What Should Your Final Preparation Look Like?

Oh you terrify me. But you also delight me. Can’t that be said for at least one person in your life?

True story. Last Friday, I was invited by a guitarist to play the keyboard for his band. Oh my! Exhibitionism was just what I needed to enflame a terror-delight in a heart that has been devoid of emotions since I started attending my alma mater (which dipped in ranking ever since, go figure).

Since I knew nothing about what they were playing, nor had I improvised anything in years, I had to regretfully decline. I got to watch them play for free, though.

Regret. Self-doubt. Insufficient preparation.

If last July is any indication, more than 50% of those attempting the CA Bar Exam will feel something like that come November.

I don’t want to tell you “I know for a fact u will pass if u believe in urself !!” because I’m afraid it will overinflate your optimism and also because I have no empathy. That’s what your friends are for, if you haven’t totally estranged yourself from them yet.

It may seem like a ridiculous coin flip at this point, but perhaps it isn’t too bad if you load the coin in your favor (some optimism is good):


– Did you graduate from an accredited law school?
– Do you invest in your success and absorb the wisdom of others rather than be a one-person island?
– What about the actual study process—are you an effective (not necessarily hard) worker?

Each probably adds like a dozen % points to your likelihood of passing. [Citation needed] but you get the point.

Some you can’t control. Some you can, such as your preparation process. There are many study techniques, and you probably shouldn’t follow mine merely because I’m a magnificent human being.

I mean, all the standard advice is out there already: watch lectures, make outlines, make flashcards, rote memorize all the rules, practice… I guess practice is pretty good advice, especially if you have loads of time.

And all I ever do is describe what I’ve done and motivate you to do the same. It’s not even “advice.”

But if you really want to know what I found to be more effective than the vague “practice essays/MBE/PTs,” I’m happy to share some answers inspired by actual questions I got since last week.

Create your own luck through preparation. I’ll go over PT, essay and MBE practice, as well as logistics you may want to take care of.

Q.        “What do you recommend as a study approach [at this point, for the CA bar]?”
First, a moment of silence for this person’s confused state of mind:

CA bar exam PTs
20 pts for Gryffindor


Performance tests:
I don’t need to explain yet again why you simply need to do well on the PTs.

If you’ve ignored PTs so far, take a look at least one objective memo and at least one persuasive memo, each being highly likely to appear. Hopefully you will have done at least 3-4 full PTs by next week, but don’t go overboard (20 is overboard).

At page 11 of my PT guide is a list of PTs you can try, arranged by difficulty. Here are three graded answers to the infamous In re SIA.

Essays, closed book:
Starting today (Sunday), you have time to grind through two or more subjects per day, one selected subject per day, or a combination.

I scheduled one “important” subject (i.e., a subject I wanted to know better) per day closer to bar week and two subjects per day before that.

However, be sure to keep things fresh in your mind. For my second attempt, I had become unfamiliar with the earliest subject I studied in my final review (Community Property, my least subject). Of course, it just had to appear as an essay, but I somehow made it through by remembering the major approach. So be sure to save your work (cooked essays and such) for later review.

To save time with practice and later review, use the essay cooking approach to double or triple your practice efficiency and give you something for quick review.

Repeat essays if you run out. It’s unrealistic to expect to retain the concepts after one run-though. For me, repeating was helpful for nailing down this one particular transcript-style Evidence essay that I still remember how to do.

You have been keeping track of your MBE win rates by subject, right? Emphasize your top three weak subjects from now on. For example, you could answer and review 30 MBE questions every day, 30 for weak subjects or 10-15 for each of your better subjects.

Q.        Can I bring a digital watch to the test center?
Logistics have a tendency to creep up on you when you’d rather worry about other things. The exam lasts the entire week, not just the hours you sit behind the person with pants that are too small. Here are some reminders to clear your mental space ahead of time.

I wouldn’t bring digital anything. Some test centers should have a wall clock, but you should bring your own or an analog watch (my preference was to start each section at noon to time myself) or 4”x4” clock. Here’s a list of what’s allowed and not.

If you’re typing:
Is your computer running properly? Have you made sure your mock exam works? Don’t forget your charger.

If you’re staying at a hotel/motel (as you should because traffic will be horrible), consider preparing to do these:
– Bring an eye mask and/or earplugs. Last time, there was a garbage truck banging on metal from 3 to 5 AM next building over, but adrenaline and nerves carried me through the lack of sleep.
– Bring plenty of snacks (I love those 9-count Safeway/Vons double chocolate muffins), or find out restaurants you can stop by during lunch or dinner and get a few meals to go.
– If you planned to check out Thursday morning, ask for a half-day extension to check out Thursday at 5:30 as you check in. I was able to do it for half price. Eat lunch in peace and lie down before the last PT as you contemplate your life choices.
– Put together a bag of allowed items you want to bring.
– Bring your cooked essays, outlines, and other materials for review.

Q.        “Brian — in the off chance you are reading this and feeling generous, could you please send me your condensed outlines?  I am dying here…”
Nah, I don’t give away my outlines. Rather, they are premium material with lifetime updates. You can find a link to samples on my blog where I give away 95% of my material. Some people like Lean Sheets, so I encourage you to check out their samples too.


This is the final stretch. With about a week left and no lectures to drain your mental energy, you’ll need to apply deliberate practice to get the most out of your time left. Mind meld with the State Bar and become part of the hive mind.

Preparation is the best thing you can do to succeed on the bar (or other specific goals you have). But serendipity and improvisation will create art and abundance in your life. Do that after the bar, though.

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