3L Year “Distractions” And Figuring Out What You Can Do Differently

GUEST BLOG by Harrison Thorne,
Associate Attorney at Vedder Price
UCLA Law graduate

After transferring to UCLA Law as a 2L, I met new people and learned a lot. It was a great experience. However, I also found myself wasting a lot of time and that made me wonder what I could do differently my final year of law school. To be honest, I was frequently distracted by Facebook, Gmail, Gchat, iMessage and the other usual culprits when I was supposed to be reading or paying attention in class. Something had to change, but I didn’t quite know the steps to take (but I would eventually).

For starters, I made a “strong” decision: enough with these distractions. There are many people, it seems, who can use sheer willpower to avoid the temptations of, for example, surfing the web during a (particularly boring) class. I was not one of them. My renewed focus meant leaving the computer in my office and bringing only a notebook and pen to class. Cold turkey.

And here’s what I figured out and did differently as a 3L:

WRITING NOTES BY HAND LEADS TO GREATER RETENTION, FOCUS

At first, I worried that I would miss so much of the lecture trying to force my hand to writer fast(er) in keeping up with the lecturer. I actually found the opposite to be true.  I retained a lot more from lectures, and it is significantly easier to stay focused.  I have even begun taking reading notes by hand.  I use my computer a lot less, which has helped alleviate the constant headache I get when staring at a screen all day.

READING A WEEK AHEAD HELPS ELIMINATE ANXIETY, FEELING RUSHED

During the semester, I made a plan to read over the weekend for the following week’s classes. On Saturday/Sunday, I would read for my courses the coming Monday through Thursday. Before doing it this way, I found that reading right before class was causing me a lot of anxiety. I read slowly and sometimes can’t put enough attention into a reading assignment if I know class is about to start in 30 minutes. By reading ahead, I was much less worried and rushed.

Another benefit of reading ahead on the weekend, by the way: you can dedicate Friday to outlining from the previous week’s readings and lectures.

CUTTING OFF WORK/STUDY AT A SPECIFIC TIME GIVES BACK MORE TIME

During my 3L year, I had four classes, was Editor-in-Chief of the Entertainment Law Review and mentor to another transfer student, and was juggling various other commitments. It would have been easy to get bogged down in all this. However, I made the choice to stop working/studying at 5:30 pm, unless I absolutely needed to push that self-imposed deadline a bit further.

My thought was: If I could successfully read for the following week, there should be no need to work past 5:30 pm. Law school tends to breed a culture of constant, around the clock “half-work” in which people are always reading or writing something but always with a lot of distraction. I was determined to work really hard during the day, leaving my nights open to spend time with my family and friends.

All those small, yet vital, things to do during 2L finals prep

It’s November. Classes are almost over. Final exams are close now.

This semester really flew by. By now, you should have your outlines complete and study questions ready. It is obvious that you should work on memorizing the rules and how to apply them, but what else should you be doing to prepare for exams?  Here are a few suggestions.

  • Keep track of your study hours. This may sound a little crazy, but it is helpful to hold yourself accountable. There are a few ways to do this. You can write down the amount of hours you will study on a calendar. This is a good idea so that you do not schedule anything else during that time. You could also create a spreadsheet to track the amount of time you studied and to track what material you studied. By writing down the amount of hours that you studied, you are able to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment after finals are over. This may also help to create efficient study habits for other exams or even for the bar exam. This is also great practice for the future when you will be billing clients.
  • Ask questions. This is pretty self-explanatory. It is so important to ask questions while you are studying because you do not want to memorize the incorrect rule. So go to your professor’s office hours, shoot them an email or bounce questions off of your friends.
  • Find a study method that works for you. It is pertinent to determine the best study method early on in law school. You may find that studying in a large group is helpful. Or you may find that you like the complete opposite. You may like studying with one, or two, other people because it’s helpful to ask questions. However, it is incredibly easy to get distracted when studying with others, so make sure you try to stay on track.
  • Find a study area that works for you. As important as it is to find out what the best study method is, where you study is almost equally as important. Studying at your house or apartment may be convenient, but it may be full of distractions such as roommates, pets or T.V. You may like studying in the library, a coffee shop or somewhere else where you can zone in and optimize productivity. This could take some trial and error, but by this time in the semester, you should have a few options to use if your main spot is unavailable.
  • Sleep. This cannot be emphasized enough. All-nighters have a bad rap and for good reason. You will retain much more information if you have a decent night of sleep. It is so, so, so important to give your brain a rest from rules and cases.

