Law graduates planning to take the July bar exam are currently slogging through the darkest stretch of bar review, says Mike Sims, president and longtime lecturer at BARBRI. The third and fourth weeks of June are usually the worst. “People are still trying to learn it all,” Sims explains. Not that it’s even possible. “This too shall pass,” he chuckles.
He says that by the time the Fourth of July rolls around, most people figure it out: “I can’t learn all this! And that’s okay!” Cue fireworks.
Sims’ point is that studying for the bar is nothing like studying for law school exams. The bar is essentially “the final exam on everything,” he says. In law school (and pretty much all school), the goal is to seek deep comprehension of the concepts covered in class; it’s what academically talented individuals automatically do, Sims says. Plus, law schools focus students’ attention on what the law could be and why laws are what they are.
By contrast, the bar exam is all about what the laws right now, and the bar review prepares students to demonstrate comprehension of a fixed moment. “That’s not what a law school teaches nor should it,” Sims says. This is the one time it’s necessary to aim for a wide and shallow understanding. But how should students avoid the deeply ingrained impulse to dig, dig, dig? “The best strategy—and people aren’t going to like it—is to fight through it,” Sims says. So, basically, the process is going to be terrible no matter what. But there are some ways to ease the pain.
Misery loves company
Though showing up to an actual classroom might seem tedious, in the long run, Sims has observed that it’s helpful in a number of ways. “The content in the classroom and the content online are the exact same thing,” he says. “The difference is focus and discipline.” He gives an example: Say you’re reviewing for the bar exam online, and you have a property lecture in one window and Facebook in the other. If you discover that your best friend’s dog just had puppies, what’s going to win, property or puppies? Puppies, obviously. Every time. The idea that going to class prevents stress might seem counterintuitive, but there’s something to be said for not having to actively fight distraction.
Sims says that studying with others can also be “a real help.” From his experience, students don’t generally bring each other down and sulk in their collective anxiety. “You don’t see that as much as you would think,” he says. For the most part, they support one another. They talk about how many questions they each got right the previous night; they compare notes on practice essays to see what they could’ve done differently; they ask each other for help on confusing topics. Misery loves company, Sims points out. If that sounds a little too much like law school to be palatable—well, this is the path you chose. Welcome to the rest of your life.