Myth of Memorization on the Bar Exam

Many bar takers are obsessed with the idea of memorization.

Understandably, a lot of students naturally panic and have concerns with 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 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 (like in Nevada). 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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How to Focus on Bar Studies While Stuck at Home in Quarantine

It’s hard enough to focus when there isn’t a cloud of coronavirus covering the planet. Or all the hubbub about what the exam will be like. Or wondering when it’s even going to be.

The stress of adjusting to “the new reality.” Dealing with uncertainty about the bar exam. Running out of yeast for your new bread machine.

You’re at the brink of feeling burned out before the exam is even happening.

First of all, if we’re quarantining, we should be thankful to have a place to stay and a refuge from everything going on outside (even if we’re forced to coexist with our housemates).

But it may be frustrating to not have a quiet place to focus if your go-to study place is suddenly gone. We’re stuck at home. Libraries are closed. Daycares are closed. Coffee shops don’t let you linger around.

Being productive in your bar preparation has become more challenging than it’s ever been.

How do you get into that flow if where you live is the only place left to study?

The two biggest killers of focus and concentration are external distractions and your energy.

Address each by designing your environment and optimizing your sleep as follows:

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How to Maintain Motivation and Momentum While Studying for the Bar Exam: Enjoy the Process

You’ve seen all the euphoria from people who passed the bar exam.

You’re probably “inspired” and “motivated” when you look at success stories, case studies, and accounts of people who excitedly announce they passed the bar exam.

When that happens, we say things like “if they can do it, so can I” (true). Or “I needed this today.”

Today? I’m not letting you off the hook just consuming intellectual candy. That’s some “new year, new me” type energy.

Anyone can desire to pass the bar. Anyone can fixate on the goal and tell everyone they want it. It’s not gonna happen just because you said it.

“I want to pass the bar exam” will require thousands of actions.

Being calm, collected, and confident on the bar exam is based on decisions and actions you make well ahead of time. You could try to conjure up “confidence” at the last moment, but all bets are off when it’s game time and the cards are on the table.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Look, you probably won’t feel confident. That’s normal. Expect that. Don’t get misled by the allure of being confident on the bar exam. That’s not the point.

If you want someone to coddle you and give you cookies, visit your grandma. You want to be barred like those people? You want to know how exquisite that feeling is?

Don’t waste your time chasing after confidence. Chase after competence.

Then perhaps you will find yourself feeling reasonably assured of your answers on the exam (and they’ll actually be right). The point here isn’t to feel nice. The point is to pass the fucking bar.

That’s why I’m going to ask you now, while hopefully still early in the preparation process.

Whether you’re just getting started on preparing for the 2020 July/September bar exam for the first time, or whether you’re retaking it once again, I want you to keep it up and not run out of steam over the next few months. But motivation is not sustainable by itself. There’s a long way to go.

So instead, use your fleeting motivation to create that determination, that momentum. Otherwise, you’ll email me in three weeks asking, “Are we there yet?”

Here’s a real-life example from someone who invented the future (and the best way to do it):

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