5 Great Things About Studying for the Bar

Taylor Friedlander,
BARBRI Director of Legal Education

Does this headline strike you as far-fetched? After all, everyone knows that studying for the Bar Exam is a difficult experience. It’s a fact that’s tried and true, in the way the Pope is Catholic and the sky is blue. But don’t let that get you down. Yes, even though studying for the bar is a tough nut to crack, the process (and the end results) are rewarding. Below are some silver linings to keep in mind:

  1. Studying for the Bar Exam is a bonding experience with your fellow classmates
    Only your classmates will truly understand what you are going through. Yes, your family can offer support, and your friends can pepper you with pep talk, but at the end of the day, nothing compares to the empathy you get when you and your fellow J.D. students “talk the talk” of MBEs. (And the same goes to you LL.M. students!) I know it’s tempting to say that you’re doing little more than suffering together, but believe me – you’re also bonding over a unique shared experience. (Aww …)
  1. BARBRI gives you another point of connection with practicing attorneys
    It’s strange but true – attorneys like to talk about their time on the bar prep battlefield. They’ll reminisce about cracking open their huge box of BARBRI books and nerd out about how Erwin Chemerisnky schooled them on Con Law. BARBRI is a great icebreaker whenever I talk to other attorneys. Almost everyone has a unique story to share!
  1. You’ve got the I’m Studying for the Bar Card (hereinafter “ISBC”) in your back pocket
    Don’t want to go to Aunt Sally’s birthday? Never fear: you’ve got the ISBC and simply can’t sacrifice the study time. Not jazzed about helping your friend move a futon over the weekend? ISBC! Don’t feel like cat-sitting Brownie? ISBC! It’s the perfect excuse to help put your time to good use.
  1. Taking a break will feel better than it ever has
    Whatever your outlet – whether it’s going for a run, taking a dance class, grabbing happy hour with friends – it will feel better than it ever has. Bar prep is so intense that once you take the time to give yourself a much-deserved break, the joy you experience will multiply.
  1. You’re about to become a lawyer
    The Bar Exam is different from any other kind of test you’ve prepped for. All other exams have been a stepping-stone. The SAT got you into college. The LSAT got you into law school. But this – this is IT. This is the marathon to the finish line. Come hell or high water, ice or fire, passing this test earns that title, “ESQUIRE.” Yes, it is a journey, but remember –  BARBRI is there for you every step of the way to help you #OWNTHEBAR!

#The1Llife: 1L Exam Reflection

GUEST BLOG Makenzie Way,
1L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Today I’ll be talking about the most dreaded 1L topic …. exams!

Being early January I can officially say I’ve survived my first semester exams, so there’s that. Now while I anxiously await grade disbursement in late January I have the time to reflect on the overall experience… so here it is.

The first word that comes to mind when I reflect on exam month is “EXHAUSTING.” Although I had roughly five plus days between each exam, spending an entire month studying takes a lot out of you. First, your schedule is completely thrown. Instead of waking up and going to class like your body is used to, suddenly you’re spending days on end in the same PJ’s, hardly eating, and staying up late because you’ve convinced yourself those extra two hours of studying will be your saving grace. The second word that comes to mind is “BRUTAL!” After studying for essentially 17 hours a day for a week the time finally comes when you have to actually write your exam. You think you’re prepared and feel slightly confident by that time, right? Hopefully, but nearly everyone I know left the exam feeling roughly ten shades worse than when they’d entered regardless of how confident they felt upon entering.

