What to Do in the Final Month of Bar Prep (“I’ve fallen into the trap of relying on what Barbri tells me to do”)

A question about what to do in the final month of bar prep after sitting through Barbri:

“I have fallen in the trap of relying on what Barbri tells me to do. I am 200 hours in and have watched all the videos for the 7 main MBE sections. I know basics, but I feel vastly unprepared to tackle this exam and kind of hopeless. Now that I have your materials, do you have any advice on what I can do to master all this material will four weeks left? Sitting through hours of lectures did nothing for me. Thank you so much for preparing all these materials.”

Sound familiar?

The Plan isn’t working. Panic sets in, and cold sweat oozes down your unkempt hair.

First off, this understandable and common. Still, in years past, many people have made it out in the final month and even in the final two weeks.

So right off the bat, know that you can do this (as cliché as it sounds). You are capable. And you will make it out, even if you don’t believe so right now. You have to make it out, to be exact.

No pressure, right? The thing to do right now to regain your sanity is to take stock of what you need to do and have at least a rough idea of what to do from here. Create a plan of attack if you don’t have one yet.

Here are some areas to prioritize and some pointers on how to spend the remaining few weeks (and when to stop relying on notes for closed-book practice):

Prioritizing your studies away from lectures from bar review courses

First, if you’ve gone through lectures, great. Don’t go back to those again (unless you want to refer to something important). They’ve served their purpose.

What you got here won’t get you there. It’s time to go on offense, rather than sitting like a statute, hiding behind passive “reading” or “taking notes.”

The MBE subjects will be the most important part of your exam. The MBE itself will account for up to 50% of your score, and your essays will hit on some of the MBE subjects.

If you’re taking the California Bar Exam, this is especially important to consider. Out of the 5 California essays, 3-4 of them will test MBE subjects, whether as a standalone or a crossover question. So you’ll see maybe 1-2 essay-only subjects.

This means you can also skim or skip the lectures for essay-only subjects in California. You can already start to see where you should prioritize your efforts with the time you have left.

That is, if you decide to prioritize, focus on MBE topics. Go through 5, 10, 15 essays as time allows, attempting to solve them. Redo them. It’s OK to do them open book for now (use Approsheets for setting up issues if you get stuck, for example). But you’ll have to wean yourself away quickly, by the final 1-2 weeks.

You’ll likely have to wrestle with essays, pull your hair out, and feel stupid as hell trying to pry them open and make sense of them. It might take you over the allotted time to write an essay.

This is part of the process. This is how you’ll know what you don’t know, which is important. Review and patch up those areas using Magicsheets or other sources you’re using.

More suggestions on how to fit Magicsheets and Approsheets into your other study materials.

Just the fact that you go through this pain now will put you ahead of those who rely on safe, passive activities like “reading” outlines and memorizing them (without using them in the context of a real question). They may feel a false sense of confidence when they become familiar with the subject matter, but panic will hit harder if they’re unable to use what they “know.” I will hear from them in a few months, and the real work will begin.

Repeating the bar exam is an undeniably real thing that can happen to the best of us. Denying reality didn’t do me any good. I had to revamp my approach.

To avoid being a bar exam repeater (and becoming a statistic), plan out your remaining days with the following parameters:

  • Devote 1 or 2 days to each MBE subject. Split your time: a small portion to reviewing if you need to + writing or cooking essays + doing MBE questions + reviewing your work against sample/model answers and explanations. Memorizing and reviewing should be done concurrently and after a practice essay or an MBE question set. Passer’s Playbook has sample schedules for (among others) 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 week remaining.
  • Spend more time on your weaker subjects. Spend less time on lower-priority subjects (for example, essay-only topics for the California exam), but less time doesn’t mean neglect.
  • Keep up MBE practice every day. If you can, align the MBE and essay subjects.
  • Don’t forget to fit in practice for the performance test because it’s a big chunk of your score. 1-2x a week may be sufficient. Do more or less depending on how you do with them. Tuesdays are my go-to day for PTs because that’s when they’ll be on exam week.
  • If you’re taking the California Bar Exam, especially prioritize Professional Responsibility (PR), a subject practically guaranteed to appear. Try to master as many past essays as you can. Getting a high score on PR essays typically involves identifying as many relevant issues as you can. Robust application is less of a concern. Hot topics include conflicts of interest and other frequently tested issues. Leave PR for the final day to keep it fresh.
  • Allocate a final review week where you mostly “cook” essays to focus on issues and rules.
  • Use your cooked essays as review material before the exam to refresh yourself on issue patterns and rules.

Did you notice? If you’re taking the California Bar Exam, concentrate on MBE, PR, and PT for 70%+ of the grade.

When to stop relying on notes (and start practicing closed book)?

In the last two weeks, you should be able to, or at the very least attempt to, answer essays and MBE questions without relying on notes. That way, you can test yourself on how well you can recall and recite issues and rules. This information is useful for pinpointing exactly what you need to brush up on. 

If you can wean yourself away from notes earlier, even better! Attempts to recall are the basis of memorization. The more you struggle and get that “aha!” moment from finally seeing the correct phrasing or correct answer, the more that will stick with you. 

Put shortly, see if you can stop relying on notes even four weeks out if you feel like you have a decent grasp. Take a peek if you need to; the notes are there as training wheels. But try to remember rules on your own first.  

While background review of conceptual knowledge is a good start, what got you here won’t get you there. You’ll learn more from practical application than sitting like a statue staring at videos or words. With competence, not empty pep talks, you will panic less and feel more confident.

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