How to make the bar prep experience fit you perfectly

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By Makenzie Way, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

How is it possible that we’re already this far into bar prep?! Someone needs to tell the world to slow down because I feel like I’m just now getting the hang of this whole ‘studying for the bar’ thing. 

Everyone told me bar prep was a trial and error sort of process … that it was different than studying for law school, and I believed them kind of, but boy were they right. While BARBRI provides you a personalized approach to studying, you still need to customize its features and your own actions to make it fit you perfectly. 

Here’s how I’ve customized my own bar prep experience to make it more fitting for my needs:

Take some breaks

I learned pretty quick that sitting down for 5-6 straight hours every day, seven days a week, was exhausting, but I stuck to it for about a month because social media and a plethora of blog posts convinced me I had to. 

By the end of the month I noticed I wasn’t retaining as much information, and I just felt tired … to put it simply, I was no longer being effective, even though I was hitting my target number every day. So what did I do? Easy, I took a break.

First, I took a couple of days off from studying completely to let my body and mind rest because I was burnt out, plain and simple.

Second, I rearranged my study schedule so I could take breaks in between my assignments, especially the essays and practice MPTs. By giving myself small 30-minute breaks in between the more lengthy assignments, I was able to stay productive, energized and retain more information. 

Take a break from studying

Create a study space

I’ve talked about this before, but honestly I only recently started following my own advice. In the beginning, I was watching lecture videos in bed or on the sofa because that’s what I’ve always done but, alas, the comfort of my bed made staying focused for such long periods of time difficult (to say nothing of the resulting back aches). 

Moral of the story: if you don’t have a study space set aside, take some time to create one. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but try to score yourself a desk and a comfortable chair (IKEA has some great options). Not only will your back thank you, but you may notice an increase in productivity. 

Always review the model answers

It seems cliché but review the model answers even if you get the question right or ‘pass’ the essay. Not only does reviewing model answers solidify legal concepts in your brain, it also points out small details you may have missed. These small details can be crucial on the MBE.

When it comes to essays, the model answers for MEE and MPT questions are also fantastic examples of how best to structure and organize your response – try to ingrain the model answer formatting into your brain so you don’t waste precious time on the exam deciding how best to lay out your answer. 

Employ the ‘honey’ test

Group studying has never been my thing. Maybe those of you who formed study groups already knew the benefits of the ‘honey’ test, but I for one did not, and I was amazed by how effective it was. 

Basically, one evening I was excited about a certain new concept, so I explained it to my dad. A few days later, when writing a practice essay, I noticed that I was able to recall that concept perfectly – a little light bulb went off in my brain. I decided to test the theory, and sure enough, the more I explained concepts, especially ones I was struggling to understand or retain, the easier I found it to utilize those concepts later on.  

Complete entire tasks first

It’s too easy to click complete on a couple of assignments to ‘hit your target hours for the day’ with the intention of actually completing those tasks by end-of-day, but ultimately failing to do so. In an ideal world, you would immediately complete the task the following morning before moving forward with your work, buuuut if you’re anything like me, more often than not you’ll just keep pushing it off. 

This is dangerous because ISAAC will have no idea that the task hasn’t been completed, and thus your progress calculation will be inaccurate. Basically, it’ll be up to you to correct the error of your ways and get yourself back on track.

Don’t avoid assignments

You may think you’re already good at certain assignments or, conversely, know you’ll struggle with them. For me personally, I kept putting off the essay questions because I was confident in my essay writing abilities and had scored well on the first few essay prompts. I don’t recommend this, obviously, and I have changed my own behavior accordingly. 

Firstly, putting certain types of assignments off will just result in a piling up of those assignments. For me, I ended up having to spend two whole days doing nothing but essays (it wasn’t fun). ISAAC recommends assignments in a specific order for a reason, one of which is to give your mind a break in between the tasks. Messing with this is risky for obvious reasons. 

Secondly, just because you’re “good” at something, does not mean you’re perfect. There is always room for improvement. Likewise, just because you struggle with something does not mean you will always struggle with it Practice is essential to overcoming your weaknesses! 

Interested in some more strategies? Check out these additional bar exam study tips from the experts at BARBRI.

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