Which Bar Exam Prep Program Should I Take?

The aged-old question of ‘which bar exam program should I take?’ has always had the same answer, until perhaps recently.  In this article, we analyze some of the best options you can take to help you with your bar exam success.

Here’s a quick chart that basically summarizes the rest of the article.  If you want a full depth analysis, carry on!

WhichBarPrep
There are six main bar prep program options you may want to consider:

  1. Barbri
  2. Themis
  3. BarMax
  4. Kaplan
  5. Private tutor
  6. On My Own

Here is a list of factors you may also want to consider.  We put these in a ranking list of what we would prioritize as most important and a quick reason why.  Your priorities may be different, and feel free to re-prioritize as you see fit.

1)      Pass rate of the bar exam prep program

Let’s go one and done!  Not having to redo another two months of intense study is enough incentive for me to pass.  Dependability and results of the program are our most important requirement.

2)      Cost/Value

I don’t want to retake the exam again, but I also don’t want to give up eating for a month to pay for the course.  It all depends on how much I’m paying and what I’m getting for my buck.

3)      Program structure

This is important.  When are the classes? What’s the study plan?  The structure should cater to your individual style and study habits.

4)      Cost if have to retake

This is a backup option to consider.  Some programs are free to retake if you don’t pass the first time.  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

5)      Program experience

A program with an established record can be better than a newer program with little or no history.

Now, like a good law school answer, let’s apply the factors to the options:

Barbri

Why you would take Barbri:

  • Everybody is doing it
  • Longest and most established record
  • Highest pass rate, or so they say
  • Too scared to go with anything else because everyone else is doing it
  • You want to see Constitutional law Professor Chemerinksy in person

Why you wouldn’t take Barbri:

  • Too expensive
  • You have a private tutor
  • You’re done with sitting in on long classes
  • You think you can pass on your own without a program or you have the barbri books/cds and will just use those

Advantages of Barbri

1)      Pass Rate

Although it’s tricky to get exact numbers from Barbri, their pass rate is presumed to be around 80% for students from ABA-approved schools.  That is word on the street, but who knows where the word started. If true, this is very high and very good.

2)      Program Structure

The barbri program lasts about nine weeks, which is pretty much from the day after graduation until a week before the bar exam.  For February takers, it begins the first Monday in January and goes until a week before the bar exam.  This is about how much time you’ll need.

Barbri has scheduled, four hour classes usually about five days a week.  Several times they will have weekend classes that can go up to eight hours.  Each class has a ten minute break after about an hour of study.  The classes mostly consist of reviewing substantive law for each section on the bar.  However, there are also several, very important classes that focus solely on how to take the essays and the performance tests.  These are crucial because they demystify the bar and specifically break down what needs to be done in order to pass.

Also, Barbri has a day-by-day, very specific guide on what homework should be done on each day in order to get you ready for the class and the bar.  Although, this guide is good to follow, it is also ideal.  I certainly didn’t keep up with it and don’t know anybody who actually did.  However, it is a very good reference to know where you should be.

Barbri will grade several essays and performance tests throughout the course.  Congratulations if you actually pass these essays because Barbri will definitely mark as ‘fail’ answers that are very passable.  They do a good job raising the bar and putting you at a higher level than you would need to pass, so don’t get your feelings hurt if you don’t pass the practice exams (I only passed one of these and still passed the bar!).

3)      Cost if have to retake

Barbri has stated they allow you to retake their course for free if you fail the previous bar exam.  No promises if you fail twice, though.  Either way, you should call them to verify this is true in your state.

4)      Program experience

Barbri has been around since the building of the pyramids.  They are definitely the most utilized and experienced program around.

5)      Other factor – Most people take Barbri

Most people take Barbri.  This is good because unlike many values from our Disney movies of standing out and rising to be the best, on the bar exam you just want to blend in and be a sheep.   The more you look like everyone else, the less you’ll stand out.  This is a great idea, especially when the bar exam grader is going through his hundred bar exam essays at 11:00pm, after he’s done watching the Apprentice and is in the mood for firing!  Don’t be the anomaly.

Disadvantage of Barbri

1)      Cost

Although Barbri is very good and dependable, it also comes with a hefty price tag.  It costs about $3,650, making it the most expensive program out there.   On the other hand, it does get results, and you’re already a $100K+ in debt, so maybe just add it to the tab?

