The One Non-negotiable Study Strategy (2018 July Bar)

It’s that time of the year again.

Law grads all over the nation have gathered together to take on this mythical beast known as the bar exam. Now that everyone’s here, maybe we stand a chance against the final boss.

What were the sobering statistics for the previous cohort? And what can you learn from them?


2018 FEBRUARY PASS RATE = 27.3% (using the CA bar as an exemplar)

(A)       If you didn’t pass… This is unacceptable. I’m heartbroken. I’m sorry.

I know what that moment feels like.

Mouse cursor spinning, heartbeats audible through your neck, your fate decided in mere moments like staring down the barrel of a gun. Pure agony for those few seconds of anticipation. That sickening moment when the heavy, undeniable truth closes in around you. And you don’t even know what the hell to do now.

I wish I had a time machine to fix it, but I don’t. We can only move forward.

I know. It’s hard to be optimistic right now. Emotions are running hot.

When you’re ready, I’m going to do my best to assist in your bar quest. I’m also going to ask a lot from you. As you know, this shit isn’t easy. It may even be one of the hardest things you’ve done.

When you’re ready, read the rest of the email to see how to get started again in your next iteration of this experiment. I’ll be with you every week until the July exam.

(B)       If you were part of the 27.3%, congratulations. A bitter and hard-fought battle indeed. February is especially notorious for low passage rates… and they’re getting lower. It could have been anyone with that kind of statistic. I commend you and sprinkle you with compliments.

When the high of passing has passed, you’ll forget this feeling and wander the earth, billing forever, unable to find anything else that’s as exhilarating as this moment.

Only half kidding. You can finally move on with your free life and do what you went to law school to do. My work is done if I’ve made myself obsolete.

BEFORE YOU GO: If you’ve already shared the good news with me, thanks. If you haven’t yet, send me a quick note. I’d love to hear your story about overcoming this beast.

Also, if you have any returned essays from previous attempts (any state), please consider donating to share with future bar takers in my essay answer bank. Just email me with scans/photos and scores (all kept confidential).


“I’m taking the bar exam in July. Where do I start? What should I know?”

They say hindsight is 20/20. Let’s look ahead instead of thinking backward.

Here’s how to get 20/20 FORESIGHT: Study your predecessors, especially the ones who took the bar more than once.

Luckily for you, I already asked your fellow students for help. Here’s what they had to say after coming out of the trenches in February:


What made the biggest difference in improving your bar skills? What's the one non-negotiable bar exam study strategy? "Practice"


Teach a fresh newcomer to bar prep: What advice would you give for success, based on your experience?


I discovered “Reddit.” How do you do, fellow millennials?


What's the worst advice someone gave you about bar prep?

What's the worst advice someone gave you about bar prep?


Your biggest regret or mistake (in preparing for the bar)?



Enough. The point is this:

You can do whatever that makes sense to you and suits your needs. Find out as soon as you can what that is. Don’t outsource your decisions to fear and desperation and what if’s. No one’s stopping you from going your own way.

Maybe you signed up for Barbri or Themis or whoever because they bribed you with outlines you never used as a 1L. That’s fine! “Big box” programs tend to have excellent raw materials.

What matters is how you use the tool than the tool itself. The wielder of the tool makes things happen. Will you make diamonds or graphite?

You could give me the best running shoes in the world, and it’ll definitely help, but I ain’t running anything that lasts more than 5 minutes anytime soon. If I want to train for a marathon, I simply need to put on some shoes and start running every day. (I’m just not going to because I hate running and runner culture is creepy.)

There’s no ONE WEIRD TRICK or silver bullet or a single proven way to go about it. There are actually many “proven” ways to prepare for and pass the bar. The question is what you’re going to do.

BTW, I’m no exception… As a second-time passer, I have some idea of what works and doesn’t work. I could easily give you an answer, but that wouldn’t be very empowering.

Instead, I can share with you detailed strategies of what worked for me and many others. They are just biographies and recommendations. If they don’t jibe with you, you should also look for help from other sources (which I encourage you to do regardless).

In the end, it’s up to you to you turn these strategies into personal tactics.

