california bar exam primer

California Bar Exam Primer

1. Introduction

Welcome to the California Bar Exam Primer!  I was once told that compared to the bar examination, law school seems like just a bunch of quizzes.  I found that to be very true.  For most of us, the bar exam is the longest, most grueling and comprehensive examination we will ever have to take.  It is also the most difficult process most of us have gone through in our entire life.  Few of life's experiences will match that of the bar exam.  I hope that the information contained on this website will make the bar exam less mysterious and more approachable for people who are now entering the process.

"A Must-Read Resource for Preparing for the California Bar Exam."
                                         -- Santa Clara County Bar Association  

"Finally I found a place where I can discover everything I need to know about the Bar in one place!"
"I never would have passed the California Bar Exam if it wasn't for your site!"
"Truly an extraordinarily resource for anyone taking the California Bar Exam."
"The most encouraging and inspiring thing I have ever read."
"The greatest and most comprehensive web site about the California Bar Exam."

A.  Background Of The Primer

I graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law in May 2000.  I took and passed the California Bar Exam in July 2000.  When I started preparing for the exam, I searched the internet, and I did not find much useful information about the California bar exam on the web.  So I went about creating a web site that would contain the information that I was looking for.
Any attorney can be a self-proclaimed expert on the bar exam.  The only difference between me and the others is that I have put my knowledge on a web site.  My goal for this site has always been to share my experience with others in the hope that they may benefit from what I learned, in the way that a hiker leaves markers along a trail for those who follow.  The response to this website, in terms of the comments I receive and number of visitors, have greatly exceeded my expectations, and I am very happy to be able to provide this service.  Material from this website has been licensed to national bar exam preparation programs, and cited by Ohio Lawyer's Weekly and the law.com Bar Exam Diary.
Much of the content in the Primer was written while I was preparing for the bar exam in the summer of 2000, but I have updated and supplemented the information continuously since then.  From the people I talked with during my exam preparation experience and those who I have spoken with since, I am confident that the experiences which I share in the Primer are typical of what most bar applicants go through.
This page focuses on the California Bar Exam, which I refer to as simply the "bar exam."  While some of the information is general in nature and may help those taking the exams of other states, I would recommend that those people check Google.com for information about bar exams in other states. 
The Primer is in no way affiliated with BarBri, PMBR, nor the State Bar of California.  The purpose of the Primer is not to advocate any particular bar preparation program, and thePrimer is definitely not itself a bar preparation program.  My goal is simple:  To freely share my experiences with the hope that others may benefit.  
I expressly disclaim any representations or warranties about the expertise, reliability, correctness and accuracy of the information on this site and on the pages to which this site links.  Nothing on this website nor the pages to which this website links should be considered legal advice.

2. Background Of The Exam

There can be no mistake about it:  The bar exam is an exercise in malpractice.  The exam asks applicants to give legal advice, without access to any reference materials, and without being able to consult other attorneys or experts.  Doing this in real life would violate the attorney's professional duty of competence.  But this is how law school graduates become attorneys.

A. Important Dates 

1. General Timeline

This timeline is not a fixed schedule which everyone must follow, but I do highly recommend adhering to this timeline to assure that you accomplish all of the requirements to become an attorney:
  • 1L: Register online with State Bar in first 90 days of law school
  • 1L: Sign up for BarBri
  • 3L Fall: Take the MPRE
  • 3L Fall: Submit Moral Character Application
  • 3L Spring: Submit Bar Exam Application online

2. Calendar

  • Jan: Registration deadline for March MPR
  • Feb: Bar exam
  • Mar: MPRE
  • Apr: Registration deadline for July bar exam
  • May:  Results from February bar exam released
  • Jul: Registration deadline for August MPRE
  • Jul: Bar exam
  • Aug: MPRE
  • Sept: Registration deadline for November MPRE
  • Nov: Registration deadline for February bar exam
  • Nov: MPRE
  • Nov: Results from July bar exam released

B.  Format Of The Exam

The California Bar Exam is a three-day test given twice a year, in February and July.  The exam is given in the Bay Area (usually San Francisco and Oakland), Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and usually a few other smaller cities.
The exact date of the exam is determined by the last Wednesday of February and July, which is the day the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) portion is given nationwide.  The essays and performance exams are given on the preceding Tuesday and the following Thursday.  Different states have different formats and different requirements for their bar exams, and may cover different subjects.  California's bar exam is considered one of the most difficult in the country, along with New York.
  
California Bar Exam Schedule(exact times are subject to some change due to logistics)
TuesdayWednesdayThursday
9:00-12:00Essays 1, 2, 3MBE (100 questions)Essays 4, 5, 6
12:00-1:45LunchLunchLunch
1:45-4:45Performance Test AMBE (100 questions)Performance Test B

1. Essays

Tuesday and Thursday mornings are the essay segments.  Each segment lasts three hours, in which applicants must answer three essay questions.  While applicants are not required to allocate one hour per essay, it is inadvisable to do otherwise.  The essays count for 39% of the total exam score.  The essays cover all of the topics on the MBE, plus civil procedure, California community property, business associations, professional responsibility (ABA and California), remedies, and California wills & trusts.  A chart below lists all of the subjects. 

2. Performance Test

The performance test is designed to test practical lawyering skills.  This portion of the exam lasts three hours,  on the afternoons of Tuesday and Thursday.  This section counts for 26% of the total score.  The performance exam is a "closed universe" setting, meaning that the only substantive information the applicant needs to know is what is provided with the exam.  Applicants are provided with:
  • Task Memorandum:  This contains instructions for the question, and is usually only one or two pages.  The first thing test takers should do is outline the task memo in detail so that they have a roadmap for their answer.
  • Library:  Legal authorities necessary to complete task.  This may be California law, but because the fact pattern takes place in a mythical jurisdiction, test takers should not rely upon their personal knowledge of the particular law.
  • Client's File:  Contains factual information about the case.
The performance exam may test skills from the following areas:  Legal analysis, fact gathering, fact analysis, tactics and problem solving, ethics, and communication.  The form of the writing that the applicant is asked to produce may be any one of several types of writings, e.g. a memo of law, trial brief, memo to judge, client letter, letter to opposing counsel, case plan, etc.  You should practice each type of exam at least once to become familiar with the requirements for each type of writing (i.e. how to write an affidavit, how to write points and authorities, etc.).
The Bar occasionally uses two different versions of the same performance test or essay question.  This is important to keep in mind in case you discuss the questions after the exam with other test takers and you find out you wrote a different answer than your friends.  If this happens, don't panic, it's likely that there were simply two versions of the question.
  
Trivia
The first written bar exam was given in 1855 in Massachusetts.  Previously, the exams were oral.

3. Multistate Bar Exam

The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is a 200 question multiple choice exam.  The 200 questions are divided into 100 unit sections, one in the morning and one in the afternoon on Wednesday.  Applicants have 3 hours per section, or 1.8 minutes per question.  This portion of the exam counts for 35% of the total score in California.  The MBE covers the topics of contracts, property, torts, constitutional law, criminal law & procedure, and evidence.  For the most part, the exam tests the majority law of the country, which is not necessarily California law, common law or the model code.  The questions focus on established black letter law, and do not ask questions about the fringes of the law, so that there are no problems for the graders in determining the correct answer.  The MBE questions are written by committees of law school professors organized by the National Counsel of Bar Examiners.  Most states use the MBE as a component of their bar exam.
The average raw MBE score is in the mid-120's, which translates to approximately 135-140 scaled.  PMBR says that the minimum raw MBE score needed to pass the California exam is around 133, or approximately 145 scaled.  Attorneys licensed in other states may qualify to waive this portion of the bar exam if they wish by electing to take the attorney's exam, discussed above.
Topics Tested
MBEEssays
Contracts
Property
Torts
Constitutional Law
Criminal Law & Procedure
Evidence
All MBE subjects, plus:
Civil Procedure
Community Property (CA)
Business Associations (Corporations)
Professional Responsibility
      (CA, ABA & case law)
Remedies
Trusts
Wills

The MBE tests the majority rules in the nation, as determined and interpreted by the committees of law school professors who write the questions.  This is not necessarily common law, or the law of California.  Nonetheless, I found that it was too difficult to try and memorize most of the nuances between California law and the MBE "majority" law, so I just memorized the California law and used it on both the essays and the MBE.
Knowing the law is half the battle - the other half is learning how to take the exam.  The MBE questions are written to trick the applicants, and most questions have two plausible answers.  The best way to prepare for the MBE is practicing questions, and reviewing answers.  Most people do between 2,000 and 4,000 practice questions during their preparations.  Contracts and property are the most difficult MBE subjects, and the average number of questions answered correctly on those topics is around 50%.  As BarBri says, your goal with those topics is "damage control," not getting a high score.  Torts, constitutional law, criminal law and evidence are easier, and that is where applicants can focus more of their study time to improve their score.
  
"You are going to get to the MBE, get to the first question, and you will know the answer. Then you will look down at the four answers, and it won't be there.  You give the best wrong answer."                               -- Professor Robert E. Scott, University of Virginia Law School

4. Predictions

Using data about what subjects have historically been tested, some people attempt to determine the patterns and frequencies of the subjects tested, and attempt to predict what subjects will probably be tested next. 
There are some preparation programs that predict subjects and advise their students to focus on those subjects.  I have heard rumors that at least one of these people runs a "hotline" that you can call to find out what subjects he predicts will be on the exam.  I do not know the hotline number (so don't e-mail me asking for it).  I do not personally form any predictions about what subjects will be tested next, and I don't keep track of what other people's predictions are.
Frankly, I think following any sort of prediction would be very dangerous, and I strongly discourage anyone from trying to predict subjects or allowing predictions to determine their study habits.  A few years ago one of the prep programs told their students not to bother with community property because they did not think it would be on the exam.  No one studied community property, and guess what?  It was on the exam.
Bottom line:  Don't try to predict subjects, don't follow other people's predictions.  You are putting too much at risk, and wasting too much energy.

5. Using A Laptop To Type The Exam

I believe that allowing bar applicants to type the bar exam on laptop computers was the best decision the State Bar has ever made.  The program allows several hundred applicants to type their exams on their own laptop computer using Examinator (aka Examsoft) software.  For those of us who are able to type fast, and who are comfortable using computers, the program is a godsend.  The main benefits of typing the bar exam is that your hand will not get tired, and you can edit what you have written.  Applicants are admitted to the program on a first-come, first-serve basis.  If you are interested in participating, you must apply as soon as the exam applications are available.  
Examinator is the software which I and thousands of other law students used for our final exams during law school, and I was comfortable that it would not cause any technical problems during the bar exam.  I was accepted into the program, and I was among the first group to type the bar exam on the computer, which was much more comfortable for me than writing.  The computerized exams have gone well and the program will continue for future exams.  For those who can't type on the small laptop keyboards, you may bring in an external keyboard to use.

C.  Why The Bar Examination Is Required

The bar exam exists as a way of certifying and licensing attorneys to practice law in the jurisdiction.  Almost all states require that attorneys practicing law in a state be licensed by that state.  This theoretically protects the public from people who are not qualified to practice law.
A prospective attorney becomes licensed by applying for bar admission through a state board of bar examiners.  This board is generally an agency of the highest state court in the jurisdiction, or connected with the state's bar association.  Each state sets its own criteria for admission.  There are no national standards for licensing attorneys, and the American Bar Association (ABA) has no licensing authority over attorneys.
Licensing generally involves demonstrating competence, including the proper legal education, and by passing the state's bar examination.  Most states, including California, require the passing of a separate ethics exam, called the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE).  Applicants must also prove their character and fitness to practice law, by submitting themselves to a thorough background check.
In California, there are generally five paths to becoming an attorney:
  1. Attend an ABA-accredited law school and pass the bar exam;
  2. Attend a state (California) accredited law school and pass the bar exam;
  3. Attend a nonaccredited law school and pass the bar exam;
  4. Participate in an approved course of study in a law office or judges' chambers and pass the bar exam; or
  5. Already be licensed in another jurisdiction and take the bar exam.
Regardless of which path is followed to become an attorney, the bar exam is required for admission to the State Bar of California.  Admission to the bar entitles a person to practice law in the state of California, and allows the person to call themselves an attorney.

1. The "Baby Bar"

Law students in California who attend law schools which are accredited by neither the ABA nor the California State Bar or who participate in office or judges' programs must pass the First Year Law Students' Examination ("FYLSE", or the "baby bar").  They must pass this exam before they can get credit for subsequent years of study or take the bar exam.  The exam is given twice a year, in June and October, in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Students take the baby bar after completing contracts, torts and criminal law courses.  The exam is administered by the State Bar of California, lasts a full day, and consists of four essays and 100 multiple-choice questions.
There are commercial preparation programs which will help students prepare for this exam.  Do a search on the internet if you are interested in taking such a course.  Students who attend ABA-accredited law schools and attorney applicants are exempt from taking this exam.  For more information about the baby bar, contact the State Bar of California at (415) 538-2000.

