BarExamToolbox.com Co-Founder Lee Burgess comes on to the show to give her top 10 tips about the bar exam. Be sure to sign up for her email list on her website and email her any questions you might have at Lee@BarExamToolbox.com.
Here is a full transcript of this interview:
Intro: You’re listening to the IPassedMyBarExam.com podcast. Helping you pass your bar exam with ease and confidence, episode number 14
Dustin: Greetings and welcome future bar exam passer! My name is Dustin Saiidi, founder of IPassedMyBarExam.com and author of the #1 Amazon bestseller The 7 Steps to Bar Exam Success. And today, we bring on another special guest to come and talk about the bar exam prep. She is the founder of BarExamToolBox, she is a California bar exam tutor, and she teaches as an adjunct professor helping students with the bar exam at a law school, she is everywhere in the bar exam space, and also puts on seminars and events for bar exam students, law students, and attorneys; her name is Lee Burgess and we’re honored to have her on the show here today to give her top 10 tips for the bar exam. So this one’s going to be a longer one, and there’s going to be a lot of great in-depth stuff that you’re going to hear from today so get ready to take some notes. And with that, we’ll go straight into the call.
Alright, hello and welcome! We are now here with Lee Burgess from BarExamToolBox.com. Lee is literally everywhere in the bar exam space ans she had been kind enough to come on in the podcast today to give her top 10 tips for bar exam.
How are you doing, Lee?
Lee: I’m doing great, Dustin! How are you?
Dustin: I’m doing very well. Thanks again for coming on.
Lee: Yeah, absolutely! I love to chat about the bar exam, one of the few people along with you, who wants to talk about it on a regular basis.
Dustin: I know. I think we are a little bit crazy, both of us.
Lee: I think we might be, yeah.
Dustin: I’m sure the bar students appreciate it in one way or another.
Lee: I’m sure they do, and you know, as long as we can all be crazy in this space together.
Dustin: Yes, this is true! So, tell the listeners a little bit about yourself? Currently you do tutoring, how was your bar exam experience? How did you go to become a bar exam tutor?
Lee: Yeah. So, my story is a little bit interesting. So, I went to the University of San Francisco, here in San Francisco where I still live. And I passed the California bar in the first try by taking Bar/Bri as pretty much everyone did at my school. And I went on and start practicing at a big law firm doing commercial litigation. And I was actually sitting in my office one day, trying to decide what I wanted to do when I left big law.
And I got some paper work from the California bar about possibly grading for the bar exam. And I’m sitting at my office reading this paper work that my secretary just dropped off and then I realized, I didn’t really want to grade for the bar exam. I actually want to teach people to take the bar exam because I had done a lot of teaching both tutoring during law school, I was a TA for a couple of classes and I had a bit of experience doing SAT prep which was my part-time job during law school. And I just – there is something about this test that made it really an interest of mine to help people get over the struggle because I had a number of friends who didn’t pass on their first try, and had to go back and work at it to try to pass this test. And in California the passage rate is not great, so a lot of people struggle with this test and it can create unique challenges for different people.
Dustin: Awesome, that’s great! So, really just the motivation to help others with the struggle of the bar exam.
Lee: Yeah, it really was. And so, I started really educating myself a lot about the bar. I started working a little bit with students. I started tutoring law students at the University of San Francisco and teaching a class there to increase my teaching experience. And since then I just continued to grow, my tutoring business, as well as teach at Golden Gate University School of Law where I teach a class in the bar exam. And then, just in the last year, launched the BarExamToolBox to really have a platform to share. A practical advice about the bar exam with a more national audience which I do with Allison Monahan of The Girls Guide to Law School.
Dustin: That’s great! It’s been quite amazing how I’ve seen BarExamToolBox just literally blow up all over the internet and see it everywhere, and all that great tips you give. I think that’s great.
Lee: Thanks! Well you know, I think one of the things that I really like about it and one of the things that I wanted to do with that website was create a place where we could have, perhaps, a different discussion about the bar exam than that’s going on in a lot of places. Different discussion about the tools that are out there. You know, it’s not just about there being one bar review provider anymore, there are now multiple quality options out there with different price points, with different level of accountability that are remote or in person. And I really wanted students to know what was out there.
And I also wanted to stop some of these negative dialogue that I think goes on around the bar exam that allows us to turn this test into something that – it’s become like, it’s this being. You know, it’s monster, that people are afraid of. And I didn’t really fully appreciate that until when I was working with my 1L or 2L law students. Frequently I’ll cheat and use bar exam questions as hypos because I didn’t want to have to write my own, and a first or second year student who doesn’t know it’s a bar exam question, will just work the question. It’s just a Torts questions. You give us 3L or a graduate or someone who’s failed the bar, a torts question and tell them it’s a bar question, and they have this visceral reaction about how challenging the question is – there’s not enough time, it’s too complicated, I don’t know what the facts are trying to tell. And I realized that, it’s this test itself that is part of the issue and part of what we all struggle with is overcoming the dialogue about this test and giving it power that maybe it doesn’t need to have.
Dustin: That’s really all about mindset and perspective, I think, and I tell students all the time, “Don’t over hype the bar exam.” Don’t make it like this big Mt. Everest thing that you’re going to climb. It’s just another exam, just figure out how to approach it, how to attack it, and go for it in that manner. Don’t make it so big that it has to be this huge, unconquerable beast that you have to face.
Lee: Exactly. I mean, when it all comes down to it, it is just a test. It may be the hardest you’ve ever taken, in California, it was definitely the longest test I’ve ever taken. When it all comes down to it, it is just a test. And we have been taking tests since we were little children, so this is just a combination of all test-taking skills that we have and you need to just prepare for this test. When you make it something more than that, I think that’s really when anxiety and feelings of doubts and emotions can really play in, sometimes to the students detriment.
Dustin: You’ve tutored students personally, you teach a class on the bar exam, and you’ve probably read and written everything about the bar exam. Let’s boil it down to the top 10 keys that students need to have in order to pass their bar exam, what would those be form your perspective?
