Bar Exam Prep Study Plan

It’s the magical question everyone is wondering throughout their bar exam prep, from day one until results day.  What do I study and how much time should  I study it in order to pass the bar exam?  I answered the question How many hours per day should I study? by recommending you focus on accomplishing tasks, not spending hours.

Here, I elaborate more on what tasks you should focus on to pass the bar.  If you do the following and have  good sample answers to review, you will probably be all set to go bar exam week.  I took the California bar, so the info in this post is biased towards California takers.

Here we go!

Your Task List

To be ready, you’ll have to accomplish the following tasks:

1) Do & review practice essays

2) Do & review MBE questions

3) Memorize rules of law

4) Listen to class lectures

5) Do & review performance tests (if applicable in your jurisdiction)

How Much of Each Task?

So, how much of each of these should you do, and how much time will it take?  Here’s my best guess based on the time it took me: 

The following are the subjects that could be tested on your bar exam:

a) Contracts                                                        g) Evidence

b) Torts                                                                h) Civil Procedure

c) Property                                                         i) Criminal Law/Criminal Procedure

d) Constitutional Law                                     j) Professional Responsibility

e) Wills/Trust                                                   k) Community Property

f) Remedies                                                         l) Business Associations/Agency

1) Do & review practice essays:

On average, I did about four or five practice essays for each topic, and I repeated about two or three of the essays a second time and sometimes a third time (I found this method effective in passing essays).  Some topics, I only completed two essays, and some I did completed six.  Again, what I’m giving you is an average approximation.  The number of essays you do per topic should be based on how comfortable you are feeling about those topic areas.  The less comfortable you are, the more time you should spend.

So, I completed a total of about seven essays per topic.

Seven is a good number of essays to complete if you are doing them right.  That is, you are outlining, timing yourself, reviewing good (but not perfect) sample answers, and discovering where you missed key issues, facts, and arguments.  

On average, I spent about an hour and fifteen minutes doing and reviewing each essay.  Some essays I spent fifteen minutes and some I spent two hours.  When I repeated essays, I may have spent only an hour. 

I did not spend only fifteen minutes reviewing each essay!  When I did my first few essays, I might have spent only fifteen minutes doing the essay and an hour learning the rules from the model.  The essays I repeated I may have spent only five minutes reviewing the answer.

Stated above, there are twelve topics I studied.  So, figure (12  topics) X (7 essays per topic) X (1 hour & 15minutes per essay) =

 105 hours.

 Let’s round down.  So, it might be a good idea to spend about 100 hours doing practice essay exams, which will, by far, be a majority of your study time.

 2) Do and review MBE questions

 These are the six topics covered on the MBE:

 a) Contracts                        d) Constitutional Law

b) Torts                                  e) Evidence

c) Property                            f) Criminal Law/Criminsl Procedure

On average, I did about four practice MBE’s per topic, covering about 100 MBE questions per topic.

A practice exam of 17 questions takes 35minutes.  A 35 question practice exam should take about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  So that is about 3hours and 30 minutes per topic, just doing the questions.

On average, I spent about another forty five minutes reviewing each MBE.  I futher reviewed all MBE questions or just the ones I missed, depending on intuition and the level of readiness I felt I had.

That equals about three hours per topic reviewing answers.

Thus 3.5 of test taking and three hours of reviewing equals about 6.5 hours per topic.  Multiply that by six topics and I get nearly 40hours (this is 40 focused hours, mind you).

Also, I did about six mixed-MBE question sets of 17 to 35 questions each.  That is another 4.5 hours of test taking and 4.5 hours of reviewing, totaling nine hours.

Thus, it might be a good idea to spend around 50 hours of MBE studying.

Again to emphasize, if you do this amount of questions per topic, that should be enough in California, so long as you are spending a majority of that time doing timed questions and reviewing your answers to see where you can improve.

3) Memorizing rules of law & Reviewing class lectures

This is tough to determine.  I spent lots of time doing this in the beginning and not as much in the end.  Also, much of my rule memorization was incorporated into my essay and MBE preparation.  If I had to shoot from the hip, I’d say I spent about 3 to 4 hours of pure rule memorization per topic.  That is time I spent outside of my essay and MBE studying, doing strictly rule memorization.  Again, some topics I spent much more time and others I barely even looked at (having felt prepared during law school can affect the amount of time you need to spend here).

So, let’s say about 3.5hours X 12 topics = nearly 40 hours

4) Attending class lectures

In barbri we had about seven weeks of lectures, about five to six days per week, averaging about four hours per day.  That is about 40 days X 4hrs/day = 160 hours

Wowzer! Did I spend that much time?

5) Performance Tests

Many jurisdictions don’t have to worry about these, but California does.

I took about four full performance tests and outlined three others.

I spent about three hours for each full test and an hour and a half on each partial test.  Thus, I spent about 16 and half hours taking performance tests.

I spent approximately 45 minutes reviewing each performance test.  Thus, I totaled about 20 hours doing performance tests.  This might not seem like a lot, but if you start practicing performance tests after you have done a few topics of essays AND you know what you’re doing, these things actually aren’t too difficult to master.

