Bar Exam: Tools of the Trade

Hello Bar Takers, I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving! For those of you who are waiting for results from the October 2020 bar exam, or planning to take the February 2020 California Bar Exam, please watch our most recent tips video on YouTube, here is a link to the video: Bar Exam Study Tips

Today, I want to share with you what I call “Tips of the Trade” to utilise when studying for the bar exam. These tips will also be useful in your career as an attorney.

Tip #1 – Create a Successful Study Space

What is perfect for you and what is perfect for me, could be different. But, having a clean, organized space with everything you need at the ready, is key. You should create a space that makes you feel good when you enter. If you do not have a separate room for studying, then create an area. Add a plant, have writing utensils, highlighters, pens, pencils, pads of paper, notebooks, cough drops, attractive containers for pens and pencils etc. The whole point of this is to create a space that you enjoy, that is positive and even happy. Another tool I highly recommend is the Extra Large Post Its that you can post all over your walls if you want. Here are some pictures of how a past student of mine put these to use (Note: this student wrote out our Bar Exam Templates and Cram Sheet essay approaches for each topic):

This is one the things you can do when you create your own study space. You can’t do it at Starbucks and probably can not do it at a library. One of the most important things to do that will improve your chances of passing the bar exam is creating a successful study space. If we have learned anything from the Covid19 Pandemic it is how important our living space is in terms of being at peace and being successful. No one can succeed in a stressful environment. Clutter is one of the biggest enemies of success. Your whole home does not need to be perfectly organised (but, how nice would that be). However, your study space must be perfect.

Tip #2 – Establish a Study Routine

Establishing a study routine is critical. One of the most challenging issues that bar examinees face is how to study effectively so that you KNOW you are doing the right thing and that this “right thing” will equate to passing results. That is the ENTIRE point, right? You are not in law school anymore, bar study does not include the Socratic method, and, should not include the buddy system, study groups or late night cramming.

Let me put it this way:

Studying for law school exams is like a sprint, while studying for the bar exam is like preparing for a marathon. In law school, you do not need to remember material from your first year to be successful in your second year – at least not in the way you need to retain multiple subjects for the bar exam. This distinction in itself demands a different study approach.

So what does a successful study routine look like? It depends upon your study availability. But, whether you have full time to study or part time availability, the same components apply. You do not cram. Instead, you study carefully. Your focus must be upon understanding the material. Once you understand the material, you will find memorizing the material a breeze.

So how do you get to this place? You get to this place by studying and reviewing past exams. This is critical. Learning (understanding) the material in the context of the exam will attach meaning to the definitions when you embark on memorisation. Memorizing before you understand how issues are presented and resolved the the essay exams is a waste of time. Why? Because memorizing outlines, especially long outlines, is useless unless you actually know what it means.

For example, we all know that the prima facia case for negligence is: Duty, Breach, Causation and Breach. But, did you know that duty can potentially break out into five separate points that are necessary to pass a negligence exam? Let me explain this: Duty (on the bar exam) always requires a discussion of the following: 1. Duty, 2. Standard of Care (reasonable person and possibly a special duty), 3. To Whom the Duty is owed, 4. Palsgraf’s Cardozo Majority view (that a duty is owed to any foreseeable plaintiff who is in the zone of danger) and 5. Palsgraf’s Andrew’s Minority view (that a duty is owed to all). All of these point must be addressed everytime you are faced with a Negligence essay. Each item should have a heading in your exam. Headings serve as sign posts for the grader. This is important because you want the graders to immediately see where you are going. I encourage (okay, I kind of force) all of my students to adapt to this approach because when you do this, you are creating a benefit of doubt in your favor. It isn’t just about writing out the law, it is about organizing your analysis and showing that to the grader. This is something you can not glean from outlines alone.

Here is what you should do to achieve this level of understanding. Read past bar exam questions and carefully review the answers. You will find that you do know a lot of what is being tested. But, I guarantee that you will discover many issues that you probably had know idea the bar examiners wanted discussed. In my next video I will demonstrate this for you: spotting the issues is not enough UNLESS you understand what the bar examiners want you to develop in your analysis of those issues. Stay tuned for the upcoming video on my Youtube channel at BarNoneReview.

Tip #3 – Take Frequent Short Breaks

Why should you take frequent breaks while studying for the bar exam? Because the bar exam is a marathon. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to pass this exam. But, applying what long distance runners do to prepare is a good idea. As I mentioned above, studying for law school exams is really just sprints of cramming for the material but, studying for the bar exam is a marathon. You have to be able to go the distance. You can not expect to be able to put in 10 or 12 hour days on a regular basis and succeed. Yet, most first time bar takers spend countless hours reading extremely long outlines – outlines that will not give you even a clue as to what the California bar examiners, or the UBE examiners are looking for in either the essay topics or MBEs. I instruct my students to take a break from sitting studies every hour. I don’t mean that you should take thirty minutes off, search the internet, go on instagram, ticktock or other social media platforms. This is not an appropriate break. Instead, break for ten minutes and go outside and walk. Or, eat an apple or something else that will not physically drag you down. This is true for people who are working full time and studying part time as well as students studying full time. You need to stay energized. More tips on this in upcoming posts.

