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5 Things I Did Differently the Second Time to Pass the Bar Exam

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shutterstock_Markus Mainka We are pleased to welcome back Brian Hahn to the Bar Exam Toolbox. Brian is the founder of  Make This Your Last Time , and is a second-time passer of the California bar exam and is here today to share five things he did differently the second time around taking the bar exam. Welcome, Brian! 

The thing about reality is that your brain doesn’t notice it until it’s wrapped tightly around your brain like a sheet of aluminum foil, crinkling and making a polygonal mess.

0 minutes remaining. I slapped in my applicant ID, my entry ticket to three seconds of pristine agony. Then two, three more times. I made sure I was reading correctly. For once, I wasn’t delusional.

I could feel the heavy air of TRUTH closing in around me. Light fading quickly. But I wanted to believe. No, the silvery foil pushed its way around the noodles of my brain, turning into TV static. It was wrapped around the potato, and my brain realized it then.

In some other universe, I passed. But in this one, I failed. I failed. I failed.

2013 was the worst year of my life. My brain convinced me to break up with my friend of ten years and girlfriend of three. My dad screamed at our family on Christmas morning and night. I failed the July bar and haven’t since posted a status on Facebook out of supreme shame. 16 months and counting since becoming Facebook celibate. Facelibate.

I lied down on my bed. Then I got up.

The experiment was a failure. It was time to change the variables. This was how I would prove I was not insane. Then 2014 became the best year of my life.

Having experienced both outcomes of the California Bar Exam, I’ve distilled the following insights that were instrumental to passing the bar. These are things I did the second time but not the first time. Do you like clickbaits? You won’t believe #4! I still go on Facebook.

“ Any fool can learn from experience. I prefer to learn from other people’s experiences. ”

Make this the last time you have to walk the line between heaven and hell with these 5 things I did differently the second time to pass the bar exam.

  1. Don’t break the chain
  2. Practice real MBE questions
  3. Lectures are worthless
  4. “Issue checking” and issue statements
  5. Get a room

1) Don’t break the chain

A lot of people feel anxious studying for the bar, and maybe that’s better than taking it easy. Apparently, Barbri is really good at scaring people, but you really don’t need to do everything they tell you. If you approach the bar methodically, you’ll find yourself in a flow that helps you calm down and control your emotions.

To do that, my first advice to people asking me for help is, before anything else, try not to “break the chain.”

Get into a habit of doing something bar related every day, even if it’s two MBE questions. Don’t feel like it? Just open your book and let it sit on your desk for the day. The next day, you can do the first page. Then two pages, four pages, 12 hours a day will become doable. No wonder habit evidence is more powerful in court than character evidence!

It might seem overwhelming for first timers. You have to deal with all these lectures (see #3), homework, maybe even a concurrent clerkship. But get into those habits. Keep a consistent schedule. You’re developing a systematic process that doesn’t bog you down because you won’t have to make decisions all the time.

You don’t want to be like me last July where I was frazzled, didn’t know what I was doing, and stressed even though I didn’t study as hard as the second time.

2) Practice real MBE questions

Speaking of the MBE, you should devote most, if not all, of your MBE practice with real questions. Use fake questions only for drilling specific weak subjects.

Do you remember getting those $8 PrepTest booklets to study for the LSAT? Would you have used questions invented by commercial prep courses? Like downloading music, it would have felt wrong (because the metadata is never consistent). It’s like telling everyone you love law school~ but you know deep down you hate your school and yourself. It’s like telling yourself you can always look for a new girl, but you’re still thinking about the one you had to let go.

You don’t know whether the impostors are an accurate reflection of the format or the law that is actually and frequently tested.

So where can you get MBE questions? I personally used Emanuel’s Strategies & Tactics for the MBE Vols. 1 and 2  (about 800 questions total, highly recommended). The NCBE offers sample questions for Civil Procedure. I have heard good things about Adaptibar ($399 or $369 ) and to a lesser extent BarMax’s MBE app ($349.99), both of which give you access to 1,500+ real MBE questions.

Whatever you do, review all the answers (i.e., explanations for choices A, B, C and D for questions you got right and wrong). Each question is an opportunity to validate your understanding of a concept (why your answer was right and why the others were wrong) or to learn the concept (why your answer was wrong and why the credited one was right).

Ran out and want more to do? Do them again. You wouldn’t expect to remember something in full after reading it once.

If you feel like you can do them only because you memorized the answers, that’s also good because the real thing will look similar and you’ll see a pattern (especially those mortgage questions). It’s almost like you’re memorizing the law! If you really got the material down, you should get 100%, right?

As you practice, see if you can keep track of what you got right and wrong in each subject. Here are my analytics from February.

MBE analytics

For me, property, torts, and contracts tended to be worse. Crim in general was good, but Crim Pro was horrible. This is useful data to surgically treat your weaknesses. Fake questions from commercial prep material could be helpful in drilling weak areas since they are conveniently separated by subject and are generally harder.

3) Lectures are worthless

Yes, I know you are tempted and your default mode is to watch the lectures. We are not going to follow the one-size-fits-all approach for the average student because you are not an average student.

Lectures add perceived value to your overpriced course but provide miniscule actual value. Everything you need to know should be in your written outlines. What’s important is actually seeing the concepts in action in practice essays and MBE questions.

This is especially true for repeaters!

