Doing Without Bar Review: How I studied

This post is Part III of a three-part series on studying for the bar exam without a bar prep course. Yesterday, I posted about gathering study materials.

There is a lot of debate about how to study for the bar exam — the bar prep companies all take sides. When I was setting my schedule for studying the Massachusetts exam, right out of law school, I did read a bit of it. I’m sure that bar prep could benefit from scientific analysis, but as I’m far from expert, I’ll leave that to others. My strategy was simple: learn material, take practice exam, identify weak areas, repeat.

For Massachusetts, I knew there were quite a few subjects I had never studied (commercial paper, estates, trusts, Mass. civil procedure, Mass. professional responsibility, Mass. consumer protection, wills, etc.). I also knew that I would need serious review for many of the other subjects, most of which I hadn’t thought much about for a year or more. I began studying in late May for the end-of-July exam. So, I spent the first couple of weeks learning material with the Law in a Flash cards, library Nutshell outlines, and various online materials (see my last post).

Once I had spent a little time on every subject, I added more practice exams into the rotation. I practiced with the MBE online practice exam, the BARBRI Massachusetts essay book, and the MBE questions in the Emanuel book (all mentioned in my last post). Each time I went over a completed practice exam, I would identify the areas that needed work and set aside the corresponding flashcards. If I didn’t have flashcards for the area, I would write them out. This often required a bit of fresh learning/research on my part.

Then, I would focus on those flashcards until the next practice exam, at which point I would add or remove cards from the set. This was exceedingly simplistic, but it worked. By mid-July, I had done many practice essays and MBEs. Two weeks before the exam, I did a full two-day practice test using questions I hadn’t seen yet. I did my best to mimic the testing conditions; I think I even wore the clothes that I wore to the real exam. Then, I graded that exam and made a final review plan for the remaining days.

My 2015 studying was much more compressed. I made a study plan in late June, and I spent the end of June and the beginning of July studying very lightly with the Law in a Flash cards, while moving to Chicago, attending two family reunions, and going on two decent-sized roadtrips. I returned to Chicago on July 15 with the exam under two weeks away, having reviewed about half of the MBE subjects.

Then, I studied very hard, using the same flash card strategy described above. While I felt much more harried, I could tell from my scores on the MBE online practice exam that I was performing similarly to my late-July 2013 self. I spent the last few days (during which in 2013 I had just relaxed) prepping for the essay exams and the MPT.

At the time, this “strategy,” was pretty terrifying. In retrospect, of course, I’m extremely pleased with it, because I passed the exam and also got a vacation. I attribute its success to my having studied the material before – I certainly would not recommend it to a first-time exam-taker.


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