101 Rules for Bar Exam Preparation

Here’s a list of 101 quick bullets on preparing for the bar exam.

Your answer is probably somewhere in here if you ever feel like asking the worst questions in the world:

  • “Do you have any advice?” (only if there’s enough context)
  • “Can you help?” (can you help?)
  • “Thoughts?” (a minimalist reply seems rude but tempting)
  • “HELP!” “Let’s connect” (?)
  • Anything with more than one question mark in a row unironically

If you have the Magicsheets & Approsheets suite, you already have access to the exclusive pocket guide “17 Strategies to Get Un-stuck and Un-frustrated by the Bar Exam.”

I tried something even more straight to the point.

Why 101? I wanted to do something contrived like 100 and ended up with 1 more (say hi to your OCD for me). I’ll probably update this in the future. This is an amorphous and evolving draft. Nothing is set in stone. Things change. Things get better. Same with your bar prep.

Feel free to disagree with any point. Advice is autobiography. Advice is never one-size-fits-all. Take what you like and leave the rest.

If some rules seem contradictory, that’s where interesting things happen.

Let me know which parts you agree with, parts you disagree with, or contradictions you thought about on your own and resolved.

101 Rules for Bar Preparation
(Subject to Change)

1.      The first step is to know the rules of the game. Check with your state bar for information on what’s tested and how the exam is graded.

2.      It’s OK to repeat the bar exam. You’ll have an easier time passing next time with experience.

3.      It’s not OK to have a repeater identity. You’re not a martyr. Make this your last time. Otherwise, you’re wasting time, relationships, and money.

4.      If passing the bar exam is a priority, make the time.

5.      If passing the bar exam is not a priority, that’s OK. Come back later. Work in a different field. Don’t do this half assed. Stop using the bar exam to procrastinate on figuring out how to live your life.

6.      Be optimistic. Don’t start out in a defeated state. Pass rates can be low for some exams, but many people also pass. It’s not all doom and gloom. Low pass rates stop being a viable excuse at some point.

7.      What seems impossible at first is actually doable. Passing the bar exam is not impossible. It just takes preparation.

8.      You can only learn. You can’t be taught by something else. Courses and supplements are only there to support your self-study endeavor. Instead of endlessly debating minutiae about which program is the “best,” worry about being the best student.

9.      Doing is the best form of thinking. Doing is less exhausting and more invigorating than sitting and absorbing. Don’t just stand there. Give it a try.

10.  Be a producer, not a consumer. Rules and issues that are shown to you are useless until you experience them yourself. That’s how you can learn how to wield them effectively.

11.  Listen to the regrets of past bar takers. The bar exam happens twice a year, and the same questions come up over and over. Look at past threads and articles. I guarantee that your question has been answered already. This is how you get 20/20 foresight.

12.  The more prepared you are, the less you feel prepared. The other way isn’t necessarily true.

13.  It’s not just about brute hard work and the hours you put in. This is a flat-fee case. You can’t simply bill your way out of it. Work more conscientiously and effectively.

14.  You’re not falling behind. You’re doing things that are wrong for you.

15.  Work expands and shrinks to fill the time available. You’re probably doing more unnecessary activities than you think.

16.  Constraints can be a blessing in disguise. They push you to get creative and efficient with your time to focus on what moves the needle.

17.  Effective is better than efficient. If you’re learning and retaining from what you’re doing, spend all the time you need.

18.  Enjoy the process. Preparing for the bar exam may be difficult, but suffering is optional. Don’t volunteer to be miserable in advance.

19.  Having a hard time memorizing? Learn by example, not by theory. It’s possible to have knowledge but lack judgment and understanding.

20.  Memorizing the rules is good. Memorizing the issues is better. Being able to recall and recite the issues and rules is best.

21.  Anything that helps memorize faster is useful.

22.  Being familiar with something is not the same as being able to remember it.

23.  “I’ll just memorize all the rules. That’ll do the trick.” Don’t fall for this illusion of safety. Knowing the rules is just the starting point.

24.  If all you had time for were attempting to solve questions and checking the answers, that would be a better use of your time than passively consuming during that same time.

25.  The past will guide your future. Prioritize issues and rules that have shown up before.

26.  Knowing something is not the same as being able to use it. You don’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book. If all you did was memorize some rule as a fact, your body has no clue what it needs to do with it.

27.  99% of information we read, we forget anyway. The best way to remember is to DO. Clarity comes from engagement.

28.  Presentation is important. Decent writing is important. Make your writing easy to understand. Use simple sentences. Use paragraphs. If it’s hard to read, it’s not going to be easy to grade. Your graders are your clients. Give the graders as many reasons to give you points as possible.

