I went on a Zoom call to discuss how to study for the bar exam. If you’re just starting out, you may be lost on what the right way to do this all is.
So I distilled three key strategies from what I did differently to pass the California Bar Exam on my second attempt. These are applicable to all jurisdictions and whether you’re taking a bar exam for the first time or you’re a repeater.
Here’s the recording (volume/quality warning):
Slides (with links and coupons)
Giveaway link (enter by 11:59 PM PT on Thurs, May 20, 2021)
Writeup & timestamps below…
How to study for the bar exam so you can actually pass
I wanted to share some things I would have done differently the second time around. Especially for first timers, you’re thrown into the deep end of the pool. You’re supposed to figure things out in 10 weeks, wait for months, and pray that you passed.
But things don’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be all about praying and luck. You can accelerate your preparation starting today — and this is regardless of which state you’re in — so that you’re not reinventing the wheel trying to figure things out last minute.
1) Lectures are useless (clickbait) (10:00 of video)
Admittedly, this is a bit of clickbait, but the first thing I’m going to say — which might startle you if you just paid $3,000 for a course — is that lecture videos are not always the best use of your time. I wish I had optimized for learning — rather than completing tasks for my own self-satisfaction.
Those fancy videos and glossy pages are how they can justify charging thousands of $. That said, they’re not completely useless like the clickbait suggests.
It really depends on your learning style. If you learn better from listening to audio or video, then be my guest. Watch everything you want.
But a lot of the time in life, and hence in bar prep, we tend to just take the default path — the way we’re “supposed to.”
So think: Are the lectures actually helping you? Do you need to listen to ALL the lectures, including the subjects you’re really good at?
Put on a straitjacket for 5 minutes. Really take the time to think about that… The most successful people take a conscious approach that fits them. Don’t blindly do what everybody else is doing. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
What I’m saying is to think more consciously about your approach. Bar prep, at its core, is a self-study endeavor. All the courses and materials out there are merely there to support YOU in your self-study, not the other way around.
So what you could try is, maybe listen to a couple of videos and see how much value you’re getting out of them, and how much overlap there is with the written material.
If you learn better by reading something and taking your time chewing over it, you should tend to do more of that.
A lot of the time, first timers and even repeaters, realize that they wasted 8 weeks doing these low-calorie activities and don’t even remember 99% of it!
So the theme here is going to stop playing defense — and to fight for simplicity. It’s time to go on offense and think about what is actually going to help you retain and use the material, and learn how to solve questions the way they want you to.
2) Upgrade your approach to MBE (13:15 of video)
There are three specific things I did that allowed me to win the game of MBE the second time around, after scoring 50-60% the first time.
Quality (of review) > quantity (of questions)
You hear this a lot, but what does it mean?
I didn’t do a ton of questions and focused more on learning what each question was about. When I was scoring low, I didn’t realize what these questions were testing me on.
How many did I do? I’d say about 800-1000 total for my second attempt. I also redid them (important).
If you think that’s not a high number, you should theoretically be able to get 100% right if you redid those questions you’ve done before. Of course, that’s unrealistic, but this is a useful thought to keep in mind as you move through the questions. Think about that the next time you hesitate redoing questions or complain about questions repeating in UWorld or AdaptiBar.
Tracking my performance by smaller categories
One common way is to categorize by subject. I also categorized them by main issues, like hearsay or negligence. These bigger issues appear often, so they can be worth tracking.
Personally, I used a simple spreadsheet to track. Remember, simple is totally fine. In fact, strive for it.
Look at this information to boost the low-hanging fruits. You can raise your overall score naturally that way.
Practice with a mix of real MBE questions and other styles of questions
Of course, you want to focus on past questions. But simulated questions can be useful for drilling down on weak areas so that you’re not “wasting” the “good” questions.
I used Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics for the MBE and Barbri’s questions when I wanted to drill areas I sucked at.
You have other great options like UWorld and AdaptiBar. Both come with simulated questions. UWorld has hundreds of them. If you’re on the fence, here’s a review and comparison. You can find coupon codes in the slides linked above.
3) Essays: issue checking (20:52 of video)
This for me was the biggest game changer.
California is notorious for its long, one-hour essays and subjective grading. Even if you’re not taking the California bar, you can hear them complaining about this from the distance. I was writing these beautiful, perfect rule statements, but I was struggling with my essays.
The ISSUES are actually the most important part of IRAC. If you don’t identify a given issue, you don’t even get the opportunity to discuss the rules and analyses that go with it.
How do you do that?
I never use the phrase “issue spotting” because to me that implies you wing it and somehow happened to draw the issues out of thin air. As if you will somehow know it when you see it.
You can do that, but I found that a systematic approach was more helpful to me (as well as many of my readers through the years). This is called issue checking.
Rather than thinking of it as spotting issues, you are now checking for issues — matching the facts to the known and preexisting issues. (BTW, I make this process easy with Approsheets. More on issue checking with example here.)
This works because you’ll be tested on fact patterns. There’s a reason they’re called patterns: They’ve appeared before, and they will appear again. Once you get familiar with the fact patterns, you can start to see issue patterns. If you understand all the issue patterns, you can solve probably 95% of the essays they’ll throw at you because you will have seen the issue patterns already.
So if I were to take the exam, I’d look at a bunch of past essays, try to do them, and study what the sample answers did. Look to what’s been done historically. The past will guide your future.
This person passed the recent CA exam. He focused on the issues and did well enough to pass.
There’s nothing sacred about the bar exam (24:37 of video)
I just want to say there’s nothing sacred here.
I talk about using the resources that are available, and that’s fine. It’s OK to not reinvent the wheel all over again when it comes to preparing for this bar exam.
You can learn a lot from emulating model answers and approaches. In fact, it’s your DUTY to give yourself every advantage you can.
If I had realized that there’s nothing sacred about this exam and that I could just “plagiarize” what’s worked before, the bar exam could have been easier (and my law school GPA much less embarrassing, too).
Sometimes, all these years of struggling with the bar exam end up becoming a part of your identity. Because of that, I’m sure you want to pass the “legitimate” way—beat it completely with flying colors.
Think about your future and your career. All that matters is that you scored high enough for them to say you passed, one way or another (ethically).
Hope you found some value in these perspectives on how to approach bar prep.