Tip #4 – Do Not Delay the MBEs

Most students wait on practicing MBEs until they think they have a good handle on each subject. In fact, most bar review programs tell their students to “study their outlines” and “memorise” their outlines. The problem with this approach (sic) is that memorizing rules without any context gets you nowhere. I know this to be true. I instruct my students to jump into practicing MBEs immediately. When you approach the exam and substantive material this way, you will learn and understand what the examiners are looking for AND you will KNOW what to memorize.

Tip #5 – Essay Review is More Important than Outline Review

For the same reasons above under Tip 4, you should start reading and reviewing essays. This can not be more true for learning how to write a passing or better than passing essay answer. Review past California Bar Exam answers and study the released answers carefully. Every essay topic on the California bar exam has the “obvious” issues that most get and the “unexpected” or “hidden” issues that you would not expect to see and therefore will not write on your essay answers. This very often leads to a failing answer even though the examinee understood fully what topic the examiners were testing. The problem is – every examinee gets that far. To pass, you need to address all of the issues they want. The leap to discovering this lesser expected and not understood (but necessary to address) issues is accomplished by studying what the examiners have embraced. Do not discount the released answers because the answers do not look perfect. Instead, study these answers to learn and understand what the examiners are looking for and commit yourself to it. This WILL make the memorisation part of your prep so much easier!

Tip #6 Make the Substantive Law Memorable

Making the substantive law memorable is key because it means that memorization can become a breeze for you. Again, it is all about truly understanding what the bar examiners embrace and expect from you. This comes from reviewing essays and answers and studying MBEs and the explanations, figuring out why answer C was more correct than your first choice.

So how do you make it “memorable?” Flash cards are one way. Highlighting portions of an answer response is another way. Comparing the rules in the exam answer to your outline (IF your outline is concise, like our sources: course outlines and the Bar Exam Cram Sheets). Always, “transferring” content, the rules, will make it memorable. “Transferring” occurs when you rewrite something (creating flash cards for example) or even outlining the issues that show up in an answer. The concept of “transferring” is a method that takes information that might be in your short term memory and puts it into your long term memory. This is key as it will make marination much easier.

Tip #7 Keep Track & Be Accountable

Keeping track of what you accomplish each day is important. You don’t want to walk into the bar exam and feel like you are unsure about your preparation. Understand, that no matter how much you study for the bar exam, you will always feel like it isn’t enough. This is why people don’t often feel confident on the bar exam. Confidence is really important. Setting goals and tracking these goals will help to build confidence because you can look back and see your history and that it is leading you towards success. To build up your confidence, you need to see that you are improving. Practicing MBEs and seeing your percentages increase builds confidence. Reading and issue spotting essay exams and finding out that over time your issue spotting has increased – builds confidence and rightfully so.

This is what you need to do – establish what you want to accomplish each day and then “check in” with yourself. Maybe that seems silly but, I promise you it is not. Taking stock of your progress is a positive thing to do.

Tip #8 Exercise Everyday

I can not emphasise this enough. You need to be both mentally and physically strong to pass the bar exam. I don’t mean you have to be able to lift weights or to run. But, getting some form of exercise in on a daily basis will improve your brain’s ability to take in information. Walking 15 minutes a day or on your breaks, is helpful. With Covid19, gym options are slim to none. But, walking outdoors is always a good way to disconnect from your studies (important) and to stay healthy while studying.

Tip #9 – Reward Yourself Often

I don’t mean you should go out and purchase a new car. But, giving yourself rewards for your accomplishments will help you get through the days ahead. For example, when I was studying for the bar full-time, right out of law school, I went to a movie almost every Friday evening. It was helpful because it took my mind off of bar prep. Your reward can be anything you like. But, find something and give yourself kudos for your progress!

Tip #10 – Do Not Underestimate Positivity

Make commitment to maintaining a positive attitude during you bar exam studies. As a two time cancer survivor I can attest to how important it is to have a positive attitude. I am not saying that I survived because of choosing to be optimistic. But, I am pretty confident that it made a big difference in my outcome both times. I did the same thing when I studied for the bar exam. When every missed MBE and every missed issue on the essays seemed to tell me I was going to fail, I made a choice not to give into that thinking and to just keep going. Tell yourself that you can succeed and just work through it. Remember that you are practicing MBEs and issue spotting and reviewing essays to learn the law in the context of the exam. Every time you miss an MBE – figure out why. Every time you miss issues on an essay – figure out why by reading through the answers. Study and make corrections and keep at it. You might think this is easy to say and hard to do, but I know for a fact that if I had given up I would not I would not be here today.

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Stay tuned for more bar exam tips!

Lisa Duncanson

Founder/Program Director Bar None Review &

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