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Nearly 40,000 students across the country just breathed a sigh of relief after successfully completing three years of law school and receiving their Juris Doctorate degrees. That relief will be short-lived, however, as most graduates now move on to prepare for the bar exam. And, if the recent reports from NY and CA announcing results from the February bar exams are any indication, then recent graduates will be facing some unfavorable odds come July.
In NY, only 41% of test takers passed the exam while takers in CA fared even worse with only 35.7% receiving a passing score. First-time test takers fared better than repeat takers in both states, but the overall pass rate for the February exams was the worst in over a decade for both.
With recent graduates facing some stiff headwinds, what is your advice to those preparing to sit for a July exam?
I created my own personal outlines that I simply memorized.
Get plenty of sleep and cut back on the coffee consumption.
The problem with sharing advice is that they seem to want to change the bar exam every other administration. They seem to be deliberately making it harder and harder as a form of protectionism, which makes the experience of people who went before largely irrelevant to the current form of the test. My advice would be to try really hard not to stress out because that won't help.
As to the various topics that are on the bar exam, I found it useful to either review the materials in considerable detail or attend the bar preparation course lectures but overkill to do both. That might be different for different people. I believe that those not very well versed in "exam taking skills," must hone up on them as they can be as, or sometimes more, important than substantive knowledge. I am convinced that a substantial portion of those how fail do so because of exam taking errors rather than lack of substantive knowledge.
Remember that there are two parts to the exam: essays and multiple choice. In my state, the essays are graded on a scale of 1-5. Essay grading is necessarily going to be subjective. A handful of test takers are going to get a 5. A handful will get a 1. The vast majority will get a 2, 3, or 4. What this means is that you can study hard to improve your essays, but you won't necessarily see a major or guaranteed improvement in your score. On the other hand, scoring on the multiple choice is objection---right or wrong. If you study hard and improve your multiple choice performance, you are guaranteed to see an increase in your score. Therefore, I recommend that students focus their labors on multiple choice performance.
Anxiety is counterproductive. Develop a study schedule and stick to it. You still need time to relax and have fun, so you are not a frazzled mess come exam time.
Do as many practice exams as possible!
Treat bar preparation like a job. Work hard on bar class and review, but leave it behind at some point in the day - pace yourself so you don't run out of steam at the end.
I pretty much followed the bar prep class, took the practice test items, and then tried to not stress too much. Remember to do something other than studying. Get outside, exercise regularly, and eat decently.
I would recommend taking a bar preparation course. Treat your study like your job for a month. Plan to work evenings and Saturdays. Take a day off to give yourself a break, Sunday or whenever your Sabbath is observed. It will reinvigorate and rejuvenate you. Find a law school friend to study with to mix up some of your study time. Exercise. Eat healthy. Get good sleep. Take some time each day to do something enjoyable as a break to clear your mind. Don't stress out. It will all work out.
Take the prep course. Even if you start to panic during your studying/preparation, if you have a course to fall back on, it will give you direction. Do as many practice questions as possible.
I treated it like a job. I would study 6-8 hours 5 days a week. I would take a reasonable lunch break or work out during the day. I went out with friends at night and tried to have as much fun as I could. I took breaks on weekends and if I was ever having days where I felt like I wasn't really absorbing any info I would just not study that day, and make it up another day. I found it really important to recharge myself if any way I could so that when I was studying, it was actually productive. My favorite study method was making flash cards and rewriting rules over and over again on a dry erase board until it was clear that I memorized it.
I passed two state bar exams by treating studying for the bar exam like my full time job for the summer. I followed sage advice I received from someone else and took my review class in the evening, since class was less mentally challenging than studying and a good way to wind down the day. I broke my day between 9-4 into sections for general studying and multiple choice questions and occasional essay practice, allowing for a lunch break and snack break. I allowed myself free time between 4 and my class in evening. This schedule was easy to keep to, and I didn't feel deprived of family and fun time. I am so glad that I opted for the evening class and didn't waste valuable daytime. For the most part, any work that required fresh attention and a sharp mind was done by 4.
I treated studying like a full-time job: Bar study course in the morning, group or individual study in the afternoons (e.g. flash cards, outlines, etc.), and I took most evenings and weekends off. I discovered that the effort of studying for the Bar is more traumatic than actually taking the exam - I still have dreams about it almost 19 years later...