2. Attorney Applicants & Reciprocity

Attorneys licensed in California may qualify to become licensed in Washington D.C., which has liberal reciprocity rules.  Check with the D.C. bar association for details.
Attorney applicants may take the general bar examination, or they may be eligible to take the attorney's examination.  Attorneys who are licensed in other states and some foreign countries, and who have been an "active member" (i.e. engaged in the practice of law) in good standing for at least four years in their home state, may choose to take only the essay and performance test portions of the bar exam, waiving out of the MBE.
For some people, the MBE helps their score, and therefore attorney applicants should think twice before waiving the MBE, especially if essay writing is not their strong point.  On the other hand, waiving the MBE allows the attorney applicant to focus their limited time on preparing for the essays.  Attorney applicants should consider whether they think the MBE will help or hurt them, and waive the MBE if they think it will hurt them.  Foreign lawyers applying to practice in California should waive the MBE if they are eligible to do so (explained below), so that they can exclusively focus on essays.
Opting to take the attorney's exam frees you up to focus on your essay writing skills, so that you can write better bar essays and pass. Of course, this only works if you actually do reallocate the time you would otherwise spend on the MBE's and use that time for essays. Attorneys who are weak essay writers may be better off taking the MBE portion, because it will probably raise your overall score. 
Lawyers may be at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to writing essays. Once we have been practicing for a few years, we forget how to write a law school or bar exam essay. We tend to slack off on our "CIRAC" method. We think we know how to write essays better now than we did in law school, so why spend time practicing? What we've forgotten is that while we know how to write "lawyer" essays well, we have forgotten how to write "bar" essays well. Spend the time relearning how to write a "bar" essay (think 3 pages, not a 10 page treatise on your personal legal experience with the topic), and skip the MBE's. And don't forget to practice writing neatly, if you are writing the exam longhand. 
Attorney applicants are not held to a higher standard on their essays than general bar applicants.  The bar graders do not know the essays of the attorney applicants versus the general applicants, and therefore all essays, whether written by an attorney or not, are treated the same by the graders.
Attorney applicants should contact the Bar at (415) 538-2303 as early as possible to submit their qualifications if they desire to waive the MBE.
Attorney applicants should read the State Bar publication Admission to Practice Law in California by Attorneys Admitted in Jurisdictions Outside the United States (available on the State Bar website)

3. Foreign Applicants

There is no citizenship requirement for admission to the California Bar.  A person can be a citizen of any country and be admitted to practice in California.  No particular type of visa, including green card, is required for admission to the bar.
People who are educated in countries other than the U.S. must still meet the education requirements for admission.  People who have gone to college or law school in foreign countries should contact the State Bar at (415) 538-2303 in order to begin a process which determines "education equivalency."  Basically, this involves examining the person's education in the foreign country with the requirements for admission to the state bar, and determining if the education is equivalent to the requirements.  Foreign applicants must submit an Application for Evaluation of Law Study Completed and Contemplated (available on the State Bar website).  Foreign-educated people who receive an LL.M. from an ABA-accredited law school in the U.S. must still petition for determination of equivalency. The LL.M. usually counts as one year of credit towards the equivalency.
A person who is a licensed attorney of a foreign jurisdiction does not have to comply with the above education equivalency procedures.  Foreign-educated applicants and foreign attorneys should check with the State Bar to ensure that they have met all of the requirements for admission.  Foreign attorney applicants should read the State Bar publicationAdmission to Practice Law in California by Attorneys Admitted in Jurisdictions Outside the United States (available on the State Bar website).
A foreign applicant who is a licensed attorney in their home country may qualify to take the attorney's exam (i.e. waive the MBE portion) if they are an active member (i.e. engaged in the practice of law) of the bar of any United States jurisdiction, possession, territory, or dependency for at least the four years preceding the filing of your application.  Attorneys who are admitted in any other foreign jurisdiction must take the general bar examination. 
I recommend that all foreign applicants sign up for BarBri, and attend every lecture and stick with the Paced Program, if at all possible. You might have a background knowledge of American law from your foreign law school, or you may have taken an LL.M. program in America, but you most likely do not know California law as it is tested on the bar exam, and therefore you are very much in need of a bar preparation course. You may also want to sign up for BarPassers' Tutorial Program as a supplement to BarBri. 
Many foreign applicants ask me if home study is an adequate alternative to a commercial prep course. I do not think it is. Home study is not adequate for most applicants who went to law school in California, and foreign applicants have even more of a learning curve. Being in a commercial prep program will give you exposure to applicants who are more familiar with the law than you are, and therefore give you a good group of people to form study groups with and ask questions of. 
However, for foreign applicants who need to study for the California bar while they still live in their home country, obviously BarBri's live classroom lectures are not an option.  BarBri does have a home study course (videotapes of the classroom lectures), and there are other home preparation programs, such as MicroMash. You can also find used materials from both BarBri and PMBR on eBay, and a number of bar preparation guides on Amazon.com. I must emphasize that home study or self-study is not ideal, and if you can avoid having to do this, I would, but for those who have no other option, this is the best alternative.  
Note that you must have a U.S. Social Security Number in order to become a member of the California Bar.  An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is not sufficient.

D.  Pass Statistics

The California Bar Exam is one of the hardest in the nation.  California has an exclusionary bar, which means that rather than merely trying to screen out people who are incompetent, the exam is used to regulate the number of lawyers in the state.  Other states have shorter and easier bar exams, because they don't have the large number of attorneys that California has.
After the results are released for each bar exam, the media reports that around 50 percent of applicants passed.  While this is technically true, it does not accurately reflect the statistics.  In 2003, the State Bar did a study that determined the break-down of eventual pass rates, over three attempts: 90 percent of graduates of ABA-approved law schools eventually pass, compared to 68 percent who attend California accredited schools and 58 percent for graduates of unaccredited schools.
The overall pass rates for California are lower than other states largely because unlike most states, California allows graduates of unaccredited law schools to take the bar exam (there are over sixty law schools in California alone, only 19 of which are ABA-accredited). 

E.  Scoring

The MBE counts for 35% of the total score, and the written portion counts for 65% of the score.  The six essay exams count for 39% of the score (slightly more than the MBE), and the performance test counts for 26% of the score (slightly less than the MBE).  While this is good information to know, applicants should not allocate their preparation efforts based on these percentages.
Bar Exam = 100%
Written Portion65% of bar exam
Multistate (MBE)
35% of bar exam
6 Essay Exams
60% of written exam
39% of bar exam
2 Performance Tests40% of written exam
26% of bar exam
The way the bar exam is scored is quite complicated, and frankly beyond my mathematical abilities to thoroughly explain.  If you are interested (and good at math), the scoring system is explained in great detail at the State Bar website.  Suffice it to say, the goal is not to "ace" the exam, but merely to pass, and the passing level is significantly lower than the "ace" level.  In the words of Richard Conviser, "The bar exam is no place to be an overachiever."
  
The Moral Of The Story Is...
Two friends went camping and were sleeping in a tent when one heard a rustling sound.  He woke up and saw a bear roaming around the camp.  He woke his friend and told him that there was a bear on the loose in the campsite.  Without saying a word, the freshly-woken friend began to put on his running sneakers.  Upon seeing this the other friend started laughing and incredulously asked, "you are not planning on outrunning that bear, are you!?  He'll chase you down!"  The other friend silently put on his other shoe.  The friend asked again, "You do understand that you cannot outrun a bear, don't you!?"  At this point, the other friend finished putting on his running shoes and sat up with a gleam in his eye, and said, "I know that I can't outrun a bear.  All I have to do is outrun you!" and he took off.
Although the bar exam weighs the written portion more heavily than the MBE, many people believe that the bar trains the graders to fail most people on the essays by a small margin of points.  Under this theory, the bar 'calibrates' the graders in training sessions where the bar puts pressure to normalize graders who give 'extreme' scores, either very high or very low, on model answers. Then, once the graders are calibrated such that they are giving most essays roughly the same scores, the bar looks to the MBE to pull up the averages so that the right number of people pass.  I do not know if this is true or not, but I've heard it repeatedly from past bar graders.
You can actually pass the bar exam even if you fail all of the essays, although I don't recommend that as a preparation technique.  Here's a hypothetical example of how, based on the July 2000 bar exam:
  
Bob, our hypothetical bar applicant, got 150 raw points on his MBE (75% correct out of 200 questions).  In July 2000, this raw score translated through a complicated formula to 1639.80 points, which accounts for 35% of the total score, or 573.93 points.
Bob did below average on his essays and performance test, and managed to only get 65% of the 1000 available raw points (650 points - a low-average score - technically failing every essay).  That translates to 1470.24 points, and accounts for 65% of the total score (or 955.66 points).
573.93 MBE points plus 955.66 essay points is 1529.59, which well above the 1466 points needed to pass the exam on the first reading.  In fact, Bob could have done worse on his MBE and still passed.
PMBR distributes an advertising flyer which basically says this same thing.  Their conservative figures say that if you get a 150 (scaled) on the MBE, you can get a 67.5 on each essay and still pass.  A 155 allows you to get a 65 on each essay, and a 160 allows you to get a mix of 65's and 60's on your essays.
BarBri says that you can get a lower-than-average score on the MBE portion (i.e. a 130 scaled), and still pass if you have strong essays.  Therefore, it seems that as long as you are strong on either the written or the MBE, you can pass even if you marginally fail the other section.
Moral of the story:  If you are weak on your essays, do your best to boost your MBE score, which can dramatically offset your poor essay performance (each MBE question is equal to roughly three points on the bar exam).  This is also why applicants who are attorneys with more than four years of experience, who may opt to waive the MBE portion, may want to choose to take the full general bar unless they have difficulty on the MBE.
The six essays are scored on a scale of 100 possible points, with 67 points being the approximate "passing" point.  During BarBri prep, if your scores on the practice essays average out to 67 or more, you are doing ok.  Since the ideal essay score is in the 67-70 range, and essays are graded in 5-point increments, there is not a lot of spread to cover between 50 points and 70 points (only 4 increments).
  
TriviaAbraham Lincoln was a bar examiner.
There is a rumor that floats around that when the essays are graded, the readers know what your MBE score is, and this may impact how they grade your essay.  This is not true in California.  And anyhow, even if they did have access to the MBE score, that fact should have no impact on how well an applicant prepares for and writes their essays.  Keep your eye on the ball, and tune out the noise.
California does not release the scores for people who have passed the bar exam. This makes sense for many reasons, including not wanting attorneys to rank themselves by bar score.  The only way to find out your California MBE score (and the way that PMBR determines California MBE scores for their advertising) is to apply to the bar of Washington D.C., which accepts MBE scores transferred from California, be denied admission, and submit a Freedom of Information Act request for your exam score (to the D.C. Bar). 

1. Who Grades Bar Exams?

Bar exams are graded by lawyers.  They are no different from you, except they have passed the bar exam, either on their first or second try.  Some passed as recently as one year ago; others have been grading exams for years.  The State Bar solicits attorneys to grade bar exams, but any lawyer who meets the qualifications can volunteer.
Each grader has one particular essay topic to read, so your six essays get sent out to six different people, each of whom specialize in grading that particular essay.  Graders receive a copy of the question that they are assigned to during an orientation session.  This takes place on the last day of the bar exam (Thursday).  A few weeks later, they must turn in a researched answer to that question.  For the next three weeks after that, the graders spend time at calibration sessions where they standardize the scores for various quality levels of answers.  This ensures that theoretically at least, the same essay would receive the same points from any of the graders assigned to that essay.  Graders must complete their grading and turn in all of their essays and scores about four to six weeks before results are released. 
Graders are paid a few dollars for each essay they grade, and slightly more for each performance test they grade.  Each grader reads approximately 550 essays for the February exam, and 850 essays for the July exam.  This is an exhausting process that takes about three to four hours per day during the eight to ten week grading period.  This means the graders spend only a few minutes reading each essay.  Most graders are merely looking for key words.  Graders I have spoken to have emphasized the importance of using headings and underlining key words to stand out to the grader. 
"One of the peculiar things you learn in life is that what makes Great Institutions great is the stuff people attach to them, not their actual operation.  The scoring of the bar exam was like that.  We sent the bluebooks out to ten graders around the state, one for each question.  The booklets came back UPS, thousands of stacks, piled up no more ceremoniously than rubbish.  The secretaries sorted them for days, then added each individual's totals, and the staff attorneys checked the math.  Those were the results."                               -- Scott Turow, Pleading Guilty

3. Substantive Study Material

I have made the materials that I created while preparing for the bar exam available here.  However, the purpose of the Primer is not to provide substantive material to study for the bar.  As I discuss elsewhere on this website, in order to realistically have a chance at passing the exam, students need to take some commercial preparation program.  That program will provide their own substantive material which students should use to study from. 
strongly discourage using my substantive material for your preparation.  Just like in law school, making your own outlines and flashcards is an integral part of the preparation itself, and using pre-made material denies you a substantial part of the preparation.
In fact, I firmly believe that by not creating your own outlines or flashcards (or other similar study aid), your chances of passing the bar exam plummet.  Additionally, this material was made for the July 2000 exam, and as that exam gets further away, the substantive material will become increasingly inaccurate and incomplete as the law changes.
Nonetheless, it can be useful to see what other people have done to prepare, merely as a guide and example.  Therefore, my outlines and flashcards are available from the links below, in HTML format.  The files contain plenty of spelling errors, because I  was typing fast in class.  I have explained elsewhere how I integrated my outlines and flashcards into my bar exam preparations.

4. It's Never Too Early

There are things an applicant has to do before graduation to prepare for the bar exam, and there are things that are optional.  This information should apply to most law students, regardless of which state's bar exam they intend to take.  First, the things you do have to do, followed by the things you don't have to do.

A.  Pre-Preparation Preparation: The Things You Have To Do

While you should be mindful of the bar exam during law school and do what you can to prepare for it, you should not worry or stress about it. There is plenty of time for that after graduation.  During law school, focus on law school exams, extracurricular activities such as law review or a law clinic, and maybe finding a job for after the bar.  If you can get a job lined up before you graduate, that is one less thing to worry about during preparation for the bar.
I think it's too early to begin to seriously study for the bar before graduation. You have the option of doing nothing, and many if not most law students choose this option.  This is fine, especially if you have a heavy course load. If you have a light load, or are feeling insecure about the bar, you can get a head start.
If you do choose to get a head start, take it lightly - don't start doing heavy preparation, because (1) you will burn out in mid-July right before the exam; and (2) you are not going to remember the things you learn in March down the road in late July when you are taking the exam. Having said that, the spring semester is a great time to become familiar with the layout of the exam:  Learn about the exam schedule, location, make hotel reservations, visit the site, what subjects are tested, etc. Get your study stuff together - about 10 packs of flashcards, pencils, pens, erasers, highlighters, etc. If your local BarBri is offering the "early bird" videos, go watch them on the weekends - but don't take notes ... just absorb and refresh (see my notes above about the Early Bird courses).  If PMBR sends you your CD or audio tape lectures, listen to them in the car or at home - but again, don't take notes - you are just absorbing and refreshing your mind.  Spring semester is also a good time to read some prep books about the bar exam.  They will help you become familiar with the subject matter and format.  
Finally, in March or April, take a week off. Go somewhere, or do something you love (I sat at home and read mystery novels).  This is your last chance until the first week of August.

1. Register With The State Bar

Separate and distinct applications are required for first-year registration with the bar, moral character determination, the bar examination, and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.  That is a total of four applications that you will file with the bar during law school.  If you are negligent about filing any of these applications, your ability to become a lawyer "on time" will be jeopardized.
In the first year of law school, you have to register with the California State Bar.  Your law school may put a registration form in your mail box, but most first year's are so overwhelmed with information and fliers that it is hard to know what is truly necessary and what is hype.  This isn't hype.  If you fail to register in the fall of your first year, it really screws things up later on.  To register, you can either fill out the printed form, or you can fill out the registration form on the web.
Don't confuse this with becoming a member of the American Bar Association.  The ABA is an organization you may choose to join by paying annual dues.  About half of the lawyers in America belong to the ABA.  The California State Bar is your ticket to practicing law in California, and not at all optional.  If you are attending a California law school and planning to take the bar of another state, and practice out of state, check with your law school's records office to determine your requirements. 