If this is your first time or if you learn better aurally you can listen to the lectures to get a broad idea of what’s going on. But use them for what they are for—listening. Don’t pause the lectures. Don’t go back and try to fill in your notes.

“I actually only remember little from the lectures.”—Erica L. (see comment below )

Even if you spent 6 hours a day trying to get all the notes down (like I did the first time), you still won’t know what the hell is going on, and you’d be too tired to do anything else as you suffer from a vague feeling of malaise.

Actually, let’s go one step further. Who says you have to waste your precious mental energy listening to lectures in the morning? Here’s an idea that flips the idea around: What if you listen to them at night as review? It might even help you fall asleep faster.

Don’t actually try that random idea if you don’t want to, especially since I’ve never tried it. In fact, you don’t have to listen to me or anyone else in general. I’m merely writing an autobiography.

That said, if lectures aren’t too helpful, how do you start improving now?

Practice.

Not just “going through the motion” kind of practice. Improvement comes from constant feedback and learning every time you solve a problem. If there is one truth to realize in this endeavor, it is that preparing for the bar exam is a learnable skill.

Or do you feel that practicing with old exams is somehow unfair to others, uncool, or unnecessary? If everyone else is doing it, this is just part of what you have to do to compete and keep up. So don’t feel guilty about using all resources available to you.

How you can practice:

  1. Get immediate feedback: In chapter 7 of the book  So Good They Can’t Ignore You , the author says to approach your craft with a dedication to deliberate practice. This basically means forget the fluff, and focus on improving specific parts that need it. In serious study, feedback is immediate. “[I]f you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.” You can get immediate feedback from model answers from the state bar, BarEssays.com [CA only], your MBE practice book’s answer explanations (understand for all questions), tutors, and graders from your prep course.
  2. The will to act: Batman’s mentor, Ra’s al Ghul, credits the will to act for arriving at a solution. Even with training, inaction means death in Crime Alley. Planning without execution is nothing. Learning the law without practice is nothing. In fact, I would bet every time on the person who only did real practice, over the person who only memorized the law.
    1. In undergrad, I gave my cheat sheet full of equations to someone who didn’t do any practice problems, and she got the lowest score on the midterm. Don’t gamble on or wing the bar exam just because practice is painful. Waiting in anxiety for months and wasting 6 months of your life is more painful. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable now. Train as if it were the real thing, and do the real thing as if it were practice (exception applies to essays, as discussed below).
  3. The rule of two-thirds: Balancing memorization and application (i.e., practice) is definitely a sliding scale with respect to how far you are in your prep. Feel free to learn and read outlines in the beginning, but by the end of your studies, you should reach a steady state where you mostly test yourself on your knowledge—2/3 practicing, 1/3 learning. It slowly moves from exploring the bar world to practicing so that you can exploit that knowledge.

So what are some specific ways to practice with greater efficiency?

Essays: Use the essay cooking method to double or triple your practice efficiency. The byproducts of this method can also be used as review material including during bar week.

MBE: Rather than keeping track of your overall win rate, analyze trends in your answers (to real MBE questions!) by subject and subtopic to determine where to prioritize your efforts. This idea was touched upon earlier, but see here for a more in-depth discussion.

Performance tests: It seems that if you practice even a few fully timed PTs, you’re ahead of most people. You can further pin down areas of concern by practicing just those areas. For example, if you have trouble pulling out the law in time, solely practice identifying the rules in the library without ever opening the file. For a free, comprehensive guide to killing the PTs, get access to it on my blog .

4) “Issue checking” and issue statements

This is the biggest game-changing insight I had for Feb: Within IRAC, the MOST important is finding all the issues and sub-issues. Do you really know how to “spot” issues?

Because essays are not real life, you do not need to be inventive or creative with issues. What you want is a finite list of testable issues. The best thing I did for myself was to parse out the available issues and weave them into a study tool.

Rather than thinking of it as spotting issues, you are now checking for issues. “Spotting” to me implies that you’re coming up with issues rather than matching the facts to all known and preexisting issues.

So now you know that you can know and expect the essay will ask for something from those lists, like you’re in Minority Report. Once you get an idea which major area is being tested, you can then mentally check your list of sub-issues against the facts.

How do you know which facts trigger which issues? This comes with practice (see thing #3 above). Once you do several essays within a subject, you will notice a pattern. Facts drive the rules, and rules drive the issues, and a pattern can fall into one of two categories:

  1. “This issue comes up frequently and is likely one to discuss. Be on the lookout.” Examples: confidentiality (PR), state action (Con Law). You will learn by practice the statistically likely issues.
  2. “It’s as if these particular facts were intentionally placed here with this issue in mind.” Example: A building was “blackened” → discuss whether Δ committed arson (an element of the relevant rule is that a building must be “charred”). A simple example but one that hopefully shows how a fact, indeed a word, can trigger a known issue. FACTS → RULES → ISSUES.

According to legends, bar graders will skim your essays at the red light, in the bathroom, etc. It is to your advantage to blend in with hundreds of other essays and make your essay easy and relatively pleasing to read. This is not the time to get creative! The only way you should try to distinguish yourself is by the number of relevant issues you identify + quality of your fact application.

Also, if you don’t use IRAC with a simple issue statement, switch to it now. For example, check out my issue headings from one of my essays from July:

Please contain your laughter. This is not IRAC. Whatever this is, it either has too many Cs or the C came too early (that’s what she said). I thought this would help the graders by telling them the bottom line up front. But like many things in life, especially anything related to law school, bad things happen if you try too hard.

