The Value of Redoing Problems (You’ll See Them Again on the Bar Exam)

So there was this girl in college. Let’s call her “Sarah” since that was her name.

Sarah had dark brown hair and smelled like fresh green apples. I could tell because my pillow smelled like a spring orchard after she took a nap on it.

… What? This was all before my life went downhill, so let me indulge in this memory for a bit.

One day, she asked me what my hobby was… the most dreaded question a guy can get because what the hell is a hobby and where can I find one.


Btw “eating” or “being a foodie” or “finding restaurants to eat at” don’t count as hobbies. Go back to posting pictures of your food and drinks (#blessed #yas).

Well, I’m not any better. Brain sweating, I blurted out “helping people.” I’m NOT making this up. I cringe to this day because it sounds so pretentious, which is saying a lot coming from me.

But hey, I’ve seen worse attempts by college freshmen to impress a girl, like that one time my roommate brought over a lady guest whom I never saw again.

In fact, I never saw him bring any other guests since then. And then he moved out so he could commute from his parents’ place. It still makes me wonder what he thought of that experience.

We learn our lessons by doing something and getting embarrassed and trying again. In fact, embarrassment is the best way I found to learn a lesson: actually doing things, realizing you did something wrong, feeling the pain, and using the pain to changing course.

I’m not saying we should “make bad decisions” on purpose (#yolo).

We simply need a willingness to endure embarrassment, as fodder for our growth. Opening ourselves up to the possibility that we’re wrong.

"Difficulty now is an investment in future happiness"
Reprinted without permission

If we don’t—if we simply try things once and stop—we end up thinking we “get it” with a generalized and incomplete understanding. We don’t know what we don’t know. That’s why we can’t really be too quick to judge our own proficiency.

“Knowledge without practice can create a kind of arrogance that is dangerous.”—Kyle Eschenroeder

Don’t think you’re immune from it either, dude. When’s the last time you assumed things and made an ass of yourself? We all do this!

We can’t expect to “get” something after reading or doing something once. So when it comes to preparing for the bar exam, should you really to limit yourself to just doing things once and dusting off your hands?


The Value of Redoing Problems in Your Bar Preparation

Have you ever felt, “If I study a subject really well and circle back around to it after studying the others, I’ve forgotten half of the first subject”?

If you had to choose between that sort of anxious uncertainty, and routine boredom, which would you pick?

Becoming bored is a good thing

This is the weakness of the bar exam: There’s only a finite number of ways they can test you, so you can learn the patterns ahead of time by seeing and solving a range of problems. Each subject and each type of call wants you to recognize issues in a particular fashion.

Unlike real-life situations, the hypothetical can’t go beyond what is a reasonably clear-cut set of facts, especially for MBE questions which have one right answer. That’s why there’s another term for hypotheticals: fact patterns.

It’s like when I asked my friend to Junior Prom when I heard that she wanted to go with me. It was lame because I went for the choice I already knew the answer to. No big deal when there’s no uncertainty, right? I properly asked her formally later, which was even lamer because this time everyone saw me with flowers in a tux at school. (Put me out of my misery RIGHT NOW)

If you already KNOW that the way to the answer can only be one or few available paths you can take, not only does that make answering a question more boring and predictable and tedious than it is anxiety inducing, it increases your confidence.

“How do you know?”
As a more subtle example, you may think that all questions are the same: “Just IRAC! Identify the issues, plug in the rules, and apply the facts.”
But just that wasn’t enough for me to pass the bar the first time… For the essays, a second layer of structuring was needed, namely, which issues to raise in the proper sequence. Sometimes this is unique to a given subject or topic.
Let’s say you get a transcript-style (Q&A) Evidence essay. At first sight, it seems like a strange hypo that you think is one of the few WTF-type questions that show up on every exam. Once you know how to approach it, though, it becomes your favorite type of question because you KNOW what it’s going to look like, almost like a template.
If you need extra assistance with essays, Approsheets can help you systematically take apart a fact pattern and go from blank page to complete outline.

This is a bar intuition that will be valuable on the exam. On the actual MBE or essays, you’ll be able to tell right away after having studied a particular issue or a facts-rules-issue association a few times. Maybe not as obvious if you’ve only seen it once!

You develop this intuition by enduring embarrassment over and over until it becomes less embarrassing and more predictable.

Make the predictable your own. When you become bored because it’s all predictable and routine, you move away from being lost, scared, and stressed. All that’s left is to move your fingers while sighing “not again.”

“That’s awesome dude… Now I just have to do a bunch of questions to get there, right?”

If you’re taking the bar half a year from now (not the upcoming bar), then yeah sure, do all the essays and MBE questions and performance tests available out there. Watch for burnout!

Or, more likely, the next bar is close by. Either way, it would serve you well to redo the same essays and MBE questions you’ve picked out.

“B-but I just did them……”

I’m not suggesting that you stop doing new problems, but there’s value in re-attempting at least some of the same ones. This is a way to add depth instead of just breadth and variety in your training. If you really knew how to answer a problem, you’d be able to get it perfectly the next time. Doing the same problem again helps you:

  • Understand and memorize important rules, issues, and sequences of issues
  • Refresh your memory
  • See new angles that you don’t see with just one attempt (learn something new)

I’m also not suggesting that you redo every question you ever do. If there’s something you don’t quite get, it may be worth coming back to it. Who learns something perfectly after looking at it or even trying it just once?

In general, don’t be afraid to redo the same practice essay or MBE question until you “get” it. Even if you think it’s a waste of time because you already did it, even if you think you should know it already, even if there are other questions to grind through, even if you’re worried that you’ll get the issues or rules wrong again…

Who cares. That’s the point. This is a hard test. Get the fails out of the way first. No one’s judging you but yourself. Wouldn’t you rather fail now than on the real thing?

So how do we get to that point of being so good with an essay, an issue, a type of question that we get bored of it?

After you do and review an essay or a set of MBE questions, decide whether you want to redo at least some of it. If yes, wait some time—until later in the day, when you think you’re starting to forget, or the final week before the bar.

Then redo it. Go through the reasoning process as if it’s the first time. See if you can stay within time. Check for the following indications:

Essays: You can correctly identify the relevant issues in the correct sequence along with the relevant rules, verified with sample or model answers.

MBE: You get the question correct for the right reasons. If you get it right for the wrong reasons, there’s no telling whether you’ll get it right on the exam.

PT/MPT: No need to redo. Expose yourself to different ones and keep time. You “get” the PT if you can correctly synthesize a given assignment in time.

Much like recalling rules to memorize, one attempt is mere familiarity, and multiple attempts contribute to a deeper understanding.

And then when you see something similar on the bar, it’ll be just like practice.


Want more strategies and discussions like this straight into your inbox every week? Let me know where you want me to send them. To sweeten the deal, I’ll send you my guide to kicking ass on the PTs, coupon codes to save you some cash (AdaptiBar, BarEssays, BarIssues), and exclusive material you can’t find in the blog.

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