How an Australian Lawyer Passed the California Bar Exam Despite the Sheer Overwhelm

Surprise, surprise… Barbri doesn’t work for everyone. As a foreign-trained Australian attorney, James needed a way to get a handle on the sheer volume of material and become skilled at USING it.

To do that, he also needed to understand the bar exam in the first place because there were differences in legal practice in Australia and in the U.S.

He then passed the 2022 July California Bar Exam and put together a thorough write-up in collaboration with me, linked below.

This is a rare opportunity to dive DEEP into the mind of a recent bar taker. He drops many gems on what worked for him, with commentary by me such as:

💬 “A distinction between those who perpetually struggle and those who are successful is that they find an approach that works for them and trust themselves more.

One of my readers put it this way: ‘Make the bar exam process work with your learning style, not the other way around.’

But enough about me. This is about celebrating and empowering bar takers like you to overcome this hurdle. 

My breakdown and James’s full story below:

His weaknesses were essays and PTs (detailed at the end of this article), and to an extent, the MBE. This is somewhat standard for some bar takers.

But one of his unique challenges as a foreign-trained attorney was condensing and mastering the volume of new material.

💬 “It takes a significant amount of time just to grapple with the language used (Demurrer/Prop8/Motion to Quash the list is a very long one…) in USA/CA law to sink in, as well as the UCC v. Common Law distinction in Contracts, the Bill of Rights and many associated Constitutional Amendments, Diversity Jurisdiction in Civil Procedure to name a few.

All these legal concepts have no equivalent counterparts in Australian Law.

💬 “You really have to erase what you think you know about law and start from scratch.

To that end, here’s what he did to beat the bar exam:

Resources used


▶▶ Magicsheets + Approsheets

💬 “Finally, I could just focus on practising for the exam.

▶▶ Passer’s Playbook (tools and techniques for effective bar prep)

💬 “…which when followed turned out to deliver exactly what it promises


▶▶ AdaptiBar (use the code here for $30 off)

▶▶ Strategies & Tactics for the MBE – 7th edition
▶▶ Strategies & Tactics for the MBE Vol. 2 – 2nd edition (3rd edition linked)

Performance Tests

▶▶ California Performance Test Workbook – 2nd edition
▶▶ Barbri’s PT book


▶▶ Lawyer Professional Responsibility Checklist [Free] 

James created an online essay approach tool that applies issue checking on Professional Responsibility essays step by step. It’s like an interactive software version of Approsheets. Try the “self service” option to sign up.

Takeaways from James’s approach

✅ Lectures may or may not work for you. It’s up to your needs. Trust yourself about what’s helpful to your learning.

While I enjoy dunking on inefficient and ineffective learning methods, I also see that Barbri and Themis also work for many bar takers, especially if they have the time.

In James’s case, the comprehensiveness of Barbri was ironically holding him back.

💬 “The lectures are very long. However when the sheer volume of content that needs to be covered is considered I think that it is what it is and the length is actually reasonable. …

Everything you need is provided with Barbri and to my mind in hindsight this is part of the problem.

There is so much material to cover it is simply overwhelming …

Courses, supplements, etc. are simply tools to support your self-learning and should be used to the extent you find them helpful. If you find that they don’t seem to help, trust yourself.

Watching lectures and reading the huge outlines are not necessarily ways to learn the material well. They’re ways to gain a general background and contextual familiarity so that you can begin to learn. Some students assume that merely listening or reading leads to sufficient mastery of the material—a misunderstanding of the exam.

You will forget 99% of what you consume unless you DO something with it. Use your prep course properly.

This theme comes up over and over again. Forget what you learned in law school or work, and start fresh. The only experience that counts here is what you learned from bar preparation.

Practicing attorneys tend to not do as well on the bar exam because it is a SEPARATE skill from real practice.

Simple IRAC is one example of “writing like a bar taker.”

💬 “I have a limited ability to memorize and recall legal rules (from memory), and on essays I had a tendency to skip directly to the analysis and conclusion without first laying down the relevant rules.

Having a structured approach (inspired by your Approsheets) is what saved me on the essays.

This is especially true for foreign-trained attorneys who need to learn entirely new formats of testing in the U.S. For example, some countries don’t use multiple choice as a testing mechanic. In James’s case, a written brief was “a totally foreign concept.”

💬 “For the P.T (which is a test about following instructions) I had to retrain my basic legal skills, and break habits that have served me well as an Australian lawyer in legal practice.

For me a written oral submission is literally a totally foreign concept.

✅ Use the tools available rather than reinventing the wheel.

You could bend down and pinch your finger trying to get your foot into the shoe, or you could use a shoehorn to slide it right in. Either way works. It’s a personal preference how much pain you’re willing to go through. (A shoehorn is just as sensible to me as having a bed for your mattress…)

That goes not just for outlines and MBE supplements, but strategies and advice as well. Curate advice as well, not just tools. There are many different opinions, so you want to narrow it down to a few voices you trust and scrape all the meat off the bone.

💬 “When I cast the net wider and began searching for a better way, coming across Brian’s products was like discovering gold.

It was all there in a few pages. This was something I could work with. The time and frustration the Magicsheets and Approsheets saved me was substantial.

✅ When you’re dealing with an overwhelming amount of material with limited time, triage.

The Tripod Approach worked with a few other California bar takers I’ve talked to as well. In a nutshell… fuck the nutshell. Don’t make me do ALL the work for you.

Do you want to be like James or the guy who whines and begs for “tips” on Reddit in 6 months?

Read the article (or don’t):

💬 “After reading Brian’s blog article ‘Passing the California Bar Exam with the ‘Tripod Approach’ (Just Triage These Areas)‘ dated Feb 29, 2020 I turned my primary focus to the three items that are always on the CA Bar Exam.

This didn’t mean I skipped anything.

James explains in detail how he addressed each “leg” of the tripod in his article here and linked below. This includes, as I mention in Passer’s Playbook, aiming for less time per MBE question as a way to increase the difficulty of practice.

I also dug into the challenges James faced while preparing for the California Bar Exam:

Nice work, James! Here are the resources he used again.

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