The people who pass the bar exam are not necessarily smarter than the people who fail. But they do use different study strategies when studying for the bar exam. A good study guide is active, not passive. It helps you get the rules into your mental inventory. Then you can whip them out when needed for a fast analysis of some absurd fact pattern you’re bound to encounter on the exam.
Here are 10 bar exam study tips—five bad ones and five good ones.
Bad Bar Exam Study Tips
Bad strategies when studying for the bar exam make you feel like you are working hard—and you are working hard—but they don’t help concepts stick in your brain or increase your analytical output. They exhaust you, but they do not challenge you.
- Reading, reading, and reading some more. If your aim is to learn the law, simply reading it doesn’t work. Period. We all tried it in law school. If it didn’t work then, it will not work when you’re studying for the bar exam. You need to study actively, not passively.
- Making long outlines, or re-outlining your long outlines. Recopying notes. Or recopying anything. Writing things out feels like real work, and as you write and the law passes by your eyes, you have the feeling that you are learning something. But you are not. Just wait three or four hours and ask yourself what you have learned. Chances are: nothing.
- Trying to review the law by listening to tapes or other recordings covering material you have not yet learned. You can only review what you already know.
- Listening twice to new lecture material on a DVD. Or even listening once at normal speed. Do NOT push the cursor back and listen to any part of a lecture again. If there’s something you didn’t catch, study the topic in your books. And there are ways to speed up a DVD without altering the sound. Don’t let watching DVDs eat up your time.
- Doing 35 or 50 or 100 MBE practice questions a day before you have mastered the law. If you don’t know the law, doing questions will not magically raise your grade. Students come to me who have worn themselves out doing thousands of practice questions, year after year, on one bar exam after the next. Their children never see them. And they never raise their grades. First, learn the law, then do practice questions.
Good Bar Exam Study Tips
Good study strategies are active, not passive. They get you out of your comfort zone. In some cases, they are excruciatingly painful. But with good study strategies, your studying for the bar exam will actually result in the law sticking in your brain. You master it, and then you can apply it when you need it.
A good bar exam study guide includes the following:
- Ask questions about the material before you read it. Quiz yourself afterward. Whatever you study, make sure you can explain it to another person. Try explaining the law to a six-year-old. If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it. Keep working until your explanations are clear.
- Do the quizzes your bar review course gives you. Review the questions and answers until you can explain the answers to a six-year-old. See above.
- Make your own flashcards and use them, and work from the short outlines your bar-prep courses or the bar examiners give you. These strategies are two sides of the bar review legal structure: the individual rules and how the rules for each area of law fit together. You need to know both.
- Make a plan for reviewing everything three or four times, quizzing yourself as you go along. Keep track of the date on which you review each set of notes. One review is not enough. Make a chart to be sure you are reviewing over and over again, quickly.
- Especially painful, and very valuable: Analyze the fact patterns of MBE questions to make sure you know exactly how the rule of law applies to the facts. The MBE questions rarely contain traps or tricks. It just seems that way if you can’t systematically apply the rules to the facts. Changing the way you’re studying for the bar exam can change your likelihood of success in meaningful ways.
Use good study strategies. Learn the law. Pass the bar exam.
Originally published 2012-06-09. Last updated 2018-09-06.
Read the next post in this series: "5 Tips for Faster Bar Exam Essays."