice your exam taking skills. Practicing is the most important part of bar studying, so focus primarily on using these materials.
Try out the Other Resources
In addition to writing essays and multiple choice questions, try out the other resources that you’re given. There are a lot of resources: a huge box of books, lectures, flash cards, subject quizzes, one sheets, etc. The bar prep courses often pressure you to keep up with everything by giving you a “to do” list filled with busy work, but don’t feel obligated to complete every single assignment and use every resources in the program. If you’re more of a book learner, try the books instead of the lecture videos. If you find flash cards helpful, try these. Everybody is different. The point is to find a few things in the box of tricks that help focus on learning the material, rather than keeping your “to do” list empty.
When I took Kaplan, I fiddled around with the various resources until settling on my personal technique. First, I would watch the lecture (on 1.5X or 2X speed) and take the fill-in-the-blanks lecture notes. Then, I would condense the notes into a shorthand outline of the subject. My outline was based on what Kaplan called a “one sheet,” i.e. only one page, but mine was as many as four pages depending on the subject. This process of watching the videos and outlining the topics took hours upon hours out of my weekly schedule, but it worked for me. Given the amount of time this took, I don’t recommend this approach for everyone. I spent the rest of my time writing, rewriting, reviewing essays and doing the same with the multiple choice questions.
Stop Using Resources that Aren’t Working
This really should go without saying, but if you start to get the sense that what you’re doing is busy work, you should stop. Remember, Barbri and Kaplan are taken by thousands of different people every year. Every single resource will not be helpful to every single person.
For instance, I remember trying the short subject quizzes that Kaplan wanted me to complete after a lecture, so that the portal could calculate which areas of each subject I needed to focus on. I did these at first, but found that a ten-question quiz on an entire subject just wasn’t in depth enough of a review to be helpful, so I abandoned them. As for the other resources, I didn’t even try them. I found that I was learning the material well from watching videos, writing, reviewing and editing my outlines, and answering questions. My huge box of books sat idle in the corner of my room. I never looked at the flash cards. But everybody is different. You may find that the other resources are more helpful to you.
The point is to find a few tricks in the bag that work for you and to forget the rest. The difficulty with taking this approach is that the commercial prep courses try to motivate students to do more by reminding them about everything that they aren’t doing. This can be stressful for a lot of students. It’s easier for some people to completely ignore a “to do” list than it is for others. Just remember, your program isn’t individually tailored to you until you take the step of forgetting about all of this background noise. If you focus on using the practice materials and a couple of the other resources, then you’ll do fine.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- What are Bar Exam Graders are Really Looking For
- Steps to Making Your Own Bar Exam Schedule
- Are You Wasting Time Studying for the Bar Exam
- What are You Waiting For? It’s Time to Study for the Bar Exam
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