2. Sign Up For BarBri

"You are a fool if you don't sign up for one of these courses ... I have no idea where you'd start if you wanted to do it on your own."                               -- Raymond L. Woodcock, Take The Bar and Beat Me
In the first year of law school, it would be ideal if someone would tell all the first-years that they have to put their deposit down for BarBri.  This should be mandatory.  Do not wait until the second year!  Signing up for BarBri can have the feel of being pressured into buying a used car, and it is good to be suspicious of test preparation programs in general, but this is the real thing, and you should do what most of your classmates are doing and sign up for BarBri.  Nearly everyone takes BarBri, because there is no real competition - they're the only real game in town (and I am not paid by nor affiliated in any way with BarBri).  Those who take a course from one of the smaller bar preparation programs risk the insecurity of being isolated from their classmates who take BarBri, and wondering if everyone else is getting a better preparation for the bar exam.  And those who think they can pass the bar exam without taking any professional prep programs are delusional, because very few if any law students have the self-direction and experience to make self-study work.
Having no competition in the bar prep market means that BarBri can raise their rates each year, and you have no choice but to pay.  But the sooner you put your deposit down, the sooner you lock in the price.  As an example, I put down my deposit right before my first year started, and locked in my price of $1,500.  Several of my classmates waited until their third year, and had to pay $2,500.  The average bar applicant spends between $2,500 and $3,500 for their bar preparation programs.  If you are unsure whether you will take BarBri, put down the deposit anyhow.  The nominal deposit is not that much money, especially compared to how much money you are shelling out for law school, and a small price to pay for locking in your price before it increases.  Plus, students who put down the deposit get several useful outline books during law school (the first year series and the upper division review), and they can take the MPRE review session, and get the MPRE outline book.  They can also attend the early bird videos, which I discuss below.
If you want (or need) a discount on BarBri, inquire in your first or second year about how to become a "rep".  These folks get a sizeable (i.e., 50%-100%) discount on the cost of the course in exchange for signing up some classmates to take the course.
A word about bar exam preparation costs:  Those who forego preparation programs (whether it is BarBri or PMBR) just because of the cost are fools.  The expense may seem like a lot, but consider for a moment the cost of not passing:  (1) Retaking the exam; (2) Paying for an intensive study program to prepare you; (3) Lost wages while you retake the exam; (4) The mental struggle of retaking the exam.  You've already spent tens of thousands of dollars on your education.  Another two thousand is a drop in the bucket.  Considering what you are preparing for, the cost should not even be an issue.

a. Alternatives To BarBri

In the last section I said that there are no real alternatives to BarBri.  That is true for the vast majority of those who take the bar exam: People who have just graduated from ABA-approved law schools, who should take a prep course with their classmates.  Having said that, there are people who do not fit this mold, and for those people, an alternative to BarBri may be better.  These include people who are taking the exam a second time; attorneys from other states who are taking the California exam; and people who live outside of California who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend a California-oriented BarBri course.  BarBri does not offer courses in the U.S. possessions of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariannas islands.  If you fit into one of these categories, BarBri may not be the best option.  I would recommend that you proceed cautiously and seek recommendations when choosing a bar prep program.
There are two popular alternative programs: BarPassers, which uses flowcharts to teach the law instead of outlines, and MicroMash, which is a home study course.  Both are good programs, and well recommended for those who can not take BarBri or were taking the bar exam for a second time.  If you are interested in an alternative to BarBri, I would advise you to visit the websites for both BarPassers and MicroMash and investigate the programs thoroughly before making a decision.  
I want to stress again that traditional law students who attend ABA-accredited schools should take BarBri, unless their circumstances somehow require an alternative.  The benefits of following the herd are numerous, and there is not much of a downside.
The Practicing Law Institute (PLI) offers a free on-line preparation course for the MPRE, an on-line course for the Mulitstate Bar Exam (MBE), and an on-line course for the Multistate Performance Test (MPT).  The MBE and MPT courses are designed to supplement BarBri and PMBR.  California does not use the Multistate Performance Test, but rather uses a modified performance test.  Nonetheless, if you have a weakness with performance tests, this course may be able to help you.
In addition to professional preparation programs, private tutors are available for one-on-one tutoring.  When selecting a tutor, keep these factors in mind, and don't put any money down until you understand what you are getting:
  • Is the tutor a past bar grader?
  • Did the tutor graduate from an ABA school?
  • Is tutoring is their full time job?
  • Have they given you references, before you pay?
  • Do they have a tangible product (materials)?
  • Were they willing to disclose their pass rate?
  • Do they charge pay per essay reviewed, or flat fee?
In California, the majority of first-time bar exam takers take BarBri, with PMBR as a supplement. There is no real competition in that market. I think that students who take prep programs other than BarBri may do themselves a disservice, because all their classmates are taking BarBri, and they may feel that they are missing something that everyone else is getting (and in fact this may be the truth). Having said that, if a person has a special need (i.e. they know they need lots of work on essays, or performance tests, etc.) then a specialized program might be the right way to go. 

b. BarPassers

BarPassers places an emphasis on teaching with flowcharts, as opposed to BarBri's outline approach.  If you are a visual learner, BarPassers may be best for you because you may learn better from flowcharts than from outlines. BarPassers also provides substantive outlines, but their overall approach is to use flowcharts. Even for non-visual learners who are used to outlines, sometimes seeing a flowchart helps solidify their understanding of the law.

In addition to the flowcharts and outlines, BarPassers has essay writing workshops, simulated exams, graded practice exams, and preparation for the Multistate Bar Exam.  Lectures are either live or videotaped, and BarPassers has home study audio cassettes of the lectures available for people who cannot attend the regular lectures.

For people who feel they need extra assistance for the bar, BarPassers has a Tutorial Program which begins a before the regular preparation program.  BarBri has a similar program called Essay Advantage. This program uses small group study, individualized feedback, and frequent testing to prepare people who need extra assistance. This program is targeted at repeat test takers, foreign candidates and first-time takers who need individual attention. I have known people who have taken the regular BarBri program who supplement their studies with the BarPassers Tutorial Program during the spring semester of their third year, but I do not think this is advisable for people unless they have special needs.

3. Take The MPRE

No later than November of your third year, you should take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE).  Like the MBE, the MPRE is a standardized objective test written by the National Counsel of Bar Examiners and administered by ACT, Inc.  The MPRE is required in all but three states, and is given three times a year, in March, August, and November.  The exam is multiple-choice format with 50 questions, lasting just over two hours.  Each question provides a factual situation along with a specific question and four possible answer choices.
The MPRE tests the disciplinary rules of professional conduct currently articulated in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as the controlling constitutional decisions and generally accepted principles established in leading federal and state cases and in the procedural and evidentiary rules.
The MPRE is not an extremely difficult exam, so there is no need to panic.  The exam merely makes sure that all lawyers-to-be have at least a limited grasp of the canons of legal ethics, but the pass threshold is set rather low, such that almost everyone can pass without much effort.  Indeed, most law students think that the exam is a fairly easy test, and most states have a first-time pass rate of around 90%.  
Do not rely on your law school professional responsibility course to teach you what you need to know for the exam.  Often the professor's scope of the subject is overinclusive or underinclusive.  The best way to prepare for the MPRE is to do attend the half-day BarBri  review course, which is free to those who have signed up for the main bar preparation course, and doing as many practice problems as you can get your hands on.  Attending the BarBri session, plus reading through the book they distribute and doing the practice questions, is all the preparation most law students need to pass the exam.  
Technically, you could wait to take the MPRE until after you graduate from law school, and even after you take the bar exam.  But why put yourself through that?  Get it out of the way during law school!  The ideal time to take the exam is the November at the beginning of your third year.  That way, if you should not pass, you can take it again in March, before the bar exam.  If you wait until March (in the spring of your third year), if you should not pass, you will have to take the exam after the bar exam, and that is no fun at all!
To sign up for the MPRE, talk with your law school, or visit the National Counsel of Bar Examiners website, where you can register online. Applications must be received about a month and a half before the exam, which is given in March, August, and November.

4. Submit Moral Character Application

In the fall semester of your third year, you should to fill out your Moral Character Application and send it to the bar.  The applications are available from your law records office or on the State Bar's website.  The Bar Association has released two statements of information regarding the moral character determination process: Statement on Moral Character Requirement, and Factors That May Be Taken Into Consideration.  Bottom line:  Be absolutely honest.  The punishment for lying on the application (disbarment) is almost always worse than the consequences of full disclosure (an inquiry).  In most cases, it takes the bar a few months to process the form, and send you a letter certifying that you have a moral character.  If an inquiry into something on your application is necessary, it can take several months to resolve, which is why you should submit the application early, and be absolutely honest and make a full disclosure to the bar.
The hefty Moral Character Application fee is in addition to the fee you must pay in applying for the bar exam.

5. Submit The Bar Exam Application

In the spring semester of your third year, you must apply for the bar exam, and send another large check to the State Bar.  Printed applications are available from your law records office, but you can also apply on the web.  The filing deadline for the July exam is the first business day of April, although late applications are accepted for an additional fee up until the first business day of July.  The filing deadline for the February exam is the first business day of November, although late applications are accepted for an additional fee up until the first business day of February.  Applicants should apply as early as possible to ensure they will get a seat at their first choice exam location.
  
Exam DateApplication DeadlineLate Application Deadline
FebruaryNovember 1February 1
JulyApril 1July 1
As soon as you know which location you are taking the bar exam at, find the local hotels right next to where your exam is being given, and make a reservation for a room for the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the exam.  Rooms fill up very quickly, so do not delay making a reservation!  Do not share a room with another person, even if at the last minute they beg you to share a room because they didn't make a reservation.  You need your privacy, and a place to unwind by yourself.  Stay overnight within walking distance of the bar exam location.  Do not rely on any mode of transportation other than your two feet to get you from where you sleep to the bar exam on the test days.
  
TriviaKentucky and Virginia require bar applicants to take the bar exam wearing business formal dress (suits).  California has no particular dress requirements.
In most locations, the bar exam is given in or next to a nice hotel, such as a Marriott.  Stay there.  I opted to stay in a less-expensive nearby Howard Johnson hotel (in Oakland, on Broadway) that turned out to be a complete dump, and really distracted me from the exam.  The bar is, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime experience; splurge for yourself and spend the money to stay at the nice hotel.  You'll be thankful you did.  Note that the State Bar tells you to request the "bar" rate at the hotel hosting the exam.  In some cases, this has turned out to be more than the rack rate.  So ask for both, and go with whichever is less expensive.
If you need to request a reasonable accommodation due to a disability, the State Bar has the proper forms available on their website, along with information about requesting accommodations.

6. Tie Up Loose Ends

The time when you are preparing for the bar exam needs to be exclusively that:  Preparation and study time.  Those ten weeks prior to the exam are not the time to be getting oil changed in your car, refinancing your mortgage, reviewing your investment strategy, getting married or training your new puppy.  Reserve several days of time around graduation (i.e. after finals, but before bar prep classes begin) to tie up loose ends.  Return the library books, pay all your bills, clean the house one last time, take care of the gardening, etc.  Once studying starts, you do not have time to do these things, so do them now.  After the exam, you will similarly need several days to put your life back in order (paying bills, cleaning house, etc.), so go ahead and put that on your calendar for early August.
While I'm on this topic: Some law students have the mistaken impression that they will be able to work part-time during bar preparation, to pay the bills.  Forget about it.  Save up your money, because working during bar exam preparation will almost certainly guarantee that you will be taking the bar a second time.  The two months of not working is a financial investment that you are making towards passing the bar exam.  You've worked so hard and spent so much money to get to this point already - don't blow it by being greedy.
I am sure that some people do it, but I think it is a bad mistake. A bar applicant should only work during bar preparations if it is absolutely necessary to buy food and shelter. I strongly urge bar applicants to take a leave of absence from work while preparing for the bar. Take out loans, borrow from family members, do whatever you have to do to pay the bills, but only work if you simply financially cannot provide for yourself in any other way. Preparing for the bar requires a minimum of six hours a day of uninterrupted preparation, and optimally eight hours, six days a week. I think that trying to do that while working a full time job would leave someone in such an unproductive mental state that they would be unable to study the best they could, and in not in the optimum mental state to take the exam. Take two months off work. It's a small financial price to pay to ensure that you are doing everything you can to pass the bar. If you don't take the time off work, and do not pass the bar exam, you are going to have to repeat the entire process, and quite possibly have to take time off work the second time around to study properly. Save yourself the aggravation, and just do it right the first time.  

B.  Pre-Preparation Preparation:  Optional Things To Do

I realize that not everyone is as compulsive as me when it comes to preparing for things.  But I like to know what I'm getting into when I do something, so I try to do some research in advance.  During the spring semester of my third year of law school, I took advantage of some spare time and tried to prepare myself for the ten weeks of bar preparation.  These are my comments about some of those things.

1. Plan Your Law School Schedule

I remember when I was a 1L, I overheard people say they were putting off their bar-prep courses (criminal procedure, remedies, evidence, community property, wills and trusts, etc.) until their third year, so that the subject matter would still be fresh in their minds when they started preparing for the bar exam.  I scoffed at that notion, and took many of my bar prep courses in my second year, so I could take mostly electives in my third year.  If I had it to do over again, I would have followed the advice I overheard.  Yes, you do re-learn all the important material in BarBri.  But if it is more fresh in your mind from the class you just took, it will make life a lot easier during an otherwise very stressful time.  It's something to consider when planning your courses.
Having said that, I think students can consider not taking one of the optional bar-prep courses if they want (in this context, I'm referring to classes during law school, not bar-prep programs like BarBri or PMBR).  But I only recommend this for one of the following: remedies; community property; or wills & trusts.  Don't try to skip more than one of those, and don't skip taking an essential course like evidence or criminal procedure, because they are too complicated to try to learn for the first time when preparing for the bar.  If you do skip taking a bar-prep course, be sure and read the BarBri outline for the course, and if at all possible, go to the BarBri Early Bird video lecture on that course in the spring of your third year.  And put your free time to good use by taking an elective course that is relevant to your career, if you know what your career will be, or by doing clinical work.