Even if you typed until your fingers cramped, and felt like you understood the questions, there’s still the understanding that you’re graded on a curve, so no matter how well you did it all comes down to how well the person next to you did… which is heartbreaking. Furthermore, there’s the pressure of how to study “correctly” and the shame that comes along with that. For me, I’ve always favored solo studying, however, many preferred group studying which left me feeling like maybe I was missing out. Then there was the question of flash cards vs. note review, along with the number of practice exams to take.

Now, what did I find actually helped me during this whole process? First off, I personally believe that no matter how much you study, or whether your exam is open book or closed book, you will still leave feeling slightly worse than when you entered. Law school exams are designed (in my mind) to cut you short. Teachers want you to prioritize the larger claims over the smaller ones, but that doesn’t change the fact that when the exams end you’ll be left wondering if the claims you picked were the right ones, or regretting the fact that you couldn’t type that much faster so you could write that one extra claim down. My only advice regarding that is to take practice exams. My first torts practice exam I essentially word vomited on a page, it was unorganized and I missed a lot of claims because I was too busy defining little things. After three more practices, I got used to the time limit, understood better how to read the questions, and just overall had better control over my nerves so in the end, my essay came out coherent, organized, and well distributed between the claims.

The most helpful tool however actually came in the form of the 1L BARBRI Mastery Program videos. To be honest I only used these for Civil Procedure after quickly realizing I knew nothing about the subject, cried, and determined I would just have to teach myself in the five available days. In hindsight I wish I had watched the videos for all my courses, because truly I cannot say it enough – THE BARBRI VIDEOS ARE LIFE-SAVING! If it weren’t for those Civ Pro videos myself, and probably most of the 1L class at Penn would have walked into the exam saying “what is Erie” … “subject matter what?”

To summarize, my main advice is:

(1) take some time to rest or you will burn yourself,

(2) study the way you feel comfortable studying and do not waste time feeling guilty about it,

(3) watch/buy the BARBRI videos because they are really life-changing (and no I am not forced or pay to say that)!

#BarPrepLife: Creatures of Habit

This was a good experience because, much like what I expect to happen during the bar exam, I was working near strangers in a room that I had never been in before.

When it comes to studying for the bar, it is clear that “bar-preppers” are creatures of habit.

The library, the local coffee shop, the kitchen table; everyone has their favorite study spot.  I recently received some advice from a lawyer about the need to switch environments when it comes to studying for the bar exam.

The lawyer told me that it is a good idea to change your study spot every so often in order to get used to working in a new environment in an attempt to adapt to the unfamiliar location of the bar exam.  For many students, the bar exam is administered in a place that is completely new and foreign.  In Michigan, the July bar exam takes place at the Michigan State University basketball arena, also known as the Breslin Center.  As I have never studied, nor taken a huge exam, in a basketball arena, I decided to take this advice to heart and study in a new environment.

Throughout bar prep, I have been studying at my law school.  This is unfamiliar for me because I have always studied at home for law school exams. At first, it took a while to get acquainted with the new space. Overall, it was a good experience because I was able to test myself by studying in an unfamiliar environment with distractions that are different than what I am accustomed to.

In an attempt to really try out this method of studying in a completely new environment, I went to the public library.  This was a good experience because, much like what I expect to happen during the bar exam, I was working near strangers in a room that I had never been in before.  It took me some time to get used to being in such an unfamiliar space, but I am glad that I am using my study time to discover by strengths and weaknesses so that when it comes time to taking the bar exam, I will be ready to perform.

Throughout bar prep, I plan on studying in different environments every so often in order to mentally prepare myself for the unfamiliar setting of the bar exam.  I think that this strategy will help me to #OwnTheBar.

Thoughts on studying in a new setting during bar prep? Tweet me or Instagram me @BarPrepLife!