Lee: Alright, I think the first one is something I already mentioned earlier in our discussion which is about finding the right bar review provider or tools for you because I don’t thinks there’s just one solution for everyone, and often times students want one magic solution and that just isn’t the way it works. You need to actively research what your options are, and decide what you need because we all are different students and have different needs. So students study on different time frames, they have different learning styles, some students want to sit in a room with other people and listen to lectures in a group, some people want to be able to work on their own timeline at home, some people will study for 8 weeks, some people will study for 12 weeks, some people will study for 3 weeks although I don’t recommend it. You need to kind of evaluate what are the things you have typically struggle with and what do you want out of a bar review provider, and then go and test them out. Learn about the different options, talk to students who’ve used them, read reviews online. Often they will give you free tools for studying for the MPRE which is a great way to kind of test drive a different tool. But when it all boils down to it, you need to find the right tools for you and they may be totally different than the person sitting next to you.
Dustin: I know there’s different bar prep programs, not to go through all of them. But do you think there are, even if you went through some of the main ones like, what students might like Bar/Bri or not like Bar/Bri, or you know there’s Themis bar prep, or BarMax. What students might like some of these ones versus not might like it?
Lee: Bar/Bri is the old standard, right? That’s what most everybody has taken. I think they right now have the 97% of the market share. I think Bar/Bri you know, dispose a lot of information really well and if you want formal classroom lectures, they do have some online work. I think Bar/Bri gets the job done, it was my prep company. I think they do a pretty good job. However, what I don’t think they maybe focused on is much that some students struggle with is really hands on, like exclusive work on some of the writing portions. Because everybody struggles differently with the writing portions. Both if you have an essay portion of your bar exam, and if you have a performance test portion.
The amount of feedback that Bar/Bri gets can change from year to year, so I recommend students look in to that amount of feedback. And sometimes they may just want to supplement Bar/Bri with some other program, either working on a tutor who will give them more feedback or getting exposure in California, there’s another website called BarEssays.com which will allow you to read past student answers so you can try and do some self evaluation. But you need to really look at the program and realize that they’re offering one package to thousands and thousand and thousands of people at once in your state, and you need to question whether or not their package is the right package for you.
Some of the online programs like, Themis and BarMax, BarMax is pretty much is ran off of ipads and iphones. I think that they can be great for students who wants more flexibility and control over what they’re doing. But then you better be ready to be accountable for your work because you don’t have to show up at a classroom everyday, it takes a lot more self discipline. A lot of students who are working while they’re studying like some of these online programs because they give them more flexibility, so they can you know, they don’t necessarily have to give in the same amount of work everyday. So I think that you really have to look at what your requirements are. Some states also have different programs that will allow you to do more boot camps on writing. So for instance, I’m friends with Mary Campbell Gallagher out in New York, and Mary runs the Bar Write programs which are really like writing boot camps for folks who are worried about the writing portions or she often times work with foreign attorneys who are moving here from out of the country and trying to study for the New York bar exam.
So there are lots of different options, and it’s really about what’s going to work for you. And if you’re studying and you feel like you’re not getting the right feedback or you’re not getting the right MBE practice or you’re not getting something out of your bar prep, you need to do something to get that support from somewhere else. It breaks my heart when students will tell me, “Well, I kind of knew it wasn’t going so well but I just kept doing what I was doing.” If you don’t think it’s going well, do something about it.
Dustin: Try to switch it up while you have time to do it.
Lee: Right, it’s time to get some advice, to talk to some people who are knowledgeable and figure out what needs to happen so you don’t get disappointing results and then go “Oh yeah, I knew that wasn’t working but now I have to wait 6 more months until I can be licensed, again.”
Dustin: Right, and for the listeners out there, if you email Lee I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to help you about it. Even if myself as well, I’ll answer your questions. Email any of the people in the bar exam space and they’ll be happy to answer your questions on that.
Lee: Yeah, it’s a really supportive space but you should definitely reach out. I have students from all over the country that send me, sometimes random question about the bar exam, but sometimes you just need someone to listen. So you should definitely reach out and try, and get some counsel if you aren’t sure what you’re doing is working for you.
Dustin: Totally. I agree with that, in terms of strategy and also mentally, kind of dealing with some of the pressure – the down moments. Reach out to us and ask for help, we’ll be more than happy to help out.
Dustin: Cool! Let’s go on to the second tip.
Lee: Alright, so my second tip relates to some of those stuff that we’ve been talking about already which is spending time thinking about your past academic performance, both what you’ve been successful at and not so successful at, so you can be smart about your bar preparation. So if you have been in law school and you’ve been getting mediocre grades the entire time and you’ve never excelled in an essay exam, then you’re going to make sure you have a prep option that’s going to help you really overcome the issues you have with writing.
What if you have never done well on multiple choice ever, ever, ever? Well, maybe that means that you need to start working on building those skills for multiple choice even if that is before you start prepping for the bar. I get a lot of questions from 3L’s in to their last semester saying, “What can I do now? Should I start reviewing the law?” And I don’t necessarily know that’s the best use of your time, but if you struggle with multiple choice, if you struggle with writing, especially if your school has some sort of academic support program or something where they will provide you with some guidance on how to work on these issues; you can start working on that now and then worry about learning the law later.
Dustin: Right. So kind of developing the skills more so than necessarily, learning the law at that time.
Lee: Exactly. And you do know a lot about what you’re good at and what you’re good at, so you need to spend some time evaluating that so you can you know, maybe do some early prep to make you even more prepared or make the best decision for what kind of bar provider you would like. I work with 3L students who are worried about their bar exam now or doing their 3L year. Sometimes we’re working on their law school work, sometimes we’re working on parts of the bar exam. But they know, they have thought about it and said, “You know what, I’m scared because I’ve never been good at writing in law school essay, so let’s learn to write a law school essay. It turns out, it’s not all that different from the bar exam.
