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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Dominating the Essays: Organize Issues and Prioritize Rules to Know on the Bar Exam

Ever wonder how you’re supposed to juggle everything in your head? How do you prioritize the rules to know for the bar exam?

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

How do you know you’ve completed the essay in full? Did you even talk about the correct issues? Are the graders going to give you the points? Are they even going to read your prose?!

You’d love to start practicing essays but feel like you just haven’t learned enough law yet. It’s overwhelming to even begin from scratch.

If you’re a bar taker struggling with coming up with what to write, essays are the bane of your existence. Your rambling paragraphs start to blur. There’s just so much to know (or so you think) and say.

Let’s breathe. We can simplify the essays and make them less scary…

Key takeaways:

  • Learn not just the rules but also how to present and organize the issues (with examples below)
  • 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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Why Bar Takers Can’t Remember What They Need To

Back when I first took the bar exam in 2013—

Wow, where did the time FLY? This is getting depressing already.

Anyway, I was able to write these beautiful rule statements. Something out of a treatise. Flowing with prose fit to be in a presidential speech. Baroque music in the background. Some renaissance shit.

What’s really depressing is that despite my perfectly memorized (and perfectly recited) rules, they were still mostly useless.

Ask the average bar taker, “Where do you want to be in February/July/exam time?” And that’s the dream they have—to have the “black letter law” memorized perfectly.

They chase after knowledge over experience and intuition. Mere exposure and familiarity over understanding.

Be conscious about your approach: Rather than jumping in and brute forcing your way to MORE MEMORIZATION, MORE FLASHCARDS, MORE PRACTICE QUESTIONS, consider more understanding, more recitation, more feedback/self-critique to see why something is correctly used or not.

Optimizing for “knowledge” and familiarity looks like this:

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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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Busting 4 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 say, “As long as I memorize this perfectly, I will be set for the bar exam.” They end up holding a bag of theoretical knowledge they don’t know how to use, neglect the performance test in the process, and end up with a sorely lacking written score.

This may seem to be a safe approach, but it’s actually reckless. It 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 unless you know how to look things up quickly.

It’s not that I’m ragging on memorization. You should memorize for the bar exam—but not at the expense of learning. 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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