What is the bar exam?
The bar exam is “Administered by each state’s board of bar examiners. This rigorous exam evaluates candidates’ knowledge of the law, and ensures they have the skills, aptitude and moral fiber necessary to practice law in the U.S.” In addition to this exam, there is also the Uniform Bar Examination, or UBE. The UBE is designed to “uniformly administer, grade, and score across states, so that an attorney admitted in one state can receive their results in a portable score and apply for admission to another UBE jurisdiction.” If you’re a law student planning on taking the bar, studying and passing is probably one of your top priorities.
How to study for it
The bar exam is one of the most rigorous exams, and with good reason. However, studying for it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or daunting task. Understanding the format of the exam can get you off on the right foot.
For the majority of states, the bar exam is held over two days, twice a year. The exam typically takes place on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. That means you have twice a year to take the exam. Some states opt for a two-and-a-half, or three-day exam. Most states have moved towards adopting the UBE exam. The components of this exam include the Multistate Performance Test, which accounts for 20% of your score, and the Multistate Essay Exam, which is 30% of your score. Finally, the Multistate Bar Exam counts towards 50% of your score.
To get started with studying for the bar, you’re going to want to make a schedule. Block out times you’ll need to study, and decide how many months out you want to begin. After you’ve selected your testing date, you’ll be able to determine how many hours per week you want to put in.
After you’ve made the schedule, it’s time to prioritize your bar preparation. Work with your law school professors to identify areas of weakness, or where there’s room for improvement. Then, you can focus on improving those areas before brushing up on what you already know well.
One of the key things to do when preparing for the bar is to create a strategy for approaching the exam. Do this by taking practice tests so you can learn how to manage your time and also begin to understand how the test is laid out. After this, create your plan of attack for the exam itself. There’s a lot to memorize, so figuring out what works for you to best retain information will help you find success.
As mentioned above, practice exams are key to successfully studying for the bar exam. There are several preparatory courses students can sign up for, and they can ask their law school’s guidance office for their best suggestions. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll feel when sitting for the actual exam.
Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. While it can be tempting to devote every extra minute to studying, overloading yourself with work isn’t going to help either. Make sure to take time for breaks, eat meals, and get adequate sleep.
Don’t give up
Even though it can feel discouraging to not do as well on a practice exam as you would like, or not to pass the bar at all the first time, don’t give up. Evelyn Uba, a working mother of four who moved from Nigeria to the USA, graduated from law school in 2011, after putting her studies on pause for two decades. She immediately began studying for and taking the bar, but was disappointed to receive failing grades each time. However, Uba refused to accept defeat, and put all her focus into studying. Her efforts were rewarded when in 2021, she received her passing grade.
If you have to retake the bar exam, don’t get discouraged. It happens to a lot of students, and in fact, passing grades are on the rise. In 2021, students passing the bar increased from 40% to 49% in New York State. If you aren’t one of those who receives a passing grade right away, that’s OK. There are a few things you can do to help increase your chances of passing the next time around.
Think about what went wrong, and how you can fix it for next time. Referred to as a “postmortem”, reviewing the day can help you identify any factors that would’ve contributed to a less-than-stellar performance.
Refocus your energies after figuring out where you didn’t do as well. If you find yourself surprised, you should refocus your energies on enhancing your knowledge in those areas.
Lastly, be ready to make adjustments for your overall improvement. Clearly, something went wrong the first time, so it’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen again. This may mean adjusting your studying schedule, hiring a tutor, or practicing in more areas. Regardless, don’t be afraid of the bar exam. Take your time, study, and do your best to prepare.