An Official, Just-Completed-the-Bar Guide to Bar Prep

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With the bar exam in the rear view mirror, I’m here to give you guys my takeaways on bar prep.

1. Focusing on the MBE pays

The UBE states, and many others, use the MBE, which is a multiple choice exam consisting of 200 questions (including 25 experimental questions). The great thing about the MBE is that you’ll see about 30 questions from each of the following areas of law: torts, civ pro, con law, property, contracts, crim law, and evidence. In contrast, the MEE, or the essays portion of the bar exam, is based on these seven areas of law with an additional six, so 13 total. What’s worse is that you have no idea which topics the MEE will test on. So you can waste a lot of time studying law that will never show up on your bar exam.

So what I did is I focused almost exclusively on the MBE topics. I spent the two months of my prep, save two weeks, exclusively on the MBE topics. My practice MBE scores were monster high by the time I took the real thing.

Essentially, if you can manage a score in the 70th percentile on the MBE, the 50th percentile on the MBT (which you can’t really study much for because it’s a skills assessment and all the law is provided for you), and the 1st percentile on the MEE, you will pass. So to me, it makes sense to focus on the MBE, almost exclusively.

2. SRS apps are a lifesaver

A spaced-repetition-system app is a HUGE help on the bar exam. I have no idea why bar prep companies haven’t integrated an SRS into their programs. BarBri, which is what I used, felt very Web 1.0 to me, so it’s no surprise that they don’t have an SRS built in. However, my favorite SRS app did the trick. I used Anki to create SRS flashcards for all the MBE topics.

If you at all have trouble memorizing things (meaning you’re not Rainman) and you dedicate yourself to Anki and all its powers, you will have no problem at all memorizing anything you need to memorize for the bar exam.

3. Try to lighten up a bit

Law students are by far the most anxious, catastrophic-thinking, stressed out people I’ve ever been around. People who owned the LSAT (think 170+ scores) we’re constantly crying about how doomed they were on social media. I guess, a lot of that is a BS humble-bragging, “oh look how hard I’m working” sort of thing. But a lot of it is real.

If you’re putting in the hours prepping for the bar (for some people that’s 8 to 10 a day, for others it’s much, much less–I think this depends on how good your reading comprehension and analytical skills are as a base), then optimism is definitely the way to go. Believe in yourself and a bright tomorrow. Don’t motivate yourself with catastrophic thinking. “Oh if I fail the bar, everyone will think I’m an idiot so I have to study more.” This is counterproductive.

If you really need convincing on the powers of optimism, check out Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism. From what I remember, ol’ Martin used to torture dogs for science and now he teaches people how to feel better about themselves and their circumstances.

4. Get an early start if you’re in danger of failing

Even if you’ve got your emotions in check, a two month bar prep course might not fit your needs. If you think you’re in a danger of failing the bar exam, then you need a bit more time to prep. A lot of bar prep companies offer “early starts.” But you can also just buy a book or two for the MBE and get started.

How do you know if you’re in danger of failing? Look at your school’s bar passage rates. Now look at your LSAT score compared to your school’s median. If your school’s bar passage rate is scary low, and on top of that you’re sitting somewhere below your school’s 25th percentile LSAT score, you are definitely in danger of failing. So try to fit some (a ton?) of bar prep in before you even graduate. The sooner you start your SRS work, the better. You’ll thank me later.

So that’s it. Focus on the MBE. SRS everything. Chill out. And be ready to work harder and longer if you’re in danger of failing.

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