Daniel Garrett writes in with a guest article on how to start studying early for the bar exam. Daniel provides expert tutoring for the California Bar Exam and the Uniform Bar Exam at BarWinners. Stay until the end for a special offer to work with Daniel.
If you plan on taking the bar exam several months out and want to get a jump start on your studying, there are a few key areas to focus on as you begin your studies in earnest.
Traditional Bar Prep vs. Early Bar Prep
Traditionally, bar prep courses were hyper-focused programs that began 8 weeks before the exam date and consisted of rigorous studying and assignments to be completed each day.
If you were signed up to take the July exam, for instance, your core bar prep would begin late May or early June and go straight through the exam date. Over the last 5 years or so, early exam prep has ratcheted up and almost every bar prep company and law school offers a bar prep course or class to take the semester leading up to the exam.
Early bar prep programs typically teach preliminary skills in the essay, MBE and performance test components that give you a foundation for how to tackle each facet of the exam. In addition, you will receive substantive law review in each subject tested. This is particularly helpful because most students haven’t touched on subjects such as Property or Torts since their 1L year.
Current best practice suggests an early bar prep course should be roughly 8-10 weeks (separate from the core prep period).
Using the same July bar exam schedule example, this would mean you begin your early prep at the beginning of March, with an end date somewhere in the middle of May. Since students are in finals during early May, the last couple weeks of the early prep schedule are a simple review of material already covered and only for those students that want a bit of extra work or have easier or different finals schedules.
Q1: What do I need to accomplish in early bar prep?
A1: There are a few key skills to try and master during early bar prep.
1) Analyzing properly.
Everyone has heard you need to apply the facts to the law, or the law to the facts, or both! Proper bar exam analysis means you EXPLAIN the relevance of the fact/s as it pertains to the element you are discussing.
If you are discussing Battery and the facts tell you someone got hit in the face, therefore it was harmful and offensive, that does not really explain WHY getting hit in the face is harmful and offensive.
So…why is getting hit in the face offensive? Probably because your face is your most recognizable feature and has sensitive organs like your eyes, nose, and mouth. Simple, yes, but that is WHY getting hit in the face is offensive, and should be explained that way.
As they say in math classes, show your work. Practice this technique during early prep while you have the time and patience to master it!
2) Practice your essay organization and format.
Bar exam writing is not intended to be creative writing.
Develop an organizational structure and format for essay responses that work for you. For instance, I teach my students to capitalize, underline, and bold every issue heading. Next, write out a concise Rule Statement with elements enumerated or key words bolded. Lastly, I instruct students to use actual quotation marks when citing the Facts in their analysis. Don’t write like a lawyer. Write like a bar taker.
Make the grader’s job easy, and make it impossible for the grader to not spot your issue, rule statement, and use of facts.
3) Take time to understand difficult concepts.
You do not need to memorize during early bar prep, but you do need to take time to understand the practical application of concepts that might be difficult to comprehend, such as joinder of claims. It is much easier to memorize information, and spot the issue in fact patterns, when you have a good understanding of the concept and how it functions in real life.
Q2: I don’t have access to any materials yet… Do I need outlines or lectures at this point? Where should I get study materials for early prep?
A2: It is best to get bar prep materials as early as possible in your last semester.
Since most students have not seen 1L subjects such as Torts or Civil Procedure in a few years, you want to have materials on hand to at least read through the outline and refamiliarize yourself with some of the concepts.
You DO NOT need to be memorizing at this point. However, you would much rather see issues such as Products Liability in Torts or Supplemental Jurisdiction in Civ Pro for the first time in March or April, not in June when the exam is only 7 weeks away!
If you are not yet signed up for an early bar prep course or are interested in receiving free outlines and materials, please email me at Daniel@BarWinners.com! For past essays and PTs, visit Brian’s collection here.
Q3: What should my weekly schedule be during early prep?
A3: I advise my students to tackle one subject a week and to complete one open-book, untimed essay in that subject. Using the keys outlined above, you should study for roughly 4-6 hours PER WEEK during the early bar prep program. Anything more than that is unrealistic and unnecessary. Set attainable goals and realize that any concrete bar studying you can accomplish before June is invaluable and icing on the cake!
Q4: How should I transition to the “core” bar prep period now that I’ve gotten a preview? Should I just follow Barbri’s schedule?
A4: Once you have finished your early bar prep studying, you should take a week or so off to recalibrate, then begin your core bar prep in earnest. Taking some time off before the main prep course is critical to avoid burnout later on, since you likely just finished your last set of law school final exams as well.
Q5: What should my schedule look like during the core prep period?
A5: The ideal weekly schedule during core bar prep (i.e., 8-week period in June in July leading up to July exam) is to tackle roughly two subjects a week with 3 days dedicated to each subject.
For example, my students work on Torts the first 3 days, Contracts the next 3 days, review both topics for 1 day, and then repeat the cycle with new subjects the subsequent week. Some subjects (Constitutional Law, Evidence, etc.) might take 4 full days to adequately get through the material.
Within each day of studying students should be working various skills: understanding difficult substantive concepts, issue spotting exercises, fully writing out any issues that might give the student trouble, MBE practice (always quality over quantity!!!), and memorization. Performance test work is typically assigned on the same day the student is to review the subjects they studied that week.
If you need help setting up a study schedule (early prep or otherwise), want to learn more about BarWinners, or just have general questions about strategies for taking either the California Bar Exam or Uniform Bar Exam, email me at Daniel@BarWinners.com!
Daniel provides full-service bar prep complete with comprehensive materials and expert tutoring for the California Bar Exam and the Uniform Bar Exam. Check out more at BarWinners or email Daniel for more information and a $250 discount if you mention MTYLT.