Dustin: Yeah, during law school my writing grades weren’t very good at all especially the legal writing classes, and I took Bar/Bri as well and I knew that they don’t really prepare people to write better so I was worried about that component. One thing I did, for me personally, to improve my writing is to look at a lot of sample answers and just repeat. Just re-write them and kind of figure out how the flow goes, how the structure goes, how to write concisely like you’re supposed to in the sample answer.
Lee: That’s great. And I think doing self evaluation of your own work and comparing it to sample answers, and then re-writing your work so at least it looks more like the sample answer is 100% a positive thing you should be doing throughout your prep, and really in law school as well. So if you’re not sure how to write some quality essay exams, try and get your hands on some sample answers from that professor and learn how you can write to those sample answers.
Dustin: Awesome, perfect tip! Let’s go to the third one.
Lee: Alright, so you must know how you study best and apply those techniques to bar studying. So I often tell the story about my own bar prep experience which was the lure of the flash cards. People in the bar world seem to love flash cards and everybody’s got stacks and stacks and stacks of flash cards. And my mom and dad are both lawyers, and my mom told me about her bar flash cards that she had stash all over the house.
Dustin: Does she have them saved still?
Lee: Oh I don’t think so, but that would have been really funny wouldn’t it, if she would like given them to me?
Dustin: Yeah, it would be a nice hand me down.
Lee: It would have been a nice hand me down! No, I think those got lost a number of moves ago. But I was a baby when she was studying for the bar so I’m sure I heard plenty of bar talk when I was a baby.
Dustin: So that’s how you got into all of these, you’re brainwashed from a young age!
Lee: Exactly, exactly! I came by it, honestly. So anyway, I personally hate flashcards. I’ve hated them my entire academic career but for some reason I thought I needed to make flash cards for the bar. And so for a while I would spend hours upon hours making Property flash. I think I made Property flashcards and contract flashcards, and then I’m try to study with them and it kind of, the light bulb goes off. And I’m thinking, “Wow, I’m not getting anything out of this experience. Why am I studying in this way? I know how I study well and did well in law school. Why aren’t I studying that way?”
And I’m glad I had that epiphany early on in the process so I can switch back to the techniques that I used that worked for me in law school, and all of a sudden studying seemed a bit easier. So I think there’s this idea that there’s like a magic answer to how to study for the bar exam, and there really isn’t a magic answer. The magic answer is you need to study in the way that you’ll learn the law well enough for the different portions of the exam, and then you have to practice those questions, be it multiple choice or writing. I mean, there’s no flash cards are going to magically make it so you can pass the bar. You have to study the way that you know how to study.
Dustin: Right. I completely agree and I tell students too, that basically how you were studying in law school, continue to do so in the bar exam. I had a student ask me, you know, should they do study groups for the bar exam? I’m like, “Well, did you do that in law school? If so, then continue, if not then don’t.”
Did you do flashcards in law school? If that was your thing in law school then I think maybe continue it for the bar. I also is not a flashcard person in law school and I certainly wasn’t on the bar exam. But i think for every reason, some people just like that and I think if that’s their strength, that’s how they like to do it, I guess go for it. More power to them.
Lee: Yeah, this is such a personal experience and I think this is one of the things about the dialogue around the bar exam that’s really unfair to a lot of students is, there’s kind of a lot of this understanding that there is one way that you should prepare, and a student from Harvard and a student form unaccredited law school are all preparing the exam same way. And they all have the same learning techniques and they should all do the same amount of practice and they all have the same writing skills and everybody is exactly the same, and we’re not.
We all come to the table with a different set of skills getting into it and different strengths and weaknesses, and your job is to figure out how you’ve studied and more successful in law school, or you weren’t that successful in law school you need to find out how you could have been more successful, and then you need to practice applying it so you’ll know whether or not things are working.
Dustin: How can someone go about that? I guess, if they knew what it took to be successful in law school they’ll probably know that for the bar. What if someone doesn’t know in law school, kind of what they did? Or they figured that, you know, “I didn’t do good in my writing and essays in law school, how can I get better for the bar?” But they don’t know exactly what to do. How can they figure that out?
Lee: So if you are currently in law school, you need to try and get help while you’re in law school. So most law schools have some sort of, like I’ve mentioned it, an academic support program that you can go to and try and get help.
If that doesn’t work for you, then you should probably try and find a tutor or someone that can walk you through some of these writing skills. I mean, they may even help your grades that semester which wouldn’t be so terrible, but you do want to have some feedback and some tips on how your performance can get better. You don’t want to wait until the bar to try and solve all of this issues. When you get to the bar, if you are doing questions and you can’t understand how those questions are supposed to look. If you’re writing them and your answers look one way and the sample answers look another, and you’re not sure how to get your answers to look like the sample answers, you need to ask for help. You need to find another resource for help, you need to do research online and read help for blog post, you may need to hire a tutor or do some sort of supplement program. But just saying, “Oh well, I’ve never been good at writing.” That’s not the way you want to go about it.
Dustin: Very good. So be proactive about your weaknesses and figure it out.
Lee: Yeah. This is one place – you know, not being honest with yourself is not going to help you. We all have things we are better at and that we struggle with, so you must do a bit of self reflection. You know, talk to professors, talk to mentors, talk to them, get feedback on your law school exams. Go to those professors if they say, “Well, you didn’t – you were too conclusory.” Ask them, “Could you tell me why? Could you tell how I could have done it differently?” Use the law school experience to gain these skills so you’re not trying to just do that during the bar exam.
Dustin: Okay, very good. Let’s go to tip number 4.
Lee: Alright. Tip number 4 is my favorite tip because it is what I have just been telling every single student I have been talking to this week which is, it is about practice, practice, practice. And I can just keep saying practice, practice, practice, over and over again.
Dustin: Those are the 3 laws of the bar exam.
Lee: Exactly, the 3 laws! So when I talk to students who failed the bar exam, many of them confessed that they just didn’t practice enough. So you must write and re-write in order to generate essays that make the requirements of a passing essay. If you struggle with writing essays, I recommend that you write everyday that you’re studying. It’s only going to help your preparation. So if you are you know, a few weeks away and you’re still feeling like there’s no way you’re going to be ready, the answer is typically not to just bury your head in outlines. You must practice applying the law that you know to the facts. I’ve so many students who, when I force them, it’s almost like I want to chain them to the desk and to get them to do more practice, and then they will say “Well, I didn’t know the law for this one issue but you know what, if I’d studied more I still wouldn’t have known it. It was a nuance that wasn’t even on my outline.”
