You don’t have to be a real estate investor to understand the meaning of the phrase, “Location, Location, Location.” A mantra those getting ready to take the bar exam should adopt is, “Practice, Practice, Practice.” No, your goal is not to go to Carnegie Hall. Instead, think about each part of that mantra as being a separate step in your preparation.
Yes, you have to study and internalize the subject matter of any course you are taking. While you spend hours, or days, reviewing outlines and memorizing rules you can spit out quickly and accurately when writing an essay, studying alone is never enough. Don’t tell me about the classmate who claimed to simply read through commercial outlines in preparation for an exam they claimed to have “aced.” While there may be one or two individuals in the universe that can pull this off, the vast majority of us mortals in the law need something more – we need to practice! But how you practice is also important.
1. The First “Practice” – The Bronze Standard
The first “practice” is the bronze standard because you are doing something more than simply reviewing the materials to be tested. You’re actually using old exams to issue spot, or to write out your answers. However, you are not writing the answers under bar exam conditions – timed and without notes or outlines. A one-hour essay may take you 2 hours. Your concern is to be complete, so you double-check your materials to make sure you haven’t missed an issue or are stating the rule correctly.
While this might be an effective study tool early in your preparation for the bar, continuous use of the method will not truly prepare you for the rigors of the bar exam. You need something more.
2. The Second “Practice” – The Silver Standard
This next approach offers a better way to prepare for the bar exam and is an approach most bar takers use eventually. This approach should be part of your bar review routine – but should not be the last step you take.
So, what is the “Silver Standard?” You are engaging in this approach if, after studying contracts, you force yourself to take a contracts exam under timed conditions, without notes. Once you complete the essay, you review the answer, see what you missed, and review the law on that topic. You might even take another practice contracts exam, or you might just move on to study torts, before taking a timed torts exam.
Why isn’t the “Silver Standard” enough? For many it might be – but if you want to maximize the chances that you will pass the bar, there is another step you must work into your study routine.
3. The Third “Practice” – The Gold Standard
The third use of the word “Practice,” refers to the “Gold Standard.” You started your bar prep with old exam questions, using your notes to issue spot or write out the rules the facts raise. After you become more comfortable with the material, you take practice exams, one at a time under timed conditions, to test your retention of the knowledge you just studied. Again, these practice exams are done without notes or outlines. So, what more can you do?
After you have reviewed all the substantive materials and are feeling confident with the material (or not, but the bar exam is just a few weeks away), block out a day or morning to practice a full bar session. What do I mean by this? Well, work through three one-hour questions, back to back, with no breaks and no notes. Or consider taking a half days’ worth of MBE’s without a break. As you get closer to the actual bar exam, consider taking a full morning session of essay questions, have lunch, then come back for a full half day of MBE’s.
It’s important you feel and get comfortable with the total time pressure presented by the bar exam. An occasional one-hour exam here and there is good, but not enough. By practicing in bigger blocks, you will learn to pace yourself, and resist the temptation to give more time to one question over another (because no one is calling time after an hour). By devoting a full day to a practice exam, you will experience the inevitable burn-out toward the end of the day. You will learn how to handle that burn-out or be prepared for it. Do you really want to experience that feeling for the first time during the actual bar exam? Get comfortable with the anxiety and pressure presented by this scenario. The more you practice, the less scary it will be.
So, maximize your bar prep routine. Go for the Gold! Practice, Practice, Practice!