There are a few ways to look at preparing for the bar exam. You can consider that you are preparing for a sprint--the final, two month push towards becoming a lawyer after 27 months of law school. Or you can look at preparing for the bar exam like taking two months to train for a marathon race--developing a training schedule, sticking to it, realizing that you are in it for the long haul, getting a little bit better each day, and then doing your best on the day of the race.
Either way, the key to success is planning. While law school is winding down, you have time to think about how you will prepare for the bar. It's best to get your plan together now, rather than to wait until the day after graduation.
Right now, you can think about developing a study schedule. The best way to study for the bar is to consider it a full-time job. At a minimum, you should devote 8 hours a day to the task. The larger bar review courses hold review sessions from 9-12. Take an hour or two for lunch, and then study for four hours in the afternoon. If you take an evening review course, you have the day to study.
Make time for exercise. Your body and mind need to be in top shape to perform. Exercise releases stress, and you will fell stress. You don't need a complex exercise program. One of the best exercises is walking. Yoga and other stretching exercises will help release stress and fight muscle fatigue.
Eat properly. Your body functions better and more effectively fights off illness when you eat fresh fruits, vegetables, juices, and low fat meats. Avoid caffeine, carbonated drinks, and alcohol. If you must have these, drink them in moderation.
Have an effective place to study. Attend to your learning style. A quiet place might be good for some people; others may work better if there's a radio, tv or some noise in the background. Just find a spot that works for you. This may not be the time to change from what you've been doing in law school if that has worked for you.
Make sure your family, significant others or those you live with understand the demands on your time. Plan a vacation for after the bar so they know there is something to look forward to. They won't want to see you go through this experience twice, so ask them to do everything they can to help you pass the first time.
But also fit in some time for recreation and pure pleasure. The law is a jealous mistress and the bar exam is even more jealous because so much is riding on it. It's easy to get sucked into studying hour after hour, day after day. But, you will wear yourself out. You have to put in the time, be committed, and work hard, but your mind can only absorb so much. Take a 10 minute break every 50 minutes even if you feel that you don't need it. Eat at least three well-rounded meals a day.
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
The key to success on the MBE is memorizing the black letter law. You will have to apply it to the facts to answer the questions, but if you focus on anything, focus on memorizing the law.
How to best do that?
- Study the bar review materials. Read and reread the subject matter outlines.
- Listen to the bar review lectures and let that material sink in.
But the most important thing to do is to take MBE questions. Practice, practice, practice. And start taking questions as soon as you can. Don't wait until you feel absolutely comfortable with the material. You will never feel absolutely comfortable. If you never were one to take practice exams, be one now. You'll be amazed at how much black letter law you'll learn in the process of taking the practice MBE questions and reading the answers to the questions. The answers to the MBE questions always explain the black letter law. And they explain how it applies to the facts of the question. It is easy to read an outline and keep reading. You think the material is sticking in your head as you read, but all of it doesn't. When you stop and try to apply it, you will see that. When you read an answer to a question that shows you exactly what the elements of the black letter law is, chances are you won't forget that. If you don't understand, you can always go back to the outline and reread that section in more detail.
At first, you may want to give yourself as much time as necessary to answer the questions. Get familiar with their structure. Read the questions carefully and the option answers even more carefully. Then, when you are ready, answer the questions under timed conditions--1.8 minutes to answer each question. Take several complete exams, but at least two. If you feel weak in a particular subject matter area, take all the questions you can in that area. The importance of practice cannot be stressed enough.
The Essay Exam
If you've never applied IRAC, now is the time. The key to success on the essay exam is the old KISS rule - Keep it Simple [Students]. The truth is, you probably will know more black letter law than the people reading your bar essays. The essays are read by primarily by practicing attorneys--people who have been out of law school a long time. They will not know the black letter law off the top of their heads in most instances. They will recognize many of the larger issues when they see them, but they will have sample answers to tell them what all the issues are and the law to be applied. They know that most lawyers don't have the answers floating around in their heads; they have to do some research.
While you should strive to write the best answers that you can, the examiners are looking at your essays to see whether you have the minimum qualifications to be a lawyer, not the maximum. If you can see an issue and articulate most of the law that is relevant to that issue, you probably will get a passing score for that question.
But, you cannot throw in the kitchen sink in hopes that you will get credit for something, along the lines of an A for effort. Don't write a jumbled or distorted answer either, because the people who read your essay are not used to reading answers written that way.
Most of the people reading your answers probably only knew and were taught one way to answer law school essay exam questions - IRAC. It is a format with which they are familiar. It is a simple format. Follow it to the extent that you can and still answer the question you're being asked to answer.
Take time to plan and organize before you write. Follow the more detailed advice we'll talk about later on how to answer essay questions. You must write an answer that precisely answers the question that you are being asked to answer. Bar examiners want to know whether you can see the issues that arise out of a particular set of facts.
When writing your answer, consider that state's rules, exceptions and defenses. Look at both sides of the issue, if you are asked to do that, and you usually are. Most bar examiners say that the essay reviewers are instructed not to consider grammar, spelling or punctuation in evaluating your answer, but the law only. That's good. However, impressions count. A sloppy, poorly written paper might lead an examiner to not give you the benefit of the doubt or full credit if there is a close question. So, try to write neatly and grammatically correct. But, if this is your weak point, do not obsess about it. As with anything, do the best you can.