It is now just weeks until the California bar exam — scary, I know. And yet, I know some of you out there are still procrastinating with your practice work. This guy even watched 76 hours of the same movie over and over again rather than study! Comfortable? Sure. Helpful? Absolutely not!
If you’re serious about taking this exam, there is absolutely no excuse for putting off essays, PTs, and MBEs any longer. If you do, you’re only hurting yourself. I mean that. You’re getting closer to the cut-off point where you will really start jeopardizing your score. If you have the sneaking suspicion you could be using your time more efficiently, or practicing more, you probably could. Get to it!
Time and again, when we talk to students who come to us after failing the bar, they all have one thing in common—they didn’t practice enough (or they saved all their practice until the end right before the test). Now, I know this stuff is tough. I get it. It’s not easy to do things we feel we are bad at—especially for us law school types who are used to succeeding. In fact, it’s terribly difficult, we all hate it. It shakes our confidence and makes us feel bad about ourselves. It’s difficult to practice essays when we don’t know the law well (or at all). It’s hard to do MBEs and PTs when we feel like we’re just continuing to get everything wrong over and over again. I understand.
Thus, this may seem really like really counterintuitive advice, but if you’re studying for the bar, the number one thing I would recommend to you right now is to do the things that make you feel uncomfortable. That’s right. In fact, start off with what makes you the most uncomfortable first. Prioritize those activities. Make a list if it helps. What are the worst, most horribly awful activities for you? Unlike a lot of areas in life, doing things that make you feel really terrible can actually be the very best thing for you.
If you’re skating by feeling fine about your studying and you haven’t started doing the following yet, stop, regroup, and ask yourself if what you are spending your time on is actually going to help you on exam day. Will it? Be honest with yourself. If not, try these:
Force yourself to practice . . . Every. Single. Day.
When I say practice, I mean writing out a full, timed essay or PT, or doing MBE questions. And no, you can’t just choose whichever of these activities is easier for you! Do more of whichever of these you are very worst at—whichever you hate the most. This also includes reviewing your work. Because let’s face it, no one likes that part, but it is crucial.
If you find yourself putting off the practice, do it first thing in the morning. There’s no better incentive to get in gear and review the law than completely bombing an essay on that issue, missing the entire structure on a PT, or getting 10 MBEs in a row wrong. I know this isn’t fun, but fun isn’t really the point. You can have fun when the exam is over! Now is the time to give it your best shot so you never have to take this exam again.
Use what almost kills you to make you stronger.
If you crash and burn on an essay, what do you do? Do you skim through the sample answers and tell yourself, “Oh, I almost saw that issue,” “If I had a little more time, I definitely would have remembered that rule,” “I was close enough, the graders probably wouldn’t even notice that.” Stop giving yourself a false sense of security! If you missed it, you missed it! End of story. You need to start learning from your mistakes. Getting things wrong before the exam is one of the very best opportunities to make sure you don’t get the same stuff wrong on the exam. But it’s up to you whether you take advantage of these opportunities or not. So, how do you do that? Start by keeping track of everything you get wrong, and then use it to point you toward what to work on even more. Then, rewrite anything you really miss the mark on.
Keep track of your mistakes. . . And then fix them.
Have you ever missed an issue on an essay, then reviewed the sample answers briefly, and then never thought about the issue again? Well guess what? This won’t help you very much! Especially once you start practicing a lot (which you should, see above), you’ll start racking up a lot of missed items—on essays, on MBEs, on the way you are planning and writing PTs and how much time you’re spending.
So, what do you do with these missteps? Put them into a running list. Make a “go back to” list for missed issues or rules on essays so you can revisit them at the end of the day and then again next week. Start a “missed answer document” for MBEs and write down the rules that would have helped you get the question you missed correct. Don’t write down the whole MBE question or all the answer choices, that’s a waste of time. Instead, just keep a document of short, bullet-point rules you can keep reviewing. Fix these things now so you don’t get them wrong on exam day. This document also makes a great prep tool in the weeks before the exam. Hopefully, you will do so many MBEs between now and then that this rule document will get pretty long.
Forget the idea of being bad at any one thing.
Sometimes students tell me “Well, I’m really weak at Evidence, I always have been,” or “I never took Corporations in law school, so it’s going to be a problem for me,” or “I have zero long-term memory,” “I am a terrible writer,” etc. Well guess what, these are all things you’re being tested on in a few short weeks, so these excuses don’t work anymore.
So, you’re bad at Corporations—ok, that means you should work some more on it! It’s uncomfortable, I know. It makes you feel less-than, no one likes that. You think you need confidence for the exam (which is true), so you don’t want to do things that feel demoralizing. I get it. This is actually one of my favorite points students make. Yes, you need to be confident going into the test, but that doesn’t mean you should delude yourself into thinking you have a better handle than you do because you fail to review the things you’re bad at. Sweeping things under the rug might be the worst thing you can do at this point.
So, what should you do? Use things you feel weaker at as chances to teach yourself what you don’t know. Learn the most basic concepts in plain English and then come up with attack plans you can memorize. Even if you don’t understand all the minutiae and have to look up basic terminology to even make sense of the subject, that’s ok! Do it! Prioritize the big ticket items in each subject. Learn that stuff first.
You can’t afford to have gaping holes in your knowledge. You may never be a whiz at Evidence or the best PT writer in the world, but you need to at least scrape by. You need to have something to say about each topic you’re learning, and you absolutely must find or make and memorize attack plans. I promise, these will make your job so much easier. By the time the exam rolls around, you must be able to write (and finish) a decent PT in the time allowed. Remember, even though it doesn’t seem like it, this is a minimum competency exam. Of course it’s also one of the hardest exams in the world, but you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be an expert at anything. You just need to get above that minimum threshold in all areas so you can pass.
Hang in there. Even if you haven’t written a single essay yet, you still have time—provided you start soon. Your first few essays might be abysmal. That’s ok! Just do it! You have to start somewhere. Get over the discomfort. Think of it this way, writing some bad essays or PTs is a lot less uncomfortable than failing this exam! Stop putting off the heavy lifting. Now is the time to make every day count!
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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
- State Dependent Learning and the Bar Exam
- The Ins and Outs of Studying for the Bar Exam
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