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

Am I the only one who keeps a list of cringeworthy things they’ve done in the past? Anyone?

*crickets and random cough*

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 change course in the future.

I’m not saying we should “make bad decisions” on purpose (#yolo). Life is already a constant stream of embarrassment anyway.

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

Reprinted without permission

We don’t know what we don’t know. That’s why we can’t really be too quick to judge our own proficiency. That’s why we get on the bike and try to apply the theory as we go so that we find out.

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. There’s a difference between awareness and experience.

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!

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

The Value of Redoing Problems for Your Bar Exam 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”?

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 limit yourself to just doing things once and dusting off your hands?

If you had to choose between that sort of anxious uncertainty vs. 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. 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 a reasonably clear-cut set of facts, especially for MBE questions which have one credited answer. That’s why there’s another term for hypotheticals: fact patterns.

It’s like that time I asked a girl to prom after hearing that she wanted to go with me.

Ugh, so lame! I went for the choice I already knew the answer to. We all want to avoid uncertainty. I properly asked her formally later, which was even lamer because this time everyone saw me with flowers in a tux at school.

Add that to my cringe list, and put me out of my misery RIGHT NOW.

But my pain is your insight:

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 predictable and tedious than it is anxiety-inducing, it increases your confidence.

Redoing problems makes similar problems PREDICTABLE
“How do you know?” Redoing problems makes similar problems PREDICTABLE
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 a logical sequence (this is more often the case in California essays). 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. 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 in your head. They’re called fact patterns for a reason.

If you need extra help with essays, Approsheets can help you systematically take apart a fact pattern and go from blank page to complete outline and essay.

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 particular “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 it becomes so predictable and routine that you become bored, you move away from being lost, scared, and stressed. All that’s left is to move your fingers while sighing “here we go again.”

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

Sure, see if you can do all the essays and MBE questions and performance tests available out there. Especially if your bar exam is a while away. Watch for burnout!

Or maybe the next bar exam is coming up soon.

Either way, it would serve you well to redo the same essays and MBE questions you just did (and reviewed).

This is a simple and powerful but often overlooked way to grasp a concept you think you know or are about to forget the next day.

“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. And isn’t that actually the goal on the exam?

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…

That worry is a good sign. This is a hard test. So let’s 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 know which ones to redo and when?

After you do and review an essay or a set of MBE questions, decide whether you want to redo it later by checking for the following indications:

Essays: You can correctly identify the relevant issues in a reasonable 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.

Generally, if you didn’t get all the issues right, or if you got the MBE question wrong, consider making a note to redo it sometime later. That could be later in the day, some days later when you think you’re starting to forget, or the final weeks before the bar.

How soon you challenge it again depends on how badly you botched it. If you missed an issue or two, maybe come back to it in a few weeks to see if you still remember what was missing. If you had no idea what the rule even was, or missed a bunch of issues, you might want to redo it in a few hours. Go through the reasoning process as if it’s the first 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 exam, it’ll be just like practice.

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