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 on the bar exam is to know it all…

So you sit there, fold your arms, and wait for osmosis. You receive. 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?

If all you did was memorize some rule as a fact, your body has no clue what it needs to do.

That’s backward because…

1) Knowing something conceptually is vastly different from knowing how to use something.

2) You treated everything the same. You tried to juggle everything in your memory without considering whether a rule (or issue) is even important enough to focus on. This dilutes your attention.

3) You neglected to learn the corresponding issues. Like a joke you wanted to force into a conversation, you couldn’t wait to use the rules and concepts you learned. But you didn’t know when they were relevant or appropriate to bring up, so you tried to put them somewhere… anywhere.

(You could address this blank-page syndrome using Approsheets to guide you through the issues.)

When you wrote down the definition of a word on your fifth-grade vocab test, were you regurgitating what you memorized or did you also know how to properly use the word in a sentence? I definitely regurgitated.

We’re many grades above that now. Time to cut through the biggest sources of noise.

Two big fears and obsessions of a bar taker: lectures and memorization

Don’t worry. You won’t get everything right even if you do “know the rules.” No one will.

Too many bar takers get overwhelmed and obsess over getting their ducks in a row first.

"How did anyone who used the AdaptiBar videos utilize it to get the best out of it? Did you take notes during the videos? (I received a fillable outline for notes) Did you watch it continuously until it stuck? did you make flashcards based on the videos? I would love to hear your strategy and what worked for you!"

If that’s you, it’s not because you’re a “perfectionist.”

It’s because you’re afraid.

Afraid to mark every other MBE question wrong with your own hands. Afraid that you won’t know what to write about, how to organize, or where to even begin. Afraid of what the exam will look like. Afraid of doing something different from what you’re used to from classes. Afraid of not remembering something when you need it.

Afraid of failing the bar exam.

What's your motivation to slog through the lectures? "The paralyzing fear of failing the bar exam."

Bad news: The bar exam is scary.

Good news: You don’t need to be afraid.

But you have to realize that trying to get it ALL down first is procrastination — pain avoidance in the form of “if I get all this down now, I should be good later.”

How do you solve this procrastination problem?

For lectures:

  • There’s no requirement to listen to every word of every video. If listening is how you learn, go for it. Otherwise, what is it for other than self-satisfaction or imaginary completion points? You don’t need to read the entire case book to pass the class. You don’t need to consume everything that appears on your news feed. You don’t need to read every email in your inbox (although I will read yours). You don’t need to read the entire Wikipedia article.
  • The point is not to fill in the blanks or complete the program. The point is to gain a general framework and understanding of the law. The real work comes after. Remember that bar prep at its core is a self-study endeavor. The programs are simply there to support that process and help you learn.
  • If your learning style is more compatible with reading than listening, you can do this with the written materials (notes and outlines), which often overlap with the lectures and take less time to go through.

I’m not saying to cast aside those lectures. I’m saying to be more conscious about when and how you’re using these tools.

“But, but, I’m so confused and overwhelmed! AAAAAAAHHH

Well, that’s normal and why I’m here. I got fucked so that you don’t have to. If you hide behind the comfort of consuming, if you only play defense, you will get fucked also.

The tools are for YOU TO USE however you want. Get to know enough to be able to figure it out along the way, but don’t get sucked into their pace. If you’re not using the course, it’s using you.

For sure, commercial bar courses can help you. I talked about how to use them for effective learning. But who says you need to do everything they suggest (pretty sure you skipped some reading assignments in college or law school) or enroll in a huge course in the first place (consider who inception’d the idea it was necessary into your head in the first place)?

Our minds play a trick on us where we think that the more extreme an action is, or the more we pay for something, the more we think it’ll change things. 

Interestingly enough, some will pay $1000s on autopilot for the privilege of sitting through an overwhelming course, but all bets are off when it comes to a book (or something that streamlines the massive overload caused by courses). All of a sudden, they now have to tighten their budget elsewhere and debate minutiae instead of looking at the biggest cost.

"Your MagicSheets and Approsheets were incredibly helpful! . . . I’m convinced that I passed because of adaptibar, baressays, and your sheets."

Ask yourself: Are you doing something because you’re supposed to or because it’s helping you prepare?

For memorization:

  • You don’t need to know everything perfectly before you begin training, although you should know something before you do. It’s a mix of theory and practice.
  • Memorizing is crucial! But it’s just part of the equation. This is just the price of admission. 
  • Being familiar with something is NOT the same as being able to remember it. You must be able to recall (retrieve at appropriate times), not just memorize (encode into memory).

Hmm, so how do you hone this skill of memorizing?

Whaddaya know? Here’s an article about that to get you started:

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3 Replies to “Two Biggest Fears of a Bar Exam Taker”

  1. Hi Brian,

    I am a CA student, entering my 3L school year. I passed the Nov 2020 Baby Bar, and despite that, my professors are telling me my writing is too “conclusory” and I “need to know the laws better.” I believe you attended a Zoom session I hosted discussing the exam software used by the CA bar examiners.

    Help me bump up my GPA?

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