It’s a little ironic that I chose the above pic for this post because I was anything but calm while studying for the bar exam. From May, when I began studying for the bar, all the way up until the end of October when I got my bar results, I was a big ball of nerves. It was difficult to focus on anything else. I was so nervous, that I was nervous about being nervous, which made me even more nervous because I didn’t want my nerves to be so bad that I completely bombed the exam. And in all honestly, I was in fear that my nerves had gotten the best of me and I wasn’t going to be completely surprised if I had failed the bar.
With all that being said, I must say that I believe the biggest obstacle for me while studying for and taking the bar was not the intellectual challenges of memorizing multiple subjects of law (some of which I never studied in law school), but the psychological pressure of the magnitude of what taking the bar meant and what it would mean if I failed. I spent a good amount of my time while studying and after taking the bar, obsessing over what I would tell people if they asked why I had failed the bar even though I didn’t know my results! I’m sure I am not alone in my feelings and I think the fact that I was thinking this way was unhealthy but it made it even sweeter when I received my notification that I passed. At the same time, it is really difficult to not feel like you have to answer to everyone regarding your bar results because you want to make everyone, including yourself, proud. However, no matter what happens, everyone will still be proud of you. You graduated law school for goodness’ sake and you will become a lawyer, whether it’s right now or a few months from now.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to share a few words with those of you who are preparing to take the bar in February of 2017 or sometime in the future. Although I think this advice can be useful no matter which bar you take, I just want to make it clear that I took the New York Bar Exam for July 2016. I say this because the July 2016 administration of the New York Bar Exam was different from past administrations in that New York implemented the use of the Uniform Bar Exam, which allows for a person to be able to transfer their UBE scores to other UBE jurisdictions. Check out my post on the format of the New York Bar Exam here for details. Below are some things I implemented before and during my bar summer to lead to my ultimate success on the bar.
I Had Tunnel Vision
I began meditating on passing the bar well before I started bar prep. I would sit there and just imagine how focused I would be while I studied. I would meditate on the importance of getting it right the first time because I just simply could not afford (mentally or financially) to take it again. I think this really helped me be grounded and keep my eyes on the prize. I told myself I would do whatever I needed to do to make sure I passed and that’s what I did.
I Understood the Format of the Bar
In order to start preparing for the bar, I wanted to get a real sense of what the bar entailed. This is why I enrolled in a pre-bar prep course during my last semester of law school. Our class at Howard Law was titled “Bar Skills.” It might be titled something different, depending on the school you attend, but I believe this course really helped me grasp my mind around what I was getting ready to be doing my entire summer. We completed real essays and MPT’s from previous bars under time constraints and went over the skills needed to do well on each section of the bar. Although they say you will learn everything you need to know if you take a bar prep course, I figured it could only help to get a jump start on the skills of bar-taking early.
I Saved a lot of Money to Prepare for Bar Summer
During my last year of school, I saved up a good chunk of money to prepare for my bar summer by clerking at a law firm. With all the stress of the bar, the last thing you want to do is be stressed out about money. It can definitely be tough if you have money constraints already, but if you can save money in any way to help fund your bar summer, do it! If that means not eating out or going to happy hour as much or not shopping or primping as much, do it! It is worth it! So many people that fail the bar didn’t fail because they weren’t smart or weren’t capable. For many people, it is the stress of things that have nothing to do with the bar that messes them up and money is a huge stressor. So save save save if you can!
I took a Bar Prep Course
I took Barbri for my bar prep course and I absolutely loved it! I know bar prep courses are really expensive. Howard Law Students c/o 2016 were fortunate enough to be a part of a program that made it easier to cover the cost of the bar prep course. Also, this is something you would have had to consider most likely your 1L year, but you could become a rep for the bar prep course of your choice so your bar prep course fee is covered. I think bar prep courses really help you by providing you with all of the information you need without all of the fluff. In particular, Barbri had amazing tools that kept me on track including the daily assignments and homework and lots and lots of practice questions with helpful answer explanations. This leads me to my next tip…
I took the Bar Prep Course VERY Seriously
I took my bar prep very seriously in that I followed everything Barbri told me to do. And if I didn’t get to an assignment on the day it was due, I did it the next day or switched my schedule around for the next few days to make sure that everything was done by the end of the week. I put my effort into every assignment that was submitted to be graded and I didn’t slack on assignments that were not submitted for grading.
