Musings on Bar Prep

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 23, 2012 in The After-3L Life | Subscribe

Good afternoon y’all :)

If you couldn’t tell, my efforts at getting law:/dev/null back up to date during the summer have been a categorical and abject failure — I still have that May backlog to finish, and now have a June and July backlog tacked on to it :beatup:

But now that bar prep is winding down and the North Carolina exam kicks off early tomorrow morning1 I figured I can unwind a little bit with this brief entry on the summer. Yes, I realize up-front that griping about the bar exam triggers roughly -0- sympathy from the legal profession; after all, just about every single lawyer in the country had to study for and take a bar exam somewhere at some point.

But I also don’t care: bar prep is a miserable, tedious, stultifying experience… :crack:

True, it’s not difficult per se. After spending 3-4 years of learning to “think like a lawyer” — and hopefully remembering at least a smidge of the courses you’d already taken — very little of bar prep is “new” and most of the new stuff can get picked up fairly quickly. The lack of cognitive difficulty doesn’t make it any easier though.

There are 3 things about bar prep that have been driving me nuts all summer:

  • Breadth trumps depth: In nearly every single class since kindergarten, we’ve been conditioned to take a subject and master it thoroughly before moving on. You focus on one thing; you master all the nuances of that one thing; you take a test. Your Social Studies tests didn’t include Algebra questions, and you didn’t take Algebra tests before getting through pre-Algebra.

    That’s all completely and totally upended when it comes to the bar exam. You have well over a dozen substantive subjects to learn (18 here in North Carolina) but will only be tested on small parts of a small number of them (12 essays in NC). This puts a premium on knowing a little bit of every subject rather than everything about any subject. You’ll also be looking at all the subjects concurrently so that the knowledge of any given subject doesn’t get too stale. And even if you don’t grasp parts of a subject — the Rule Against Perpetuities being the cliché example — you’ll still need to learn all the rest of that subject just in case you get tested on it.

  • Daily time management: If there was one piece of advice I heard over and over before and during bar prep, it was the importance of having a daily study schedule. I’ve completely failed at doing that, so if I end up having to retake the exam in February we’ll all know why ;)

    Separate and apart from scheduling your day-to-day studying though, it’s difficult trying to keep life in order with bar prep going on. The bar review lectures are mind-numbingly slow2 and occupy your entire morning and mid-afternoon. Then you review notes, read outlines, do practice multiples and essays, make sure to eat breakfast / lunch / dinner somewhere in there, and then it’s time for bed. For most of the past two months I haven’t done laundry until the lack of undergarments reminded me it needed to be done. I completely forgot to pay my July rent until nearly 2 weeks after it was due. And I’m pretty sure my kitchen could have been declared an EPA Superfund site had I not finally gotten it cleaned up yesterday.

    I suspect the only reason my dog still wags his tail when I get home is because we both tend to eat at the same time… :beatup:

  • Life goes on: We all have daily routines, and we all have things that occasionally upend those daily routines. Supposedly we’re supposed to ignore them during bar prep — but I think that’s kind of silly.

    I’ve spent however many hours this summer working on stuff for NC SPICE, simply because if it didn’t get started now I’d be broke in a few months waiting for it to get off the ground; better to be sheltered without a law license than homeless with one. In late June I learned my blood pressure had skyrocketed from all the weight I’ve packed on these past 3 years, so I had to watch what I eat and start working out more than 1x every couple weeks.3 I missed a day of bar prep for a good friend’s memorial service; I missed another day for another friend’s birthday; I’ve probably missed more in between that I don’t remember for things that were important at the time, and that doesn’t even include the hundreds of text messages sent back and forth with dozens of folks I should have stopped talking to a couple months ago to study.

    Simply put: there are dozens (and dozens) of things in life that are more important than the bar exam, but we’re supposed to pretend otherwise until this process is all done.4

Sorry for the rant, just had to get that off my chest…

There are of course some bright sides to it all. It’s kind of cool “knowing” multiple areas of multiple subjects, and reflexively envisioning your outline contents when reading basic news stories like this absurdity out of Kentucky.5

It’s also given me the occasion to reconnect with old friends from undergrad who I discovered are about to take the exam too. :beatup:  And I can never overstate how privileged we all are to spend the day studying and learning things without having to juggle a full-time job on the side.

But in general… I’d rather not do this again, and in any event I’m glad this particular piece of it is all coming to an end one way or the other by this time Wednesday ;)

So GOOD LUCK to everyone taking the bar exam in your respective jurisdictions, especially my NCCU Law Legal Eagles!6 See y’all in a few days! :D

  1. We’re supposed to arrive at 7:15am :eek: []
  2. I routinely fell asleep in BarBri lectures and didn’t start really learning the substantive material until I ditched class, used VMWare Fusion to rip the lectures to my laptop, and used the Mac version of VLC to play them back at 2x speed. I think BarBri is doing a huge disservice to its students by not having this option built into their web software… []
  3. Down 12.4lbs since June 30 :spin: []
  4. And folks are surprised when surveys show most attorneys aren’t happy? :roll: []
  5. The judge’s gag order would be an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment, since the compelling government interest in a fair trial that could justify it is extinguished after the plea bargains are entered. Plus, the guys’ names will end up on the sex offender registry anyway… []
  6. And all my other friends who haven’t had the privilege of attending my law school ;) []

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One of the dozens of folks
Jul 24, 2012 at 5:59 AM

I hope you pass this go-round because it’ll prove one can have some semblance of a life and still pass on the first try. You’ve come a long way! Kill it dead. Grats on the -12.4!!!

Jul 25, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Bar exam takers will always get LOTS of sympathy from me. Good luck!

Erik Smith
Aug 13, 2012 at 10:38 PM

I failed the feb bar exam by less than 2 points. I changed my strategy for the july exam and, though I don’t know how I did yet, I did feel better about my knoweldge going into the second exam. What really helped the second time was studying backward. I started by reading all of the kaplan multiple choice answers. Then I made outlines from the answers. I then tested myself on the themis multiple choice practice questions. I never practiced doing an essay answer. It wastes time. If you know the topic well, you won’t need to practice writing the answer. Instead, I obtained every practice essay available and made quick notes in trying to answer them. I then read the model answers to see how I did and then made outlines from the model answers. That was the only way I could begin to learn topics I did not take in law school and the only way to keep my interest up. I wasted no time taking practice essays or watching video lectures. Did that the first time. I felt much better coming out of the exam the second time. If I do not pass again, I will change nothing, except try to learn more.


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