  • Want to make mnemonics of mnemonics? That’s a little weird, but sure, I can give you ideas for memorization so you can make it happen.
  • “Do X lecture and Y number of questions on Z day… or else!” Want to deviate from the rigid schedule they gave you? Yes! You can craft your own flexible schedule that serves you, not the other way around. It doesn’t make sense that someone who works full time also has to follow the same one-size-fits-all schedule as everyone else.
  • Want to practice MBE questions but don’t want to get in a pissing contest over how many questions you can do? Passing the bar is a better bragging right than doing 3,000 questions and barely learning anything.

Whether or not you have a “big box” bar course, bar preparation is ultimately a self-study endeavor. It’s a conscientious, thoughtful activity that helps you learn, not just “bill hours” to fill in time to feel productive. I failed the first time because I just went with the flow.

I get your anxiety, though. In terms of what to do now, you already have your bar exam study schedule from your prep course. You paid a shitton for it, so you might as well as use it. You’re already in too deep for you to abandon it.

I don’t blame you! If it works for you, by all means, DON’T abandon the schedule they gave you. In fact, just forget everything I said.

I encourage you to trust yourself a little more. If you need help, listen to your predecessors who have come out of the exam. Listen to your predecessors who actually passed (after studying for the bar more than once):

"My number one lesson after experiencing (enduring?) Barbri that can be applied to all aspects of life: Busyness does not equate to progress. . . . Round 2. It was through careful, deliberate, and painfully repetitive PRACTICE where true progress resulted. Quality over quantity! . . . Find the work that brings YOU the most progress, and put in the work. You will pass."

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.”—Archilochus


If there’s one thing I’d like you to not compromise, it’s practice and feedback.

“Yeah I know, MOM. That’s so obvious. DUH!” You whip your hair smugly. “It’s simple. Tell me something new.”

Yes, smartass, it is “simple.” Yet why are there many who end up cramming in the last two weeks? Is it because Barbri tells them to? Fear of failure?

It’s really easy to get caught up in the safe mode of “let me review just one more rule” / “I need to memorize first” / “gotta fill in these notes and make flashcards” cycle of stockpiling knowledge. You figure you’ll get around to using your knowledge tomorrow (“for real this time”).

This is procrastination and avoiding the important work. Like your groceries, knowledge expires. Use it or lose it. A common trap is to “review the law” but not reviewing how the law applies to the facts (model answers, past exam answers, sample answers from your state bar).

Well, it’s fine for now if you’re at the stockpiling stage (assuming it’s still May when you read this). You may be at the point where you’re building a foundation first. After all, you can’t answer questions without knowing what they’re about.

Generally, I suggest 2/3 review (studying) and 1/3 practice (learning) in the beginning, and sliding the scale to 1/3 review and 2/3 practice as bar gets closer.

And uh, hate to be the bearer of news but the bar is closer than you think. It’s not the same mirage fantasy from 1L year anymore. It’s here.

If you want to get the most mileage out of your time, just keep in mind that busy work and easy work (and even practice alone) don’t help you improve that much. Almost by definition, progress requires struggle. It’s like getting on the scale. What are you going to do between weigh-ins?

The point of all this isn’t to just do work. Remember that you’re here to prepare up front, not just study. It has a specific purpose—to learn useful things that will ultimately help you pass the bar.

Think of the bar exam as another class you’re unfamiliar with, a pass/no pass class. Don’t treat the bar exam as a review of what you learned in school (though having taken a class for the tested subjects helps a lot).

In other words, it’s not “bar review”; it’s “bar preparation.” You’re not here to impress anyone right now, so feel free to fail.

The CEO of Dropbox is a great example of upfront preparation. He’s always found it valuable to ask himself, “One year from now, two years from now, five years from now, what will I wish I had been learning today?”

Similarly, one week from now, one month from now, once bar week rolls around in July, what will you wish you had been learning today?

Drop a comment below with your answer. I’d like to know. And if you don’t know the answer to that yet, I encourage you to sign up for my weekly emails.

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One Reply to “The One Non-negotiable Study Strategy (2018 July Bar)”

  1. You have excellent things to say, but way too wordy for those of us with limited time to read, due to bar prep. How about being more concise with your tips?

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