It's never too early to start thinking about the bar exam! Building off of Lee Faller Burgess's popular guest post discussing best approaches for studying for the bar exam while working, this week, guest blogger Sean Silverman outlines the three phases of studying for the bar exam. Great guest post. Thanks, Sean!
I'm often asked questions by students, and prospective students, regarding how early they should begin preparing for the bar exam. My answer is always the same: the earlier the better. There is a ton of information to learn for the bar exam, and the more time you give yourself, the less stress you'll have trying to learn it all.
Many students begin studying for the exam after graduating from law school. Generally, graduation takes place around the end of May, leaving roughly 2 months to study for the exam. Those taking the exam in February should give themselves at least that amount of time, and ideally, more.
I recommend breaking up the studying into a few components.
This should last for about a month, and should consist only of reading through the outlines on all testable subjects. Many students want to get right into practicing essays, and multiple-choice questions. I'm a proponent of learning the law on a deep level, and practicing questions before you've reached that point is, in my opinion, counter-productive. Read and re-read the outlines until you understand each testable area to the extent you would need to know it if you were taking a separate law school exam in each individual subject. Make flashcards if that helps you, create your own outlines, or find a study partner. People learn differently, but you need to know the law. There is no excuse for going into the bar exam with a vague knowledge of the potential testable areas.
Once you know the law, you should spend the second month applying the law to the types of questions you're likely to see on the exam. In other words, you should practice essays and multiple-choice questions. Many states release essays from prior exams, and if you are taking an exam in a state that releases prior essays, you should print out as many of those essays as are available. Knowing the law, though essential, is not sufficient; you need to understand how the test makers have created fact patterns in the past. By understanding this, you'll begin to develop an understanding of how you'll need to apply your knowledge on your exam. Throughout this time, you should also be re-reading the outlines that you've learned earlier. Never stop learning the law; you'll be amazed how you continue to learn new things from the same outlines.
As the exam approaches, you should spend your remaining time working on an essential skill: endurance. The bar exam is grueling, and if you haven't practiced taking a 200-question-multiple-choice exam, or writing essays for three hours, you may find yourself fatigued on test day, and unable to apply the law correctly even though you've learned it sufficiently. In other words, this last month is about replicating exam conditions while continuing to learn the law through outlines, and applying the law through practice questions. The bar exam truly is a marathon for the mind. Treat it as such, and train for the event properly.
My advice is simply that: advice. Tweak it to what works best for you, but consider it as a suggestion, and whatever you do, be certain that you give yourself enough time to prepare, so that you're not required to prepare again.
Sean Silverman is an attorney and instructor for a New York based bar review company. He has prepared numerous students for the MBE, both in person in New York, as well as over Skype for those located outside of New York. In addition, his blog provides readers strategic advice for effectively preparing for the MBE, as well as providing an opportunity for readers to ask questions regarding any of the content tested on the MBE. Visit his blog @ http://www.mbetutorial.blogspot.com, or contact him directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices. Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.