John passed the 2023 July California Bar Exam on his first try after deciding that his bar review course wasn’t working for him.
I know. Yet another success story about someone who ditched the traditional route. Might as well pack up and go home.
But leaving the bar course behind isn’t just for repeaters. And messages like this often take multiple repeats to click in your head. Kind of like memorizing the law.
Well, let’s see how John did it. I’ve parsed out 5 teaching points from studying his success story and the multiple updates he sent me before and after the exam.
- Resources John used to pass the California Bar Exam
- John’s approach to studying and passing the California Bar Exam, in five parts
- 1) Pivot from “trusting the process”
- 2) Focus on big areas you can control. Let everyone else stress about predictions
- 3) Don’t miss the issues in your essays
- 4) Use the right tools and approach for you
- 5) Stop obsessing over minimum scores you need to scrape by
- John’s full story
Resources John used to pass the California Bar Exam
💬 “I realized they [Magicsheets] broke down the black-letter law in a very clear, concise way and made memorizing pretty simple.”
💬 “Approsheets made it clear how to be familiar with which specific issues we needed to be prepared to address for each possible topic that could come up on the bar.”
💬 “[They] made the process of studying for the essays seem almost too ‘easy’ compared to the horror stories I had heard from other people in the past.”
💬 “Jonathan Grossman’s AdaptiBar videos are also highly entertaining but VERY straightforward and practical.”
- Use code here for 10% off your entire cart (including lectures)
▶ Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics for the MBE
▶ Mary Basick’s Essay Exam Writing for the California Bar Exam
John’s approach to studying and passing the California Bar Exam, in five parts
1) Pivot from “trusting the process”
💬 “I realized I wasted time with one of the mainstream bar prep companies and trusting their process too much.”
I’ve made this point several times now, so I won’t belabor the point too much.
But isn’t it interesting how so many success stories mention this? Is it just a coincidence?
Maybe! I’m not saying this is THE way to go. I’ve already mentioned that traditional bar courses DO work for people. I’m not poo-pooing them (too much).
💬 “I abandoned the traditional bar prep program and bought your Magicsheets, knowing that was what I needed to pass.”
Just use the course properly. It’s a supplement. Or put together your own curriculum as the dean of your own studies. This is especially relevant if you’re the scrappy type.
💬 “But after I passed I realized that for the bar exam, you don’t need extra complexity. You need to just use whatever tools help you know the rules and issues for each topic and the practice applying them in the manner and format that the bar graders are looking for.”
First-class flights take you to the same destination as coach seats. Don’t let anyone question you for having your own itinerary. It’s about what fits your needs and style.
John found that the course materials were not as helpful as other resources. It wasn’t working for him.
💬 “Earlier in the summer, I had originally been using a traditional mainstream bar-prep company, which was not bad and had some helpful aspects, but it was becoming very clear to me during the prep process that other resources might be more effective for me, personally. I just was not finding the video lectures very helpful. Even watching them at a faster speed wasn’t helping. . . . I knew that it was key to know the black-letter law and to be familiar with what issues should be brought up for each essay subject. But those huge, thick books from the mainstream companies just weren’t cutting it for me for memorizing. I knew there had to be another solution.”
2) Focus on big areas you can control. Let everyone else stress about predictions
The Tripod Approach is one efficiency approach that John used to attack where most of the predictable points were.
💬 “I also found Brian’s ‘tripod’ approach to be spot-on. Brian advises focusing bulk of your efforts on the MBE topics, PR essay, and performance test, rather than get overwhelmed about stressing which exact topics will be on the essays. (Obviously, he’s not saying to ignore the other topics. But focus on the MBE topics, PR and PT.)”
This is most applicable to the California Bar Exam, but if you’re not taking CA, can you think of leverage points in your exam? The idea is the same, and I have some starting points for UBE in the article.
Practicing what you’ll do on the actual exam might be obvious to you at this point, so I’ll let John explain what he did for the MBE, essays, and PTs in his full story below.
