How to Study Smart for the Bar Exam: A Step-by-Step Approach - JD Advising
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how to pass the bar exam

Step Six of How to Pass the Bar Exam:

Study Smart for the Bar Exam

Here, we tell you how to study smart for the bar exam. A lot of bar exam takers look back on their bar prep and find that they were inefficient or that they would have done things differently in retrospect. Here, we give you some tips on how to study smart for the bar exam so you can make sure you are efficient from your first day of bar prep!

Step 1: understand the law before you memorize it

Some students skip this important first step! That is, they try to memorize the law or answer practice questions before they even understand what the law means! It is critical to understand the law before you memorize it. There are a few ways to gain an understanding of the law:

  • Take law school classes that cover bar exam topics (you will likely have a much better and more intuitive understanding of the law if you were exposed to it in law school) (see step 1 of this guide!)
  • Listen carefully to bar review lectures
  • Join a study group or get a tutor

Once you have this key step covered, you are ready to move on to the next step!

efficient bar prep, smart bar prepStep 2: memorize after each lecture

Once you understand the law, it is time to commit it to memory!  There are a lot of great ways to memorize the law. It is good to divide your outline into manageable chunks and memorize each portion. For example, start with a small section of your outline (e.g., homicide) and memorize that, then move on to the next section (e.g., inchoate crimes). You may surprise yourself by the amount of progress you can make in a day!

To memorize each small portion:

  • Cover up portions of your outline and rewrite them until you know them. Keep doing this until you have everything memorized.
  • Cover up portions of your outline and say them out loud until you know them.
  • Make charts and diagrams for tricky portions of your outline.
  • Have a friend quiz you on parts of your outline.
  • Teach yourself the law using a whiteboard. After you teach the law, even if it is only to yourself, you will feel much more comfortable with it.

We have a lot of tips here on how to memorize your bar exam outlines.

It is also a good idea to figure out your bar exam learning style. Knowing how you learn best will help you memorize in a manner that is most effective for you. Lastly, if you are in law school, consider testing out different memorization techniques in law school so that by the time you get to the bar exam, you already have a good idea of how to memorize the law.

study smart for the bar exam, pass the bar exam the first time

Step 3: focus on the highly tested issues

One excellent way to study smart for the bar exam is to focus on the highly tested issues of law. Not all subjects nor all topics are tested equally! For example, the MBE will have 12–13 questions on negligence but probably only one question on the rule against perpetuities (RAP). So, to study smart for the bar exam, it is wise to focus on negligence rather than RAP! Knowing negligence inside and out will earn you so many more points than knowing RAP inside and out!

Here are a few great free resources to review the highly tested areas of law:

Note: You don’t want to ignore any subject when you are studying for the bar exam! But, focus on what you are most likely to see tested!

Step 4: use released questions

So, now that you understand the law, have committed it to memory (with a focus on the topics most likely to appear on the bar exam), it is time to practice. The best practice questions are released questions. These are questions that are written by the authority that invents the exam.


For the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) portion of the exam, you should use multiple-choice questions that are released by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). These questions are written by the NCBE, which is the same organization that writes the multiple-choice portion of the bar exam.  Some bar exam courses will write their own questions rather than using NCBE-released questions. Course-invented questions are not necessarily bad but it is important to get exposed to real MBE questions too! We tell you four different sources for real MBE questions here!


If you are taking the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), you should use NCBE-released Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) questions and NCBE-released Multistate Performance Test (MPT) questions. 

Your commercial course will likely offer some released MEE and MPT questions. If you are taking a state bar exam (i.e., you are not taking the Uniform Bar Exam), then go to your jurisdiction’s board of law examiner’s website to see if they offer past released questions. Or, ask your commercial course if they offer them.

study smart for the bar exam, pass the bar exam the first timeStep 5: be smart about the essay portion

There are a few important points to keep in mind when studying for the essay portion of the bar exam.

The bar exam is NOT a law school exam!

On law school exams, you may have been used to using this version of IRAC:

  • spot issues in a lengthy fact pattern,
  • state the applicable rules of law,
  • argue both sides (this is likely where you got your points), and
  • arrive at a conclusion (which oftentimes don’t matter, as the quality of your analysis matters more).

On the bar exam, you will also use IRAC, but a little differently:

  • discuss the applicable issues which are oftentimes stated in the call of the question,
  • state the applicable rules of law,
  • apply the law to the facts (don’t argue both sides in most cases; simply apply the law), and
  • arrive at a firm conclusion (your conclusion matters! don’t be wishy-washy!).

In both cases, you are using IRAC, but you are using it differently on the bar exam. Taking note of this off the bat can make a big difference.

Do not ignore the MPT!

A lot of students ignore the MPT portion of the bar exam. They figure it is only worth 20% of their overall score and that they are already decent writers, so do not need to practice. Do not make this mistake! You can improve your MPT score significantly with practice so do not ignore this important part of the test!  Since the MPT is worth 20% of your score (in a Uniform Bar Exam state), you should consider spending around 20% of your time (one study day a week!) on the MPT.

study smart for the bar exam, pass the bar exam the first timeStep 6: Remember your goal: to pass the bar exam, not necessarily complete a course!

Now that many courses measure your progress by stating how much of a course a student has completed, some students become very focused on their course completion percentage. In general, it is a good idea to complete your commercial course. After all, you are paying for the course! And the company likely has knowledge of what you need to do to pass the bar exam!

However, remember that your ultimate goal is not to complete 100% of your commercial course—it is to pass the bar exam!

Some good reasons to modify portions of your commercial course schedule include the following:

  • Perhaps you scored very high in a class and you find the essay questions and multiple-choice questions to be straightforward; it is likely not worth your time to watch several hours worth of lecture on that topic.
  • Perhaps your commercial course tells you to review Evidence one day but you know you need to go back and review Criminal Law because you struggle with it. It is worth it to carve out some time to review Criminal Law before starting on Evidence.
  • Perhaps your course assigns only two Secured Transactions essay questions but you know you struggle with Secured Transactions. It is worth it to bullet point or write full answers to additional essays, even if not assigned.
  • Perhaps your course assigns an activity that you simply do not find helpful given your learning style. Instead of doing the activity assigned, figure out what else you can do to learn the material.

The quality of your study time is more important than simply checking off as many boxes as possible.

In upcoming posts, we discuss other steps to take, especially as the bar exam gets closer—for example:

  • Making sure to take timed exams
  • Getting mentally and physically ready for the bar exam
  • Preparing for bar exam day

Go to the next topic, Step Seven: Take Bar Exam Practice Tests.

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