jessie

Advice on Passing the Bar Exam: Part IV

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.

Barbri Advice

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…).

Personal Life


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.

Exam Day Advice

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.

7 Comments

Elizabeth

I didn't follow Barbri's planned lessons either.  I didn't have the stamina to put in the recommended hours, but luckily I still passed.  I agree with the advice that you have to know what works for you and how you study best.  I have always been a short-term memory, cram-the-night-before-the-exam kind of person, so I definitely studied my outline during the lunch breaks during the bar exam and stayed up late the night before and during the bar cramming.  For me, it worked, and if you are a crammer, then I think you should study during lunch and at night.  Basically, do what has always worked for you.  I listened to all the Barbri lectures on ipod while running or doing other stuff mostly, and I then did as many of the practice essays as I could.  I also turned in all the Barbri graded essays (though I failed every one according to Barbri and didn't actually get much from their comments or "grading").  I was obsessed with the Barbri computer software with all the MBE questions.  I did those all the time.  I attempted flashcards at various points, but I don't remember those really helping me.  The two things I think helped me the most were writing out the practice essays and doing tons of the practice MBE questions.  I also didn't pay for any of the extra courses, and I didn't do the PMBR.  I honestly think that you could pass the bar with just the Barbri outlines and sample essay and MPE books if you were motivated.

undomesticated

Of the people that I watched in Barbri who didn't pass, they were the ones that either skipped 1/3 of the lectures or weren't paying attention (flirting, talking) during the lectures.  If you can shoot to do one thing:  attend every lecture. 
Besides that, my own plan was modeled after how I would outline in law school.  Every week I'd take on one subject or two that was being covered, starting with the MBE subjects.  I started with these because I was most concerned with my multiple choice score, since those were historically trickier for me, and the subjects you start with first will be stronger because they're more in your long-term memory for the exam.  My outlines were 2-6 pages per subject, single spaced (shortest was commercial paper, longest was property).  Two to three times a week I'd take a 30 minute multiple choice exam and would study the answers I got incorrect, amending my outline to reflect the right answers (some people skip this step, which is so stupid… you've worked hard to find out what you don't know, so to not look at your incorrect answers is just silly).  I estimate I studied about 10-15 hours a week on top of the lectures up until the last three weeks before the exam.  The last three weeks were spent turning the "fuzzy" parts of my outline that I didn't have memorized into flash cards and I took them everywhere—the gym, camping, etc.—doing the same thing with practice questions (and amending my outline if I didn't have the answer in it).
Historically, my essay exam answers were always pretty strong, so I'd estimate that the entire summer I only took about 5 full-blown practice essays.  Most of the time I'd just read the question, outline my answer for 10-15 minutes, then move on.  I say this because I strongly believe that we know our strengths and weaknesses and should develop our own plan to direct our best efforts to what will improve us the most.  For me, I made the decision to focus elsewhere because I knew my essay writing skills were above average and that you don't usually get points for saying something in an unusually eloquent way or anything.  You either make your point (and get the 4 pts allocated to that issue) or don't.
Good luck to everyone!  And remember not to let others psych you out.  It isn't a contest about studying the most hours… it is a contest about pacing yourself while directing your studying energy in the most productive way possible.

veronica

I think that bar review is one of those things everyone does differently. Very few things are good universal recommendations. One that is - definitely don't skip lectures.
A few different perspectives based on my experience:
1. I actually found it very important to go to the live lectures. I would tune out too easily from the taped ones (I had to do a couple of taped ones due to job interviews). I also didn't know anyone else at the time so going to live lectures gave me a chance to pace against real peope and not a barbri schedule.
2. I tried to stay no more than a week or so behind the paced program and that worked out fine. It meant I had some stuff from the paced program left for the last few weeks when I really needed to focus.
3. Do not miss the practice MBE. I think it's very useful to do all the hand-in assignments, this is your chance to get feedback, but the practice MBE is your best single indicator of how you're travelling. They told us if you got 98 or better you'd do fine, I got 95 and it sprurred me to pick up the pace more than enough.
4. I did outlines and flash cards too but by far the best thing I did was simply as many multichoice questions as I could. That is partly because I am neither good at, nor used to, multi-choice questions. Like most law graduates I can write a decent essay blind and I had practice experience so I wasn't scared of the MPT (I did the NY Bar). I did every single question and then started back on them. By the day before the exam it got to be pointless because I actually remembered the answer even if I hadn't seen it for a full cycle through the material. That's when I stopped.
5. Take the snacks even if you never eat them. If you get tired from low sugar you'll be glad, and the sources on-site are going to be scarce, bad and expensive.
6. Don't let the proctors rattle you on the day. They will inevitably do silly things either because they realy think it matters which wrist you have your band on (do they think that's cheating or what?) or because they just like to assert their power. I literally saw a woman harassed for having her wristband on her left arm. I was about to do the same so my writing hand was free, but I decided to swap wrists once I was in the room and avoid the nag. Little things like that can put you off and make you stressed, don't let them get to you.
Just some variety of opinion.

