Once you’ve registered for the bar exam, it’s important to pause for self-assessment before you start studying. Taking time to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses before bar prep begins will help you develop a study plan that works for you so that you can study strategically (which is much different than studying hard).
Whether you’re a first-time taker, repeat-taker, or an admitted attorney sitting for the exam in a different state, checking in with yourself about your academic background, previous bar exam experience, study habits, learning style, and plan for studying is a crucial step to passing the bar exam. Here’s how a self-assessment can help you succeed and some questions for you to consider when evaluating yourself.
How a Self-Assessment Can Help You Succeed
A self-assessment is an opportunity to reflect on past achievements and difficulties, and make a plan to set yourself up for success on the bar exam. No two applicants go into studying for the bar exam with the same set of experiences and skills, and this is important to keep in mind for several reasons.
First, you’ll need to evaluate bar prep courses, study aids, and other commercial test prep materials before you start studying for the bar exam. Investing in a commercial prep course with a video lecture series makes a lot of sense if you’re a visual learner, but what if you’re a verbal learner and prefer to digest materials by reading them? Along these same lines, a “big box” commercial prep company where you’re completely responsible for staying on track with a study schedule might work for you if you have no issues with self-discipline. If you think you might need an extra layer of accountability during bar prep, a private exam bar tutor may be a good option for you.
Second, you’ll need to set a bar exam study schedule and modify this as the exam approaches. Once you decide how early to start studying for the bar exam, you’ll need to determine how to divide your time between learning each area of the substantive law tested on the exam; memorizing rule statements; and practicing essays, Multi-State Bar Examination (or “MBE”) multiple-choice questions, and performance tests. Your study schedule should take into account areas of the law where you feel less confident (whether as a result of your law school grades or previous bar results). You should also factor in how you’ve performed on multiple-choice exams in the past and how much MBE practice you think you’ll need to do to get your MBE scores to a passing level.
Finally, you need to think about how to study. This means considering the materials you’ll use (outlines, flash cards, books, etc.), where to study, and when to study. We recommend that students rely primarily on materials that they make themselves, since creating your own outlines and flash cards is one of the best ways to actively engage with exam material. You also need to figure out a study environment that is compatible with your learning style and study habits. This might mean creating the perfect study zone in your bedroom or home office, or finding a library or coffee shop where you can spend extended periods of time. Lastly, you should also make your study schedule compatible with performing at your best during the administration of the bar exam.
Questions to Ask During a Bar Exam Self-Assessment
Now that you understand the importance of a self-assessment before bar prep begins, here are some questions to get you started.
Academic Background and Performance
Whether you’re a first-time taker, repeat taker, or admitted attorney, these questions are relevant to identifying your strengths and weaknesses ahead of the bar exam.
- What was your GPA in law school?
- What were your strongest subjects in law school that will be tested on the exam?
- What were your weakest subjects in law school that will be tested on the exam?
- Are there any bar exam subjects that you did not take in law school?
- Did you struggle with any particular exam format(s) in law school?
Past Bar Exam Performance
If you are a repeat bar taker, think about the following questions and how you can approach the bar exam differently this time around.
- What percentage of your time did you spend attending, listening to, or viewing lectures?
- How many practice essays did you do under timed conditions without using your outline?
- Did you make your own outlines?
- Did you create other study materials on your own, such as flashcards or flow charts?
- What was your biggest challenge during previous bar prep?
- How many practice MBE questions did you do?
- How much time did you devote to studying (total weeks, and hours per day)?
- Did you take regular breaks while you were studying for the exam?
Learning Style and Study Habits
All bar takers should think about their learning style and study habits, and how these traits will impact their bar preparation.
- Are you a visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic learner?
- How will you incorporate your learning style into your exam preparation?
- What are some study habits that have worked for you in the past?
- What are some bad study habits that you want to avoid as you prepare for the bar exam?
Plan for Studying for the Bar Exam
Here are some questions to think about when developing a study plan and schedule.
- How many hours per week can you devote to bar study?
- How will you incorporate timed practice into your study schedule?
- How do you plan to stick to a schedule and stay motivated?
- Which bar prep programs or resources will you use to prepare?
- What techniques will you use to memorize the substantive law tested on essays?
- How often do you plan to practice MBE questions?
- How often do you plan to practice performance tests?
Use your answers to these questions as a guide to developing a plan to study for and pass the bar exam. If you need help developing a customized study schedule for the bar exam, an experienced private bar can help you. You can reach the Bar Exam Toolbox team through our contact form.