2)      Program structure

I say this could be a disadvantage as well because you just may not want to sit in another classroom for four hours.  You should be able to handle it after three or more years of law school, but if you want to avoid the mass of anxious people who are also taking the course, crammed into one room, you may want to look towards Themis or BarMax for bar review.

Barbri allows you to miss up to about six classes, which you can review the lectures online.  You shouldn’t be missing more than that anyway.

[Updated: July 17, 2012 – Barbri now allows for online courses. I know of at least one person complain that the system sometimes go down for days at a time.]

Themis

Themis is the second baddest cowboy out in the wild west that that is the bar exam.  For some of you, it might be first.  Here’s why.

Why you would take Themis:

  • It’s has great pass rate for great cost
  • I like the idea of studying from my computer where and when I want

Why you wouldn’t take Themis:

  • I’d rather have set class schedules
  • I am scared to not go with the crowd and do Barbri

Advantages of Themis

 

1)      Pass rate

According to the Themis website, they have 74% amongst all first time takers!  This is great, especially for a program that has only been in the business since 2009!  They, along with BarMax, are the only two bar prep programs to actually publicly claim their pass rate (Bar/Bri and Kaplan do not).  Their high results shouldn’t be entirely surprising as it is rumored that Themis is made of past Barbri employees who are working to enhance the bar review system.

UPDATE 12/31/15:
 1st time bar takers who complete 75% of their assignments have an 82% pass rate in California and 90% in New York.

2)      Price

Themis destroys most the competition in this category.  The cost for the entire bar prep course is only… wait for it… about $1,500!  At only 38% the cost, you can almost buy three Themis bar prep programs for the cost of one Barbri program!  If their pass rate numbers are true and hold up, Barbri will have some serious competition on its hands.

3)      Program Structure

Aside from price, this is where Themis breaks significantly from Barbri, and why it is so inexpensive.  Themis does everything online.  All the lectures and notes are available online to view when and where you want.  They do also send out hard copies of the books if you want them.  This system is advantageous because, so long as you have internet, you can take your classes in solitude, at the beach, in the bathroom, on your roof, and away from the hundreds of tense people taking Barbri.  You can also choose to take classes morning, night, midday, or whenever you want!  Booya!

Similar to Barbri, they also provide a very specific schedule of what you should be doing on a daily basis to get you ready.  An additional advantage is that if you get behind, the schedule adjusts so you can still get ready in time.  Personally, I don’t like the schedule adjustment because it blatantly lets me get away with procrastination, by letting me do tomorrow what I should be doing today, but each unto his own, eh.

Disadvantage of Themis

1)      Experience

Although the program is less than a few years old, considering its results and the experience people who work behind Themis, this is really a non-factor.   Also, Themis may be with the new trends in technology by moving its operations online.

2)      Program structure

Can’t keep away from facebook? Watching tv when you know you’re behind on studying?  These are the woes of being on the Themis self study program.  Without a conglomerate of your fellow classmates holding you accountable by asking, “Why weren’t you in class today?” when you decided to watch Sex and City episodes instead of attending your lecture.  To its credit, Themis will make periodic phone calls and emails to you, especially if you get off track on your schedule or don’t submit essays on time (yes, they are watching).  But we all know the power of peer pressure, and coaching calls aren’t quite the same.  Themis will also grade your essays, as Barbri does.

If you can get yourself up in the morning and commit to going to your online class for a specific block of time on your own, like Barbri would essentially force you to do, you could save a few thousand dollars and may want to consider taking Themis.  If not, you may want to stay on the Barbri bus.

[Updated: July 17, 2012 – I have heard several complaints that the online system from Themis sometimes go down and can take awhile to get back up (at least several hours)].

BarMax

Why you would take BarMax:

  • It has great pass rate for great cost
  • You’re torn between studying in your hot tub or on the beach
  • You are a Repeater and actually want to pass
  • It might be the Best Value and ROI in the bar exam space
  • You don’t want to sit in class with other stressed out students
  • You were going to self study, but now have an inexpensive alternative
  • It’s the wave of the future

Why you wouldn’t take BarMax:

  • You don’t trust the new guys
  • You have a private tutor
  • You’d rather have set class in-person class schedules
  • You are scared to not go with the crowd and do Barbri

Advantages of BarMax

1)      Pass Rate

BarMax is the ONLY program to publicly announce their pass rates amongst ALL EXAM takers. Wow!  They pass 73% of their California takers and 83% of  New York takers.  This includes repeaters, non-ABA students, and 1st-time takers.

