We here at the Bar Exam Toolbox have worked with countless students who are preparing for the bar across the nation. By working with both first-time and second-time (or more) test takers, I have noticed certain things that everyone who wants to pass the bar should focus on during their exam prep. Because I’m not one to “hide the ball,” and, there are wrong ways to study, here are my top tips for you to incorporate into your bar prep studying so that you can be exam ready:
1. Take Care of Yourself
Law students and practitioners are not always the best at taking care of themselves. Things like eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep (you know, normal human things that even this author ignores from time to time) fall to the wayside when a goal needs accomplishing. This is why my Number 1 Tip is to take care of yourself. Burning out or being sick on exam day are real possibilities, and neither possibility cares about your plan to pass the bar.
2. Write and Review One Essay Each Study Day
There are no shortcuts to passing the bar. The best way to prepare is through perseverance and practice. As such, you should write at least one essay using the IRAC method each study day and carefully review your answer to the sample answer or answer key. (Note: You should be studying five days a week for the first month of preparation, with some time on Saturday or Sunday in the second and final month of preparation).
Many (if not most or all) states post their past essay exam questions and two sample answers or an answer key online, making them great to use as sample practice essays! When you review the sample answers or answer key, try to figure out what they included that you didn’t. Reviewing both samples and comparing your answer to them will help you see where your rule statements are currently deficient and how you can improve them. The samples also give great insight on how to structure an answer (Tip: Use headers and sub-headers).
That said, view and use the sample answers from past bar exams with perspective. These samples are the “gold standard,” and an essay that would obtain a passing score will not reach the samples’ level of quality or thoroughness. In other words, do not be intimated into thinking that the level of expertise in the samples is what is expected of you on exam day! Also, if a rule is only included in one sample answer but not both, then that rule was not needed in order to obtain a passing score.
As some final thoughts, merely “outlining” an answer (as opposed to fully writing it out) does not count! You can’t shortcut studying by only writing a sample outline to an essay and checking it against the answer key. Moreover, by at least the final month of studying (if not earlier), you should be practicing writing full answers under timed conditions to replicate exam conditions. If you can do more than one essay a day, do so.
3. Write and Review One Performance Test Each Week
First, all of the advice pertaining to essays discussed in Tip #2 applies to performance tests (PTs). Second, as someone whose least favorite section on the bar was performance tests, I get that it can be hard to carve out the time to do them. They are longer than the “regular” essays and each one is unique. However, they are worth an important chunk of your total score, so do not ignore them!
Fortunately, the more you practice them, the more you will begin to see common themes in how to attack the law library and the structure of the different types of tasks you may be asked to perform. Therefore, remember to vary the different types of tasks you practice when doing sample PTs. If during Week 1 you tried a persuasive brief, Week 2 try a legal memorandum, Week 3 practice an opening or closing, Week 4 try a client or opposing counsel letter, and so on. Also remember that the PT section is arguably the easiest section to improve upon and everything you need to write a passing score is at your fingertips in the library and file!
4. Practice MBE Questions
When you work on learning the substantive law better and more precisely, you have to test your knowledge by taking practice multistate bar exam (MBE) tests. I suggest starting out by testing yourself in small, untimed chucks, say answering 20 to 30 questions in one subject matter at a time. Next, start taking these small chunks under timed conditions. Mid-way through your bar prep, you should do one three-hour-long session with questions from all subjects mixed together, because this will mirror the morning and afternoon session of the actual exam. This will help you identify your weakest and strongest MBE areas, and you can target the rest of your studying accordingly. (Note: Adaptibar is great for this, so check it out!) Moreover, sitting still for long stretches of time can be challenging, and you don’t want your first time trying to be exam day.
5. Keep a List of Rules You Still Need to Learn
In addition to actually doing MBEs, make sure you write down the one-sentence rule for any questions you miss. Then go back and memorize that list of rules. Once you get a rule consistently right, you can remove it from the list!
6. Your Attack Plans Should Use the Exact Language You Will Use on the Bar
Whether you are refining or creating your attack plans and useful outlines from scratch, make sure to put each rule into the exact language you would use on exam day should that rule be triggered by an essay or MBE prompt. Do this for all of your rules in every subject, and make sure they include the ever-important legal buzzwords that exam graders want to see.
If you created attack plans and outlines in law, you can use them to help you prepare for the bar – there is no need to recreate the wheel if you are already rolling along on the road to success. And, if you weren’t the best law student, it is not too late!
7. Read the Directions and Questions Carefully
Precise reading is just as important as precise writing on the bar. Often, the essay questions guide you on how your answer should be structured and the PTs certainly do. For example, if you are to talk about two parties or several causes of action, each one should be its own heading. Misreading a fact will cause you to misstate it, which can lead to a lower score. Additionally, the correct answer for an MBE question can turn on a single word (like “shall” or “must” versus “can” or “may”). Therefore, pace yourself and read all of the questions carefully when you practice so that you will do so come exam day!
Want more useful articles on preparing for the bar? Check out these helpful posts:
- Don’t Kid Yourself: There’s a Wrong Way to Study for the Bar
- Why Using IRAC Will Help You Pass the Bar Exam
- Don’t Turn the Performance Test into a Bad Decision
- 5 Things I Did Differently the Second Time to Pass the Bar Exam
- How to Regroup After a Bar Exam Failure
- What are Bar Exam Graders Really Looking For?
- The 7 Areas of Bar Exam Preparation
- Warning, Burnout Ahead! Take a Pre-Bar Exam Study Break