Students often ask what is the best way to study for the bar exam? One perspective is that as a law student, from the moment you begin your legal education, each and every time you sit down to open a book to study the law, every time you read a case, every time you go to class, and every time you take an exam, you are preparing for the bar exam. Your participation during law school should always be undertaken with that ultimate goal in mind. Learning the law as you progress through the Juris Doctor program is the required foundation. Of course the bar exam tests the application of legal doctrine, so knowledge of doctrine is the essential starting point. Mastery of the legal doctrine covered in the JD program will put you in a good position to take the bar exam. Taking that approach involves a continuous seriousness of purpose and a level of focus that leads to careful mastery of the doctrinal material, central to your ultimate success not only on the bar exam, but also as a lawyer.
Reading and analyzing cases and statutes also is foundational to bar exam success. In California and other states, the general bar exam includes a section called the performance exam. That test requires for you to read a mock client file with legal authority in the form of statutes and excerpted cases, and analyze how the law you are given applies to the facts of a client scenario. In this scenario, you must read and understand the significance of cases and statutes in an efficient manner. As you are reading cases and statutes throughout law school, you will develop the skill to read cases efficiently for purposes of being able to analyze the case or statute and apply it to a hypothetical set of facts.
As you are preparing for the bar exam, as in law school, taking a “professional” approach can be very helpful. Manage yourself professionally by setting a schedule and sticking to it as much as possible. Select a quiet place to study so you will not be interrupted. Use a study plan designed so that you can complete your review in a timely and efficient manner. Be well-organized and methodical as you are studying, with all relevant materials at hand. Get the rest you need to keep focused and take care of yourself as much as possible.
Master all aspects of the exam including the performance exam, essay writing and multiple choice questions. The skills required for each component of the exam differ. Your study and practice should include plenty of each of the components. Many law schools offer bar review courses in their curriculum that allow for practice and feedback on essays and practice on multiple choice questions as well. Take advantage of these as much as possible. There also are good commercial bar review courses and it is good to investigate and take advantage of those that have a good track record. Typically a commercial bar review course will include materials for each subject tested on the bar exam and a study plan for you to follow as you prepare to take the test, as well as practice and feedback.
Free materials are also available online. In California, the State Bar website has past exams with sample passing answers for both essay questions and for the performance exam. Using these in your study can provide insight into what is tested in each of the subject areas. You can also work on your timing so that you are able to cover the materials required within the time allowed. The National Committee of Bar Examiners website also provides multiple choice questions and resources regarding coverage of the Multistate Bar Exam.
Study partners can also be very helpful when you are preparing for the bar exam. Studying with another person is particularly helpful for certain types of learners who process information well verbally. Studying with a study partner can also help keep you motivated when things get a bit tiring, and can also help fill in the gaps if something is not quite making sense as you are reviewing the materials.
Memorization of legal doctrine is key in preparing for a bar exam, because you walk into the room with nothing but your brain and a pen (okay, a computer), and you must be write the legal doctrine and be able to apply the legal concepts accurately and quickly. You do not have time to think about the exact wording of the rules during the exam, they must fly out of your brain with a high degree of automaticity, like you are telling someone your address and telephone number. With that level of automaticity, you can focus your mental energy on the application of the law to the facts. There are many ways to memorize, so student must find a method that works for them personally. Some students use flash cards, some use recordings, and some use … all of the above.
Checklists, mnemonics and flow charts are also very helpful when studying for the bar exam, particularly if you are a graphic learner, meaning that you learn by looking at graphic depictions of information. Even students who have never relied on these types of learning devices in prior academic programs may find that these charts and graphics are helpful approaches. Some students say that they can visualize to chart as they are writing their answers during the bar exam. There are many study aides available online, and if time permits it is even more effective to make your own
Practice is also key in preparing for the bar exam. Athletes practice a tremendous amount for the ultimate moment of truth: the big game. In the same way, whenever you write an exam, you may want to view it as practice for the bar exam. St. Francis students preparing for the First Year Law Students’ Exam recently trained by practicing writing essays in an hour, then practicing writing three essays in three hours, followed by three hours of multiple choice questions in an additional three hours. Yes, that is a full day of testing practice. And they did it three times. Taking a test for a full day can be a somewhat daunting experience, but it is far less so if you practice that specific experience several times prior to taking the bar exam. You know what to expect and how to pace yourself.
When studying for the bar exam, it is also important to keep things in perspective. Know yourself and bear in mind how you’ve always learned best. Realize the power of the words, “I’m busy studying right now.” Unforeseen events can distract you, and that is bound to happen. Friends and family typically are very supportive and can help you find the space to focus. You will be very busy for a relatively short time, and then, if all goes well, good results will follow, and you fill out some additional paperwork, well on your way to becoming a lawyer.