2. Books

As far as books related to the bar exam go, I found three that were very useful.  Click on the Amazon.com logo to the right for a complete list of books related to the bar exam.  Yes, I get a very small commission on the sale of the books from these links, which goes to cover the costs of the server that hosts this website.
Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays by Mary Campbell Gallagher was the book that I found most useful.  The first half of the book is tips on how to write better essays, and the second half is 80 full-length essay exams with model answers, from states across the country. The tips section is built on Gallagher's essay writing system which is based on the well-known IRAC system, that she has modified into "CRAC" (Conclusion, Rule, Application, Conclusion).  Her "model paragraph" system is very useful, and something that I wish I had learned about earlier in my law school career.  No doubt I would have written better essays during law school if I had followed her methods.  I used the sample essays and model answers extensively in preparing for the exam, and found them very helpful in developing my issue spotting skills.  Every night after studying my flashcards and reviewing for the next day's BarBri class, I did one or two essays from Gallagher's book, on top of the essays I did for BarBri.  Reading Gallagher's model answers really helped me identify more issues and become familiar with better ways to write answers.  
Strategies & Tactics for the MBE by Lazar Emanuel is well worth the cost for those who need extra help on the MBE. The first thirty pages contain really useful tips for taking the MBE, which make this book one of the best preparation books I've seen for the bar.  The rest of the book contains sample MBE tests comprised of released questions, followed by a detailed analysis of the answers.  Unfortunately, every single one of these questions is also contained in BarBri's Multistate Testing Drills and Released Questions workbook, which is included with your BarBri materials.  In other words, the only thing you really get for your money with this book is the first thirty pages.  But if you are having trouble raising your MBE score, these tips may make the difference.
Bar Breaker, Vol I-II is a two volume self-contained bar prep course that focuses on essay writings.  The author, Jeff Adachi, is a past bar grader and explains in the book how the graders approach essays.  He provides a method for organizing and writing essays.  He also provides comprehensive model answers.  This book comes highly recommended by people who failed the bar exam; many repeat-takers use these materials the second time around, and usually pass, so I would recommend that people use these materials the first time around and save themselves the aggravation of failing.  At $90, this two volume set is on the pricey side, but everyone who has told me that they used these materials has said that it the investment is well worth it. 
These books are just a few of the many books available about the bar exam.  Don't knock yourself out reading all of them - most of the books repeat the same tips over and over, with slight variations.  And remember that there is no magic formula for passing the bar exam.  But I do recommend reading at least one of these books to help you with the bar exam - you will get a different perspective, and some additional suggestions that you might not be getting in BarBri.

3. BarBri Early Bird Video Tapes

BarBri has put together a series of "early bird" video tapes covering all of the bar subjects.  Everyone who is signed up for BarBri can attend the viewing of tapes in March and April of their third year.  The tapes cover all the first year courses and the bar prep courses.  I thought the tapes were very thorough.  Students who choose not to take community property in law school can learn the entire semester's worth of information, as it is relevant to the bar exam, in one 3-hour tape.  Some of the tapes are dry and boring, but others are fast-paced and humorous.  I wished that I had watched these tapes towards the end of my first year, because they really would have helped me a lot on my finals.  These tapes are not the exact same tapes that you will be seeing in the BarBri course during the summer.  Some of the content and professors may be the same, but it is not a complete repeat.

4. Work On Your Study Habits

I have to admit - I never really studied very much during school.  I can't remember ever studying for more than a few hours for any of my undergraduate finals.  I put a little more effort into law school finals, but not much.  I knew I could pass my classes, and I wasn't aiming for very far above that.  Some of the exams were even open book, and for those, I just organized my materials and did a quick review. 
Therefore, studying for the bar exam came as a shock to me.  I knew it was going to take a lot of effort and time, but I did not anticipate the effort and mental toll it took.  Eight hours a day, pretty much every day, for ten weeks.  Failing practice exams time and time again, until I finally started to get it right.  Going through a thousand flashcards over and over, narrowing the stack down as I gradually learned them all.  It's hard work.
I know that no one will take my advice on this, but I can't help but mention it anyway: When you are preparing for law school exams, work on your study skills almost as much as you work on the substantive material.  Learn what study methods work for you, and practice them.  Start making and using flashcards in your first year, because that is the method that nearly everyone uses for the bar.  Build up your endurance so that you can study for two to three hours at a time, without taking more than one or two very short breaks.  And finally, when your professor says your exam will be open book, treat it like a closed book exam.  You can't take notes into the bar exam, so get used to that during law school.
I know that most law students are just trying to pass their classes, find a job, and do extracurricular activities like law review and clinics, so there just isn't time or motivation to work on study skills.  But if you do, it will really pay off on the one exam that means the most.

5. Work At A Clinic

Spend a semester working at a law clinic.  Most schools will give units for this, it is a great way to do some pro bono work, and it looks terrific on your resume.  But the reason I recommend it here is the performance exam section of the bar exam. 
On the performance exam, you will have to write a memo to a supervising attorney; draft pleadings; figure out how to best gather facts using interrogatories and depositions; or write an opening or closing argument for a jury trial.  How do you learn how to do that?  Law schools don't teach that as part of the usual curriculum, and there simply isn't enough time for BarBri to teach it effectively, though they do try.  You learn it in a clinic, where you actually do those things.
If it were not for the clinical experience I had during law school, I cannot imagine how I could have written passing answers on performance exams.  I would have had no clue how to write effective deposition questions and interrogatories, or how to write a compelling statement to the jury, how to summarize fifty pages of fact and law into a well-organized brief (within a three hour time limit), or even how to write a letter to the client explaining the law in layman's terms.  You perfect those skills by practice, and you practice in a clinic.

6. Take A Supplemental Prep Course

During the January and February prior to the bar exam, there are courses given for repeat test takers.  These are the classes that you will take if you do not pass the bar exam.  Some students take these classes before the bar exam, though, to try to pre-empt any possible failure.  I did not do this, but several of my classmates did, and they spoke highly of doing so.  BarPassers and BarBri both offer these programs (i.e. BarBri's Essay Advantage program), and other companies and private tutors do as well.  If you are interested in taking such a supplemental program, you should probably start making inquiries in December of your third year of law school.  Such supplemental courses are in no way necessary or warranted for the average law student.  But if you know you have a special need, they may be the right thing for you. 

7. Sign Up For PMBR

I address this below, in my discussion about PMBR.  Bottom line: I believe that most people should wait until third year to sign up for PMBR

8. Isn't This All A Little Bit of Overkill?

Yes.  Studying eight or more hours a day, 6 days a week for two months, and doing three to four thousand MBE questions is overkill.  Most people should be able to pass the bar exam by doing less preparation, and if you feel you fall into that category, by all means you should reduce your workload.  My theory in preparing for the exam was that I only wanted to take it once, and failure was not an option.  Therefore, I did overkill.  But you do not have to in order to pass.  Find what you think will work for you, and stick with it.

5. Ten Weeks

It seemed so distant as a first year.  I saw the 3L's walking around campus, and I admired them for what they had achieved.  But it seemed like an eternity before I would be in their shoes.  Then, in the blink of an eye, I was a 3L.  My classes didn't really matter any more.  I had a job lined up for after the bar exam, and my GPA was pretty much etched in stone anyhow.  So I found myself wondering what would happen after graduation, and it hit me: The Bar Exam.  It was always in the back of my mind, but I never worried about it.  I was more concerned with keeping up with my reading, or preparing for finals.  But eventually, time ran out, and what I was supposedly preparing for over those three years was finally there.  Before I knew it, I was renting my cap and gown, and filling out alumni surveys about my post-law school plans.
  
"I feel like I've hiked up a mountain for three years and now stand at its top.  Looking down, I can see the path I've taken.  My perspective has changed now that I see the mountain from a different angle.  At the beginning of the hike, the top of the mountain seemed attainable, but distant.  Now that I look from the summit, the distance covered doesn't seem nearly so great.  However, one more challenge yet awaits.  From this peak, I have to fly.  And like Daedaleus and Icarus I have to build my own wings.  I have feathers, glue, wood and twine.  Now all I need to do is build my wings and watch where I fly.  Too high and the sun will burn me.  Too low and the waters will sink me.  Here's hoping for a smooth flight.                               -- Glen E. Plosa, Bar Passages: From Law School to Law Firm

A.  Graduation

Let's face it:  Graduation from law school is a mixed blessing.  It marks the end of an amazing journey, and an incredible achievement.  It confers admiration, praise, and respect.  It marks the beginning of a new phase of life and a new career.  But once you walk down off the podium and return your rented cap and gown, and once your relatives stop taking pictures of you and telling you how proud they are of your achievement, the reality sets in.  You can put "J.D." after your name, but it doesn't really mean much.  You are not an attorney, yet.  That comes next, during what some have called "the seventh semester of law school."  Bar exam preparation has begun, and you have Ten Weeks.  Fortunately, you are not alone.  You have your classmates along side you, and you have plenty of resources at your disposal.

B.  The Psychological Toll

It is difficult to understand the emotional and psychological impact of preparing for the bar exam until you have been there.  For most people, preparing for the bar exam is exhausting, demoralizing and frustrating.  Do not underestimate the toll this takes.  The ten weeks between graduation and the bar exam is a psychological and emotional roller coaster, and it is important to maintain your mental well-being throughout the process.  Most of the people who I know who did not pass the exam blame "freaking out" as the reason; not inadequate preparation.
  
TriviaRobert Shapiro was so nervous about taking the California bar exam that he compulsively tore out his eyebrows (but passed on his first try).
The first week of preparations is exciting, because it is a new experience.  But at the same time, the insecurity we all felt during our first year of law school returns.  By the second week of BarBri, the 10-hour study days, and day after day of video lectures become mentally and physically tiring.  You begin to have dreams about the bar exam.  As the two month process wears on, burnout increases, and it becomes more difficult to stay on track.  Then, before you know it, you only have two more weeks, and feelings of panic and anxiety appear as the final days approach.  
For me, at all times during my preparations, I was either frustrated or confident.  Those emotions alternated, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.  At first, there was more frustration and insecurity than confidence, but by early July I was feeling more confident than frustrated and scared.  Then in late July, just before the exams, panic and anxiety set in, despite being well prepared.  The few days before the exam I was relatively calm, because I knew I had prepared well and gave it my all.  Then the exam hit, and all feelings of security went out the window.
One thing that is important to realize, especially for the 90% of us who weren't in the top 10% of our class, is that everyone is going through this together.  The people in the top 10% of the class are just as nervous and afraid as everyone else (especially on exam day!), and if they appear to be more collected than you are, either they are faking it, or they are dangerously overconfident.

1. Remain Calm

Several people told me that the most important thing was to "remain calm."  I thought they were talking about during the bar exam itself.  But then I realized that they were talking about the preparation period as well.  All students preparing for the bar exam reach a point, usually in the first two weeks of July, when they feel there is no way they can pass the exam.  "There's just no way I can do it ... it's impossible!"  This, of course, is called "freaking out."  Take a deep breath - it's normal.
  
"If you have not endured the most difficult, you cannot become the most successful."
                               -- Fortune cookie
I cannot stress enough the importance of remaining calm.  When a person stresses and panics, those emotions inhibit the ability to learn.  There were some times during my preparation when I felt there was no chance of my passing the bar.  Sometimes I would think there was too much information for my poor overworked brain to handle.  Other times my despair was triggered by low scores on practice MBE's, or missing important issues on practice essays.  I would panic, break out in sweats, and lose all ability to think rationally.  My stomach felt like a bottomless pit.  It didn't help when people said, "Oh, you have nothing to worry about!  You are sure to pass!"  Then I would go to class the next day, and everyone else would be the complaining about the same frustrations and emotions.  It's part of the process.  Accept it, find a way to deal with it (exercise and hitting a pillow are good methods), and do everything you can to remain calm, so that you can free your brain for learning.
The last week of June and first week of July (which marks the half-way point of preparation) is particularly difficult because of burn-out and the demoralization that comes with the preparation.  There isn't much that you can do about it, other than to appreciate that everyone is going through the same process, and feeling the same way.  Keep going.  And whatever you do, do not stop now.  You are way too far down the road to turn back.
When you find yourself "hitting the wall," it may help to visualize the end goal. Your end goal is to pass the bar exam.  Whenever you get in a rough spot, visualize going to your mailbox, finding an envelope from the State Bar, opening it up, and reading a letter that says, "The Committee of Bar Examiners is pleased to inform you that you passed the Bar Examination."  When you are stressed out, this visualization will be like a drug to you.  It will take you up to a higher emotional state, maybe even a euphoric state!  Let it happen.  Don't fight it, and don't feel guilty about letting it happen.  You need it.  But then bring yourself back to reality and keep studying, so that your visualization comes true.
As for the exam itself, it is hard not to be highly anxious and even panic before the exam.  But try to remind yourself that by the day of the exam, you have done everything possible to prepare.  You managed to get through four years of college, three years of law school, and an intensive bar preparation program without cracking up.  This last relatively simple feat should not be a problem.  Also, by the time the exam rolls around, you have done so many practice questions that there really should not be many surprises on the exam, other than what topics are being tested.  It is hard to panic if you keep a positive attitude about the exam. 

2. Motivation

Apart from panicking, the other reason why people fail the exam is inadequate preparation.  That's good, because it means that there is something you can do to prevent failing:  Prepare.  But preparing for the bar is a much longer process than studying for law school finals, and incredibly more intensive.  Maintaining motivation during the ten weeks is difficult, even though the reward at the end is so valuable.  But it is vitally important to remain motivated, especially on those days when you are tired and depressed.
There will be days, particularly in early July (half-way though the process), when you feel you can't go on, and you just need to take a few days off.  When this happens to you, take a few minutes to reorient yourself to your goal:  To become a licensed attorney.  You are not going to meet your goal by curling up under your desk, no matter how good that might feel.  
Some people suggest that you think of some not very bright person who you know who passed the bar.  If he can do it, so can you!  If you don't know any idiots from your school, let me recommend former California Governor Pete Wilson, who finally passed the bar after three failed attempts and yet went on to, arguably, bigger and better things.  John F. Kennedy Jr., who was told to either pass the exam on his third attempt, or be fired, is also a favorite.
My personal motivation was to keep track of my scores on the practice MBE questions I did, and the total number of questions that I did.  I looked forward to doing more MBE questions because I knew that would help my average score continue to go up, although in the final weeks my averages went down as I focused on the very difficult questions.  Also, as I went through my flashcards, I pulled out the cards for concepts I knew stone cold.  That pile of "known" flashcards grew over the weeks, and that reassured me that I was learning.  Of course, it's important to review all the flashcards, even the ones you know, repeatedly and regularly.
The flip side of inadequate motivation is too much motivation, which brings me to the "you can't do it all" theory.  You can't do it all.  Between PMBR and BarBri, you are supplied with about 5,000 practice MBE questions.  You can't do them all, nor should you.  If you do 50 a day (as both PMBR and BarBri recommend), you'll wind up doing about 3,500 questions.  There is no need to do more than that, and in fact, doing more than that will take valuable time away from other studying that you should be doing, such as practice essays and performance tests, which will result in a greater benefit than doing more MBE questions.  You may feel, as I did, that if you don't do a certain MBE question (i.e. the 1,500 that you don't do), then Murphy's Law says that is the question you'll miss on the bar exam.  Rest assured, if you've done 3,500 questions, you are as prepared as you are going to be for the MBE.  The questions that you find difficult on the actual exam won't be from the pool of 1,500 questions you didn't do.  They'll be ones the bar just invented, and you are the first person to see those questions, in which case the rule is, "don't panic, do your best".
Plan a vacation for after the bar exam, and look forward to this vacation - it will be a "carrot" motivational approach (as opposed to a "stick").  You will need at least two days, preferably someplace nice, to readjust, relax, and recover after the exam.  For the first few weeks after the bar, it will be very strange to realize that you can do "nothing" all day.  No studying, no sense of urgency - nothing.  That is a foreign concept, and it will take some getting used to.  Don't fight it, and don't feel guilty - just spend a few days doing absolutely nothing.  It will help your mind and body readjust. 

