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5 Bar Exam Tips for Early Bar Prep with Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher Podcast (Episode 019)

by Dustin on

This week’s episode features Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher giving her tips on early bar exam prep.  You can check out her Amazon best-selling books here.  Check out Mary’s essay tips here.

5) Get rid of the kids

4) Clear your Space

3) Get your Money in Order

2) Get your support team to support you

1) Be ready for the emotional ride

Click here for tips on the MPT.

Mistakes to avoid on the Essays

5) Don’t rush through the facts and call of the question

4) Explain your reasoning

3) Only issue spotting instead of solving the problem

2) Only just reciting the facts

1) Losing track of time

Click here to check out her Bar Write Course.

Here is a full transcript of this interview:

Intro: You’re listening to the podcast. Helping you pass your bar exam with ease and confidence; episode number 19.

Dustin:  Greetings, future bar exam passers! My name is Dustin Saiidi, founder of and author of the number one Amazon bestseller The 7 Steps to Bar Exam Success, and today I’m going to be talking with Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher, who is a long time tutor for the bar exam. She is also the author of two very highly rated books on Amazon, Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays and Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test. She’s going to come on today and share her 5 tips for early bar prep and then stay tuned because she will also share 5 bonus tips on the bar exam essays. So without further adieu, let’s get talking to Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher.

Alright, welcome and we are here with Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher, who’s going to come on today to share her 5 tips for early bar prep and her 5 bonus tips for the bar essays. How are you doing Mary?

Mary: I’m doing very well, thank you very much Dustin, delightful to be here.

Dustin: Yeah, delightful to have you on, and I’m excited to hear what you have to share today.

Mary: Well, I knew that a lot of people are wanting to prepare early for the bar exam, whether because they are working or because they have had a bad experience in the past and they want to make sure that the next time they take the bar exam is the last time; or for some other reason. In any event, many people ask me, “How do I start early?” And my approach is to say that even before you start studying, you have to start earlier than that. There are 5 things you have to get really straight before you start preparing for the bar exam. You shouldn’t lift a contract book or an MBE sample question until you have these things out of the way.

Dustin: Awesome! I’m excited to hear that and I must say that your books on Amazon have very very good reviews so if people want some help on that area, I definitely recommend. And you’re going to share some tips with us today.

Mary: Absolutely! The MPT book at the moment, you know, God knows somebody could come along and give it dreadful reviews tomorrow but at the moment it has 18 5-star reviews and 2 1-star reviews and one of those guys says he didn’t read the book. So, it’s – the people who read the book liked it. In any event, what would you like to know Dustin?

Dustin: So, you’re going to share with us, to start off, your 5 tips for early bar prep. So I guess one of the 5 things that students can do to start preparing early for the Bar?

Mary: Okay, one of them is that they can send their children away. Send your children away! It’s not cruelty, it’s the best thing you can do for them and for you. You don’t want to have distractions. And saying send your children away is short hand for saying get rid of the distractions in your life. If you walk the dog, hire a dog walker. If you cook, talk your spouse into cooking or sign-up for a service that will deliver the food everyday. But with the children, you know, they’re the biggest distraction. So, you can send them to the grandparents. Grandparents love taking care of little children. One of my students sent her 15 month old baby to China, and her parents took care of it. She came to New York, she visited the baby on Skype every week. She passed the bar exam, and it worked. Those children will be so proud of you when you pass the bar exam, but you can’t do everything at the same time. You have to have undistracted, focused time if you are going to pass the bar exam.

Dustin: What if your child is called Facebook, and you can’t just send them away. What do you do then?

Mary: But you can. Facebook is a very demanding child. It’s constantly pulling at your clothes and screaming in to your ear. I understand that. And there’s a great program called Freedom that you can buy for $10 that – yeah Freedom, that’s what it’s called. You can buy it for $10, works on either the Mac or a the PC. You put in to it how many minutes of freedom from the internet you want, and it will turn off the internet for that period of time. Go for it! You cannot be doing email or anything else on the internet, and studying for the bar exam no matter how much you tell yourself you have to do a search at the same time. You don’t! Get away from the electronic gizmos and focus on preparing for the bar if you want to pass. If you don’t, get it on and do Facebook. But if you want to pass, turn off the internet.

