Monday, May 14, 2007

i'm talkin' bout what matters not figures

It's that time of year again: Bar Season.

Of course, I of all people should know that there are two Bar Seasons every year, and thusly, February will always have a special and yet sickening place in my heart. But everybody knowns that July is the big dance.

As with every Bar Season, my referral logs are blowin' up with people scouring the internet for Bar Exam wisdom. Civil Procedure outlines, Evidence practice essays, Con Law MBE subjects. They come to my blog looking for information, and they only find my self-deprecatory musings on two rounds with the Board of Bar Examiners

Of course, this is not just any Bar. This is the California Bar. The King of Bars. New York is open-book and in Texas they let you use a crayon to draw out little easement maps. The California Bar Exam is arbitrary, mercurial, inconsistent, and intentionally tricky. The California Bar always seemed like it would be a female Bar Exam, I can't imagine why...

So for you test-takers out there - this post is for you. Concrete advice on how to study for the California Bar Exam.

But Hoov, why should we listen to you? You have the most awe-inspiring blog ever, but how does that qualify you to render Bar Exam advice?

Easy. I passed the Bar on my second try. That means I did it wrong once, and I did it right once. So ignore my advice at your own peril.

1. Don't Believe the Hype

For the next 2.5 months, you're going to be surrounded by people in a perpetual state of freak-out. BarBri will freak you out. Your classmates will freak you out. You will see a complete stranger at Starbucks with a Conviser outline, and this will freak you out - I don't know why. It just does.

The most important thing for your Bar studying is to rise above the culture of fear. Freaking out does not get you points on the Bar. Frantic worrying will not cause your brain to suck in Products Liability elements by osmosis.

Think of it like this: You have a job to do. Learn information; Sit for a test. Nothing beyond that matters. Pressure from parents, expectations of significant others, the weight of uncertainty crushing your soul - none of that affects your score in the least. Forget what happens after the bar. Forget the jobs you might get or might lose or what your friends will think if you fail. None of it matters.

Learn the information. Sit for the test. The rest is hype, and it won't give you a single point on the Bar.

2. The Bread and Butter: Study Simple

Flashcards, going over missed questions, writing your own outlines, CD's, tapes, etc. Forget about it. The first Bar Exam - I did all that. The second Bar Exam - I didn't. What more needs to be said?

Keep it simple. Read the outlines and do practice MBE questions until you want to die, and then do 20 more. The importance of MBE practice questions cannot be overstated. I said it then, and I'll say it now: The MBE does not care if you know the law - the MBE only cares if you know the MBE.

Dozens of questions on the MBE will not depend on your knowledge of the law; they will depend on your ability to out-think the question. You think you pick up that skill by reading the outlines? Or doing flashcards and CD's? Trust me. You don't.

And don't stress too much about the BarBri practice essays. It's totally bogus. Go ahead and do them and time yourself, but the BarBri graders are morons. Once, as an experiment, I spent three hours writing one practice essay. I used all of the materials, and organized it perfectly, with headings and underlining and all of that. I even cheated and looked at the sample answer to make sure I got all of the points. It was of course, vastly beyond what any person could every hope to write in one hour at the actual Bar. I got a 55.

So do the practice essays, but ignore the answers you get. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't even turn them in. But I got some good posts out of it, at least.

3. Stay Loose

One of my most important study tips is to not study.

Seriously. There is an inversely proportionate relationship between your stress level and your ability to absorb information. So take time off.

And I don't mean take a half hour to walk the dog around the block. Or take off two hours to watch the Season Finale of LOST. Although you should do that.

What I mean is, take Sundays off. I did that during the second Bar. Did I mention that I passed that one? Take off two whole days and watch a season of a TV show on DVD. I'm totally serious. I did it during the second Bar. LOST Season 1. Are you starting to sense a pattern?

But Hoov! Then I would get behind on the BarBri Paced Program!

Oh, right. The hallowed Paced Program. That thing is lame. Almost as lame as BarBri's practice MBE questions (stick with PMBR for the most part). You know what subjects are on the Bar, and you know what you need to do to learn them. Do you need BarBri to tell you that? Of course not. You made it through three years of law school without anyone trying to be your study nanny and printing you out a fancy calendar. You can make it three more months.


You're not going to hear study advice like that anywhere else. And even if you don't like the particulars and you think I'm an idiot, at least try to walk away with this key concept: Avoid the group-think. Don't let your classmates suck you in to their nervous breakdowns. They will not be taking your test. Only you are. What your classmates do and how they study is completely irrelevant.

Learn information. Sit for a test. Nothing beyond that matters.