3. Taking Care of Yourself

I strongly recommend that during the ten week preparation period you adopt a daily exercise regimen, and don't think about the bar exam while you are exercising.  The endorphins will help maintain a positive outlook, and your body needs the physical exercise after hours of sitting in class and studying.  I relaxed from the pressures of studying by taking regular walks with my friend Jennifer (who also passed the exam), and by getting addicted to watching Survivor (I).  If you don't already, take a daily multivitamin.  And if you are in to alternative medicine, start taking St. John's Wart in early May.  Supposedly it helps keep your stress levels balanced.
This ten week period of preparing for the bar exam is not the time to experiment with changes to your lifestyle.  Put off as much as you can until August, or get them done in early May.  Don't start a new relationship, or end an existing one.  Don't get a new pet.  Don't buy a new house or car, and don't plan to get married or have a child during this period.  You may laugh, but I know people who did!  Put off getting the oil changed in the car, repairing things around the house, etc.  Now is not the time!
There has been a lot of research and writing done on the emotional effects of preparing for the bar exam, the exam itself, the waiting period to get the results, and the effects of failing the exam. If you are interested in those studies, do a search on Westlaw, in the JLR database.  Many people who have taken and passed the bar exam, including myself, periodically have dreams (or nightmares) about having to retake the exam, or dreams in which they have to take the exam for the first time.  Those dreams go away after a while.
Part of taking care of yourself during the bar exam is tuning out the comments of other people.  Everyone has their own thoughts and comments about the bar exam.  Some are valuable, but most you need to just ignore.  Some people offer their opinions out of concern, others do not have such good intentions.  Figure out what works best for you, and don't let other people scare you into changing your tactics.

C. PMBR:  What Do Those Letters Stand For?

Law students are barraged with information about bar prep programs, and it's hard to know what to do.  To put it simply:  PMBR is different from BarBri.  PMBR prepares you for the MBE multiple choice portion of the bar exam, while BarBri prepares you for both the essays and the MBE portions.  You need to take BarBri, but you don't need to take PMBR.  However, if you want to raise your chances of passing the bar, you will take PMBR in addition to BarBri.  Not everyone takes PMBR, and those who do may take only one component.  PMBR offers a 6-day substantive workshop before BarBri that covers the law which is on the MBE as well as a 3-day workshop after BarBri which covers the more procedural aspects of how to take the MBE.  You can take both courses and get a discount.
I don't recommend signing up for PMBR in your first year, when you should sign up for BarBri.  Since not everyone takes PMBR, you may not know until your third year if you will take the PMBR course or not.  Since the tuition is much less than BarBri, there isn't as much money at stake if PMBR raises their rates.  PMBR gives a discount for being a member of the ABA, and the discount is more than the cost of joining the ABA, so it is worth it to join the ABA for the year in which you sign up for PMBR if for no other reason than to get the PMBR discount.
If you need or want a discount on PMBR, inquire in your first or second year of law school about how to become a "rep".  These folks get a sizeable (i.e. 50%-100%) discount on the cost of the course in exchange for signing up some classmates to take the course.
PMBR teaches both the substantive law that you need to know to pass the MBE, as well as the fundamentals of how to take the exam itself.  Knowing both is critical.  If you are an expert on the substance, you can still fail if you fall for the tricks written into the questions.  PMBR teaches you how the questions are written to trick you up, and helps you to identify patterns in the questions so that you can more easily identify the correct answer.
And, by the way, PMBR stands for Pennsylvania Multistate Bar Review (it originated in Pennsylvania, but is now nationwide).
One of the main values of PMBR is the materials. The books contain a ton of practice MBE questions, and the explanations in the back of the book are very detailed and helpful. PMBR and BarBri both suggest doing around 50 MBE's a day, which at 6 days a week times 9-10 weeks will put you in the 3,000 practice question range. I think 2,500-3,000 should be the magic number. For those who want to just buy the materials (check eBay for used materials, or order direct from PMBR - www.pmbr.com or 800 523-0777, although their prices are high) without taking the classes, I don't think you're missing much -- my experience with the 6 day and 3 day classes was that the instructor was essentially reading the explanation of the right answer out of the back of the book, and giving some tips here and there (similar tips are given during BarBri, so you aren't missing any great secrets of the MBE). The 3-day course is often right up against the exam dates, and since the 3-day course is after you have taken PMBR 6-day and BarBri for 6 weeks, many students who pay for the 3-day class end up not taking it (or only taking the first day of it), because (1) they already know most of the substantive law that is going to be taught, (2) they don't need any more live instruction by that point, (3) they can do the practice questions on their own, and (4) they can better use that time focusing on their weak areas, rather than the material PMBR wants to teach. I agree with all of that, unless you are one who needs more structured learning. You could go ahead and sign up for both the 6 day and 3 day, so you have the option of taking both, and by the end of BarBri if you want to skip the 3-day, you have the option. The cost isn't that much, in the big scheme of things. My recommendation is that most students should at the very least get their hands on the PMBR materials, to integrate some (not all -- there are too many) of the PMBR MBE questions with the BarBri MBE questions.
That gives you some diversity. Most students do notice a difference in difficulty between the two programs (PMBR tends to have more difficult questions), and the mix will be good practice. If you want an extra boost and a head-start on BarBri, take the 6-day class. But I think only students who know they are going to need extra help with the MBE (people who always do poorly on multiple choice questions, etc.) should take the 3-day. Personally, I did both the 6 day and 3 day, and if I had it to do over again, I would still do the 6 day, but drop the 3 day and use those days to focus in on my weak areas. 
I am taking PMBR as a supplemental course to BarBri. Do you think I still need to do BarBri MBE practice questions?
I would do a mixture of both. Some of the questions that PMBR uses are the same as the ones that Bar/Bri uses, so don't do the duplicate questions (you'll recognize them), but I do recommend doing a mix of questions from both courses, just to make sure you cover your bases. Don't feel like you have to do all of the questions - there's too many. Do 50 a day, 6 days a week, for 10 weeks (3,000 questions), and you'll be set. Don't do more than 3,500 questions. More than that, and you are wasting time you should be spending on essays.
What percentage correct should I be aiming for when practicing MBE questions?
The concensus seems to be that between 65% and 75% correct is the right range to be targeting for. Some subjects are historically tougher on the majority of law students than others -- contracts historically scores low, and con law historically scores high. So don't expect that you will be able to score 75% on all subjects. If your average scores are below 65% by three weeks prior to the exam, you probably need to consider either doing more questions, or trying a different study tactic. If your scores are consistently in the 75% or higher range, you should reallocate some of your MBE time to working on your essays, to make sure you are well-rounded.
Most bar applicants take both the 6 and 3 day programs.

1. The Early Bird Six Day Workshop

On the first day of the 6-day workshop, PMBR gives out a workbook with 50 MBE questions per subject (K, property, crim law, con law, evidence and torts), and detailed answers.  For the first three hours of each of the six days, students take the exam on the day's topic.  Therefore, aside from the first day, students can do this part at home and not go to class for the morning session.  For the next three hours (the afternoon session), the instructor (live or on tape) reviews each question and explains the answers.  These explanations are also contained in the back of the workbook.  The instructor also gives tips about taking the exam.  Some of the instructors are funny and make learning enjoyable.  I will always remember one PMBR instructor in particular because I believe he was the largest man I have ever seen.
Going through this week of classes is really quite a shock, because pretty much everyone scores 40% to 60% on the exams.  Just when you think you know everything as a third-year, you find out you don't know squat.  I emphasize that the explanatory lectures are very informative, and explain the correct answers to the questions you missed.
A few days after the PMBR workshop ended, I suddenly realized how much I didn't really comprehend in law school, that I was now truly understanding for the first time.  Maybe it was the fear of the first year that prevented me from comprehending.  Maybe it was the long confusing cases, or my inability to "see the forest for the trees".  But less than two weeks after graduation, I suddenly realized that there was a lot of information that I thought I understood, but really didn't.  Looking back, I'm amazed I got as high of grades as I did.  Nonetheless, being able to focus on the black letter law for the bar greatly increased my comprehension of the black letter law.

2. The Three-Day Refresher Course

The three-day refresher course is scheduled for a few days after the last BarBri course is taught.  PMBR and BarBri usually work with each other to make sure their schedules don't conflict for both the 6-day and 3-day workshops.  The first of the three days is a simulated 200 question MBE exam.  The questions are, for the most part, not ones that you have done before, either in the 6-day PMBR workshop or with BarBri.  The questions are harder than those on the bar, and PMBR says your predicted actual scaled MBE score will be about 37 points higher than your raw score on this simulated exam.  PMBR provides a handy percentile chart to see how you rank nationally on the simulated exam.
For the remaining two days, an instructor, either live or on tape, reviews each question and provides tips on taking the exam.  Regretfully, most of this information is the same as what was given during the 6-day course.  Therefore, you may want to only take one of the two courses.  An argument can be made that you can spend your time more productively at home reviewing flashcards or doing practice exams.  But I found the 3-day course to be a good last minute review, despite being repetitive.  I don't have any regrets about taking both the 6-day and 3-day courses.

3. Audio Lecture

PMBR distributes a set of cassette tapes, also available on CD's, that cover all six MBE areas (torts, contracts, property, con law, evidence, and crim law).  If you take both the 6-day and 3-day courses, the tapes are included in your tuition.  My understanding is that you have to pay extra for some of the tapes if you don't take both courses.  You may also be able to find the tapes for less money on eBay, and sell yours there after the bar.  I listened to these tapes for a few hours each week during my last semester of law school, and I thought they provided quite a bit of substantive information; much more than what is provided during the live PMBR 6-day lecture.

4. Multistate Workbooks

PMBR distributes two workbooks after you sign up.  One of the workbooks contains outlines of all six MBE subjects, along with 175-200 MBE questions per subject.  The other workbook contains an additional 100 MBE questions for each subject, along with a simulated 200-question MBE exam, with detailed explanatory answers for each question.  The outlines in the red book are really good, and fill in a lot of the holes left by the tapes and BarBri early bird videos.  The word on the street was that BarBri's practice MBE questions were easier than PMBR's, and that PMBR's better reflected the caliber of questions on the bar exam.  To make sure I covered my bases, I did a mixture of questions from both sets of material.

5. Flashcards

These cards come with the PMBR materials, and cover all six MBE subjects.  There are approximately 350 cards.  They seem very thorough on the law which they cover, but they do not cover all of the law.  I set PMBR's aside and made my own, available elsewhere on this website.  Remember, making your own flashcards is an integral part of preparing for the bar exam.

D.  BarBri: All You Ever Needed To Know For The Bar Exam

BarBri is the biggest component of studying for the bar.  A common question among law students (and their parents) is, "Is the review course enough?"  For the vast majority of law students, the answer is a reassuring, "Yes, it is."
  
Newman's Formula For Passing The BarPass Bar = (A) PMBR + (B) BarBri + (C) Practice, Practice, Practice!
As I mentioned earlier, I strongly urge you to put your deposit down for BarBri in your first year.  Do not delay!  They raise their prices exponentially, and by putting down a deposit, you don't commit yourself to anything, but you potentially save yourself over a thousand dollars.  You can take the course at any of the BarBri locations, because putting your deposit down doesn't lock you in to a certain location.  BarBri lectures are held or viewed at nearly every ABA law school, and at many other locations.  In the Bay Area alone, I believe they have about ten locations each summer.
thing quite magical happens for most students during the BarBri courses:  The law gels.  Much of what was unclear in law school class is synthesized in bar review courses, and becomes obvious the second time around.  For me, I realized that it was not until bar review class that I truly fully understood the different degrees of murder, the various levels of intent, and the hearsay exceptions (and policy behind them).  It wasn't that I couldn't understand them during law school - the concepts are not difficult.  But I wasn't ready to understand them yet, because I was still learning how to think like a lawyer.  By the time you get to bar review, you are there.  The number of light bulbs that go off in peoples heads during bar review preparation far exceeds the light bulbs going off during law school, and it is a wonderful feeling when one of those bulbs goes off in your head.

1. Materials

At the end of the third year, BarBri distributes about fifty pounds of preparation materials:  An in-class workbook, three outline books, and four books of practice questions (essays, performance and MBE).  The two larger outline books (11"x14") are mostly unnecessary, and should be used only as reference if you get stuck on something during studying.  The main outline to be used on a daily basis is the Conviser Mini Review, which has 30-40 page outlines for each of the tested subjects.  On the first day, they give out cassette tapes to listen to with explanations of one set of MBE questions in the materials.
Most students gasp when they see the sheer volume of outlines that they are given.  With outlines from both PMBR and BarBri, students are overloaded with materials.  I remember when I picked up my books, I just sat in my car staring at them, wondering what kind of mess I had gotten myself into.  As I said above, the larger outline books (11"x14") can be put on a shelf at home - you don't need those except as reference.  My approach for the other outlines was to read through them, highlight what I didn't know, and make flashcards from the highlighted material, and then set the books aside.  Don't spend all of your time reading outlines and making notes from the outlines - that is not an effective way to study for the bar.  The exam does not ask you to rehash an outline, so don't waste time trying to memorize one.  Spend the vast majority of your study time doing actively practice questions and reviewing flashcards, not passively reading an outline.
If you are overwhelmed by the quantity of material, the best thing you can do for yourself is to condense the material.  The prepared outlines are almost always duplicative.  You don't need to study three different crim law outlines.  Pick one, and stick with it.  Once you've put the material from the prepared outline onto your flashcards (or your own outline, if you study from an outline), get rid of the prepared outline.  Get all of the material for one subject and rip them out of the books, and put them in a folder along with your flashcards.  That will help you stay organized, and control your stress.
Most law students pay hundreds of dollars for Gilbert or Emanuel commercial outlines during law school.  Seriously consider saving this money and using the BarBri outlines (the ones you get during 1L and 2L in exchange for your deposit) instead.  You will probably find that they are just as good, and they're included in the price you pay for BarBri.

2. Paced Program

BarBri distributes an extremely detailed calendar on the first day of the course, which they call "The Paced Program."  The theory is that if you follow the program, you'll pass the bar.  I felt that the Paced Program was the minimum level of studying that one should do, so I complimented the Program with additional practice MBE questions from PMBR, and practice essays from Dr. Gallagher's Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays book.
If you follow the paced program, you should expect to be in class and/or studying on your own for about eight hours a day, seven days a week, or ten hours a day for six days a week.  Studying for the bar is a full time job.
BarBri's attitude, as reflected by comments made by the lecturers, is that if you follow the Paced Program along with everyone else, you will pass. In fact, at least one lecturer has a mantra of "everyone passes" and that "even morons can pass the bar." On first glance this is refreshing - as long as you are a "sheep" and follow the herd, and don't do anything to separate yourself from the herd (such as not following the Paced Program), you'll pass. On the other hand, a lot of people do not pass the bar exam, and some of those people took BarBri, and not all of them are "morons." Therefore, after a while, I found the party line of "everyone passes" to be more frustrating than comforting.  BarBri does not release their pass rates, so there isn't any real way of knowing how true "everyone passes" is.  Nonetheless, their Paced Program is very good - stick with it religiously, supplement it if you can, and your chances of passing are very high.

