As the time grows closer for the Class of 2009 to graduate and think about the bar exam, here are a few bits of advice I shared with a few friends:
The bar exam is on the last Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of July. On Tuesday and Thursday, you spend 3 hours in each morning doing essays (3 each morning), and 3 hours in each afternoon doing 1 performance test. On Wednesday, you get 3 hours in the morning to do 100 multiple choice questions, and another 3 hours in the afternoon to do another 100 multiple choice questions. Essays and multiple choice questions are familiar formats to us all. The performance test is basically some sort of task, whether it's a memo, a points and authorities, a letter, drafting deposition questions or interrogatories, or the like.
This is what BarBri is best at. There are other courses that will teach you the law pretty darn well, and some probably even better; your options include LECC and Flemings, and I believe Prof. Levensohn is hawking Emanuels. I found BarBri's material enough. As long as you stick pretty well to their schedule, you'll get your eyes on enough material to get you ready. Don't feel frustrated if you don't get everything in the model answer; or at least don't let frustration get the better of you. Let it be a motivation to you. You can also look up old questions at the Cal Bar site, which should have model answers as well. They go back quite a few years; you really don't need much past 2000 if anything. The goal by the last few weeks before the bar is to get your eyes on at least 4 essays a day; better is to do 2 essays and outline 3-4 more.
The multiple choice section is called the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), and the MBE for the July 2008 exam was hard. It almost made me want to give up on the bar exam ... almost. BarBri does not prepare you for how hard the MBEs are. However, for some reason the passage rate on the MBE portion of the july 2008 exam was the highest in recent years, and as a conequence all jurisdictions saw increased passage rates on their local bar exams. So don't feel too frustrated when you take them; by the same token, don't get too confident when you take the BarBri mock MBE. Definitely look into the 3-day PMBR if you can afford it. I didn't take PMBR and I passed, but like I said, I was scared stiff by the actual MBE. Some others say that the PMBR questions were harder than the actual MBE; reasonable minds can differ. Again, I don't know that taking PMBR will help, but it couldn't hurt.
The performance test is really a test of how well you follow directions. You'll be given a fact pattern to read, along with instructions, statutes,and case law. You will not need all of the case law, especially as the cases sometimes cite each other. Your best bet is to figure out what the format is, set up accordingly, and fill in the blanks. The July 2008 exam's PTs were memos, so we were lucky. The other thing about the PTs is time management, just as with the essays. It's easier to forget that with the PTs, though, because you may find yourself thinking as you fill in the blanks that you set it up wrong. Resist the urge to restructure the whole thing or replace your reasoning; simply refer to the mistaken exposition and say, "but that does not satisfy the standard, because ..." You'll see this in real practice anyway, especially in court. The examiners don't care if you get the law right or get the right conclusion. They want to see you reason it out, and they want to see that you understand the opposing position, so in a sense, getting something wrong at first is doing it right, as long as you don't do a wholesame replace of whatever you've already got down.
Here are a few things I did that helped me, personally:
- I forced myself to stay at the library for very long hours, but I didn't force myself to work all the time. I made sure I had time for meals, and I took breaks if I felt too confused.
- I refilled my large bottle of Smartwater every night and drained it every afternoon, after lunch, while I was in the library. (Coffee ruled the mornings.)
- I made sure I had time to go to the gym at least twice a week.
- I always took at least one day off on the weekends, during which I would follow an old personal custom, which is to go to a bookstore and read magazines to catch up on the real world in some small fashion.
- I also drew up my own master outline, which I've attached. I compiled it from my skeleton outlines for each subject, and for me, the process of whittling it down to fit on fewer and fewer pages would a terrific learning process. Each skeleton outline was compiled after the lectures; but note that some of the subjects ran 2-3 days.
- I was lucky to have my dad drive me to the test center each day. Depending on where you take the exam, be sure you have rehearsed your drive or walk so you know the timing.
- Have an analog timepiece with you.
- Make sure the last day before the bar exam, Monday, is relatively light. If you feel comfortable enough to take the whole day off, so much the better. Even if you do a half day, don't do substantive work. Instead, do your printing, and skim your outlines or flash cards or what have you.
- I never did do flash cards. For me I guess doing the outlines after each lecture was my equivalent.
- Prepare your food, or at least scout out your testing center to know where you can find food. Don't do anything exotic--go with food you know won't induce a reaction.
- Don't worry about anybody else. Last summer I sat at a particular desk in the LLS library, right in front of the map of the United States, near the double doors upstairs. People thought I was crazy to be near a high-traffic area, but it trained me to ignore ambient noises. It also made me easy to find if people had questions, or if they wanted to go on break. Learning how to handle yourself when you're not the only one in control is very important for another reason: just before the end of the morning session on the first day of the July 2008 exam, there was an earthquake--we felt it all the way out in Century City, although the epicenter was 10 miles east of Ontario--and I just kept going, pausing just long enough to let the earthquake finish up.
Anyway, that's all I've got for now. If you have any questions, let me know, and if you know anyone who can benefit from this, pass it along. Good luck! :)