Dustin: I like that and I agree. I think the focus block time is key, and I think if students are going to take a break, I think, set a timer for that break and just focus on the break. But when you’re studying, focus on the study.

Mary: And when you take that break, run around the block. Don’t go on the internet.

Dustin: I like that too. Cool, I like it! So send the children away, what is the second thing to do?

Mary: Okay, second thing is, clear out a dedicated study space. You cannot share your space with a dog, with the laundry, with your bicycle, with a drying machine. You have to have a place where your desk is clear, where your book shelves are clear, where you can have your studying materials all set-up in front of you; and it’s going to stay that way. If it’s something that other people are using, it’s not going to work. It has to be dedicated for your preparation for the bar. It has to be clean. It has to be organized. If it’s junk right now, clear it out so that when your bar study begins, you are working on a clean surface.

Dustin: I like that as well because that is, I think, that has a lot to do with psychology and mind set too. If your space is really cluttered, I think it just increases the overwhelm and anxiety. But if you have a nice clean space it is easy to study in. I think that it’s a hidden thing but very important for students to do.

Mary: No television, no internet, no telephone, no email, no nothing like that. And so you just have to tell people you’re not available for two months. You love them, and they will love you even more when you are a member of the bar.

Dustin: That’s true, and you can celebrate with them when you pass. Uhm, cool! What’s tip number 3?

Mary: Number 3, get your money in order. If you are – if you’re serious about passing the bar exam, you have looked in to this and you know that failing the bar exam is a financial catastrophe. But preparing for the bar exam is also expensive and you can’t study effectively if you are worried about making car payments in California or paying the rent in New York. You also can’t prepare well if  you are looking for the cheapest fix, and know where your money will come from for the entire period. And if you have to ask for help or get a loan, do it early.

Dustin: That’s great! And how do you recommend students handle that if you know, they have been taking the bar for a second or third time where maybe they’re not getting that student loan that’s kind of carrying them over. What should they do? They’re not working, probably because they don’t have jobs; what should they do in that situation?

Mary: It depends upon the facts, and the facts  are all different. I always ask people in detail about they’re factful situation. But people who are taking it for the manyth time may want to put off taking the bar for a year until they can really focus on it because there is nothing worse than taking it every 6 months and never seeing your children. It’s one thing to send them away, it’s another thing for them not to know what you look like.

Dustin: Yeah, that’s true. Okay, cool! So get your money in order. What is tip number 4?

Mary: Tip number 4, if you are working, get 2 months off and this is another reason why you may need to put off the bar for a year. Take 2 months off. If you’re a first time taker with a job, you need at least 8 weeks away from your office, preferably 10. And watch out, watch out, because senior lawyers have what Freud calls traumatic elation. They forget that the bar exam was hard, they think it’s easy. And they will, you know, bosses will say “Oh, study for the bar! We’re so delighted you’re going to study for the bar exam. Use your office, just work in the morning, you can use your office for the rest or the day.” Or, “Work at home during Monday to Thursday, come in on Friday.” They say things like that because they don’t remember how hard it is. And I say, don’t fall for it, those are traps. If you have a job, you are thinking at some level about your job all the time. People who are self employed are the worst, they really have their business on their mind all the time. So you have to get your mind clear. Get away from the job 2 months minimum.

If you are 10 points away out of 665 in New York, obviously we have a little wiggle room. But the technical person who is taking the exam for many many times is not 10 points away.

Dustin: Right, so it seems to be going along with the theme here making the bar exam your primary focus.

Mary: The bar exams has to be your only focus. You have to eat and sleep but the bar exam has to be it. And if you are not dedicated to passing the bar exam, you won’t.

Dustin: Right. How would you say, kind of going along with taking that time off. How many hours a day, I know it’s kind of, again, fact specific. But how many hours do you recommend, generally speaking, that people study?

Mary: At least 8 and not more than 10. You need to take a little time off everyday. Play with your dog, you know, run around the block. You need to take exercise everyday because the bar exam is a physical challenge so you need to be in shape for it. You also need to take it so seriously that your spending a little bit of time.

Dustin: Awesome. Alright, tip number 5.

