Studying for the Bar Exam: Three Outlines

Editor's Note: This summer, back by popular demand, Ms. JD is pleased to feature a series of posts on bar exam prep. The series will include some of our most highly-read articles from past years, as well as new content for all those taking on the bar exam challenge. Good luck!

Last spring, I met with a newly minted attorney who shared with me this tip for passing the California Bar Exam: Start with a long outline and reduce, reduce, reduce.  She suggested that I make an outline for each subject and reduce each outline to no more than ten pages. Similarly, the wonderful Jessie, Ms. JD's Executive Director, suggested having a very short, pared-down outline for each subject. 

In the end, I used three sets of outlines during my studies: long outlines, short outlines, and one ridiculously short outline, which I dubbed “Law Math.”  This method worked brilliantly (or at least well enough to earn a passing score on the California Bar Exam). I found paring down the law to be a good—albeit challenging—exercise and continually reducing the information helped make the sheer volume of rules to be memorized manageable.   Brevity and terseness became more and more valuable as the exam approached and, by the final weeks, I had reduced all the subjects to an incredibly concise ten pages total.

The Long Outlines.  My long outlines essentially consisted of the notes I took during BARBRI and the Conviser Mini-Review, provided by BARBRI.  I rarely made outlines in law school—they are not the most valuable method of study for me—so I opted not to create my own longer outlines during Bar study, instead relying on the ones provided for me.  

The Short Outlines. Using the pre-made long outlines, I created short outlines. I had one outline per subject, each about 6 pages in length. I attempted to be precise, but thorough. I listed concepts and rules, but did not explain them in depth. I could always refer to the longer outline if I needed to review in more detail. When I missed MBE questions, I checked the outline to make sure I had the rule listed and, if not, I added it. I printed the outlines weekly as additions and changes were made. I kept the outlines in a single, tabbed binder, which became my Bar Study Bible. I took the binder everywhere. In fact, other than my Law Math sheets (see below), the binder was the only thing I brought to the hotel during the Exam.

Law Math: The Ridiculously Short Outline. In the final weeks, I reduced even further and created one final outline, this one covering ALL the subjects in a grand total of ten pages—less than one page per subject!  Essentially, this study guide consisted of the most important rules written as mathematical equations, with each concept occupying only a single line.  I focused on elements and lists, things that simply had to be memorized. In the final week before the exam, I must have read the equations a million times, using a ruler to focus on a single line at a time.

 Here are a few examples of Criminal Law Math:

  •  Arson = malicious + burning + dwelling + of another
  • Forgery = making/altering + false writing + intent to defraud
  • Self-defense = reasonable belief + harm imminent + proportional
  • Conspiracy = agreement + intent to agree + intent to achieve + overt act
  • Insanity = M'Naughten OR irresistible impulse OR Durham OR ALI/MPC

 And some examples from Contracts:

  • Contract = offer + acceptance + consideration/substitute + no defense
  • Offer = present intent + definite terms + communicated
  • Option = promise not to revoke + consideration
  • Firm Offer = merchants + signed writing + assurance + up to 3 mos
  • Detrimental reliance = reliance + reasonably foreseeable + detriment
  • Anticipatory Repudiation Options: wait and see OR sue now OR discharge OR urge performance

I've since forgotten many of the equations (I never was one for math, anyway) but here’s some math I like: 1 set of long outlines + 1 binder of short outlines + 1 cheat sheet of law math = a passing score.  Thank goodness.



hilarious and effective


I totally agree with the “Law Math” method. Forcing yourself to reduce the information to something manageable and memorizable is a great way to slay the Bar Beast, haha!


Everyone tells you to make flashcards but thank goodness I read this post before starting bar studying because you know what, Flashcards didn’t work for me.  I found that they weren’t helping me to remember the information but Law Math DOES!  Thanks for sharing this great tip!

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