Notice the rule statements are pretty good, but telegraphing the result of your analysis ahead of time detracts from a good experience for the graders:

  1. Graders may already have their own conclusion about the issue. Moreover, your conclusion may be wrong in some situations. Even if you happen to be in concurrence with the graders, it wouldn’t really add much anyway. So you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
  2. If the issue is broad (e.g., validity of will), you are jumping the gun by skipping the many sub-issues and analyses involved in arriving at a conclusion, instead of showing the graders how you got there. The conclusion is a result of your analysis, not a hard assertion. Show your work!
  3. The conclusion is worth the least amount of credit. The conclusion usually proves an element for a broader rule. Graders just want to get through your teary-boring essay to confirm that you can IRAC and collect their $3.25 and go, “Ahhh, that was too easy to check off. This person gets the issues. I am in a relatively not bad mood” *drinks coffee that cost $3.25*

In Feb, the above heading would have simply been “Validity of Will”, typical for a model answer. You want to blend in so the graders can check off issues and move on with their lives. No creativity allowed—this is supposed to test your aptitude for real practice of law. Corral the facts to the appropriate rule elements; hold their hands like they’re lost children because they don’t know where the hell they are.

My first time, most of my essays got a 55. I hit all or most of the issues in July’s con law essay, but I still only got a 65 on it. After fixing my issue statements, I bet they had fewer things to complain about.

5) Get a room

A hotel room.

Well, that didn’t really resolve the double entendre, but in any case I reserved a hotel room because my test center was in another city. It turned out to be a big help for the psychological differences that made.

“B-but I don’t need a hotel! I got my parents’ basement for free! It’s only 20 minutes away (not counting the time my mom spends fixing my shirt)!” you might be thinking.

It’s an investment: I was able to eat whatever I wanted. I could be alone without being conscious of people I knew asking me about the test.  I could traverse locations in 5 minutes instead of dealing with traffic and parking with other cars piled around you. All things I didn’t get my first time.

A late checkout for the last day is highly recommended. I was able to negotiate a 5:30PM checkout for half price. By the third day, lying down on a bed during lunchtime felt like a luxury. Make sure the janitors chattering outside know you’re trying to nap.

The exam isn’t just however long you spend in your seat. It is continuous from Monday until it ends. You want to be focusing on it with minimal distractions. For this reason, arrange your itinerary ahead of time.

What are you going to do for lunch? Snacks? Restaurants? If you can, I would also suggest trying to go to a test center where you won’t know anyone who is less than your clique groupies (even then, I’d avoid until the last day). Solitude will help you focus instead of being conscious of classmates or relatives. Also, bring earplugs because you never know if you will be subject to noises from a garbage truck in the adjacent building banging on metal from 3 to 5 AM hoping the noise will end soon. Oddly specific? It literally happened.

If all else fails, rely on adrenaline and the fear of becoming a social pariah unable to join your classmates in getting your golden handcuffs.

So what are the 5 things I did differently to pass the bar exam the second time in February? [ Click to Tweet ]

  1. I got into a habit of consistent study.
  2. I practiced real MBE questions and targeted my weaknesses.
  3. I eschewed lectures in favor of practice.
  4. I realized there is a finite set of issues to know within the bar universe. Instead of creating and spotting issues, I checked for issues.
  5. I stayed at a hotel during the bar.

Now I want to ask you: Which of these resonated with you the most, and why? Let me know.

Brian Hahn is a second-time passer of the California bar exam who thinks prospective candidates and repeaters should listen to him over people who happened to pass the first time. Visit  Make This Your Last Time  for more actionable and real discussion of bar prep and other free goodies.

Thanks, Brian!

Want more useful bar exam advice? Sign up for our  free mailing list  now!

Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:

  • You Failed the Bar Exam! 5 Tips to Get Ready to Study Again
  • Coming Back After a Bar Exam Failure — Gearing Up to Study Again
  • If At First You Don’t Succeed … Cry, Whine, and Then TRY AGAIN!
  • Yikes! I Failed the Bar Exam. Should I Take It Again?

Photo credit: Markus Mainka/Shutterstock


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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. This is me letting you know that I am not a spammer.

    Also, the post was interesting. I definitely agree with everything you suggested, as I did the same and hope to pass Feb 2015.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment! I realized I never responded to this comment a year ago, my bad.

      Now the true test of whether this article was helpful… Did you end up passing?

      Reply
      • I used your article. This was the one that guided my study (with Lee’s support too). I passed. I agree with everything. Especially PRACTICE. Adaptibar was great.

        Reply
        • Awesome! Thanks for reporting back with the great news 🙂

          Reply
  2. the better title for a topic on your blog would be “yay! i actually got a job as a lawyer!” law school is a HUGE money making scam. unless you are a genius, good luck finding stable work if any work at all. pathetic.

    Reply
    • Hey Doc, still looking for a job?

      This isn’t even my website, but I’d be happy to write an article about the approaches I used to get interviews and offers for full-time jobs as soon as I passed the bar exam. If enough people are interested.

      Hint: It’s not all about your school or your grades (which don’t necessarily indicate genius btw).

