You’re the Dean of Your Own Bar Exam Studies

Here’s something that people who pass the bar never say:

“All I had to do was listen to all those bar course lectures. They were so helpful!”

Can you imagine?

Sometimes we think “doing whatever it takes” to pass the bar exam means throwing 1000 hours and even more dollars into a black hole. (But it doesn’t have to be expensive.)

Or following some unsustainable cookie-cutter schedule (which doesn’t care if you have other responsibilities like work or family). Good luck if you fall behind by one day.

Or letting a perfectly fine morning slip through by religiously sitting through 4 hours of droning lectures. Worse, pausing lectures to fill in all the notes. Then not even remembering 99% of it.

tfw you think the lectures are making sense

I remember those days. Those are things I didn’t do my second time. Here’s what I would do instead:

Learn how to learn.

Why are some of the best entertainers, filmmakers, and cooks not formally certified? (See: YouTubers)

They don’t always go through a formal program with standard-issue instructors. They don’t end up like the rest of the “class” when they go out and compete to be chosen by a gatekeeper.

Instead, they have a deep desire to absorb and try things on their own. They learn, test, and adjust. They actively seek out material, effectively designing their own curriculum. They live and breathe the craft. It’s important to them.

For example, I spoke with someone who passed the California bar after many (double digit) tries, who said this: “Every moment I’m asking, ‘Am I doing something that helps me prepare?’” A conscious approach indeed.

He didn’t ask questions like these:

  • Which course/program should I take? 
  • Do you have any tips for the MBE? 
  • Is AdaptiBar or UWorld better? 
  • What’s better, self-study or a course? 
  • Is there another study group I can join?
  • What do you recommend I do so I can pass?
  • Who do I listen to?

It’s all so tiring, ain’t it?

The choices nowadays are overwhelming. Analysis paralysis keeps you from doing anything at all.

The thing is, they can ALL work… even if you’re working while studying, a repeater, a first-timer, a foreign attorney, or a left-handed Aquarius.

If you want to make the wrong decision, listen to everyone. Debate over minutiae and conflicting views. Everyone has an agenda or circumstances that may not align with yours. 

The way you’ll get lost is if you debate over conflicting views and trying to optimize to perfection. “Indecision is the thief of opportunity.”

Oftentimes, you already know the answer! But maybe you just want to vent and get certainty in this time of uncertainty. You want perfect knowledge before you act.

Instead of agonizing over which is the “best” resource or who is the “best” teacher, you should be concerned about how YOU can be a good student. Successful students apply the advice they do get (even if it’s hard to see beyond the fog right now) instead of waiting for the advice they want to hear. Pick a few resources you trust, and use them.

You could have a gym trainer but end up going through the motions with no gains. You could have a therapist and not see any changes because you’re unwilling to change your thoughts.

There’s a lot of good advice out there. But there are no masters. The question is how you can apply it to your situation. There’s no such thing as the “best,” only what is a fit for you. Take what you can use, and leave the rest.

I’ve already curated some tools and approaches that have worked for me and many others. If they don’t work, great. Elimination is one way to progress. Cross it off the list, and try another. There are a million ways to make it work.

Ultimately, bar preparation is a self-study endeavor. Courses and supplements are simply there to support that. 

Even Barbri’s (or whoever’s) plan may be good enough. Even if a jacket is one-size-fits-all, you can still drape it over yourself.

But remember that you’re the dean of your own studies. Not Barbri, not your law school, not me, not anyone.

Below are 4 common mindsets that hold you back from being an effective dean. As the dean, are you telling yourself any of these things below? If you are, I invite you to deliberately shift the way you approach your bar preparation curriculum.

The default

Typical thinking: I need to take a huge course. They’ve been throwing themselves at me since I started law school. Oh, maybe I’ll get the cheapest course. I need to memorize everything first. I need to check off all the boxes. Feels like progress!

Conscious thinking: Hmm, this cookie-cutter curriculum can be useful in some ways, but how can I tailor the materials to my own situation? How can I use this material to learn what is required of me to pass the bar? How can I use this material to learn how to apply the rules, not just “know” them conceptually?

Brian’s comment: Don’t wait for a holy grail to fall from the heavens. Being a successful student isn’t about getting perfectly tailored advice; it’s about tailoring the advice you do get to your situation. If you’re not learning anything from the default path, change what you’re doing.

