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Put Bar Exam Behind You by Taking Right Approach

Others Have Gone Before You, So Learn From Their Successes and Mistakes

(This Article appeared in the February 24, 2005 Issue of The New Lawyer)

Over the past 40 years, I have customized programs for bar examinees who are dedicated to putting the Bar Exam behind them. This has shaped my perspective regarding some key factors that you may find useful as you work to develop your own test-taking skills and standards for what may well be the most important exam of your professional life.



PROBLEM: In general, the typical law school cramming experience before semester or final exams is inadequate for effective bar preparation.

SOLUTION: Work to change the culture of cramming for your law-school exams and the bar by beginning your preparation much earlier and including specific problem-solving exercises that your professors or the bar will give you.

If you can reinforce and improve your test-taking skills steadily while you are in law school, you will improve your changes of passing the Bar Exam the first time you take it. Practice essay issue-recognition exercises, for example, that will help you identify subtle issues, one of the key goals for passing the essay exam.



PROBLEM:Regardless of law-school performance, every candidate preparing for the bar has some test-taking preparation and performance strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses may range from a lack of disciplined time-management study habits and/or poor memory retention to inadequate essay writing and/or multiple-choice exam test-taking skills.

SOLUTION: First, do the best job you can to identify your own test-taking strengths and weaknesses. In making this assessment, consider the nature of the three exams that comprise the general Bar Exam as problem-solving speed tests, Consider whether your current testing skills are sufficient to deal with them.

Enlist the aid of one of your professors or one of the many fine review programs specifically dedicated to training bar candidates. This may provide you with concrete suggestions to develop a course of study suited to mitigating your test-taking weaknesses while reinforcing your strengths.



PROBLEM: The culture of bar review often promotes a two or three-month window for preparation, which is insufficient for many to fully master the wide range of writing and multistate-exam skills necessary to succeed.

SOLUTION: Give yourself enough time to prepare. To build a balanced bar review strategy that will manage your study time determine how much time you have over a four to six-month (or even longer) potential review period. Be sure to identify how many study hours you have for every week of your bar preparation.

Evaluate a typical days time, eliminating the time for required activities. For example, be sure to subtract eating, sleeping, or working time as well as habits that distract you from your studies.

If you to this, you will understand and appreciate the time you will be devoting to your bar review. This is crucial for understanding how many practice questions for the essay, performance or multistate exam you have time to do, how much time to devote to the review of the law for the 14 bar subjects, and so on. Most important, it will reduce the anxiety that inevitably comes when you do not complete your unrealistic goals because you were not aware of the magnitude of the review process, given your individual learning needs.



PROBLEM: Many bar applicants spend too much time reviewing the law for the 14 subjects and not enough with the practical development of their writing and multistate test-taking skills.

SOLUTION: Develop a balanced strategy for your bar preparation based on your available study time, which will help you apportion the time you spend on each section of the exam.

Remember that each section is worth a different point total, or percentage, of the total 2,000 points available for passing the bar. The essay represents 40 percent, the PT 26 percent and the MBE 34 percent. Dedicate comparably proportionate time to developing your exam skills for each section of the bar. There is always some variation in emphasis, of course, depending on the specific strengths and weaknesses that you have in certain subject areas. Generally, however, try to ensure against a review strategy that is more free-for-all than structured and balanced. Remember that your minimum goal is to achieve 1,440 points and that you can do this by doing well on all three sections of the exam.



PROBLEM: Bar review can be an exhausting process, often tediously so, and a significant challenge is avoiding the kind of burnout that can lead to exhaustion and poor bar performance. Besides having a disciplined work ethic, you need to pace your preparation to peak for the three days - 18 hours - of the bar itself and not too much before.

SOLUTION: Everyone has a bad day, but the important lesson is to adapt to your difficulties and fine-tune your review so that it will yield positive results. Remember that the bar is essentially a test of competence, not perfection, so learn the objectively defined test-taking standards that will lead you to success, and avoid the excesses that will take you from it.


In another part of my life, I led four American expeditions to Mt. Everest. Like the bar, successfully climbing the summit of the world requires knowing the mountain at all of it's levels and identifying and perfecting all of the skills necessary to get the job done. In this context, I hope that these factors add to your perspective of what it takes to close the circle and put the bar behind you. Remember that others have gone before you, so learn from there successes and mistakes, and embrace a healthy respect for the process of preparation.

If yo choose a review program, take an intelligent and disciplined approach to your bar review that will meet your specific test-taking needs and challenge your standards.

You can do it! All success.


Paul Pfau is a retired Los Angeles County deputy district attorney and the owner of Cal Bar Tutorial Review, which has been customizing bar review programs for 40 years. For more information about Cal Bar Tutorial Review, call (800) 348-2401 or (800) 783-6168. Web site: