…then you’re pretty normal.

Few things bring more anxiety and dread to anyone that a high-stakes, make-or-break test. Add to that a test with a really low overall pass rate, a daunting amount of material to be covered, and a lot of voices all telling you different things about how to succeed. Frankly, it’s enough to make any sane person feel completely overwhelmed.

And that’s where a good coach can make all the difference. No test is impossible if you’re with someone who knows the way and has guided others along the same path successfully. In the nearly 25 years (and almost 50 administrations of the bar exams) I’ve learned a little bit about what bar takers should worry about – and what they can safely ignore. Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

What you should worry about

  • Time management. By far this is the biggest hurdle for most people to overcome. How you manage your study time, home time, work time, recreation time, family time, etc will have a huge impact on your bar exam success. Make a plan (or in a course like ours, use our Personal Study Guide) and then follow it. A little bit of studying regularly will always be more productive than a few cram sessions.
  • Overestimating your ability. Yes, we get it. You graduated law school, maybe even passed a bar exam some time in the past, and did amazing things in your career. That’s awesome. It’s also generally irrelevant to the task at hand today and can lead to overconfidence for the task of passing the bar exam now. There are as many people who underestimate their real talent and ability as there are egotists who presume that they can do it all on their own. Sadly, these ‘smart’  people who didn’t really need anyone to tell them how to study usually have another distinction: they fail the bar.
  • Competent instruction. There’s really no subtle way to say this: There are a lot of flakes and phonies in the bar review field. Look, do your due diligence. Check around for referrals. Look at samples of the materials (are they produced by the instructor or ‘borrowed’ from another course?), watch a few of their instructional videos (here’s a link to our YouTube Channel), talk with the owner and find out what their experience in the field is. A lot of well meaning people who can’t find legal jobs have become bar exam ‘gurus’ in the past few years. Don’t be their guinea pig.
  • Understanding the skills that are tested on the exam. I wish more bar takers thought about this. Unfortunately, the focus is disproportionately on what law will be tested, rather than how it will be tested. There’s a reason that nearly every bar exam includes multiple choice and essay form questions and a few even add performance tests. It’s not because the examiners are lazy or bored or want to mess with applicants’ brains (more than they do usually). It’s really because different types of questions test different skills. Learning how to identify those skills and then respond appropriately is critical to doing well on the exam.

What you can ignore

  • Advice from people who don’t make their living teaching the bar exam. Listen, you’re going to get plenty of free advice about the bar exam and most of it is worth what you paid for it. Don’t let somebody freak you out with their own horror story or sure-fire way to succeed. Smile nicely, be polite and at the end of the day, go on with your own business. If you’re really concerned, ask your mentor. The competent ones will have heard just about everything and can tell you what to avoid and what to take to heart.
  • Anyone who tells you that you have to memorize everything to pass. That’s utter nonsense and it’s done mostly to scare bar takers. There is not one scintilla of empirical evidence to support the claims of the memory-ites. It’s urban myth and most of what we currently know about best practices in education make clear that attempts to memorize and recite are generally the lowest and least productive way to learn. Far better are the concepts of “stepped learning” and “spaced repetition” (concepts that have informed our course pedagogy for more than a decade). The bottom line is that those who advocate for memorization have confused correlation with cause and effect. Memorizing does not lead to passing results, but those who memorize will inevitably be among those who do pass, and in a breathtaking display of logical fallacy, the “memorize everything” clan jumps to the wrong conclusion. Don’t be among them.
  • Your past experience (if any) on the bar exam. Just as you should worry about overestimating your past bar exam experience, you should not worry if you have not been successful before. In my experience with thousands of repeat bar takers, the past is NOT predictive of the future. If you change what you do and how you do it, you can and should expect different results. It’s only when we repeat our errors and expect a different outcome that we meet Freud’s definition of “insanity.”

Those are just a few things to consider, but tell me, what are you worried about? Leave us a comment or contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you!

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