Imagine you’re playing a board game similar to monopoly. You have your little silver hat or wheelbarrow or shoe to mark where you are, and a path of colorful squares is laid out in front of you—except, imagine instead of seeing Marvin Gardens or Park Place all you see are the yellow or blue or red strips of color and you can’t read the names or prices. You know about the tiny red and green plastic houses but no one has told you how to get them.
Now visualize rolling the dice, but not knowing any of the other rules. You know you’re supposed to be circumnavigating the board, but you’re not sure which direction to move. The player to your left has read the instructions, but he won’t tell you what they are. The player to your right hasn’t read the rules at all, but she doesn’t hesitate to give you lots of bad advice anyway.
You know that at some point you get to pass “GO,” and you know it takes a while to get there. You’ve even heard murmurs about getting to collect two-hundred dollars, but you’re not sure how or why. Now imagine that you have already put most of your money into the middle of the board—actually, just put it under the board so you can’t see it at all anymore. That’s your price to play the game, and you won’t be getting that back any time soon. Any of this sound familiar?
For many law school graduates who are studying for the bar exam, navigating the study process throughout law school and beyond can feel like you’re playing a game for which you haven’t read the rules. It’s no wonder they start to feel overwhelmed.
Now, imagine the same game scenario, but now you have a teammate who is allowed to sit next to you. This person can’t move your piece around the board for you, but they have read the lid of the box, and they know where you are headed and how to get there. They’ve even played the game themselves before and done a pretty good job.
This person can explain the difference between the various squares on the board and tell you strategies, such as, “Hey, buying all the railroads is a good investment.” He or she can even play practice rounds with you so that when your opponents come to the table, you are just as fast, efficient, and knowledgeable, if not more so. All of a sudden, you know about the “GO TO JAIL” square and you have lots of tried and true methods for how to avoid getting stuck there. In no time at all, you’re winning!
Admittedly, this is a somewhat dramatic and very simplified analogy, but if this second scenario sounds appealing, you might want to consider talking to a bar tutor. Bar tutors can work with you to figure out how to play by the rules and win the game. In full disclosure, I am a bar tutor, and my opinion may therefore be pretty biased. I’m not saying that it is impossible to pass the bar without a tutor or that in the game of life the only people who succeed are those who get extra help. The bar is not a redacted monopoly board, and if you went to law school, I’m sure you’re a smart person who is capable of figuring it out. I know some brilliant attorneys who passed the bar without trying too hard, which is awesome!
On the other hand, I also know some other equally-brilliant attorneys who should have passed the first, second or third time, and didn’t. Failing the bar can occur for many different reasons, and I have seen many different kinds of students, some of whom benefit more than others from the type of individualized help and attention that tutoring offers. If you’re not sure whether you’re a good candidate for bar tutoring, consider whether any of the following apply to you when you think about how you want to prepare for the exam.
You respond well to individualized help and feedback
One of the best reasons to work with a tutor is to get detailed feedback on your practice exams and outlines, and to have someone to discuss your process, whether it is working, and next steps you should take. When you study with a tutor, you can talk on the phone, do Skype or other video-chat calls, get track changes on your essays and performance tests, discuss substantive law in detail, and learn great tips for memorization, test taking, and time management. More importantly, though, everything is tailored toward your particular learning style, your schedule, your specific issues and concerns, and the best way to help you personally succeed.
You weren’t a self-starter in law school
As with law school, when you study for the bar, there won’t be anyone there to help keep you accountable. No one will necessarily know or care if you do the reading or the assigned practice exams. Even if you choose to study with a bar prep. program, the to-do list you get will likely end up coming in the form of a rigid, and potentially very overwhelming, calendar. If you end up falling behind, which almost everyone does, there probably won’t be anyone to help you dust yourself off and start anew or make up the time you lost. If you think you might have trouble staying on top of multiple subjects every day for a few months on end, or if you want help designing a more flexible plan that fits better with your life, you may want to work with a tutor.
You have other demands on your time, such as a job or family, and can’t dedicate every hour to studying
Typical bar prep. programs can be extra complicated for people whose lives don’t fit nicely into two to three months of completely obligation-free existence. If you have other concerns that are going to be cutting into your study time, you should think about how to balance the studying you need to do with your other time constraints. A tutor can be a great way to help you decide how to prioritize the tasks on your study calendar (or even help you make a study calendar) so you still have time to do whatever it is that you need to accomplish in your personal or professional life. Unfortunately, we can’t just press pause on life when studying for the bar, and it can be easy to fall behind or not give the exam the dedication it requires. By discussing what you have on your plate, and your available time and resources, a tutor can help you study in the most advantageous way possible.
You had a rough first semester in law school
If you weren’t happy with your grades as a first-semester 1L, ask yourself whether it was because you didn’t catch on and figure out the game early enough—don’t worry, many people don’t, which is how law school classes fill out the curve. Maybe you had a hard time synthesizing information into concise, useable chunks that you could easily memorize and apply in an exam setting. Perhaps given just the syllabus and a reading assignments and left to your own devices, you found it difficult to extract the key components, or teach the law to yourself. Studying for the bar is a lot like your first semester all over again. The process itself is very different, but, similarly, you need to use your time very efficiently, practice winning strategies throughout the course of the study period, and figure out as much about the end goal as you can—all while working mostly autonomously. If you felt lost as a 1L (or 2L or 3L), working with a tutor may be a good way to help you figure out what the graders are looking for and how to get there.
You did a great job your first semester in law school but then found it difficult not to rest on your laurels
Perhaps catching on in law school wasn’t the challenging part for you, but maybe once you out-performed your classmates, you let your ego get the best of you, or allowed complacency set in and ceased doing the activities—like outlining and briefing cases—that helped you get ahead in the first place. Confidence is important when studying for and taking the bar exam, but so is not falling behind or getting over-confident. If you are so convinced you will pass based on your law school GPA and other accolades that you don’t give this exam the time and effort required, that is a real danger, and you may be one of the people who needs additional help the most.
Smart, accomplished students fail the bar all the time, and there are pit-falls you should know about in advance and avoid. I’m not saying this to scare you, but if you tend to think you understand the law better than you do, or that you think you’re above studying the same laborious way everyone else does, you may want to put this in check now and get some outside perspective from someone who isn’t a friend or family member and who will tell you the truth if your essays need a lot of work. Maybe you’re entirely on point and have nothing to worry about, but if you’re not, it’s better to know that sooner rather than later. A tutor can tell you how you stack up and whether your understanding and application of the law is where it needs to be on exam day.
Ariel Salzer is a California Bar Tutor with the Bar Exam Toolbox. If you are interested in learning more about bar exam tutoring, click here.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Why I Hired a Bar Exam Tutor
- Slaying the Dragon: A Hard Look at What it Takes to Conquer the Bar Exam
- 5 Things I Did Differently the Second Time to Pass the Bar Exam
- You Failed the Bar Exam! 5 Tips to Get Ready to Study Again
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