“I’m taking the bar exam in a few months. 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:
Enough. The point is this:
Do what makes sense to you and suits your own 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 too! “Big box” prep programs tend to have excellent raw materials.
What matters is how you use the tool than the tool itself. Instead of worrying about what the “best” course or a supplement is, worry about whether you can be the best student you can be.
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 won’t beat people who have actually gone out running. 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.)
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 about it.
BTW, I’m no exception… As a second-time passer who has talked with hundreds of bar takers, I have some idea of what works and doesn’t work.
When I share detailed strategies of what worked for me and many others, they’re simply biographies. 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 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.
- “Watch X lecture and do 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. I’d rather you master 1,000 questions than go through the motions of 3,000.
Whether or not you have a “big box” bar course, bar preparation is ultimately a self-study endeavor. The course is just there to support that.
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.
But I get your anxiety. I don’t blame you. If it works for you, by all means, don’t abandon the schedule you got from your bar review course. You should learn how to use the course properly to maximize your learning, though.
And I encourage you to trust yourself a little more. If you need help, listen to your predecessors who have come out of the exam and those who actually passed (especially after studying for the bar more than once):
If there’s one thing I’d like you to not compromise, it’s practice and feedback.
“Yeah I know, DAD. 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 gave them lectures for 7 weeks and then all of a sudden, it’s time to push you into the deep end of the pool?
It’s really easy to get caught up in the safe illusions 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” (which you should) but NOT reviewing how the law applies to the facts (model answers, past exam answers, sample answers from your state bar).
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.
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 you to do something between measurements. It’s like getting on the scale. What are you going to do between weigh-ins?
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. The point of all this isn’t to just “do work.”
In other words, it’s not simply “bar review”; it’s “bar preparation.” You’re not here to impress anyone right now, so feel free to fail now so you don’t on the real thing.
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?