25 Best Bar Exam Tips
Bar exam tips are as varied as there are people in the world. Everyone who passes has their own tricks or tips that were effective for them. The following bar exam tips, however, are ones that worked for us and that we have seen work with great success. Whether you struggle with getting started, or want tips on a specific part of the exam, the following 25 bar exam tips work time and time again with our students! This is written by founder of JD Advising, Ashley Heidemann, who scored a 180 on the MBE and a 184 on the essay portion of the Michigan bar exam in February 2011. In other words, she scored in the 99th percentile for both portions of the bar exam.
25 Best Bar Exam Tips
Bar Exam Tips 1-6: What To Do Before You Start Studying
1. Eliminate distractions ahead of time.
Clear your schedule. Figure out how you work best. Plan out when you will get up, when you will study, where you will study, and even how you will study. Create a calendar of what you will study and when you will study it.
2. Decide if you want to start studying early.
Many students benefit from starting early – those with anxiety, those who did not do well their first year of law school, those who are working while studying for the bar exam. Read this post if you are considering studying for the bar exam early.
3. Prepare your family and friends.
The bar exam is a beast! Tell your family and friends ahead of time that you will not be able to do as much, go out as much, or be around as much as before! If possible, ask for some help with some time-consuming tasks you typically undertake. Also, let them know that they should not take offense if you are not able to hang out every weekend or if you have to skip a few get-togethers. Telling them ahead of time can increase awareness and reduce or eliminate outside stress.
4. Take time off work.
It is important to take time off of work if at all possible. If you are not able to substantially reduce your hours at work, it is important to start studying early to make up for lost time. (If you are planning on working and studying, read this post on how to work full time while studying for the bar exam.)
5. Create a study schedule.
You will feel better as soon as you do this. If you are in a commercial course, they may provide a schedule for you. However, even then you should make sure it is tailored to what you truly need. You may find it very helpful to make your own schedule (even if you use a commercial course’s schedule as your “baseline” schedule). It will help you feel in control, ease anxiety, and tell you what you should be doing when you sit down to study.
6. Understand that it is okay if you don’t blindly do everything your course tells you to do.
What we mean by that is, some people simply do not learn the exact some as others. Some people hate Barbri “amps”, or “pre-reading” a 200-page handout before each lecture. Or they get nothing out of listening to 12 hours of lecture on a subject that they know inside and out. It is okay to skip these things and spend more time on what is helpful to you, as we will explain more below.
Many first time takers’ biggest regret is blindly following their commercial course “to do lists” and only a month before the exam, realizing that the schedule actually does not help them at all and that they have actually not retained any information.
Bar Exam Tips 7-11: Key Principles you have to remember – the four steps to passing the bar exam.
7. The first step toward learning the law is to have good materials.
This means good outlines! If you don’t like your bar exam outlines, cannot stand how they are organized, or need something different, buy different outlines. Or make your own. If you cannot stand your materials, you are already behind.
(If you are in a UBE state, check out the UBE outlines we distribute to our students. They are fantastic and completely tailored to what is tested on the UBE. We offer the same kind of outlines for students taking the Michigan bar exam as well.)
8. The second step is to understand your materials.
Maybe this is by watching a commercial course lecture. Or getting a private tutor. Or maybe it is by recalling what you learned in law school. By understanding the materials, you will be better able to complete the next two steps.
9. The third step is to memorize the materials.
This is by far the step that most students skip when they are studying for the bar exam. Why? Because their commercial course overloads them with so many lectures then so many practice problems, AMPs, reading assignments, writing assignments, that many students go right from understanding their materials to practicing questions before they have learned anything. It is not enough to understand the general principles of law to pass the bar exam. You have to know the nuances! Both the MBE and essay portion test the nuances! See this post for more ideas on how to memorize your bar exam outlines.
10. The last step is to practice the types of questions you’ll see on the exams – i.e. the MBE and essay questions.
Which we’ll talk about further below, along with the MPT. The important thing is that you practice answering questions early and often! Do not skip this critical step. Do not wait until you feel completely “ready”. You have to make a habit of answering questions early and often.
11. Take five minutes a week to make sure that everything you are doing is furthering one of these four goals.
If AMPS don’t do it, stop doing AMPS. Is a lecturer is terrible? Stop watching it! If you already know Constitutional Law inside and out, there is no reason to spend as much time on that subject as, say, Contracts. Take five minutes a week to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. And if something isn’t effective for you, stop doing it! (See #5 above!) If you study effectively, you do not need to study 14 hours a day. It is the people that study inefficiently that have to spend 14 hours a day in the library.
Bar Exam Tips 12-16: MBE Tips
12. Focus on the most highly-tested areas of law.
These are negligence in Torts, relevancy in Evidence. (Note, that, for example, real property is evenly divided in terms of what is tested. So if you struggle with, say, future interests, that’s okay! They will probably compose two questions on the MBE! If they are heavily-tested on the essays, though, it is worth it to learn them well!) To see the highly-tested areas of law, review our chart of the highly-tested areas of law on the MBE here.
13. Get actual released MBE questions.
Using Barbri, Kaplan, or Themis? That is nice. But most of them do not use actual released questions. (Some have a few that they have managed to pay for from the National Conference of Bar Examiners’.) But you need the real deal. See this post for some great sources of real MBE questions.
