Bar Preparation Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive

It’s socially acceptable to shit on math. It’s politically incorrect to dislike “travel” or “dogs.” And it’s considered weird and risky to not sign up for a big bar prep course by the end of your third year of law school.

These are some default autopilot sentiments of the typical millennial law student. Can we throw millennials back where we found them? Yes, please take me away from this mortal coil.

Let’s start by addressing that last one. Unless you were already exposed to alternate paths, you probably naturally assumed that you needed to go with a bar prep company after graduation. The question was framed as a “which one” false dilemma, rather than “should I.” You were bombarded with offers from the usual suspects since day one.

So it’s not your fault. Also, there’s nothing wrong with using a course per se. I’m 100% for educating ourselves.

I’m not wagging my finger saying you must or mustn’t enroll in a bar prep course. I’m just saying you can decide for yourself. You don’t have to spend anything close to $4,000 or even $10,000 every time you take this test.

There is a way to pass the bar other than with big box bar prep courses.

Start by checking for any internal narratives you may have about what you need to buy to prepare for the bar. Here, I’ll help you reexamine the default assumptions born from “big bar” lobbying by answering these questions:

  • What are the drawbacks of “big box” bar programs?
  • What can you do instead to address these drawbacks?
  • What are the benefits of big bar courses?
  • Should you sign up for one? (It depends)
  • How do you prepare for the bar without a prep course or a big budget?
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This foreign attorney who struggled with essays passed the California Bar Exam with the lowest July pass rate (40%)

Lars was a Canadian attorney taking the California Bar Exam. He took it once in 2018 February. Then he passed the following July.

“I took it twice. The first time was in February and I got 1393, and then I wrote again in July and passed the second time.”

Lars was decent enough on the MBE and the PT thanks to his existing lawyering skills, but he needed help with the essays.

“I came really close on the MBE the first time. I think I missed one question but I struggled with the essays. I did well on the PT, the first time, which I think I can attribute to being a lawyer.”

Unlike the MBE and the PT, essays force you to work your “origination muscle”—to come up with words to write (instead of filling in letters) based on what you’ve memorized. We can break it down to a three-step process: Memorize the law, be able to recall it, and able to apply it.

“I kind of thought going in the first time, I would be able to just sort of manage the essays better than I could. . . . As a whole, the issue with the grading of the papers, there is a real issue where I don’t feel like a lot of the graders are grading equally.”

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Why Are Pass Rates Lower in February? (Yours Doesn’t Have to Be)

Bar exam takers are some of the most anxious and superstitious people on the planet.

  • They spend more time agonizing over which subjects will be tested than prepare for each subject (and then get really mad when the subjects actually get leaked, like it did for California did in July)
  • They plug in numbers into score calculators to figure out how many correct MBE answers they could get away with… AFTER the bar (I’m also guilty of this)
  • They get worked up over the smallest indications of possibly passing the bar (“My account won’t let me sign up for the next bar exam! There’s some text that changed colors! My C&F status is different! Does this mean I passed the bar?!”)

It wouldn’t surprise me if someone used a ouija board to divine what a magic 8-ball would say about their bar results. (Spoiler: The answer is always “maybe” because there is no way to know beforehand.)

I’m only judging a little bit because it’s natural to get anxious over a high-stakes exam. But we sometimes focus on trivial minutiae as a proxy for the fundamental questions and answers.

One question that some repeaters (or first timers who don’t take it in July) have is whether they should take the bar in February or July. The lingering concern is whether the bar is harder in February than in July.

This is a valid question, but one that you ultimately need not worry about.

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