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.

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Write Essays as If You’re Preparing Your Essay Grader “Client”

When writing essays on the bar exam, it’s important to use good presentation to make it as easy as possible for the graders to consume.

It’s a test of empathy.

In fact, you should treat the graders as your “clients.”

I received an email from Max, a reader who took this perspective at least a step further. I particularly love that Max phrased it as preparing someone else for a presentation, because in the “real world,” your job is indeed to make your boss (a “client”) look good to their boss (whether their own superior or client).

Max mentions that he started doing better on the essays when thinking about essays in this “preparing” manner, rather than a more self-centric approach where you’re showing off your knowledge. He categorizes three different levels of preparing your client.

I felt that his insights were wasted to be archived in my inbox, so here it is (edited only to generalize for non-California readers).

I hope this gives you a helpful perspective on how to treat essay writing:

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Distractions and Passive Learning vs. Active Learning

Dude, I get it… This shit exhausting.

You don’t want to take this exam or SEE another question EVER again. You want nothing more than to pass this stupid bar so that you can move on with your life.

You can see the One Outcome on the horizon. So close yet so far.

So close yet so far to end of bar prep

But you can’t escape this endless cycle. You’re not allowed to. Not yet.

Wake up, then crash your face into the pillow. Hope and despair, rinse and repeat. It feels like you’ve been preparing for this bar exam your whole life.

It doesn’t even feel real anymore. But this exam is the realest thing in your life right now. So I hope you’re not spending all day thinking about unimportant fiction, catching up on all the distractions, panic, and the doom and gloom.

All the constant news in bar world, about remote testing issues, how the grading works, diploma privilege, exam software concerns…

Feels great to have some drama in your life. Something OTHER than Civ Pro to vent about!

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Common Traits of Bar Passers & Why Mental Fortitude Is Important for Bar Preparation

They say knowledge is power.

But why is that with all the information out there, we don’t always get to where we want to go? Why do 80 percent of New Year resolutions fail by February?

“If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”

Knowledge applied correctly is power. Knowledge is potential energy. It’s what we DO with the knowledge and the desire, not the fact that we have them, not the fact that we simply declare our desire.

But the #1 hurdle that I’ve encountered with people taking the bar isn’t skills, technology, or knowledge itself.

It’s, uh, mindset. I lowkey cringe at this term because it’s sometimes associated with impractical woo-woo and things like visualization.

But the point remains: The hurdle is often internal. If you can’t turn that potential energy in your mind into kinetic energy, what’s the point?

"half of bar prep involves preparing oneself mentally"
"the bar exam is all about your mental fitness and your ability to retain a crap ton of information without going crazy. Take care of yourself this time around."

It’s getting harder to pass the bar exam…and that’s exactly why you should go for it.

It’s not going to get easier. When the bar is set high, it’s actually an opportunity to stand out more.

Some common traits of bar exam passers I see:

If you take the time to observe people who have passed the bar exam, you can kind of tell why. There’s something about their behavior:

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Stop “Studying” and Start Learning: The Underrated Practice of Practice in Bar Prep

Back in college, I gave a copy of my cheat sheet for our engineering midterm to a girl. How do you say no to a girl? Answer: You can’t.

It had all the equations needed, but she got the lowest score in the class. She didn’t know how and when those equations applied. She hadn’t practiced applying those rules to similar problems. She assumed that just having the rules there would be enough. Same reason open-book bar exams would change very little.

It’s like when someone says, “b urself.” Okay… what’s that mean? Could you explain that a bit more bro? Any supporting statements or specific examples?

Same with “black letter law.” What does “related” mean? You get a better sense of what that means by looking at examples of how that rule is used until you gain an intuition.

You’d think these rules would be plug and play, but they’re not. Context matters. Knowing when and how to use them matters.

She was my gf at the time btw. Awkward! Oh well, live and learn.

And that’s what I want to talk about—learning.

“Do I really know this? Am I really becoming ready for the bar exam?”

It’s natural to question yourself at every step when preparing for the bar exam.

What people try to do:

  • Consume material to get all their “ducks in a row” first
  • Obsess over every rule and get overwhelmed
  • Collect more tools than is possible to look at and reconcile
  • Endlessly seek the “best” silver-bullet tool
  • Fill in the available time

This is when we pour our coffee, make room on our desk, organize our pens, turn on the computer… and then just stare at the words.

not practicing

How to actually find out:

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