Two Biggest Fears of a Bar Exam Taker

“I need to know all the law first!”

What were those three years of law school for? Never mind.

There’s this strange concern in the atmosphere floating around.

A concern that if you don’t know it all, then you won’t be prepared to solve the problems… The thought that all you need to do well in practice or even the bar exam itself (!) is to know it all…

So you sit there, fold your arms, and wait for osmosis. A passive approach. Maybe your soulmate will fall out of the sky, too.

And then when you finally flip open that essay after weeks of becoming a know-it-all…

You stare at the blank page.

In front of you, a blank canvas ready to be filled but only reflecting a harsh stillness.

The cursor blinks at you, urging you for your next order.

Cold sweat squeezes out of pores you didn’t even realize you had on your body.

“…”

You decide to hit the books and videos again. Maybe you just need to know more… Maybe you’ll get ’em next time…

You’re mostly grasping the material, but then when you take a practice exam it’s like everything you know is out the window.

WTF? Why didn’t it work?

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Myths of Memorization for the Bar Exam

Many bar takers are obsessed with the idea of memorization for the bar exam.

Understandably, a lot of students naturally panic and have concerns about it. I think it comes from a place of insecurity. There’s a LOT to remember after all.

Panic mutates into paralysis. They rely on theory. They say, “As long as I memorize this perfectly, I will be set for the bar exam.”

Maybe. That approach isn’t going to work for most people. It’s not the point. But this is a common thought process, especially for those starting out.

That may be why people are excited for the open-book bar exam in some states. I eagerly await the test takers’ realization that it’s not just about having access to knowledge but whether they can use it properly. Removing the memorization requirement doesn’t really change the exam. In fact, it will probably hurt if you’re wasting time looking things up.

It’s not that I’m ragging on memorization. You should memorize. It’s table stakes. Everyone’s doing it. It’s a minimum requirement. Just a cost of entry. So you do want to start memorizing as early as you can. 

I want to point out what bar students miss when they get tunnel vision around memorization. Don’t miss the forest for the trees:

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Learning and Prioritizing Rules to Know for the Bar Exam

Maybe it’s the last two weeks before the bar exam and you just started prepping for it.

Maybe your bar prep course FINALLY let you go off to do your thing and it’s a mess to sift through.

Maybe you have a full-time job and got some time off and everything is riding on this exam.

Whatever the case, you may be left with a bunch of law you don’t know how to actually USE in the exam.

You’d love to start practicing essays and MBE questions but feel like you just haven’t learned enough law yet.

How are you supposed to learn all this when time is tight? How do you prioritize the massive body of rules to know?

Key takeaways:

  • Learn not just the rules but also how to present the issues
  • Highest-priority issues and rules are those that have appeared in the past (there are two other categories)
  • There are efficient and effective ways to hit both of the above at once
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How should you really practice for the bar exam? “I keep practicing, but I’m not improving”

So you want to pass the bar. You’re super serious about it.

You pore over your outlines, trying to make sure you have a grasp of all the rules. There are still other subjects to review. You don’t think practice will be productive unless you “get” the theory.

It’s all so overwhelming.

But you did it. You can focus on practice now that you’ve had a good solid review of the core subjects first. You’ve been doing a few MBE questions and looked at a few essays already, but now it’s time to buckle down and get to writing those essays (you’ll get to the PTs… later).

After all, they said to “practice practice practice.”

But something’s wrong…

No matter how many times you do it, every essay is a mystery.

The blank-page syndrome is giving you irregular heartbeats and making you break out into a cold sweat.

You keep picking the incorrect answer choice on your MBE questions.

The prospect of grading your work makes you want to lie down on your bed instead.

Here’s why you’re stuck and what to do to get unstuck:

Observe the “10-40-40-10 rule” of bar preparation.

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Memorizing for the Bar Exam: 5 Ways to Remember and Recite the Rules

There’s this weird phenomenon where you meet someone new and then 1 second later it’s impossible to remember each other’s names.

If I didn’t care about them 10 seconds ago, I’m not gonna care about them all of a sudden as if they were my newborn (whom I’d name Genghis (Hahn) so I don’t forget).

But what can I say? It’s impressive, for that exact reason, when someone actually remembers your name in conversation without having to say “sorry what was your name again? I’m so terrible with names hahahahaha.”

One of the themes I advocate is to focus more on “big wins” and needle movers. Not spending an ungodly number of hours exhausting yourself with lectures, flashcard arts and crafts, or endless memorization.

But we talked about this in the myths of memorization: Memorizing (or more directly, remembering) is still an unavoidable base requirement for succeeding on your essays and the MBE.

And the fact is, your bar exam requires you to remember a LOT. The typical brain is made for processing data but not so much for forcing discrete information to be inscribed into your memory forever.

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