3. Lectures

BarBri employs dozens of well qualified law school professors to give bar preparation lectures around the country.  You have a choice of attending a live lecture location or taped lecture location.  Most people choose the location nearest their home (usually their local law school), without regard to the lecture being live or taped.  The taped lectures are taped about a week before you see them (in other words, the live lecture people are about a week ahead of the taped lecture people).  The taped folks get the same substance as the live folks.  Personally, I preferred the taped lectures, because we could get up and walk around without offending the lecturer.
The lectures review all of the substantive courses on the bar exam, as well as how to write the essays and performance tests.  In addition to the video lectures, BarBri provides audio tapes which have tips on taking the MBE.
Some of the BarBri lecturers tried to assure us that the bar exam was relatively easy, and just a test of minimum competency, and that any idiot could pass the exam. That grates on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard, because it simply isn't true. If it were, my friends who failed, even after two tries, would have passed, because I know they are competent.  But you can benefit from the assurance that the vast majority of people who take BarBri do in fact pass.
I also found it annoying that some of the BarBri lecture tapes vastly oversimplified the subject material. That was most obvious after Crim Law and Crim Pro, when Professor Whitebread would tell us "this is all you need to know for the bar exam!" and I would go home and encounter practice MBE questions testing things I had never heard of before, that he didn't cover in class.  But there is only a limited amount of material they can cover in a 3-4 hour tape, so I understand the limits.  You simply have to supplement the lectures with the material in the outlines.  In other words, you can't ignore the outlines and expect to learn everything you need to know for the bar in the lectures.  Similarly, I don't think you can learn everything you need for the bar solely in the outlines.  You must do both.  Those who choose only to do one do so at their own peril.
Overall, however, the lecturers do a very good job of covering the material contained in the Conviser Mini Review.  You can just sit in class, listen to the lecture, and follow along in the outline in the In-Class Workbook.  Many students, myself included, made flashcards in class, and that seemed to be an efficient use of time.
  
TriviaThe name "Bar/Bri" came from the combination of two companies, Bay Area Review (BAR), and Bar Review Inc. (BRI), which were purchased and merged together by Harcourt Brace in 1974.
At about the half-way point through BarBri, your classmates will become very cynical and jaded about BarBri and the process.  People will criticize the lecturers, the program itself, the outlines, the school, etc.  This is a normal part of the frustration, stress, and to some extent burn-out that all students preparing for the bar feel.  Do the best you can to avoid falling into the trap and keep your head above water.  The videos and outlines and materials aren't perfect - they never will be.   But again, you aren't trying to write a perfect answer either. 

4. Practice Exams

"The more you bleed in training, the less you bleed in war."                               -- Military Slogan
I learned after doing only one or two practice essays that my idea of a bar exam essay was very distant from BarBri's. I missed half the issues, and my organization was awful.  To fix these problems, I forced myself to use a very strict IRAC along with careful outlining, which helped greatly with organization. I learned that bar exam essays are essentially comprehensive outlines, strung into sentences, held together with facts.  As for the issues, my progress got better with practice.  It was hard to know if my essays were "passing" quality or not. They were initially much worse than the BarBri model answers, but no one told us if the BarBri model answers were 100% scores (meaning I was probably doing ok), or merely average scores (meaning I needed serious help!).  Also, no one told us how many of the issues we could miss and still pass. Obviously, you can't miss the big issues like murder and rape, but it's the small issues that are the ones that are easy to miss.  In hindsight (after passing the bar exam), I think if you are getting 65% to 70% on your BarBri essays or better, you are doing fine.  If you are getting 50% to 55% consistently, and your scores don't improve towards the end, you may need some additional help.  The average bar applicant gets between 65 and 70 on their BarBri essays.
For me, my weakness was issue spotting in essays.  I needed more practice than the BarBri program provided, and I am happy to say that Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays by Mary Campbell Gallagher was a book that I thought was quite useful.  I outlined most of the 80 sample essays in the book, and compared my answer to the model answers.  That really helped my issue spotting abilities.  I don't recommend writing out the full answers to these essays, unless your writing skills are particularly weak.  Outlining the answers to these supplemental essays is sufficient practice for issue-spotting purposes.  Scott Pierce is a California bar exam tutor, and he has put together a really good set of instructionsfor approaching essays.  I recommend reading what he has to say.
For each of the bar exam subjects, BarBri provides about eight essays which were actual past bar exam essays. In the course of your studies you will completely write out one of these essays for each subject and submit the essay to BarBri for grading. The essays are graded by BarBri's office staff and people on BarBri's editorial staff, who are usually local attorneys.  A few weeks after you mail in each essay, it is returned in the mail with a score on it and occasionally some sparse comments. Most of the scores fall within the 65-75 range, and the comments are almost completely useless in terms of improving essay performance. The sample answers to each of the essays are, reportedly, actual bar exam answers which have been released by the State Bar. I was initially frustrated at these essays because they contained issues that I felt were irrelevant. After a few weeks, I discovered that most of the issues were actually relevant, and I just needed to expand the scope of issues that I discussed in my essays. I quickly learned to scan the essays for trigger words: For example, if a real property essay talks about a person possessing land for 25 years, you had better discuss adverse possession, even if the claim is destin to fail.
When you are doing practice questions, whether they are essays or MBE's, don't worry about getting the questions wrong.  Review the model answers very carefully, and learn why your answer was incorrect.  You will improve with practice.
The more practice essays you answer (whether outlining them or writing them out completely), the greater your familiarity with the types of fact patters the bar examiners use.  Once you recognize the common fact patterns, you will recognize the common legal issues being tested.  The only way to achieve this level of understanding is practice.  Pay attention to the model answers, and review those answers carefully, paying attention to both substance and form.  After doing this with about fifty essays, you should have an extensive catalogue of "canned" statements which you can pull out of your hat and apply to the common fact patterns and legal issues.
One thing I quickly realized about the essays:  BarBri basically taught me a new way of writing essays, and I realized how disjointed and scattered my law school essay exams must have sounded.  If I could have written my law school essays using the essay writing skills I learned in BarBri, I know that my GPA would have been significantly higher.
When I have talked with bar exam graders and asked them what is the one biggest suggestion they can provide to people taking the exam, it is to use headings and subheadings.  Almost every paragraph should have at least a subheading.  This can really get you a lot of points.  For example, if you get to the exam and the question asks you about malicious prosecution, and you have no idea what the elements of malicious prosecution are, here's your headings, which will get you at least half the points for the question:
Malicious prosecution
Malicious
The prosecution must be malicious.  Malice is .... (definition).  In this case ...
Prosecution
There must be a prosecution.  In this case ...
The bar grader will look at your essay, and because you used headings and subheadings, he or she will be able to quickly identify that you hit the issues.  That's what they're looking for.
About half way through the program, there is a 200 question simulated MBE exam. BarBri will score your scantron, and scale your score to all the other BarBri students.  Individual reports are available from their website that shows what specific areas you did well in and didn't do well in, and how you compared nationwide.  Don't worry about scoring low on this exam.  BarBri says that the nationwide average is 104, and that the questions are more difficult than the actual bar exam.  Both of these claims seem hard to believe, but when I got saw my percentile ranking from BarBri, I knew the 50th percentile was indeed around 104.
BarBri also does a one-day simulated exam midway though the course, with three essays in the morning and one performance exam in the afternoon.  It's an exhausting day, but you should put all your effort into it and see what scores you get back on your answers.

5. Software

The software BarBri distributes on their website is an electronic version of the questions contained in the "Multistate Testing Practice Questions" book.  Use one or the other - no need to do both, since it's the same pool of questions.  The software has a lot of really useful and nifty statistic features which can tell you what areas you need to work on. 

E.  Study Methods

Everyone has different methods of studying, so there is no one "best way" to discuss.  You must find what works for you, and stick with it.  There is definitely no "sure fire" study method for passing the bar.  Outlining is a law school favorite, and it is no surprise that most bar applicants use outlines to prepare for the bar exam.  I did at first, but when my outline reached 164 pages and over 70,000 words (and that was before BarBri began), I realized that was not going to be an effective way to study.  The BarBri Conviser Mini Review outline book was just as good as my homemade outline, so I scrapped my outline in favor of using home-made flashcards.  After using flashcards, I realized that outlining is good for conceptually organizing information, but when it comes to memorization and practice, flashcards are much better, and used by most students to prepare for the bar.
"The most common mistake in preparing for the bar is to study too much, and not practice enough."
                               -- Scott F. Pierce, Passthebar.com 
A musician preparing for a concert does not spend most of her time reviewing music theory - she spends most of her time practicing the performance.  In fact, very few people are able to retain information by passively studying.  Passive studying includes reading outlines, and listening to lectures.  Most people retain information better by actively studying.  Active studying includes practice questions, and quizzing yourself with flashcards.

1. Make Your Own!

Please remember that making your own flashcards and other study materials is an integral part of the process of learning and preparing for the bar.  Using premade flashcards deprives you of this learning process, and greatly reduces your chances of passing the exam.

2. Flashcards

I made my own flashcards using 3x5 index cards, for each of the subjects on the bar exam.  I used a combination of material from the outline which I mentioned above, and notes from the BarBri lecture.  That resulted in about 80 cards per subject, for about 1,000 cards total.  After spending six hours making my first set of cards for Con Law by hand, I realized it was going to take too long to hand write all of the flashcards, and my hand would fall off in the end from all the writing.  So I printed them off on my printer.  That took only half the time as making the flashcards by hand, and didn't make my hand hurt either!
For an efficient way to make flashcards, use Microsoft Word's "mail merge" function.  Take your laptop to the lecture and type your notes directly into a data file with two columns, one column for each side of the flashcard (one row per card).  In the evening, do the mail merge into a "form" file set up as a 3x5 piece of paper.  Print the odd pages first, onto the front of your flashcards.  Then rerun the cards through the printer as you print the even pages.  Instant flashcards, with no painful writing!  You will have to experiment a little bit with your printer until you figure out how to make the flashcards, but my advise is that the effort you put into it is well worth not having to handwrite 1,000 cards.  If you can't figure out how to get your printer to print flashcards, try printing on Avery labels and putting the labels onto flashcards.  Please note that if you are having trouble making flashcards, I cannot give any further advice or instructions beyond this paragraph.
I recommend holding off on making flashcards until the BarBri lecture.  It's very efficient to take notes from the lecture directly on to flashcards, and what they teach you in the lecture is the bulk of what you need to be learning from your flashcards anyhow.
Once you start making flashcards, get a little box to put them in, and carry them everywhere.  When you're waiting in line at the grocery store, out come your flash cards.

3. Checklists

At the recommendation of BarBri, I created a one-page checklist for each subject, to serve as an issue spotting guide for the essays, and review material for the final week of preparation.  By the final week, you have hopefully already memorized all of your flashcards, and you can use your checklist just as a memory refresher.  Reduce your outlines or flashcards to one or two pages per subject, and in the final two weeks, study from those pages.  This will help you master the "big picture" for each subject.  You should also take the checklists with you to the bar exam (not into the exam itself, but to your hotel), not to actively study, but to review if you get nervous or if you wake up at night with a question.  In fact, I took my BarBri outline books to the hotel for this same reason, although I never cracked them open.

4. Schedule

As far as a preparation schedule goes, religiously follow the BarBri "Paced Program" schedule (discussed above).  Everyone says, "Be a sheep and do what everyone else does.  If you deviate from the norm, you will fail."  Several of the books I read and websites I visited set forth a schedule which is roughly equivalent to the Paced Program:  Each day, attend class for 4 hours, do practice exams for 4 hours, and spend 4 hours practicing flashcards and reviewing outlines.  That's a total of 12 hours, minus one or two for eating and getting to and from class.  Take one day a week off (Saturday or Sunday).  Most people recommend doing at 50 MBE questions per day, writing out 1-2 essays per day (plus outlining an additional 1 or 2 essays), and one performance exam per week.  Don't bother writing up a day-by-day schedule to follow, because BarBri will distribute one on your first day of class. 

5. Study Groups

Study groups can be an effective way of reviewing the black letter law and reviewing answers that you have written to practice essays and performance exams. But just like in law school, you should never rely on other people to do outlining. Creating your own outlines and/or flashcards is a critical part of preparing for the bar.

6. Topic Prediction

Some bar preparation programs try to predict which essays will be on the bar exam, and urge you to study only for those essays.  I think this is extremely dangerous.  I have heard time and time again of people following this advice to focus on certain areas and not study other areas, only to sit down for the exam to find an entire essay exclusively focusing on the area they didn't study for.  If that happens, your chances of passing plummet to near zero.  Be safe, and study all of the subjects.

