Friday 5: Tips on Studying for the Bar Exam
Law students all over the country are suffering through final exams and looking forward to summer. That is, unless you’re a 3L and the bar exam is looming on the horizon. In 2010, I took the bar exam in Nevada, and in 2013 I took the exam in Washington. I wanted to share a few things I realized the second time around in hopes that it will prevent some of you from making the same mistakes that I did.
1) Trust in your own success.
You made it through three years of law school. Congratulations! Now accept that you received that J.D. for a reason. You know how to study. You know how to outline laws, memorize rule statements, and how to write an essay using IRAC. At some point, the bar exam becomes a mind game. Don’t let it win. Trust what has worked for you before. You can do this.
2) Go with what works for YOU.
There are a variety of ways to study for the bar exam. You may see someone sitting next to you with three boxes of note cards, or someone with a 6-foot-wide whiteboard at home that she writes her notes on, then erases each day. One of your bar preparation classmates might have a rainbow of highlighters at his desk. Someone else might tell you about how he got every single subject, yes, even Property and the Rule Against Perpetuities, down to one 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper apiece.
Ignore them. Trust your own instincts. The first time I took the bar exam, I wasted a lot of time trying to keep up with the studying habits of the other students. I eventually got overwhelmed and went back to outlining the way I always had. Now is not the time to recondition your brain on how to learn the law. You’ve come this far using your own method — stick to it, even if it doesn’t look like anyone else’s method.
3) Stick to the schedule.
If you are taking a preparation course, try your best to stick to the schedule. I am not saying to complete every assignment every day, but don’t get behind. If a new subject is starting today, move on. You will more than likely have time to go back and review your notes later. Remember, you don’t need to know every subject perfectly. You need to know enough to be minimally competent (or whatever your state standard is). If you need a song of encouragement for this, I recommend this one:
4) Make time for breaks.
One huge mistake I made in 2010 was shutting everyone out. I spent all of my time studying alone and refused to make plans with people. I told my family to stop calling me and my friends to stop emailing me. I deactivated my Facebook account. In short, I turned into an exam-obsessed, neurotic person.
I passed that exam. But so did my friends who went camping, went out with friends, and talked to their moms while they studied. Don’t be like me… well, except the Facebook part. (I still think that’s a good idea.) In Washington, I worked full-time and studied at night. I forced myself to be social, even when it felt like a huge waste of time. In the end, you will feel much more refreshed and ready to study when you have taken a break from your outlines, note cards, whiteboards, or highlighters.
5) Practice. Practice. Practice.
There is nothing better to prepare you for the exam itself than to take practice exams or do practice MBE questions. Even if you earned the AmJur Award, Cali Award, Witkin Award, or whatever other award for every single class, you still need to do plenty of practice questions. Your prep course will show you what the examiners are looking for in particular.
Toward the end of prep, you will have a good idea what your strengths and weaknesses are. For example, I am terrible at multiple-choice questions, so in Nevada I did over 1,000 practice MBE questions (the software kept track, I promise I wasn’t THAT neurotic), but spent very little time practicing the MPT. Make sure to focus your energy where it is needed, while also maintaining your strengths in your “good” subjects and exam elements.