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How to Study Effectively for the Bar Exam

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Clearly, studying for the bar exam is not the most fun thing you can imagine doing. Though, if doing MBE questions just for kicks is your idea of a good time….who am I to judge?  For those of you that don’t get your kicks from MBE questions, since I can’t make the studying more fun, at least I can tell you how to make it more effective.


Essays: Practice your essays with your notes, looking up rules of law. I know, this sounds like cheating, but I’m not suggesting you do it ON the day of the exam, I’m suggesting you do it during practice. Also, the bar exam is actually testing your ability to analyze, and looking up rules in your outline will not help you there. But, it WILL help you learn the correct rules, which is the first step. Plus, it is more effective then trying to memorize rules by reading outlines again and again, or even flashcards for that matter. If you look up rules as you write, you are actively applying facts to those rules, and practicing your writing, in addition to learning the rules, since you are copying them down. This is all active learning; the doing rather than just passively reading.  When given the choice, active learning is always more effective.


Also, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE write out your practice essays. Thinking about them in your head, or just drafting outlines, will not help you. You’ve heard practice makes perfect? It’s a cliché for a reason, and now is the time to put that cliché to the test. Write out as many essays as you can in the next 5 weeks. Using your notes, of course.


MBE: As with the essays, you want to be actively learning from the MBE practice questions. If you do not learn from every MBE question you do, you are wasting your time, and just doing that MBE question for fun. As I said before, I won’t judge….but the general feeling is that MOST people have other things they like to do in their spare time. How does one learn from doing an MBE question? Do one at a time, check the answer, and then figure out what you did wrong.


You might have went wrong on substance; forgetting some element of the rule, or just being confused on the black letter law. In that case, now is the time to review our outlines/flashcards/charts, to brush up on the black letter law.


You might have had a reading comprehension problem, reading the call of the question or a certain fact the incorrect way. If that’s the case, take a mental note and be sure to read a bit more carefully in the future.  Having said that, make sure you are consistently paying attention to the call of the question; variations such as “which is the least likely outcome” often throw students off course if they are not paying attention.


Perhaps you were torn between A and C, and don’t quite understand why C is the better answer, since they both seem ok to you. In that instance, read the explanation in the back of the book, re-read the question, consult with a tutor, do what you need to do to assess why one answer was the “best” out of all options. Sometimes the way to do this is to figure out why the other three options are incorrect. Remember an answer has to be both factually and legally correct, and never only a little bit legally correct.


What all of these things boil down to is learning from your mistakes, something your mother has been telling you to do since you were just a wee thing. The types of questions asked, as well as the rules tested, are often repeated, which means you are likely to see them again and again – so what better way to master them then to learn from each question?  Remember merely tallying your score and shrugging, moving on to review an outline without knowing where your weaknesses are, will not help improve your score. You have to know where you went wrong. You have to learn FROM the questions, and I can not stress that enough.


Having taken this all into consideration, perhaps you might have time, after studying EFFECTIVELY, to actually see your friends in the weeks to come. But only once or twice  ?

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