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Bar Exam Tips Article

April 24, 2017

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    Moyan Brenn

written by Associate Dean Libby Davis, Assistant Dean J.B. Kim and Assistant Dean Sarah Petersen


  • You spent 3-4 years learning and practicing the skills that the Bar exam tests.
  • You are an expert on you. You know your study strengths and weaknesses.
  • The components of the Bar exam are not hard but the memorization and practice is HARD WORK.
  • We are here to help you.
  • You got this.


The Bar Exam is like finals week on steroids. The key to success and sanity is efficiency.

(1) Develop Patterns and Routines

  • The Bar Exam requires extreme memorization. Use every memorization trick to help you.  Develop routines to help trigger memory. Pick your bar exam snack food/drink (check what you are allowed to bring in) and eat/drink it while you study. Study in the same place, with the same sounds, smells, visual clues, kinesthetic routines to condition yourself to get into the bar zone.
  • Learning involves pattern recognition. For the writing components, the pattern is IRAC.  For the MBE section, there are hundreds of fact patterns. The goal is to do 1200 – 2400 practice questions so you encounter as many fact patterns as possible.

(2) Treat it Like a Full-Time Job 

  • From day one, treat bar review like a full-time job.  Go to the “office” at 8:00 a.m., take an hour lunch, and leave the “office” at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.  Then have a life!!  Realize, however, just like in real life, you may find that you have to “work” late and on the weekends sometimes.
  • The majority of first time bar reviewers take a bar prep course.  Classes usually begin at 8:30 a.m. and last until noon or 1:00 p.m.  That pretty much fills up your morning at the “office.”  Use the afternoon to review what you went over and what will be covered the next day.
  • Self-study can work if you are a very disciplined learner.  Those two months will go by in a flash, and procrastinators are strongly encouraged to opt for the structure of a bar review course.
  • When it comes to study habits, do what worked for you during law school - and avoid what didn’t.  Now is not the time to try “new” study methods unless your old ones were particularly unproductive.
  • Avoid being on the extreme ends of the study spectrum.  Don’t ignore your studies or kill yourself doing all-nighters.  Some graduates fail because they put off getting “serious” about reviewing until it was too late.  Likewise, others over-study and become exhausted and frustrated.  For most, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
  • Working while studying for the bar exam:  Economic pressures may force you to work, part-time or full-time, during your studies.  As you head into July, be sure you are really devoting the time you need to prepare.  The last 2-3 weeks before the exam are the most important in terms of quality study time.  Plan a way to reduce your workload and/or to take at least a few weeks off before the exam.

(3)  Stay on Schedule (Stay off Facebook)!

  • Do not let yourself fall behind on the study plan (your self-study plan or your bar review company’s).  The bar review companies put together a very carefully plotted out timeline and build in self-assessments, including significant practice exams, based on decades of experience and data on bar passage.  Don’t let other distractions (nice weather, feel like taking a day off, etc.) derail you. The pace advised by the bar review courses is a lot of work, but it pales in comparison to having to do it again 6 months later.  Remember that bar preparation, like the exam itself, is a marathon and not a sprint. You won’t be able to “catch up” in the last mile or two.
  • Emergencies:  Plan ahead for possible contingencies (illness, unforeseen financial issues) especially if you are responsible for the care of others (kids, parents).  Contact your prep company or one of us for advice on how to stay on target if you find yourself behind.
  • Distractions are bad.  Electronic games, social apps, constant texting, bingeing on Netflix, etc will be a time sink.

(4) Pay Attention to the Rest of Your Life

  • Don’t ignore other aspects of your life!  If bar prep is your full-time job, you will have some evenings and weekends for family and free time.  This is important for physical and mental health.  The last two weeks before the exam usually requires extra hours, but until then stick to a reasonable schedule.
  • Don’t radically change your routine.  If you never exercised during law school, don’t start a new, intense program.  Likewise, don’t try to stop smoking or drinking caffeine during bar review - you already have enough stress!!

 (5) Physical Endurance

  • The bar is physically demanding.  The bar is a twelve hour exam, equivalent to taking 4 law school finals on two consecutive days.
  • Part of bar prep is steadily increasing your ability to sit and focus for hours at a time while being tested under extreme time pressure. 

 (6) Manage Others’ Expectations

  • Your non-law friends and family may offer to “help” you.  In general (outside of $), the best way they can help is to let you study, uninterrupted.
  • Non-lawyers do not understand how demanding the Bar Exam is.  They assume that because you graduated from law school, the hard part is over.  Educate them so they understand Bar study is more time consuming than law school studies (and you can’t read/respond to texts every hour…)

(7) Reward yourself

  •  Passing the Bar Exam and getting your “ticket” to practice law is the best reward.  However, give yourself something else, no matter how small, to look forward to after you’re done.  It helps get you through months of preparation to know that after it’s over you get to … go on a short vacation; do nothing but watch TV and eat Oreos; play with your kids all day; or stay in bed for three days.
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