Mary: Number 5, this is a really tough one, and that is to persuade your family and friends to be on your team and support you. They will think you’re crazy. Okay, I know you’re crazy because you’re cutting them off. You’re cutting off the telephone, the email, you’re not able – you have to tell them. “I’m sorry, I cannot go to Uncle Ben’s for Sunday dinner. I would love to but I can’t. Please tell him I love him. I can’t be there. I’m studying for the bar exam.” And they won’t know what that means. They will think you are an exempted. You have to tell them, “Look, this is really outside of ordinary experience. There is nothing else like this but when it’s over and I pass the exam, I’ll be a lawyer. And you will come to my swearing-in, and you will be so proud of me. So please support me. It’s really hard for me and I need help. Please help me.” People like to help other people, so ask your family and your friends for their help. And explain that you need help because you can’t do all those others things that you would love to do with them, and that when you’re done and they’ve helped you, they will be happy too.

Dustin: Awesome! So really these 5 things all about getting your life in order before the bar. Sending the children away which means getting rid of distractions, having a dedicated study space, getting your money and finances in order, making sure you have 2 months off, and then also getting your family and friends to support you and not necessarily distract you.

Mary: That’s absolutely right! And you have to be prepared as well, there’s something internal that’s a little hard to talk about and that is, you have to get ready for the emotional ride that you will go through highs and lows, often in the same day. Sports psychologist talk about clutching and tanking. Clutching says, “Oh my God, I should have never gone to law school, I should have been a dentist, I should have married Harry, I should have gone in to the family business.” And tanking says, “This is really easy. I can take the evening off, I can go surfing, I can go to the movies, I don’t need to worry about this stuff. And often times those two types of wacky thoughts will come at you on the same day. You have to expect it and just say the damn, “Thank you for sharing.”

Dustin: Right. How do you recommend people deal with the emotions? Like, I recommend people do meditation, visualization, utilized affirmations to kind of like program their mind and calm their emotions. What do you recommend?

Mary: Meditation is great. Weekly full body massage, if they can afford it, is great. Exercise is extremely important, and it does calm the emotions. So between meditation, massage, exercise. And if they need therapy they get that as well. If there are therapist out there who do more than write prescriptions anymore. Yes, all of those things. And it’s also good to have one safe person that you can talk to for 5 minutes a day. This is somebody who’s not going to tell you you’re crazy for spending all your time. This is someone who’s going to tell you “you’re terrific”, and “go for it”, “you’re doing the right thing”, and “we believe in you”. If you can talk to that person 5 minutes a day, I think it will help too.

Dustin: Yeah, definitely. I think it was Tom Brady who said that, “One’s performance on the football field is the direct corelation of their ability to manage their emotions on their home turf and their personal life.” I think it’s the same with the bar exam. How you can perform in the bar, and even as a lawyer, has a lot to do with how you are able to manage your emotions in personal life at home.

So, cool. Thank you for those 6 tips, Mary. Now, I understand you have some 5 bonus tips for us.

Mary: Sure, 5 bonus tips are mistakes to avoid in the essays and that includes the practice essays, which you will do maybe once or twice a week before the bar exam. Tip number 1 on the essays is, rather, mistake number one in the essays is rushing through reading the interrogatories and the facts. People get so anxious to write more and more and more that they don’t figure out what’s actually in front of them to do. what’s the problem? If you don’t know what the problem is, anything that you could write is likely to be wrong. So you have to solve the problem the bar examiners ask you to solve, and only the precise problem that’s in front of you. If you’re not answering their question, how can you possibly hope for a good score? And if you don’t understand the facts, how can you solve the problem? So, really careful reading 2-3 times is key.

Dustin: Awesome! Read through 2-3 times make sure you get all the facts and don’t rush.

Mary: That’s right. And the interrogatories are really key because they tell you what the bar examiners want to know about these facts. So I say, visualize the story, see it in your imagination, think about the questions that might ask these people, understand the facts and 3/4 of the way because facts are all we have. You have to know law but, if you don’t understand the facts you can’t be a lawyer.

Dustin: Right, awesome! What’s mistake number 2?

