One and done. That was my motto when I was studying for the bar exam. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and passing the bar exam the first time around meant I could get my dream job sooner rather than later. I committed to passing on my first attempt and (thankfully) I did. One and done. Here are some tips to help you pass the bar exam the first time too.
Have a study schedule
It sounds cliché, right? That’s because having a study schedule is one of the most crucial factors of studying successfully for the bar exam. A study schedule is something that is personal to you, so no two schedules are identical. But there are certain tasks that need to be in your schedule:
- Start and cut-off times for each study day. Not every day is created equal. Are you taking a night off for an event or family birthday? Plan that into your study schedule. Do you have any doctor appointments or life obligations scheduled during bar prep? Blocking off these times in your study schedule will help you make the most of your study time.
- Make time for memorization every day and start memorizing early on. It’s no secret that there is a lot you need to know for the bar exam. Starting to memorize the law early means repetition and the frequency of recall (aka repetition) improves your memory.
- Do practice essays, MBE’s, and performance tests. Each section of the bar exam requires a distinct set of skills. Practicing these different parts and reviewing your work allows you to identify your weak areas so you can improve on them.
- Time for full-length practice exams. Timed practice is the key to passing the bar exam, so making sure you complete full practice exams is a must. (Wondering when and how to start full practice exams? Check out our blog post here!)
- Study breaks (yes, breaks!) You can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking a break is a critical part of studying for the bar exam. So, give yourself permission to take a break when you need it.
Study schedule, check! What’s next? Stick to it
Having a study schedule is great, but your schedule is only effective if you actually follow it every day. Distractions like family, friends, nights out, vacations, and any other social event keep you from studying and reduce your chances of success on the bar exam. The tried-and-true way to stay on track with your bar studies is to eliminate distractions.
Explain the importance of having laser-focus during bar prep to your family and friends. Like yesterday. Let them know that your goal is to pass the first time, and your newfound life as a recluse is only temporary. Hopefully, they’ll hear what you say and understand.
If you’re studying for the bar at home, consider where you live. Do you live in a ground-floor apartment? Or near a major highway or busy road? Investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help eliminate outside distractions, and keep you focused.
Challenge yourself to go all in
You have a study schedule, and you’re sticking to it. That’s enough to pass the first time, right? Not necessarily. It’s not enough to just check off the tasks in your study schedule, you need to commit to it if you want to be successful on the bar exam.
Prioritize active learning over passive review, like listening to lectures. I didn’t watch or listen to a single lecture during bar prep. It’s easy to listen to a lecture video or read an outline and tell yourself, “I understand this.” But can you apply those legal concepts on an essay? This is where active learning comes into play. Write essays, get feedback on your answer, drill problem areas. Whenever I work with repeat-takers, I always ask what they think went wrong the last time. The most common answer is not enough practice. The moral of the story? Practice, practice, practice.
Show the graders you deserve to pass
Make their life easy so it’s easy for them to give you a passing score. How do you make the grader’s life easy? By writing an answer that “looks” accurate. Write your essays in IRAC format because this is what the graders expect to see. Use the buzzwords you learned in law school. The graders are skimming your essays and will be more confident giving you a passing score if they see those buzzwords and legal terms of art in your answer. Use every fact from the fact pattern in your analysis, and address the major issues.
When all else fails, be unequivocally confident in yourself
I’ll never forget the anxiety I felt when I read the second essay on my bar exam. I couldn’t tell you what subject was being tested, let alone what the issues were. After about 60 seconds of shear panic, I pulled it together and told myself that I didn’t come this far for nothing. I gathered all the confidence that is humanly possible and wrote my answer as though I knew what I was writing about. The graders care more about your analysis than perfect rule statements and the more confident you sound, the less likely they are to question you.
When I was growing up, my dad’s favorite saying was “Buck up buttercup.” This was his go-to when times got tough. He never said it in a harsh “suck it up” kind of way. But in a “I believe in you; you can do this” kind of way. So, just in case you’re studying for the bar and nobody’s told you, buck up buttercup. Bar prep is only two months. Stay the course. And remember, one and done.