The key to passing the bar exam is timed practice, but it can be hard to know exactly when to start doing partial or full practice exams. Although no two students are exactly alike and everyone has a different study schedule, we tell most of our bar exam students to start practicing under timed conditions as early as possible. If you’re working on developing a schedule for completing partial or full practice exams, here a few strategies to consider.
Start with Performance Tests
The performance test is an important component of the bar exam and requires no memorization. This is a skills-based exercise that is designed to mimic a real-life legal task. On the performance test, you’ll apply rules from a “closed-universe” library of materials and follow instructions from a task memo in writing out your answer. Because these materials are provided to you on exam day, this is a great area in which to start doing timed practice.
Commit to doing at least one timed performance test per week from the very beginning of your bar study. Make sure to do a variety of performance tests so that you can become familiar with the different tasks. Although persuasive briefs, objective memos, and opinion letters appear with the greatest frequency on the bar exam, there are other formats that have shown up on previous exams too (such as closing arguments and complaints). If you devote ample time to practicing performance tests, this can become a strength for you and help push your scores above the passing threshold.
You Don’t Need to Become an Expert to Do Practice Essays
Many students feel like they need to master the entire universe of law tested on the bar exam before they start completing practice essays. This is a mistake that can lead to unfortunate results on exam day. It is nearly impossible to memorize all of the subjects that could show up on the bar exam, and without completing ample timed practice essays you won’t be able to test your understanding of key legal concepts and identify weaknesses.
Obviously, you need to have done at least a little review before you start practicing essays. But you can start by completing practice essays that test the concepts you’ve already reviewed and outlined. For example, if you’ve gone over negligence you can do a negligence essay. You don’t need to have also mastered Civil Procedure, Evidence, and Real Property to do this.
Don’t fall into the trap that you must be an expert in the substantive law to start practicing. You can weave additional practice essays into your schedule as you continue to study new subjects. And don’t forget, you should leave enough time in your schedule to critically compare your practice essay against the sample answers released by the state bar.
Start Practicing Timed MBE Questions Right Away
On the bar exam, multiple-choice MBE questions test your knowledge of the substantive law in seven core subjects: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts & Sales, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence, Real Property and Torts. You’ll face 200 of these questions on exam day during two timed sessions.
Success on the MBE requires familiarity with legal concepts in the areas tested, but you also need to learn how to quickly eliminate incorrect answer choices. This test-taking skill is developed only through practice, and this is why it’s important to start doing partial sets of MBE questions under timed conditions as soon as possible. You should carefully review the explanation for each MBE question and ensure that you understand why the correct answer was the best choice.
Before the bar exam, be sure to do at least two 100-question sets of MBE questions under timed conditions without referencing any printed materials. This will help you hone the skills you need to move through the MBE quickly and efficiently.
Take Three-Hour Sets of Practice Essays
At least two weeks prior to the exam (ideally sooner), you should complete three practice essays under timed conditions (this means that you should give yourself no more than 60 minutes for each essay and take no breaks).
If possible, try to do this simulated exam exercise two or more times (and schedule plenty of time for review of your essays afterwards). This will help you get a feel for how to move through an essay section in the amount of time allotted and will force you to stick to strict time limits. If you need help selecting practice essays or sticking to a practice schedule, an experienced private bar tutor can help you formulate a study plan.
It’s Never Too Early to Start Practicing
One of the most common mistakes we see students make is delaying timed practice. Even though it might feel uncomfortable at first, taking partial or full practice exams will help you refine your study strategies and become familiar with the pace and format of the bar exam.