Bar Exam Tip: How to Create a Successful Study Plan for Passing the February 2016 Bar Exam

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Hello Everyone,

One of the most important aspects of your bar study is having a successful study plan. I have written several posts on this topic in the past, but here is an updated version for those of you about to take (and PASS) the February 2016 bar exam!


Before you can develop a successful study plan, it is important to understand what makes a successful study plan. I do not mean an assignment list provided to you by your bar prep provider. Assignment lists or “schedules” like BarBri’s “Pace Program” are, in my opinion, one size fits all, task lists. I personally think these are designed to keep you busy more than actually prepare you for the bar exam. When I refer to a successful study plan – I mean an actual “study plan” –  a plan for success. A successful study plan not only includes assignments – like completing MBEs, writing practice essays, reviewing and memorizing the substantive law – but it also takes into account the realities of your day – “I need to eat”, “I need to rest”, “I need to exercise”, “I need to keep my stress level at a manageable level”, “I need to work part time” or “I need to work full time.” These are all critical to your success on the bar exam, and will play as important a role in your success on the bar, as your actual bar study.


A successful study plan requires: taking into account your weaknesses and strengths, establishing a routine and habit of study, creating and adhering to a realistic routine that will address your weaknesses and maintain or improve your strengths while also taking into account the amount of time that you actually have available to study (for example, whether you have all day to study, or you work part time, or you are working full time, juggling the responsibilities of work and children and life in general). See below for a sample one day study schedule. Incidentally, most of my students are repeat bar takers and are working full time jobs and have only a few hours each week to study – and yet, they succeed. So, first off – I want you to recognize that you can succeed on this exam even if you do not have 8 to 14 hours a day to study. And, in fact studying 14 hours a day, can actually be counterproductive.

Finally, a successful study plan should maximize your effectiveness by scheduling the right kinds of work during the right times of day or evening (for example, it does not make much sense to practice MBE questions at 9:00 pm after a long work day when you are exhausted). Instead, get up earlier the next day to do MBEs in the morning before going to work. Even if all you can do is five or ten MBEs before going to work, do it. And, do it every day and you will establish a routine. This repetition and routine keeps your head in the game and your mind invested in the pursuit of passing.


No matter what your circumstances, starting your studies early is always a good idea. Even if it is just a few hours a week. If you will be working part time or full time in the months leading up to the bar exam, then beginning your studies early s critical. Whatever your circumstances, be sure to sit down and make a plan. Planning ahead and starting your studies early is like having bar exam insurance. Keep this in mind: I have never met a student who regretted starting their studies early – but, students often regret not starting soon enough.


Be realistic and don’t be so hard on yourself. One of the most common things that my students come to me over is their worries that they are not doing enough. This is because they are deeply invested in their future (understandably) and they fear that the amount of time that they have to devote to their studies will simply not be enough. Students are often very hard on themselves for having not completed the 50 MBEs they set out to do that day – and rather than focusing on what they actually DID accomplish (maybe it was 20 or 30 MBES) they focus on the 20 they did not complete. That is not what you should do. Clearly you must work and work hard to succeed. But, be mindful of the fact that quality is important – going through the motions might get you through 50 MBEs. But, it would be better to spend a more intensive time on fewer MBEs and actually learn from your mistakes so that you will not make those same mistakes again.

Things are bound to come up during the next few months – things you may not have planned on happening. So, it will likely be necessary to make adjustments to your study plan based upon what is realistic for you. You may discover that your initial plan of completing 50 MBEs after attending a four hour bar review lecture is just simply not realistic for you. While it is very important to do a significant number of MBEs and to write many practice exams, you should also realize that this practice is best done at your peak times – when you are most alert. Therefore, you may decide to complete 20 MBEs before going to your bar review lecture and then an additional 20 MBEs after your bar review lecture. Or, you might decide NOT to go to your videotaped bar review lecture . . . and instead study what YOU need to study. It IS okay to do that.