Extreme tactics

Typical thinking: I’ll just power through 15-hour days! 100 MBE questions per day! Who needs sleep?!

Conscious thinking: Hard work is a given, and I’ll do my best to have no regrets, but extreme tactics are not sustainable. What are the critical areas that I should focus more on (so that I can be prepared for the bar even if I don’t have a lot of time)?

Brian’s comment: Energy and focus limit you more than time. I go more in depth about the #1 key to productivity in my Mental Engines course. (If you’re enrolled already, look at Module 2 Lesson 2.)

Using too few resources

Typical thinking: I’ll just snoop around the Internet for weeks and manually cobble together resources I scraped together. Look at these flashcards some 2L uploaded and I retyped! Who needs outlines? I’m not gonna pay for anything. I’m not a SUCKER!!!

Conscious thinking: Wait a minute, I came all this way from the LSAT to law school to this final hurdle. Resourcefulness has its place, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel (with the right tools). Even a 1% greater chance to make this my last time is worth it in the long term.

Maybe it’ll work; maybe it won’t. That’s why it’s an investment. I know I can make back whatever I invest now within hours—or even minutes—later.

"I was contemplating for the longest time whether I should purchase the Approsheets & Magicsheets. . . . JUST DO IT. It is the best investment ever, and when you pass, become an attorney, you'll earn the money back in a few minutes. I would recommend anyone and everyone who is studying for the bar to purchase Magicsheets. Short, condensed, and easy to carry around."

Check out samples for Magicsheets & Approsheets here.

Brian’s comment: It is indeed possible to prepare for the bar exam no matter your budget. I can think of ways to spend over $1,000 (not counting a bar course) or $0. You could walk a paved road. Or you could be a lone wolf and figure it out by yourself.

Somehow, we tend to be the most frugal when it comes to the thing that will stay with us the most—the act of teaching ourselves. I used to cheap out on single pages of paper in school and then pay for it on the back end when my studies were not as effective as they could have been.

If you truly value your time (which we say we do), then it’s a no-brainer to acquire resources that someone spent hundreds of hours putting together over years so that you can have even a 1% edge.

Using too many resources

Typical thinking: I’ll keep collecting a bunch of tools and jump from one to another until I find the silver bullet that plugs me into the Matrix and uploads everything I need to know for the bar exam.

Conscious thinking: Investing in my success is important, but nothing is going to be perfect. The resources out there can all be useful in their own ways, but their utility depends on how I use them. Where can I get some key supplements and resources that will help me do the work I need to do? They are tools that serve me, not the other way around.

Brian’s comment: You don’t need to get lost in supplement hell where you have a bunch of stuff that you won’t use. Like with anything else, having too many moving parts only complicates your life. Keep it simple.

What do you notice about these shifts?

If life gave you lemons, you weren’t looking for the oranges.

If you don’t proactively think about what’s possible, you get the default. Your life decides for you instead.

These shifts boil down to trusting yourself and doing what makes sense to you. It’s your call.

“Trust myself? I did that and still got fucked on the bar exam”

I’m not telling you to predict subjects, write essays the way they worked back in law school, or rely on your future self to bullshit the exam.

I’m talking about having control over your approach to preparation.

  • Saying NO to the fear that seduces you to jump to the shallow end of the pool rather than doing the mentally straining work that moves the needle.
  • Being thoughtful about your decisions despite the 50 different opinions you’re going to hear.
  • Training as deliberately as you can, then trusting that your legs will keep you pushing forward during bar week.

(Did you know that the muscles pro golfers work on are actually their legs? Stable foundations keep their aim true and far. No wonder they wear baggy pants.)

In the end, whether you use a prep course, whether you get a tutor, whether you study on your own… you’re the one preparing for the bar exam.

It doesn’t matter if you get the best outlines, the best tutor, the best whatever. It’s still up to you in the end. Showing up with the best clubs isn’t going to let you beat Tiger Woods.

Whether you take a course or not, bar prep is a self-study endeavor. You’re the dean. YOU set the curriculum. You’ll be responsible for your own success. It’s scary to be the boss, but no one cares about you as much as you. Only you can prevent forest fires.

You can’t control the storm. But once you accept the idea that you’re the dean of your own studies and that you CAN steer the ship you’re on, you’ll be in greater control over your fate in the storms that will come no matter what.

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