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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Unsolicited Advice: 1001 Things You NEED To Know Before You Sit For The Bar


Its been quite a while since I last created a post so bear with me, I'm a little rusty. For those who care for an update, I took some time off to prepare for the FL bar and I beasted that MF! I passed and scored high enough to waive into DC.  That gives me more options in terms of where I can start my career, but most of all it restored my confidence in myself that I can do whatever I put my mind to. Its a gift and a curse.

Now, let me put my mind to writing this blog post.
Im iz smart.

I'm not fond of unsolicited advice and I know others aren't either, BUT *I* remember during my bar prep days when I TROLLED the internet for advice on what I could do to pass my bar the first time. I found a few different nuggets and now that the test is behind me, I figured I would share with someone else. I don't claim to be the smartest or brightest or most innovative but LOOK I passed somebody's bar & I'm pretty darned proud of that.

Full disclosure: I was a Barbri representative in law school so I took advantage of their free course. Also, I used Kaplan's foundation course (but I used it out of order), MBE workbook and 3 day final course. If you would like info on which one worked best, leave a comment and I'll answer any questions you have.

Here are the 9 best pieces (ok I lied about 1001, get over it) of bar prep advice I received (in no particular order):

1) Do the work! Do the Work! DO.THE.WORK. I can't stress this enough. Some of you have paid bar review companies thousands of dollars to give you the formula for passing. Allow them to do that. Get your friggin money's worth. It wasn't until I was sitting in that wretched room on exam day that it all came full circle: You HAVE to do the work. You HAVE to balance it all. You HAVE to stay focused. You can't spend all of your time on MBE questions and allow your essay writing skills to fall by the wayside because you're comfortable with your law school writing skills. I did a little over 1900 MBE questions and 700 FL specific questions; Lost track of the number of essays I actually completed because my focus for essays was not completion. When I did essays, my focus was spotting issues and discussing the law. Why? Because in Florida you get 100 points per essay. Wanna guess where 50 of those points come from? If you guessed spotting the issue and correctly stating the law you're RIGHT. How many of you know you can massage the facts and get a bit closer to 100? I didn't do very many *complete* essays aside from the ones included in my simulated exams because I wanted to focus on making sure I could at least secure 50 points per essay. I tracked my MBE questions using a chart which included the date, number of questions, the subject and % correct. That chart helped me see which subjects I needed to focus on towards the end. I was once told one needs to finish and grade a least 1400 MBE questions to pass. So far, everyone who used that technique has passed. To space it out, I did 33 questions/day in different subjects and when I couldn't relax fully on my day off I did a few questions to ease my mind & regain my confidence. To keep track of my progress, Barbri had a schedule and a tracker to help me realize when I was falling behind. I fell behind a few times. You might fall behind too. The trick is not to STAY behind.

I used Barbri's accelerated program in the beginning and I also used Kaplan's 3 day workshop at the end (it was phenomenal! Seriously, take it!) Towards the end, I stopped following Barbri's class plan (I don't recommend this for everyone) and worked on the subjects where I was weak. I did 5 or 6 FULL exams under exam conditions starting in week 3. That means, I took a trip to the library on a Saturday, used an internet timer and took the full 8 hour exam with a one hour lunch break. I then graded the exam and created flashcards of rules for questions I missed. Doing exams under timed conditions helped me with timing so much that I finished all 4 sessions of the FL bar early. Talk about scary! During the last 1 1/2 to 2 weeks, I did 1/2 day exams and spent the rest of the day reviewing. Prior to starting prep, I went to the FL bar examiners website and printed out EVERY essay they posted on the site along with sample answers. I read thru EVERY question and answer. I graded myself on their practice essays by going thru the issues I spotted and discussed on my exam versus what the bar examiners thought was the best answer. Barbri only gave three opportunities for me to have my essays evaluated. I never got higher than a 35 from Barbri's graders but their feedback was extremely helpful. I submitted several questions to Barbri and someone always called me back within 24 hours with detailed explanations.

For the answers I got incorrect, it got frustrating. I would apply an exception I learned and it turned out to be exceptions to exceptions. It can get overwhelming to know them all but you must find a way to make distinctions or do enough questions until it becomes automatic. I took my flashcards with me EVERYWHERE so I didn't get anxious if I ended up having to wait in a line too long (or something like that). Please understand I felt drained the first few times until I built up my endurance. That is what the test is about: mental endurance. You will be in a room of thousands of people you don't know and your table will be ragged. It may be cold. It could be hot. You may not feel like you have enough pencils and your laptop may crash. It happens. You have to have the mental strength and determination to get through it. If you don't have it now, GET SOME. The bar examiners don't give a damn that your brain started to hurt on question 76.