One of the key features of any successful study plan is to establish a routine. While you will have some study days where your study day ends earlier or goes later, the key is in establishing a regular routine. This includes where you will study, how often you eat, exercise, take breaks as well as the types of study you do during the day and when. For example – getting in the habit/routine of completing MBEs every morning at the same time and place every day, writing practice essays on a regular basis (for example, you might use the following routine: write a practice essay every Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

Below you will find an example of a typical study day from a good study plan. Here is a sample study day for someone who does not have to work and can devote their entire time to bar study: Note that other study days would likely incorporate writing practice exams and/or attending a bar review lecture or workshop). Also, if like many examinees, you have to work part time or full time while studying for the bar exam, I can help you put together a study plan that is tailored to your schedule so that you are able to maximize the time that you do have.

SAMPLE ONE DAY STUDY SCHEDULE (Note: if you are working full time, this could be your plan of attack for  a weekend day):

7:00 am – workout – short run or walk – (For example, 1 mile run/walk through your neighborhood)

7:30/7:45 am – shower, have a healthy breakfast and “disconnect for the day”. By disconnecting for the day, I mean: disconnect from your cell phone, the internet, text messaging and anything else that can lead to wasted time and loss of focus. This is really critical. Protect your study time, commit to certain study hours and refrain from checking email, voice mail, surfing the internet, checking and replying to text messages, and prepare your friends and family for your absence – see post: “Disconnecting to Pass the Bar”).

8:30 – 9:30 am – Complete 30 – 33 Torts MBEs

9:30 am – Take five minute break (do a couple of jumping jacks, just move around for a bit, eat a quick and healthy snack – for example, grab 6 or 8 almonds. Healthy snacks throughout the day are important to ensure a successful study day. We have all heard that eating small amounts throughout the day will help to keep your blood sugar level steady. This will help maintain your energy level throughout the day as well and will lead to a much more productive study day).

9:35 am – check answers for the Torts MBEs above, review the explanations and make flashcards for each missed MBE. (Note: the amount of time this will take will vary and depend upon how many MBEs you missed, so take the time you need – the corrections you make now will result in a higher MBE score later on).

10:30 am – ten minute break – get up from your desk, move a bit, eat an apple or some other healthy snack like a couple of stalks of celery with peanut butter.

10:40 am – BEGIN ESSAY ISSUE SPOTTING EXERCISE. Read through four torts essays. For each essay, use the following method: 1) read and issue spot the essay, 2) quickly check the model answer to see if you correctly identified the issues, 3) if you did not spot all of the issues then go back to the fact pattern and try to identify which facts trigger the issues that you missed, 4) read the entire model answer, 5) study the model answer and create your own outline from the answer – this outline should be your model for how to approach this essay in the future. You will likely spend about 40 – 50 minutes per essay (15 minutes to issues spot, 5 minutes to check your issues, 20 – 30 minutes to sort out missed issues and to create your own outline/approach for tackling this essay in the future).

10:40 – 11:20 am – Torts Essay One (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

11:20 am – five minute break – get up from your desk, move around.

11:25 am – 12:05 pm – Torts Essay Two (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

12:05 pm – 12: 50 pm- lunch break – eat healthy, have something you enjoy, relax (AVOID: email, cell phone, t.v., surfing the net – these are all potential distractions that could lead to lost time – how many times have you just intended to “quickly check your email” and found that it lead to getting involved in replying to emails, becoming emotionally engaged in someone else’s problem, or simply just wasting an hour surfing the web. Don’t take the risk of picking up your cell phone or checking your email. Instead, protect the time you have promised to yourself to study – guard it. See also: post about “Disconnecting to Pass the Bar”).

12:50 – 1:30 pm – Torts Essay Three (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

1:30 – 1:35 pm – five minute break – get up from your desk, move around.

1:35 – 2:15 pm – Torts Essay Four (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)

2:15 – 2:25 pm – ten minute break – get up from your desk, move around, perhaps go outside for some fresh air, have a healthy snack.

