There’s a lot to do when preparing for the bar exam: watch review lectures, read outlines, memorize rules, essays, MPTs, MBE questions…I could go on. And that’s just the study component of bar prep! You also need to ensure you’re approved to sit for the exam, keep your laptop in working order, figure out where to stay on test days, and of course, eat, sleep and manage the other aspects of your regular life.
With so much to do, just figuring out how to schedule every task and when to complete every assignment can be overwhelming, which is why many students rely so heavily on the study schedules provided by commercial bar prep providers. These comprehensive schedules – although a bit intimidating in their own right given the amount of work assigned – can come as somewhat of a relief because they seem to take the guesswork out of bar prep. Simply go through the motions of completing the assigned work, check off each task on the list, and you’ll be pass the exam, right? Not necessarily. For many (if not most) students, adequately preparing for the bar exam is going to require more than just checking off study tasks on a bar provider’s schedule.
Commercial bar prep programs generally offer excellent resources that are tremendously helpful during bar prep. But no program can guarantee success, regardless of how many of the assignments you complete, if you are not actively engaged in the learning process. Consistently completing assignments is crucial, but it’s not always sufficient. To set yourself up for bar exam success, you not only have to put in a lot of study hours, you also have to take control of your own learning.
Why It’s Important to Take Control
Taking control of your own learning involves constantly evaluating your progress and making adjustments to your bar prep schedule as needed. It requires you to be self-aware enough to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses and to be an active participant in selecting when, what, and how to study for the bar exam. Controlling your own learning– rather than relying exclusively on what someone else is telling you to do – is important to bar exam success for two main reasons:
First, it compels you to create a plan that is tailored to your personal situation. While it may seem like your bar program gives you everything you need to pass, it’s essential to remember that their study plans are generic schedules distributed to a mass audience. The plan is not specifically tailored to your needs, and, as a result, may need to be tweaked based on your strengths, weaknesses, and progress throughout bar prep. These generic plans are most beneficial when they are used as a reference for creating your own personalized daily and long term schedules, rather than as a mandatory to-do list that needs to be checked off at the end of each day.
Second, in order to take control of your own learning, you have to actively engage in the preparation process. That means that you not only have to be thoughtful and deliberate when designing your study schedule, but also focused and alert while you are actually studying. You can’t get away with mindlessly reading through an outline and rushing through a multiple choice question set; when you are in control of your own learning you must engage with the material so that you can effectively evaluate your progress.
What Taking Control Involves
To effectively take control of your own learning, you need to do two basic things: evaluate and adjust. Evaluating requires you to honestly assess whether you are comprehending the material, retaining key rules, and improving your skills. Before bar prep starts, identify the areas where you expect to be a bit stronger and the areas where you expect to be a bit weaker. Then, adjust any components of your study schedule accordingly.
For example, maybe you anticipate needing some extra review time for certain subjects and you know that multiple choice questions will be a challenge, but you’re confident in your ability to draft a cohesive essay. Given this assessment, you should consider whether it makes sense to outline a few practice essays rather than draft complete answers so that you have extra time to devote to tough topics and practice MBEs.
The process of evaluating and adjusting should continue throughout bar prep. At the end of each day, assess how things went. Did you comprehend the topics from the lecture? Are your MBE scores improving? Are you drafting passing essay answers? If you are seeing consistent progress, then stick to your plan. If you identify an area where you feel like you’re falling behind or where you need a little extra review, take control of your own learning and make an adjustment that will help you improve.
Ultimately, the goal of bar prep is not to simply complete a certain percentage of the assigned work, it’s to learn the material and master the skills necessary to pass the exam. To achieve that level of proficiency, you need to be an active participant in the learning process. That doesn’t mean you have to go it entirely alone – bar prep programs or an experienced bar prep tutor can provide essential support, guidance, and feedback, but, at the end of the day, you are the person responsible for getting yourself prepared to pass.
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- Does Your Bar Prep Plan Fit You? 5 Questions to Consider
- Checklist for Preparing for Bar Prep
- 3 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During Bar Season
- Studying on Your Own for the Bar Exam – Consider Your Options!