UPDATE 12/31/15: BarMax pass rates dropped to 69% for California in 2013 and 77% in New York. They are not revealing their 2014 pass rates.

2)     Price

If Themis blows up the competition on price, then BarMax nukes it!  The cost for the entire bar prep course is only… wait for it… $1,000!  At 25% the cost, you can buy four BarMax prep programs for the cost of one Barbri program (not that you’d want to, but you could)!  And what’s even cooler, if you sign up using any of the links in this post, you save more by getting a free copy of my book AND the Bar Exam Mental Edge! That’s nearly half the price of Themis! Yowzer!  Now, Bar/Bri and Themis have competition on their hands.

3)    Program Structure

The BarMax structure is adjustable, but you should give yourself at least six or seven good weeks.  If you want to start earlier, you can.  Just pick your start date and BarMax will give you a schedule of what to do each day based on your start date.

BarMax has a similar structure to Themis, except as of now, you can only use their program an Apple device – Ipod, Ipad, Iphone.  They don’t let you use it on a computer, but that may change soon (or has already changed). If you don’t have one, they have options where you can get an Apple device as a loan or buy one at a discount.

In addition to the price, the advantage BarMax has over Themis is that the entire bar prep program is downloaded to your Apple device. For Themis, you need internet.  For BarMax, you do not, so you literally can study on a mountain top, during a hike on the beach, or in a hot tub (which some students have posted pictures of themselves doing).  BarMax also does have some book materials they supply to you.

Another big advantage are the BarMax materials.  The lectures are extremely condensed.  Where Bar/Bri will take 4 hours to tell you something, BarMax does it in an hour.  The lectures hit home only the most relevant concepts of what you need, and the outlines they provide are basically in-depth attack sheets.  The short length of the lectures also allows you to listen more than once.

BarMax may also be the new future of bar exam prep. Even a former founder and President of Bar/Bri left the program he founded and joined BarMax.

4)    Cost if have to retake

BarMax is free for life.  Once you have it, it’s yours and never gets deactivated.

Disadvantage of BarMax

1)      Program experience

BarMax is the newest on the scene.  The lack of experience could hurt them, but then again, they’re almost like the pilgrims who migrated to the America with a new vision and a new space to create without having to break free from a previous standard of bar prep, that Barbri and Kaplan are stuck in.

Or even better, perhaps they are the New Age of bar prep as RG3, Wilson, and Kaepernick are the New Age of football Quarterbacks? (I’m definitely a football fan!)

2)      Program structure

Like Themis, I say this could be a disadvantage as well because you just might want to be in a classroom environment for accountability purposes.  Also, BarMax currently is not available on the Android devices or computer, and someone just might want to use their computer to study.

But, if you like mobility and can get yourself up in the morning and commit to going to your studying for a specific block of time on your own, like Barbri would essentially force you to do, you could save a few thousand dollars and may want to consider taking BarMax.  If not, go with Themis or Bar/Bri.

Kaplan

Advantages of Kaplan

1)      Program structure

The Kaplan program is about a six to seven weeks.  The unique advantage they provide is they allow you to take your choice of either in-class sessions or online sessions.  The in-class sessions will be slightly more expensive.  Although, this is great, I don’t believe you can switch back and forth between in-class and online; therefore, if you’re going to pick one or the other up front anyway, we recommend you go with Barbri or Themis.

Quick Update (3/15/14) – When you purchase the in-class sessions, you also get access to the online version.

Disadvantages

1)      Pass rate

We have no idea what the Kaplan pass rate is.  Why? They’ve only been in the business of providing the full bar prep program for a couple years and won’t release their pass rate to us (they have successfully done the Multi-state portion for many years).  I know that some people who took Kaplan their first year did not pass, and I can’t even fathom their pass rate being close to Barbri or Themis, otherwise Kaplan wouldn’t be so secretive about their pass rate, especially when attempting to gain some of the bar student market share.  Themis and BarMax, on the other hand, are also newer programs, and they are very open about the success of their students.