Considering Another State Bar Exam? 5 Strategies I Used To Minimize Time And Maximize Success On My 2nd Bar Exam

SamFarkusBy Sam Farkas,
BARBRI curriculum architect and instructor

I took my first bar exam in the state of Florida in 2012.

Through my role at BARBRI, I help students every day prepare for success on the bar exam; however, when I personally began preparing for my second state bar exam (Georgia) this past February, I seriously questioned whether I was up for it—particularly given the demands on my time and my work responsibilities.

I invariably recalled the stressful and angst-ridden few months following graduation from law school when I marshalled every ounce of effort to pass the most important test of my professional career the first time.

As I began studying for the exam though, I realized that the skills, knowledge and grit that I had cultivated over the past few years impacted how I prepared for the exam.

5 ways in which I approached studying for my second bar exam differently:

1. I treated the bar exam like a client

Every minute matters. Most of us have learned how to maximize efficiency by putting every minute of available time to good use. Moreover, many of us are well practiced at juggling multiple client matters throughout the day, moving seamlessly from one task to the next.

I treated bar preparation like a client matter and decided how much time per day I could spend on it. I kept track of my time and moved on when I needed to work on something else. Where I could, I filled breaks in my day with some focused study. A half an hour of review during my lunch break or answering practice MBE questions on my mobile device while waiting for an appointment were great ways to maximize what limited time I had to devote to studying.

2. I obtained the right preparation resources

Of course I had access to BARBRI materials; however, I didn’t need the exact same materials that I needed my first time around. I wanted the right combination of the best study resources so that I could study the most efficiently.

These insights went directly into the development of the new BARBRI Attorney’s Course. This Attorney’s Course is all online and provides a streamlined study plan that allowed me to pinpoint my personal topic and subtopic weaknesses so I could spend time working on the areas that would most benefit MY personal exam score. This strategy was critical in maximizing my time while still putting me in the best position possible to be successful on the exam.

3. I maximized efficiency

To make the best and most efficient use of my limited study time, I had to determine which subjects deserved the most effort and prioritize my study accordingly. I found, like most of you likely will, that I had developed a very sophisticated understanding of a few areas and a better understanding of many additional areas of law since my first exam.

All subjects are not necessarily treated equally on the exam based on jurisdiction; therefore, I evaluated which subjects required a more in-depth review and prioritized those over other subjects that required (or deserved) less time. The benefit of the BARBRI Attorney’s Course is that we’ve already figured out that weighting for you.

For me, and I believe for most, familiarity with the subject and the amount of time I needed to dedicate to learning the rules in a subject dictated the best method of study, and it was a little different for each subject. Sometimes I relied more on the lectures during my daily commute and other times I really needed to review written materials.

4. I played to my strengths

The bar exam is a test of legal problem-solving. Sure, knowledge of the law is important, but well developed legal problem solving skills, strong reading comprehension skills, and sheer endurance will take a person very far on this exam.

As licensed attorneys, we have spent our professional career sharpening these skills and are adept at breaking down even the most complex of problems. Luckily, legal problems on the bar are much more straightforward and simple than what we encounter in practice.

In practice, I am accustomed to studying the law through the context of actual legal problems. Therefore, when preparing for the exam, I strengthened my knowledge of the rules by frequently working practice problems—both multiple choice and essay.  I also made good use of the model answers to reinforce my knowledge of the black letter rules.

5. I kept the big picture in mind

Above all, I maintained my focus on the goal: passing the exam, which I did.  The bar exam is a test of minimum competency. Expertise and specialized knowledge are not required for success. I had already passed the bar once and am already a licensed attorney. Sure, I may have had to learn some state-specific law or brush up on the common law majority rules, but mastery of every rule— or even every subject—was not necessary! I just needed to earn enough points to get a passing score.

If you find yourself contemplating another state bar exam, we at BARBRI wish you all the best and always know that BARBRI is here to help you Own The Bar….again.

