This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bar Exam Advice

Being a week out from having taken the bar exam, I of course don't have my results. So I don't know whether I passed or not (and I go between feeling absolutely confident I passed, and moments of horrific panic that I've failed). But I can tell you what I did and didn't do to prepare, what I'm glad I did and what I wish I didn't do. So, here's my advice:

1. Know what you're up against early enough to do something about it. Is your state's bar exam crazy hard? Does it only have a 50% pass rate, or does it have a really high pass rate? How much preparation you have to do depends greatly on these factors and also, how good of a student you were in law school. If you got top grades at a top school, and your state's bar exam has an 80% pass rate, you don't have as much preparation ahead of you as I had. Also, gauge what kind of student you are. Can you pull it off by just studying for two weeks before the bar? There are plenty of people who can. Not me. I started studying when the bar review course began. Some people don't even need to take a bar review course, because they can do it on their own. Not me. I wouldn't have even known where to begin. Also, if you aren't an exceptionally intelligent person with advanced intellect, I really don't think you can ace the MBE just by knowing the black letter law. There's a lot of strategy involved with the MBE, particularly figuring out which is the "best" answer, when what they give you are four not-so-great choices. Again, I'm not sure I even passed the MBE. The questions are so difficult that the "goal" on many of the Bar/Bri practice sets are below 50%. That sucks big time, but they put us through that hell anyway.

2. Don't start studying two weeks before the exam. I know there are plenty of people out there who just can't get motivated until the pressure's on, and that totally works for them, but I was stressed out enough already. If I'd have only started studying in July, I would've had a stroke.

3. Follow the Bar/Bri Paced Program. It certainly isn't a must, but as someone who isn't overly-bright, nor overly-motivated, the Paced Program is really good to keep you moving forward. I'm someone that really needs the structure too, I work best in a structured environment, with a plan and things I can check off of a checklist. I did all the work Bar/Bri told me to do.

4. Use Bar/Bri's StudySmart MBE Software. I wish I had started out using the software instead of doing the practice tests out of the book, because the software gives you your statistics and breaks your scores down by subject area. Maybe you're getting lower scores in Contracts, because you miss every single remedies question, but you're getting all the other questions right. Well, it's silly to go back and study everything in Contracts, when what you're screwing up on is remedies. I figured that out much later than I should have, once I started using the software. So, I went through and made a list of subtopics I had the lowest scores in, and worked on those areas to get my scores up. If I'd done that from the start, I would have been in much better shape and felt much more confident going in.

5. Don't stick with just Bar/Bri. If you're having trouble with a certain subject area, and you've read the outline, listened to the lecture, and still get really low scores, pull out some supplements from 1L. I still had my Law in a Flash cards from Evidence, and after I went through those, my scores jumped dramatically. On the Fake MBE, I only got 1/3 of the Evidence questions right. After I went through the cards, I was getting 3/4 of them right, even the hardest ones.

6. The iPod is awesome. It's worth every penny to not have to sit in the law school again every morning. I have a short attention span, and need frequent breaks, so being able to pause it, go get a snack, watch some TV, take a nap, etc., was very helpful in getting the most out of the lectures. Not every lecture is particularly helpful (I got absolutely nothing out of the contracts lecture), but when you're listening to Commercial Paper, and that's the first time you've ever heard the terms "Bearer Paper" and "Order Paper," and you're trying to figure out if you're a "holder in due course," being able to pause it and let it sink in before moving on is very helpful. For me, it cut down on later study time, because I felt like I had a good handle on Commercial Paper and Secured Transactions early on. Also, for the subjects where I suck big time (like Real Property), I went back and listened to the lecture again. I'm not sure it helped significantly, but I'm not sure that anything will resolve the mental block I have with Property. I think it's a combination of a horrendous real estate law gig I had before even going to law school, and my 1L Property class where my professor was incredibly scary and mean, and yelled at people. It was traumatic.

7. Do as many practice problems as possible. Even if you're getting them wrong, once you read the explanations, you know one more thing that you didn't know before. Bees are apparently domesticated animals. I don't know why, I don't think they should be, but there ya go. Now you know, and there's half the battle.

8. Don't Panic. Fear is crippling, and if you're spending more time worrying about how you're going to fail than you are actually studying, it becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy. Relax, watch some TV, take lots of breaks, and breathe. The last two weeks are horrible, but most of the summer can be productive and still be enjoyable. Plan to be done studying a couple days before the exam, otherwise you'll be exhausted and burned out. By the last day of studying, I could barely even focus anymore and I was a frazzled, nervous wreck. Relaxing the day before the bar did much more good than trying to cram more law into my brain. The law was already in there, I just needed to relax long enough for it to come out in some sort of coherent form.

So, that's pretty much it. If I have to retake the MBE in February, I know what I have to do, and I definitely would pass the second time. I would need to work on Property, which is my worst subject. If I had been getting over 50% on the Property questions, I don't think I'd even be concerned that I didn't pass. But I just couldn't get there. And I'll probably go buy some more supplements if I have to go again in February.

Anyway, I'm glad it's over, and hopefully it stays over. My school has a 90% pass rate for the bar exam, and I'm pretty sure I was at least more prepared than 10% of my classmates. So, I'm hoping for the best.

If any of you are newbies looking for some great law school advice, Dakota just posted some. I can't even think of anything to add really, she's covered it. I know many of you out there are incoming 1L's and are excited and terrified of what lies ahead. Just relax, and don't take everything so seriously. Law school sucks, and if you absolutely love law school, then there is something really wrong with you, and you need psychiatric treatment. What's important is to get through the next three years while enjoying life as best you can. It isn't all bad; there are good times, and there's fun to be had. There's lots of hard work ahead after law school too, and law school is a crash course in life balance. Learn to live with the stress in law school, and be happy through all the suck, and you'll keep that going throughout your career. So, good luck to all of you starting 1L this month.


kartman2k said...

good luck with everthing! great advice! i was in the july california bar and in the same boat as you... cheers!

John said...

I would caution against basing your bar study on how well you did in law school. The fact is that you have a lot more to lose on the bar than you did during law school. It's a six-week sprint to the finish. Even if you graduated top of the class, I wouldn't take that to mean you need to do less prep for the bar exam.