5 Tips for LLM Students to Pass the Bar Exam
Tackling the bar exam is a daunting task for any aspiring lawyer. It can be especially daunting, though, for LLM students. LLM students are often licensed-attorneys in other countries who are looking to gain admission to practice in the United States. With additional barriers to overcome, many LLM students wonder how they can best prepare for (and pass!) the bar exam. Rest assured that it is very manageable if you take the proper steps. In this post we provide a brief overview of admission to the bar in the United States and discuss our top five tips for LLM students to pass the bar exam!
5 Tips for LLM Students to Pass the Bar Exam
Admission to the Bar in the United States
Gaining admission to the bar in the United States generally requires passing a bar exam. There are two types of bar exams in the United States:
- The Uniform Bar Exam (UBE): The majority of jurisdictions in the United States are UBE states. This bar exam is identical in all states that have adopted the UBE. So, for example, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey are examples of states that have adopted the UBE. Regardless of whether you take the bar exam in Illinois, New York, or New Jersey, the bar exam will be the exact same (check out this post for a full list of states that have currently adopted the UBE!). Note that despite administering the exact same exam, UBE states do have different passing scores, so be sure to check what the passing score is for the state you will be taking the exam in here!
- State Bar Exam: States that have not adopted the UBE will administer their own bar exam. However, most jurisdictions administer the same multiple-choice portion of the bar exam (the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and only use state-specific essays. States such California and Florida administer a state-specific bar exam.
Once you take the bar exam, there will be additional requirements for gaining bar admission in a particular jurisdiction. For example, every state evaluates the character and fitness of applicants for admission to the bar. Additionally, some states have additional testing requirements, such as New York, which requires that applicants take an online course and pass a New York law-specific component to the bar exam.
Because the requirements differ, LLM students should carefully check the requirements for the jurisdiction in which they plan to sit for the bar exam and apply for admission to the bar! Additionally, LLM students should make sure they can even take the bar exam in a specific state. Some jurisdictions only allow students with JD degrees to take their bar exams!
With the added barriers that they must overcome, LLM students tend to struggle disproportionately on the bar exam as compared to JD students. However, there are numerous ways for LLM students to increase their chances of passing the bar exam on the first try! Our top five tips for LLM students to pass the bar are as follows:
1. Start preparing early.
One of the best tips for LLM students to pass the bar is to start preparing early. Preparing for the bar exam is stressful, but starting your studying early helps lessen some of that stress. Many JD students begin early bar prep studying as well, but it is helpful particularly for LLM students for a couple of reasons:
- To overcome language barriers, if applicable.
For those whose first language is not English, early preparation is critical for success on the bar exam. The written portion of the bar exam can be especially difficult for those whose native language is not English. By beginning early bar prep, LLM students have more time to overcome any language barriers, adjust to bar exam verbiage, and fully grasp the material they are studying.
- To learn new law.
LLM students may be missing certain foundational classes taken by law students in the United States. The MBE covers the following seven subjects (which are equally tested):
- Contracts and Sales
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Civil Procedure
- Real Property
As previously noted, the essay portion of the exam may differ depending on whether you take the UBE or a state bar exam. For the UBE, the National Conference of Bar Examiners lists the following subjects as potential areas of law tested on the essay portion of the exam:
- Business Associations (Agency and Partnership; Corporations and Limited Liability Companies)
- Civil Procedure
- Conflict of Laws
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Family Law
- Real Property
- Trusts and Estates (Decedents’ Estates; Trusts and Future Interests)
- Uniform Commercial Code (Secured Transactions)
Although there may be some overlap in concepts from the above list and those subjects studied by LLM students, the exact rules might differ. And topics such as American Constitutional Law, Evidence, and Civil Procedure are topics that LLM students probably have not yet studied but are very important to learn for the bar exam. Extra time to learn these subjects will make a world of difference during bar prep!
- To make the task more manageable.
Most (if not all) students experience some forms of anxiety and stress while preparing for the bar exam. However, there are many ways to prevent feeling unnecessarily overwhelmed. One of those is beginning bar prep early.
Early preparation makes the task of studying for the bar much more manageable. You can begin each day of bar prep on the right foot rather than starting off feeling as if there is too much material to cram for. Tougher subjects take longer to learn, but it won’t feel as difficult with extra time. And you will be more on top of things in case you need to take extra breaks or are struggling to concentrate (check out this post for tips on how to avoid procrastination when studying for the bar exam!).
2. Sign up for a commercial bar prep course.
Among the best tips for LLM students to pass the bar are to take a commercial bar exam prep course. A commercial bar review course is recommended for all students taking the bar exam, but especially LLM students. Some bar examinees are tempted to skip commercial courses because they can be expensive—but they are worth the investment! Commercial bar review courses specialize in the bar exam. They not only provide structure, but they have tailored study material developed over many years.