First conclusion

Thus, I spent the following time:

100 hours on practice essays

50 hours on the MBE

40 hours on rule memorization

20 hours on performance tests

This totals 210 hours of bar prep, outside of class lectures

Ahh, but wait.  I certainly wasn’t that focused and efficient the entire time, was I?

6) Delay factor

No, I wasn’t.  Although I spent about the amount of time I did on each topic, I was certainly wasn’t always consistent and focused.  So, let’s add a little delay factor.  Let’s say I spent about ten minutes of ‘facebook’ time for every hour, on average – meaning I wasn’t totally focused on what I was doing.

That means every 70 minutes I spent working, I actually got 60 minutes of work done.

That is 210 hours * 70minutes/60minutes .

Which means, I actually spent about 245 hours studying for bar exam prep outside of my lectures!

Wow, that is a lot of time!  Certainly, you don’t have enough time do all that right?!?!?

Ahh, but wait.  If you start studying six weeks before your bar exam, you will have about 45 days to study.  How many hours of studying is that per day?

Wait for it….

Only about 5hours and 30 minutes per day of studying!  However, that is including weekends.

If you add that with the weekday class lectures, that will be about nine hours per day of total bar prep studying to get you ready, including all your class lectures.

Well, you have 24 hours in a day.  If you spend 8 hours sleeping and 9 hours studying, you have seven other hours for doing whatever the heck you want!  Whew, I bet you can breathe easier now.

Keep in mind a few things about these numbers:

1) Most people will have more than 45 days to study because they will have started sooner.  For you February takers, the second week of January would be your 45-day mark.  For you July takers, the second week of June is your mark.

2) Start studying earlier is better because you don’t want to spend 7 days a week studying nine hours per day!  Take some days and some time off.  It’s good for you.  The bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint.

Why do I think if you study the amount I recommend you’ll be fine?  Because it worked for me, and I know it can work for you too.

Although, these numbers are about the time I put in, I will say the numbers are slightly inflated to show the minimum I think I should have done.  My actual time was perhaps 90% of what I put here.

If you want to follow my model, here is a conclusion:

Practice Essays

5 Per topic

Repeat 3


4 tests per topic totaling about 100 questions

Performance Tests

4 full test

3 half tests

Rule Memorization

3.5hrs per topic

I hope this helps.

“This name appears on the pass list”

Best of luck in your bar exam preparation!

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Dustin Saiidi, author of The 7 Steps to Bar Exam Success, graduated in the bottom half of his class, but passed the bar exam on his 1st attempt. He shares how he overcame those challenges and gives tips, advice, and strategies so you can pass your bar exam, stress-free.

6 thoughts on “Bar Exam Prep Study Plan”

  1. Hold on a second. You mean to say you practiced only 100 MBE questions for your bar exam? And then six practice MBEs – 200 questions each? So that would be about 1300 questions. The bulk of your MBE practice was full length mixed question exams? You’re the first person I have ever heard of to do it that way.

  2. Hi Probatur, let me clarify:
    I did 100 MBE questions per topic, so 600 MBE questions.
    I also did six MBE question sets of about 35 questions each, not full-lengthed tests. That is about 140 mixed questions total I did. So, I did around 750MBE questions.
    I took one full-length MBE test during Barbri prep. I included those hours in the ‘class lecture’ time because people who aren’t in a bar prep program won’t have that time set aside. So, if you count those, I did 900.
    Doing six full-length MBE tests is excessive and unnecessary to pass. Hope this helps! I edited the article to clarify this.

  3. Thanks for clarifying! This is an extremely helpful post. I also find I get about 5.5 or 6 hours of good work done per day. Last time I passed the bar exam that was actually more than enough. Amazing how much time gets spent sitting in lectures. If only I didn’t have to take the subway and bus to the lectures first time I took the test. That was a lot of time I could have spent doing something more productive.

  4. I just found out I passed the CA bar on my first try. Early on in my bar prep this summer, I found your website and read every single page. This post, in particular, helped me a lot. I was very disciplined in my study habits, and kept a daily record of how many hours I studied in total, how many MBEs I did, how many essays and outlines I did – I didn’t do exactly what you did, but it helped to see a similar breakdown of study time and that it worked out for you. In particular, I completed 7-12 detailed essay outlines in each subject (plus the time to carefully correct them based on the model answers), plus 2-3 essays written out under timed conditions. This was less than my bar review’s recommended # of outlines, but doing them in depth, and correcting them in depth, proved sufficient (along with my other study methods). Thank you for showing it can be done! Really enjoyed this little slice of sanity during the madness.

  5. What are your thoughts on the above schedule, plus working full time at a billable hours job? I have contemplated taking the February CA bar so I can relocate (I’m barred in 2 states on the east coast). However, due to holidays, etc., I haven’t started studying yet and would only take the actual exam week off. Am I crazy (I.e. should I wait until July) or might this be doable? I went to law school in CA and graduated in 08, so the state law knowledge could be hiding in my head somewhere… I would also borrow BarBri books and self-prep. Thoughts/advice?

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