How To Pass The Bar Exam
Next month, a new crop of aspiring lawyers will take their bar exam in hopes of starting their career as lawyers. Some will pass and some will fail.
The most important thing you can do, if you didn’t pass, is understand what you’re doing wrong. Kerriann Stout, a millennial law school professor, recently wrote an Above The Law piece outlining many of the mistakes students make when studying for the bar and how they can study more efficiently to ensure they pass next time.
Too much time spent watching the videos
Videos can be useful if studied correctly. Still, Stout says that videos are not the most important part of bar review. “In fact, they are the least important part,” she says. “The videos became a problem, however, when you started hitting the pause button and going back to re-watch segments. Often, this caused you to take an entire day to do what was meant to be done in a couple of hours.”
Spending too much time studying videos can prevent you from studying more valuable tasks such as practice questions, Stout says. Study the videos, but be careful how much time you spend on them.
Not enough time spent with practice questions
Stout says practice questions are the “most important activity to do to pass the bar exam.”
“I’m talking 20, 30, 40 essays and performance tests and 3,000 plus multiple-choice questions,” she says.
Stout recommends that students start practice question on day one and continue studying them throughout your bar review. “You should aim to do practice questions every single day during bar prep,” she says.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in bar review is waiting until you are “ready” to practice. Like anything, it takes practice to master something.
“You have to practice them over an extended period of time,” Stout says. “This means starting to practice before you feel fully ready.”
To put it into perspective, Stout says, you’ll never feel fully ready until you practice.
For Fabiani Duarte, 2015-2016 Chair of the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division and recent graduate of Mercer University’s School of Law, practice is the most important component to bar success.
“So much of the bar exam is a race against time: six essays in three hours, 1.8 minutes per multiple choice question to be able to get through 200 questions in six hours, and so on,” he says in an ABA For Law Students post. “It’s a tall order, but, as you know, it’s not impossible, even if you’re someone like me who reads a little slower or write a little more methodically. Practice truly is the key.”
Practice is important, but be sure to spend your time strategically and not go overboard. Stout says “resource overload” is “sitting at your desk, surrounded by your bar prep company books, flash cards, cheat sheets, and supplemental books, and feeling totally overwhelmed.”
This isn’t a winning strategy. In fact, it can slow you down in making meaningful progress. Stout recommends compiling resources together and then deciding which ones you will actually use.
Reading and not learning
Reading is similar to watching videos. While it is important and fundamental to bar prep, simply reading and not digesting the info can be useless. Rather, Stout says, engage in “active studying.”
“Instead of just reading or rereading outlines, take it one step further and break down your outlines or make your own flashcards,” she says. “The more you can interact with the material, the more likely you are to retain it.”
According to Ms. JD — a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career women lawyers — author Alexandra Echsner-Rasmussen notes that understanding where you are weak and focusing on that can be a more efficient way of tackling reading materials.
“Figure out which subjects need more attention and work accordingly,” she says. “Remember to not underestimate the importance of reading the answer explanation and figuring out as well as understanding why you arrived at the right or wrong answer.”
The self-fulfilling prophecy
Knowing your limits and being positive with yourself is a crucial part of bar success. “The way you talk to yourself matters,” Stout says. In addition, mindset is incredibly important going into an exam and having negative thoughts about your ability can handicap your success.
“While mindset can be the most difficult thing to focus on and improve, it may be the key that unlocks your progress,” Stout says. “It will probably feel awkward at first, but start by simply trying to acknowledge your negative thoughts as they come into your mind and letting them go.”
Sources: Above The Law, ABA For Law Students, Ms. JD