For the past few days, I have been working on a more substantial list of tips. After all, the bar exam is important enough to merit a greater volume of advice.
Below I have posted my list of 22 awesome and highly-effective bar exam tips. Many of these tips also have links to posts that will provide you with additional advice and suggestions.
I’m certain at least some of the ideas listed below will help you during your bar exam journey.
Tips for Before You Start Studying
1. Register for the bar exam. Duh, right? But applying to take the bar exam is a lengthy and expensive process, so you want to start early and make sure you fill out the correct paperwork, get your background check taken care of, and locate all of the historical records (e.g., driving records for past 10 years, every address you have lived at since 18, etc.) you will need to complete your application.
2. Determine where and when you will study. Both times I passed the bar, I studied at a library from about 8am to 5pm. This schedule will work for a lot of people, but not for everyone. Do you have a job you can’t afford to quit? Do you have children you need to take care of? Can you study at home without getting distracted by chores or cohabitants? Think about this now and try to get your routine set so you are empowered to study well. (For more detail, see this post I wrote a while back.)
3. Create a study schedule. This is related to tip number 2. If your bar prep course came with a schedule that seems like it will work for you, then follow it. If you are studying for the bar exam on your own, then create a schedule now. Also, keep in mind that as you begin studying, you may realize the schedule you are following is not working for you. That’s okay. Modify your schedule. I tried following the super-strict BarBri schedule when I studied for the Oregon bar exam. I lasted only a few days before I realized I could never keep up. I modified it as appropriate and still passed. (For more, see item no. 2 in my post about Diligence.)
4. Eliminate Potential Sources of Stress. By this I mean talk to family and friends about your upcoming need for solitude. If necessary, make arrangements for childcare or pet-sitting. Arrange your finances and bill paying. Look at your life and ask yourself: What sort of day-to-day tasks might be difficult when I need to study all week long? If you think you might have any trouble completing these tasks, take the time now — before you start studying — to figure out how to fix that problem. Can you put some stuff off for a few months? Set your computer to remind you to do stuff? (More detail about these topics can be found here.)
5. Deal with Anxiety. It is natural to have anxiety about the bar exam. After all, it is a difficult test of great significance. But, too much anxiety or fear can sabotage your chances of success. Learn techniques to decrease and channel your anxiety. If you feel it is necessary, seek help from a therapist.
General Bar Exam Study Advice
6. Diligence Matters. Diligence is continuous and systematic preparation for the bar examination without interruption or distraction. This is your mantra. If you can sit down each day, focus in long chunks of time on studying (30-60 minute blocks with short breaks between), you will be able to study more than enough for the bar exam.
7. Focus Matters. Do not study while distracted by websites, texts, facebook, etc. The bar exam is important enough to merit your full attention.
8. Think of Studying as a Quest. As you begin your bar exam studies, you are going into the unknown, but as you continue to move forward, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, you become smarter and more skillful and, eventually, you succeed. Along the way, you will learn things about yourself you did not know before. Pay attention to what you learn, about the bar exam and about yourself.
9. Don’t Overstudy. Exercise physiologists know that extreme exercising can lead to injuries from overuse and can sabotage performance at critical times. Too much running, for instance, can lead to slower race times rather than faster race times. The same is true with bar preparation. If you try and study 12-14 hours per day for 8 or 10 weeks straight, it will be very difficult to maintain your ability to learn. You will undoubtedly have days when your brain and body say, “Enough!” You will hit the wall. Keep a steady pace and you will be rewarded with success at the end of the race.
10. Get Outlines from Others. When you first start studying, it is easy to be overwhelmed with all the information you need to learn. The size of the study materials — yeah, I’m talking to you, BarBri — is enough to induce a panic attack. Looking at outlines that others have used to pass the bar exam can help you realize that each subject can be condensed to 10 to 20 pages, which is totally manageable. (You can see my MBE outlines, California bar exam outlines, New York bar exam outlines, and Oregon bar exam outlines by clicking on the links.)