Mary: Mistake number two is stating conclusions without showing your reasoning. The bar examiners, I’m sorry, are not really very interested in your conclusions. Strange as it may seem, you don’t get credit for ‘therefore.’ And knowing the right answers earns you nothing. So it’s a terrible mistake to jump in to conclusions without the argument. The grader wants to know what sort of analysis you did to reach your conclusion. So your reasoning is the main thing that counts. It’s like what your grade school teacher said, you have to show your work. Not presenting an argument is a mistake that will knock your essays out of the game.

Dustin: Going along the lines with that, I feel like, at least I did, at least start it off and some people they maybe do too much analysis or show too much work. Is there such thing as you’re doing too much, you’re writing too much versus too little?

Mary: There’s plenty about writing too much but very often they’re not doing analysis, they’re repeating the facts. You don’t want to be sitting there telling the story. They already know that because it’s on the fact pattern

Dustin: Right. If you can give an example; how much is too much, how much is too little. Where is the kind of the juicy spot in the middle?

Mary: Well in Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays, I show that almost every bar exam in the country can be divided in to two parts. Doing – excuse me let me start over again, writing almost every bar exam essay in the country can be analyzed as one part is reading and outlining, and one part is writing. A third of a time is reading and outlining, and two-thirds is writing. So in New York, a third of a time is 15 minutes and 30 minutes is for writing. In California, a third of a time is 20 minutes and 40 minutes is for writing. Then inside, as I show in Scoring High in Bar Exam Essays, inside the writing time you will be writing paragraphs. In California you might write 7 paragraphs. In New York you might write 5. And so you divide that time by the number of paragraphs you’re going to write. Then within each paragraph most of your time goes in to handling the law, and explaining the law, and a much smaller amount goes in to analysis, and virtually none goes in to therefore. Therefore can be 6 or 7 words long.  So to answer your question, rather a round about way, the bulk of your product is the law and it’s direct application to the facts, then you have a much smaller part for analysis and a tiny part for therefore.

Dustin: Awesome! What is mistake number 3?

Mary: Mistake number 3 is doing an issue spotting demonstration. Like you know, law review candidate in law school, instead of trying to solve the clients problem. If the client’s problem is that the map was not correct, he lost his way and his wife died freezing in the desert and it’s not going to help to say that there might be a First Amendment issue about that map if it was a government map. That’s really off. It’s really off, it’s off the wall. So what might count as brilliant issue spotting in your 1st year at a top law school, where you’re competing for the law review spot; is going to count as lunatic, off the wall, blabber if you’re doing an exam where you are supposed to be helping a client solve their problem. This is not a Supreme Court question. This is not a law school exam. This is a try-out for a license to practice law so stay away from crazy issue spotting. Spot the basic issues. Especially in California, California is much more in issue spotting that New York is. Spot the basic issues, do the basic analysis, and make everything you do well organized and you’ll be in the right place.

Dustin: I like it! What is mistake number 4?

Mary: Mistake number 4 is the opposite. It is just reciting the facts. Telling the story. This is the sure way to make the grader angry with you. Not a good thing to do because the grader already knows the facts. They are in the fact pattern. You and the grader both have the fact pattern. You don’t want to tell him again that John went to the store and the guard hit him in the jaw; he knows that. He only wants to hear about it if it’s somehow legally relevant. So you don’t just re-tell the story. You stay in the law, you apply the law to the facts, and that’s your job here. It’s a licensing exam. Do a good job for the client, and you’ll do a good job for yourself.

Dustin: Awesome, and number 5?

Mary: Number 5 is a clincher. It is, you won’t believe this, losing track of time. You can have a lot to say about every question and no one cares. Practitioners do not solve clients problems by rattling on and on. If you don’t finish the essay, how can you get a good score? It’s impossible! So divide your time by the number of essays and put that down in a sheet of paper saying, “This time I’m going to finish essay number 1 and this time going to finish number 2 at this time”, Put down what time you started and finishing each essay. Put down, if possible, what time you’re doing the outlining for each essay. Divide each essay by the amount of time for each section. Write that down and then get straight to the point. Get in and get it out. Not managing your time in a bar exam essay is a mistake that will also be a mistake in law practice. If you are an associate, partners don’t want you rambling on. So this is extremely important for your practice, for your future. Learn how to manage the time because mistake number 5, losing track of time, has knocked many people out of the bar exam. It’s a really fatal mistake.

