How to Gain 20/20 Foresight Studying for the Bar Exam

I’m probably going to black out as I remember this tearful tale.

I had inadvertently moved into an apartment with no apparent way to plug into the Internet besides the unstable public WiFi servicing the entire complex. The apartment also happened to be right on the border of the only zip code in Southern California not serviced by Time Warner Cable. The worst 40 days of my pre-smartphone life before I finally got someone to connect me to the rest of civilization.

If I’d known that would happen (among other things), I probably wouldn’t have started my stint as a free man there. But who can tell the future?

No fortune teller would accept me as an intern because I am a terrible predictor of the future. In fact, you, me, everyone else—people in general are terrible at predicting the “best” outcome or solution. Self-delusion with respect to this is called “hindsight bias.” If you don’t believe me, write down your hypotheses so that later you can see what your track record is for predicting the future.

But imagine that you could know what you should do before it’s too late. They say hindsight is 20/20. Having 20/20 foresight would be like benefiting from a second chance on your first time.

Come again? Yes, even if you’re a first timer studying for the bar exam, you actually have a crystal ball!



It’s your predecessors who successfully passed the bar—but not just anyone.

First-time passers may or may not know exactly what it was that made them pass; they have nothing to compare their experience to. Perhaps it was luck or natural talent, which from my experience means they’re not the best teachers (“Just go to lecture and pay attention! Read the MPRE book the week before!”). They don’t see or care to share the whole story.

Furthermore, first timers tend to be fixated on their bar prep program. They follow a standard-issue program, and it happens to fit some of them.

Come to think of it, do we even know why some of these bar “professors” are qualified to teach? What do academics with a specific subject-matter background reading from the outline have to do with actually studying for and passing the bar from a student perspective? When was the last time anyone teaching at Barbri, Kaplan or Themis took the bar?

Rather, seek to probe the wisdom of those who have revisited hell and lived to tell the tale. Not just me—all second (third, etc.) timers who passed have their regrets. They say things like “I would have passed sooner if I’d known that…” or “I should have done this last time…” or “I passed this time thanks to…!” That’s your cue that you’re in the “between the lines” territory—the part most people don’t tell you about.

(What if you already are a repeater? You have prior experience to refer to. Other repeater passers will better relate to you and share their tips. Do something differently until you find something that works, then keep doing it. Please reconsider and question yourself when you catch yourself going through the same motions over and over, convinced that doing so will produce the outcome you want.)

It’s like those articles about the top five regrets of people on their deathbed. I don’t know about you, but I’m taking them to heart. After all, they have more life wisdom. Similarly, by virtue of their proximate care and wisdom, grandparents tend to buff their family’s longevity in “blue zones.”

That is to say, there’s a better way to verify and adjust our current understanding. Peering through the crystal ball protects us against our self-delusion of being a special snowflake with unique needs.

Now hold on! Before you have an existential crisis, realize that maybe this is a good thing.

It means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel because you can look ahead through the crystal ball. Let’s say you asked some non-first timers (e.g., friends, bar prep sales directors, TLS) how they passed. The common themes you hear from them could apply for 80% of your study.

For example, this first-time passer decided to change her focus to the timeless approach of practice:

Importance of practice for studying for the bar exam

To get additional specific examples, start here with one of my most popular articles. Take what you like and leave the rest.

You can use the remaining 20% of your study efforts for experimentation suited to your own style:

  • Are you an auditory learner? What happens if you skip a lecture and read the corresponding outline instead?
  • Are you a completionist obsessed with filling in every blank and checkbox provided by your bar prep? Could you instead spend 30 minutes to see if you could make a tailored study plan?
  • Outlines or flashcards? Try both? I’m an outline kind of guy myself, although Law in a Flash cards were useful for learning specific concepts with examples

I mentioned before that in this day and age of planetary connectivity, you will suffer if you rely on your “self” only and try to be TOO original to solve your problems. Those who leap over the pioneers got their results not by reinventing the wheel…but by getting the right help.

Admittedly, this is something I’m still trying to internalize. For your purposes, however, there is no need to go gung-ho and bootstrap everything yourself like I did my first try, which failed miserably. For the time being, you don’t have to feel guilty about leeching, if you will, from the work of others.

Be like those people who slip through the door as it closes on the person behind them (pure malice). Though if you actually do that to me in real life, I’ll kick your ass through the door.

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