2) The first thing someone told me was the best thing: ROB the test of its power. Internalize that the test is important but do NOT allow the pressure to consume you. I'm serious. You need to take the power away from the test and give the outcome to a higher power. The test is not a source of power. THE BAR IS NOT A SOURCE OF POWER. I understand some people NEED to pass in order to keep their jobs and thats fine. The test still doesn't have any power. Put a healthy amount of pressure on yourself so that you become disciplined but don't allow it to overpower you. Hello somebody! Not passing doesn't mean you are not smart just like passing doesn't mean you ARE smart. I know you're saying its easy for me to say because I passed, but trust me on this: You will pass when it is in God's time for you to pass. I recommend you get in synch with HIS time and be ok with living that way. Failing the bar doesn't mean you were not meant to be a lawyer. You may fail because you were not ready to be a practicing lawyer yet. Ya'll didn't come here to read that tho. How well or how poorly you do on the bar is not a measure of the caliber of lawyer you will be. If you prepare and you still don't pass, not passing the bar just means you didn't pass the bar. 

3) Discover your learning style. Bar prep is all about repetition. For that reason, it is imperative that you find the most effective way to learn things. Click here to take a learning style test. Don't just take the test for the sake of taking it either. USE the results and incorporate how you learn into your bar prep. For example, I am a visual learner. It helps me when I can actually SEE the work instead of just hearing it. I created color coded notes and note cards. I took time out to create sample essays based on topics previously covered on the exam. Do what you need to do to comprehend the information. Make charts, venn diagrams, acronyms, mnemonics, graphs, cartoons, write songs, etc... just do what it necessary.

4) Eliminate distractions. Let me say that again: eliminate distractions. Bar prep lasts approximately 2 months. 2 months is NOT a long time. Sit your family down and explain to them what they can expect from you during this time. Advise them to shower you with love and encouragement. Keep drama and stupidity out of your life as much as possible. Do what you have to do during those two months so you can move on with your life! You may miss a few birthday parties and pool parties but there will be other summers. This aint the one. Surrender your summer. Advise your friends and family of your hiatus and do what you have to do to put the test behind you. Focus on bar prep and little else. Keep your vices. You have had them this long, another 2 months probably won't hurt. Now is not the time to quit smoking or decide to quit anything else because that could detract some of your discipline away from this test. You won't get thru this without having high levels of self control and discipline. I would also recommend getting rid of your social networks or keeping your usage of them to an absolute minimum. I deactivated my Facebook in the very beginning and kept using my twitter 3 weeks before the exam. I would rather have stopped using them and not passed than to have continued using them and wonder if that was the reason I didn't pass. I'm not saying you can't keep your social networks, I am saying if you are tweeting wildly after 3 weeks of bar prep your ass is not focused or disciplined. If you think you can keep your social networks and pass, go for it. Just know you're creating a challenge that does not have to exist.

5) Create a study schedule and stick to it!
Creating a study schedule is one of the most effective ways to stay on track and maintain your sanity during bar prep. I didn't work during bar prep. I studied 6 days and took Sundays off to catch up on sleep, run errands, go to church and catch up with my family. I pulled a few all nighters but for the most part I made it a point to never do work past midnight. Its up to you how you want your study schedule to look but mine looked like this(copied from a word doc):

Bar Prep Calendar/Schedule to follow
January 3 to January 18: First 15 days
6-8 hours per day every day. Take one day off to rest or give yourself a lighter load
o   Schedule
·      9am-1pm Class
·      2pm-6pm Do practice questions; study & do homework
·      Make yourself get out of bed everyday and do ALL of the homework
·      Keep up and become acclimated
January 18 to Feb 6: Solid 12 hours/day
·      Do as many practice questions as you possibly can under test conditions. No headphones, no phone in a quiet place. Try to simulate test conditions.
o   Schedule
·      9am-1pm Class
·      2pm-6pm Do practice questions; study do homework
·      6pm-8pm Dinner & TV
·      8pm-12am More questions
Feb 6-48 hours before the exam (Approx 19 days)
·      13-14 hours/day
·    9am-1pm Simulated Practice Questions under exam conditions
·      2pm-6pm Review Practice Questions; Flashcard quiz; More Practice Questions
·      6pm-7pm Dinner & TV
·      7pm-12am More questions & review incorrect questions from yesterday

