Guest post by Mary Campbell Gallagher.
Studying for the bar exam is stressful. But it is also your chance to take control and bring together the scattered threads of law that you learned in law school. To succeed, you must plan your life, as the old saying goes, and live your plan. You want to walk into the bar exam knowing that you have done what you set out to do. The results are in the hands of the gods. I assume you’ve read Five Tips for Early Bar Exam Prep. So you’re ready. Let’s go.
1 Make Spreadsheets and Set Deadlines for Your Weeks of Bar Prep. Next to your Black’s Law Dictionary, spreadsheets are your most important tool for preparing for the bar exam. Your schedule is a set of deadlines. Preparing for the bar exam does not require brilliance, all it requires it meeting the deadlines on your schedule. You can also make a white board that you keep in your study room. Assure that you will look at your schedule every day. Paste a copy on the mirror in the bathroom.
2 Focus on the Most Heavily-Tested Law. You must focus on learning the law that is actually on the bar exam. This is not clear to everyone. I have found bar candidates spending precious bar-prep days struggling with First Amendment protections for advertising when they couldn’t spot an offer for a unilateral contract or explain the relevance of industry standards in products liability cases. Be a bar-prep realist.
The bar exam is not about knowing every section of every code or applying all the common law writs in seventeenth-century torts cases. The bar examiners are not a bunch of tricksters, chortling over the ways they can lay traps with the Rule in Shelley’s Case. The bar exam is about knowing and applying key basic law. What law would you want your own lawyer to know? That’s the law on the bar exam. So the savvy bar candidate focuses on mastering the basic law that’s on the exam. How about mastering everything about Negligence? With 17 negligence questions on the MBE, that is a topic that will repay your becoming an expert.
3 Thoroughly Prepare the Most Heavily-Tested Topics First. If contracts is heavily-tested in your jurisdiction, as it almost always is, review contracts early. That leaves you plenty of time for two or more subsequent passes through the subject, constantly testing yourself with new hypos. I can promise you UCC 2-207 will appear on the MBE. So why not master it early and then review it a couple of times before the exam? And what could be worse than waking up the day before the bar exam and realizing that you still don’t understand how damages work in construction contracts?
4 Save Time for Self-Testing. Leave time in your schedule every day and every week for self-testing. You can give yourself a hypo in the field you are working on. You can take a fact pattern from a practice MBE question. When you get stuck, you can go to your hornbooks or your bar review notes.
5 As Each Week Approaches, Give Yourself Increasingly Definite and Measurable Objectives and Deadlines. When you are planning two months ahead, it’s fine to put “Torts” into your schedule. But as each week approaches, your plans must include increasingly precise objectives, like “Know all exceptions to hearsay.” That means you can list the exceptions to hearsay from memory and give examples for each one. Make sure every such objective has a date. The dates must be reasonable, but you should have to stretch a bit to achieve them.
6 Commit to Sticking to Your Schedule. When you outline your schedule, give yourself a little slack. But decide in advance that you will stick to the schedule. Do not be the wimp who says, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t finish studying contracts this morning, so I’ll just give up on the other subjects today and spend all day today on contracts!” How easy that is. Yes, the schedule is a work in progress. And you can revise your schedule every week. But don’t think you will accomplish much if you give yourself overall permission to revise on the fly.
Once you have outlined your schedule, look at the bright side of studying for the bar exam. It is your chance to make yourself into a new person, the lawyer who sees the entire field of American law and the law of your own state in perspective. What an opportunity!
Mary Campbell Gallagher is founder and president of BarWrite® and BarWrite Press, which have been offering supplemental courses for the bar exam for more than 20 years. She is the author of Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays and Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test (MPT).
Read the next post in this series: "The Bar Exam: Five Tips for the Final Days."