2:25 pm – OUTLINE REVIEW – Study/review Contracts substantive outline – it is recommended that you conduct your review in 50 minute increments, taking a 5 or 10 minute break every 50 minutes. This will enable you to study more hours per day and to study more effectively/productively because the breaks will prevent fatigue and will allow for more alert study periods. See recommended outline study intervals below:

2:25 – 3:15 pm – Review Contracts outline (see above).

3:15 – 3:25 pm – 5 or 10 minute break (get up, move around, stretch).

3::25 – 4:15 – Continue Contracts outline review.

4:15 – 4:25 pm – 5 or 10 minute break (get up, move around, stretch, eat a healthy snack).

4:25 – 5:15 pm – Continue Contracts outline review

5:15 – 6:15 pm – Dinner break – get up, move around, stretch, eat something healthy, make a short phone call to a supportive friend, spouse or family member – the key here is to only contact someone who is supportive of you, positive and aware and respectful of your commitment to study for and pass the bar).

6:15 – 7:15 pm – REVIEW TWO CONTRACTS ESSAYS (Spend 30 minutes for each essay and do the following: 1) Read and issue spot Contracts essay (15 minutes), 2) Check issues against the answer, read entire answer and make note of missed issues (15 minutes).

7:15 – 7:20 pm – Take a 5 minute break.

7:20 – 8:00 pm – REVIEW ESSAY APPROACHES FOR TORTS (Review the approaches/outlines that you created for the four Torts essays earlier during the day. The reason this makes sense is that you will reinforce the issue spotting and organization that you learned from your earlier review. And, since exam fact patterns repeat over and over again from one bar exam to the next, this review of past bar essays is one of the most effective ways to improve your issues spotting ability and to prepare for writing a well organized essay. Spend about ten minutes to review each essay outline/approach).

8:00 pm – End your study and relax.

Ultimately, your success on the bar exam will not come down to counting up how many MBEs you completed or how many hours you spent memorizing the law, but instead, it will come from a combination of things – most important of which is consistency and quality in your review.

Be positive, be flexible and adhere to a regular and realistic routine. In addition, keep in mind that your goal when reviewing a topic on a given day is not necessarily to master the entire subject that day. Instead, your goal should be to gain a better understanding of the topic that day and to recognize that you will need to repetitively review every topic over a period of time (two months is typical) in order to truly master it.

Above all, work at maintaining a positive attitude. This will be much easier to do if you begin with realistic goals. And, should you find yourself spending hours and hours in a 150 page outline for one topic (I DO NOT RECOMMEND SPENDING HOURS REVIEWING LENGTHY OUTLINES) consider using a much more condensed version for that subject.

Good luck to you!

Lisa Duncanson
Program Director/Founder (213) 529-0990
Bar None Review and The Bar Exam Cram Session (TM)

Bar Exam Tips: Where to Focus in the Final Days

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Hello All,

Thank you for following my blog. If you are about to take the July 2015 bar exam then you are undoubtedly getting at least a little nervous. This is completely normal. As it gets closer and closer to the bar exam and you are down to a matter of days, it is increasingly important that you control your focus and that you have a plan. If you have been following this blog you will know that I do not believe that memorizing 150 page outlines for 15 subjects is an effective or realistic way of preparing for the bar exam. You need to have your material that you are memorizing condensed down to what you actually need to know and what you can actually use on the bar exam when writing an essay or analyzing an MBE. The shorter and more concise definitions and rule statements you can have memorized – the better.

Think about it this way – if you are trying to analyze an MBE from a one paragraph definition or rule (and this is what many – if not most – bar prep courses provide) it will be very difficult to do. The same goes for writing a passing or above passing essay. You simply do not have time to include long, unwieldy rule statements. You need to be succinct, to the point and clear. One of the most effective ways to achieve this on the essays is to use what I call “working definitions” – these are definitions that are complete, but are not longer than necessary and as a result are clear, do not confuse the grader, do not take a long time to write down and are effective because your point is clear. If you are using clear and succinct definitions, your analysis will become more clear and concise as well. This is really critical.