I Studied How I Studied
When it came to studying for the bar, I treated this course like anything else that I had studied for in law school. Some people can create and read outlines and just take everything in. For me, I learned that I don’t digest information in the same way for every subject and instead used a hybrid approach. For example, Torts is very elemental so I really focused on memorizing the different elements with flash cards. In contrast, with Contracts, there are certain steps that you must assess in order to answer a particular question, i.e. Was there an offer? Acceptance? Consideration?, etc. So for contracts, I made different charts. This is how I studied in law school and this is what I did for the bar. For the subjects that I hadn’t seen before, such as Criminal Procedure, I tried different techniques until I found the one that worked best for me, which turned out to be flash cards. It may be frustrating and you may think it’s a waste of time, but you need to figure out what actually works for YOU. It really doesn’t help to stare at an outline if you find yourself zoning out every 5 minutes, and it doesn’t help making flashcards if you know you won’t look at them after you’ve made them. Just do you, boo!
I got organized
Once I received my schedule from Barbri, I wrote everything out in my planner and on a dry erase board. I just love the feeling of crossing things off my list of things to do. I’m also a very visual person and it helps me to actually see what I have to do instead of just thinking about it. Taking things out of my mind and putting them on paper frees up mental space for me. It may seem weird, but it works so I don’t even try to change it.
I made a Gazzilion Flash cards
When I say I probably made about 700+ flashcards, I am not lying. My hand was sore and in pain for a good couple months after I took the bar because of all the flashcards I made. Barbri gives you an outline that you fill out to follow the lectures, a huge outline that is very detailed, and another outline that gives it to you straight with less detail. Either during or right after every lecture, I would transfer all of the pertinent information on to flash cards. As I said before, I am a very visual person and I like to write things out and see them so that I can really internalize them. I would also make it a point to go through at least 2-3 subjects every day to make sure I don’t forget anything.
I Practiced Everything Under Test-Taking Time Constraints
Although Barbri slowly worked us up to completing sets of questions under time constraints, I decided that I didn’t want to get comfortable taking a longer time than I would have when actually taking the test. This is why from Day 1, I did all MBE practice sets, essays, and MPT’s under test-taking time constraints. Of course, when I first started studying I wasn’t able to complete everything. As time went on, I was able to complete the entire assignment. As even more time went on, I was able to complete assignments within the allotted time and with all or almost all of the essential components of the model answers. If you start practicing under test-taking constraints, you will get a feel for how long it takes to write an essay or if you’re spending too long on an MBE question and should skip or just pick something.
I Practiced Every Component of the Exam Over and Over Again
I cannot express how important it is to practice EVERY component of the exam over and over and over again. I absolutely loathed practicing MPT’s but I practiced them anyways. Like, I legit would go into a fit when I saw them on my schedule. They’re long, lots of pages to read through, it seems like it’s almost impossible to cover everything they ask for, I was always unsure of what format to write the assignment in, and by the last few minutes, I was completely burned out. I also hated essays because I sometimes didn’t know what they were asking for and I didn’t want to just rule dump and possibly totally miss what the examiners were wanting to see. Even still, I practiced MPT’s and essays and wound up doing more than Barbri assigned specifically because I hated them so much. I think this really helped me in the end and helped me build confidence with section of the exam.
I Practiced Additional MBE’s Using Adaptibar
Adaptibar is a separate bar prep that tests you on MBE’s and adapts to your testing abilities. I think these questions are much more difficult than the Barbri questions, which kept me from getting too complacent in my bar prep. One thing I will say is that adaptibar is a bit pricey; around $400. I was blessed to have family members who gave me graduation money and all of it went to Adaptibar. I think it was worth the money. I also like that I was able to use the software on my phone, which was convenient when I had to run errands.
