I am feeling overwhelmed. Not by the prospect of the exam. Not by the hours and hours of lectures, note taking, and reading. I am overwhelmed by the volume of material that I have to memorize in order to pass the bar the first time. Honestly, I am not certain that the human brain has the capacity to absorb and retain all of the terms of art, Black Letter law, and nuances of the law. Hopefully, by the end of this article we will all feel less anxious because we will be armed with a few critical tools to make memorization for the bar exam easier.
Customize Your Materials
Whichever bar prep provider you have decided to use for your bar prep, at some point in your last semester of law school you received a box full of outline books, bar tips books, and other materials containing the entire body of material that you must commit to memory for the exam. Combined with live or on-demand resources, you are faced with the simple task of learning it all. Easy, right? No!
One incredibly powerful memorization tool is to transform those commercial materials into your own words. Of course, this task can be painfully time consuming, but it is not time wasted. While you are transforming that fifty-page commercial outline into a thirty-five-page personal outline, you are learning the material. Simply reading the material is too passive to result in meaningful memorization but writing out the material and making it your own is powerful. Get started right away. Build your own materials in whatever form worked for you in law school (e.g., flashcards, flow charts, hieroglyphics, etc.).
Remember You’re A, B,Cs
When you were young, you learned the alphabet and multiplication tables using a memorization technique called rote memorization. Rote memorization is simply the learning of information through repetition. There are certain advantages of this method of learning particular to the bar exam. Specifically, rote memorization can result in the ability to quickly recall facts and information and will provide you with a foundational-level knowledge of the material.
This is really perfect for the bar exam, because the bar requires you to learn a lot of law that will be of little applicability to you after the exam is over, depending on the area of law you intend to practice.
Rote memorization or repetition can help you cram a lot of information into your brain, relatively easily, which you can then dump into the exam and forget it.
Exploit Your Style of Learning
Whether you engage the material using rote memorization or some deeper cognitive learning tool, you should be mindful of your learning style throughout the process. There are several learning styles, and hopefully, by this point in your legal education, you have determined which you are. Use that knowledge to help your memorization. Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner? Each style of learning has its own quirks which can help you be as productive as humanly possible. Adjust your memorization style to fit the elements of your learning style in order to maximize your effectiveness.
Don’t Limit Your Resources
I am not going to advocate that you suddenly change the way that you study after three grueling years of law school; however, I am going to suggest that there are other tools that could help you enhance your learning and memorization during the two months of bar prep. If you have never tried using flashcards or flowcharts, now may be the time to pull one of those tools out of the toolbox. It is a fact that writing information out aids in memorization, retention, and recall. Rather than rely solely on the type-written bar notes and outlines provided by the bar prep vender, let’s start writing some things down in your own hand.
Flashcards are a fantastic way to do this because you are forced to synthesize the information and be concise (it all has to fit on that little card). Don’t want to get stuck carrying around a bunch of flashcards? Okay. Why not try drafting your own flowcharts? This is an amazing tool which is particularly well suited for the law because so much builds from simpler concepts or ideas. By writing or mapping out your own flowcharts based upon the copious resources in your outlines and bar notes, you are necessarily forced to synthesize and be more concise.
Either way you go, flashcards or flowcharts or some other tool, by writing the material out in your own hand and reducing the information into meaningful chunks, you will get a jump-start on memorization and have fantastic tools to enhance the effectiveness of your memorization.
We Are Not the First
As you continue to be overwhelmed by the volumes of material you must learn for the bar exam, just remember that many have done it before you. It is possible. If you just devote the time and energy and employ some of these simple adjustments, your likelihood of success will improve. There is no silver bullet. You just have to memorize it all, but just long enough to dump the information into the exam. You can do this.