Advice on Passing the Bar Exam: Part III

Following up on the recent posts giving advice for passing the bar, I have a couple of tips to add to the great information already provided on this site.

I sat for (and passed) the July 2007 Bar Exam in California. The two tips that I will share here relate to the written portion of the test and I think now is the perfect time to share them as the July test is just weeks away!

Both of these tips relate to matching how you study to how you will test.

During the first 8 weeks or so of studying for the exam, I found it very difficult to write out a full essay. In the beginning this was because I just didn't know all of the law, and spending a full hour talking about something I didn't really know about seemed like huge waste of effort. So, I outlined answers the best I could and then read through the sample essay answers to check my issue spotting abilities and my knowledge of the law as well as to read through what my whole answer should have looked like if I had gone through the exercise of writing everything in complete sentences. When it came time to take the BarBri simulated exam (which I think was about 3 weeks before the Bar) I had a pretty hard time writing essays full out. Not only did I not know how to time myself but I also got fatigued by the process. From there on out, I decided to start writing full essays, at least two per day for the remainder of the study days. I highly recommend doing this at the end of your study period. Make sure that you mix up the subjects and work on combination questions as well as single subject problems.

Here's the first thing that I did wrong in my essay practice -- I (almost always) did them on my home desktop computer. Call me crazy but I am somebody that prefers a desktop to a laptop. I like a large monitor that is above table-top level and a more spread out keyboard. After practicing on the desktop all summer, I realized at almost the last minute that my spacebar on the laptop did not always work and that I was a sloppy typist on the laptop as well. Therefore, I made the decision to bring a separate keyboard to the testing center -- this was great for me. It gave my fingers space and allowed me to type on a familiar keyboard for the test. I highly recommend this to anyone using their laptop (at least in CA where I know it is allowed).

Here's the second thing I did wrong... I would wake up on the mornings after BarBri was over and hit my outlines. I would study the main headings and go over all of the rules for a number of subjects. After all, who wants to start writing essay questions first thing in the morning? I needed a little warm up each day and accomplished this through reading outlines while I had my morning Diet Coke. By the end of the summer, I was really rocking at issue spotting and rule quoting. My essays were hitting all the main areas (they weren't as well organized or articulated as the sample essays, but I am convinced that doesn't matter). I felt very confident going into the exam -- this given that I never once passed a "graded" BarBri memo. Anyway, I knew my stuff.

Well, when it came time to take the exam, I followed the advice that I received from many people and stopped studying at a decent hour on Monday evening and didn't wake up early to study on the morning of the test. Well, guess what... you have to start out the morning writing essays! (I knew this ahead of time, of course.) When it came time to write the three Tuesday morning essays, my mind was clear ... actually blank is a better word for it. I couldn't remember all of the boilerplate language that I had learned from BarBri answers. I couldn't remember the elements of product liability torts. I couldn't remember the rules of evidence -- I was a disaster. I could still spot issues (1/2 the battle) but where did all my legal knowledge go? To make matters worse, two of the subjects that morning where the so-called predicted subjects. The ones I had been drilling for weeks.

After Tuesday morning, I was convinced I failed. However, I was also determined to make up for a terrible set of three essays by turning things around over the next 2.5 days. For me, this meant scrapping the advice I was following about pre-test studying. The next two mornings, I woke up early ('woke up' is a relative term since I wasn't sleeping that well; 'got up' is better) and reviewed my outlines, just as I had been doing all summer. I went over the legal elements for the remaining subjects (6 for the MBE, and 12 or so for the essays on Thursday). You could say that I did my warm-up exercises on Wednesday and Thursday. And happily, things turned around for me. I felt good about Thursday's essays and ...well... the MBEs were really hard. Even though I felt overall that I was underprepared for the MBE questions, I still felt like myself, unlike my experience Tuesday morning where I seriously wondered if I was folding under the pressure by forgetting everything I knew!

So, develop study habits that serve you well, but don't abandon them during the week of the exam!

Best of luck to everyone taking the July test!

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