Home » Exam preparation » Top 3 Common Bar Exam Preparation Pitfalls

Top 3 Common Bar Exam Preparation Pitfalls

Well, it is July. That means I am thinking about the bar exam all day every day. I’ve reached that special point in bar review where I can’t stand the fact patterns anymore and walk around muttering things to myself like “just sign the stupid contract” and “for the love of god, why doesn’t anyone ever record their mortgage?” I’m a real treat to be around, just ask my husband.

But, believe it or not, there are some things that plague me more than poorly written MBE questions. Watching my bar exam students self-destruct before my very eyes is one. It is true that the bar exam tests the ability to use critical reading, writing, and thinking skills to apply facts to law. Generally, these things are teachable by me and learnable by my students. However, there are a few mental and emotional qualities that are necessary to possess in order to successfully study for and pass the bar exam. From where I sit, these things are a lot more difficult to teach and even more difficult to watch my students struggle with. While there are many different reasons people fail the bar exam, I have repeatedly seen three specific things creep up and create issues for many students.

1- Lack of commitment

In order for someone to pass the bar exam, he or she has to really want it, fully, completely, and without reservation. One simply cannot half-ass bar review and expect to pass. It requires hours upon hours of hard work and a clear plan of attack. It pains me to watch students limp along for 2 months trying to figure out if they “really want to take the bar exam.” The time to question that life decision was $200,000 and 3 years ago. I find that sometimes, this inability to commit is really driven by an underlying fear of failure. I get that. It is really scary to put yourself out there in such a public way.

Everyone knows you are studying, results are public, and the fear of embarrassment can be absolutely crippling. However, I have on good authority that saying, “well, I didn’t really study that much” won’t make anyone feel any better when they fail. My advice to students is to remind themselves that as long as they can say they put in 110%, they should be proud regardless of the result.

2- Lack of confidence

This is the most underrated factor in bar exam success. Students have to undeniably believe they can prepare for and pass the bar exam. When I sense that they don’t, I ask them point blank, “if you don’t think you can do this, what are we doing here?” I don’t mean to be blunt or harsh. But, if deep down they truly don’t think they are capable, that needs to be acknowledged and be addressed.

That doesn’t mean that they won’t have moments of doubt. They will definitely have a day where they think, “I literally know nothing” or “I wonder if McDonald’s is hiring?” That is totally normal and to be expected. What can be problematic is a constant, underlying stream of negativity. I try to help them conquer the voice in their head that says, “I can’t do this,” “ I’m not smart enough,” or “I am bad at (essays, MBE, test taking in general).”

Now, I’m not a psychologist. I only play one for 8 weeks, twice a year. But, I find it very important for students to change their inner dialogue to one of positivity. They need to become their own biggest fan. However, even though I preach this, I sometimes feel like I’m on the world’s most horrific seesaw. I want them to be scared enough to respect the exam and work hard, but not be so paralyzed with fear that they impede their learning process.

To help with this, I discuss with them that they are not alone. Thousands of other students are in the same position and hundreds of thousands have sat where they sit now and lived to tell the tale. We shift the focus from fear to confidence and work on letting go of perfect and aim at prepared.

3- Lack of self-awareness

Self-awareness about the effectiveness of one’s own study plan and actual skill level is critical to passing the bar exam. No one likes to feel as if they have no idea what is going on, but that is pretty much how everyone feels during the first month or so of bar review. Students are getting so much information thrown at them, and it is extremely overwhelming.

These overwhelming feelings often make students engage in harmful study habits, such as using notes to take untimed practice questions. It feels good to get questions right, so they use their notes and take their time. As a result, they think, “I know this.” But, they are lulling themselves into a false sense of security, because it is important to have an accurate idea of how you would perform on test day. Students must learn to accept that studying hard is simply not enough; they must also learn to study smart. It is essential to know the areas of law that you need to study more, even if this means putting other subjects to the side when you have mastered them.

Don’t mistake what I am saying. Students can’t simply will themselves into passing the bar exam by having a good attitude. It takes an unimaginable amount of discipline and hard work. Law needs to be memorized, thousands of practice multiple-choice questions must be completed, and many essays need to be written. I’m merely pointing out that there is more at play underneath the surface. The more I, and other academic success professionals, can help students figure these things out and address them, the more successful they will be.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *