Doing without a bar prep course is not for everyone, but I highly recommend it to people who remember their first year courses, want to save money, and/or think it sounds like fun (yes, that would be me).
I took and passed the Massachusetts bar in July 2013 and the Illinois bar in July 2015. I passed both on my first attempt, and I did not use bar prep courses. In my self-guided study, I benefited from many other people’s blog posts on the subject, and I’ve been meaning to share my own experience for a while.
The first step in studying, especially if you haven’t taken other bar exams, is to learn a bit about the format of the exam you’ll be taking. You’ll want to determine the schedule of the exam, the format of its various components (essay, multiple-choice, etc.), and the content tested in each of those components. It’s also helpful to check where the hard deadlines are: do you have 30 minutes for each of six essays or 3 hours to do them all? Having the format in mind will help you as you decide how to study, and the subjects will tell you what to study. I found that the state bar examiners’ sites were a good starting place for all of this info.
The state websites may also give out advice. Read it! For instance, the Massachusetts bar shares a one-pager on writing the essay exam. It wasn’t revelatory, but it did help me to think about what the graders would be looking for. I also saved it to reread in the final days before the exam — at that point it was very calming to revisit its simple tips.
Once you’ve squeezed out all the information you can get from the state site, go to the site for the National Council of Bar Examiners or any other group that writes a multistate component you’ll be using. They too share information about exam content, as well as tips for studying. The MBE and MEE Subject Matter Outlines were a huge help to me.
Then, go over the information you’ve gathered. Do you have a sense of what each subject entails? Of their relative importance? If you’re missing information, it’s worth diving into a bar-prep message board where your fellow examinees are sharing info about the exam. Remember, though, that one of the great benefits of avoiding a bar prep course is avoiding your crazed fellow examinees. I strictly limited the time I spent in such places, and I’m glad I did.
However, some info is worth going to the message boards for. For instance, many of the bar prep companies make frequency charts of the essay subjects, such as this Kaplan chart for the Illinois exam. These charts are quite valuable, as they enable you to focus your study time on frequently-tested topics and to worry less about, e.g., your state’s claim that income taxation is tested in the essay portion. See if you can take a look at a classmate’s or find one online. Even an out-of-date one is useful.
I’ll be posting tomorrow about the study materials I found most useful and on Wednesday about my studying strategies.