Mercedes passed the 2023 July Colorado Bar Exam on her first attempt (as a busy mom with a 3-year-old).
She started using a major bar review course but sped through it in favor of a more effective approach to studying.
Here’s why Mercedes ditched her bar review course and how that led to her passing.
- Quick stats
- Resources Mercedes used to help her study efficiently and effectively
- Key takeaways from Mercedes
- 1) Have the confidence to follow your own path.
- 2) Customizing your bar studies for learning, not just studying
- 3) Your past legal experience doesn’t count.
- 4) Use the tools available to you.
- Mercedes’ full story
- Attempts: Colorado Bar Exam 1 time
- Weakness: Essays and MPTs
- Unique challenge: Time management, prior intern/clerking experience interfering with writing what bar examiners want
Resources Mercedes used to help her study efficiently and effectively
💬 “They don’t have condensed outlines, so that’s why I bought the magic sheets, which are truly magical.“
▶▶ Published MEEs and MPTs (NY, CO, and NCBE)
▶▶ Bar review course (partially)
▶▶ MTYLT coaching emails (join here)
Pretty simple set of resources!
Key takeaways from Mercedes
1) Have the confidence to follow your own path.
How familiar is this scenario?
👉🏻 You start a bar review course. You look at the big box of tomes and feel a mix of anxiety and relief: “Everything I need to know is in there. How hard could it be? Trust the process!”
👉🏻 You do everything they say but just can’t shake off that undercurrent of anxiety for some reason.
💬 “Before I started following your blog, I was religiously following the daily program that [her course] gave me, and it wasn’t bad but how was that going to solve my weaknesses? Something was wrong.“
👉🏻 You get overwhelmed.
💬 “I am so glad I do not need to retake the bar, and grateful I found you on time. . . . The timing was perfect because I was feeling so overwhelmed with the bar prep program. I was on track with the hours they required me to do, but I felt I needed to start honing in the main legal concepts.“
👉🏻 You don’t know what’s going on anymore and desperately gamble on predictions, hope that your brain will somehow use 110% of its power and divine the right answers, and send yourself thoughts and prayers while results are cooking.
👉🏻 You join the crowd of repeaters saying that courses are bullshit (but nobody listens).
This scenario is more common than you think. Sometimes it’s too late. Sometimes it’s not too late.
In Mercedes’ case, it wasn’t too late.
💬 “I just thought: well, if I go with one of the big companies, I should be ok. I just need to follow the program, and that is just not how it works, so I am thankful found you on time to course correct.“
This doesn’t mean you have to give up your course entirely! Remember that courses are simply a study aid for your self-learning. Use it the way it will help you learn.
💬 “I was struggling with the essays and MPTs, but the program would throw me an essay or two per day, and an MPT maybe once a week, if any. Then, reading your blog gave me the confidence to deviate from the program. I completed the entire program, but I made the program work for me. . . I ended up completing the whole thing, but in a radically different order from what they threw at me.“
💬 “I listened to the lectures at 1.25 speed. In hindsight, I should have listened to them at 1.50 and get it over as quickly as possible because their only value is to get you situated. No-one remembers anything from those videos.“
💬 “I think I am with you in that I do not think that the bar prep companies programs are bad or useless. I just think that one has to look at the price and what you get out of it and then think whether it makes sense for you.“
Courses aren’t a comprehensive solution nor do they work for everyone. So Mercedes put together other resources to help her learn (like the ones listed above).
💬 “The system that the bar prep companies propose just doesn’t work for everybody, and they don’t teach you a systematic way to attack the MPTs. . . . If I had relied only on what the bar prep company gave me, I would not have passed the MPT portion. The same goes for the essays, I was so wrong that I would be good at them, I just didn’t get what the heck I was supposed to do.“
So what’s the takeaway? You are the dean of your own studies.
I get it. You have such huge stakes in this exam.
But counterintuitively, you’ll have MORE confidence by being more conscious about your studies even if it means straying from a one-size-fits-all structure.
2) Customizing your bar studies for learning, not just studying
How did Mercedes customize her curriculum?
