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Nose, Meet Grindstone

Director of Bar Preparation Resources at Texas Tech University School of Law

Studying for the bar exam is awful. It’s stressful, frustrating, and boring as all get-out. What a terrible combination! Here are a few thoughts on getting through this most grueling summer.

Your studying will naturally evolve as the summer goes on.

At the beginning of the bar prep period, students need major review of huge topic areas they haven’t thought about for several years. This can be incredibly overwhelming, as bar prep lectures dive deep into topics students have forgotten about completely or—yikes!—are approaching for the first time.

The massive overview is necessary, though, because it’s the first step in sorting out what material a student already knows and what is left to be learned. This is the time for you to realize that hey, you remember intentional torts or Business Associations pretty well, but you don’t understand the various hearsay exceptions or anything about Con Law! Make mental notes of the topics you’ll have to come back to later. (It’s bound to be a long list—that’s true for everyone!)

As June turns into July, however, it’s time to get serious about plugging the holes in your knowledge and buffing up your essay-writing skills. Study smart: focus on the areas of law you’re weakest in that are also heavily tested on the bar. This is triage. Address your greatest vulnerabilities first.

Use other study techniques that work for you, even if your bar prep company hasn’t given you specific instructions. If you need to talk out loud, or draw maps or flowcharts, do it! Only make flashcards for rules of law you don’t already know. Don’t spend time re-reading the big outlines; use them like encyclopedias, looking up specific subtopics you need to review. (Spend an hour each on mortgages, duty of care, and the First Amendment—those pay big dividends.)

Take the midterm. Heck, take any practice question you can!

Several times a summer, I hear a student make the excuse that he or she isn’t going to take the MBE midterm on the day it’s assigned, because the student just wants to review a bit more first. This makes me want to scream, cry, and pull out my hair, because how do you know whether you need to review more if you haven’t tested your knowledge yet?!? The bar exam isn’t a test of your ability to read an outline—it’s a test of your ability to answer a question about a specific area of law.

The bar exam is a wrestling match. It’s you versus the exam, mano a mano. You’re pretty evenly matched. Same weight class, all that. So, if you’ve got a wrestling match at the end of July, how are you going to prepare for it? By reading books about wrestling all summer? Or by wrestling every opponent you can get your hands on?

That’s what I thought.

Here’s the other thing students sometimes say to me that makes me want to cry: “I’m really struggling with Property, so I’m going to stop studying it and try to bring up my scores on all the other subjects instead.” This is like the wrestler saying that his half-nelson is no good, so he’s just going to work on his dropkick instead. That makes no sense! To pass the bar, you need to be reasonably good at all the subjects.

Do this once.

The only thing worse than studying for the bar is studying for it again. Give it your all and pass the first time. 

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