Is there a right or wrong way of preparing for the Bar Exam? To say, “Yes” feels so definitive. As if, who am I to say so? Well, maybe there’s no expert in this field, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say…YES.
It is pretty well established that you need to do some basic things during Bar prep. You need to memorize law, take timed exams, and practice. But what about how you do these things?
Is a rose a rose, by any other name? If two people are memorizing Torts, can we say that they both got the same value out of it come test day? If two people take a particular practice MBE section and get the same score, can we assume that they will both get similar scores come test day? If two people take 3 full MEE practice exams and do well, will they perform the same on game day?
The answer to those questions is…NO.
Why? Because you can go through all of these motions and still do poorly. Because there are different ways to do all of the above. And HOW you do it is just as important as WHAT you do when it comes to the Bar Exam.
Not Having the Right Attitude
There are those students who go into Bar Prep with a less than warrior-type attitude. They may have been the ones in law school who slid by on all the exams getting C’s and not really caring. They are not aiming to work for a top firm, so they suspect that no one in the work-a-day-world will care if they got a ‘B’ or a ‘C’ on their Wills & Estates final exam as a 2L.
So they “C their way through law school,” as the saying goes. No, they are not in the top 10%, not even the top 30%, but who really cares? They study just enough to pass, and it gets them by pretty well.
I remember envying those people. *Sigh* I was on an academic scholarship that I needed to keep in order to graduate. I had to be the one getting A’s, in a school that had a ‘C’ curve. There was a good deal of stress involved, however, it served me well at Bar prep time. I was still in that mode of thinking when it came to the Bar.
Now if those that got happy C’s throughout law school take the same approach to preparing for the Bar Exam, they may be in for a very rude awakening. Likewise, those that got A’s and B’s may fool themselves into thinking, “I’ve got this.”
So let’s take a look at some of the wrong ways to study for the Bar.
Using Your Study Schedule as a Suggestion, Not a Mandate
This is a pretty obvious one, but it needs to be considered.
Once you map out your study schedule, you need to stick to it. Like everything else in life, skipping hours, half-days, or full days will catch up to you quicker than you imagine. At the outset of Bar Prep, it can feel like you have a lot of time. You might look at that 2-3 month schedule and think, “Ah man, I’ve got plenty of time!”
If you do that, then you will be the guy or girl who is panicked and cramming at the hotel the night before the exam. What happened? Time caught up with you. You took a lot of liberties with your schedule. You kept your phone on and looked at it every time it buzzed. You figured you needed a break and went to the movies or out with friends a couple times a week. You overestimated what you knew, and underestimated how much you needed to practice. You took it easy, believing that your relaxed approach was better than stress.
But you are now one of the people pacing the halls of the hotel the night before game day. And because you haven’t properly practiced, you may very well fumble the ball.
Studying By Osmosis
Bar prep courses tell you to study your outlines. Well, actually they tell you to memorize your outlines. There is an important difference here. If you study by “looking over” your outlines, and expect the information to sink in permanently by osmosis…you are courting disaster.
You must actually memorize the law. Yep, that’s a huge task. Ridiculous even. There’s simply too much law to actually memorize it all! For crying out loud, isn’t that what Westlaw and LexisNexis are for? In real-world practice, we look these rules up all the time! Why would it be different now?
Except that it is. IT REALLY IS.
The difference between being familiar with rules, and actually knowing them, can be the difference between passing or failing the Bar Exam. (And then having to go through this fun right-of-passage all over again if you ever want to practice law.) You must know the rules in a way that enables you to properly apply them to the facts in any given question, and come out with the correct answer.
That means that, if I walk up to you tomorrow and ask, “what are the defenses to the enforceability of a contract?” your reply needs to be almost instant. You need to be able to recite, “incapacity, duress, undue influence, mistake, fraud (misrepresentation and non-disclosure), illegality, unconscionability, and the Statute of Frauds.” Then, you must be able to tell me what they are, the differences between them, and when they apply.
If you can’t tell me that – and know how and when to apply each defense – you won’t make it.
Passing familiarity will not work. Memorizing, I mean actively memorizing rules, and then wrestling your way through 1000’s of MBE questions to learn how to apply those rules and spot tricks will (or should) work.
The same goes for the essay portion of the exam. If you get a question where you need to know all the exceptions to the hearsay rule, you’d better know them and be able to write it all down fast. There’s no time during the exam to meander. You can’t get around to it eventually. You must spell it all out, clearly, quickly, and completely. Apply it. Then move on.
Avoiding Work on Weak Areas
No one likes to work on weaknesses. It’s not fun. But for this exam it is important to work on your weak subjects. Don’t kid yourself and say that knowing most of the subject areas is good enough. Early in bar prep, reinforce your weaknesses. Don’t wait until the last minute when it’s too late. Take these head-on right from the start.
Failing to Review Your Answers
The whole point of going through 1000’s of MBE questions and essays is to learn from your mistakes. For all parts of the exam, you must thoroughly review your answers, and compare them with the explanations so that you know WHY you got it right or wrong.
Don’t ever think that because you got it right, that you know it. I know, that sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But I can’t tell you how many practice MBE questions I got right…for the wrong reasons! After sifting through all the explanations in the questions, I learned a great deal. Don’t short circuit this step in the learning process. On the actual exam, you may not be so lucky and guess correctly!
Same holds true for the exam and practical portions of the exam. After the clock stops ticking and you’ve completed an essay – take the time to go over the model answers in detail! Figure out where you hit it, and where you missed it. You learn more from this than you can imagine.
Admittedly, this is a hugely time-consuming process. Sifting through all the explanations takes time. But it is time well spent. Critical even, particularly through the first ⅔’s of Bar Prep.
Avoiding Dress Rehearsals
If you don’t consistently do timed tests, under test-like conditions, you are setting yourself up for a very frustrating time of it during the actual exam. Taking the Bar Exam is a skill. Like all skills, it must be learned.
You must learn how to budget your time, function under test-like conditions, and think clearly through hours and days of testing. You must be able to perform all the tasks you are asked to perform throughout this exam well, and quickly. You cannot be trying to figure out how to write a good essay during the exam.
If you didn’t have enough dress rehearsals, you may just fall off the stage on opening night. So go forth and PRACTICE. And as they say in show-biz – break a leg!
Sign up for early access to Magoosh UBE Prep!