According to the Oxford Dictionary, to “debrief” means to “question someone – typically, a soldier or spy – about a completed mission or undertaking.” Of course, a law school graduate preparing for the bar exam encounters different challenges than a soldier or spy. Yet, the process is similar in terms of intensity of mission and rigor and the sustained resolve required to persist through relentless practice, memorization, and drills. This article summarizes three areas of advice for bar preparation gleaned from graduates who recently passed the exam. Learning from their shared experiences should help you begin your own preparation armed with some of the critical “intel” you need to successfully navigate and complete the mission.
1. Don’t Underestimate The Amount Of Preparation You Need
Law school is time-consuming and difficult, but let’s be honest – most third-year law students average a handful of study hours each day. They have learned to gauge the minimum time necessary to prepare for a final exam or write a paper and pass their classes. They spend the rest of their time masterfully balancing part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and savoring the last precious months of law school life before things “get real,” and they have to start studying for the bar exam.
Having successfully juggled multiple areas of responsibility for several years, some law graduates understandably underestimate the extent of the almost-singular focus needed during the several weeks of bar preparation. They aren’t accustomed to a schedule that requires – in an ideal scenario – 10-12 hours, every single day, devoted to just one responsibility – reviewing and practicing the law.
As one recent graduate shared, “Be forewarned: To the extent you attempt to carry multitasking into the bar prep period, you may end up shortchanging yourself on the results you achieve. Bar prep is no joke, even for students who passed their law school classes with flying colors.”
2. Modify As Needed Throughout Your Preparation
Several graduates emphasized the need to adopt a personalized study plan that works best for you. While bar review companies are great at creating extensive and detailed preparation schedules, they often urge (and sometimes even hound) students to fully complete these schedules. The sheer number of daily tasks and the hours required to complete them can be overwhelming. If you try to complete every prescribed assignment, you may spend substantial time on tasks that won’t helpfully advance your individual preparation needs and burn yourself out well before the exam.
Because it is you that needs to pass the exam, the best study plan will be the one that works best for you. With that in mind, use your review course’s recommended schedule as a general guide for creating your own. Stick to it in large part during the early weeks of your preparation, and then as the weeks go by, adapt it to fit your personal needs. Think about what methods worked well for you during law school and use these proven (for you) methods during the remaining weeks.
One way to personally tailor your schedule is to think about the bar-tested courses you took in law school, particularly during your third year. You probably prepared a fairly comprehensive outline for one or more courses that you can easily use during your bar studies to refresh your already strong understanding. As a result, it is unlikely that you will need to complete all tasks recommended by your review course to master that subject. Instead, pare down to just those essential tasks that are necessary to ensure you completely understand the rules that may be tested and plan to refresh your recollection of these rules at various points during the preparation period.
One graduate, for example, created an extensive outline for a remedies course during her last semester of law school and earned a respectable grade on the final exam. However, during law school, she had not taken a community property course, a subject that could be tested on her jurisdiction’s exam. She spent some time fleshing out her remedies outline to include any rules that were covered in the review course’s subject matter outline but not in hers. She omitted the other remedies related tasks on the recommended schedule, deciding that they were unlikely to further enhance her preparation. For community property, in contrast, she completed the entire list of recommended tasks.
By reducing the time she devoted to remedies preparation, this graduate freed up time that she then put to better use. She was able to get ahead on some recommended tasks for a third subject area. She also pocketed some of the time to enhance her long-term productivity and stamina by, when the need arose, treating herself to an activity that would help her relax and recharge–walking her dog, working out, watching a movie, or having a relaxing dinner with her family.
3. Adopt The Right Mindset In The Final Days Of Preparation
Toward the beginning of the last two or three weeks before the exam, take an inventory of where you stand. Review your outlines and determine which subjects you don’t know as well as others. Plan to periodically review the areas you know well and to spend more time reviewing those that need more memorization. (For the latter, make sure you apply some of the helpful memorization tricks you’ve learned along the way.)
Be willing to concede that you can’t possibly memorize everything. I tell students in my bar preparation courses that knowing about 85% of the law for each bar-tested subject area is about as well as you can do. Even graduates who will pass the exam with ease do not know “all” the law.
If you review a particular subject on a given day, and you do not feel confident that you have achieved 85% memorization, calendar that subject for review more frequently than others where you are meeting the standard. One graduate reported that, even on her last day of preparation, she still didn’t feel like she had mastered at least 85% in all subjects. Nevertheless, because she had diligently reviewed all of them, particularly those about which she felt less confident, she made peace with her preparation level. Knowing she had accomplished everything she reasonably could, she confidently turned her focus to the exam itself and to successfully navigating that phase of the process.
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