Lee: You know, but – so that’s great, from the practice you learn the law but secondly, it doesn’t matter if you just kept studying. You learn more by practicing than by if you just kept studying.
Dustin: Yeah, during when, I also took an academic bar exam prep class before the bar exam began, and they said the number 1 reason people don’t pass is because they fail to practice enough. And I’ll tell you from my own personal experience, taking practice essays under timed conditions was definitely the one thing that saved me on the bar exam.
I think there’s a certain skill that you learn when you take it. And even if you don’t know everything like you said, you’ll see a lot of those new nuances anyway, regardless of how much you study there’s still going to be stuff you don’t know. The key is to learn how to be, 1) is to be composed, and 2) is to get through that essay as best you can.
You know, use the facts that are there, make-up a rule if you have to, you’ll at least get partial points. But the key is to practice that ability to make it through, not necessarily to know everything but to practice that ability to make it through when you don’t know everything and I think that will be the key to success. I know for sure that is what was key for me.
Lee: Oh yeah. I mean, I made up law in my bar. There was a question on my bar exam that i couldn’t – I went back to my hotel room and I couldn’t find the answer for an essay question in any of my materials, at all. So I’m sure that the thousands of people who are all sitting on that room, we all, most of us made up the law. But I’d made the most of the questions that I could, and probably didn’t get a fantastic score but I also didn’t bomb it so poorly that it pulled down my over all score. So you have to, when it all comes down to it, you just have to deliver the best answer that you can under timed conditions. So Dustin, you have a very good point that you have to do this practice under timed conditions, it’s the single best thing you can do.
You also have to do this for the MBE portion which a lot of students also hate working on, but practicing MBE questions is the best way to learn, in my opinion, to learn the nuances that they test on the MBE but to also get your own process down. I mean, nothing should feel new to you when you walk in to the bar exam. It should all be stuff that you’ve done before.
Dustin: Yeah, especially because you only need a D to pass, you can totally mess it up and struggle through and you know, fight your way through. You don’t need to have an awesome and know everything to pass. Even if you struggle through but you just make it through, all you need is that D, that 65 to pass.
Lee: Well and I think a lot of students you know, law students typically consider themselves high performers, and I think that the mental aspect of that is very tough for a lot of people. You have to be okay with the fact that it is practically impossible for you to know all the law. You need to be okay with the fact that there’s going to be a law in that test that you don’t know. And you have to be okay with the fact that you’re going to feel pretty terrible at the end of the MBE day, but that can still be good enough to pass because kind of terrible for most of us is still passing.
Dustin: Yeah, exactly. I think because no lawyer out there knows all these laws, what the bar exam grader really want to test is can you A) hold your composure? Can you make it through, can you use logical deductive reasoning based on the fact pattern to kind of see what’s wrong here, what are the laws that are necessary? I think that’s the kind of basic structure that they’re testing. If you know the rules, like to a T, like all of them then that’s a plus but, they know in real life they’re going to look up the law anyway. They’re testing can you make it through. You know, most of those points are from that analysis, not just the law and memorizing the rules.
Lee: Exactly, and if you don’t believe us, I really encourage you to go – you can go to the national conference of bar examiners website, and look up the directions and read about how they write, about what the MBE is testing, and they will tell you they are testing legal analysis. And if you go, I know for the California essays, if you go read the instruction manuals for those, you’re also going to see that they mentioned almost the first sentence is about the analysis of facts and how they apply. The facts apply to the law and the law apply to those facts, that’s what they’re most concerned about. So why, as bar studiers, do we spend most of our time and some students almost exclusively all of our time, trying to memorize massive amounts of law? When they even tell us in the materials that, that’s not what they’re the most worried about. This is minimum competency, this isn’t about being an expert in these areas in the law.
Dustin: Right, I agree. And I think also, a lot of students sometimes with the essays, they’ll just outline the essays. I think that’s good if you want to practice your issue spotting ability but you really got to go on there and do that 1 hour timed essay.
Lee: Well yeah, because the thing is the analysis is something that has to be practiced, and different jurisdictions want different levels and depths of analysis. But in California, specifically they want, I call it the highschool-math-show-your-work method. You know, back in highschool when they wouldn’t give you full credit if you didn’t show all the steps of your proof. And on the California bar exam they’re not going to give you full credit if you don’t show them your entire thought process. You can’t assume that they think you know something. And you have to go through, if you think there’s a counter argument you better write it down, even if it might be a looser. If it’s a legitimate counter argument you better write it down. They want to see this stuff, and the only way you can get good at this activity of showing your work is by writing out the full answers.
Dustin: Perfect tip. Alright, let’s do number 5.
Lee: Alright, number 5 is it’s not the hours, it’s what you do with those hours. So, so many students worry about how many hours that they study and I hate, hate, hate listening or reading about the mythology around the bar exam that you need to study 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. I mean, Dustin I’m sure you’ve read this stuff, right?
Lee: It just makes me cringe because in my opinion it’s not the hours that you study, but what you do during the hours that are really really important. So, it goes back to how much studying is enough. Well, I think that you basically need to treat the bar exam like a job especially if you’re studying fulltime. And not like a regular job but a lawyer job. So, you work 8-10 hours during the week and then maybe 6-8 hours on a Saturday, and then hopefully you get to take Sunday off. But you want to set some realistic parameters for yourself. You shouldn’t be burning the midnight oil night after night, they’re quickly become diminishing returns on the quality of the work that you’re doing, in these late night study sessions. Typically, it actually works against you because you’re not learning very quickly or you’re accuracy and your work goes down, and then you start to get more anxious, and then you don’t sleep well which only makes you more tired, which makes you more anxious, etc., etc., etc.