I’ll make one important point, though:
3) Don’t miss the issues in your essays
On bar exam essays, issues are paramount. If you want to pass the essays, identifying issues is non-negotiable. Knowing the law means knowing the issues too.
💬 “Just wanted to give you a pretty cool update. The other day out of curiosity I was skimming over the answers that the State Bar recently released for the essays. I didn’t actually really notice any big issues that I missed in any of the essays. I was almost shocked. I really don’t think that would have happened without the Magicsheets and Approsheets.”
It’s the inverse of what you knew in law school, where beating up the issues and writing gigantic analyses was the name of the game.
4) Use the right tools and approach for you
💬 “As for general advice, I would say that you know how you, personally, best study, and if a certain method isn’t working and another method seems like it might be better, don’t be afraid to try it.”
And if something doesn’t work, great! You narrowed down what works and what doesn’t work for you. Elimination is one way to progress.
💬 “If I don’t pass, then I know I’ll need to spend more time on the stuff that I figured out works. (There’s nothing I could have done more with the mainstream bar prep materials that would have helped on those essays that the Magicsheets and the Mary Basik book wouldn’t have been more effective.)”
The same goes for the tools you use to assist your studies. Well, how do you know what’s going to work or not?
You don’t, at least at first. I suggest you try different things early on (or as soon as possible) so you know what’s working for you and what isn’t working.
💬 “After taking the bar exam on Tuesday and Wednesday, I can now confirm that if I’m able to scrape by and pass it was because I started using your products (as well as things such as the Mary Basick book, Adpatibar and Emanuel) rather than mainstream bar prep. If I don’t pass, then I know I’ll need to spend more time on the stuff that I figured out works. (There’s nothing I could have done more with the mainstream bar prep materials that would have helped on those essays that the Magicsheets and the Mary Basik book wouldn’t have been more effective.)”
What a great attitude. If something doesn’t work, cross it off.
That’s how John found tools that were compatible with him that impacted his studies.
💬 “I totally agree with you that it’s about the training itself more than the tool. That being said, if you don’t have the right tools, that can impact your training. In your Serena Williams analogy, it seems like, for me, the mainstream companies were more comparable to playing tennis on a video game while the combination of Magicsheets/Adaptibar/Mary Basick/Emanuel is more like actually practicing playing tennis.”
What’s my Serena Williams analogy? It’s not about which tennis racquet will let you beat Serena Williams. It’s about how you train your technique rather than obsessing over which racquet is the “best.”
So it’s also about how you use what you have as a training tool, not just what you use.
Be the best student and learn from what you have instead of trying to demand immediate results. Speaking of which…
5) Stop obsessing over minimum scores you need to scrape by
On the actual thing, expect to be about 70% as good as your top condition. Not saying you will be—but account for that possibility.
You will fall to the level of your training, not rise to the level of your expectations.
I get that you’re overwhelmed, and it’s useful to know what a good target is, but don’t be one of those people who want to barely scrape by. Aim higher than the target to actually hit the target. Prepare to be several notches above minimal competence.
💬 “I realize that my time is better spent just cooking some essays and seeing what happens rather than worrying about the exact numbers. (I’m just trying to get some slight peace of mind.)”
Refer back to the case study about C, the busy big law partner who was still humble enough to go through every essay and study every day consistently.
Bar preparation is just that—preparation. It’s not merely “studying” and reading words on a page. It’s getting ready to answer questions on the exam.
You’re a lawyer with a duty of zealous advocacy not only to your clients but also to yourself. When you go to trial, when you have a conversation with the other party, or when you have a client meeting, you don’t go in blind. You’re prepared ahead of time. Set a higher standard for yourself, and treat your needs accordingly. Don’t waste time trying to figure out what the minimum you can get away with is. You might as well spend that time learning.
The less you know, the more you don’t know what you don’t know.
Great job, John! Here are the resources he used again.
What does preparation mean to you now?
What’s your new standard for preparation?
John’s full story
Some screenshots were removed at John’s request.