2)      Cost

This is another knock on Kaplan.  Kaplan costs between $3,100 and $3,500.  This is slightly under the cost of Barbri, and Kaplan is not nearly as established nor accomplished as Barbri.  If you’re paying this much, might as well go with Barbri.

3)      Experience

Although Kaplan used to be the place to go for the multi-state portion before Barbri began providing that service a few years ago, Kaplan has now instituted the full bar-prep program.  They’re very new, and it’s not known how successful they have been.  Unless you want to be a guinea pig and not be saving a whole lot of money anyway, we recommend you keep away from Kaplan for now.  As a side note from customer service, I’ve seen terrible reviews of them online and students have emailed me complaining of the way Kaplan grades exams and wishing they had read this post before they signed up with Kaplan.

Private tutor

This option is difficult to analyze.  There are many private tutors out there with varying credentials.  Some tutors are as good as 50-0 with bar takers.  Some are significantly less successful.  Costs also vary, but they can get up to $4,000.

Why you would take a Private Tutor:

  • You are retaking the bar exam
  • You want individualized study
  • You need to improve your writing skills
  • You’re from a non-ABA approved school

Why you wouldn’t take a Private Tutor:

  • It can be the most expensive form of bar prep
  • You’re taking Barbri, Themis, or another program

Typically tutors are used by two types of students: 1) students who did not pass the bar exam the first time and were using an established program like Barbri or Themis or 2) students who need to improve their writing ability.  As good as Barbri and Themis are, they do not do a great job helping you become a better writer, and many students have failed the bar exam not knowing this.

Typically, writing is a skill that is developed in law school, and that is why the bar prep programs don’t focus on it.  So, be honest with yourself.  If you know you’re writing isn’t too hot (my writing was not that great), you can still take Barbri or Themis, but you’ll need to spend time to improve your writing (don’t worry, we’ll tell you how in a later post).  Or you can just hire a tutor that will help you with your writing.

In any case, there is important information you need to know before you hire a tutor.  This site does a great job helping you find a tutor.  We recommend taking a look:

http://www.cabarexamrepeatersresource.com/avthrestbask.html

On Your Own

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m going to save some money, and I’ll just buy the barbri books, and go through the essays myself, easy peezy.  I can do this!  Yes, maybe you can, but know you’re taking a big risk.  The bar is not a mass repeat of your law school essays.  The grading, issues, and way to write the exam are different than what your professor would want to see.  It’s very important you write the way the bar exam graders want you to.

Keep in mind, that going at it alone is walking the tightrope.  Many industry professionals utilize the use of coaches for big challenges and goals they are facing.  Even the best professional athletes have coaches to help them golf better or place in the Olympics.  Even the best actors are still in acting school.  They don’t do it on their own.

The same applies here.  Having someone or a program who knows what you’re getting into, has studied the ins and outs of the bar exam, and designed a program to guide you to success is very helpful and essential.

I know a student at our school who graduated in the Top 10 of the class.  She decided not to use a bar prep program and do complete self study.  Her class had an 88% bar passage rate, and I’m sad to say she was not part of that 88%.  Now is not the time to beat the new path.  There is a very set path that many have taken to pass the bar.  Take it.  You can be a trailblazer once you have that license in hand.

If you do decide to go solo, be sure to check out Adaptibar for MBE prep and BarEssays for essay in California.

Whatever you decide, we wish you the best of luck with your bar preparation!

We wish you success in passing your bar exam!
“This name appears on the pass list”

“Like the eye of a hurricane, he stayed calm and ready while all else around him was in disarray”

Still having a hard time deciding?  Try using a decision matrix to help make your decision.

Resources:

Barbri:

www.barbri.com

CA: (800) 995-5227

NY: (800) 472-8899

Themis Bar Prep:

http://www.themisbar.com/

888-843-6476

BarMax

http://IPassedMyBarExam.com/BarMax – Save by getting a free copy of my book AND the Bar Exam Mental Edge with this link.

855-483-7862

Kaplan:

www.kaplan.com

212-492-5800

 

Disclosure:  Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.  Please understand that I either have experience or done thorough research with all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the commissions I make if you decide to buy something.  Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.