Studying for the bar exam is stressful. But it is also your chance to take control and bring together the scattered threads of law that you learned in law school. To succeed, you must plan your life, as the old saying goes, and live your plan. Because of Covid 19, you may even have a stretch of 16 weeks of bar prep in which to prepare. You want to walk into the bar exam knowing that you have done what you set out to do. The results are in the hands of the gods.
I assume you’ve read Five Top Tips for Early Bar Exam Prep. If so, this post is about what I call the horizontal study plan, that is, week-by-week. The “vertical plan” concerns how you spend your days. That will be another post.
Ok, now you’re ready. Let’s go.
1 Make Spreadsheets and Set Deadlines for Your Weeks of Bar Prep.
Next to your Black’s Law Dictionary, your flashcards, and your practice exams, spreadsheets are your most important tool for preparing for the bar exam. The first key for your six steps to planning for 10 weeks of bar prep is a set of deadlines. Preparing for the bar exam does not require brilliance, all it requires is meeting the deadlines on your schedule. You can also make a white board that you keep in your study room. Assure that you will look at your schedule every day. And paste a copy on the mirror in the bathroom.
In the BarWrite courses, planning bar prep with spreadsheets is part of our basic curriculum.
2 Focus on the Most Heavily-Tested Law.
You must focus on learning the law that is actually on the bar exam. This is not clear to everyone. I have found bar candidates spending precious bar-prep days struggling with First Amendment protections for TV advertising when they couldn’t spot an offer for a unilateral contract or explain the relevance of industry standards in products liability cases. Instead, you must be a bar-prep realist.
The bar exam is not about knowing every section of every code or applying all the common law writs in seventeenth-century torts cases. Bar examiners are not a bunch of tricksters, chortling over the ways they can lay traps with the Rule in Shelley’s Case. The bar exam is about knowing and applying key basic law. What law would you want your own lawyer to know? That’s the law on the bar exam. So the savvy bar candidate focuses on mastering the basic law that’s on the exam, not the fancy advanced topics that are rarely or never on the exam.
How about mastering Negligence? With 14-15 negligence questions on the MBE, that is a topic that will repay your becoming an expert. Accordingly, mastering that basic law is what we focus on in the BarWrite classes.
3 Thoroughly Prepare the Most Heavily-Tested Topics First.
If contracts is heavily-tested in the essays in your jurisdiction, as it is on the MBE, review contracts early. That leaves you plenty of time for two or more subsequent passes through the subject, constantly testing yourself with your flashcards, new practice tests, new essays, and new hypos. I can promise you UCC 2-207 will appear on the MBE. Accordingly, you should master it early and then review it a couple of times before the exam. And what could be worse than waking up the day before the bar exam and realizing that you still don’t understand how damages work in construction contracts? Study the basics, and master them early.
4 Save Time for Self-Testing: This is KEY.
Leave time in your schedule every day and every week for self-testing. Test yourself with your flashcards. You can also give yourself a hypo in the field you are working on. Take a fact pattern from a practice MBE question. You can write a practice essay. The key is to get out of your comfort zone. The best way to learn is to test yourself. And when you get stuck, you can go to your hornbooks or your bar review notes and work out the answers.
5 As Each Week Approaches, Give Yourself Increasingly Definite and Measurable Objectives and Deadlines.
When you are planning two months ahead, it’s fine to put “Torts” into your schedule. But as each week approaches, your plans must include increasingly precise objectives, like “Know all exceptions to hearsay.” That means you can list the exceptions to hearsay from memory and give examples for each one. Make sure every such objective has a date. The dates must be reasonable, but you should have to stretch a bit to achieve them.
6 Commit to Sticking to Your Schedule.
When you outline your schedule, give yourself a little slack. But decide in advance that you will stick to the schedule. Do not be the wimp who says, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t finish studying contracts this morning, so I’ll just give up on the other subjects today and spend all day today on contracts!” How easy that is. Yes, the schedule is a work in progress. And you can revise your schedule every week. But don’t think you will accomplish much if you give yourself overall permission to revise on the fly every day.
7 During the last two weeks, your job is just to recite your memorized rules.
Number seven of your six tips for planning for 16 weeks of bar prep is one of the most important. It is most noteworthy that the last two weeks are different from the first 14 weeks. In the last two weeks, you are firming up what you already know. This is not a time to “cover” new material.
This is not a time to say desperately, “Ohmygosh, I never did understand conflict of laws!” and go hurling yourself against a hard area of law you have never seen before. No matter what you know or do not know, this is the time to solidify what you already have. Thus, steadiness is key. Just hold those flashcards in your hands and recite the basic rules. Day after day. Use those flashcards. Many alumni of the BarWrite classes have said the same thing: You will be very glad you did it.
Look at the bright side.
Once you have outlined your schedule, look at the bright side of studying for the bar exam. It is your chance to make yourself into a new person, the lawyer who sees the entire field of American law in perspective. Accordingly, you can say to yourself, What an opportunity!
***I originally wrote this piece as a guest post for the Lawyerist blog. Now I have made some additions and changes to help you get the most out of your long studying period. MCG
Mary Campbell Gallagher is founder and president of BarWrite® and BarWrite Press, which have been offering supplemental courses for foreign-trained lawyers and retakers for the bar exam for more than 20 years. She is the author of Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test (MPT) and Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays.
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