Topic 5: How to Memorize the Law for the MBE
Many bar exam takers save memorization for the last two weeks of bar prep. That is a big mistake! Memorization should be part of your regular study schedule. You will feel much less overwhelmed—and bar prep will be much more manageable—if you make memorization a priority from the beginning.
Memorization means you have a detailed understanding of the rules of law. You should be able to, for example, state all four elements of a dying declaration, all the elements of larceny and burglary, and all the elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) and negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). This level of detailed understanding goes beyond just having a general idea of the law.
Why is a general understanding of the law not enough? The MBE does not test general principles. It tests nuances and details. You will fall into the examiners’ traps if you expect to get by with only having a basic understanding of the law.
So, in order to pass the MBE, you need to have a detailed understanding of the law.
Note that, as is discussed in Topic 4, you should make sure you are using a good outline and that you understand the law before diving into memorization! If you do not understand the law or if you are using an inadequate outline, it is going to be even more difficult to memorize the law! So set yourself up to memorize well by making sure you have a good understanding of the law and a good outline first. Next, dive into memorization!
This Is How You Learn the Law You Need to Know
Make it a habit to learn the law.
There are two ways to do this:
- Find a time of day to review the law. As an example, if you do your best work in the morning, consider dedicating an hour or two in the morning to memorization. If you work better at night, perhaps this is the task you do at the end of the day.
- Incorporate reviewing the law into your regular routine. Maybe there is not a specific time of day that you review the law, but perhaps there is another event. For example, maybe after you watch a lecture, you take a break then come back and review and memorize the law. Or maybe before you start to answer practice questions, you take 30 to 60 minutes to work on memorization.
Make sure you identify a time of day or another event that alerts you it is time to work on memorization. Incorporate this habit into your daily study routine. For most students, it is helpful to spend 25% of their study time on memorization.
Divide your outline into manageable sections.
Do not try to learn an entire outline at once. You will feel overwhelmed and your efforts will not be very effective. Instead, divide your outline into manageable sections (say, about five or so pages). For example, one section of your Torts outline for purposes of memorization could be intentional torts. Another section could be defenses to intentional torts. Defamation and privacy torts could be a third section. Learn one section at a time before moving onto the next section. Take a break after each section to give your brain a rest and reward yourself for your hard work!
Use active learning techniques, rather than passive learning techniques.
Do not make the mistake of rereading your outlines or rewatching your lectures in an effort to memorize the law. Instead, use active learning techniques. The best way is to quiz yourself. For example, cover up portions of your outline and see if you can rewrite them or saying them out loud. Making charts, diagrams, mnemonics, or rhymes can also be helpful.
Flashcards can also be helpful, but you do not want to spend all of your time making flashcards. We have plenty of tips on how to memorize your bar exam outlines here.
Do not forget to set up a retention schedule!
It is also important that once you memorize the law, you set up a retention schedule—or you will forget all you just learned. For example, if you review Evidence during week one of bar prep, you also need to review Evidence during week two, week three, week four, etc. If you wait until week 10 to look at Evidence again, you will forget a lot of what you learned. So, plan to review Evidence at least once a week. Your review should be pretty detailed in the beginning and then as the weeks go by, your confidence with the subject will grow and your review will not take as long.
Setting up a retention schedule to make sure you go back and review outlines you’ve already memorized will save you a lot of time and stress during the last few weeks of bar prep. It is also the most effective way to retain the law and boost your MBE score.
Focus on highly tested topics.
MBE topics are not all tested equally. Your goal should be to maximize your study time by focusing on the topics that will get you the most points.
For example, half of the Torts MBE questions test negligence. So, it is well worth your time to make sure you understand negligence very well! In Evidence, 8 to 9 questions will test relevancy and 6 to7 will test hearsay. These topics are very important! You can read more about the highly tested topics in topic 3 of our guide.
On the other hand, the rule against perpetuities (RAP) will show up, most likely, just once on the MBE—one of 175 scored questions. So, it is not worth your time to spend hours learning RAP. Present and future interests will be covered by two to three MBE questions. So, if you really struggle with present and future interests, it is probably not worth a weekend’s worth of studying. (However, something like negligence would be worth spending a weekend on!)
Be wise and make sure you are studying for the test rather than just studying generally. So, focus on the areas that the MBE weighs the most heavily.
Go to the next topic, Topic 6: How to Read and Answer an MBE Question
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