First of all, Mercedes had mom duties, so she accounted for that by studying early and expecting not to have weekends.
💬 “I started studying early because I have a 3 year old and knew I would not be doing much studying on weekends. So time management was a big thing for me.“
But also, the length of time you spend doesn’t really make a huge difference.
Overwhelming yourself and bruteforcing your way can bring diminishing returns.
Instead, what moves the needle?
One general approach is to do what you’ll be doing on the exam (aka practicing with past exam questions) and, at least as important, study the delta between your work and sample/model answers.
To narrow it down further in the case of essays, focus on issues and rules:
💬 “I should essay cook as many as I could. As with the MPT, my score in the essays improved dramatically when started essay cooking. So here is another lesson, the examiners tend to use the same essays, so it is so important to go the published essays and essay cook those first. Once I realized this (pretty late) I rushed in the last week to essay cook all the NCBE public essays, and the NY and Colorado ones. As you say, the patterns became clear then, and by this, I mean the way that the examiners tend to write the issues in the essays.“
Just like there are fact patterns, there are issue patterns.
Less is more. (Just like how Richard passed the 2023 February California Bar Exam.)
💬 “So I guess, this is my first sort of lesson: less is more when it comes the amount of material to really master. Less time with the silly videos and gigantic outlines, and more time practicing the MC questions and learning from them. If I had to redo it again, I would simply use the magic sheets as an overview and then jump into the questions with full force very early in the game by using adaptibar from the beginning.“
3) Your past legal experience doesn’t count.
This is a common trap that experienced attorneys fall into.
They wing the exam years out of law school, write like a lawyer, and are shocked that they didn’t pass. They think their experience will benefit them. It’s the opposite.
You don’t want to write like a lawyer. You want to write like a bar taker.
Mercedes almost made the same mistake.
💬 “One big mistake I made was that I thought I would be very good at essays and MPTs because I worked every semester in law school either as a judicial intern or as a law clerk, so I had done a ton of writing, and I took advanced research and writing classes. Big mistake. I failed so many practice MPTs, I thought I was dumb.“
What did she do instead? Again, focus on issues and rules, at least on essays:
💬 “When you work as a legal intern you look for the dispositive issue and solve the case. So I would touch on the main issue but would ignore the the other more obvious issues. It was reading your blog that I realized I was going about it the wrong way, and I that I really needed to pause to focus on issue spotting the very obvious issues and on rule writing.“
4) Use the tools available to you.
Depending on your needs, there are different tools available.
Mercedes kept it simple with a condensed outline and sources of exam questions.
💬 “The bar prep courses 80 pages long outlines made no sense to me. For the most part, the material is not organized in blocks as it comes up in the exam. Your organization in the Magicsheets was more logical and it just made it easier to memorize the substance. I added to the magic sheets as I studied, but I have to say, nothing of what I added, came up in the exam! They really have what you need to pass as they are.“
AdaptiBar for MBE:
💬 “By the way, I bought AdaptiBar and ended up doing only 200 questions because I had so many MC questions with the … program anyway. But, those are the purchasers one makes when one feels overwhelmed.“
(You can knock 10% off your AdaptiBar cart using the offer code MTYLT10.)
💬 “Once I realized this (pretty late) I rushed in the last week to essay cook all the NCBE public essays, and the NY and Colorado ones.“
I painstakingly organized past MEEs and MPTs and answers from various state bars. Download them here.
Bar prep is not easy. But the approach is simple: Know the issues and rules, test yourself with past exam questions, and find out what you should change next time.
And if you need inspiration and motivation (or to be fired up on Fridays, even), there’s nowhere else that breaks down success stories into digestible nuggets than here at MTYLT (without drawn-out videos of people droning on about what they did).
💬 “I have loved your Fire-up Friday emails. It’s inspiring to read about people who have failed, learned from it, and retake it.“
💬 “I remember you shared the story of a woman who went to a school with a law passage rate (30%) in Georgia who worked full time and was mom and decided to not use any bar prep company and yet passed the first time.“
Nice work, Mercedes! Here are the resources she used again.