While there are some who have the ability to work while studying, the vast majority of us treat studying for the bar exam as an all-consuming endeavor, at least the first time. If you failed that first time however, there is a temptation to reduce the amount of time spent studying for the next bar exam claiming financial necessity or mental exhaustion.
One of the things that bar-takers might consider cutting back on are practice exams, including multiple choice tests, taken under timed circumstances. They might justify this pared down approach for the following reasons:
- I’ve gone through 3 or 4 years of law school already and taken hundreds of timed essay exams, some of which included sets of multiple choice questions. I get the process – after all, I made it through law school and got my degree.
- I have to work this time around because I can’t afford to take more time off. I think it is more important that I focus on studying the material, especially concentrating on the areas of law I missed before. I know how to write an exam once I spot the important issues. In addition, once I know the law cold, I’ll do better with multiple choice questions because the correct answers are usually connected to the details of the applicable rules.
- It’s more important that I get mentally healthy. Timed bar questions just stress me out. If I know the material cold this time around, I won’t be as stressed when it comes to actually writing the essays or having to choose the correct answers.
Each of these reasons touch on valid points. However, each also ignores a crucial truth. Knowing the law is just one part of bar prep. How you get that information out under timed conditions is a vital part of being fully prepared to take the bar exam. Consider, therefore, these responses to the above justifications for cutting back on “practicing” for the bar exam:
- Yes, you made it through law school – some of you more successfully than others. You have a degree. But, did you ever take an exam that lasted over 3 hours on a single day covering more than one substantive area of law? Did you ever walk into a contracts exam not knowing it was a contracts exam? The bar exam is a different experience. The only real similarity is that you take some one-hour essay exams in each. You certainly don’t have a full day of multiple choice questions given in law school covering multiple topics.
- The financial sacrifices we make when it comes to studying for the bar exam are huge. It is completely understandable that you cannot take the same amount of time off again. However, rather than cutting out important parts of bar prep, why not reimagine what you did the last time? So, what do I mean by this? Well, if you are planning to take the bar exam again right away, chances are you do not have to spend the same amount of time learning the material all over again. It should be somewhat still fresh in your head – or at least fresher than it was the first time. Plus, did you really practice as much as you should have? Reduce some of your review time and amp up your practice time. More practice will help you highlight your weaknesses, so you can better focus your review time.
- Yes, timed test-taking is stressful. However, it’s amazing how more and more practice can actually reduce your stress level. The more timed tests you take, the more you become comfortable with the process of allotting time for issue spotting and outlining answers. Pacing your writing also becomes easier. And again, when you practice, the areas of law you are weakest in become clearer, which helps you to better focus your studying. Practice more, reduce stress, and become more confident.
Effective bar exam preparation requires having the proper knowledge, the proper mindset, and yes, practice. You must have a solid grasp on how to use the law when faced with a unique set of facts. You cannot do that without practicing with prior fact patterns or MBE questions. With practice you see patterns and how issues will arise. If you have practiced sufficiently with each substantive area of law, then you will start to develop a mental checklist for related issues that might need to be addressed once a major issue is identified.
Just spending more time “studying” will not get you to the same place. By repeatedly practicing the various parts of the bar exam, you will also solidify your knowledge of the relevant rules of law, and more easily maximize your chances for success this time around.