About the BARBRI Attorney’s Course: 

The BARBRI Attorney’s course builds upon your knowledge and skills to get you to your next law license, faster. This attorney-focused course saves you time by:

  • Providing a streamlined, all online experience constructed to save you precious, valuable time
  • Bypassing many basic bar exam test taking skills critical for first time takers
  • Getting you quickly to the most highly tested areas of the exam overall and within each subject
  • Pinpointing your topic and subtopic weaknesses so you can spend time working the areas of law that will most benefit your exam score.

Licensed attorneys studying for the exam in a state in which the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is administered or California may enroll in this course at this time.

Learn more here: Attorney’s Course

#barpreplife: Online vs. Live Classes, and My (Tentative) Schedule

GUEST BLOG by Harrison Thorne,
Graduate of  UCLA Law

I signed up for BARBRI’s live lecture, and planned on going to the lectures every day.

However, after some introspection, I realized that I do my best work first thing in the morning. I like to wake up around 6:00, take my dog out, shower, and get to work. I could be listening to the lecture by approximately 6:45 am every day, and finish it up around 9:45-10:00. This is more appealing for me than waiting until 9:00 to begin the live lecture.

There are downsides to not attending the live lectures, though.

These include: being at home too much, not being accountable to anybody, not interacting with people, and not mixing up study environment. However, I believe that for me, the benefits of starting early and at my own pace outweigh these negatives. Nonetheless, everything is conjecture at this point, as I have yet to study for the Bar Exam. If online lectures do not work out, I will go to the live lectures. I believe the key is to (a) know yourself and what works, and (b) remain adaptable and willing to change when things are not working.

My tentative schedule will include lots of study time, but also daily free time. At least in the beginning, I believe it will be important to maintain the activities I enjoy. I likely worked 40-70 hours per week in law school, but I was driving to and from school, meeting professors, walking around campus, etc. The Bar, on the other hand, will entail studying in one room all summer. There are far fewer “changes” of scenery to help with boredom.  Thus, I believe it will be important to have something to look forward to daily.  Therefore, I will include fun activities at the end of my day, every day.

Monday-Friday:

  • 6:00: wake up
  • 6:45: begin lecture
  • 10:00: finish lecture
  • 10:00-11:30: study
  • 11:30-12:30: lunch break (eat, walk dog, etc)
  • 12:30-5:30/6:00: study
  • 6:00-10:00: free time

Saturday & Sunday:

  • Same, but I will either begin studying 1.5 hours later, or end 1.5 hours earlier

I plan on stopping work by no later than 6:00 pm every day. That way, I have time to go to the gym, hang out with my friends/family/girlfriend, go to movies, and anything else I might want to do. I will revise this schedule as needed, but I believe that this is enough time, daily, to learn what I need to learn.

#The2Llife: Where The Going Gets Tough

GUEST BLOG by Lauren Rose,
2L at University of Detroit Mercy

*Cue the horror movie music*  Finals are almost here.

This is where the going gets tough.  The entire semester leads up to the end, the final exam, the finale. Now is the time to buckle down and start hitting the books. Here are a few of my tips for final exams.

  1. Ask for outlines. It is so beneficial to ask other students for outlines. Ask students who took the class before you for a copy of their outline. Your school may even have copies of outlines in an outline bank. As always, make sure to edit the outline with updated cases and class notes!
  2. Review BARBRI videos. I cannot stress this enough for your main courses. Barbri finds a way to condense an entire semester worth of information into short, informational videos. During 1L year, these videos were a lifesaver.  I am currently watching the evidence video and it has been very helpful.
  3. Review commercial supplements. If you’re in need of more information, check out a commercial supplement. These books break down the subject into incredible detail. I find it helpful to look at supplements when I am unclear about a topic or want to learn more about it.
  4. Find what works for you. I like to write things down. I study by writing, rewriting, and rewriting my outlines 17,000 times. I also make flashcards to memorize big topics. However, I know a lot of people do not like to write things down. Figure out something that works for you and stick to it!

Good luck on finals! Do you have any tips or tricks for law school finals? Tweet me @The2LLife!