29.  No issue = no IRAC = no points. More relevant issues = more IRAC = more points.

30.  There’s passive learning, and there’s active learning. Busy work doesn’t take any conscientiousness, proactivity, or guts. Attach active work to any passive work you do!

31.  Seek out the hard work. When the time comes to face the bar exam, the gap between your composure and others’ panic is where you’ll thrive. We can do hard things!

32.  The most dangerous thought is: “I know this already.”

33.  You’re the dean of your own studies. Not Barbri, not your law school, not me, not anyone.

34.  Design your own study plan. Tweak the schedule to your liking. The generic study schedule from your bar review course is not designed for everyone. What if you’re working or get sick or have family to take care of?

35.  Practice alone is not enough. Solving questions is not enough. Practice is like getting on the scale. You see changes based on what you do between the measurements. To that end, self-critique your work. Get feedback on your work using sample or model answers. That’s where the learning happens. Otherwise, you may as well have not done those practice questions.

36.  Embrace the suck. Disappointment and frustration are necessary emotions. If you’re constantly doing well, you’re not going out of your comfort zone enough.

37.  The more you slip up, the more you’ll remember next time. This is part of the process.

38.  Enjoy your mistakes. Mistakes are not just for rookies. In fact, rookies stay that way because they’re not willing to make mistakes.  

39.  Practice as if were the real thing; do the real thing as if it were practice.

40.  Performance tests are more important than you think. But they are the simplest to prepare for.

41.  The most dangerous thing to avoid on the performance test is running out of time. Start writing no matter what when half the time remains. See my PT guide for more on this.

42.  Mental energy is at least as important as how much time you have. Your energy and attention are the true bottlenecks.

43.  When you’re too tired for diversions is when you feel the most focus and momentum to work.

44.  Sleep is the #1 predictor of your energy and focus for tomorrow.

45.  Don’t hide behind lectures and outlines. Go get your hands dirty. Get your knees scraped and ego bruised.

46.  Life goes on if you pass the bar exam. Your exuberance will be temporary.

47.  Life goes on if you don’t pass the bar exam. Your despair will be temporary.

48.  You have to do this? No, you get to do this.

49.  Commercial bar review courses give you less bang for your buck and also for your time compared to putting together supplements a la carte.

50.  “Which outline should I get?” Magicsheets, duh. No but really, check the samples for the ones you’re considering, and actually try using them. Just because countless people passed the bar with Magicsheets doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be right for you. To be frank, they all work.

"I would recommend Magicsheets, because that's what I used for the CA bar and I think they really do a great job with the CA-specific material."

"I second this. . . . Brian's Magicsheets were an ocean of information. It explained things in greater detail than the others. In these last two weeks, Magicsheets HANDS DOWN."
"I tested out your sample Evidence Approsheets when working on some Themis practice essays and I found I was able to work a lot more efficiently and finally finish an exam in the required time frame. Thank you for creating these!"

Magicsheets are condensed outlines organized by issues and rules.

Approsheets are for ensuring you get the all-important issues down.

Full samples to test here. No partial samples. Check out whole subjects.

51.  “Which bar review course should I take?” Barbri if you can. Alternatively, Themis. Or none at all.

52.  “Trust the system”? Above all, you have to trust yourself.

53.  There’s value in every bar exam you take. At very least, it’s a mock exam that will give you valuable data.

54.  Bar preparation isn’t just about studying. It’s about preparing. That includes learning useful things that will ultimately help you pass the bar exam. It also includes taking care of yourself, your mental energy, and other responsibilities. The more prepared you are, the luckier you’ll get.

55.  The entire week is the exam. Prepare your mind. Attend to pre-exam logistics. And it’s not over until you submit your exam files (and send me your post-mortem thoughts).

56.  It’s not about how many questions you “need” to do to pass. Keep doing them. More important is that you take something away from each question. I’d rather you master 1,000 questions than go through the motions of 3,000.

57.  Don’t be afraid to redo the same practice essay or MBE question until you “get” it.

58.  Why are you trying to do the bare minimum? Push through the finish line. Why do less when you could do more?

59.  Don’t listen to subject predictions. Don’t even look at predictions except for entertainment purposes. How will you know if they’re right? You can’t control what questions you’ll see or which subjects you’ll get. I’ve never heard of anyone being glad they listened to predictions.

60.  Spend your time on what you can influence, such as your knowledge of the issues, getting a good handle on basics like IRAC, and planning to cover all the subjects. You can’t stop an earthquake from happening.

