By jessie kornberg • April 24, 2008•Bar Exam
Hey 3Ls - congrats on graduation!! For advice on what to do with the next t[wo] weeks before official bar preparation begins check out the forums. For my advice about what to do once studying begins ...
I took the California Bar Exam in July 2007. I took it on a laptop in Los Angeles, CA. To prepare I took Barbri's live lecture series in Los Angeles. I did not take PMBR.
First of all, there’s no advantage to attending a live class as opposed to a taped one – except for that it seems less ludicrous to be paying so much for it. I actually preferred the taped classes. They were less crowded and more relaxed. The key is to figure out a daily schedule that will allow you to be productive. I work best in the mornings and tend to have an afternoon slump. So I worked on my own in the mornings and stared blankly at the Barbri monitors every afternoon.
So the BIG question: do you really have to follow the paced program and do all the homework?? Not necessarily, but you do have to put in some serious work. I never did a single paced program assignment. The first night I sat down to read the first outline. I thought it would be helpful to write down some notes. Well after three hours I was only half way through and thoroughly miserable. There was no way I was doing one of these in addition to 50 question and a couple essays every night.
So here’s what I did: as we went through the lectures I hand wrote outlines of the topics and made flashcards of the basic rules (not the completely nit-picky stuff). I tried to do 15-20 multiple choice questions per day, including reading through the answers. I finished all my subject outlines and flash cards by the end of the in class lectures. Starting the first week of July, when our classes ended I wrote out 1 full essay per day and outlined two more. I kept doing 15-20 multiple choice per day as well. Finally, I went back and hand wrote my outlines again.
I do not recommend this particular plan, but I do recommend this: think about what kind of study skills are effective for you and utilize them. I retain information by writing it down by hand much better than by typing or reading aloud. Not everyone works this way. Since I do, that formed the basis of my study plan.
Other methods I saw among my friends: extremely detailed flashcards; repetition of incorrectly answered multiple choice questions every night before bed; studying from hand-me-down outlines; and reading aloud (over and over and over again…).
I heard a great piece of advice. Before you start studying sit down with your significant other and lay out this rule: NO BREAKING UP UNTIL AFTER THE BAR EXAM. The rule applies to you both.
I think I was probably more relaxed than many in terms of taking personal time every day. I tried to read a magazine or do a crossword for half an hour or so in the mornings while I ate breakfast. I also went to a yoga class with friends regularly. At least once a week I would get dinner out with friends as well. The most important respite from bar prep by far though was with Boyfriend. We usually hung out around dinner each night, maybe watched some tv. Boyfriend studied into the wee hours, while I woke up early to work, but there was definitely enough overlap to relax together at some point each day, which was huge. Having someone to commiserate with, who wouldn't stress me out was extremely important to my general sanity.
That being said, someone will freak you out sometime. It’s inevitable. For me that freak out came from Boyfriend too. We used to try and help each other memorize rules that we were getting stuck on by saying them out loud to one another (I know, so romantic). One time, about two weeks before the bar Boyfriend was reciting rules back verbatim and I was only able to kinda sorta describe the rules and I lost my nerve. I think you should expect to freak out at some point. It shouldn’t keep you from studying with friends.
Last Two Weeks
You’re on your own-no Barbri classes to ground your schedule. When I heard people pulled 12 hour days during these last days I was pretty skeptical. I didn’t pull full days like that for two weeks straight to be sure. For me there was an ebb and flow of work ethic. But yea I worked pretty hard. Most days, probably 8 solid hours. Some days more, some days less.
Basically with one week to go (which might not seem long when you’re three months out, but in fact is an eternity when you’ve been studying for two months), I felt like I knew approximately 65% of the material. In other words I knew just the right amount to pass … maybe. But you don’t want to walk out of the exam and sit around for four months thinking you just barely passed … maybe. So the last week was all about buying myself a little piece of mind.
Also be sure that you get on the right sleep schedule to be able to wake up in time for the exam. This is no joke: a friend over slept and walked into the first day of the exam 20 minutes late and ended up failing by 1 point. Yes you heard me right: 1 point. Trust me you don’t want that to be you.
In addition to just generally not freaking out I want to recommend the following: decide before whether or not you are talking about the exam with people, eating with people in the middle of the day, or studying during lunch.
I was in line on the escalator exiting the building on the first day in front of two guys who were re-hashing one of the essay questions. My impression was that they had both completely missed the point - but who really knows. What I did know was that I thought they were total jerks for talking about "the right answer" in such a public place. Of course their arrogance made me feel a little better about my own performance, because I was pretty sure they were incorrect, but it could have been the other way around. If you do decide to talk about the exam do so discreetly.
Other logistical tips:
- I never ate the snacks I brought
- Try going to the bathroom off location during lunch rather than right before the exam in the exam venue - the lines are killer
- By day three I really needed that back support pillow they let you bring
- I did not study during lunch, but I did study at night - just a quick review of topics that gave me trouble (evidence rules before the MBE, PR before day three when it still hadn't been tested)
Oh yea and the MBE was f*#%ing impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. After day two I completely thought I failed and then proceeded to make the biggest mistake of my entire study regimen: I turned on the tv to Law & Order and heard the right answer to an evidence question I had gotten wrong. Pure torture.