When I was a law student, there were times my peers and I thought that our English-speaking professors spoke to us in foreign language. To be clear, these sentiments applied even when the professors were not introducing legal terms of art rooted in Latin!
Therefore, I want to begin this article geared towards helping English as a second language students (ESL) prepare for the bar by stating just how proud and impressed I am with you. Not only did you master law school, but you did so despite a potentially huge language barrier. This is such an incredible accomplishment, so never undervalue it and be proud of what you have achieved!
Because we are the Bar Exam Toolbox, know you are capable of amazing things and because you just proved you are, now it is time for you to buckle down and prepare to take the bar. This article will help you on your journey.
Pick a Bar Prep Program that is Best for You
As I discussed in Preparing for the Bar as a Foreign Lawyer, you need to pick a bar prep program that works best for you. Fortunately, there are several for you to choose from, so make sure to review your choices before you commit to one or more programs.
Programs with Pre-Recorded Lectures: Some ESL students our tutors work with have found recorded lectures to be really helpful, especially if the students could listen to the lectures later at half-speed or, at the very least, replay key portions if the speaker was going too fast. Programs with a schedule of pre-recorded lectures (like Barbri and Kaplan) can be really useful if you are an auditory learner or you need a way to remain accountable to get through the material. That said, listening to lectures is a passive study method, so don’t rely on this technique too heavily. You want to use at least half of your study time with proactive study methods, such as taking practice essays or completing sets of multiple choice questions.
Bottom line: While recorded lectures can be really helpful if you are an auditory learner or you need to hear the material again, you need to make sure you don’t add hours of what can turn into busy work to your already-full schedule.
Programs with One-On-One Tutoring: I adore programs with a one-on-one component. While they are great for all bar applicants, they can be particularly helpful for ESL and foreign lawyer applicants. Having a tutor that works directly with you throughout the duration of your bar prep can provide you with a multitude of benefits, such as helping you:
- Remain accountable;
- Work in real-time through areas of confusion via telephone or video conferencing;
- Improve your IRAC method on essays;
- Identify areas of improvement that can apply to more than one area of law; and
- Understand, synthesize, and use rule statements
When you’re stressed and feeling overwhelmed, not much is worse than having your bar prep program skim over an area of law that confuses you without providing you with an opportunity to ask questions. Having someone immediately accessible and wanting to help you in a personalized manner can be absolutely invaluable. For example, you can ask them to rephrase a rule you don’t understand or speak slower when explaining a concept. Additionally, you can always ask for advice about where to look to get more answers on your own and then come back with further questions later if you still need clarification.
Bottom line: If you need individualized help, get it! In fact, we offer individualized tutoring, so check it out!
Programs with Multiple Choice Questions: The multiple-choice component of the bar exam is academically rigorous and unavoidable. Equal to and potentially harder than the multiple-choice questions you confronted in law school, these dense questions test the “Big Seven” areas of law (i.e., Torts, Property, Contracts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and Evidence). The seven subject matters are all mixed together and you are never told which subject a question is testing you on. Many times, correct answers can turn on a single word or phrase. How fun!
As is often the case with a standardized test, these questions can be harder for people less familiar with the culture or language. Therefore, you’ve got to consistently practice these questions throughout your entire bar exam preparation process. To do so, I strongly suggest the program Adaptibar. It uses all of the authentic Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) questions written by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) that have appeared on previous exams. Impressively, it tracks your areas of expertise and weakness, and then adjusts the presentation of questions accordingly. It is like having an automated tutor for multiple choice questions; how great is that?
Bottom line: You can conquer the multiple-choice component of the bar, but only through the diligent practice of all seven areas of law.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
In many respects, the bar exam is a race horse exam. Time is not your friend, and there never seems to be enough of it! Even if you understand the law incredibly well, it can be nearly impossible to write it all down in the time allowed. This is especially true for ESL students and foreign lawyers. By using attack plans you created in law school or will be creating in the weeks leading up to the bar, you will find it much easier to focus on analysis and write quickly.
Do not avoid writing practice essays and performance tests or taking practice multiple choice questions. Also, make sure in the last month or more of studying that your practice is under timed conditions.
Bottom line: The more you avoid exam-like practice before the bar, the less prepared you will be. The more your practice mirrors exam-like conditions, the better prepared you will be. So, embrace the inevitable and conquer your fears!
The Change in California from a Three-Day Exam to a Two-Day Exam
If you are taking the bar exam in California, you likely already know that the exam is being scaled back from a three-day exam to a two-day exam. The differences are talked about in greater detail here, but I wanted to note a few things for ESL students to consider. First, this change may help you, because the performance test has been substantially reduced. Instead of two 3-hour performance tests, there will only be one 90-minute performance test. This means that the weight given to the writing portion will substantially reduced, which will really help those of you that are not entirely comfortable reading quickly in English (and, frankly, many of your English-only speaking counterparts may enjoy this change for the same reason). This also means that the MBE section is going to carry more weight, which is great if you are better at taking multiple choice questions than answering essays.
Bottom line: Whether you are taking the bar in California or in another one of America’s great states, just like in law school, you can succeed! Now, get out there and do it!
For more articles related to passing the bar as an ESL student, check out following:
- Preparing for the Bar as a Foreign Lawyer
- How to Navigate Law School as an ESL Student
- Taking the bar as a Foreign Lawyer
- Wondering What an Attack Plan is?
- What are Bar Exam Graders Really Looking For?