61.  If you want to feel more in control over what’s tested, focus on MBE subjects. They will appear on the MBE and the essays (and sometimes PTs).

62.  Instead of getting ready to get ready, get ready by doing what you’ll be doing on the bar exam: applying rules to facts. Your task on the hot seat is to solve problems correctly, not just to read or remember or understand things.

63.  Issues are the most important key to unlocking an essay, not rules or analysis.

64.  There’s only a finite number of issues they can test you on.

65.  Write like a bar taker on essays. Don’t write like a lawyer. If you’re a practicing attorney, you’re starting from minus, not zero. Unlearn whatever you learned from work experience and life experience.

66.  Rather than randomly “spotting” issues out of thin air on essays, check for issues.

67.  Punch the graders in the eyes by creating headings for issues and sub-issues. They’re street signs that guide the graders.

68.  Stick to IRAC on essays. You’re not writing prose. Be mechanical. Introduce the rules you’re going to use later, first.

69.  Use the facts on essays. In fact, “plagiarize” the facts instead of paraphrasing only.

70.  On essays, “ping pong” arguments analyzing mere possibilities should be used not as a default but where appropriate: opposing legal theories (defenses and exceptions), split views, vague facts, narrow call of the question.

71.  Always be aware of your weak areas so you can emphasize your efforts there.

72.  Track your MBE practice performance by subject and by smaller categories (like negligence and hearsay). You can find the low-hanging fruits that way.

73.  Use real (licensed) MBE questions from past exams, but feel free to mix in some questions generated by your bar course or supplement. For licensed questions, look at UWorld, AdaptiBar, and/or Strategies & Tactics.

74.  AdaptiBar or UWorld? AdaptiBar is the most known, but UWorld is definitely a hot contender. For more licensed questions and add-ons like lectures, use AdaptiBar ($365 with coupon). For intuitive visual explanations, use UWorld ($262 with coupon). See review and comparison here.

75.  Anxiety and excitement come from the same part of the brain. If you’re worried, use that as fuel for your next step.

76.  Your efforts are not wasted. The bamboo shoots up in the last moment after years of watering. An overnight success takes months or years of work.

77.  Burnout is real. Manage your mental and emotional stamina.

78.  Pick a few resources you trust, and use them.

79.  During the exam, detach yourself from the end result (will I pass or fail). Trust in your preparation, “be arrogant,” and have fun. You have all the time to worry about results afterward.

80.  Confidence is not what you’re looking for. Competence gives you a confident exam experience.

81.  When you’re in trouble, ignore the noise. Fight for simplicity. Do what matters.

82.  The bar exam is complicated, but the approach is simple. You only need source materials, the how-to knowledge, and the will to act.

83.  Mastering the bar exam is also about mastering your ego and psychology.

84.  There’s nothing sacred about the bar exam. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel all over again when it comes to preparing for this.

85.  Not passing hurts more than struggling now.

86.  “If you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.”—Scott Adams

87.  If you’re using a bar review course, avoid focusing on catching up or completing tasks rather than actually learning something from it.

88.  Ask yourself: What will I wish I had been learning today? Am I doing something because I’m supposed to or because it’s helping me prepare?

89.  Use lectures judiciously. Your job is to gain a general understanding and framework. There’s no requirement to listen to and transcribe every word of every video.

90.  If you’re overwhelmed, go slow to go fast.

91.  Subtracting, not adding more, may be the answer.

92.  Commit to the consistent, slow grind. Don’t give in to the short-term gambling mentality. Success is boring, not sexy.

93.  Most people think they lack motivation when they really lack clarity. Get clear on what you need to do, and the rest will follow. Productivity (even excitement) comes from clarity.

94.  You gain motivation by starting, not the other way around.

95.  Don’t try to be ready before you’re ready. You can’t be good at everything from the start. You have to start somewhere. You should be feeling a bit lost and learning from reviewing model answers and explanations. That’s what preparation is about.

96.  Progress, not perfection. You don’t need to know everything perfectly before you begin training. You only need to get some of your ducks in a row. Just do it!

97.  “The mind is 50% of this exam.”—Elaine Johnson, long-time patron of MTYLT

98.  The bar exam isn’t everything in the big picture. Yet it’s still critical if you zoom in. But no matter what, your future will be greater than your past.

99.  Persistence and attitude > natural ability. If you graduated from law school, you are capable of passing the bar exam.

100. Be addicted to persistence, but don’t refuse to adapt to reality.

101. Your best now is enough, even if your future best will be better.

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