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5 Bar Exam Preparation Tips

  • Student Tips
Joanna HughesFeb 15, 2017

While graduating from law school is a huge accomplishment, most law students barely have time to breath before facing another significant milestone on the path to becoming a practicing lawyer: Passing the bar exam. Indeed, the bar exam is an important test -- perhaps the most important you’ll take in your life -- but planning ahead can help support your success. Read on for a roundup of five steps for making sure you’re bar-ready.

1. Apply on time.

Developed and coordinated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) consists of three primary parts: the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks, and the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). (Jurisdictions which have adopted the UBE may also require jurisdiction-specific components. However, not all states have adopted the UBE.) Applicants register for the UBE by applying directly to user jurisdictions.

While it may seem like a lot of confusing dates to keep track of, writing down all important deadlines can help you stay ahead. For example, in California, the application for the July 2017 California Bar Exam is available on March 1 with a filing deadline of April 3 -- but just for students who did not take and fail the February bar exam. For returning bar exam applicants the application start date and filing deadline are May 12 and May 30, respectively. For both, all fees must be received by June 15th. In New York, however, the application filing period for the July 2017 bar exam is April 1-30. Knowing and meeting these deadline is critical. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait to take the test or travel to another jurisdiction with a later deadline.

Another important thing to consider sooner or later? Whether you’ll request accommodations in testing conditions, which must also be done in advance.

Recommended reading: What is the bar exam?

2. Take a bar review course.

It’s true that doing well in law school is a good indicator of whether you’ll do well on the bar. But it doesn’t mean you’ve got it made, either. Bar review courses are designed to go over everything you will need to know for the test -- from the material itself to the exam format. These courses also help you structure your study schedule -- invaluable help given the average person’s inclination to procrastinate. It is possible to pass the bar exam without a bar review course, this step adds an added level of confidence to the process.

3. Take the exam seriously...even if the pass rate is high.

Bar pass rates vary from state to state, and some are higher than others. However, even if you live in a state like Massachusetts with a 90 percent pass rate (compared to California, for example, which hovers below 50 percent), it’s still a hard test. Assuming it’s going to be a breeze based entirely on a high pass rate can land you a spot in the unhappy remaining 10 percent.

Think of it this way. If you’re like majority of law students, you decided to go to law school for one overarching reason: to one-day practice law. When the bar exam is all that stands between you and that goal, why wouldn’t you take it seriously?

4. Know your rank..and prepare accordingly.

Anyone who’s ever taken a standardized test knows there’s a significant amount of strategy involved. This isn’t limited just to how you answer the questions, however. Based on data indicating that pass rates are higher for students at the top of their classes and lower for students at the bottom, your study strategy should be informed by your individual ranking, according to a recent Above the Law article: “Reviewing the individual subjects being tested on the exam and practicing lots of questions is sufficient to ensure that a student in the top 10% of the class is ready for the bar. But it is not enough to ensure that students who have not excelled during law school can beat their class rank.”

So what can lower-ranked students do? Aim for extra points using lesser-known tips and tricks. This brings us back to #2. Choosing the right bar review course can grant you access to these proven techniques.

5. Address why you failed the first time if you’re a repeater.

Failing the bar exam your first time out may seem like the end of the world, but it’s not. You have another chance in front of you but a successful second attempt relies on understanding and addressing what went wrong before. Some jurisdictions let you review your exam answers so you can determine exactly what happened. You can also review your score report to see where you performed well and not-so-well on certain areas of the exam.

In many cases, bar exam failures are more related to lack of proper preparation than a knowledge shortfall so be sure to review your study strategies. Were you sufficiently prepared when you sat for the bar, and/or how can you adjust your schedule to set yourself up for a better outcome this time?

One last thing to keep in mind? All law students aren’t created equal. Nor are all bar exam takers. The takeaway is clear: What worked for someone else may not work for you. While it’s fine to solicit advice from bar exam success stories, it’s also important to factor in your own personality, habits, preferences and background. The better you tailor your bar exam preparation and strategies to your unique situation, the better you position yourself for a happy ending.

Joanna Hughes

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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