      Reply
  3. Everything here and these 5 points are spot on. just passed February 2015 after failing July 2014 scoring enough to get a re-read, but not quite enough to pass. Just commenting to help others and re-iterate that this is good advice. I ended up using barmax for february after kaplan the first time. Got too wrapped up in lectures the first time, and while i printed out essays and model answers, I didnt devote enough time early on to practice. Mainly went with barmax for the MBE questions. I spent tons of time on these, on my ipad and iphone, while traveling and even working 3 or 4 days a week (which i didnt do the first time). I listened to the lectures (they dont have videos.. which is good) and used their notes for outlines, but honestly, I started to fall into that trap of “completing tasks” to feel good rather than just doing all the mbes and reviewing them and then focusing on essays as well. The essays they provided were just model answers, 2 for each question.. and while i should have spent more time actually writing out full answers, just printing them out and listing all possible issues and then reviewing the model answers helped bigtime. The amount they had for each topic was not overwhelming (it was a lot) but it was worth going through them all in order to cover every possible topic and answer type. I printed them all out and put in folders and just went through them and moved them aside when i was done. Got through most but not all of them. Along with that, was looking at the model answer headings. Simple ones with answers that get straight to the point. And list as many headings as possible. I dont care what some courses say. One last thing i did, was take my July test answers to faculty at my law school, and he had some useful advice (one of which was headings).

    Reply
    • Ry, thanks for your comment! I very much appreciate that you took the time to share your strategy as well, which I wholly agree with. Oh and congrats on passing the bar 🙂

      Reply
  4. I really enjoyed reading this. I am prepping for the July bar and always felt like the lectures took up too much of my time when prepping for February. Your advice help confirm that for me. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Thanks Aisha, I’m glad this post helped. Feel free to stop by and ask if you have any questions. Good luck!

      Reply
  5. May I ask: Did you take notes or create your own outline/flashcards?
    I did it the first few days but realized that would take all day to do as a new topic comes around. I am taking barbri. I stopped writing notes down completely. A classmate gave me the Barbri lectures outlined for each topic and I just look there instead of creating my own. In law school I hand wrote my notes down to prepare for exams but for this exam it will take forever if I do that. Instead, I am doing practice Qs and reading the explanations. For the essays, I do the same. I also ordered the critical pass flash cards that I plan to use with my friend where we will quiz each other. If you have any tips, it would be highly appreciated. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Migir, thanks for your question. I think it’s an important one.

      On my first attempt, I spent way too long with lectures and taking notes on them. I wanted to pass but was focusing my efforts in the wrong places, especially since I was not an auditory learner. If you are an auditory learner, it may behoove you to continue the lectures. Regardless, like you said, you don’t have the luxury to take your time learning the material.

      What am I trying to get at? If listening and/or taking notes is not working, I would STOP (and resist the completionist temptation) and find another way. Focus on places that will give you the most bang for your time buck. Practice is one such thing that can apply universally to anyone, so I think you’re going in the right direction. When you read the explanations (I assume for MBE), I suggest reading the whole thing for every question, whether you get it right or wrong.

      The other part of the answer to your question is that, for my second attempt, I did create my own condensed outlines (2-4 pages). I spent one day creating a rough version and revised it over time as I practiced, making it more accurate and keeping the most important (i.e., frequently tested) concepts. Instead of having a book to flip through, I was able to refer to the short version, including at the hotel and even the testing center. So this route is a significant time investment.

      I’ll send you a link to the process for creating the outline as well as other fundamental tips that may be of use, although the article here outlines my most important substantive tips.

      Brian

      Reply
  6. Brian — in the off chance you are reading this and feeling generous, could you please send me your condensed outlines? I am dying here…

    Reply
    • Hi Ray, will be sending you an email shortly.

      Reply
      • Can I ask too.:) Here’s my email: [email protected] . More power!

        Reply
        • I will also email you, but for others who might be reading this, the answer will be apparent if you visit my blog.

          You can also find my email there so you can directly contact me, at which point I will help you walk through any specific concerns you have 🙂

          Reply
          • Hi Brian,
            Would you mind also sending me your condensed outlines? I just failed the July 2015 bar exam and need to figure out a different approach. You mention a link to the process of creating outlines, is there any way I can get that too! Thanks!

      • Hi Brian,

        Thanks for posting such helpful info – just wondering if you could share your approach for writing outlines? – [email protected]

        Thanks,

        Sam

        Reply
  7. Hi Brian,
    Just stumbled upon your post while trying to decide if I should withdraw from the July Bar or keep going at this point. I enrolled in Barbri and the lectures (as you pointed out) were just not a great way for me to learn. Although, ironically, I know some of the lecturers personally and they tend to give great tips about what is tested consistently. However, I find that the program itself contradicts the lecturers advice and often tests you on questions that, if you did waste time doing the lectures, you wouldn’t have learned the information to answer the questions. Very frustrating. I do love the online questions, as the answer explanations pop right up after each question forcing you to read them. However I must say the questions are INCREDIBLY difficult. I also feel lost when it comes to the essays. Feedback from the Barbri folks has been ALL over the place. When I “self grade” I can’t be sure if I’m giving myself too much credit for spotting the issues, but I guess I’ll find out next week.
    Your advice was really great. I have finally figured out in the last few weeks what I need to do to have a fighting chance and have kind of eschewed the whole Barbri program. I’m glad to here you say not to “break the chain”, early on I would beat myself up for not spending 8 hours studying, but my mom would remind me that doing 2 questions were better than none. Even on my worst days I keep that in mind.
    I was wondering your thoughts on keeping track of the types of questions I’m getting wrong and doing a mix of practice and learning, trying to focus on areas I know I can most improve on, while maintaining my strongest areas, and then possibly letting go of areas that just aren’t going to happen in a week.
    Thanks again for sharing. You have eased my mind about so many things I felt all along. I only wish I read this sooner!

