Not really sure what’s working in the weeks leading up to the bar exam? Or what you should be doing?
If you’re taking a bar review course like Barbri, Themis, or Kaplan, then first make sure that you’ve been using it correctly (and that it hasn’t been using you to fill up its completion meter). Sometimes they don’t make clear what you should be doing to be prepared by the end of it all, other than the endless lectures and review sessions they make you sit through.
It’s like you aren’t feeling as confident or ready as you feel you should be after all that time spent. Studying for the bar exam can be a grueling process, so it’s important to have strategies in place to help you stay focused and motivated — and most important — make progress.
What should you be doing to make sure you’re really preparing enough for the big day? Here’s a framework to help you in the weeks leading up to the test:
Review and memorize the rules and the issues tested on the bar exam
This goes without saying. Everyone’s doing this. But this is also table stakes, just the cost of admission.
Specifically, there are a number of rules and issues that you need to be aware of before taking the bar exam. The problem is that this is easier said than done. It can get challenging and overwhelming because the bar exam is like a mega-final exam that covers over a dozen subjects.
How do you juggle all this? How do you even begin to memorize them?
If there’s a silver lining, you don’t have to study for the bar exam in one sitting. You can work on it for weeks or months, though if you start too soon, you may get burned out. And if you start too late, you’ll fall behind or end up cramming.
Memorizing for the bar exam can be done at any point, not in the final two weeks. Here are some myths about memorizing for effective preparation.
Take practice exams AND review your work
To pass the bar exam, just like any other exam, it’s critical that you solve practice questions from past exams. The past will guide your future. Practice as if it were the real thing, so you can do the real thing as if it were practice.
Your state bar probably provides past bar exam essays and performance tests, along with sample or model answers. Here are past essays and PTs for California and links to where you can MEEs and MPTs for the UBE.
For the MBE, your bar review course may offer some MBE questions that they wrote. But I recommend using real MBE questions from past exams. You can find them on the UWorld or AdaptiBar platform. You can also use a book such as Strategies & Tactics for the MBE.
These resources — seeing how questions were given and how they were answered — can help you understand the structure of the exam and how to answer the questions.
And just as important is studying the sample/model answers so you know what you did right and what you did wrong. Many bar takers avoid this step (and simply go through the motions of “practice practice practice”) because it hurts to mark yet another question wrong.
But this feedback from model answers is the crucial step.
It’s GOOD that you’re getting questions wrong NOW. This is useful data point. It helps you figure out where you’re lacking so that you can correct it for the next time. This is the purpose of bar preparation—to be prepared for the bar exam!
Identify weaknesses and focus on improving them
Improvement comes from constant feedback and learning every time you try to solve a difficult problem.
Identifying your weaknesses is the first step to improving your performance on the bar exam. If you know what areas you need to work on, you can focus your efforts and improve your chances of passing the test. Some examples of weaknesses include:
- A subject you especially struggle with (e.g., staying stuck at 50% for Civ Pro MBE)
- Legal analysis skills (e.g., organization, presentation, IRAC)
- Remembering both the rules and the issues
- Identifying and organizing the relevant issues
- Difficulty putting together an answer for a performance test in time
If you’re struggling with any of these areas, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to improve. There’s still time to grind past essays, MBE Qs, and of course PTs, even if you have 1-2 weeks left.
The most important thing is to stay focused and motivated because this is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoying the process is key to staying consistent and maintaining momentum throughout this marathon.
With consistent work, you can be prepared to take on what the bar exam throws at you. Your best now is enough, even if your future best will be better.
Get rest when needed
There’s a lot of pressure to be productive and constantly studying.
12 hours a day! Three months of nonstop study! No sleep until you finish all your Barbri assignments!
We haven’t made it through higher education and a professional degree without hearing that we need to work hard in order to achieve our goals. While this may be true, it’s also important to take time for ourselves and get the rest we need.
Bar preparation — preparing to pass the bar exam — isn’t just about mental work but also physical care. When we’re rested, we can think more clearly and be more productive. When rested, we’re less likely to get sick and have more energy.
Two things to incorporate this:
- If you’re TIRED, don’t accumulate exhaustion and enter a downward spiral. Stop at a reasonable point. Take an early day off. Reset your mind. Go the f🌕k to sleep.
- Account for the inevitable slowdown, distractions, and other contingencies by allocating buffer days in your study schedule. When I design a study plan for clients, I always consider one or more buffer days that they can use to catch up, take a day off, or get ahead of their studies.
So next time you feel like you can’t take a break, remember that it’s important for your health and productivity.
Bonus: Get organized. Create a study schedule
With a study schedule, you can see a vision of how you get all this shit done. You can literally see the finish line. A study schedule will help you to plan out your time, so that you have a general idea of what you need to do and when.
There are a few things to keep in mind when creating your study schedule. First, be realistic about how much time and energy you have each day and week to devote to bar prep.
- Do you have work all day?
- Do you go to church on Sundays?
- Do you plan to take time off for an event?
Use a calendar format or a list or table format to fit in your schedule. Remember that you will have many (over a dozen) subjects to account for. Two days per subject is almost a month!
Finally, be flexible. Your study schedule should be a living document that changes depending on what comes up in life. You can change your schedule around. This is why I mentioned buffer days above.