Dustin: Yeah, I’ve heard actually people they get sometimes an 80, a score of 80 on the first essay but, they write so much and then by the time they get to the third essay they’ve hardly written anything and they end up failing the third essay miserably and failing the bar as a result.

Mary: It’s a sure way to do it.

Dustin: Awesome! Great, great tips! So the 5 essay mistakes that people make is rushing through the facts and interrogatives and not reading them carefully enough, stating conclusions without the proper reasoning, just doing issue spotting demonstration without really spotting the relevant issues and going in to those, reciting the facts too much was number 4 rather than doing proper analysis, and number 5 is not managing time.

Mary: Yup, those are it! Those are the 5 worst mistakes.

Dustin: Cool! Well, thank you so much. You talked a little bit about your books, you also have a tutoring company.

Mary: No, we don’t do tutoring very much. We do a little bit but, we do large classes, that’s what we really do. We give a large group classes for people here in New York City, who come to us and people who come from very far away to take the classes. People come from very far away to take the MPT class which is, if I do say so, terrific. And so we have a ten day class just on weekend so still they’re only for people in New York and that is largely for re-takers or for foreign-trained lawyers who need extra support. For the New York bar exam, it’s only for the New York bar exam. Then we also have twice in each period, we have 4 days of boot-camp, I call it. In January – once in January, once in February, once in June, once in July. We have this 4 day boot-camp. The first day is for MPT. People come from far away to take that. And the other 3 days are the New York essays. In addition, I give the 4 day boot-camp in Houston. So, starting May 15, I’m going to be giving May 15, 2014. I’m going to be giving the 4 day boot-camp in Houston, TX as well. So we have the 10 day, and we have these 4 day classes. The essays in those classes are all for New York. The MPT part is clearly for the 35, or so, jurisdictions where they use the MPT. Plus, anybody who uses another performance test. I’ve had people take the class and pass the Pennsylvania performance test and good job there. And I’m told by experts on the California bar that my MPT systems also work very well for the California performance test.

Dustin: That’s awesome! Any chance you might move those online so people, maybe in California, can watch them online?

Mary: The problem with that is it’s extremely interactive and there are also long pauses while people write. It’s not exactly dramatic television. Everybody tells me that, that would be great and a lot of people who’s been at it have asked for it. But I don’t know how to do it and get the same results. But I’m thinking about it all the time. I would love to do it if it can be done and be fair for the students. I don’t want to mislead people and tell them they’d get the same thing they would if they’re in New York, and not have it work for them.

Dustin: Right, very true. How much is the price for the 10 day and then the 4 day?

Mary: I’m sorry, what?

Dustin: How much does it cost for the 10 day and the 4 day?

Mary: Oh for the tuition. Okay. Well, it depends upon when you register. If somebody registers very early for the 10 day or the 4 day. The 10 day they might pay $1,300 or $1,400. If they register very early for the 4 day then they might pay $400. And we’re always looking at those tuition charges so people should go to the website which is Not this week because this week we’re busy but, next week we’ll have the new tuition up for the June and July classes. And they can see exactly what the tuition would be right now. And the earlier they register, clearly, the better.

Dustin: Awesome, and I will also post the links to those on the blog as well.

Mary: That would be great! Thank you, Dustin.

Dustin: Cool! Well, thank you, Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher. I really appreciate the tips that you gave today and I’m sure the listeners do as well.

Mary: Great. Great to be here.

Dustin: So yeah, maybe we’ll have you come on and talk about the MPT in the future. How does that sound?

Mary: I would love to do that. It’s my favorite.

Dustin: Okay, cool! Well, thanks again and we will have you on next time.

Mary: Great!

Dustin: Alright, you heard it hear first. That was Dr. Mary Campbell Gallagher. To go ahead and view her website head on over to and it will send you right over to her website. Also, be sure to check-out the blog post to get links to her books on Amazon.

Alright go out there and get it this week. Go work hard. Go crush it. Go do well. And always remember that in time, your name appears on the pass list.

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