How to beat the bar exam by doing extra things to improve your odds

By Stefan Borst-Censullo, Esq.

To begin off I want to apologize to you, the good reader, for my contribution to this over stuffed cannon of “hey so you’re about to take the bar, here’s some tips.” However, you have obviously decided to read this post, so you are either very bored or beyond desperate. In any case I hope this will help you realize either that ALL HOPE IS NOT LOST or alternatively assist in further procrastination before you dive head-first into the hours of MBEs.

The main lesson that I, an underemployed, heavily indebted, but FULLY LICENSED ATTORNEY can impart on you  is to remember what the bar is really testing. The bar is not measuring your intelligence, your commitment to the pursuit of justice, or the goodness of your soul. Rather the bar is a relentless ritual. Plenty of great advocates have failed the bar multiple times while undeserving folk (like yours truly) somehow managed to sneak past the graders.

The bar is nothing more than a ritual

Our esteemed elders in the legal community insist that we need to endure simply because they too went through it. The way to pass this exam involves the time old method of “embracing the suck.” Translated from its original grunt, that your best bet is to focus on improving your chances of survival through trying your best to put in eight good hours of studying a day in some sort of organized methodology of covering as many subjects as possible.

Given the razor-thin edge between passing (which feels like this) and failing (seen here), it’s understandably unnerving to think about how little of your fate is out of your control.

A few extra things that help improve your odds

  • Don’t take chances with your computer. I bit the bullet and replaced my five-year-old Mac once it started showing its age. The “hey I’m going to turn off without warning” thing was annoying enough while I was streaming Bobs Burgers, and it would have been panic inducing during the test.
  • Spend good money on a quiet hotel. With all the understandably massive levels of stress you’ll have during the actual testing days, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a good night’s sleep. But a place with thick walls and dark curtains is a nice place to decompress.
  • Don’t skimp on exercising and eating right. I have no clue whether my habits of long distance running and healthy snaking contributed to me passing or not. However, I can tell you that I maintained my focus during both my studying period, and the extent of those grueling three hours without a blood sugar drop or an emergency run to the restroom during the MBEs. So do your best to get 45 minutes to an hour a day of some sort of movement (walking a pet would suffice) and eat whole grains, fruits, veggies and lean proteins like your mom told you to do years ago.
  • Imbibe some mood-elevating media. Inevitably during the course of your studies, you are going to have moments/days full of self-doubt. Furthermore, walking into a room of a few thousand stressed out type-A personalities undergoing the most important test of their lives is a bit intimidating. Therefore, do you best to take the occasional break from studying to look at a cute animal (your friends who went to med school even approve). On the way to the test, listen to family friendly inspirational music, or really anything from friend of the legal community Freddie Gibbs. When things got especially bad I (reflexively) turned to this preview of “Elysium,” because repeatedly seeing Matt Damon murder rich people in space somehow reminded me why I was taking the bar in the first place.

Finally I have to say that the best advice BARBRI gave me during the extent of this test was remembering that taking the bar is a privilege. Plenty of people (not me, though) would trade places with you in a second. In addition, YES, becoming a lawyer (even in this job market) is worth the pain. So seriously, I wish a sincere “best of luck” to all of y’all. This is an experience you will justifiably hate, but the reward is sweet.

Make school easier, less expensive — without the trial-and-error.

When entering law school, many students don’t know what to expect. They haven’t been able to attain relevant advice and aren’t sure of the ways, if any, law school varies from undergraduate. Most students plan to dive in — and hope to succeed — using trial-and-error. That’s not really the wisest approach. Here are several more proven ways to help make law school life much easier.

STARTING FAST AND GETTING AHEAD.

First year law school grades are by far the most crucial. A high GPA is a requisite for big firm jobs and many law reviews and journals. If you fail to do well your first year or even just your first semester, it is incredibly difficult to bring up your GPA.

There’s always the opportunity to catch on faster and get ahead for what’s coming next, what to do and how to do it. At any point during 1L year, you can still take BARBRI Law Preview to better position yourself for success. In just a week, it teaches proven academic strategies and how to take law school exams. It also gives an overview of 1L classes and offers personal service and support throughout law school. Essentially, to use a metaphor, students who use Law Preview are typically the first out of the gate, while other students are still learning to run.

SAVING MONEY ON SUPPLEMENTS.

Many students will wait until the last minute to enroll in or think about a bar review course. But keep in mind all that you’ll be getting: BARBRI offers a laundry list of study aids and resources. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of first-year students who spent an extraordinary amount of money on supplements. You don’t need to do that. Simply enroll in BARBRI and sign up for the 1L Mastery Package (free for a limited time) to start using highly-effective study tools — ready-to-use outlines for all first-year classes, on-demand video lectures for all 1L subjects, plus essay and multiple-choice practice questions. Download the BARBRI Mobile App, too, for added convenience and flexibility in how and where you want to study.

MAKING SURE YOU GRASP THE MATERIAL.

In school, there are always a few professors with whom you might not mesh well. In those situations, you’ll often feel that you don’t fully comprehend the material after lecture and must teach yourself the information. BARBRI professors delivering online video lectures (with 1L Mastery) offer a third alternative. Chances are that if a professor at your school does not fit your learning style for a particular subject, a BARBRI professor will.

STAYING ON TRACK EVERY YEAR.

BARBRI doesn’t just offer material for your 1L year. We also have all the same resources for many of your 2L and 3L classes, such as Evidence, Constitutional Law, and Criminal Procedure. Additionally, BARBRI has a free MPRE Review course to help students pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) that’s required by almost every state and jurisdiction.

Getting a head start on law school by using Law Preview and then using BARBRI’s materials can help you lower your stress and financial expense, get you on the right track immediately and help you stay ahead of the curve throughout your law school career.

Don’t Stress. Take Control of Bar Exam Fees.

By Hadley Leonard,
BARBRI Legal Education Advisor

Studies show most law school students won’t begin thinking about the bar exam until their last year. That might mean that you, on the verge of said final year, are feeling the creep of anxiety from the looming expenses: the fees for sitting for the exam, the balance on their bar review account, the living expenses during bar studying. Then the panic begins to set in – where is all this money going to come from?

Create a budget

Budgeting is maybe the least glamorous work in the English language. But it’s also one of the most effective and proven ways to manage financial challenges. No one has ever had fun sitting down in front of Excel and allocating out their income or financial reserves to food, rent and savings. Those who do, however, sleep better at night, in control of where their money is going, rather than their money being in control of where they are going.

Find areas to cut back

After looking at your budget, try to find where you can eliminate spending. I know we all feel like we can’t possibly do this, but really you can. The easiest areas are eating out and entertainment expenses. A good strategy for cutting back: plan to eat out one meal per week. And skip the specialty coffee pit-stops a few days a week. It all adds up.

Save

Determine how much you need to save, how much you need to spend each month in necessities and find an equilibrium. Put it on paper and stick to it. Make sure you start saving as soon as possible; it’s never too late. Whatever your income, save a little each week.

If you were to save only $25 a week, over the course of three years of law school, you would have accumulated almost $4,000. $25 a week is not noticeable; the balance you accumulate (plus interest) is.

BUDGETING PUTS YOU IN CONTROL

This may have been the most un-fun post you’ve read all week (and probably sounds like a lot of things your grandpa used to tell you), but there’s a reason people keep shelling out this advice. It works. Taking control of your income and financial reserves puts you in the driver’s seat and frees you up to invest in what’s best for your future.

Help! I’m only in the 30th percentile. Should I be worried?

By Mike Sims,
BARBRI President

Some of the most common inquiries I get this time of year are: “How many MBE questions should I be getting correct?” or “I only answered 54 percent of the torts questions correctly last night. Am I okay?” While these are both good questions, they are not the most important one to have.

The most important question in terms of your MBE prep is: “What is my percentile ranking?”

PERCENTAGE CORRECT IS NOT PERCENTILE RANK

The distinction between percentage correct and percentile ranking is one of the most important, as well as most confusing, aspects of bar preparation.

Percentage correct is the ratio of correct-to-incorrect answers in a particular set of questions. Percentile rank is a measure of how you are doing in comparison to everyone else – the same thing as class rank in law school.

LET’S DO SOME QUICK CALCULATIONS

To better understand this, imagine completing a set of 100 MBE practice questions and correctly answering 58 of them. Is that a good or bad score? You have to calculate percentile rank to figure that out.

Imagine there were 99 other students who worked that same set of MBE questions for a total group of 100 exam takers. Seventy answered more than 58 out of the 100 questions correctly. You answered 58 correctly. And 29 students got less than 58 correct. Translation: 70 percent of the higher-scoring test takers did better than you and you performed better than the other 29 percent. In other words, you were in the 30th percentile – better than the bottom 29 percent but lower than the top 70 percent.

THEN CONSIDER NATIONAL FIRST-TIME PASSING RATES

So is being in the 30th percentile good or bad? Pass rates do vary from state to state. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the average pass rate for first time bar takers from ABA accredited schools is 77 percent. This means the failure rate is 23 percent. Putting this in terms of percentile rankings, students who are in the bottom 23 percent – the 23rd percentile and below – do not pass the bar exam. Students in the top 77 percent – the 24th percentile and higher – pass the bar exam. With this national average measurement established, being in the 30th percentile is solidly in the passing zone.

WITH BARBRI, YOU KNOW WHERE YOU SIT ON THE CURVE

As a BARBRI student, you have a significant edge when it comes to calculating your percentile ranking. Your score on the BARBRI simulated MBE compares your performance by MBE topic and subtopic to tens of thousands of bar takers nationwide – the group you’ll be competing against on the bar exam. And our StudySmart MBE software gives you regularly updated percentile rankings each day. As a BARBRI student you really will know where you sit on the bar exam’s curve before you take it.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll work many more MBE practice questions and you’ll have a lot of chances to improve your MBE score. Between now and then, keep your eye on the right number – the percentile ranking.