Peg

I guess I don't see how your comments are consistent.  You say, above, that the best thing you did was practice MBE questions.  And you say that you did all of the BarBri questions and then started them over.  How is this consistent with your advice to NOT do an MBE-supplement course?  I think the best thing about PMBR was the practice questions that they gave out in the "red" and "blue" PMBR books.  I actually think most of the BarBri practice MBE questions as well as the practice MBE test that BarBri gives are too easy and that the practice test is meant to be a morale booster to give people a false sense of confidence—just as their PT workshops were for California.
I'll say this, I only know a few people that didn't pass in California (but nearly 1/2 don't pass, mind you).  Each of them had average essays and "passed" the essay and PT sections.  Each of them did not get enough MBE questions right in order to pass.  The passing MBE score for California is a moving target (unlike some other states) so you don't know exactly how good you need to do in any given year to get a high enough scaled score to pass.  Frankly, an additional MBE study course will give you a competitive advantage.  One thing we "Americans" are used to is curved grades and, anything you can do in order to do just a small amount better than the next person will help you pass in CA.

veronica

Peg are you referring to my comments? I think there's a world of difference in getting to the end of the MCQ and starting again than going through more questions for the first time. I got a lot out of the former, I'm not sure I would out of the latter. Repetition (as long as you have forgotten what you put last time) is actually helpful.
Second I did make it clear I did only NY. I know CA is different,  still would have thought NY and CA were of comparable difficulty though.
Who mentioned "Americans"? I know what a bell curve is too

Peg

I was talking about your recent comments to the bar advice posts that have been on the front page here recently.   You were the person that referred to Americans and our study abilities in this comment right: http://ms-jd.org/should-you-supplement-ca-barbri-pmbr#comment-804?
I really do not see any advantage whatsoever to doing the same practice question twice.  First, I have a good memory and will remember something that I just read (and re-read, and analyzed) in the prior weeks.  Second, the BarBri practice questions are all worded in the same way; they have the same general sentence structure and the same style.  Needless to say, this is not the same style that is on the actual MBE.  Therefore, if you get too used to one question style you will do very well on the BarBri practice exam but perhaps not so good on the actual test.
Everyone takes the same MBE at the same exact time.  The only difference is in what (scaled) score is given a passing grade in your particular state.  Oh yeah, one thing from your earlier post, in CA there are two 3-hour long practical tests.  I have heard that they are much more involved than the MPT but am not sure about how they compare difficulty-wise, beyond the time crunch issue and test fatigue factor.

veronica

Oh well we'll just have to agree to disagree. I have a good memory too but Barbri provides a LOT of questions, I think only 3 or 4 times did I come to a question I rememberd, and that was right at the end. I just meant that you have enough questions already, I don't really think you need more. Just my opinion.
You took offence needlessly at my comment about Americans. It is NOT a comment about American students study ability but the friends I made at Barbri all agreed that it was a totally new kind of learning for them - much more take in, rote learn, regurgitate than they were used to. On the other hand in other countries that's how law school it taught (usually for 4 or more years). I think many of my friends found that a big adjustment and it's worth being prepared for. This isn't "learn to think like a lawyer" time this is "learn a lot of rules and accept them for the moment". There's nothing harder or easier in a vacuum, but it is easier for those of us used to that style of learning. I hope that clarifies so you are not taking it as aninsult. It certainly wasn't meant as one.
I took offence at your curve comment. I know how a curve works thanks. So does Barbri.  The question that's pertinent is does the extra PMBR help you climb the curve or does it just leave you where you would have been anyway or worse, drive you to distraction and leave you worse off? I am not sure of the answer. I choce not to do PMBR. I found Barbri quite adequate and I had a lot of apprehension when I started.
What I'm getting at is that more is not necessarily better. It depends how much you need "volume of questions" or "repetition of concepts" or "understanding". My experience was that while you do need all 3, understanding was the most important and that is not necessarily fostered by an overload of questions. No doubt others have different needs but I wasn't laying down the law, just my experience.
 Finally, since I think this has gotten quite out of hand, I don't know enough about the CA practical element to comment on it. It may well be harder, that's a debate I deliberately opted out of. I merely wanted to make it clear that I was basing my view of Barbri being adequate on NY, which is generally considered no slouch, but is not the same state as was being asked about.
Dear me Peg that got to be way too long. I hope that is clarified. Sigh.

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