Myth of Memorization on the Bar Exam

Many bar takers are obsessed with the idea of memorization. It’s something a lot of students have concerns with and something I think about, too.

I think it comes from a place of insecurity. They say, “As long as I memorize this perfectly, I will be set for the bar exam.”

No, that’s not the point!

This is a common thought process, especially for those starting out. Yes, you do want to memorize as early as you can. And yes, you def want to know the material before the bar.

It’s not that I’m ragging on memorization. You should memorize. It’s table stakes. Everyone’s doing it. It’s a minimum requirement. Just a cost of entry.

I do want to point out what bar students miss when they get tunnel vision around memorization. Don’t miss the forest for the trees:

1) Don’t use “memorization” as a safe space

If you’re thinking, “I need to know all the rules perfectly before I can solve problems!” You’re just procrastinating. You’re acting out of fear.

Well, the bar exam is scary. Too fucking bad.

But this reaction is also common and normal. And once you know the truth, you can fix it. Mastering the bar exam is also about mastering your ego and psychology.

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It hurts seeing that you missed a bunch of questions or issues. It hurts even more to get a shitty score on the bar.

Better to get excited about failure now so that you don’t have to motivate yourself again 6 months later. Yes, excited! Every result is a valuable data point with something to take away.

Remember you’re here to learn. Don’t try to be ready before you’re ready.

2)         Memorization isn’t just about memorizing rules

Issues are arguably more important than rules, especially on the essays. That’s why I also spotlight the issues in Magicsheets and Approsheets and organize them as they are tested, not just the rules.

Issues are like seeds where IRACs sprout from. You could fumble on the rule and application and still get some credit. If you can’t tell the grader what the issues are to begin with, no IRAC is gonna sprout. You get zero credit for that issue.

Know the issues.

3)         Memorization happens as you use it and after you use it

There’s a reason you don’t remember 99% of your lectures.

This is a test of application, not just barfing up what you rote memorized (although that is part of it).

Yes, you do need to rote memorize a lot of things because not everything testable has been tested before or it’s hard to find a question that tests a certain issue or rule.

But most of your bar intuition will come from seeing the patterns from old exams and questions. I said this before: The past will guide your future.

I would suggest that you FIRST try to solve problems (like MBE questions and essays) with cursory imperfect knowledge so that you UNDERSTAND how the issues and rules are used. AND THEN, you can memorize your understanding of the rules and issues.

In other words, learn by example, not by theory.

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This will let you be able to pull out the issues and rules you need from memory, and probably more importantly, recall your understanding of how to use them. Yes, unlike real life, there is often a correct response—the intended, credited answer—even on essays.

4) It’s more about being able to remember and use things on the exam, not merely be familiar with them

This raises the question: How do you do that?

So far, these mythbusters have guided you away from the “easy work” of memorizing without mentioning the word “practice” (because I’m sure you “know” to do that already). But I did say that memorization is required.

If you want more specifics on memorization itself, check out this article. It will answer these questions:

  • What are some ways to solidify the information in your head?
  • When should you start memorizing?
  • How do you split your time?
  • Should you memorize everything?
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