How to Study for the Bar Exam: Our Top 10 Tips
The bar exam is a significant part of every prospective lawyer’s journey. Bar examiners test a future attorney’s understanding of the law and their ability to apply certain concepts in a court of law. The National Jurist reports that bar exam applicants spend up to 400 hours studying for the exam. Proper planning ensures that students pass on the first attempt, which will save them significant time and money.
While there are no shortcuts or cheat codes for this marathon of an exam, there are some tips you can employ to help you to better prepare for it. We have compiled these top ten strategies that will help you prepare for the bar exam effectively and provide you with the best results.
1. Come Up With a Schedule and Stick to It
Bar exam study material is complex and expansive, so there is no way all of it can be covered without a proper study plan in place. The bar exam requires several weeks of diligent preparation if you want to pass the first time. The only way to successfully do this is by coming up with a study schedule that works for you, which begins with selecting when you will sit for your bar exam.
There are two exam periods, one in February and another in July. Whichever you go with, be ready to dedicate at least 8-10 weeks leading up to the exams solely to studying. The time you start preparing for the exams depends on whether you can commit to studying part-time or full-time. Once that is figured out, you can then move forward to break up your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules.
We recommend dedicating the first few weeks to studying the most frequently tested Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) topics before moving on to the other components of the bar exam.
Some other benefits of a study schedule include:
- Having ample time to cover all the bar exam topics.
- Helping you make the most of your time by ensuring you study efficiently and effectively.
- Allowing you to focus on studying for today without worrying about all that you have ahead of you.
- Helping you dedicate time to cover each topic before the exam date.
2. Rely on Study Aids and Similar Resources
The bar exam is unlike any test law graduates have ever sat for, so it’s hard to predict what to expect in the exam or even know how to study for the test.
For higher chances at passing your bar exam, we recommend using real MBE questions written by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) from prior administrations, so you can familiarize yourself with the types of questions that might appear on your actual exam.
With UWorld MBE QBank, we provide nearly 2,000 practice questions, the vast majority of which were written by the NCBE for prior bar exams. UWorld helps you study more effectively with customizable exams, digital flashcards, performance and improvement tracking, and more.
3. Take Practice Tests
The bar exam is foreign territory for many students, but practice tests can give you a better idea of what to expect come exam day. They help you pace yourself by giving you insight into the kind of questions you should expect, how the exam is organized, and how much time you will need to handle each task.
These practice tests reveal the tricks behind the MBE multiple-choice questions and get you ready to outline essays. Polish up on various test areas, including the performance tests, essay portion, and multiple-choice questions. Try taking timed practice exams to boost your confidence on test days. And repeat them as many times as possible until you are comfortable completing the exam in the allocated time. Remember, your success is determined by how well you convey the information you know and not necessarily how much you can cram.
UWorld includes a full-length, timed Self Assessment that lets you see in-depth explanations for each question as well as a detailed performance analysis.
4. Start With Preparing for the MBE
Most law students find answering the 200 multiple-choice questions on the MBE to be a daunting task, mostly because many of the answer choices are similar and bar examinees are left to deduce the best and most suitable answers. One way to guarantee optimal performance on the MBE is to learn the common traps and techniques used by bar examiners and take note of anything that tends to confuse you.
The UWorld MBE QBank lets you create digital flashcards for quick review on the topics that trip you up, which you can take with you anywhere using the mobile app. You can also flag questions that trip you up so you can review them at a later time. There are certain topics that appear more often than others on the MBE, so be sure to prioritize your focus on these common topics to ensure your success.
5. Prioritize Self-Care
Preparing for the bar exam can quickly take over your entire life, leaving you with little to no time to take care of your personal health and well-being. However, this can backfire quickly and leave you too exhausted to retain the information needed to pass.
A good place to start is to free up as much time as possible before you begin preparations for the test. This can include organizing for pet-sitting or childcare if necessary, meal prepping on Sundays, and adjusting your work schedule to allow for more study time. Eliminating these potential sources of anxiety and stress significantly increases your chances of performing well the first time. Avoid mental breakdowns by making time for things you love and practicing self-care.
This can include:
- Exploring your artistic side, whether through writing, painting, sewing, or singing
- Eating nutritious foods and staying hydrated
- Limiting caffeine intake
- Getting adequate sleep and taking breaks
- Getting some fresh air and sunshine
- Watching your favorite show
- Spending time with loved ones
- Being active through stretching, walking, running, weightlifting, etc.
- Talking to a therapist
- Cleaning your living space and study area
6. Use the Last Leg for Memorization
As discussed, the first 6-8 weeks are for intensive studying to grasp more complex concepts and familiarize yourself with the test format. But as the test date draws closer, you should be able to handle the various sections of the bar examination and have a good understanding of the main subjects. These last couple of weeks should then be focused on memorizing what you don’t know or aren’t as familiar with.
7. Shake Up Your Study Style
If you feel like you’re still underprepared after a good while of studying, experiment with different techniques that may be more effective for you. Whether you try making charts and diagrams or use the Feynman Technique where you pretend to teach concepts to other people, find a method that ingrains these legal concepts into your head.
8. Avoid Over-Studying
Over-studying for your bar exam is as detrimental as understudying. To avoid premature burnout, stick to studying continuously for about an hour at a time and take short, refreshing breaks during your daily studying window. A consistent study pace is more likely to produce the best results.
Avoid the temptation of long, drawn out study sessions during your entire waking hours, because like an overworked muscle, your brain will refuse to absorb any of the knowledge you’re consuming. Listen to your body and mind and be aware when you have studied enough in a given day.
9. Let Bygones Be Bygones
Discussing an exam after sitting for it is a thief of joy and confidence. For your own sake, avoid staying around people who tend to discuss the questions and answers in an exam you have already sat for. This will not only distract you from focusing on what’s ahead, but it also chips off the confidence and focus you have as you move forward. Remember not to stress about your scores once the test is done because there’s not much you can do after you’re finished. Instead, sink back to your everyday life and put it out of your mind until the results are ready.
10. Match Your Sleep Schedule to the Exam Times
As the test day approaches, you will have to make adjustments to your sleep schedule if you want to perform your best. On the days leading up to the exam, gradually wind back the time you go to bed in 30-minute intervals until you’re falling asleep at a decent hour. We recommend giving yourself at least seven hours of sleep so that you can wake up in time to get ready and commute to the bar exam.
Performing well on your bar exam is a labor of love. You should be willing to sacrifice a lot of your time, energy, and activities today to set yourself on the high road to becoming a successful lawyer in the future. But you should also give yourself downtime to decrease the chances of burnout. Get to know your strengths and weaknesses as you study, as well as your preferred learning styles, and practice small portions of the exam under timed conditions. Everyone learns differently, and you don’t necessarily need to use all or even most of these tips in order to get a passing score.
If you feel that you need help studying for the MBE, UWorld’s practice questions are a proven, active-learning approach that have helped over 2 million professionals succeed on important exams such as this one. Sign up for a free 7-day free trial today.