The bar exam is a beast – no doubt about it. Although the rigors of law school will naturally develop your time management and study habits, the bar requires you to apply those skills to maximum efficiency. Having taken the bar in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, I’m one of the unenviable lot that has gone through the process more than once, and I have a few things to say on the matter.
Law students find out during their first year that everyone studies differently. There are the flashcard makers, the flowchart artists, the daring last-minute crammers. There are extroverts clustered into study cliques, and the solitary types migrated to the library stacks.
I discovered I was both an auditory learner and a “kinesthetic” learner. I was able to retain information best by listening (and relistening) to recorded lectures. I also found that I could read faster and digest tricky concepts more easily if my body was in motion, which is typical of so-called kinesthetic learners. Oddly enough, my favorite spot to read cases eventually became the treadmill! After class, I would head to the gym and set the treadmill to a steady walking pace with outline in hand and textbook on the console. Before I knew it, I had walked three miles and finished my reading assignments for the day. I probably looked a little funny to the gym rats at the school rec center, but as my academic performance improved, I became more confident in sticking to my own study method.
Everyone’s wired differently. If you’re studying for the upcoming bar, you’ve likely already settled on what works best for you in prepping for law school exams. Be confident that your method is not going to look like others. Having said that, I’ve included a few tips that happened to work for me and that might ease your path to excelling on exam day.
Don’t stress if you are not strictly following your bar review course’s “suggested” study schedule. Although the courses themselves are invaluable, I found the suggested schedule did a poor job of ensuring that you retain topics covered during your first few weeks of study into the critical stage. Starting in the month before exam day, I made a three-day rotating schedule in which I would cover every testable topic (e.g. torts, contracts, civil procedure), 3-5 topics each day, so that I would maintain my stronger subjects while continuing to practice the ones I struggled with.
MBE success is correlated with the number of multiple-choice questions taken. The bar exam is a unique time for the liberal-arts-loving J.D. to enjoy the power of statistics. Reviewing the bar review course’s outlines is a good exercise, but don’t underestimate the importance of consistent multiple-choice practice, ideally around 40-50 questions per day. Research indicates that bar exam takers that completed over 2,000 multiple choice questions offered by their bar review course had a huge advantage going into test day.
Don’t wallow in the minutiae. The bar exam tests a LOT of material, and some subjects will take you longer than others to get your head around. Keep in mind the bar exam is not designed to eliminate your career dreams if you cannot memorize every filing deadline in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Obviously, you should practice the subjects you struggle with, but don’t spend three hours trying to master the Rule Against Perpetuities if you could have spent that time doing 100 multiple choice questions on six different topics. If you’re banging your head against on the wall on a tiny sub-topic, keep in mind it will likely account for only 1-2 of 200 questions on the exam if it even appears at all. Devote your time and energy accordingly.
Abbreviated study sessions make a difference. My last tip is probably the most controversial. Many law students prefer to set aside two sessions of 3-4 four hours of uninterrupted, deliberate study every day. Outside of those sessions, they don’t even pass a glance at an outline. If you’re like me, you may prefer to mix into your regular routine some 10 to 20-minute study sessions. For instance, listen to a lecture while you fry your eggs and bacon. Review an outline on the bus. Watch a bar review video while folding laundry. Repetition is key to reinforcing long-term memory. You can support your focused study sessions by interspersing your day with these abbreviated reviews. More engagements with the material, even in small doses, will likely increase your chance of recalling the concepts on exam day.