F.  The Final Two Weeks

The final two weeks are very nerve wracking, and for many people the hardest most stressful time in their lives. The volume of information you have to know seems overwhelming. This is the time for memorization.  Focus on the concepts that are difficult for you.  Don't avoid a difficult subject, because Murphy's Law says that is the subject that will be on the bar exam.
During the final two weeks you will be very tense and easily aggravated. It is extremely important to remain calm, and do not panic, because if you do, you will not be able to retain knowledge. Daily exercise is more important than ever, along with positive thinking and visualization about success. Realize that at this point, you possess the capacity to pass the bar exam.
As I said above, this period of time is not the time you want to be experimenting with new habits.  If you plan on using sleeping pills during the bar exam itself (at night, that is), be sure you use them for a week prior to the bar also, to get used to them.  I personally used melatonin, which is a "natural dietary supplement" sold under a variety of brand names.  This is not the time to be developing new habits, but at the same time you should not try to stop old habits, such as smoking or drinking coffee.  You won't be allowed to take coffee inside the exam, nor take smoking breaks (except for lunch), so figure out a way to deal with this beforehand.
As far as a study schedule during these last two weeks, some people break away from the BarBri Paced Program and create their own schedule; others stick with the Program.  I found a middle ground:  I did what the Paced Program recommended, and supplemented by copious review of my flashcards and checklists, and doing additional essays.  Do not plan on studying around the clock before or during the exam. At this point you have learned everything you can and your goal is to relax and try to get as much sleep as possible.  In fact, cramming will probably do you more harm than good at this point. Opt instead for an easier schedule and try to relax.
During these two weeks, take an hour or two to organize your things to take to the bar exam location:  Layered clothing for any temperature in the exam room, food (breakfasts and lunches) and liquids for in the hotel room, an ice chest, a cushion to sit on during the exam (usually the chairs are hard metal), plenty of highlighters, a watch, high energy snack foods, pens and pencils, your bar entrance ticket, confirm the hotel reservations, maps, plenty of earplugs, toiletries, etc.  Take some over-the-counter pain killer with you in case you get a headache.  Advil is recommended to ward off hand-cramps during the exam.  Be sure and do a final test of your computer or typewriter if you are typing.  Plan on bringing all of your study materials for any last minute anxiety attacks and the sudden need to look something up
For those of you reading this who are in your final two week period before the bar exam, rest assured that tens of thousands of other people have gone through what you are going through now - you are not alone.  It is a uniquely difficult time, and one which you will never forget.  But you will make it through as long as you don't give up, and don't let yourself start panicking.  You have the capability within your mind to pass the exam.  At this point, it is just a matter of getting that ability from your brain down to your hand and onto the paper.
An administrative note: About a week and a half before the bar exam, you will receive an admittance ticket in the mail.  If you don't have this ticket with you when you go to take the bar, you are in trouble.  Santa Clara University seems to have great difficulty getting its act together in time to mail the transcripts to the State Bar, so many Santa Clara students get a warning letter from the bar.  Don't panic.  Unless you have failed to meet the graduation requirements, you will get your ticket in the mail before the exam.  If you have concerns, call the State Bar.  Any applicant not receiving an admittance card by the Monday of the week prior to examination and who has not otherwise been notified of being ineligible must contact the Office of Admissions to secure a duplicate card.
Several days before the bar exam, many students feel a sense of serenity descend upon them.  The material has "gelled" by this point, and there is not much more that you can study and retain.  By this point, you either have it or you don't.  Don't stop yet.  Keep reviewing flashcards and checklists.  But allow your self-esteem to rise, knowing that you've given it your all, and that you are ready.  The increase in your self esteem will be needed to overcome the extreme nervousness and fear which you will face in the coming week.

6. The Bar Exam

"There, in a converted warehouse, several thousand hopefuls sat in endless rows, two at a table, scratching at their answer sheets while proctors prowled the cavernous alleys. More than thirty percent will fail; the rest will wonder how they passed. While I may have learned to 'think like a lawyer' at Harvard, I had few concrete thoughts. I did not know, for example, the different degrees of murder, or when a contract had to be in writing and when it could be oral. In short, I knew about Law but did not know the laws."                               -- Cameron Stracher, Double Billing

A.  My Bar Exam Experience

Everyone who has taken the bar exam has a "story."  I found that hearing these stories while I was preparing for the exam made me feel better about taking the exam.  By demystifying the exam, it didn't seem as horrible as I feared.  This is my story.  I don't think it's a particularly interesting story, but I believe it is more or less typical of the experiences of most of the people who take the exam.  I hope that by sharing my experience, I will hope to calm some nerves and give you a feel for what it's like to take the exam.

   Monday, July 24 2000

One day left before the exam.  I spent the morning and the first part of the afternoon reviewing my checklists for each subject.  At about 3pm, I picked up my friend and we headed up to Oakland.  There was a tangible feeling of nervousness between us.  Our hotel, the Oakland Howard Johnson, was worse than expected, in every way possible.  Don't stay there.  I had called to confirm my reservation a few days before, and the idiot behind the desk apparently thought I wanted to cancel my reservation, so I had no reserved room. And the hotel was sold-out.  Fortunately, "sold out" apparently does not include the "bad room" that they have, so they gave me that. I have no trash can, no clock radio, no air conditioning, and the bathroom is not the greatest (my receipt even identifies this room as the "no a/c, old bath" room).  Oh, and it reeks of some unidentifiable odor. Maybe it's the condom I found underneath the bed? It's about what I think a youth hostel would look like. That upset me for about 5 minutes, but I reminisced about some of the lodging I stayed at in Hong Kong and China two summers ago, and it makes my HoJo room very nice indeed.  I'll deal with filing a complaint and seeking a refund after the bar.  That is not in my mind right now, but I wanted to share it with you to impress upon you the importance of carefully selecting your accommodations. It's a once in a lifetime event - splurge for the Marriott.

In the evening we took a tour of the nearby Marriott Hotel where the exam will be, ran into some friends, and quickly walked the other way (desiring to avoid discussing the exam).  Dinner was at Jack London Square, and we opted for a movie afterwards.  I don't even remember the title of the movie, but it was extremely scary, and not what I would recommend in terms of pre-bar exam movies.  I'm feeling nervous and scared, but not panicked.

   Tuesday, July 25 2000

Waking up this morning wasn't a problem, because I don't think I fell asleep last night. Maybe it just seems that way, but I know I spent a lot of time tossing and turning and trying hard, but unsuccessfully, not to think about the exam.  So finally, at 5am, I got up and showered and watched some TV.
Just walking to the test center was scary and nerve wracking, and my lack of sleep made it seem eerie - like walking to a death chamber.  But I wasn't panicking - in that sense, I was calm, but my stomach was in knots. The proctors went through their paces, and before I knew it (and before I was mentally ready for it!), the exam began.  And I had to go to the bathroom.  I should have expected it, but for some reason it surprised me when a proctor followed me into the bathroom, and watched me while I went to the bathroom.  Every time I went, he was there with me (this is standard security procedure).
The essays went well - first was evidence, then property, then wills & trusts. They were good subjects, and I felt BarBri prepared me well for them.  I'm confident that I identified most of the issues.  Some were more convoluted than I was prepared for (i.e. a community property aspect to a trust), but I think I addressed it adequately. The afternoon performance test was nothing less than wonderful.  I couldn't have asked for anything better - one memo, with five points to address. I developed a new method for dealing with performance tests on-the-spot. I wish I had developed the method earlier, but it wasn't until I got the huge 11x17 sheets of scratch paper that I figured out how to use the whole sheet, putting the facts on the left, and corresponding law on the right.
Writing the essays felt like I was doing a practice exam at home, and I had to keep reminding myself "Pay attention!  This is the real thing! This is the most important thing in your life!"
I don't want to give the impression that I'm confident about the test - I'm not.  I know that I very easily may have failed all of the essays and the performance test.  But I couldn't have asked for a better exam.
The hardest part of the entire day was getting through the first hour, and realizing that it was do-able, and I wasn't going to combust into flames after the first essay, or run out of the room screaming.
We went out to dinner, and I watched some TV. I'm looking forward to MBEs tomorrow - I've done over 4,000 practice questions; I'm prepared.
Tips: After lunch, most people were really tired. Poor sleep the night before plus the exhaustion of getting through the first essays of the exam. So my tip is to drink a can of coke at lunch to get a caffeine boost, or take an Excedrin pain reliever which has caffeine in it.  And of course, watch what you eat at lunch - you don't want to eat something that will make you tired or give you gas.  There is a understood rule that you do not discuss the exam with other examinees during breaks.  Sometimes, however, there is a question that bugs you (i.e. you had no idea what the correct answer was), and will bug you until you ask someone about it.  In that case, ask someone if it is ok to discuss a substantive question with them, and then, only if they say yes, should you proceed with your question.  Don't ask these questions in the elevator or around other bar applicants.

   Wednesday, July 26 2000

One word to describe today: Whew!  I slept for about 6 hours last night. I woke up at 4am due to nerves and road noise, but not to study, as some of my fellow test-takers did.
A few hours later, I took my pencils and earplugs over to the convention center and we started the MBE portion.  It was pretty much what I expected, but more difficult than I hoped (I was hoping for really easy questions, which was an unrealistic desire!).
The only real comment I have about the MBE is that I thought the questions in the PMBR and BarBri prep materials were generally indicative of the difficulty level of the questions on the actual MBE.  Several (maybe one or two dozen) questions were almost word-for-word.  Others were completely foreign.  I was seriously disappointed in BarBri, though, because they said that their in-class simulated MBE exam is "more difficult" than the actual MBE.  Bull shit.  The practice test was a lot easier - don't be fooled!  On the other hand, PMBR is correct when they say that their simulated MBE exam is more difficult than the actual MBE; but not much more difficult.
Tonight we had a nice dinner in Jack London Square to celebrate a friend's birthday, and I watched some TV before going to bed.

   Thursday, July 27 2000

Yesterday's adjective was "whew."  Today's is "shit."  I don't know if the third day is always the hardest, or if that was just the luck of the draw, but the essays and performance test were noticeably more difficult than Tuesday [I later learned that it was merely luck of the draw - the third day is not always the hardest].  The one good thing was that I knew I needed a good night's rest last night, so I took two of my melatonin sleeping pills, and I slept for about 6 hours before waking up and reviewing notes.
The essays were slightly more difficult than the first day (no, I don't know how to quash a grand jury subpoena, thank you very much!).  None of the essays covered professional responsibility, so the bet was that it would be on the afternoon performance test, since PR is always tested.  Sure enough!  My method of performance test organization that I came up with on Tuesday didn't work for today's exam, so my approach was very disorganized.  I spent a lot of time reading over the questions, thinking "I do not understand what they are asking me to do."  But I think I may have managed to pull it together in the last 45 minutes.
I realized that no matter how much you prepare, you will never be fully prepared for the bar exam.  There will be questions you have never seen before, and have no idea what the answer is.  My friends and I commiserated that at this point, it is completely up in the air if we passed or not - we feel like it's a 50/50 chance.
As one of the participants in the laptop / Examinator pilot program, I have a prediction:  It will be years before more than a few hundred applicants take the bar exam on their laptop in any one location.  Administratively, there were a lot of delays and problems.  The proctors don't know anything about technology, and there were only two tech people to handle what were often little tiny problems (people who didn't know how to turn off their computer's speaker).  It'll be a while before this becomes practical in a wide-spread way. [I have been told by many people that the subsequent bar exams have gone very smoothly, and there were far fewer logistical and technical "bugs" to work out].
The exam is over.  I keep reminding myself that there is nothing I can do at this point to change the results, so I should just let go.  But I know it will take a few days for me to relax and unwind.

B.  Bar Exam Nightmares

I include these stories because they have become so infamous among bar applicants and the public, and we should all know them for dinnertime conversation purposes.  Needless to say, these are such rare exceptions to the rule of normal exam conditions that no one should be worried about such nightmares happening during their exam.  But take solace in the fact that the people who experienced these horrible situations ended up passing the exam.

1. The Famous Heart Attack Story, Debunked

This is the original legend:
At the July 1993 administration of the California bar exam at the Pasadena Convention Center, a 50 year old man had a heart attack, and two of the test takers, John Leslie and Eunice Morgan, stopped their exams to help the man.  They administered CPR for fourty minutes until paramedics arrived, and then resumed their exams.  The proctors did not give the applicants additional time to complete their exams (in fact, the proctors are not empowered to do so).
Jerome Braun, a state bar executive, supported the decision, and said, "If these two want to be lawyers, they should learn a lesson about priorities."
John is listed as a member of the bar, meaning he passed the exam.  Eunice is not listed as a member, but I have heard that she did in fact pass.  Just think: They passed, despite sacrificing 30 minutes to save a man's life!
In November, 2001, a Primer reader contacted Jerome Braun to verify this story.  Mr. Braun clarified that the incident occurred in 1992, and the individual suffered an epileptic seizure rather than a heart attack.  Five persons taking the examination came to the individual's aid, and their taking of the examination was clearly disrupted. Unfortunately, those seated around the person who suffered the seizure were also disrupted, but at the time the extent of the disruption could not be ascertained. To give some who were disrupted additional time and to not give it to others who were disrupted would have been unfair.
In situations where there is a significant disruption, the Committee of Bar Examiners of The State Bar of California engages a psychometric consultant to determine after grading has been completed the extent of the disruption and then makes appropriate adjustments to the scores of the individuals who suffered the disruption. Following that policy, no additional time was given the five persons who came to the aid of the individual who suffered the seizure and post-grading adjustments were made to the scores.  None of the adjustments changed the pass or fail status of any of the five. 
The remark attributed to Mr.  Braun was not made by him, nor to his knowledge by any person affiliated with The State Bar of California.

2. A Quick Late-Night Review of Criminal Procedure

And then there's the story of poor Spencer Vodnoy.  He was staying at the Marriott hotel, taking the February 2000 bar exam.  The night before the exam, he had just gone to sleep when the front desk called and said that there was a man by the name of John Weir downstairs at the bar, trying to charge drinks to Spencer's room.  Spencer said he didn't know anything about it, and told the hotel not to let the man charge the drinks.
Spencer went back to bed, and had just fallen asleep when the police knocked on his door.  Seems that the guy down in the bar tried to stiff the hotel for the drinks, and when the hotel called the police, the man shot two of the officers.  The officers returned fire and killed the man.  The hotel clerk remembered the man giving Spencer's room number as his own, and informed the police.
The police promptly woke Spencer up, kept him handcuffed, and interrogated him until 2:00 a.m.  Spencer consented to an automobile search, and as Spencer and the police officers went down in the elevator to the car, the doors opened, and the man's body fell into the elevator (seems that the police propped the body up against the elevator doors).  The police finally determined that Spencer had nothing to do with the crime.  He got to sleep at 4:00 a.m., and woke up at 6:00 a.m. to take the bar exam. 
Of course, this story wouldn't be nearly as interesting if it weren't for the fact that despite all of this commotion, Spencer passed the bar.  The first lawsuit he handled as an attorney was his suit against the Marriott hotel.

3. Where's My Seat!?

An unknowing student took the advice of one of her BarBri lecturers who encouraged students to take a short break about midway through each exam session.  Unfortunately, the student's idea of a "short break" differed from the lecturer's.
The lecturer had in mind taking a moment to collect yourself during the exam by closing your eyes and taking deep breaths.  The student thought it meant to get up and walk around, get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc.  Unfortunately, the student was one of about 1,000 people taking the bar exam in her particular location (yes, that many people do take the exam all in one place), and the poor student got up to take her "short break."  Once completed, she returned to the exam hall, and she was unable to find her seat!  She looked feverishly for about 30 seconds until, finally, terrified and fazed by the time she was wasting, screamed out to the other test takers, "If anyone has an empty seat next to them, please raise your hand!"  No one moved.  Finally, about five minutes later, with the aid of a proctor, she found her seat.  [I include this story, which I think is fiction, because it's funny and educational ... you should get up and walk around and go to the bathroom, but do try to remember where your seat is!]

C.  Tips & Tricks

This is a condensed collection of the tips and tricks for the exam that were discussed in the review courses and books I read, as well as from my experience in taking the exam.  Don't worry about memorizing these tips - you won't remember most of them on the day of the exam - just try and integrate them into your practice exams, and they will naturally come to you down the road.

