Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Test Taking Skills: A Strategy for Studying.

Today was the MBE. I'm often asked questions by students, and prospective students, regarding how early they should begin preparing for the bar exam. My answer is always the same: the earlier the better. There is a ton of information to learn for the bar exam, and the more time you give yourself, the less stress you'll have trying to learn it all.

Many students begin studying for the exam after graduating from law school. Generally, graduation takes place around the end of May, leaving roughly about 2 months to study for the exam. Those taking the exam in February should give themselves at least that amount of time, and ideally, more.

I recommend breaking up the studying into a few components.

Component One: This should last for about a month, and should consist only of reading through the outlines on all testable subjects. Many students want to get right into practicing essays, and multiple choice questions. I'm a proponent of learning the law on a deep level, and practicing questions before you've reached that point is, in my opinion, counter-productive. Read, and re-read the outlines, until you understand each testable area to the extent you would need to know it if you were taking a separate law school exam in each individual subject. Make flashcards if that helps you, create your own outlines, or find a study partner. People learn differently, but you need to know the law, there is no excuse for going into the bar exam with a vague knowledge of the potential testable areas.

Component Two: Once you know the law, you should spend the second month applying the law to the types of questions you're likely to see on the exam. In other words, you should practice essays, and multiple choice questions. Many states release essays from prior exams, and if you are taking an exam in a state that releases prior essays, you should print out as many of those essays as are available. Knowing the law, though essential, is not sufficient; you need to understand how the test makers have created fact patterns in the past. By understanding this, you'll begin to develop an understanding of how you'll need to apply your knowledge on your exam. Throughout this time, you should also be re-reading the outlines that you've learned earlier. Never stop learning the law, you'll be amazed how you continue to learn new things from the same outlines.

As the exam approaches, you should spend your remaining time working on an essential skill: endurance. The bar exam is grueling, and if you haven't practiced taking a 200 question multiple choice exam, or writing essays for three hours, you may find yourself fatigued on test day, and unable to apply the law correctly even though you've learned it sufficiently. In other words, this last month is about replicating exam conditions while continuing to learn the law through outlines, and applying the law through practice questions.

My advice is simply that: advice. Tweak it to what works best for you, but consider it as a suggestion, and whatever you do, be certain that you give yourself enough time to prepare, so that you're not required to prepare again.


  1. Thank you for this post. I did my law degree in the Caribbean and I am now going to do the New York Bar in 2012. I just have outlines and some questions and want to start preparing. I live in the Caribbean.....thanks for the tips though!

  2. My pleasure--keep an eye out, more posts to come....

  3. Hi Sean! You sure are an expert when it comes to exams! :D Most students cram right before their exams, and this post can be a great help to them. Please keep us updated!

  4. Thanks Aurora! And much more help on my facebook page (link above). Feel free to spread the word if you know others who might find this site helpful. :)