Bar: Advice & Recap
I found reading blogs of those who took the test before me to be very helpful. I also looked to the bloggers who were taking it at the same time as me for support and distraction.
Well, I've got enough distance from the stupid test that I can now compile one big summary post for those who are looking for information. So, I'll throw out the lessons I learned as a thank you to those who did the same before me.
Be Honest With Yourself
I'm fairly certain that I would have failed the test had I not been extremely honest with myself back in July. My assigned essays weren't looking very much like the BarBri sample answers. My graded essays were coming back marked FAIL. Although I didn't know much about how I was doing, the little bit of feedback I was getting said I was going to fail unless I learned to make my essays look more like what they were expecting.
I have always been the one who arrives at conclusions via a different path. This is often rewarded in life. But the bar exam grader who has 2 minutes to read my essay was not going to reward my unique thought processes. If I didn't do something differently, I was fairly certain I was going to fail. Unfortunately, BarBri does not offer any strategy on how to construct an answer that looks like everyone else's. They teach the same material, then give the same model essays as feedback, and a majority of their students fall into line. If that is you, great. Keep on the path. But, that may not be you. In fact, if you have a tendency toward intellectual curiosity, you may be in serious trouble with the bar. Intellectualy curiosity can lead you to discuss side issues that may demonstrate knowledge of the law, but not the knowledge the grader is looking for. BarBri will claim that people fail because they don't use the facts. Some people may do that. But people like me, we would fail because we use the facts too much.
Seek Other Resources
One of the main reasons, if not the number one reason this test is difficult is because of the mental warfare and mystery the CA bar and BarBri create and propogate. For example, no passing scores and tests are released. It would be very helpful for second time takers to be able to compare their failing essays against passing essays. It would be extremely helpful for those studying to compare failing essays against passing essays. But, no. It's a *mystery.* So accept that aspect of the stupid exam and recognize that you are going to have to do some work in a void, which will be very frustrating. If you, like me, even begin to suspect that barbri is not giving you enough feedback in the void, then my suggestion to you is to seek out other feedback in order to feel comfortable.
Similiarly, if your MBE scores aren't where you'd like them to be, seek out help and feedback.
Your mileage may vary, but I highly recommend the additional resources that I used to prepare for the essay portion of the bar exam:
Bar Breaker Volume 1 and 2: The last 2 weeks before the bar exam, I read the intro to each subject and outlined or wrote sample answers to every question in this book. I entertained his approach and adopted some of his methods. I found them very helpful. I completely bailed on the last half of the BarBri assigned essays. I found that many of them were assigned in these books, so overall, I probably did the majority of the BarBri assigned essays. In particular, I found these answers so ridiculously simplistic that I couldn't believe they would be passing answers. But, the sense of relief I felt after reading each question during the bar exam and knowing that I could write an answer that looked something like the ones I'd reviewed in these books was huge. I think that if you know you can write a simple answer that covers the basic law for every possible exam topic you will have the confidence and time to fill in the random other side issues that will get you extra points.
Bar Exam Survival Kit. I think if I had to prepare for the bar exam again and I was only allowed one resource, this would be the one I would choose. The last two weeks before the bar, I read and re-read the 6-8 page summaries for each topic and made certain that nothing they mentioned was missing from my issue outline/checklists. I made certain that I could recite the rules for each major area. I memorized stupid mnemonics to ensure that I could name every major sub-area for any topic. As a final step, I condensed all of my outlines into a 5 page 2-inch by 3-inch flip book of my mnemonics. This is all I used to study while at the bar exam. Every night, I'd review the mnemonics and comfort myself with the fact that I could recite every power held by every branch. I could sing a song of every single Tort and all of their elements. I could name all the constitutional limitations on powers. When I read that the call of one of the questions was the 1st Amendment, I typed the headings from my mnemonic before I read the fact pattern: state action, and then all of the various tests. I was appalled to read the question and find that they presented the issues to be addressed in the exact order of my mnemonic, which was straight from Jeff Adachi's Bar Exam Survival Kit. That question drove home the point to me. The California Bar exam is NOT a test of legal knowledge and skill. It's a test of keeping your cool, and learning enough law plus tactics to demonstrate that you can be just like everyone else who has figured out the game.
I also did every free seminar offered by Scott Pearce. I think if I had failed the bar exam, I'd hire Scott Pearce as my tutor for the second go-round. Often, while doing his seminars this summer I toyed with the idea of having him grade one of my essays for more feedback. I learned the trick of reading the call of the question and doing the big picture outline of the answer before reading the question from him. This proved to be a life-saver in helping me avoid legal side-tracking.
Know how you are going to take the test before you take it
Towards the end (last 5 days before the bar or so), I'd do 50 PMBR questions a day and outline any essay I could get my hands on to ensure that my approaches/mnemonics were available in my head and to make sure I wasn't missing any major issues. I outlined almost all of the past exams on the California Bar Website and the majority of the BarBri essays I'd put off by doing BarBreaker. This meant I'd seen and outlined many of the past questions twice before going into the exam. Turns out, the Bar repeats many of the topics it presents, so familiarity with the outline form for past exams was extremely helpful.
On several questions during the exam, I read the call, wrote the basic outline as typed headings, read the facts and filled in my sub-outline with sub-headings and rules all with a sense of deja-vu because I'd done the exact same outline, headings, and sub-headings just a few days earlier.
Don't forget to do something to stay sane
Work out. Cook/Eat. Visualize getting passing results. Visualize the act of taking the entire test. Hang out with non-law friends. Whatever it is that you need to do to get those stress hormone levels to lower. Do it regularly throughout the entire process. I found that much like visualizing a sports performance, the few minutes each week (and every morning during the last two weeks) I spent visualizing taking the test and getting passing results gave me a sense of calm during the actual test itself.
All of the bar posts
If you want to go through the whole experience with me with the random life stuff redacted, here you go:
Realizing that my Property professor didn't teach us jack shit about the real law. Bar-Blog Disclaimer. Early Bird PMBR. Discipline via self-bribery. The First Bar-Induced Freak-Out. Understanding Why. I heart Chemerinsky. Bar Dreams. Discipline. General Update. Realization that I'm Failing. Still Failing. My MBE study plan offered in exchange for essay study tips. Angry. The Game. Reciting rules on a date. Accidentally thinking I started to fail MBE's as well. Another Failed Essay. Passing my First Essay. The last BarBri Lecture. Released MBE's. The DO NOT THINK mantra. Con Law is my new least favorite subject. Lowest point in the process. Exercise. 1 week to go. In the Zone. Reality . My thoughts on the exam.