1. Essays

  • Use headings and sub-headings.
  • Read the essay question a couple of times, slowly, before you begin to outline.
  • Spend 20 minutes reading and outlining (90 minutes on performance test) before writing your answer.
  • Focus on organization, issues, and depth
  • Organize each rule of law using CIRAC
    • Brief Conclusion
    • Issue
    • Rule of law ("Under...")
    • Application of facts to rule ("Here...because...")
    • Conclusion ("Therefore...")
  • Discuss all possible causes of action, even if you conclude the action won't be successful. The goal of the essay is not to identify the successful issues, or even the best issues, but rather all of the issues.  For example, if a property essay fact pattern mentions "ten years" (or some other period of time) you'd better discuss adverse possession, even if one of the elements is missing or the argument fails.
  • Explain why each element is met using the facts you are given
  • Use simple sentences, and short paragraphs
  • Don't use abbreviations (i.e. RAP for Rule Against Perpetuities, or P for plaintiff).  You must assume the reader does not know any abbreviations.  Remember - your goal is to make life easy for the grader, and abbreviations won't facilitate that.
  • Use plenty of labels and headings, for parties, issues and elements
  • There are rarely more than 3-4 major "must have" issues in any essay/performance test.
  • If you are writing the exam (as opposed to typing), consider using an erasable black pen. They haven't been in fashion for years, but you may find them very useful on the bar exam since crossing words out is extremely discouraged.  As long as the pen is black, you can use it.
  • Before you begin writing your essays during the exam, double check your bluebooks - a surprising number of people fail the bar exam because they write passing essays in the wrong blue books. Each essay has a corresponding blue book - make sure you are using the right books for the right essays.
  • The bar exam is not an exercise in prose or legalese.  You want to be boring, not innovative.
  • Answer the questions in order.  Skipping around only allows for confusion and mistakes. 
  • Focus on the breadth of your answer, not the depth.
  • Read the question carefully - misreading the question is disastrous on both the MBE and essays. Once you have read the question, make sure you are answering the call of the question. If the call only asks you to address Able's claims, don't also discuss Baker's.
  • After each section is over, put it behind you, and focus on the next section. Don't waste precious mental resources second-guessing yourself.

2. Performance Exam

  • Some people read the file first, others read the library first.  Pick one to read first, and be consistent with that method.  There is no one "right" method.
  • Spend the first 85 minutes reading and outlining, then take a 5-10 minute break. Come back and spend the remaining 85 minutes writing.
  • If your answer doesn't look much like the model answer, try to learn from the model answer, but remember:  About 5,000 people pass the bar each year.  They each wrote a passing essay, and each one was different from the model answer.
  • Focus on using the facts in your answer, not the cases from the library.  The natural inclination for law students is to overuse the cases - but you do not have time nor space for that, so use one or two lines to summarize each case, and focus on using your facts in relation to the case.  If a case lists elements to be proved, or a test for something, those elements must be in your answer, along with relevant facts supporting or negating each element.

3. MBE

  • Read call of question first to determine subject matter (in case of cross-questions). If no call of question, quickly read over the answer choices, or last sentence of fact pattern. Then read the fact pattern.
  • When the MBE question asks if a motion for summary judgment should be granted, 90% of the time the motion should be denied.  That should quickly eliminate at least two wrong answers.
  • Hierarchy approach: Go element by element. When you hit an element that isn't satisfied, stop.
  • Pick the answer to the question that addresses the issues presented in the fact pattern.
  • When in doubt, pick an "if" answer over a "because" answer, and "because" over "unless."
  • Pick answer showing correct statement of law over correct statement of fact.
  • Disregard the sequence of previous answers - that's one way they try to psych you out.  Your answer sheet may very well have 10 "A's" in a row.
  • No one letter is the correct answer any more than any other letter.
  • There is no penalty for guessing - if you have no idea as to the answer, make an educated guess.
  • The correct answer will not turn on a judgment call.
  • If you look at an answer, and it doesn't sound familiar, don't pick it - it's almost certainly wrong.  Between law school and bar exam prep, you'll have heard of all the right answers.
  • Don't get discouraged when you get hard questions.  During the preparation period, it's fine to miss questions - that is how you learn.  During the exam, remember, you are not shooting for 100%.  you are shooting for about 70%.  Anything more than that is really a waste of energy.  No one AmJur's the bar exam.
  • Double check your answer numbers during the exam, and when you are done with the exam, spot-check random questions to make sure you recorded the correct answer in the correct place.  The worst thing that can happen is that you have five minutes until time is called, and you realize that a large number of your answers are recorded one number off.  If this happens, you are in trouble, because the proctors will not give you extra time to fix your answers.

D.  Getting The Results & Becoming An Attorney

"The Committee of Bar Examiners is pleased to inform you that you passed the Bar Examination."                               -- The most wonderful words a law school graduate will ever hear
The results from the bar exam are made available to applicants several months after the exam.  For the February exam, the results are available and mailed at 6:00 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day in May.  For the July exam, the results are available at 6:00 p.m. on the Friday preceding Thanksgiving.  The results are released to the public the following Sunday, at 6:00 a.m.  All results are released through the State Bar website.
There are two numbers that are required for applicants access their results on Friday: A nine digit registration number (generally your social security number), and a five digit applicant number (not the one that begins with a letter - that number indicates your exam location and date, and is not unique).  These numbers can be found on your admission ticket and your identification badge.  The application number is five digits long on the registration card (i.e. 00519), and may be as few as three digits long on the bar exam ID badge (i.e. 519).  You must enter all five digits into the website.  If you lose these numbers, the State Bar will mail them to you, but will not release them to you over the phone.  If you choose to wait for your results in the mail, rather than getting them on-line, rest assured that there is no correlation between the size of the envelope and what your results are ... in other words, positive results don't necessarily come in large envelopes, and negative results don't necessarily come in small envelopes.
It is not unheard of for an applicant to correctly enter their registration numbers, and be told that their name is not found on the pass list (which normally means that the person failed), when in fact they did pass.  For the February 2002 exam, many people experienced this problem.  For some, they found out they did pass after repeatedly submitting their registration numbers on the web.  Others did not find out they passed until the public list was released on Sunday, or they received the written notification.  The written notification is, of course, controlling.
Below is my experience of getting my results:

1. Two Weeks Left

"The past four months since the bar exam have flown by.  Work has kept me busy, and my mind off the bar exam.  Since my work doesn't require me to pass the bar exam, the pressure has been low.  But this week, the anxiety has come back.  Two weeks from today, when the results come out, my life will change forever.  I will either be a lawyer, or have gained the label of having failed the bar exam.
"I find myself imagining where I will be when I find out - work, home, or at a friend's; and how I will react under either scenario (pass/fail).  When I think of that, I get anxious, just like before the bar exam.  I've done so much deep breathing this year, I should qualify as a Lamaze instructor.
"My coworkers remind me that the exam is over, and there is nothing I can do now to affect the results.  By now, the results are already determined. That reality is comforting - I know I have already done my best, and it's over.  But still, two weeks from tonight, my life will change."

2. One More Day

"The night before the bar exam, I was nervous. The night before getting results, I'm just plain scared. The results are signed and sealed, and there is nothing I can do now. But I know that in less than 24 hours, the culmination of seven years of education and hard work will come to a decisive moment. Either I have succeeded, or failed.
"There are many things that I am scared about: The moment of finding out the result; the reaction of loved ones; the reaction of my coworkers; and the hard work that will lie ahead to take the test again. I have replayed the scenarios over and over in my head. How I will find out the results. How I will react if I pass, and how I will react if I fail. I try to remind myself about the statistical odds that I have passed, and that I was well prepared for the exam, and did my best. But I feel that my odds are no better than 50/50. I think of the "might have's" - they might have lost one of my essays; or they might have forgotten to type in my name to the pass list.  I think about all the people who were less prepared than me who have passed; and those who are smarter than me who have failed. This is the most scared I have ever been."
"Suddenly, there I was masquerading as a real lawyer. An impostor, who after three years of law school, a six-week bar review course and passing the bar exam, knew absolutely nothing about representing a real client in a real lawsuit."                               -- Manuel R. Ramos, Confessions of a Lawyer's Lawyer

3. The Day

"Today was freaky - that's the only word I can think of to describe how I felt.  Each hour, I looked at my watch and figured out how many hours were left until the results come out. The day went by quickly though, because I was busy at work.  At 4:00 pm, I went home at the urging of my coworkers (who were tired of my panicking), and at 5:00 pm I started looking at the web page where the results are shown.  Every 10 minutes I hit refresh. Then, at 5:50 pm, the page changed, and there were boxes to put in my registration numbers. The results were early!  I was scared.  I carefully typed in my numbers, slowly hit "submit", and held my breath.  The next page said: "Bar Registrant Pass Found. [name] appears on the list of persons who successfully took the July 2000 administration of the California Bar Examination."  I was in shock, and had to read it several times just to make sure I was reading it correctly.  My partner asked, "what does it mean?" and I said, "I can't believe it, but I think I passed."  I called my mom and dad.  Then we had dinner to celebrate.  Days later, as I write this, the full meaning hasn't completely sunk in.  Maybe by the time I'm sworn in I'll have come out of shock and be able to appreciate the success."

4. Epilogue

"A few days later, the pass list was made public. I'm sad for my friends who didn't pass.  But looking at the names, I realize that there is no clear rhyme or reason to who passed and who didn't.  My friends who didn't pass are every bit as smart as those who did, and studied just as hard. I can't help but wonder if it is merely a matter of which grader read the essay, and what mood he was in.
"I was sworn in to the Bar on December 11, 2000, in a private ceremony.  The officiating was done by Cheryl Glen Anderson, a terrific estate planning attorney (specializing in wills, trusts & estates), who was very influential in my decision and ability to go to law school.  She is also a notary, which enabled her to do the swearing ceremony.  It's over ... I'm an attorney. About a week after I mailed in my registration card, the California Bar Member Directory showed my bar membership number.  Five months after being sworn in to the bar, I received my certificate."

E.  What If You Don't Pass?

Not passing is upsetting, but it is not the end of the world.  Many people who are very smart, and did everything they could do to prepare, do not pass.  Those who do not pass often know as much or more substantive law than their successful counterparts, but failed the exam because their technique was not as sharp, or their physical or emotional health was too weak.
It may also be just a matter of timing.  I know several people who failed the February 2001 exam whose scores would have been considered passing in July 2000.
There should be no shame in not passing - almost every other profession has a lower pass rate, and for them, not passing is the norm.  The bar exam is a very hard test, and having to take it a second time should not be a stigma. 
For those who do not pass, the Bar sends out a notice and a brochure entitled "Information for Unsuccessful Applicants" (also available on the State Bar website) This notice includes detailed information about why the applicant did not pass the bar exam, including scores for each section.  Unsuccessful applicants should contact the bar at (415) 538-2303 to review their exams, so that they can try to pinpoint what they did wrong.  The Bar also includes a "short form" application to register for the next bar exam.
Most unsuccessful applicants who want to retake the exam take a preparation course.  This is not the same course that first time takers attend - it is a supplemental course, designed to pinpoint and correct the reason the applicant failed.  Most applicants need additional work on writing essays, so most of the courses are designed around working on essays.  BarBri offers a course called Essay Advantage, but so do other companies.  From what I've heard, many people opt for the non-BarBri programs, such as MicroMash (which is owned by the same parent company as BarBri) or BarPassers.  Some bar prep programs offer the repeat-course for free to those who did not pass the first time.  Many (if not most) repeat takers benefit from having a private tutor assist them with spotting their individual weaknesses.
There is no limit on how many times an unsuccessful applicant can re-take the bar exam. Just ask Maxcy D. Filer, who was admitted to the California State Bar as member #152500 on June 6, 1991 after taking the bar exam for twenty-five years. He finally passed!
Almost everyone who does not pass the exam the first time feels like they did everything they possibly could to study, and yet they still failed.  It doesn't seem possible that there could be any more they could do to prepare.  The key word is "more."  The problem usually is not a lack of studying.  In fact, in many cases part of the problem is too much studying.  The problem is how they studied.
Most people who fail the bar exam do not need to increase the quantity of material they study.  They need to figure out what part of their study regime did not work, and fix it.  For example, a person who faithfully went to BarBri and PMBR and spent all of their home study time studying the outlines probably needs to spend less time memorizing outlines and more time doing practice essays that they get constructive feedback on.  There is no substitute for "active" learning, coupled with as much feedback as you can get.
Repeat takers should not re-take the same prep course that they took the first time around.  It didn't work the first time, and sitting through more of it won't help the second time.  Either sign up for a different prep course, or find a private tutor in your area.  A private tutor will be able to give you practice essays, and give you constructive feedback on issue spotting and essay writing skills.  Yes, private tutors can be expensive.  But you've gotten this far, so invest a little more money, and it will help tremendously.
Keep a positive attitude, and be objective in identifying what study habits you need to change.  With a combination of a new approach to teaching yourself the material and a lot of "active" studying, you will pass.

7. Ten Rules for Passing the California Bar Exam

  1. Pay attention to deadlines.  Sign up for BarBri during 1L to lock in a lower price, take the MPRE early in 3L to get it out of the way, submit moral character application in 3L for the same reason, and submit bar exam application in spring of 3L.
  2. Forget about topic predictions.  Study all the topics.  If you follow predictions, no matter who they’re from, you’ll off to a bad start.
  3. Plan on using a reliable laptop to type the exam, if you type faster than you write.
  4. Forget about the pass rate.  If you are the typical bar applicant from an ABA-approved law school, the rate is deceptively low.  Don’t let the broad statistics bog you down.
  5. Plan on taking BarBri, unless you have special circumstances such as distance learning, learning disabilities, repeat taker, etc., in which case you may need an alternative, like private tutoring or an alternative course.  PMBR is optional but advised, especially if you need extra help with multiple choice questions.
  6. Get things done before bar prep starts.  Prepay bills, get the oil changed, clean the house, take a leave of absence from work.  No weddings, births, divorces, home sales, moves, or new pets during bar prep.
  7. Perfect your study habits.  There is a lot of material to digest using traditional outlines (passive learning).  Develop an active-learning technique.  Consider using flashcards and checklists, if you can learn that way.
  8. Prepare for the psychological toll.  Develop an exercise program, and make some good friends in your prep course for moral support.  Don’t panic.  Keep your eyes on the ball, and visualize the goal.
  9. Learn how to write bar exam essays.  Focus on organization, outline your answer, use lots of headings, short sentences, and some variation on IRAC.
  10. Put in the time and follow the program.  Bar prep is a full-time job.  Eight hours a day, six days a week, for two months.  Take it seriously, and demand that your family and friends respect your space.  Follow your prep program’s schedule.  It’s a proven methodology, so don’t deviate without a good reason.

The contents of this site are Copyright © 2000-2013.  Last Update: 2/2013.  "California Bar Exam Primer" and "California Bar Exam Primer Checklists" are trademarks of Travis Wise.

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