The next really important thing to focus on in the coming days (and I mean laser focus) is how you are going to approach each essay topic. Do you have an approach for Defamation, for example? Do you have an approach for Products Liability? Do you have an approach for a Contracts formation problem? These are the things that you should be thinking about and working on in the coming days so that you are prepared for how to attack and write a passing answer for any essay topic.

Memorizing long, unwieldy outlines at this point is not a good plan. Your MBEs should be in shape (or come into shape) by your simply doing MBEs and memorizing shorter rule statements. Your success on the essays will be dependent upon your ability to identify the issues and whether you have an approach for each topic (sub topics like defamation and products liability – as opposed to an approach to all of Torts). This information is not to send you in a panic. You can start creating shorthand approaches for each topic now and be ready in a week – truly. But, remember that you need to prepare for the actual test – you will not be writing out a contracts outline on exam day – you might be asked to write a Contracts essay – but not an outline. So keep this in mind in the coming days as you prepare and work on memorization.

And, if you are at a loss for these things, we still have room in our final Bar Exam Cram Session. We address all of these things, provide you with working definitions and approaches that reflect what the California bar examiners have historically embraced on the essays. These same definitions and approaches make navigating the MBEs easier as well because you are working from a more succinct and concise version. Our students credit their passing to this two day course. We also provide you with a study plan that tells you what to do every day leading up to the bar exam so that you maximize your study time. To register or for more information, visit our site:

Thank you again for reading the blog and all the best to everyone who is studying for the July 2015 bar exam!

Lisa Duncanson
Program Director/Founder
Bar Exam Cram Session and Bar None Review
(213) 529-0990 and

California Bar Exam Workshop – Last Free Class before July 2015 Bar Exam Plus BONUS Performance Test coverage!


Hello all, 

We still have a few spots left in this evening’s workshop.  This is not just our everyday free, “How to Pass the California Bar Exam Workshop” 

Instead, tonight’s workshop will provide a few significant bonuses!

As a bonus, what will be different about this workshop?
  • I will address the Performance Test (including how to maximize points on this portion of the exam, how to start organized and stay organized on the PT so that you can write a passing or better than passing answer)
  • I will give out my first set of bar exam predictions to you live in class.
To register, click on this link: 

This workshop is our last free workshop prior to the July 2015 bar exam! I will teach the same coverage with respect to how to pass the California bar exam. However, I will also spend time on how to properly approach the Performance Test and will give out my first set of predictions live.

***Parking is free. But to take advantage of free parking, please use the valet parking at the hotel and we will provide you with validation. Space is limited. 

How to Pass the California Bar Exam – Free Workshop

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Hello all,

Good luck to everyone who is waiting for July bar results!

For those of you preparing for the February 2015 bar exam, I wanted to let you know that I will be teaching another free, “How to Pass the California Bar Exam Workshop” on December 3, 2014. This workshop will focus on writing for the California bar examiners as well as: test taking strategies, study plans, and simply how to get through this grueling exam with passing results! If you have failed the bar exam previously, this workshop is an excellent program to jumpstart your studies and to figure out how to prepare differently this time. I will also address the updates to the February 2015 bar exam. The workshop is limited to thirty attendees, so please sign up early to secure your spot.

Unfortunately, we cannot make this workshop available online. However, we hope to see you in person! To register, click here and be sure to check out our Bar Exam Cram Session Website for our other course offerings.

All the best to everyone who is waiting for July bar results!

Lisa Duncanson

Founder/Program Director Bar None Review and Bar Exam Cram Session

Congratulations on finishing the July 2014 California Bar Exam!

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Congratulations on completing the July 2014 bar exam! You should be proud.

So by the time you are reading this post you will have finished the last performance test (and at some point soon I will hear from students and blog followers about what was on today’s performance test). I will not be writing about either Performance Test A or B until next week. But, I will come back here to comment a bit about it and share with you some of the feedback I receive about the Performance Tests.

