Should I Self-Study for the Bar Exam?
The bar exam is probably the largest and most intimidating academic test you will ever take. As such, it is critical that you go into it with the proper preparation. There are plenty of options out there for how to approach this test, but the general recommendation is that you should not self-study for the bar exam. It is far too important to take such a significant risk. Bar exam courses offer plenty of advantages that are harder to get from self-studying. The resources they can provide you with are unparalleled. Most courses offer books containing every essay that has ever been on the test, hundreds of multiple choice questions for each subject, and outlines covering all of the possible material. They also offer opportunities for you to submit essays for grading and feedback, plus timed multiple choice exams so that you can get used to test conditions.
Should I Self-Study for the Bar Exam?
Perhaps one of the most beneficial things that a bar exam course offers is structure. When you self-study for the bar exam, it is much harder to keep yourself on track and to make sure you cover all of the material. It is more difficult to monitor your progress, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and know when it is time to transition to a new topic. A bar exam course can provide you with a study schedule that tells you when to begin (and when to move on) from each topic.
While it is not advised to self-study for the bar exam, it is certainly feasible for certain people. The best prediction of your success on the bar is how you did in your first year of law school. The subjects you took that year form the core of the exam, especially the multiple choice section. That year of school showed you where you stack up against your peers and how well you handled basic legal material.
If you excelled during that year, you are more likely to be capable of handling a self-study program. It is also a worthy consideration if money is a significant problem for you at the moment. Bar exam courses are very expensive. However, you shouldn’t let a large lump sum be the sole reason in deciding to go it alone. Most companies offer installment programs to help ease the burden.
Additionally, if you are currently working for a law firm, many have policies that will pay for your course. It is important to consider that if you fail the bar exam, the cost will be high to take it again. You’d likely have to take a course the second go around as clearly something didn’t work the first time. Sitting for the exam is not cheap. And it also delays your entry into the workforce, with no telling how employers will react. The cost of a commercial course might seem high, but the costs of failing could potentially be higher.
If you decide to self-study for the bar exam, making sure you have the proper resources is your most important task. Here are the things you absolutely need to have:
Outlines are the way you are going to be learning the material if you don’t have access to the lectures a commercial course provides. You can find copies of outline books on sites like Amazon. Make sure they are as current as possible as the information covered on the bar exam changes frequently. Also, they need to be customized to your state and to any multi-state sections you might be taking. Double and triple check that you are buying the appropriate outlines
2. Multiple choice questions for each subject
Practicing multiple choice questions repeatedly is one of the most beneficial ways to study for the bar exam. If possible, try to find books that contain questions that have actually been used on the bar before. Many commercial courses write their own questions, and these are not ideal questions. It is better to be exposed to questions that have been written by the examiners instead of model questions. Here is a great post on how to find real MBE questions.
3. Past essay questions
Just like practicing multiple choice questions, you need to be practicing essay questions as well. Use sites like Amazon again to try to track down books that contain your state’s past essay questions and model answers. It is also possible that your state has released its previous essay questions and answers on its website. It might be worth the money, however, to purchase premade books just for ease of studying. (We have MEE books and MPT books if you are looking for resources in a Uniform Bar Exam or MEE/MPT jursidiction.)
Make sure you get enough essays for every subject!
4. Resources on highly-tested topics
Some elements of the bar exam are rather predictable as a lot of the material turns up again and again. There are many companies that keep track of which topics are tested most frequently, including JD Advising! If you are taking the Multistate Essay Exam, consider purchasing our MEE one-sheets, which present the highly-tested information for each subject in a condensed, straight-forward fashion. We have several resources listed below.
Even though it is rarely advised, it is possible to self-study for the bar exam, as long as you have the right resources and proper work ethic. Keeping yourself on schedule will be crucial in order to make sure you’ve adequately practiced everything. But with a lot of dedication and commitment, you can succeed!
Note: we have an excellent 45-day bar exam self-study schedule here, if you are interested in seeing a detailed breakdown of how your schedule could look!
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