    Reply
    • M, thanks so much for your comment and telling me about your situation. I’m really glad to hear that my article resonated with you.

      At this late in the game, I would heavily focus on practice and learn from the practice. Based on your post, I’m assuming this is for the MBE. If you HAVE been keeping track of the types of questions you’re getting wrong (by subjects or concepts rather than your overall win rate): (1) You’re doing it right; (2) I would definitely emphasize those weak areas in the next week (while upkeeping your stronger areas). I have a post on just this topic that you may like: http://www.makethisyourlasttime.com/improve-your-mbe-score/

      Personally, I would not give up on the areas that just aren’t going to happen in a week. A concept can click together as you consolidate your learning and put it to actual practice. So I wouldn’t spend hours trying to figure it out, but I wouldn’t ignore it either.

      Reply
  8. I think that this is a REALLY helpful post for bar takers. I am set to take the July bar and although this is my first time taking the bar, it is not my first time being tested by the the California Bar.

    I took the First Year Law Student’s Exam and the habits you mentioned easily applied to that. In fact, I took it twice.

    However, the second time around, I put into practice what you mentioned here and I can vouch that this system works and it will work for the bar exam. Spend at least some time with your lectures. It helps when someone is explaining something to you and for review. Second, spend the majority answering questions and outlining. Some people don’t realize it, but there is a finite amount of things that can be tested on any of these kind of exams and eventually it will all just click together. This doesn’t mean that you will be a master, super lawyer, but you’ll look at a problem and realize, “I know the answer to this,” or “This is probably the best answer and I can ARTICULATE WHY, you’ll begin to see patterns in questions, and you’ll be able to organize the problems and answers in your mind too.

    That only comes through practice, practice, practice. I can’t stress it enough, practice. If you feel as if you have spent too much time on lectures it’s ok! You have at least some foundation from where you can go. Just trust you know the material.

    I liked your advice that practicing even with one week left to go is certainly ok. The idea of Prior Inconsistent Statements just clicked for me two days ago unexpectedly. It’s taken months to get there, but it has. This was the same for me when it came to anticipatory repudiation in contracts for the FYLSX.

    The bottom line, you’re more ready than you think you are. Just make sure to relax and understand that these exams are designed to make sure you have minimum competency in the law. You’ll walk out of there feeling confident and ready to go!

    Reply
    • Dynamite, thanks for your kind words and sharing your experiences! It’s good to hear that the ideas in my post can apply also to the FYLSE. I agree that concepts that you’ve been learning will come together in the last few days through practice. Thanks to your comment, I realized I should add in some specific strategies to practice the essays and the MBE.

      It seems like you’re confident about the July bar, and I wish you the best of luck. I hope you’ll tell me about your results on the off chance you see this comment.

      Reply
  9. Hi,

    Thanks so much for this. It’s extremely helpful as I just found out I failed the July 2015 bar. In preparing for the Feb. 2016 exam, I have no idea where to begin. I’m using Barbri for when I retake the Feb. 2016 exam, just as I did for the July 2015 exam but I’m not sure I’m making the right choice. Where did you even begin with studying again? How did you know where to begin? I have no idea where to start because I don’t even remember what information I know or don’t know. Should I start studying now or wait until December?

    Also, how did you feel knowing that many of your friends had passed and you didn’t? Knowing that all of my friends from law school have passed is the hardest part I find, as I feel like an utter failure and stupid that I didn’t pass the first time!

    Thanks again so much for this. Very helpful.

    Reply
    • M, thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found the article helpful!

      If you failed with Barbri the first time, I’d look into another course or self-study. If you choose to look into another course, I’ll send you a separate email about it because I don’t want to appear like I publically endorse any one company (at least for now).

      If you feel particularly good about self-learning (no lectures, no online materials), you can probably find used books on Craigslist or through a friend. I took Kaplan (and failed), then self-studied with Barbri and passed. Using a second prep course really helps fill in the gaps from the first one. So I would still keep an account with Barbri only if it’s free for retakers so that you can access their bank of MC questions and whatnot, but I would not use it as a primary source.

      I don’t want to tell you that you must study X hours for Y days because it will vary depending on what needs improvement, the state bar being taken, etc. Do you get a score breakdown from your state bar? If so, that can be a great diagnostic tool to guide you to see where you should focus.

      There is one thing I do want to emphasize: consistency. That is, I think getting into a habit of studying every day (even for 10 minutes, including on holidays) is crucial. One missed day can lead to another as well as mental friction and resistance to the idea of studying—not good for your motivation or productivity.

      Lastly, 3 months was just at the cusp of feeling like I was getting a decent review and going at a consistent yet comfortable pace. Personally, 4 months would have allowed me to feel more comfortable. And yes, you can never study too much for the bar. Remember that you will never run out of things to do when studying for the bar exam. However, if I’d studied much longer (like 5-6 months), I probably would have gotten burned out and/or bored and maybe even start forgetting because of the relative comfort and lack of urgency.

