Enjoying Bar Prep: 6 Ways to Make Studying for the Bar Exam More Fun and Effective

Is it possible to enjoy bar prep?

It’s one of the dryest things a person can do on this planet. (Don’t invite space tourists to try this.) But we retain more and pay more attention when things are enjoyable.

I’ve talked about enjoying the process to maintain motivation when it comes to bar prep. How you do that is personal.

Ultimately, you can have fun with anything. It’s a mindset. If something isn’t fun, you can just enjoy not having fun!

You can have fun with bar prep too. Bar prep can be enjoyable if you go at your own pace and get better at it.

The default (typical, boring) approach of bar prep involves sitting still like a statue watching people in a suit drone on as you fantasize about throwing your computer or self out the window. If you’re especially masochistic, you’ll pause the video and make sure to fill in all the lecture notes.

This is surprisingly exhausting. As a bonus, you’ll also forget 99% of what you listened to. I’d rather watch water boil because at least I’d have something to show for it, like edible pasta. (Did you know the singular form of spaghetti is spaghetto?)

Something people forget to tell you is that you don’t actually have to follow the default.

“Just complete the course! Do all the things! Play it safe!”—The National Association of Barbri (probably)

No, instead of playing defense, it’s time to go on offense.

Follow this visual guide of 6 things that can help you make steady progress and enjoy bar prep—without the frustration and exhaustion that come with how bar takers typically approach studying for the bar exam.

(4th one is my favorite!)

1. Learn by example.

Limit “theory” and seek “application.”

Yes, of course you’ll want to brush up on “the law” before you try to use it. Have foundational working knowledge. But learning Spanish and speaking it are two different things. The more you use it in context, the more you’ll gain intuition.

See how the issues and rules play out in real problems. An example of how a rule is used is worth a thousand words explaining the rule.

"I failed the CA Bar Exam first time because I fixated too much on rules and theory than application. I was doing everything "by the book" (or "by the course"), which was more exhausting and definitely less exciting than tinkering around trying to solve past exam questions.

Knowing the rules is different from knowing how to use the rules. I thought I was fine with the PTs but got hit with really hard ones on the exam; they were 3-hour ones to boot. Courses focus heavily on what to learn but not how to learn. Moreover, issues are the real key, not rules.

I was a tryhard but not an achiever. I felt so smug coming out of the first exam not knowing what I didn't know. Merely memorizing rules gave this dangerous and fake sense of security, when knowing the rules was minimum table stakes. I passed when I relaxed, took things into my own hands, and enjoyed the process."
My answer to “Do You Actually Know Anyone that Failed?” at https://www.reddit.com/r/barexam/comments/wcxr1d/do_you_actually_know_anyone_that_failed/iifev1t/?context=3

2. Know the issues.

Issues are where everything starts. When you know the issues, you can “check” through them so you don’t miss any in your essays.

If you only know the rules because you’re so fixated on them, then you’ll be lost trying to fit in rules randomly like when you try to force a joke into a conversation and people pretend to chuckle even though they didn’t get it.

If you love the rules so much, why don’t you marry them?! (Now that’s a forced joke.)

Know the issues

3. Test yourself against past bar exam questions.

The ghosts of questions past will guide you. You’ll be haunted by similar questions on your bar exam.

Stop watching other kids play outside while you sit still by the window watching some dude drone on at 50% normal speaking speed. As the kids say nowadays, “Touch grass.”

You might fall and scrape your knees, but at least you’ll learn how to ride a bike and feel the wind blowing at your face.

Get out there and practice as if it were the real thing, and do the real thing as if it were practice. The bar exam tests you on how to solve problems, not just memorize a bunch of words.

4. Get things wrong.

The realization of the correct issue, rule, answer—the “aha” moment—is EXCITING, not depressing. From there, you’ll start to get things right.

This is how I remembered an issue I missed on an essay the first time:

5. It’s OK if you’re not confident about the bar exam.

“Oh, but my confidence level… I need to be cOnFiDenT.”

Who cares? The point isn’t to be confident or read feel-good promises about ease and confidence that lull you into false security. The point is to become competent—and pass.

Two parts to that:

  • Become—this is a process. The bar exam isn’t easy, but it’s doable with the right approach for you. You WILL get better with the right approach, like all these bar takers.
  • Competent—this isn’t about how you feel. It’s more about how you get results on practice questions and ultimately the bar exam.

Perhaps part of confidence is knowing you don’t need to seek confidence. Competence will lead to confidence as a side effect anyway.

Most people who end up passing aren’t coming out of the exam smug and “confident.” I get that you’re nervous, but people aren’t passing based on their confidence. You don’t need to be confident to pass the bar exam.

In fact, this is interesting: According to this Harvard Business Review article,

“Lower self-confidence makes you pay attention to negative feedback and be self-critical . . . To be the very best at anything, you will need to be your harshest critic, and that is almost impossible when your starting point is high self-confidence. Exceptional achievers always experience low levels of confidence and self-confidence, but they train hard and practice continually until they reach an acceptable level of competence. Indeed, success is the best medicine for your insecurities.”

“Lower self-confidence can motivate you to work harder and prepare more: If you are serious about your goals, you will have more incentive to work hard when you lack confidence in your abilities. In fact, low confidence is only demotivating when you are not serious about your goals.

You’re serious about passing the bar exam. Aren’t you?

“When you see a kid in the park, they’re not looking at a slide and thinking, ‘I have a lot of internal fears about this slide. I don’t want to go down it and look like an imposter slider.’ . . .

They just slide down it and see what happens.” [Credit: Ramit Sethi]

6. Redo practice questions.

Almost no one sees the value in redoing questions!

This is an underrated strategy that confirms whether you understand the tested concept and makes it less likely for you to forget it. The bar exam tests you within a finite universe. Most of what you’ll see has already been tested.

How to retain information for the long term:

Effective memorization for studying for bar exam
From “The Effect of Flipped Learning on Academic Performance as an Innovative Method for Overcoming Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve

There’s also value in taking breaks to help you memorize.

“But I’ll know what the answer is!”

Getting questions right because you’ve seen them before is the WHOLE POINT of “preparation.”

You can at least slam dunk THOSE questions so that you can spend your most valuable resource—attention—on new and tricky questions that the bar examiners will come out with every year.

BONUS. Things will get better if you water the bamboo consistently.

It’s often a week or two before the exam when things finally start to click.

So if you’re stressing over not improving much for the first several weeks, your efforts are not wasted. The bamboo shoots up overnight all at once. Keep watering the bamboo.

(This is one of the mental shifts you learn in Mental Engines, my mini-course on organizing your mental and emotional state for the bar exam.)

How to study for bar exam early
If you want to make bar prep more enjoyable, let me know where to send you more actionable insights like these straight into your inbox (along with discount codes for AdaptiBar and BarEssays and my short guide on do’s and don’ts of bar prep):

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