Hindsight is 20/20, especially when it comes to bar exam preparation. Unfortunately, first-time test-takers do not have the luxury of hindsight. Therefore, I will share with you the top ten things that previous test-takers wished that they had known when they began the process of preparing for the bar exam. For best results, implement these ideas early in your law school career.
- Take bar exam subjects in law school. It is called “bar review” for a reason. It is supposed to be a review of the subjects you learned in law school. The good news is that most of the subjects tested on the bar exam are part of your law school’s core curriculum. But some of the subjects tested on the bar exam are offered by law schools merely as elective courses. Therefore, it is up to you to make sure that you take these courses. While it is not fatal to your bar exam success if you have not had all of these courses, you should keep in mind that it will make the bar review process more difficult if you have to learn this material for the very first time in your bar review course.
- Start your bar exam application process now. Get your bar application early and begin compiling the information you need now. If you have led an uneventful life, you may find that the process goes quickly. For the rest of you, it is going to be a chore to compile a list of every place you have ever lived and worked and everything you have ever done (good or bad). Don’t panic just because you have a couple of speeding tickets in your past. The most important thing is to disclose everything. Trying to cover-up your misdeeds is only going to get you in more trouble. Answer every question truthfully. If you don’t have all of the information requested, you will need to do some research. That is why you should start the process early. Otherwise you may not have the time to gather all of the required information before the filing deadline.
- Make hotel reservations and other preparations early. If you do not live in the city where your state’s bar exam is administered, you will need to stay in a hotel during the week of the bar exam. Expect to find a shortage of hotel rooms. Realize that you will be at a disadvantage if you have to stay far from the exam site. Therefore, you should make your hotel reservations as soon as possible to avoid being shut out of the hotel of your choice.
- Enroll in a full-service bar review course. I do not believe that anyone can be expected to pass the bar exam without the benefit of taking a course. The typical bar applicant has approximately eight weeks to prepare. That’s barely enough time to memorize all of the black letter law and figure out how to apply it to the various essay and multiple-choice portions of the exam. You do not have time to reinvent the wheel by putting together your own bar exam study materials and then experimenting with various study methods to figure out what works. Why not benefit from the collective knowledge and experience of those who have gone before you by investing in a good bar review course? That way you can spend your time and energy more productively.
- Figure out how you will pay for your bar review course. I am always amazed by how little thought students give to the question of how they will pay for their bar review course and other bar exam expenses. Just like in law school, if you cannot afford the cost, you will have to apply for loans. Many local banks offer Bar Exam Loans (BEL). Contact them now as the application and approval process can take a long time. In addition, some bar review courses offer scholarships and other financial assistance. There are also opportunities to earn your bar review tuition by becoming a bar review Campus Representative.
- Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) early. MPRE requirements vary from state to state. Some states require that you pass the MPRE exam in order to take their bar exam. Others will not allow you to be sworn in as an attorney until you achieve a passing MPRE score. Regardless of your state’s requirements, it is best to take the MPRE exam at the earliest possible opportunity. The test is given three times a year (in March, August, and November). Most students will take the MPRE during or after completing their law school course on Professional Responsibility. There are several MPRE Review courses available to prepare you for this exam.
- Do not work while studying for the bar exam. Most bar applicants will be treating their preparation for the bar exam as a full-time job during the two months leading up to the bar exam. If you do not have the luxury of taking off two months from your current job to study for the bar exam, then you need to begin your bar exam preparation well in advance of the regular bar review session. Contact your bar review provider about getting home study bar review materials (such as DVD videos of lectures) as soon as possible so that you can put in as many hours of prep time as everyone else over a longer time horizon. If you cannot do this in the months leading up to your bar exam, then you should consider postponing the bar exam until you can devote adequate time to preparing.
- Make a study plan (and stick to it). If you breezed through law school without much effort, then you may resist what I am about to tell you: You must make a bar exam study plan and stick to it. Unlike law school, there are no shortcuts in bar review. The bar review course that you are taking has already reduced the material to its most essential elements and rules. Now it is up to you to learn these rules and how to apply them. This will require extensive review over several months. Creating a master study plan will help you break your bar review materials down to bite-sized pieces and keep you from getting overwhelmed by it all.
- Do NOT make outlines. Make flashcards instead. Most law students are accustomed to outlining their courses in law school. However, this is not law school. Forget about briefing cases, the Socratic method, etc. Your bar review course will give you a detailed outline of each and every topic. There is not much benefit in spending your precious time outlining these outlines. Instead, simply reduce these outlines to a list of testable issues and then put those issues on the front of a note card. Put the corresponding elements or rule on the back. Now you’ve covered every ISSUE and every RULE of every testable subject. If you think in terms of IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion), then you will recognize that the issues (I) and rules (R) on your flash cards are the basic building blocks of your essay answers. You are halfway done before you even walk in the door of the testing site. All that is left for you to supply are the APPLICATIONS and CONCLUSIONS, which you will formulate in response to your bar exam essay questions.
- Practice testing is the key to success. A misconception that students have about studying for the bar exam is that they should focus their efforts on outlining and memorizing the material taught in their bar review course. While a certain amount of memorization is required, that is only the beginning of the process. The real goal is to do as much practice testing as possible. In doing so, you will learn how to take the bar exam while at the same time learning the law. While it is easy to self-grade the multiple choice questions, be sure to take a bar review course that gives you the opportunity to turn in practice essay tests to be graded by a licensed attorney and given back to you with a number score and detailed feedback. It is essential to get meaningful feedback on your practice essays in order to know whether you are on the right track.
This top ten list puts you ten steps ahead of your law school peers who have yet to figure these things out. Someday they will wish they knew what you knew at the start of this process. I hope this advice will help to make the bar exam a one-time experience for you.
See you at the swearing-in ceremony.