Taking on the Bar Exam: What worked for me

  1. I’m a former educator and like distributing information that I personally found helpful. I heard some great advice as well as some pretty bad advice in preparation for the bar. I’ve tried to lay out the strategies and habits I found most helpful here.
  2. The bar exam places unique strain on students from working class and even middle class backgrounds. It is very expensive, and I’ve tried to include information to help pass the first time and general tips for being economical in the process.
  3. I’ve had friends ask about tips and I hope this post can serve as an organized breakdown for those in my circle and beyond.
  1. Be strategic with your energy: You will hear many people say that bar prep is a marathon and not a sprint, and they are right. You need to be very strategic in boosting your energy reserves and deploying them in the way that will maximize your performance. In my own case, I am at my mental sharpest after a workout, meal, and coffee in the morning. As a result, I frontloaded the hardest tasks for the day in the morning. This allowed me to take on these tasks when I felt most energized and it helped provide the confidence that I had taken on the hardest task right up front. The flip-side of this advice is that it allows you to take on less cognitively demanding tasks later in the day as your energy is starting to fade. For me, this was watching Barbri lectures and doing flashcard review, which I could engage in functionally when I was at my lowest reserves.
  2. Engage in Active Learning: A lot of bar prep can become overly passive and–frankly–boring. Engaging in this manner can become a matter of going through the motions, which leads to your not actually retaining the material. I found it really important to stay active with my learning, through note-taking, figuring out where I made mistakes in multiple choice questions, and doing tons of actual exam style practice for multiple choice questions and essays. One strategy I found particularly helpful was writing out a “one pager” of the most important concepts for each core MBE subject. Rather than simply reading the same outlines over and over again and hoping the concepts sunk in through osmosis, actually physically writing the most important concepts out and limiting myself to one page really helped with remembering the concepts and having them make sense for myself. Really reviewing how and why I made mistakes on multiple choice questions, by writing out my mistake and how I would avoid it in the future, was also really helpful for improving my performance. Don’t assume that just reading the answer explanation will be enough to avoid the same mistake in the future. Lastly, there is no replacement for actually doing MBE questions and essays. Functional practice matters much more than perfectly understanding the lectures or memorizing outlines, and do not short change the former in favor of the latter.
  3. Address Weak Points: This is an obvious one, but you really want to focus on the areas that are giving you trouble. I think this is important for going into test day confident and it is often the best way of boosting your score (not simply aiming for perfection in areas that come more naturally to you). As is the case for many people, I really struggled with property at the beginning. But by doing a lot of supplementation through property questions on Adaptibar and reviewing property concepts on critical pass, I was able to improve significantly. Taking on and overcoming the areas that give you anxiety is going to help give you the mental fortitude to similarly take on and overcome the bar exam. And as you practice, you will see the dividends of increased focus on initial problem areas.
  4. Build endurance in the final stages: This last piece I can’t overemphasize. The bar exam is a really long exam, and your endurance and confidence going into test day is key. For myself, I budgeted the last week of bar prep to do 100 question MBE sets on Adaptibar and multiple MEE / MPT essays back to back. This served two functions. I got much more comfortable with pacing on multiple choice questions and with how it feels to complete 100 MBE questions in the set 3 hour period. I also was able to build up my stamina, so that when I took the actual test I wouldn’t become fatigued or lose focus towards the end of the test period. By the time I got through this stage, I was just ready to take the damn test and wasn’t as intimidated by the format. There are various sayings in mixed martial arts that you should make the training more difficult than the fight, and that principle applies to bar studying as well. If you push yourself in your last bit of prep, “game day” will simply feel like an extension of your training. Muhammad Ali put it best: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
  1. Read positive and inspiring material for a few minutes in the morning. This kind of morning reading can help you set an intention for the day and start on a positive, inspired note. A few books I found helpful: Discipline Equals Freedom, Striking Thoughts, The Daily Stoic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Can’t Hurt Me, Code of the Samurai, etc. Easily accessible collections of aphorisms and digestible wisdom can be helpful in this regard.
  2. In the alternative, inspiring Youtube short clips can also be really helpful. Here is a collection of my favorites. David Goggins, Jocko Willink, and Eric Thomas have a ton of great, free material. I made a habit of watching a few of these each morning.

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