Preparing for each Bar Exam Subject

by Dustin on

After sitting through your bar review lecture, you look at your outline, essay book, MBE questions, and ask yourself, “What should I study first?”  Although, it’s very good to experiment to find what works best for you, here’s a look at what method I used that worked for me.  I ended up evolving from one method to another.  I’ll tell you what that was and why I evolved, after learning the hard way. 

First, let’s look at all the possible options you could study for each subject:

What could you study?

Let’s say you are in the process of learning torts.  You could do any of the following:

1)      Go to a class lecture

2)      Review class lecture notes

3)      Review the conviser outline (or whatever outline you have)

4)      Do MBE questions

– Timed or untimed

– Review MBE answers, only incorrect or all answers

5)      Do practice essays

– Only Outline or full essay

– Timed or untimed

– Review model outline or model essay

– Redo essay

Bar Exam Prep Method #1 – Less Effective

At the beginning of my bar exam prep, what I usually tried to do was the following, in this order:

1)      Review outline

2)      Go to class lecture

3)      Review class notes

4)      *Do untimed/timed MBE questions

6)      *Do untimed/timed essay & outline

7)   Repeat steps 1, 3 – 5, in whatever order and to what extent I felt necessary.

*I would review sample answers after I did each set of questions

This system is not bad, but here’s why it wasn’t the most effective method for me:

Doing steps 1 and 3, on their own, was a HUGE waste of time.  It would often take a LONG time to do, I didn’t get much value out of it, and I would be drained by the time I got to the MBE and essays.

Not only do outline and class lecture notes take hours upon hours to complete, rarely did I feel I could perform essay or MBE questions better as a result of all the time spent.

Remember, EVERYTHING YOU STUDY SHOULD BE HELPING YOU DO BETTER ON ESSAYS, MBE’s, AND PERFORMANCE TESTS (if applicable).  After all, that is what you get tested on, not how well you memorized rules.  If what you are doing is not making you better as a result, change tactics.

Here’s an example of what I did that really put me behind:

During the end of the first couple weeks of bar exam prep, we spent three solid days in class reviewing contracts, going through at least 100 hypothetical questions.  Afterwards, I decided I was going to put everything else on hold and get contracts nailed down.  I went back over each and every single hypothetical, until I had it clear in my mind what the answer was.  I set aside all my other topics, essays, and MBE’s, and spent an entire three days, yes three days straight reviewing those hypos until I felt I had contracts down cold! 

Excitedly, I cracked open my MBE book to begin taking contract multiple choice questions.  After the first five questions, I almost started crying.  I only got one right answer!  I didn’t know anything!  I finished the set of multiple choice questions and failed it harder than the Detroit Lions 0-16 season.  As you can imagine, a sort of panic set in my mind.  I had spent three days reviewing ONLY contracts class lecture notes, fallen way behind on everything else, and I couldn’t even pass the MBE. 

Maybe I would have better luck with the essays?  I cracked open the book, and my heart dropped when I realized I could answer absolutely nothing.  This was a big turning point in my bar exam prep.  I had been only slightly behind in my studying up to this point.  Afterwards, I fell WAY behind, and I would never catch up (good news is I still was able to pass!). 

The point of the story is the following:  Only reviewing notes, attack sheets, and outlines won’t get you anywhere.  You MUST do actual practice essays and actual multiple choice questions under timed conditions to prepare you to pass the exam.  Use lecture notes and the outline for reviewing where you went wrong in your practice exams.

I’m not saying DON’T do review your outline or class lecture notes.  Do it!  But only do it in a manner that is going to help you on the essays and MBE’s.

Here’s what I mean:

After you take a practice essay or multiple choice, REVIEW YOUR ANSWERS.  When reviewing your answers, you will probably see lots you did wrong.  Then, go back over your outline and class lecture notes to see exactly what you did wrong and how you can fix it next time.  Many times, if you just review the model answer, you will actually be told the relevant rule and how it applies, so you don’t even need to go back to your outline or lecture notes anyway.  Still, go review them if you feel the sample answer doesn’t give you all the info you need.  The info you need would be the amount where you can knock out a perfect answer if you saw that same question again.