Since I have not posted on it yet – today’s essays were in the following areas:

Essay 4 – Criminal Procedure and a little bit of Professional Responsibility* (I am SO happy that Criminal Procedure was tested – I really try hard to be selective in what I give out in the hopes that what I release is actually on the test. This year was pretty good that way).

Essay 5 – Trusts (with some Community Property and Wills)*

Essay 6 – Torts Negligence

*Remember, I have not seen the essays, I am relying on reports from examinees. I do my very best to report responsibly. If you do not recall seeing anything other than Trusts on essay #5, please do not freak out. If you did not see an ethics/Professional Responsibility issue on essay #4, please do not panic. We will only know for certain what was tested once the essays are released. And, regardless of what was actually tested – as long as you focused on resolving the legal problems, you should be fine. If you would like to add anything about what was tested, or if you have any questions, or would simply like a little reassurance, feel free to contact me at: I respond to all emails personally.

Thank you for following this blog. I am grateful for the following on this blog, it means a lot to me. I love teaching and I love helping people. My career path has enabled me to do just that. When I am asked what I do for a living sometimes the response is something like this: “Oh, great, you help make more lawyers, super . . . ” (insert sarcastic tone). But, I am proud of what I do. And I know that lawyers make a real difference in the world. Justice and equality are more than just concepts to lawyers and lawyers are often the champions of those who are most in need of championing.

I hope that you have found this blog helpful to you in your studies and especially during these most challenging of days while you are taking the bar exam. If you have found my blog helpful, please spread the word. And, if you feel so inclined, I happily accept donations to help host this blog. Like you, during the bar exam, I sacrifice time with family and friends. But, I do it knowing that I am helping people and that is something I truly enjoy.

I founded, and run, a commercial bar review company and I love my enrolled students. But, I also really love providing free help here. There is a need for free support. So many examinees fail on their first attempt (who might not if they just had a little bit better direction and a little encouragement). When examinees fail, they are often left with little to go on in their studies. I try to help fill this void a bit. If you find this blog helpful and would like to make a donation, you can do so here:

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Thank you for following this blog and please let others know about it if you think they can benefit!

All the best to you on results day!  And, I do hope you go forward into a career that you love!

Lisa Duncanson

Founder/Program Director
Bar Exam Cram Session and Bar None Review
(213) 529-0990 and


California Bar Exam: Last Minute Performance Test Tips

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Hello All,

Congratulations, you are now done with the essays! You are one performance test away from being done with the California Bar Exam!

Here are some tips for the performance test:

1. Follow the instructions carefully! Exam pressure can lead to missing things and to misreading instructions – so slow it down enough to make sure you are not missing something in the instructions. You are going to base your whole answer on your interpretation of the senior partner memo (the letter to you from your would be boss) – so make certain you read it very carefully and more than once! (See more on following instructions, and evidencing that you have followed instructions, in # 2 below).

With respect to following instructions, do so to a T. If the senior partner memo tells you not to write a statement of facts, then do not write a statement of facts. Pay close attention to the instructions you are provided. Failure to adhere closely to these instructions will cost you dearly – so be careful!  Examinees are often in a rush to get through the materials quickly and end up missing something in the instructions, failing to pick up some of the easier points. So make sure you read through the senior partner memo a few times and be certain about what you are being asked to do.

 2. Make your answer look like it is an answer to that particular performance test. Whatever you are asked to do on the performance test, make sure that you create a document that looks like what you were asked to produce. There will typically be two places from which to obtain your format and instructions for the document you are asked to prepare. The first source is the from the senior partner memo (the letter to you from your would be boss). The second source is also in the case file portion of your performance test and it is a firm wide memo (usually with the title: “To all associates . . .”) that provides instructions on how to write an appellate brief or a memorandum (or whatever it is that you are being asked to write). It is critical that you refer to both of these sources to make certain that you include all sections that you are supposed to include (assuming there are sections, i.e., statement of facts, or point headings, etc.) in your document.

