This post is Part II of a three-part series on studying for the bar exam without a bar prep course. Yesterday, I posted about learning about the exam.
Saving money was a major factor in my decision not to take a bar prep course. Since I had done that, I felt fine spending money on a few prep materials. I also got an extremely generous graduation gift in the form of Law in a Flash cards for the six (at the time) MBE subjects. (Incidentally, those flashcards are a great law school graduation gift. This is especially true if the graduate is eschewing bar prep, but I also shared my flashcards with covetous friends who had mounds of standard bar prep course materials.)
Materials worth buying:
Law in a Flash cards, Emanuel: I heartily recommend these. They are thorough and well-organized. It’s easy to select a subset for targeted review, but they also work well when you’re learning the material for the first time. I have the individual sets for the MBE subjects (which also formed the core of the essay exams in MA and IL). I see they also sell a special (shorter) MBE set. Some of these cards are also available in digital versions, but I’ve really enjoyed the shareability of the physical versions.
[Your state here] Essay Testing, BARBRI: Some states now make past essays available online (and they all should). If your state doesn’t, buying someone’s left-over BARBRI “essay testing” book is very convenient. I did this for both Massachusetts and Illinois. The books are fairly easy to find on eBay. They are, to be honest, not that great. They’re pricey, and the sample answers are hit-or-miss. Still, if you need practice essay questions, this is a good way to get a lot. One thing I noticed while I was studying for the Illinois exam is that the book contained essays from non-Illinois exams (and I realized this after I Googled the questions and found them free online). The answers, though, were still tailored to Illinois, so I think it was worth it.
MBE Online Practice Exams, NCBE: These are excellent. Depending on how much time you have to study, you might even want to buy them all.
Blank index cards: In addition to using the Law in a Flash cards, I made quite a few of my own flashcards, especially for state law.
Material you might want to buy:
Steven L. Emanuel’s Strategies and Tactics for the MBE: I bought this for the Massachusetts exam, and it was helpful. It has good tips for handling multiple-choice questions, so I would recommend especially it if you aren’t confident in your overall test-taking abilities. However, some of its practice questions are the same as the NCBE Online Practice Exams, so it’s a bit redundant. I didn’t use it at all when I was studying for the Illinois exam.
I also used a lot of free materials that were very helpful.
While studying for the Massachusetts exam, I arranged law library access for the summer and took advantage of study aids available there. I found the Nutshell books particularly helpful, especially for subjects I was learning for the first time. I didn’t do this when I was studying for the Illinois exam (which I did in much less time), but I missed it.
I used some law-school Westlaw points to buy Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus’s Acing the Bar Exam and Steve Friedland’s Exam Pro Bar Prep Workbook. I wouldn’t have paid money for them, but I did put them to use.
I searched the internet for summaries of areas of law. This was particularly helpful for state law, since most of the print materials I had were multi-jurisdictional. Law firms often post short summaries for their clients or associates (with benefits to their SEO, I assume). I used Jenner and Block’s excellent Illinois Civil Practice Guide while studying for the Illinois exam. Bar association websites and journals also discuss recent developments, and the judicial branch itself posts a good deal of useful material. When I was studying for the Massachusetts exam, I used the state website to learn about the structure of the courts.
I used my casebooks. I wouldn’t recommend reading casebooks as a bar prep technique, but they were great for quick reference. It was particularly nice to use the ones I had studied from, because I could connect back to specific details I remembered.
I read, watched, and listened to Supreme Court roundups and other discussions of current events in law. This brought me up to speed on areas of the law that had changed since I was a 1L (which is when I studied most the bar subjects, including Con Law), and the prevalence of podcasts and videos on these topics helped when I needed a break from reading and writing. It would certainly be possible to overload on this — it barely counts as studying, really. But, it’s also a reminder of the many ways that law is really important, which is helpful when you’ve been studying its illogical intricacies all afternoon.