      I hope that gave you a good starting point. I’m also going to attempt to email you a copy of this message plus bar course recs (your email appears to be a random string of letters but I’ll try anyway), so feel free to respond to that if you have further questions.

      Reply
  10. Hi there – I’d love advice on whether Kaplan or Barbri or just self-study is the best option for me. I’m taking the Oregon bar after failing the CA bar twice. I took Barbri the first time, another course for the second attempt, and am now weighing the different options. Any thoughts you have would be so very much appreciated. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hey Dustin,

      Normally I would suggest either self-study (if you feel good about it) or trying a different course other than Barbri if it didn’t work out the first time, but it seems you tried that already for the CA bar.

      On one hand, since you’re now trying to study for another bar, I would not disregard using a bar course, perhaps a more cost-effective option such as Themis or BarMax. This may teach you the important Oregon-specific law if you’re the type to learn better by listening. But on the other hand, self-study can do the same thing if you know what to look for.

      Overall, I am leaning toward self-study because you probably have a good background on the MBE subjects, and you can fill in the Oregon subjects by self-learning (no lectures!), supplemented by online resources and fellow Oregon bar takers. Moreover, you can probably find used books on Craigslist or through a friend, which will dramatically reduce the costs.

      This is a tough call for me. Let me know what you decide to do!

      Reply
  11. You sound like the biggest loser in the world. At first I thought you failing the bar would have worked to your benefit, but it made you an even bigger douche nozzle.

    Reply
    • Failing the first time did work to my benefit, though. Did you pass the bar yet?

      Reply
  12. Prepping for my second bar exam right now. Failed my state portion of the July 2015 by 1 point. These are all very good points. As to #2- adaptibar is an outstanding resource. I promise I’m not a salesman or affiliated with the company, but my law school required us to purchase this program and I think it really helped my MBE prep. It provides a huge bank of past MBE questions and tracks your progress.

    Also, regarding #3, that’s the truest thing I’ve ever heard. Figure out what methods help you retain the information the best, and do that. Nobody knows your learning methods, not Kaplan or Barbri, better than you do. For me, it is repetition and actually writing out the rules by hand. The videos are truly worthless.

    Reply
    • Thanks and sorry to hear about the 1 point, anon. That really sucks, but the upside is that you now know you have what it takes to pass the bar (if it weren’t for that hiccup in score variance).

      I also heard good things about Adaptibar, although I’ve never used it.

      Reply
  13. love the advice. Thought I was a rebel in not wanting to listen to the lectures, but truly, I knew that I was going to be pausing every 3 seconds to write down something I was never going to look at again and not retain. Waste. Failed July 2015. Started the essay practice a little too late, maybe. Prob a combination of all of that. Going for the win, Feb 2016. Was wondering if you were still able to forward your condensed outlines. Definitely appreciated this article.

    Reply
    • Thanks Hasmik! Glad you got some helpful info. Wishing the best in 4 weeks.

      Please take a look at my blog for the condensed outlines.

      Reply
  14. How do you get better with spotting issues and knowing which law applies to what issue in essays? I just did a whole contracts essay thinking I was on a roll, and applied a bunch of different laws that don’t exist in the sample answer…sigh.

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah, my original answer sounded too spammy, so I’m emailing you instead (which I would have done anyway for your convenience so whatever).

      If anyone else wants to see my answer, please reply to this comment.

      Reply
      • Hi Brian, I would also like to see your answer. I’m a Foreign Trained Attorney and am planning to take the New York Bar (UBE) in July. Based on what you’ve written here, I think the self-study route would work best, focusing 1/3 of my time on learning substantive law and the rest on practice, as you suggested.

        Thanks so much for your tips!

        Reply
      • Hi, I would like to see your answer too. Thanks!

        Reply
    • Hi Sarah,

      That’s definitely a problem I had. Take a look at this post to see how I approached it (using “issue checking”):
      http://www.makethisyourlasttime.com/confidence-without-issue-spotting/

      And how you can speed up the PRACTICE required to get better:
      http://www.makethisyourlasttime.com/essay-cooking/

      Speaking of how practice is underrated… You may think that all questions are the same—just know how to identify the issues, plug in the rules, and apply the facts. Yes, law school has programmed us to IRAC (CRAC, CIRAC or others depending on your state). After all, syllogism is the basic argumentative structure lawyers are called upon to follow.

      But just that wasn’t enough for me to pass the bar the first time. Knowing merely how to IRAC didn’t get me all the way to where I needed to be for all the subjects. *A second layer of structuring was needed, namely the sequence of raising issues and/or facts.* This can be learned best by practicing how to apply the rules to the right issues in the preferred order.

      Also, the fact that you did a Contracts essay and went off on irrelevant tangents totally reminds me of this email I sent a few weeks ago. I did a Contracts essay for “fun” which turned out hilariously horrific: http://us8.campaign-archive1.com/?u=28422214ca1a0b7f0de41000fid=5a766ecf54

      I’ll also email you this comment for your convenience.

      Reply
  15. Hello,

    Thanks for your tips. As a non English speakers who took the LL.M program. do you know which bar review is easier and serves them more to sit for Washington DC bar ?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hey Cha!

      Different people find different bar courses effective for them, but Barbri is the most popular and expensive one. I would also check out Kaplan, Themis and any other bar courses that are used for DC. I used both Kaplan and Barbri to study for California, and Barbri’s material is solid.