Although I was weary of an online prep course at first, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It turns out the online coursework afforded me levels of flexibility I had not anticipated. I could manipulate the lecture videos without having to disturb others AND I saved time because I didn't have to commute. I set aside time to review questions I got wrong the previous day. I set aside an area in my bedroom to study and that is all I used that area for while I was prepping. Also, I made sure to buy groceries every week so that I didn't have to worry about buying lunch everyday. It saved me money, frustration and anxiety because I didn't have to worry about falling off of my schedule or going over my budget since I wasn't working. I'm not saying don't go out for lunch, but be careful about doing so. As time passes, you WILL become anxious and little things could set you off. Might as well try to eliminate outside stressors as much as possible.

6) Find a Way to Stay Encouraged.  I can't emphasize this enough. Find a way to stay grounded. There will be nights when you will feel like you don't know enough. There will be days when you feel like you don't have enough time. You will want to pull all nighters like you did in law school. There will be moments when you wonder whether you're losing your mind. You can choose to ignore this if you want to. You will get frustrated. You will feel stupid. You will wonder why the hell you decided to go to law school. You will feel tortured. Your brain will hurt. You will have sleepless nights. You will have bar nightmares. You will have nightmares. You will consider suing your bar examiners for IIED. Understand for what you have embarked to accomplish, these things are normal. I decorated my room with positive quotes and printed the passing score on all of my notebooks. There will come times when you don't want to do questions. There will be days you will feel like you're not learning anything. There will be mornings you don't feel like listening to those boring lectures. You must not allow these things to hold you back. You MUST focus on finding a way to stay positive, grounded and encouraged. This is not an option. 

7) Eat for Energy. I'm gonna give it to you straight: You're going to have to give up eating chili dogs and french fries for lunch. Not forever, just during bar prep. You're going to need to make it a habit to eat breakfast. You are on a timed schedule and you don't have time for sluggishness. Digesting a bacon burger from 5 guys takes much more energy than a chicken salad. You don't have time to keep stopping to eat either. Your body needs to be on a schedule. Aight, I realize that was a little bossy but I hope you recognize it comes from a good place. Discipline is key and so is self-awareness. If you are a snacker, you should stock up on snacks so you don't get distracted worrying about trying to find chips. Also, it is imperative that you remain healthy. Grab some vitamins and such to help your body fight off illnesses. Drink plenty of water and exercise more than once a week.

8) Mobilize Your Support System. I had 3 different prayer groups (that I knew of) specifically praying for my success and sanity through bar prep. I had parents who sent me money, a grandmother who prayed with me and siblings who called me with funny stories on Sundays to keep everything in perspective. If you have a support system, the time is NOW to mobilize them. Get them praying. Get them creating care packages. Get them invested. If you need money, get them donating. Tell them what is riding on your success so they know you're taking this seriously. I have NO DOUBT in my mind my support system deserves as much credit for my success as I do.

9) Don't overthink. Many of the answers to questions are common sense. Trust yourself enough to believe you can select the right answer enough times to pass. Don't get so wrapped up in finding the right answer that you abandon your common sense. Most people are able to eliminate at least 2 answers right away just using common sense. According to Kaplan, at that point you should take a look at the remaining answers and choose the one with the law over the one with the facts.

I'm not saying these things are a way to guarantee bar passage, I'm just saying these are things I KNOW helped me. Take my advice as you would anyone else's: with a grain of salt. No one knows what awaits you on your bar and I don't journey to guess. I know one thing for sure: Prepare so that you have no regrets and no matter your results you will be victorious no matter your score. Gift yourself a trip home to visit your family or a nice vacay by yourself after the bar is over. Go out and celebrate when you finish the bar and then rest for a few days (if you can). Resume your normal life as you bemoan the process of waiting for your results. Then, on the day results are released go somewhere and check them by yourself. If you pass, GREAT. If you don't pass, its not the end of the world and no one worth a damn will judge you. Suit up and go hard in the paint again.

If you have any questions, or anything to contribute the comment section is ALLLLL yours :)

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