7 Tips for Studying for the Bar Exam

Nerd girl at desk with books and laptop.

It’s June, which means that bar exam prep time has officially begun for tens of thousands of law school graduates. This year, the Washington State Bar Exam will be held on July 24–25. Examinees will cram into the Tacoma Convention Center for six hours each day while they summarize all the law and facts they’ve been studying for the past two months. Worried about the exam? Here are seven studying tips.

1. Turn off social media

Now is the time to focus. If you know that once you click that Instagram icon, you’ll lose an hour or two just scrolling through pictures, delete the app from your phone. Delete Snapchat and Twitter. Create a rule that you can only check Facebook on your PC or after you’ve finished that multiple choice quiz. You can also download apps like SelfControl and Cold Turkey, which can block access to tempting websites for a specific period of time. Don’t worry; the world will not end if you don’t post or check social media for two months.

2. Treat studying like it’s your job

Studying for one, two, or three hours a day is not going to cut it. Most people put in at least eight or nine hours a day studying, just like working a full-time job. Create a schedule and stick to it: wake up, go to your bar review course, take a break for lunch, study some more, finish around 5 or 6 p.m. You already know how to study since you’ve been doing that for the past three years. You just need to rely on the study techniques that brought you success in law school and apply them to studying for the bar exam. Put in the time and make sure you are using your study time efficiently.

3. But don’t study too much

Quality is better than quantity. You don’t want to burn out and you don’t want to forget what you’ve already learned. It’s important to take care of yourself. You have to give yourself time to relax and let your mind rest. It’s fine to watch television for an hour a night, or go to the gym, or go out to lunch, as long as you are still focused on your studying the rest of the time.

4. Practice and train your brain

The bar exam is a 12-hour test spread out over two days. You have to build your mental stamina so your brain doesn’t get mentally exhausted and the only way to do this is to practice. Take practice Multistate Bar Exams (MBE). Practice writing out essay answers. Just like athletes have to train for a marathon, you have to train for the bar exam. It’s not enough to just passively listen to the lectures or read your outlines for hours. You need to actively study and build endurance. You need to spend three hours taking the practice multiple choice tests so you know what it’s like to answer 100 questions in a row. You need to review hypotheticals and actively write out a complete essay answer to make sure you can finish in the allotted time allowed.

5. Take a look at your progress

However, it’s not enough to just take the practice tests. You then need to look at your work and see how you are doing. If you are taking a commercial bar review course, most courses have a component where you can turn in practice essays to get feedback. Studying sample answers is a great way to learn what you should be including in your essays. The National Conference of Bar Examiners releases official model answers for the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and practice exams for the MBE and Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The only way you’ll know how you’re doing and what you need to work on is if you practice and review. That way, if there is something you are not doing well at, you can improve on it before July.

6. Focus on what’s most likely to appear on the exam

Unfortunately, you can’t learn everything in two months. You only have a limited amount of time and your brain can only hold so much information. But what you can do is learn and be able to apply the most important parts of the law. Most bar review courses will have statistics about which areas of law are most likely to appear on the exam. While no one can predict what questions will appear, it might be beneficial to focus a large part of your study on the most common areas of law. Though you should never skip any subject in its entirety, you may want to consider the cost/benefit analysis of trying to study every aspect of every law.

7. You only have to pass the exam

You don’t have to get an A, or even a B, on the bar exam. You just have to get a passing score. According to AmeriBar, in order to pass the Washington bar exam, you must score at least 270. This equates to 135, based on the MBE’s 200-point scale. Your MBE score is worth 50%, MEE 30%, and MPT 20%. But you don’t need to get 135 on each portion. A higher essay score could, for example, make up for a lower multistate exam score. And don’t worry—if you pass the bar exam, your score will not be published; your score only matters if you don’t pass.

Remember, if you don’t pass, you can take the bar exam again next time. The National Conference of Bar Examiners reports that in 2017, only 72% of first-time exam takers passed the bar exam. And even if you fail, you’ll be in good company—Michelle Obama failed the Illinois bar exam on her first attempt; John F. Kennedy, Jr. failed the New York bar exam twice before passing on his third try; and Franklin D. Roosevelt failed the New York bar exam on his first attempt.

Happy studying!

7 thoughts on “7 Tips for Studying for the Bar Exam

  1. Pingback: So You Didn’t Pass the Bar: 3 Tips for Reassuring Someone Who Didn’t Make the Cut | NWSidebar


    All the attorneys in the WSBA are past the bar exam stage. I’d have appreciated this space being used for something more relevant to the actual members of the WSBA.

  3. edward hiskes

    should read “his last name”. I wish they would get an edit function on this thing.

  4. edward hiskes

    Cardozo did not fail the bar exam. And he did not change is last name to “Cardoza” either. Google is your friend.

  5. Barbara A. Peterson

    Don’t forget to pray. Seriously. And remember “Perfect love casts out all fear”, When you get scared (and you will) remember that pithy little phrase. Works wonders.

Comments are closed