Q & A With A Bar Exam Tutor
Many students approach the bar exam and are not even sure where to begin! In this post, Amanda, one of our excellent bar exam tutors, does a Q & A covering frequently asked questions about preparing for and passing the bar exam.
Q & A With A Bar Exam Tutor
What is the best advice for passing the bar exam the first time?
What everyone says is true: studying for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint. Investing the time early in your studies to be diligent and sticking to your study schedule will reward you in the long run. By working through your study schedule consistently every day (with breaks!), you’ll avoid having to cram in the weeks leading up to the bar exam. Your goal should be to finish learning new subjects 2-4 weeks before the exam. Instead, use the 2-4 weeks prior to the bar exam to do any remaining memorization and plenty of practice.
The other half of tackling the marathon is to take care of yourself. Don’t neglect your routines! Keep up your daily gym session, yoga, and/or meditation routine. Go for a walk or call your siblings. If your usual routine isn’t cutting it, look up some grounding exercises to help you focus and try to keep anxiety at bay. The best part of being diligent in your studies is that you can afford to take a step away for a half day or full day if you need it.
Not everyone can start studying 2+ months before the exam. That’s ok! The way forward is to take a few hours and make yourself a detailed schedule: what subjects you are tackling, how you will tackle them, how many MBE questions you will do, and how many MEE and MPT questions you plan to complete. This will turn into a daily to-do list to help keep you on track. While we don’t recommend eliminating any subjects entirely, you can spend more time on subjects that are more challenging. These might include subjects that you didn’t take in law school or subjects that don’t come easily.
Finally, we advise bar exam takers to stay true to study and memorization strategies that worked for them in law school. However, stay open to new ideas as well! If you did well in a study group or by reciting rules to yourself, keep those strategies in the mix for the bar exam! At the same time, especially if you didn’t have closed-book exams in law school, try some new memorization techniques.
What advice do you have for repeat bar exam takers?
One of the biggest hurdles for repeat bar exam takers is the emotional component. There’s no getting around it: failing the bar exam is an awful experience. Even when you’re told that failing the bar exam does not mean you aren’t smart or that you won’t be a good lawyer, it’s hard to truly believe those sentiments. Not processing and working through the emotions will undermine your ability to pass on the second try. Before you start gearing up for the next exam, work through your feelings from the last exam. Try meditation, or go for long walks or hikes without music or a podcast. Do your best to believe that failing the bar exam isn’t a reflection on you and your competence, intelligence, and ability. It really isn’t!
Next, spend some time identifying what went wrong last time. Did you start studying too close to the exam? Did you rush through understanding and not fully get there with comprehension? Maybe you didn’t focus enough time and attention on memorization. Also, break down your score. Did you do significantly better on one portion of the exam vs. other portions of the exam? Other factors can also play a big role: working while studying, an unexpected health issue, outside family obligations, etc. The more you can identify the issues that interfered with your score last time, the better you can make a plan to address them this time around.
We also recommend approaching studying the next time around with as much of a blank slate as possible. You may feel strongly that you really know the material and you just need to do more practice questions. Likewise, you only want to focus on the subject areas that were weak for you last time. However, sometimes we aren’t the best judge of our own weaknesses. What feels like a weakness in memorization might actually be a weakness in understanding. This is true especially when you’re diagnosing the problem months after you last studied.
Another risk of only focusing bar prep on weaker subjects is that you might not spend enough time on “stronger” subjects. This can cause a vicious cycle where subjects that were once strong become weaker because not enough time is spent on them! You can avoid the frustration of seeing that score inversion by making sure you spend time on every subject, even while you spend more time on your weaker subjects.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see bar exam takers make?
Over-strategizing: We have students tell us about “strategies” they learned about from other sources that are more likely to result in confusion and wasted time than a passing score. Be wary of suggestions like “read the answers first and then read the question in reverse until you know what it’s asking,” or “flip through the MEE prompts and rank them in order of difficulty and start with the easiest/hardest.” These tips aren’t giving you the tools to succeed. Instead, they provide another thing for you to memorize, practice, and internalize when you should be focusing on memorizing, practicing, and internalizing the law!
That’s not to say there aren’t valid strategies, but you can sort out the good ones from the bad ones by assessing how much effort is involved in the strategy itself. For example, you may find it helpful to read the call of the question first before reading the fact pattern. That’s quick and easy enough! And there is one strategy that is ubiquitous for a reason: for the MPTs, read the task memo and then skip ahead to the library without reading the file. That tip definitely sounded gimmicky to me when I first heard it, but it works for a key reason: you need to build your MPT outline based on the law, and then fill in the facts where they apply.
Another common mistake is under-utilizing practice questions. It takes a lot of discipline to practice the right way, but it is absolutely critical. Students will lose out on tremendous value without building in the necessary time to debrief completed MBE and MEE questions. If your task is to complete 10 MBE questions, you are not done after you finish answering them! To really learn from your practice, it’s so important to review each question again. This holds true even if you got the answer right! If you got the answer right, ask why was that answer choice right and why were the others wrong? If you made a lucky guess, debrief as if you got the question wrong. Diagnose what went wrong: did you read the question too quickly? Did you not know the rule? Did you know the rule but misunderstand it?
A best practice is to actually write down what went wrong so that you can start to identify patterns. If you find yourself getting many questions wrong because you are not reading closely enough, then go back to untimed practice and work on reading more thoroughly. If you miss the same rule more than 2 times, make a flashcard or highlight the rule in your outline. Only after you have fully debriefed every question can you mark your practice “complete.”
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