14. When you answer a question incorrectly, make sure you understand exactly why.
Don’t just say “oh well, I got it wrong.” Instead, closely examine the answer choices and the explanations to understand why you answered it incorrectly. Do this even when you answer a question correctly as you may be answering it correctly for the wrong reasons!
Note that while this is a great first step, most students stop here. It is very important to also complete the next step if you truly want to see your score improve . . .
15. When you answer a multiple-choice question incorrectly, write it down.
Our students often say that this tip is what made the difference between a passing and failing score. Indeed, writing down the law you don’t know or writing down why you get a question wrong can help you turn your weaknesses into strengths. You can also start to notice patterns in what you are getting wrong. That is, did you get two questions wrong because you circled the wrong answer choice? That is two too many! Do you find you keep getting hearsay questions wrong? That points you to where you need to study!
Further, you can constantly review this legal pad so you constantly review the rules you are unfamiliar with.
Thus, step 14 (simply examining the answer choices and understanding why you got it wrong) is not enough. You will be reviewing too much law and doing too much every day and you will promptly forget what you learned. But if you write what you learned down on a legal pad and you constantly review it, not only are you engaging in an “active learning” process, but you will also be preserving it for future review. You will remember it much better.
16. Don’t race through questions – especially in the beginning.
So many students make it a goal to do 33, or 50, or 100 questions a day. While timed exams are important, we suggest instead that you answer questions slowly and methodically! Read this MBE guide if you are having trouble slowing down!
Bar Exam Tips 17-21: Written Portion Tips
17. If your state has an MPT, take the MPT seriously!
This might sound obvious, but so many people don’t take the MPT seriously. In UBE jurisdictions (and any jurisdiction where it is worth 20% of the overall score) It is worth the equivalent of 70 MBE questions AND it is the only portion of the bar exam where you do not have to rely on any outside law! You can have a huge edge up over you peers if you practice MPTs early and often! (Read this post if you are not convinced you should take the MPT seriously.)
18. Focus on the highly-tested areas of law.
Believe it or not, most state bar examiners don’t reinvent the wheel every time they write an essay exam. The National Conference of Bar Examiners certainly doesn’t. It is well worth it to focus on being able to articulate the issues you are most likely to see. (If you are in a Uniform bar exam state, check out our MEE one-sheets here.)
19. Remember a bar exam essay is not a law school essay.
So get out of the habit of answering it as if it is a bar exam essay. More specifically: Structure your answer around the call of the question (rather than trying to pick out every issue you can possibly spot in the fact pattern, as you would in a law school essay). Rather than arguing both sides for every issue, note that some essays will just ask you to apply the law. Lastly, most bar exam essays have an accurate conclusion. So arrive at a conclusion for every essay you write.
This is very different than law school essays where issue spotting is extremely important, where you are supposed to ramble on in your analysis, and where the conclusion does not matter.
20. Practice answering essay questions for the MEE.
For godsakes, please practice! We see so many students who fail the bar exam because they do not practice answering exam questions. Keep in mind it is much easier to substantially improve your score on the essay portion of most state bar exams than it is the MBE. The key is to answer a large amount of essays and to make it a consistent part of your practice. Still not convinced? Remember that the MEE is worth the equivalent of 105 MBE questions!!!! Pick up those points!!(If you are in a Uniform bar exam state, check out our MEE one-sheets here to pick up the most points!)
21. “Self-grade” your own essays.
While it is nice to have feedback from a commercial course, professor, or tutor, the best feedback you will get is your own. After you write an essay answer, study whatever sample answer is available. Compare your issue statements, your rule statements, analyses, and conclusions to those of the sample answer. It is much better to use answers that are written by your state board (or the NCBE if you are in a uniform bar exam state) rather than past student answers.
Bar Exam Tips 22-25: Other Crucial Tips
22. Incorporate timed exams into your schedule.
Start timing yourself right away. Just start by answering an hour’s worth of questions at a time (i.e. 33 multiple-choice questions, or two or so essays—depending on your jurisdictions). Then increase it each week. Pick a day to have a “timed essay/MBE day.” (I used to do it every Friday morning!) Not only will you get good practice, and increase your confidence as well as your chances of passing the bar exam, but you will appreciate mixing your schedule up!
23. Don’t just make a bunch of flashcards. Or engage in any other activity that just wastes time!
So many students will make hundreds of flashcards (which is very time-consuming!) then they never even look at the flashcards. Or they get too overwhelmed. Other students rewrite their entire outlines. We recommend that you instead focus on actively learning your outlines. Memorize the outlines that you have (and that you are paying so much for!) rather than going crazy trying to rewrite your entire outline on flashcards or separately from the outline you have. If you love flashcards and cannot imagine studying without them, see this post on how to make (and use) flashcards the right way.
24. Try different learning techniques.
Try making charts, or drawing diagrams, or creating mnemonics. Color code your outline. Scrawl out elements over and over until you know them all. Quiz yourself. Have someone else quiz you. Speak your outline out loud. Get a white board and explain portions of your outline to yourself. Mix up how you study and what you study! See this post for more ideas on how to learn your bar exam outlines.
25. Be healthy.
Sleep as much as you can. Take time to prepare nutritious meals. Exercise. All of these things will keep your body and your brain healthy. You may think of them as things that “waste time” or that can wait until the bar exam is over. But truly, being healthy will increase your concentration and focus. It will keep you motivated. It will reduce stress. And it will make it easier for you to understand and learn new concepts.
We hope these bar exam tips help during your preparation!
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