I Analyzed All Model Answers Thoroughly
With every MBE, Essay, and MPT that I completed, I would analyze the model answers carefully. For MBE’s, I would analyze all of the correct and incorrect answers and figure out exactly where I was going wrong in my analysis if I got the answer wrong. I’d also make sure that my analysis was on point when I got the answer correct. With respect to essays, I would retype the basic rule statements that would often come up in questions. For MPT’s, I would take note of the general structure and organization of the answers to get a feel for what the examiners were looking for.
I Didn’t Get Cocky
When you’re studying for the bar, you are desperate for gratification. When you see that you’re doing well in a subject or component of the exam, you get excited. You’re like, “Ok ok, I can really do this. I might actually be able to conquer this beast.” It’s completely okay to have these thoughts. In fact, it is necessary for you to have these moments so you don’t just give up completely. What’s not okay is when you internalize these feelings and only want to work on things that you are good at. This is dangerous.
You don’t need to become an expert in any subject of the bar, but you do need to have a basic understand and be able to answer questions on every major topic.
If you know there is a subject that you are struggling with, don’t avoid it. Tackle it head on. Devote as much time as you need to the subject or aspect of the exam until you are confident that you have a basic understanding in EVERY subject.
I Stayed Active and Started Practicing Yoga!
During law school, I tried to make it to the gym as much as possible. Once I started bar prep, I incorporated the gym into my schedule. I also took up yoga which was a double plus because I was able to be active while also remaining centered and relaxed. Well, as relaxed as you can be when you’re studying for the bar. It’s so crazy to think how the mind can really affect you physically. I would be in a pose that required me to really do some serious focusing in order to maintain the position. The second I would start thinking about the bar, I would totally lose my balance and plop on the floor. Eventually, I was able to focus better, which definitely helped while studying and even while I was actually taking the bar. I also bought a bike, which was fun and cut down on my commute to the gym.
I Let Myself Have My “Moments”
No matter how smart you are or what kind of grades you made during law school, the bar is a level playing field. It does not discriminate. It doesn’t care if you were on journal or if you were at the bottom of the class. There is always that curve that requires some people to fail and you never know if that person will be you. The bar takes its toll on you like no other test can. The pressure involved, the sleepless nights, the anxiety, aaaalll that information, the boring lecturers, the bills that need to be paid, the missed opportunities to hang out with your friends…all of this will weigh down on you. One thing that helped me was to just accept this and deal with it. If I was burned out and couldn’t look at another book or flashcard, I put them down. Sometimes I would watch an episode of Gilmore Girls on Netflix to get me in good spirits and get back to work or sometimes I would call a friend and ask if they wanted to grab a drink and food if I knew I was done for the day. In any case, I saw no point in trying to study when my brain was fried because nothing was going to stick anyways. I also had a couple meltdowns, which I’ve learned is completely normal and expected. As I said before, I got stressed about being stressed, but in the end you just accept it, recuperate, and get back to work rejuvenated!
I Stayed Faithful
With all the stress and anxiety that the bar brings, I never lost sight of what got me here and what has kept me going. If it hadn’t been for my faith in God, I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through. He has always taken care of me and things have always worked out no matter what was going on. I just meditated on that and remembered that, no matter what happens with this bar, I will live and if I had to take the test again, then that’s what I would do.
I know this post is super long, but I hope it helps someone as they are preparing for the bar. This is the type of information that is disseminated more often among populations that have generations of lawyers to help show those that come after them the way. I am the third in my family to get an undergraduate degree and the first in my family to receive a graduate degree. I know I’m not the first nor will I be the last to embark on uncharted territory, but I want to help others in any way I can. I want to see others come after me succeed and I am committed to sharing whatever information I can with anyone who needs it to make that happen.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the bar or just need an encouraging word to let you know that you can do it!!! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
xoxo – Ash