How to track your bar prep progress and percentile rank

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[ Makenzie Way, 2020 Law Graduate at the University of Pennsylvania ]

BARBRI Bar Review makes staying on schedule easy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still track your progress. In fact, BARBRI has some specially designed features that are made specifically for that purpose.

So what does this all mean? Well, you need to figure out your schedule beyond the recommended daily hours that the BARBRI interface provides (courtesy of ISAAC and your Personal Study Plan). It means you need to be proactive in a) ensuring that you’re staying on par with BARBRI’s target completion rate and b) monitoring your percentile rank on assignments/topics.

Easy enough, right? But what is the best way to do this?

I reached out to Mike Sims, President of BARBRI, to get the answers we’ve all been looking for and now I’m sharing them with you.

Create a study schedule

First and foremost, you need to create a study schedule, and no, I don’t mean simply deciding how many hours to study each day – BARBRI decides that for you. When I say create a schedule, I mean figure out when and where you’re going to study each day, week, month, etc.

For instance, I know I’m more productive in the evenings so I’ve arranged my schedule so that I do a light review of my notes in the morning for approximately 30 minutes to an hour, and then I hunker down for my intensive study session at around 5 pm. I’ve also carved out a workspace in my bedroom consisting of a desk, a motivational poster, and all physical requirements (i.e. highlighters, pens, scrap paper, study books, etc.)

Having a schedule helps to ensure that you’ll find the time to complete all your required tasks each and every day. It also lends some structure to your life, which may help reduce stress.

Once you’ve made your study schedule, you’ll want to turn your eye to progress tracking.

Track your progress daily

Once you learn how to navigate the site, tracking your progress is easy (if you’re struggling, look to the BARBRI tutorial videos for assistance).

From the home page you can access two important progress tracking features. The first is the daily hour requirement. You’ll want to take note of that number each day to ensure it’s not increasing – if the number begins to increase that means you’ve been doing less than the required daily hours and may be at risk of falling behind.

Tracking your progress goes beyond just that simple number though. The second thing you should be looking to is the ‘My Progress’ icon in the upper right-hand corner. You’ll want to make looking at this part of your daily routine.

But what should you be looking for within the My Progress section? What do all the numbers and sliding scales mean?

You’ll notice that when you click the My Progress icon you’re immediately brought to a page that shows you your study plan progress – your progress is shown in blue, and your target progress is shown in red; both are reflected on a visual aid.

Don’t freak out if the progress number is lower than the target progress number. So long as the blue line reaches the little bubble on the visual aid and the bubble is green, you’re doing fine. If the bubble is red, then you need to start adding a few more hours onto each day until it turns green, even if you’re daily hour estimate on the home page says otherwise.

Part of the reason your progress may be lower than your target progress – and your bubble red – is because ISAAC goes off the estimated hours per task, and is calculated based on a seven day work week. Thus, if you take longer to complete certain tasks (and therefore, fail to receive the message that ‘you’ve completed today’s tasks’) or you take a rest day, then you’ll begin to fall behind progress wise.

Monitor your percentile rankings

The next thing you’ll find under the Progress Tracker is a series of graphs depicting your performance thus far in your studies. You want to keep an eye on all of them, but the most important thing to note is your percentile ranking – this is because the bar exam is curved. You can learn all about “the curve” on the BARBRI website.

How does BARBRI determine your ranking? And where do you want to be?

Your score is determined based on your performance on the question sets and assignments provided for you – that’s why it’s so important that you complete those tasks. While you see your percentage score right away, BARBRI waits until the end of each day to provide you with your percentile score. In determining your percentile score they rank you against all other BARBRI takers to give you the best possible idea of where you’ll fall on the actual MBE curve.

The general rule of thumb is that you want to aim to be in the 30th to 40th percentile, or higher, in each subject area to ensure your success on the bar exam. But, don’t freak out if you’re scoring lower in the beginning!

BARBRI makes it easy to monitor your skill development, by breaking your percentile rankings down into weekly segments – if you ranked lower than you would have preferred in the beginning, you’ll likely see your ranking go up as you get further into the course.

If you notice that your ranking still isn’t improving, isn’t improving as fast as you’d like, or is dropping, then it’s probably time to consult your long outlines.

Generally speaking you shouldn’t feel compelled to look beyond the lectures, substantive assignments, and short outlines. The long outlines are meant to be used as reference material – similar to 1L supplements. If you’re confused or having trouble with a particular concept or subject area, consult the long outline, otherwise, avoid bogging yourself down.

The same thing can be said for studying outside the BARBRI provided materials (i.e. flashcards, etc.) Generally, it’s not recommended, especially if you’re studying under a traditional 2-month schedule … but you know yourself better than anyone else. If there’s something that’s always worked for you and makes you comfortable, then do it. But don’t invent something entirely new, now is not the time to experiment.

Do “more practice” if you finish

With the increased amount of time available for studying this year, many of you have messaged me with concerns about what happens if you finish the entire course with time to spare.

If that happens, you should first congratulate yourself for putting yourself in such a good position in terms of likelihood of success. Secondly, you should look to the ‘more practice tab’ on the left-hand side of your PSP.

Remember UBE/state-specific tests

If you’re taking the UBE you will likely be required to take a state-specific test. There a few important things to note here:

  • BARBRI does not provide study aids for these tests, instead, the states provide them themselves. You’ll want to explore the bar administration’s webpage or contact them directly to gain access to the necessary study materials
  • The state-specific exams are, for the most part, easy. If you can pass the bar exam you can most certainly pass the state-specific portion. Take that into consideration when deciding how to balance state study prep against bar study prep.

Be flexible as to bar exam timing

Finally, because I know it’s something that’s been on everyone’s mind – mine included, let’s discuss what happens if you end up not getting a seat for a July or September bar exam.

The most important thing to know is that you’ll retain access to your BARBRI study materials and PSP free of charge until the February exam.

In terms of studying here’s what Mike Sims recommended:If you know you’ll be working during the fall and leading up to the bar exam, then aim to complete the lecture series, otherwise known as the acquisition phase of knowledge during the summer/fall. Stop before you reach the substantive phase of knowledge – i.e. the detailed tests and assignments – and come back to it in December when you begin studying ‘full time’.

If you won’t be working during the fall, stop studying once it’s confirmed that you will not be taking the July or September exam, and re-start in December.

If you want to keep your mind active during the time off, consider doing any, or all, of the following:

  1. Complete the pre-study materials if you didn’t already.
  2. Review the long outlines for the subjects you didn’t take in law school, and the short outlines for those subjects you did take in law school to keep concepts fresh in your mind.
  3. Continue reading cases to keep your legal reading and reasoning sharp.
  4. Practice outlining, writing concisely, and typing to increase your speed and strengthen your skills.

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