The beginning of bar prep is an intimidating prospect, and it’s not just due to the pressure to pass. There is a massive amount of information available to students studying for the bar, and sifting through it all can be overwhelming and confusing. While there are some great new study tools out there that might be worth exploring, particularly if you’re repeating the exam, the best study strategy is generally to keep it simple. The bar exam is not the time to try something new. Use the study strategies that have worked well for you in the past, and make sure you incorporate these 3 simple steps into your preparation process.
1. Learn the Concepts
The first component of any bar prep plan obviously involves learning the concepts. Given the breadth of material covered by the bar exam, this is no easy task, since most students will be seeing at least a few topics for the first time in bar prep. The majority of your time during the first few weeks of bar prep should be spent learning – or re-learning – the law. There’s a lot of material to get through, so don’t waste time experimenting with new tactics or tools. Instead, think about how you learned the concepts in law school and use those same strategies. For most students, that means briefly reviewing the material, actively listening to a lecture to clarify and reinforce the concepts, then reviewing your commercial outline. Some students may find it beneficial to write out the concepts or create their own study aids. While you probably won’t have time to create a full-fledged outline for each subject, creating a one page issue checklist or attack plan can be helpful.
The key to this step in the process is to make sure that you are not mindlessly reading outlines or passively going through the motions. Find a way to engage with the material and constantly assess whether you’re actually comprehending the material. Being self-aware throughout the preparation process will allow you to seek help if needed or make tweaks that will benefit your learning.
2. Memorize the Rules
We all know that the bar exam is closed book, which means you’ll not only have to learn all those concepts, you’ll have to memorize them as well. Improving your retention of the rules (and the exceptions, and the nuances, and all the details) will occur throughout bar prep, but the intense memorization will primarily take place in the latter half of the process. Again, now is not the time to experiment with new techniques. If you’ve never liked to use flashcards, don’t feel like you need to buy a set of bar prep flashcards. If you’ve never been able to memorize simply from reading a text, don’t assume that reading and re-reading your outlines will be sufficient in bar prep. Draw on your past educational experiences to help you select the best way to remember the concepts that you’ve learned. But, whatever memorization strategy (or more likely strategies) you choose, make sure that you’re challenging yourself to recall the rules without prompting. Re-reading or copying material is generally not enough to commit the information to memory, so make sure you’re focusing on retrieving the law unprompted.
3. Practice the Skills
One of the qualities that makes the bar exam so difficult is that it doesn’t just require you to memorize a massive amount of law, it also requires you to apply the law in new and complex situations. Accordingly, your bar prep plan must make time for you to practice the writing and analytical skills that you’ll use on the exam. Complete practice MBE questions daily, and make time to write out timed answers to essay questions and MPTs. Working through practice questions may seem time consuming, but it is actually a very efficient way to prepare. That’s because practice questions do triple duty: they help you learn the concepts by seeing how the law works and what facts raise particular issues, they improve retention by requiring you to review what you got wrong or missed, and they give you an opportunity to practice your exam-taking skills. While having access to bar prep on an app or through a website is convenient, be sure to complete at least some of your practice questions the same way they’ll appear on the test: on paper.
The bar exam will likely be the most academically intense experience you’ve had so far. Don’t underestimate the time or focus you’ll need to commit in order to be successful. While bar prep will require you to work harder than you have before, it doesn’t necessarily require you to spend even more money procuring every supplemental study aid or to waste time trying to make sense of conflicting advice. Incorporate the strategies that have been successful for you in the past, stick closely to a good study schedule, and keep it simple.
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