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

“How do I do MBE questions faster?”

“The way to approach these questions is not staying with me.”

“I thought I ‘got’ it and moved on, but I keep getting questions wrong.”

Have you ever felt that?

There is a SIMPLE and UNDERRATED way to fix this: REDOING practice questions.

"I followed your advice today and redid an essay I had taken; it was really good practice because I committed to understanding the rules even better than just 'oh look I can recognize this issue.'"

I say elsewhere that DOING is the best form of thinking. If you’re doing that, great. Now the next step is to REDO.

“But wait,” you say, “I have seen and remembered those questions and answers before. Should I be worried because I am not practicing new questions?”

There’s only a limited number of ways they can test you, so it’s actually GOOD if you recognize fact patterns. You’ll see them again on the exam.

If that’s not the point of preparation, what is?

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?

That’s what causes you to forget. The more you cycle through the questions and the subjects, the more you’ll retain next time.

If you had to choose between anxious uncertainty about retaining the material 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 Junior Prom after hearing that she wanted to go with me.

Admittedly, this was pretty lame! I went for the choice I already knew the answer to. Everyone saw me bring flowers in a tux at school also. This was even lamer. Life is a constant stream of embarrassment.

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. We can reduce uncertainty this way.

Redoing problems makes similar problems PREDICTABLE
“How do you know?” Redoing problems makes similar problems PREDICTABLE

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 is confidence.

Adding depth to your bar exam studies by redoing practice problems

To recap, redoing the same essays and MBE questions you just did (and reviewed) 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.

This is counterintuitive but more effective for retaining and understanding than “I just have to do a bunch of questions” or “PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE” (not a fan of this vague suggestion—use this 10-40-40-10 framework instead).

As a more subtle example, you may think that all questions are the same. Some might say, “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. Sometimes this is unique to a given subject or topic. Every subject has its own approaches.

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.

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?

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.

But 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…

If you get them wrong again, good! It’s an opportunity to solidify your learning even more.

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?

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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