11. Know When You Have Studied Enough. The central point is to treat studying like a job: get to work the same time each day, bust ass, and then go home and do something else. The process of studying, like the act of working, should not be constantly present in your life. Know when you have studied enough each day, and know when you have studied enough for each topic.
12. Practice Tests Matter. The bar exam is not about how much information you can cram into your brain. The bar exam is about how well you can convey the information that is in your brain to others. The method chosen to test this is essays, performance tests and/or multiple choice questions. Therefore, practice getting your knowledge out in these forms. Practice will show you what you truly understand and what you only think you understand.
13. Practice under test-like conditions. I like to call this “anticipation of conditions.” This means that you take the time to practice under timed conditions and under sub-optimal conditions. So, for instance, you will want to practice writing essays and performance tests within the time limits your state’s bar allows. Practice until it is easy to complete your task within the time allowed. Lastly, and very important, take full-length practice exams at least once during your bar exam prep. You need to know what it feels like to test for a full day before going into it when it counts. (Read my detailed post about this for more information.)
14. The MBE is about how well you take a test, not what you know. The MBE is a difficult test because both the questions and the answers can be cryptic or confusing. Even worse, two of the answers are often arguably correct, and you have to choose “the best” answer. This is maddening and frustrating. If the bar examiners only wanted to test your knowledge of the law, essays would be sufficient. Instead, they have chosen to test your dedication to the law by creating a test that is about learning how to spot tricks. Just accept this and keep track of which tricks trip you up while you are studying. Figure the tricks out so that you don’t fall for them during the bar exam.
15. Eat well. Nutrition is a big contributor to proper brain function. Keep your brain firing and be sure to eat healthy food, and — in consultation with a health care provider — consider supplementing with Omega-3 fish oils and other brain-healthy nutrients.
Final Bar Exam Readiness
16. Spend the last couple weeks memorizing. The first 6-8 weeks of bar exam preparation are about learning the material and practicing the format of the test. About two weeks before the exam, you should be comfortable with the different sections of the bar exam and should have a basic working knowledge of all subjects. Now, start memorizing whatever it is you do not know yet.
17. Continue taking practice tests. You probably will not need to take complete practice tests at this stage. Practice outlining essays and ensuring that you spot all issues. Practice outlining performance test responses and reviewing different forms of performance test to ensure you are familiar with all of the possibilities. Keep practicing MBE questions so that you maintain familiarity with the various tricks and traps you will encounter.
18. Adjust your sleep schedule. If you are a night owl and have been studying until midnight every night, start adjusting your schedule to match the exam. You will be expected to perform your best between 8am and 5pm. If you are normally hitting the snooze button at 8am, this will not be good when bar exam time comes around.
19. Keep Your Stress as Low as Possible. If you are starting to get worried, practice relaxation techniques and visualization. Visualize walking in to the bar exam room and remaining calm. Say affirmations to yourself like “I have total recall of all necessary information” or “I am proud of my ability to focus under pressure” to help you deal with any stress or anxiety that you might be feeling.
Tips for Bar Exam Test Days
20. Try to Get a Good Night’s Sleep. I know how hard this is. I had trouble sleeping during both of the bar exams I took. But, whatever your normal bedtime is, stick to it. Even if you lay in bed tossing and turning for a while, I think it is better to try and stick to what is normal than to vary your routine at a time like this.
21. Avoid Talking about the Exam with Others. On bar exam test days, people love to talk over lunch and dinner about how they answered a certain question or what issues they spotted in a fact pattern. Get away from this. It will totally stress you out. After day one of the Oregon bar exam, I went with a friend to dinner. We had food, drank a couple beers, and talked about anything but the bar exam. When I took the California bar exam, I ate dinner alone.
22. Do What You Need to Do. Remember, this list of advice is simply a compilation of suggestions. You can pass the bar whether you implement all, some, or none of these ideas. I think these are helpful, but if you think they suck, then do what you want to. I thought the BarBri study schedule was ridiculous and did not follow it. I rarely studied past 5 or 6 pm and passed. Some of my friends studied until midnight every night and passed. Know thyself.
Thanks for reading. I hope these bar exam tips helped.