These two sources will also help you to format and organize your document – for example, if you are asked to write a memorandum about the the Constitutionality of a proposed ordinance, then a) you need to make sure that your document is identified as a “memorandum” and b) you need to make certain that your document visually makes it clear that you are in fact addressing the constitutionality of a proposed ordinance. This may seem obvious and it may seem less important than figuring out what the cases mean, but the reality is that many examinees simply fail to do some of these very basic things and end up losing points. So, make certain that you do not forget to make your performance test answer look like it is the very document that you have been asked to produce.

3. How do I know which cases to use? Use them all. Seriously. Really. Do not be afraid. Try to find a use for each case. That is it.

4. What part of the statutes should I include? Assuming you have statutes (not all performance tests do) then look to see which parts of the statutes are referred to in the cases. It is a pretty safe bet that you should also use the sections that the cases refer to as well.

5. Use headings. (first make sure you follow any format that you are instructed to follow). Always err on the side of following instructions. Some of your formatting will likely come from the instructions (either from the senior partner memo and/or potentially from a firm wide, memo to “all associates” in the case file). Remember that your performance test answer (whether it is a memorandum, a points and authorities, an appellate brief, a letter to a client, a closing or opening argument) it is still an exam answer. It will be graded by a human being and you need to be cognizant of that – make it easy to read and easy to follow. Use headings.

6. What if I don’t finish my answer? This is not an option. You need to make certain that you do finish your answer. Just do it. I take my job very seriously and I work hard, I go the distance, I do whatever it takes to get whatever I need done. Why am I telling you this? Because you should too – you should work your butt off and I don’t just mean in your preparation for the bar exam – but I mean right now, right now on this test, today. Suck it up and get through it. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but if you want to pass this thing then go after it, especially in these last hours. Insist on finishing today’s performance test – because you can and because you need to.

7. Okay, but what if I don’t finish my answer? Sigh. Okay, if you see that you are not going to finish what you had planned on writing, then adapt and do so quickly. The clock may not be your friend, but it does not have to be your enemy either. Watch it, keep track of your time. Don’t wait for the proctor to provide a time warning for you to know how much time you have left to finish. Keep track of your time and speed things up as you need to in order to finish your answer. And, if you are really up against the wall, then make it look like you have finished. If it is appropriate for the document that you are writing, then add a heading for “conclusion” and have a few sentences or a paragraph summarizing as best you can what you have written. And, you can even pre-write a conclusion if you think it will help (this is really only helpful to laptop examinees).

8. Be POSITIVE! (I know, how nice of me to yell at you to be positive :)) Seriously though, please do not be miserable – it will only hurt your performance. No one forced you to go to law school (well, I hope not). You presumedly wanted to do this, you want to be a lawyer. Therefore, today is about doing what you want to be doing – taking and passing the bar exam. Be proud of all the hard work you put in to get to where you are right now. So many people say things like: “I was going to go to law school” or “I always wanted to go to law school” . . . well you did go to law school. Be proud of that and don’t let the struggle of the bar exam take any of that away from you. Now go kick the bar exam’s butt!

All the best of luck this afternoon!

Please let me know if this blog helped you, I would love to hear from you:

Lisa Duncanson

Founder/Program Director
Bar Exam Cram Session and Bar None Review
(213) 529-0990 and

Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendment Approaches

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Hello All,

This may be my last post this evening. I noticed that several people were searching this blog for Criminal Procedure. In the past, I have given away several excerpts from our Criminal Procedure Bar Exam Writing Templates. These are still available on this blog, but you would have to search for it. So, I thought I would post links to our 4th, 5th and 8th Amendment Exam Writing Templates. You can download each below:

Fourth Amendment Exam Writing Template/Approach

Fifth Amendment Exam Writing Template/Approach

Eighth Amendment Exam Writing Template/Approach

Wishing you all the best of luck tomorrow!

Program Director/Founder
Bar None Review
(213) 529-0990 and