      If you happen to go with Kaplan, it has a good online module for the MBE if you’re struggling with that. However, that shouldn’t be your main motivation since you could just get AdaptiBar (which is preferable for its giant repository of real, licensed questions).

      Reply
  16. I really appreciate this article. I am getting ready to take the July 2016 Florida bar. I am extremely scared about what I’m about to get myself into but I want to make sure I do it correctly the first time around. Before I found out my friend failed the Feb 2016 bar he told me that one thing he would have changed is the amount of practice problems he did. I took this advice to heart. Thanks for mentioning other methods of getting real MBE questions. I want to implement practice problems throughout “lecture” time. I can see how people can fail just trying to check things off of their commercial bar prep program. I’ve been looking at articles on the best way to change short term memory into long term memory. A lot of what you wrote is stated in an article by a Univeristy in Michigan. You have to actively study implementing information into what best suits you. I can see how filling in the blank in bar prep outlines won’t help you retain the info. I also realized that it is going to be impossible for me to remember everything and I need to pick and choose what needs to be placed in long term memory and what I need to grasp. I really appreciate this post, I will go ahead and send it to my friends.

    Reply
  17. This blog really helped me. I want to say that I found out last week that I passed the February bar exam! Thank you again for your help. It was very solid advice.

    Reply
    • Love it! Thanks for the update Alison. I’m happy to hear this article helped you out. Go forth and lawyer away.

      Reply
  18. Hi, thank you for your helpful article, I am getting ready to take the New York Bar in July and I feel that the lectures are a compete was of time but I am afraid not to follow the “pre-approved” study plan.

    I have tried to start doing outlines but it is taking so much time and my outlines are as long as the book which really does not help either. At the moment I am switching between flash cards & written outlines but I can’t say anything is working as I am non doing great in my MBE assesments.

    I would greatly appreciate your outlines and any advice on outlining.

    Reply
    • Hi Kat!

      I know it’s scary to stray from the “pre-approved” study plan. If you feel that the path laid out for you by the “big box” program is going to work for you, I won’t stop you! Just don’t get lost in the completionist trap, doing things just for the sake of checking off boxes and seeing that nice progress bar fill.

      You can check out this quick primer I did on making your own condensed outlines (second half of email that starts with “So that covers the approach to uncovering the right issues. What about the rules?”): http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=28422214ca1a0b7f0de41000fid=dc54819b9d

      For you with your bigass outlines, the most relevant idea may be: “Keep them short! You’re not recreating outlines; you are making a tool to make your life easier.” There’s an example in there too. Hopefully it helps.

      I’ll also send you an email so you see this comment!

      Reply
      • Thank you so much for your response Brian, I truly appreciate it. I will revert back to you in October to let you know that I made the PASS list 🙂

        Reply
  19. Hi Brian!

    I’m ever so glad that I have found your article, really has settled my anxiety, as I’ve just begun studying for the February bar, and as an English student, I’m totally overwhelmed!

    I really found your advice about ditching the lectures if you’re not an audial learner! – When you mention creating your own personal outline, do you do it from the lectures? Or read an outline book and then write notes? As I only learn from physically putting pen to paper!

    I’d really appreciate if you could Prehaps send me your condensed notes just so I could familiarise myself? Also you mentioned a link to a website that shows you a structure for writing outline notes, please may I have this too.

    [email protected]

    Thank you in advance for all your help, you’ve really lightened my worry load!
    Take care.
    Aoife

    Reply
    • Hi Aoife! Great to hear that my article could settle your anxiety. It’s a tough exam whichever jurisdiction you’re in! To answer your questions…

      When I first created my outlines, it was combined with the lectures and bar outlines. But this is so exhausting! Pausing lectures and taking notes doubled the time it should have taken. That’s 6 hours of mind-numbing “learning” where I didn’t even remember anything and my brain was left exhausted.

      Second time around, I relied almost exclusively on bar outlines as well as notes from law school and my own research to supplement for accuracy. I’ve since polished and cleaned and updated them, which you can find on my blog.

      If you dig around my blog (www.makethisyourlasttime.com), you can find everything you’re looking for, including samples of my outlines and a short primer on how to make your own outline (you may have to dig around the history of previous emails I’ve sent out; if you can’t find, I can certainly point you to it; just email me back).

      I know you’ve got what it takes. Best of luck!

      Reply
      • And the reason I think the outlines from the second time worked better was because the words on the outline pages are more “official” and less unambiguous. Lecturers might say something vague or even not entirely accurate as they speak out loud, and you can’t really confirm it one way or another, sometimes leaving you with questions if you managed to pay attention for 3 hours straight.

        Let’s also be honest. The experience of failing once probably served at least as general background even after 4 months of not studying, giving me a head start on re-learning. Most of my progress, however, came from spending more time APPLYING what I learned (which is the underlying theme of this article).

        Reply
    • Hello Brian. That was a great question he just asked. My problem is that I feel like I have not had enough time to learn all of the rules. So when Barbri gives me an essay then I do not necessarily know the answer off the top of my head. I know what your thinking just go look over the rules, but Barbri gives a million assignments a day and I never feel like I have enough time. So for the first two essays graded essays from Barbri I got a 6 on them. And my other issue is that I do ok not always the best on MBE questions and I usually finished them in a decent time; but when my school did a practice MBE test with a 100 multiples for 3 hours I ended up not finishing 10. I did bubble in the ones I did not get to though and got like 2-3 right. Any recommendations? Also, do you mind giving me a copy of the actual MBE questions that you have, please please please?

