Studying for the bar exam without practicing your writing is like trying to speak a new language without saying the words out loud. You’re unlikely to get fluent just from reading or listening to a recording. The same is true for bar exam success. It requires practice, and we recommend starting in week one.
Many students resist engaging in practice until they feel like they know everything perfectly, or at least know enough to feel “ready.” But “ready” can’t happen without writing, which means it can’t happen without facing that initial discomfort. Usually, it’s that rocks-in-the-stomach sensation that sends students hiding out in the safety of reading outlines, and calling it a “pre-practice phase.” But, as with becoming conversational in a new language, feeling ready for the bar exam requires you to endure the awkwardness of sounding a bit silly, making mistakes, and winging it when you’re not quite sure of yourself.
So, don’t wait until you feel “ready” to start writing, because ready will never come if you don’t start writing. Based on an eight-week study schedule, here’s what writing practice can look like throughout your process:
The Open Book Phase [Weeks 1-4]
Back to that language metaphor, while you have to speak in order to learn, that doesn’t mean you can’t tote around a translation dictionary to look up words you don’t know. The same is true for writing practice. Look up the law – it’s part of learning! This will slow you down, timing-wise, so if you still want to feel the rush of a timer ticking down, then you can start the clock for reading and issue spotting, stop the clock during the “research” phase, then start it up again when you start writing. That way, your timing will be slightly more comparable to your eventual closed book phase.
A Note About PT’s [Week 1 Pt. 2]
Performance Tests may be intimidating, but they make for a great first writing assignment. Writing a PT allows you to flex the basic skills that will help you to be successful on any exam writing—organization and outlining, time management, issue spotting, and following instructions—without requiring you to know any law at all. So, instead of worrying about not being “ready,” you can dive into your first week with a PT and, while there will still be a lot of room to grow from there, at least you’ve already said your first words in this new language.
The Timed Half-Day / Timed Single-Issue Closed Book [Weeks 4-7]
You’re almost halfway through your study, which means it’s time to rip off the Band-aid, and try some memorization. The good news here is if you’ve been practicing, then you’ve been memorizing all along. Few things integrate the material better than applying it to facts pretty much as soon as you’ve learned it. Shifting to closed-book writing can be transitional, and there will be moments where you won’t be able to get through an issue without looking it up. But starting to write closed-book means challenging yourself to muddle through, and even letting yourself miss some issues in order to learn from that mistake.
And here’s where it gets exciting. Just as you begin to get comfortable with sitting through a timed, closed-book essay, start writing your essays three in a row (or two and a PT) under timed, closed book conditions. At first, there will be a big difference between the essay you write in hour number one and the essay you write in hour number three. That’s the whole point of the exercise. But write these sets of three enough times, and by the time you walk into the bar exam, you’ll have the endurance required to get through a whole day of writing. Because you’ll be doing so much writing practice in one sitting, you may also come to realize which subjects need a little more attention, or which issues you want to practice re-writing. Feel free to intersperse these half-day writing sessions with single-issue essays that correspond with the topic you’re covering that day or a topic that could use a bit more refining.
Around this time, don’t forget to do a full day practice test! One is enough, and doing it around the six-week mark could be a good time to evaluate your writing in terms of timing, memorization, and issue-specific areas for improvement.
Drill Down into Weak Areas, [Week 8]
In your final week before the bar exam, take extra super special care of yourself. Conserve energy. Memorize. Keep up with MBE’s. Still do writing practice, but don’t worry about knocking out more than a couple of half-days of writing, at most. Your top priority, besides memorization, is to avoid burnout in the final week. This means narrowing your writing focus to areas that need the most attention. It also means getting plenty of sleep, scheduling breaks throughout the day, eating nourishing food, and cheering yourself on as the exam date nears.
A Note About PT’s [Week 8 Pt. 2]
Although you’ll be scaling back on intense writing sessions, definitely make time for at least one more PT. PT’s are often overlooked, but highly valuable, and if you develop and commit to a PT method that works for you, you can end up scooping up lots of points that don’t require you to recall any law. So, pick an afternoon in the middle of your final week to knock out one last PT before the bar exam.
This writing practice schedule is by no means prescriptive, and you know yourself best, which means you should tailor your proces to you own learning methods. But hopefully, that method will include as much writing and feedback as possible, so that you can build your bar exam fluency, starting with week one!