They tell you to “study,” but do they ever teach you HOW to study? Are you studying correctly? Of course bar takers get lost when there are so many different ways to go about preparing.
You could try everything yourself, or you could find a few trustworthy sources and ignore the noise. You could pinpoint insights rather than cobble together information from random people with their own views (bar prep is personal).
- Too much conflicting information actually STOPS you from doing anything.
- I want the right insights, not just information. The information doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as it makes sense to me and gets me to do something about it.
- The more I respect the insight, the more likely I am to do something with it.
How do you know whether to trust someone? Trust yourself to know.
Some resources and advice will work for others, and some will work for you. Big bar review courses cater to the lowest common denominator. It’s like Olive Garden’s menu where there’s something for everyone but also the primary ingredient for everything is butter.
I reached out to someone who was initially excited about my materials but then quietly unsubscribed from my emails.
I asked, what’s going on? Here’s what she said:
She consciously decided which path to focus on. She let go of my material for now so she could stick to one that was working.
I totally can respect that. It doesn’t matter if the right insights for you are from me or not. You should look elsewhere if I’m just a distraction.
But I also see that some people just talk the talk. They are perpetually “getting ready.”
Signs you’re just going to “get ready” and not do anything about it
The Tool Collector: Jumps from one program or study tool to another that will somehow plug them into the Matrix and upload everything they need to know for the bar.
The resources out there can all be useful in their own ways, but their utility depends on how YOU use them.
Like with anything else, having too many moving parts only complicates your life. Keep it simple. The right things are often the simplest, but not necessarily the easiest.
The Inquisitor: Asks question after question but doesn’t do anything with the answers.
“How many questions do I need to do to pass?” Up to you. “Do you recommend X? Where can I find Y?” Come on, it’s literally in the email you responded to. “I’m taking the bar exam in Z. Any advice? Sent from my iPhone”
Almost none of these inquiries will lead to any changes in behavior. They’re feeling stuck and believe that answers and information will make them act.
Don’t get me wrong. Questions are fine! The most successful students have done their legwork already, and are specific and thoughtful with their questions. Then they get to work, report back in a few months, and pass their wisdom forward to the community.
The Hourly Biller: Does anything but feel their brain squeezed from conscientious mental exertion and blows to their ego. Thinks it’s all good as long they put in the time.
Reading outlines day after day, chasing after that percentage meter, listening to 4 hours of exhausting lectures every morning, religiously filling in the blanks, reading an essay and copying the answer… zzz…
You are your own client. Would you pay for the time you spent? Don’t make me cut all your hours.
They’re passing time as they wait for their discomfort to disappear, stockpiling knowledge.
“Knowing” a rule is not enough
Just “knowing” a rule is different from knowing how to apply it to a fact pattern. Just “knowing” about issues is different from being able to identify and organize them.
I get it. It’s tempting to convince yourself that you’ll be able to feel your way through the questions as long as you’ve memorized or understood the rules.
But let me first be perfectly honest here. I shouldn’t even be saying this…
Winging it just might work for you! Don’t let me stop you from doing your thing. I’ve seen it go either way. Gamble with your future if you want, but hope is not a strategy. At the same time, there truly is no ONE RIGHT WAY to do this.
Just be aware that underestimating the exam and overestimating yourself are the riskiest things you could do on the bar.
“Knowledge without practice can create a kind of arrogance that is dangerous.”—Kyle Eschenroeder
The reason the scores on my first attempt were poor was not practicing enough, let alone practicing effectively. I could write beautiful rule statements. I thought that equipped me to pass. But apparently I couldn’t actually solve the problems I needed to.
I knew just enough to be dangerous to myself.
“OK! Just ‘practice practice practice,’ right?”
Here’s the kicker, though:
Practice alone is not enough
Yeah, I said it: PRACTICE ALONE is NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
What good is doing problems if you don’t know whether you did them right? If all you do is practice, that’s like getting off the scale, getting back on, and expecting the number to change.
Here’s something else I learned about learning during my rematch with the bar:
YOU NEED FEEDBACK. SELF-CRITIQUE.
By “feedback,” I don’t mean you should get a tutor (unless you want to). Rather, critique your own work, be open to being wrong, and have the persistence to use that valuable information on your next attempt. I want YOU to become a bar expert!
This is where the learning happens—the part where you review your work to figure out what went right and wrong, not when you’re doing the work itself.
This is a subtle difference but an important one. How did I only manage to do 800 MBE questions when others were talking about doing 3,000+ (and still didn’t pass)? You can’t improve what you don’t evaluate.
Improvement comes from constant feedback and learning every time you try to solve a difficult problem.
Don’t get me wrong. Remembering the material and doing problems are great things to do. You would improve your MBE, essay, and PT scores even more using these “Practice + Feedback” loops.
You can make yourself better, or you can make yourself feel better by avoiding feedback.
Passing feels the best.
(This post is getting long enough even without the specific “Practice + Feedback” steps for MBE, essays, and PT, but I included them in Section VIII of the “Big Playbook” that comes with Passer’s Playbook 2.0).
Savor your failures
My SAT tutor friend tells me that learning from practice is the part only 1% of people ever do. He says the problem is HOW to get students to actually evaluate their work.
I don’t know the answer to that. Yes, bar prep can be confusing and boring and ridiculous. Then again, you’re an attorney candidate, no longer a high schooler. I’m not going to lecture you on what you need to do. There are many ways to get to the final destination.
What I do know is that there may be painful moments where you go down your MBE answers and mark a bunch of them wrong. Or AdaptiBar says you’re still in the 50, 40, 30% range. Or the effort you spent on an essay seems to be wasted because it looks completely different from the model/sample answer.
Savor these failures. Get things wrong. These are valuable data points. These failures are fodder for your next victory, as long as you learn from them and build foundations.
Honest critique of your own work can be one of the psychologically toughest things you can do to yourself. But you only get enough experience points to level up if you face challenges, not easy enemies.
Don’t confuse one failure for a total failure. Being wrong and embarrassed enough times will be the Drano® that punches through the gunk and frees you from your fever.
Hey, no need to lament the bleakness of your future just yet, friend. It’s good that it’s happening now so you can get it out of the way before it counts during bar week.
Your heart might sink in the moment, but realize that you’re getting valuable feedback. Ultimately, it makes your life easier down the line.
Accept the hit to your ego
It reminds me of the times I spoke with my job interviewers for honest critiques. I found out exactly why they didn’t want me. It’s not always about the technical skills. Interesting!
It was embarrassing to hear someone tell me that he can’t see himself having a beer with me after work. It was embarrassing to drive for hours to interview and then hear that my reason for wanting to move to their city wasn’t good enough.
But I’ll trade my ego for useful intel any day. I found out that they weren’t right for me either. And maybe next time I won’t be such a “polished” interviewer.
As you continue to internalize the feedback you get, you’ll end up thanking yourself for the times you decided to accept truth and discomfort with open arms.
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”—Sigmund Freud