With so many commercial course options available, and with so much on the line, the decision as to which bar exam prep company to choose becomes extremely difficult. Consider three important factors when choosing bar exam prep company:
- Online versus Live Lectures Some students prefer to learn by watching online lectures at their own pace. Others enjoy in-class lectures with a live teacher. Consider what options are offered by the bar prep companies you are considering.
- Source of Practice Materials: Not every bar exam prep company uses the best source of practice materials available–that is, actual released questions by the NCBE. Course-created questions might look different than real questions released by those who write the bar exam. By practicing with actual past exams, you are putting yourself in the best position to pass the bar exam. So, you absolutely should consider the source of practice materials used.
- Services Provided: Some bar prep companies offer more than just lectures and practice questions. Is personalized feedback given on practice essays? Are there pre-prepared flashcards available? Is there a flexible, on-demand course option? Can you engage a tutor if you find yourself failing to grasp certain concepts? Students all study best in different ways, so consider how you best study and whether the commercial course offers services that match your needs.
In addition to a commercial course, many students hire a tutor. Although not every student needs one-on-one tutoring to pass the bar exam, it can be a helpful option for LLM students to supplement their commercial course. There are numerous benefits to hiring a bar exam tutor, including added accountability, personalized feedback on your work, additional study techniques, and detailed explanations to questions you have about confusing concepts, among other things. Many bar prep companies offer tutoring services.
You should check out all of your options, but read the top 5 advantages of taking JD Advising over a standard commercial course here!
3. Set a personalized study schedule.
Another of our tips for LLM students to pass the bar is to set a personalized study schedule. A good daily study schedule is crucial for success on the bar exam. Not only will it aid in time management, but you will feel less stressed with a plan in place.
A commercial course will provide a high-level study schedule with the subjects to be learned each day, which is a good starting point. However, you want to personalize your schedule to make it work for you, especially if you plan to start your bar prep earlier than the commercial course begins, as recommended above.
Your personalized study schedule will contain several components:
- Attending lecture. Lecture is a non-negotiable to include in your study schedule if you’re a first-time bar exam taker. Attending in-class lecture or listening to online lecture will help you to understand the law and make sense of your outlines. The commercial bar prep course typically follows a set schedule of topics, unless you are taking a course with flexibility such as an on-demand option.
- Memorizing the law. You cannot pass the bar exam without having the law memorized, so set aside time in your schedule each day for memorization.
- Practice questions. The best way to apply what you are memorizing is to practice. Make time in your study schedule to complete essays and multiple-choice questions, as well as Multistate Performance Tests (MPTs) if applicable to the bar exam you are taking.
- Scheduling breaks will help you to avoid burnout while studying for the bar exam. Include breaks every day at breakfast time, lunchtime, dinner time, and to exercise). This will keep you efficient and effective!
Check out this post on how to make a stellar bar exam study schedule! Planning to take some extra time to prepare for the bar exam? We show you how to create a 6-month bar exam study schedule in this blog post!
4. Take the time to understand the law rather than just memorizing it.
Memorization is key to passing the bar exam. Without having the law memorized, you will not recognize the nuances in multiple-choice questions or be able to write out complete answers to the essay questions. So, we don’t want to understate that memorization is necessary to pass the bar exam. However, memorization alone will not get you a passing score. You also need to understand the law!
Some students are under the impression that memorization alone is sufficient. However, reciting the rules is just one part of your score. The examiners look to see that you can do more than just state the rules in your essays—they want to see that you can apply the facts to the rules. It is impossible to write a good analysis if you don’t understand the concept. It also makes issue spotting more difficult.
Take the time to truly learn and understand the material. Test yourself. Practice questions often to gain exposure to how certain concepts are tested. If you understand the law in addition to memorizing it, you are one step closer to passing the bar exam!
5. Stay positive and be confident!
Our last tip for LLM students to pass the bar is to stay positive and be confident! We realize that this might be easier said than done. LLM students tend to have higher rates of anxiety due to shorter legal education, a potential language barrier, the need to adjust bar preparation to many different life circumstances, and so on.
It is absolutely normal to have some anxiety surrounding your bar exam preparation. However, attitude matters and can your success. Remaining positive and being confident will help ensure you do your best!
To stay positive while preparing for the bar exam, keep the following in mind:
- You are an intelligent person. Not everyone makes it to the bar exam, but you did. Just remember that you already made it this far, which is an accomplishment in and of itself!
- Failing the bar exam does not mean the end of your career. Acting as if it is the end all be all will make it hard to stay positive. Taking the bar exam for a second time is not ideal and would be an inconvenience. However, many bar examinees do so and go on to have very successful careers! So, just remember that you can always take the exam again if you fail.
- Visualization truly is a key component to passing the bar exam. Go into each day with a positive attitude, and allow yourself to feel good about each day’s accomplishments. Of course, just imagining yourself conquering the bar exam will not guarantee you conquering it in real life. However, it will help you to stay confident. And you don’t create a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling yourself that you will fail!
These tips for LLM students to pass the bar will help set you up for success. For more tips, check out our posts with the five keys to passing the bar exam and how to succeed on the bar exam from a 99th percentile scorer!
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