3 Illusions You Might Be Trapped In When Preparing for the Bar Exam

I see some strange juxtapositions whenever I make the mistake of leaving the house:

Words: “Don’t drive even after a beer. It’s dangerous.”
Action: Drives with one eye on the phone and another eye on the road

Words: “Do your civic duty and go vote. Here’s a sticker!”
Action: Actively avoids making a direct impact on the community through jury duty

Words: “I’m never drinking again!”
One month later: “I’m never drinking again!”

(My quest to restore a six-pack taught me that bursts of “never” don’t last long and that sustainability and consistency are way more valuable.)

What are some other ones? Let me know in the comments what you’ve noticed.

And then we have bar takers. Souls wandering in limbo. Not yet a licensed attorney but not a regular person either.

We see some interesting behaviors with bar takers as well:

Illusions of bar preparation

Illusion of safety
“I’ll just memorize all the rules. That’ll do the trick.”

I get it. I really do. I keep repeating this point because I made this grave mistake the first time.

Look at what I wrote to myself on July 22, 2013 (before I failed the bar):

“My biggest worry at this point is the upcoming bar exam. I will never feel optimized, but I can focus on practice now that I’ve built foundation of theoretical knowledge the past 2 months.” (emphasis added (to my own quote))

What the hell were you thinking, Past Brian.

Reviewing “theoretical knowledge” for 2 months and NOW you’re going to practice, a week from the exam? Go sign up for Present Brian’s emails.

The reason that this is an incomplete approach is that memorizing rules is just a minimum requirement. Click the image to watch a 30-second clip about it:

"It's not about just memorizing rules because that table stakes. Everyone is doing it. You need to do that. That's just a minimum requirement, just a cost of entry."
(link to clip)

I want to be clear: Memorizing rules and issues is good. No, it’s great. ONLY memorizing is questionable.

Illusion of what’s being tested
“I need to spend most of my essay time on analysis.”

Why yes, you should discuss how the rules you’ve invoked apply to the facts. How do you get to the analysis part of IRAC in the first place?

Identify the issues. Recall the relevant rules.

No issue = no IRAC = no points.

More relevant issues = more IRAC = more points.

Don’t forget to make a conclusion after making your case.

Illusion that more is always better

“I’ll fill in these bar review lecture notes and retype them. Wait, I heard that one thing will tell me everything I need for the bar. Next up are flashcards, outlines, workbooks, rewriting outlines, assignment checklists, trips to the library, AND ONE HUNDRED MBE QUESTIONS PER DAY!”

Maybe you’re getting the sense that something isn’t right.

That’s normal during bar preparation. You can and should correct course if it feels like you’re doing something wrong.

Overwhelming yourself isn’t the answer. There are a million things that might work. What’s right for someone else may not be right for you.

First, assume that your default approach is the correct approach. By sticking with the things that are already working, you’ll continue to make progress.

If the default has failed you or is making you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, come up with one or more variations.

The burden of proof is on the change you want to make. Set the burden high (like at least “preponderance of the evidence”). With whatever new thing you want to add to your arsenal, ask:

  • Is it helping / going to help you learn better? How, specifically?
  • Is it helping / going to help you be more efficient or effective? How, specifically?
  • Is it giving / going to give you insights as opposed to mere information?

This ensures that we’re only making positive changes to your study performance. If it passes the burden of proof for at least one of the above, go for it! Price and time are trivial factors in your quest to pass this final hurdle.

We can also audit things you want to subtract so that you can keep things simple:

  • Do you suspect that bar course lectures are wasting your time? Skip one and see how it goes when you focus on something else instead.
  • Are my emails not helping? Unsubscribe. (Resubscribe if you miss them. I see some y’all crawling back after leaving.)
  • Is a study tool not useful? Use it less often and see if you miss anything.

Note that I’m NOT knocking redundancy or trying out various different things (that’s how I found out what worked and didn’t work for me). What I’m suggesting is to be conscious of how the approaches and tools you’re using are affecting you.

I appreciate your enthusiasm and hard work, but it’ll be more sustainable to optimize for learning, not maximize consumption and horsepower.

Rushing around trying to capture every piece of knowledge will spread you thin and only result in exhaustion.

Getting better isn’t always about doing MORE. Maybe it is in your case. Maybe not. It may be about doing something else differently. Just changing 10% with the right thing (whatever that might be for you) might give you 50% improved results. A one-degree deviation in your trajectory over the long run could take you to solid land or the Bermuda Triangle.

Which “illusion” speaks to you the most? What’s another illusion that you see your fellow bar takers in? Drop a comment below.

Want more strategies straight to your inbox every week? Plus UWorld, AdaptiBar, and BarEssays coupons, and a free guide to kicking Performance Test ass. Let me know where to send them.

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