Dustin: Right. That’s funny, the title of this tip you gave because I’ve actually have a new book coming out, it might actually be out by the time this podcast airs, The Seven Steps To Bar Exam Success. And one of the issues I talked about on the book is that exact one. People say, “Well, how many hours a day should I spend studying?” and I say, “Well, it’s not really about the hours.”
What I say is, it’s about two things, 1) What are you doing during those hours? For example, if you’re spending 10 hours of rote memorization of Torts rules, that’s not nearly as good as taking 10 hours of practice essays. So the hours aren’t created equal, it’s really about the content of the hours that you’re working on.
And then second is the energy management during the time you’re studying. I actually think in my opinion that 8-10 hours a day might be high. If you have a bar prep class in there, and again of course it totally depends on the person. I don’t think I personally spent that much time but I think it’s really about the energy too. Like, are you exercising, are you managing your body, are you eating good food? Or are you just kind of trying to cram through this, because in the end it’s really all about retention. What information are you retaining that you’re going to take into your bar exam. And if you’re kind of forcing your way through, pushing your head against the brick wall, it’s really going to be tough for you to retain this information and not burn out.
Lee: Exactly! And I think my 8, I mean most people I would say 8, but my 8-10 hours a day does include if you’re attending a bar prep course. So that’s like a half a day of listening to lectures, and then the rest of the day being able to synthesize and practice the law. But if, you know, if you’re studying after a failure you don’t need – please, please, please do not go back to those same lectures. You’ve already done it once, you don’t need to do it again. So then, you’re just reviewing and refreshing your recollection. You shouldn’t be doing 10 hours study days, they’re not practical.
Lee: And it depends on the jurisdiction. What if your jurisdiction doesn’t have a performance test portion so you don’t have to study as much. I mean, all of these stuff is like general across the board, but you have to think about what works for you. But I can tell you, there are a lot of people that wore this idea that they were in the library until it closed every night, like a badge of honor. You know, “I’m studying until midnight and Lee, you’re leaving at 6:30, so I’m going to pass and you’re not.”
Lee: Come on! I didn’t study until midnight in law school either and I still did pretty well. So you have to be practical about this and listening to yourself and you know, if you’re not being productive and if you’re burned out, you must stop.
Dustin: Totally, totally! That’s an awesome tip. Alright, number 6.
Lee: Which directly leads to number 6 which is, I’m very very passionate about, taking breaks.
Lee: Yes! My students always love it in our first meeting when I tell them all the time they shouldn’t be studying. So I believe, and Dustin I know you’ll agree, that the bar exam is a marathon not a sprint. So since you’re studying over such a long period of time, you have to give yourself an opportunity to recover from all the work that you’re doing during the week. If you don’t take this breaks you risk anxiety, burn out, or unproductive study time which I think is almost the worst. If I’m going to be sitting there painfully studying, I better get something out of it.
So I say this from quality personal experience. When I was studying for the bar exam, I took the July bar exam, and my family came to visit over for the July 4th weekend. And I complained to my Mom that I didn’t want to study one afternoon that they were there, because I really wanted to go outside because it was finally sunny and warm in San Francisco in the summer which doesn’t happen at all often. And I wanted to drink a glass of wine, and eat some food, and sit in the sunshine. And she said, “Well, why not? Taking 4 hours away from your study schedule is not why you won’t pass the bar exam.” And I looked at her like she was crazy but then we did go out, and drink wine in the sunshine, and it was a good mental-health break. But the more I work with students in the bar exam, this is such an important thing to remember because that time away from studying is feeding your productive study time when you are studying. So, not studying on a Sunday is not going to make or break how well you’re going to do. I actually think that studying 7 days a week is likely to cause you to fail.
Dustin: I agree completely. So obviously it depends on the person, but do you, what kind of breaks do you recommend? So do you kind of recommend a day off during the week, and then what breaks throughout the day do you recommend they take?
Lee: So I do at least require pretty much all of my students to take one full day, guilt-free full day. Where they should do something other than sit at a desk and look at a computer. And then during the day, the study day, I think it really depends on the person but we have to be really practical about how we are productive as people. So I’ll tell you from personal experience, I retain information best in the morning. So I always want to do my memorization review work like right off the bat. I can have a really productive morning. And then I need to take lunch, and I need to kind of get away from my desk and do something else, and then I could come back. With the afternoon was really for me, personally, more about active studying. Doing practice, making my own study materials, I needed to really be doing something to be productive. And that, I could do kind of into the evening. But at various points through those blocks of study time, most of us, do need to get up and even take short breaks whether that be a walk outside, go walk around the building, move your body. I think, lately I’ve been reading some messages that most of us can’t really focus and do quality work for more that 60-90 minutes at a time, and so you should test that theory with yourself.
Dustin: Yeah, I think we may have read the same study. There’s a neuroscience study that said, about 60-90 minutes you should take about a 5 minute break and during that break don’t just sit at the computer and check your facebook. Get up, move your body, walk around, go have a drink of water or something. Engage the body and disengage the mind from what it is that you’re doing at that moment and do it for 5 minutes then come back. And it found that people were actually 25% more productive when they did that throughout the day.
Lee: Absolutely. And this also leads into a lot of the discussion recently, especially in the legal community, around mindfulness and meditation, and this may also play into our productivity. A lot of folks say that some sort of meditation or mindfulness practice to start your day, or at various points of the day, can help quite the mind, refocus, and you’re actually – you make up any time in productivity because of the time that you took off. So, it’s very important that you start trying to listen to yourself and learn these skills now. If you’re in law school and you’re not yet studying, this is the stuff you should be incorporating into your study day now.
Dustin: Exactly. I actually wish I knew a lot of these stuff in law school, it would have definitely helped me out.
Lee: Yes. I must confess, no one that I’ve had access to was talking about this stuff when I was in law school.
Dustin: Right! Where was Lee Burgess and Dustin Saiidi when we were in law school? What’s up with that?
Lee: Exactly! I know, if I only had me to turn to.
Dustin: Okay, great tip. So just manage the mind, body, and the emotions, and take breaks. Let’s go to tip number 7.
