One of the most monumental decisions you will make when studying for the bar is which bar prep course to use. This will impact how you study, how much you enjoy studying, where you’ll study, and often your success rate. I have had many friends take the bar with all kinds of prep courses, including popular courses like Themis, Kaplan, and Barbri, but also some who enjoyed using a tutor instead.
While choosing a course can be daunting, there is truly no one “right” course while all the others are wrong. It’s simply a question of which course will work best for you. With that in mind, here are some things to consider:
1. Which format your lectures will be in
All of the bar prep courses I have heard of all contain some form of lecture component, MBE practice component, and essay practice component. Most have written, printed books as well. Only you know the type of learner you are, so I would look for a course that aligns with that in the lecture department since that is likely when you will be learning the basics of the material. For example, some courses do only pre-recorded video lectures. This works great if you’re someone who likes to pause, re-listen to difficult concepts, take notes at your own pace, and note questions to look up on your own. If, however, you’re someone who prefers a more interactive lecture style, you may want a course that offers in-person lectures, or at least a live virtual option.
2. How much mentorship is involved
Many bar prep courses offer mentors, tutors, or coaches that will check in with you and your studies periodically. Some people find these instructors extremely beneficial; some barely pay attention to them. Their job is generally to check in with your progress and see if there is anything on their end that they can do to better support you. Remember – if you pass the bar using their course, it makes their course look better, so they want you to succeed! If you’re curious how to deal with these check-ins and what to talk about with your tutor about, check this post out.
3. How flexible the study plan is
Some courses have adaptive study plans that will automatically adjust for you if you miss a day or go nuts and complete three days’ worth of studying in a single day. Others give you a schedule that you’re expected to follow or modify on your own.
It’s not fun, but cost is a massive consideration. Some courses are much more expensive, but that doesn’t automatically mean they are better or will fit your specific needs. Don’t be fooled by the numbers; dig into the course itself and see what it offers. Additionally, most law schools will have bar exam course representatives who can give you deals if you go with their course. This post has some helpful ideas for budgeting for the bar exam.
5. What your friends are doing
If you’re someone, like me, who likes to be able to chat about lectures and assignments with other people, you might benefit from taking the same course as a few close study buddies. This does NOT mean you should take the same course as them if you’re sure that another would be a better match for you. Instead, it’s something else to consider if you’re on the fence. Ask your friends what helped them make their prep course decision, and maybe weigh a few of those factors with your other top options.
6. Re-take procedure
If you end up not passing on your first exam attempt, many courses will let you use their course again completely for free on your second try. However, this usually comes with a caveat that you must have completed a certain percentage of coursework to qualify for a free re-take course. Make sure you know the rules before buying, both so that you can ensure that you hit that percentage AND so you can make an informed decision about what you’re getting yourself into if you don’t pass. You also should consider whether the course wasn’t the right fit, and it may be worth it to find something else for your second try.
7. How much feedback you receive
Some courses will grade any essay you give to them; others will only grade a specific number. If you’re someone who prefers to have your essays graded thoroughly, every time, you may be looking for something different than someone who aces every essay but needs major multiple choice help.
8. Where you’re taking your exam
Some bar prep courses offer a course that’s individualized for every single state, but most do not. Further, some programs have excellent courses for some states and lackluster courses for others. When you’re doing your research, look for reviews from bar takers in the same state you are. If the website for the course doesn’t provide any, skip that course.
9. User experience
Every course has a different interface. Some you might like, others you’ll love, others you’ll hate. Every major bar prep course offers a free MPRE course. I signed up for all three to get familiar with what their bar prep courses would look like. Even if you don’t end up going with a major provider, you can still get to know the aspects of various interfaces that you like and don’t like.
Above all, trust your gut. The course that works best for you may not be the one most of your classmates are taking, and that’s okay.
If you end up taking a bar exam course that you don’t like or don’t learn well from, don’t despair. There are plenty of other supplements and programs you can use to make sure you pass that have nothing to do with your bar prep course. Click here for a few ideas.