So, here’s the method I adopted toward the end of my bar prep that saved me lots of time, energy, and advil expenses.

Bar Exam Prep Method #2: More Effective

1) Go to class lecture

2) *Do untimed/timed MBE questions

3) *Do untimed/timed essay & outline

4)  Repeat steps 2 & 3 in whatever order and to what extent necessary

*Review each answer after each set of questions, using outline and lecture notes if necessary
But, how can I do practice exams if I haven’t looked at the rules yet?

I know this is what you’re thinking.  I thought it as well.

The first MBE and the first two essays, you will probably know absolutely nothing.  At least, that’s how it was for me, without fail.  I looked at each essay for the first time and stared blankly.  I barely knew enough to spend ten minutes writing an essay, let alone an outline.

That is ok!

This is how you’ll learn.  Ill go full depth into preparing for practice essays and MBE questions in a later post.  Dive in, do the practice, review the model answer, learn your mistakes and dive in again.  By the third essay, you’ll have a good hang of things and by the fourth you should be knocking out passing answers!

Although, this technique worked for me, the most important thing to do is to DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU.  During law school, if you have been the ‘write-an-outline,’ or ‘rule memorizer,’ and it has worked for you, keep with your method of reading and memorizing rules before taking an essay.  That is totally cool.  This is your bar exam and your prep.  Do you what you feel is right for you.

As always, best of luck in passing your bar exam.

“This name appears on the pass list.”

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Johnny Henson February 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Great post — Would you suggest using Attack Sheets. They’ve received strong reviews online and for the price, you can’t really beat it. I can’t afford to spend more time coming up with concise outlines with the CBX just a few weeks away…..


2 Dustin February 10, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Yep, attack sheets should be the base for issue spotting on essays. With a few days left, a huge amount of time should be dedicated to memorizing these.

I never used the web link you refer to, and if you are in a program like barbri, I don’t believe it’s necessary because barbri provides them. But you do want to have attack sheets, whether you make them yourself or get from another person.


3 Moses February 18, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I was wondering if the level of memorization for an attack sheet should be verbatim or general. Attack sheets, I won’t mention which, can be deceivingly jam-packed. On some, I won’t mention which, if you were to do things like make the font a size that is easier on the eyes and make minor adjustments like including spacing and indentation between subparts, you’d have a much larger outline. I don’t doubt that authors, I won’t mention who, find it either helpful or even necessary to include all the information because they contain tests, elements, buzz-words and stuff like that are necessary on the bar. I’m sure even a memory champion would rather fire up the old X-BOX than attempt to memorize all the information condensed in those things.
In my opinion, mnemonics aren’t much more helpful, because, “CRAM-SAM-LAPPING-DO-WABCDORMAPS” (with each letter having 3 or 4 major tests–and those tests having even more subtests) is a little hard to remember when it a mnemonic for a subject that is 1 of 13 different subjects you have to know.
Sorry to ramble, but I just wanted to specifically convey how frustrated I am with the memorization approach for bar review. I would really appreciate any advice you have on the task of memorization and how to handle attack-sheets.
Thanks in advance!


4 Dustin February 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm

For each subject, have some method for you to go through so you can make sure you reviewed all possible issues that could be tested on that subject. Missing an issue, especially big issues can cost major points. So issue spotting is very important. People might use or make attack sheets to remember. I don’t think you need to buy any. After all, it’s for you to remember. I also don’t think attack sheets necessarily need the rule elements. You probably know those by now or can easily write them if the issue comes up (the facts often remind you of what the elements are – use the ‘why why why’ test). So just a list of topics that could be tested for the subject should be fine. Some memorization will be required regardless. Hope this helps!


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