Lee: Alright. Tip number 7 is something that we’ve talked about a few times but, it’s ask the help if you need it. And so you know, Dustin and I already said, like we both talked to students who are studying for the bar but don’t wait until the disappointing bar results experience to ask for help.
There are many many people in your law school and around you in your community who want to help you. And so, you know, this goes for lots of different things in your life, not just the bar exam piece. If you’re struggling with the test, if you don’t feel like your prep is working for you, if you’re struggling with anxiety, if all of these stuff is building up, you need to ask for help in the bar community. But if you have others in your life that are building and causing stress, you should also ask for help. Because this is a period of time when your friends and family who love you want to help you.
Dustin: Right. And I can’t tell you how nice it is, sometimes during the bar exam prep, just to have someone to say “I belive in you.” or “Everything’s going to be alright.” Just a few simple words that someone can say can mean the world of difference. I know it did for me when I was preparing, and I would get a text message from a friend telling me that “Hey, you got this. No one messes with your success.” And I remember that it’s just a silly little text message but it goes a long way in helping during a very challenging time, I think.
Lee: It does, as do, connecting with people who aren’t studying. So it is important to also talk to people who are not in your bar exam bubble because they’re still connected to the real world and can help you keep some perspective which I think is also important and that can help. Just realizing that there is a world going on outside of what you’re doing. And that can also keep you in check but also, you know, help your confidence and will.
Say, I’ve wonderfully supportive husband who is not my husband at the time when I was taking the exam, he was just my boyfriend and he still married me which was always good. But I will say, I would come home and have a really bad day because this is – the bar can be an emotional rollercoaster for most of us. And he just looked at me, and he’s not a lawyer, he just kind of like look at me and say, “So what happened between this morning and right now? Because this morning you felt like you were doing okay, and you’re smart enough and you can do this so, something has happened. What has happened, between then and now?”
And having someone outside of your bubble who can just, kind of be a mirror for you and help you kind of keep your own emotions in check but also tell you, “Yeah, you’re fine. You’re doing what you need to be doing. Let’s go have dinner and relax because you’re done with your study day.” can be really important.
Dustin: Yeah, I totally agree. I actually took a couple of Community College classes during my bar prep. I took on acting and a singing class just to get away, just to be outside of the bar exam environment. So I was doing something that was creative, that was fun. I was interacting with different people who actually had smiles on their face, kind of bring up my energy a little bit. So yeah, I totally think connecting with the outside world and making sure that’s a positive connection with the outside world too. Going to the bars, you know, it might be good but it is also not the most positive or supportive environment. So finding people that are going to support you and that are positive, outside the bar, I think helps a lot.
Lee: Yeah. And those are the people who you get to celebrate with you when you pass. I mean, in my celebration dinner, it was my family, but it was also the friends that had gone hiking with me on my days off so I can get some Vitamin D, and would bring me cookies or would leave me those text messages like you were talking about. I mean, those people want you to succeed and they’re going to be there to celebrate with you after facts because this is one of those situation where it kind of takes a village to get yourself through it.
Dustin: Right, so yeah. Definitely to the listeners, reach out to family and friends, have a support group, reach out to Lee, myself or any of the other people in the bar exam space. They’ll be more than happy to help you out.
I did this, you probably did too, I have an email list where I send a lot of tips and advice and kind of motivational stuff. Like throughout the week, once a week, or something like that. Just to kind of help people in different area, people generally, tend to like that a lot.
Lee: Yeah, we also have a newsletter in the BarExamToolbox that I send weekly post throughout the bar, and then maybe every couple of weeks between bar seasons. Just happy little reminds of thing you should still be thinking about.
Dustin: Right. So sign-up for Lee’s and sign-up for my email list as well.
Lee: It’s a good positive break in your studying.
Dustin: It is, exactly.
Lee: Okay so, what are we on, number 8?
Dustin: We’re on number 8.
Lee: Number 8, alright. So, this is something that I don’t think is talked about enough in the bar community, but you need to keep in mind who grades your exam and how it’s going to be graded. So this is specifically going to the written portions of the test and not so much to the MBE because, here’s a big shocker, that’s graded by a scan drawing machine.
So I believe that the bar exam should be thought of as a big interview. So, bar graders in many jurisdiction are practicing lawyers who grade bar essays either in the evenings or on weekends, or they may do this as one of their jobs, they may serve in a community of bar graders, but they’re going to essays quickly and making determinations about whether or not you’re ready to join their club and practice law. So this means that you need to think about the person who’s going to be reading it. And you know, it’s interesting when all of us interviewed for jobs, everybody does research in to try and find out who’s going to come talk to you. Who are you meeting with? You go look up their profile online, you try and think of things that you would be able to say that would be of interest to them. We do all of these background research, but not a lot of people think about who’s reading their essays. So in California, bar graders are practicing lawyers. They cannot be associated with a law school or any sort of bar prep company, and they grade incredibly quickly. They grade in 2-3 minute blocks per essay. So in California the essays are an hour long, so probably average essay length is 5-6 pages, double spaced.
If no one’s ever tried to read 5-6 page essay in 2 minutes, go ahead and give it a try. Because you can really find out that they can’t read every word. So you have to write for a person who is skimming your essay. And I think a lot of jurisdictions, and a lot of people I’ve talked to that have expertise in grading another jurisdictions, this is something that is fairly common that the grading process is done very quickly. And that means that you have to write knowing that the grading is happening very quickly
I think this also really plays to another thing that law students seem to be moving away from and maybe this is because of email and texting and all these many things that we all do all the time, but you have to present yourself with professionalism. I mentioned that the bar exam is an interview, your essays needs to be dressed up in a suit. If it is a mess, if it doesn’t have headers, if it is riddled with typos – typos are fine but riddled, so you can’t read it. And I’ve seen stuff like these, I’ve seen them riddled with typos. I’ve had a student turn in practice essays to me without capital letters starting all of the sentences. You know, you can’t do stuff like this. These are professionals, these are lawyers who are judging you of whether or not you’re ready to join their club. And you need to be writing to them just like you will be writing to a boss or to the court.