      Lastly, I am trying to stay positive and constantly say to myself I see my self passing the bar but at times I get nervous and overwhelmed. Sometimes, I feel like there is so much material that I am not ready for the February bar and would rather wait until July. And I spoke with a Professor and he said the same thing you stated, lectures are a waste of time but then an academic adviser told me I needed to complete them but I feel like I could be learning rules during that time.

      My email is [email protected]

      Reply
      • Hi Erica,

        It looks like you have three issues:
        1. You can’t learn all the rules.
        2. You run out of time on the MBE (and you’re just OK on them).
        3. You’re overwhelmed with the content (similar to issue 1) and assignments.

        1. It’s true. You can’t learn all the rules in your 800-page Barbri tomes. However, you will be able to learn the most frequent and important-to-know rules by actually sitting down and solving problems (essays and MBE questions). It’s good to have a general background idea by going over your outline over a day… then jumping right into answering essays for example. The learning comes from doing the uncomfortable work of comparing your answer to model/sample answers and figuring out what went right and what went wrong. You’ll learn the law by seeing how it is applied.

        2. Each MBE question is an opportunity to validate your understanding of the law (by seeing why you got it right and why the other choices are wrong), or to learn the law (by seeing why your answer is wrong and why the credited one is right). Don’t be afraid to redo questions because you’ll see similar questions on the real thing. It’s a way to see if you truly understand what you learned. If you really “got” it, you should be able to get it right again the next time. Over time, this will improve your speed. BTW, you are using real questions, right? Hopefully not relying only on Barbri questions.

        3. You don’t need to do all the assignments. They are just suggestions. Avoid the temptation to fill the progress meter instead of preparing yourself for the bar. You may have different needs than the one-size-fits-all curriculum they give you. Lectures can be helpful if you’re an auditory learner, but do you actually remember anything from those 3 hours? Do you learn anything from filling in the blanks? We forget 99% of the information we read/hear anyway. The best way to remember is to do. See point 1 above.

        I don’t know where you saw that I had actual MBE questions. They’re available via commercial supplements. I recommend some here: http://www.makethisyourlasttime.com/resources/

        Reply
        • Ok. Thank you, I will take a look at that website. I actually only remember little from the lectures but I will adjust my studying accordingly so thanks for that advice. Also, I do not have real MBE questions except the practice questions my school gives to us every now and again. But I will definitely redo the practice questions I have done already, to see if I do better the next time. Also, I have created a word document of all of the rules of practice questions I have gotten wrong.

          Reply
  20. Hi Brian, I am attempting the Zambian bar exams in the first week of January but I am only left with a month between now and the three exams I am supposed to take. Do you think I have enough time to practice? The exams are not easy I must say.

    Reply
    • Hey Chandi, I’m not familiar with the Zambian bar exams. That said, if the exams are not easy, I’m not sure if a month of preparation is going to be enough to prepare you for three exams. If it’s too late to change your registration, you can definitely treat the upcoming exams as a practice run (taking it seriously).

      Reply
  21. Help! My bar is in less than a month, I have only managed to get a 3 on my essays, I am using Themis and each of the essays I have submitted to the essay grader has come back with a score of 1.5-2. I do not want to fail again. I tried to make a list of commonly tested issues on essays, by outlining all the sample essays (there are 92, but I have only gone through 20), but it took hours and in the end it basically seemed like essays cover every single topic in the outline. What am I doing wrong, I am beginning to reserve time to practice writing out rule statements, but it took one hour just to practice writing out a paragraph about battle of the forms. I have been studying since November and I feel hopeless, I refuse to take this exam again, but at this rate, I do not know how to improve my essay scores. It would mean the world to me if you responded Brian, I need help!

    Reply
    • Hi Anxious,

      Indeed the bar exam is looming closer. At this point, I would recommend simply practicing. Itemizing issues, memorizing rules, writing out rules… These are all nice activities to do when you have the time, but to be blunt, it is busy work that avoids the real work of doing what the bar asks — actually solving problems.

      I was actually working on an article yesterday that reminded me of you. You might find it convincing: http://www.makethisyourlasttime.com/practice/

      So I would come up with a rough schedule that cycles through all the subjects (twice ideally given the time left), and then go through the sample essays. Probably at least 3-4 per subject per cycle. Make sure to compare with model answers. Barbri answers are good for checking that everything is there, no need to make it as long winded.

      Once you got how to approach the major issues in each subject, you can start “cooking” essays (identify the issues and recite the rules in context, no application) to save time. Keep comparing with model answers to get feedback and fill in holes. The article on essay cooking is back up (was down because I was updating it).

      If your essays are suffering, I suggest actually doing them even if you’re not “ready” yet and learning in context.

      Reply
  22. I also wanted to mention that your article on cooking essays is gone. Everytime I click on the link, it says page not found.

    Reply
    • Thanks, it’s back up. Please see my first reply.

      Reply
  23. Wonderful and helpful article. Can I also have a copy of the condensed outlines if possible? I would appreciate it. Thank you

    Reply
    • Thank you Tejkaran! Please visit http://www.makethisyourlasttime.com to get them.

      Reply

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