How to effectively prepare for the bar exam

By Ashley Heidemann

Considering the amount of material that is tested on the bar exam, it is important to study smart! You need to be sure that you are using your study time effectively in order to put yourself in the best position to pass the exam. Here, we tell you five tips on how to effectively prepare for the bar exam.

1. Create a personalized study schedule.

If you are taking a commercial course, it has likely provided you with a detailed study schedule. This is a great guideline, but make sure you are following a study schedule that meets your needs!  Your course doesn’t know what learning techniques you find effective, it doesn’t recognize your level of understanding of individual topics, and it doesn’t know what your personal schedule looks like!  Only you know these things, which means that you have the ability to create a much more useful study schedule. Your schedule also needs to evolve as you move through bar prep, so make sure you stay flexible. If you find a technique isn’t working for you, eliminate it! If you need to do a few extra real property essays, add that in to your schedule.

2. Use quality materials.

Having quality materials is very important for effective bar exam studying. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by lengthy outlines or study guides that contain details that never show up on the exam. You also want to make sure you are using outlines and study guides that present the information in a way that makes sense to you. Some examinees don’t relate well to book after book filled with only text, so finding materials that utilize colors and charts can be very beneficial.

Additionally, make sure you are using released multistate bar exam (MBE) questions and essay questions. Many commercial courses write their own MBE questions, and these questions don’t always reflect the writing style of the questions that show up on the MBE.  Preparing using MBE questions released by the National Conference of Bar Examiners will allow you to get used to exactly the type of question you will see on test day!

3. Focus on the highly tested topics.

Bar exam subjects and the topics tested within them are not tested equally.  Certain issues show up very frequently, making them bar exam “favorites”.  What you’re studying, it is very important that you devote the appropriate amount of time to each subject and topic based on how likely it is to show up on the exam.  Spending hours and hours trying to memorize every detail of a topic that is unlikely to be tested is not the best use of your time!  Understanding testing frequency is a great way to make sure you are studying effectively for the bar exam.

4. Emphasize memorization.

Too often we see examinees jump right from lecture straight into practice problems. This is not an effective way to study, and it often leaves examinees frustrated and overwhelmed. Besides just understanding the mechanics of the law from a brief review, make sure you have the law memorized!  To do well on the bar exam, you need to be able to recall the proper rules quickly upon reading the fact pattern. On the essay portion, you’ll need to replicate the rules for the grader. Thus, make sure you devote time to memorizing your outlines so that you can properly apply the law to the facts.

Don’t wait until the week before the bar exam to memorize. Start memorizing from the beginning of your bar exam preparation!

5. Practice smart.

Many students make the mistake of rushing through practice problems. To effectively study for the bar exam, you need to work methodically through the problems. When you get an MBE question wrong, stop and figure out why you did so. When you write an essay, take some time to self-grade it and interact with the model answer.  After you feel more comfortable with the law, make sure you also practice your timing. Build up to being able to complete a full length exam. You don’t want your first experience with bar exam timing to be on exam day! 

Ashley Heidemann is the owner and founder of JD Advising, a law school and bar exam prep company.