1. How many hours a day should I study?
There is no one answer to that question, since applicants vary so widely in their backgrounds and education. Looking at your own school’s success rate on the bar and on your class standing can give you some guidance. But there is no doubt that California’s bar pass rate is consistently low, so it’s fair to say half the applicants underestimated how much (or how) to study for. I don’t believe I have ever heard anyone who passed the exam regret that they studied hard. That being said, if you are taking time off to study for the bar, then studying for the bar ought to be your primary focus for that period of time. Treat it like a job—like a really hard, new job you have to put in time to master. Study 8-10 hours a day.
2. Do I need to take PMBR and Barbri? (i.e., Should I take a separate course for the MBE?)
Since I teach a bar review course myself, I do not feel comfortable commenting on a specific course. The MBE is worth only 35% of your bar score, and most people spend almost all their time studying for that one part of the exam. They don’t realize it, but the law their survey course teaches them is useful for the MBE but is not detailed enough for reasoning on essays. I believe there is a lot of duplication between most bar review courses and multistate prep courses, because they both focus on broad, superficial legal concepts. But taking two courses that help you most with the MBEs will take up all your time time, and only prepares you for 35% of the exam. I think people tend to over-prepare for the MBE and do not prepare enough for the other 65% of the exam, essays and PT’s. Applicants have to be good consumers and make wise choices about how they spend their study time.
3. Should I stay in the hotel while I'm taking the bar or should I stay in my apartment?
It depends on how far you live from the exam site, I recommend staying at home if it is feasible.
4. What should I be doing in the time between the bar classes ending and the test?
I think that is an excellent question for a student shopping for a bar course to ask of the courses she is considering. What plan does the course have for you? In my course, the classes go right up to the weekend before the exam and the last two weeks are review of the most important legal issues. So my answer is that the last leg of studying should be review and synthesis of the major legal issues so you feel confident walking into the exam.
5. How much time is it okay to take off during bar study? (E.g., is it okay to do nothing for the bar one day a week?)
I recommend short, frequent breaks instead of a whole day off. I honestly don’t think ‘burn out’ is a risk in two months.
6. Should I study by myself or in groups?
This is another question where individual learning styles could differ. Did you study in groups in college or law school? Did you find it was effective for you? I think studying alone is more productive. There is a lot of wasted time in groups.
7. How badly am I disadvantaged if I didn't take law school classes for some of the subjects covered on the exam?
I don’t think you are disadvantaged at all. Law school law is not the same as what the bar tests. The California Bar exam tests a handful of core issues repeatedly. Coming at a subject with a clean slate and learning just what the course says is important is more often an advantage than a disadvantage.
8. Is there anything specific you recommend to relieve stress during the bar? Weekly massages? Acupuncture?
Daily aerobic exercise. Nothing like it to relieve stress and sharpen your brain function.
9. Is there anything I can do to prepare now, before the bar review classes start?
The eight weeks between graduation and the bar exam will fly by, almost as if you were having fun! If you cut into that by another week for graduation festivities, you are really short changing yourself for the July bar. Now is no time to worry about looking like a nerd. You can begin examining bar essay exams and writing answer to them; you can get MBE materials and start taking questions. In both cases, you can keep track of the law you missed and learn from your mistakes. You’ll never regret beginning early! I wish each one of you the best of luck.
Vivian Dempsey teaches The Writing Edge for repeaters and attorneys, and BarBoost for first time takers. www.writingedge.com; 800 949 7277.