Dustin: Right. And I think it’s, one keyword you mentioned in there is headers. I really think people coming into the bar don’t realize the importance of this, of exactly what you just said. That when that bar grader opens that book or opens your essay, they’re going to – and read this online at a blog once, from a former bar grader who said this happens to bar graders. They will automatically glance at your essay and they’ll ge a, from Malcom Gladwell’s book called Blink, they’ll get a first impression right away from your essay based on how it looks. So, are there clean cut headers? Is there a lot of white space or is it just one long googly gap of rules and essay, and stuff like that? And I think because people are so honed in and focused on, “Oh, I got to memorize these rules or I got to do this.” they forget sometimes, “Hey, I need to have clean clear headings. I need to make sure I’m putting paragraph spaces between each of my issues. I need to make sure this thing looks clean, like I’m walking into that job interview, I have a suit on not dressed up in sweats.”
Dustin: It might be the most brilliant essay but if you’re walking in there “dressed up in sweats”, you’re not going to get the job.
Lee: 100% and one of the things that I think students can do to really bring this home, is get your hands on some student answers for your jurisdiction and time yourself. Learn how fast the graders read, if they publish that information. Or if they don’t, just assume they read them really quickly. And try and see what you can read in that amount of time because you have to write for the graders. I mean, these are the rules of the game. You got 2 to 3 minutes to convince that person, that licensed attorney in California who may actually be quite a bit senior to you, that you’re ready to work for him, basically.
And so if your work is disorganized and sloppy, and not easy to scam and not easy to read, you’re going to make his job as a grader harder. And if you make their job harder, your grade immediately goes down.
Dustin: Alright, because they’re not going to go around and see where’s this rule, where’s this issue. Even on the podcast, I actually interviewed BarEssays, the founder Gil. And he said that same thing. He would see essays that had everything correct in there but because it was one long paragraph, they did not pass. So that’s a very key point, I hope the listeners take that to heart.
Lee: And one thing, if you don’t know how your jurisdiction grades, you should ask. Like, ask your bar review provider, ask your law school, do some online research. Often times, the state bar publish information about that but you can educate yourself on this stuff. There are a lot of resources out there. You’re paying your bar provider a lot of money, you should ask them a question and they should get back to you on the answer.
Dustin: Yeah totally. So homework on that one. Go read a sample essay, either model essay or just the sample essay in 3 minutes. Set the timer, 3 minutes, see how long it takes you to read it and you’ll an idea what the graders are going through when they’re grading your essay.
Lee: Except they’re doing a whole stack.
Dustin: That’s true. At 10:00 at night after a long day in the office.
Dustin: Alright, let’s do tip number 9.
Lee: Alright! Tip number 9 is really about what you can do right before your bar prep period, so this isn’t so much for the folks that are studying right now. But you need to get your life in order and remove distractions, so nothing can sabotage your bar studying, like life getting in the way. Sometimes life is going to get in the way. In fact, I just post a blog post about this last week, you can do what you can to prevent life getting in the way. So this means, you need to have your living situation figured out, so you have a good stable living situation. You need to figure out your finances, I know finances are a really big stressor for a lot of folks while they’re studying for the bar exam, but you need to figure that stuff out early if you can because you don’t want to be worrying about money. You need to set expectations with your loved ones and your family about what you can and can’t do during the bar prep time. But you just need to think through the whole process, so you don’t have life sneaking up on you unless it’s an emergency, and if it’s an emergency you’ll deal with it.
Dustin: Right. Because you want to get all the outside clutter that could come in, get that all handled and situated so you can just focus, make bar exam your primary focus.
Lee: Yeah. So although you may, situations vary between different people, but if a student ask me, “Should I job hunt while I’m studying for the bar exam?” My answer’s typically, “No.”
“Should I move?” – “No.”
“Should I take a vacation with my family?” – “Maybe for a day or so but probably not.” I mean you have to think through this period and realize you’re investing in a good prep period so you can get pass this test and never have to deal with it again.
Dustin: I agree. And actually, one thing that I think people should do too is actually set a post bar trip, if they can at that time, as well. So if you’re going to Hawaii or somewhere more fun after your bar exam, that’s going to give you that kind of extra boost, that extra energy during the bar exam because you have that to look forward too as well.
Lee: So true. And you know I’ve actually, we’ve talked about it on the blog a bit, how to help significant others survive living or being with a bar studier. And one of my tips is encourage them to plan that bar trip, so that your significant others,or your friends or your family, who may feel slightly neglected during this time they can say “In the end, we’ll be okay because we’ll be on a beach in Hawaii.”
Dustin: I like that! What’s better motivation than that for getting through bar exam?
Lee: Exactly! So Dustin, where did you go on your bar trip?
Dustin: I actually went to South Beach in Florida.
Dustin: Yeah! How about you?
Lee: I actually went abroad on a family trip, and we went to Asia for the first time which was pretty incredible.
Dustin: That is awesome! So I hope the listeners take that advice and really plan that trip because that’s more motivating, at least immediately, than passing, I think in some ways.
Lee: Sometimes. And you can just, I can honestly say, I don’t really remember packing for my bar trip but I enjoyed it once I got there.
Dustin: Alright. You just kind of end up showing up there after your bar exam, you just showed up and you’re not really sure what went on.
Lee: Yeah, I think I just threw a bunch of stuff in a suitcase and figured it’ll all workout in some point.
Dustin: Yes, exactly. Alright, tip number 10, the final tip.
Lee: Alright. The final tip is something we’ve kind of touched on throughout this whole process but, you know, you need to check in with yourself on a regular basis. And I think most attorneys will tell you that the bar exam was one of the most challenging academic experiences that they have been through, and it was for me. It’s stressful and we put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to pass, but we need to come up with coping mechanisms. So you need to continue and check in with yourself on a regular basis to see how you’re doing. So, if you are struggling with anxiety, the point that you can’t sleep at night, you need to go talk to someone and get some help. If you have given up all the things that you enjoy that are good for you, like doing yoga or going for walks or eating healthy food or cooking with your family, that’s not good for you.
I think Dustin, you were talking about, you need to get out and talk to people who are smiling and outside of the bar world. And you also need to be very conscious about whether or not you’re doing things to self-sabotage your studying. Folks, you can have self-defeating prophecies. You know, if you start saying, “I can’t do this. I can’t do that. I have to study the law. I can’t spend all my time practicing. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” This is really self-sabotaging behavior that’s going to lead you down a negative road. So you need to check-in with yourself and come up with a plan to do this.
So some of my students actually enjoy doing some sort of journaling throughout the process to kind of check-in with themselves that way. Or if you are into meditation, you can kind of meditate on this question, check-in with yourself on a daily basis but you don’t want to succumb to this idea that you’re just supposed to be horribly miserable for the bar prep period. You’ll make it through and you’re just dragging yourself across the finish line. That’s not the goal.
You actually have to be in good mental and physical shape to live through the test, especially in California with its 3-day test. It is very physically exhausting. And if you are not in good shape, like if you are not used to studying day after day, if you’re not used to coping with exhaustion and anxiety at night, if you’re not used to eating good food to fuel your body, if you’re not exercising on a regular basis; that’s going to catch up with you during the testing period.
Dustin: Right. I completely agree. A couple of things on that, 1) I like to tell people to don’t focus on just passing the bar exam, focus on doing a great job. Doing as great of a job as you can. And I think if you take away that attachment to the outcome of, “Oh I’m going to pass or I’m not going to pass.” You’re not indirect control of whether you’re going to pass, but you’re in full control of your own greatness when you approach the bar exam.
So when you kind of let go of that attachment of, “Will I pass or not pass?” I think you can focus on your greatness and you can actually do a better job because you won’t have that negative anxiety as much, creeping up in your mind. I think what you’re getting at to is the self talk that’s very important for the students.
And I love that journaling idea. I had to recommend that. They can spend 5-10 minutes a day at a minimum and just write down their thoughts, write down what’s going through their minds. Just clear that negative energy out of their mind as well. And I think the meditation is also a very good practice.
I actually have an affirmation mp3 and a guided visualization mp3 that I have on the website, that helps students deal with those negative emotions and also visualize themselves going to the bar exam prep in a calm and collected manner and doing very well during the bar exam test week and passing the results. So, getting that kind of cemented on their mind so they’re more getting in flow with the bar exam process, rather than to force themselves through and tire themselves out throughout the end.
Lee: And this is another area where, true, if you’re struggling you need to ask for help. I mean, one of the things I spend a lot of time with my 1-on-1 students, just talking about what’s going on with them in relation to this test. And I talk to my students, most of them, on a weekly basis. Some of them in person, I have students all over the country, as well. But you start to get to know somebody, and I can tell if something is going on. I can stop the dialogue and be like, “So something – there is something else. Let’s try to pull this a part.”
And sometimes we’ll discover that something is causing a block in their work that may be related to the test, it may not be. But having someone who’s just worrying about you, other than yourself, can be helpful. So if you’re struggling, find someone that you can have a dialogue with about what’s going on because I love using self-reflection as a way of checking-in, but sometimes you have to check-in with another person because we do lie to ourselves sometimes.
Dustin: Yeah, very true. And just having someone there to listen to you, you can get off your chest whatever you need to get off your chest or just to provide some positive words of motivation or encouragement, again, I think can mean the world during a challenging time like the bar exam.
Lee: So I think those are my 10 tips!
Dustin: Good job! Thank you so much! I think that was fantastic. So you also, you’ve mentioned your tutoring services, if someone would want to get in touch with you in terms of you being a tutor, how can they get a hold of you?
Lee: Email’s always the best way to reach me, and you can email me email@example.com, pretty easy. And I’m happy to talk to you about my tutoring services or if you have other questions about different providers or experiences or my thoughts on different providers, I’m always happy to chat with students about that. For students who are outside of California, we do have advice across the country on our blog TheBarExamToolbox. And if you’re still in law school, you should our LawSchoolToolbox website where we have a lot of free content, we have a membership website that can help you work on your writing skills, of how to be a better law student. And then we also, Allison Moneham and I, also tutor 1-on-1 for law students to help them work on these skills. I just have to say, these are not new skills that you need to pass the bar exam, this are the skills that would have served you well throughout law school. So if you are struggling and you are a law student, and you are listening to this podcast because you are worried about the upcoming bar exam, get help now and it’s only going to make your life easier and it’s going to make you a better lawyer as well, in my opinion.
Dustin: Awesome! And we do have the bar exam week coming up, any kind of final word for the bar exam week?
Lee: You definitely want to plan ahead. So if you haven’t set-up where you’re going stay, where you’re going to eat. I’m very passionate about food, and I think it’s important to make very smart decisions about what to eat. Oh my gosh, don’t eat french fries for lunch, someone told me they did that once, and then they had this huge sugar crash in the afternoon and they couldn’t figure out why. You need to plan your food and you also need to figure out where you’re going to go to get out of the madness. You know, you need to be very smart about not getting stuck in to the energy of the space. You shouldn’t talk to people about the questions, you shouldn’t listen to everyone debrief all of the questions and answers, it’s just not productive. It’s over, it’s time to move on. And at night, you should not be cramming, you should be resting and getting your energy together for the next day. Nothing you’re going to learn the night between the exam day and the exam days is going to make any difference in how you’re going to pass.
Dustin: Awesome, very good tip! So go ahead and get over to BarExamToolbox, sign-up for Lee’s list serve, and then also email her any questions you have. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org, correct?
Dustin: Okay, perfect! Well thank you very much for coming on to the podcast and we’d like to have you again in the future at some point.
Lee: Yes! I will come up with another list of tips!
Dustin: That would be great!
Lee: Alright, thanks Dustin! And to everybody out there, I wish you the best of luck, you can do this! It’s about being smart, about how you study, but I believe that if you successfully made it through law school, you can successfully pass the bar exam.
Dustin: Absolutely! Thanks again, take care!
Lee: Take care!