Busting 4 Myths of Memorizing for the Bar Exam

Many bar takers are obsessed with the idea of memorization for the bar exam.

Understandably, a lot of students naturally panic and have concerns about it. I think it comes from a place of insecurity. There’s a LOT to remember after all.

Panic mutates into paralysis.

They think, “As long as I memorize this perfectly, I will be set for the bar exam.”

They end up holding a bag of theoretical knowledge they don’t know how to use, neglect the performance test in the process, and end up with a score that’s not terrible but not great either. After all, they still memorized everything enough to stumble through.

This is a common thought process, especially for those starting out. This may seem to be a safe approach, but it’s actually reckless.

Maybe that’s why people are excited about the possibility of open-book bar exams in some states. I eagerly await their realization that it’s not just about having access to information—but whether they can use it properly. Removing the memorization requirement doesn’t really change the exam. In fact, it will probably hurt if you’re wasting time looking things up.

It’s not that I’m ragging on memorization. You should memorize for the bar exam—but not at the expense of learning. Memorizing is simply table stakes. Everyone’s doing it. It’s a minimum requirement. Just a cost of entry.

So you do want to start memorizing as early as you can.

But I want to point out what bar takers miss when they get tunnel vision around memorization. Don’t miss the forest for the trees:

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Two Biggest Fears of a Bar Exam Taker

“I need to know all the law first!”

What were those three years of law school for? Never mind.

There’s this strange concern in the atmosphere floating around.

A concern that if you don’t know it all, then you won’t be prepared to solve the problems… The thought that all you need to do well on the bar exam is to know it all…

So you sit there, fold your arms, and wait for osmosis. You wait. Maybe your soulmate will one day knock on your door, too.

And then when you finally flip open that essay after weeks of becoming a know-it-all…

You stare at the blank page.

In front of you, a blank canvas ready to be filled but only reflecting a harsh stillness.

The cursor blinks at you, urging you to fill the awkward silence.

Cold sweat squeezes out of pores you didn’t even realize you had on your body. 😓


You decide to hit the books and videos again. Maybe you just need to study a little more…

You’re mostly grasping the material, but then when you take a practice exam it’s like everything you know is out the window.

WTF? Why didn’t it work?

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Non-Accredited Law Grad Passes CA Bar Exam on His 1st Try

Brian almost flunked out of a non-accredited law school but passed the hardest bar exam in the country on his first try. Wow!

💬 “I passed the February 2024 California Bar exam on my first try. I went to a non-ABA but Ca accredited law school online. I do not know my class position but I did get a 3.3 GPA and I did take the FYLSE and did well on that test.

He also took his sweet time getting out of school.

💬 “I took a year off in the middle of law school and so instead of 4 years I took 5 and torts, contracts and property were a long time ago.

It is cool that he was able to snipe the exam in one shot. But I’m not surprised. Why?

The bar exam is the great equalizer.

Bar prep is a learnable skill even if you’re short on academic talent (no offense, Brian), especially if you’re a reader of mine. You don’t need to be a legal rockstar. You don’t need to be a genius or a “good writer.”

Jeez, where were these reassurances when I was studying for the bar? My pain is your gain.

Here are three takeaways (and a satisfying epilogue) from Brian’s success story…

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You Need a Study Plan: Why You Should Make Your Own Bar Prep Study Schedule

The only thing I remember from law school is my negotiations professor saying this in class randomly:

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”

Is bar preparation worth doing? Then it’s worth doing right.

After all, you’re the dean of your own studies. And for sustainable momentum we know that we must enjoy the process (not just fixate on the goal of passing the bar).

Just as what’s enjoyable is personal, bar prep is also personal. Your study plan and schedule are personal.

There are many reasons your schedule will look different from everyone else’s: 

  • You might be working while studying for the bar exam.
  • Maybe you have every day free for bar prep.
  • Or maybe you only have the first 6 hours of your day free while the kids are at school.

Meanwhile, your bar review course could have a cookie-cutter schedule that packs in an overwhelming number of tasks or “self-study” sessions where you have no direction on what to do.

Is there a smarter, more effective plan that would serve your needs more and improve your odds of passing?

Here’s one example of what such a personalized study schedule could look like:

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Passing the California Bar Exam with a “STEM Brain” on Her Second Try

“R” passed the 2024 February California Bar Exam on her second try. She had some obstacles on her first attempt…

💬 “J23 bar exam, I wasn’t able to study because of personal reasons.

💬 “That was something I felt in J23, I was not physically prepared to take the bar exam.

💬 “I have an engineering background, so law school was a whole different beast for me!  I was very near the bottom of my class in law school.  My STEM brain found it hard to grasp the way of thinking like a lawyer!

R had a similar background as mine. Coming from a STEM background, law school was a struggle for me as well.

But once it clicks, it clicks. And it only needs to click once before you can go out there and start your career.

In my case, failing the exam was a huge shock that finally unlocked the part of my brain to figure out this bar thing. That must have been some trauma to keep me on this crusade 10 years later.

Here’s what R (and I) did on our second attempts so you don’t have to traumatize yourself…

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