How to Improve Your Timing on the Bar Exam - JD Advising
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How to Improve Your Timing on the Bar Exam

There are students each administration who fail the bar exam because they have to completely guess on the last ten or so multiple-choice questions or they run out of time and have to leave essay answers either incomplete or blank.  You do not want to be one of these students! The last thing you want to do is fail the bar exam because you run out of time.

If you find yourself running out of time when you practice questions, don’t panic. The good news is that time management is a skill that you can perfect before you take the bar exam.  There are a variety of techniques to try. If timing is a problem for you, I recommend you try all of them before the bar exam.

Tips for Improving your Timing on the Bar Exam

1. Practice answering questions under timed conditions ahead of time. There is no substitute for practice.

To improve your timing on the MBE portion: Answer 100 questions in three-hour increments. Take at least one full day of practice exams before your final exam. If you do this, you will help to prepare yourself for the fatigue that inevitably sets in when sitting in a long exam.

To improve your timing on the bar exam essay portion: Practice for this too! If you are taking the Michigan bar exam, make sure to do all 15 questions in one day and time yourself (do the first 9 questions in 3 hours, and the last 6 questions in 2 hours). This is especially the case if you are handwriting the essay portion of the exam and are not used to hand-writing exams.

You do not have to answer a full day’s worth of questions tomorrow if the bar exam is in a month. Instead, build your way up to it. Answer 25 questions in a row the first day, then 50 a few days later, then 75, then 100. For the essay exams, start with answering one or two hours’ worth of questions in a row, then move on to three hours, etc. This will help you get used to sitting and answering questions for a long period of time.

2. Bring a watch to the bar exam.

Make sure it is a watch that is permitted by your testing center. It is a good idea to set it to noon when the exam starts so you can more easily see whether you are staying on track or not.

3. Improve your timing on the bar exam by dividing up your time in increments.

For multiple-choice questions, many students aim to answer 33 questions per hour. However, a lot of students find it difficult to track time this way because after the first hour, they find themselves already behind and begin to panic.  Instead, it may be helpful to divide your practice into even smaller increments – for example, if you answer 8-9 questions per every fifteen minutes, you will be right on track. (More specifically, you will have to answer 8 questions for three of the four fifteen-minute increments in an hour, and 9 questions the last fifteen-minute increment). If you do this, that will total 33 questions per hour. If you want to get done early, it is an even better idea to answer 9 questions every fifteen minutes (or 3 questions every 5 minutes), then you will have a few minutes (a little over 13 minutes) to spare at the end of the exam to go back and revisit difficult problems.

4. Practice answering questions in even less time during your practice sessions.

Answer 110 multiple choice questions in three hours (rather than 100). If you are taking the Michigan bar exam, answer each essay question in 15-17 minutes rather than 20 minutes. This is not something you should do for every single exam you take, but it may help you to speed up, pay attention to key facts, write only what is necessary, and see how well you can do under timed pressure. If you do this, you won’t feel quite as rushed on the bar exam.

Another important side effect of implementing all four of these techniques and practicing under timed conditions is that by the time you get to the bar exam, you will know you can do it. You will know you have gone through several exams and that you have worked on timing. You won’t panic. You will be better able to keep your mind clear and focused. This psychological side effect is reason enough to improve your timing on the bar exam well before you take it.