We All Need Practice to Perform at Our Best – #Bar Exam

This past week I was in New York City for a few days. While I was there, I got to check out a great exhibit at the Guggenheim, called Picasso Black and White (if you are in New York, I recommend that you see it).

I have always been a fan of Picasso, especially after studying in Spain during college. I was fortunate to see so much of his work on display in museums there. But one thing has always struck me—before painting one of his large, complicated works, Picasso sketched or did studies of various parts of the image before putting the entire piece together. I find this window into his artistic process so fascinating because many of us don’t think we need to prepare or practice before completing a difficult or challenging work. And aren’t we foolish for that.

How “Sketching” Is Critical for Bar Exam Success 

So Picasso used to sketch before painting many of his masterpieces. Yet many of my bar exam students are unclear on why they should have to outline or prepare an answer before writing.

Why is writing an exam any different from another creative process?

An outline or pre-exam approach where you organize your answer, jot down your thoughts, and think through your analysis is how you make sure that your final product is executed in the best possible way.

An outline also keeps you from making mistakes that can be a waste of time or hard to remedy. Just as it is hard to “start over” if you are painting a masterpiece, it is difficult to start over on a bar exam essay (mostly because of the time constraints). If you have thought through your answer before you start writing, you are more likely to be happy with the draft that you turn in to the examiners.

Folks studying for the bar exam often challenge me on this and say they don’t have time to organize or think through the answer before writing. I would argue that you don’t have time not to organize. Organization is what keeps you on point and keeps your answer organized and complete. Organization is actually a time-saving process, not a time-wasting one.

How Practicing Is Critical for Bar Exam Success 

When someone calls me to ask for bar exam advice after a failure, I typically ask how he or she studied for the exam. And a key question I ask is how much practice did you do. Again, one of the things that struck me about the Picasso exhibit is that he did studies of characters in a painting—tried out different techniques and executions before completing the final work. Basically, he was practicing (in a very deliberate way).

So why do students think that they don’t need to practice for the bar exam? This is a question I just can’t seem to find a quality answer for. Some students think that the bar exam is just about the law, so memorizing the law is more important than practice. I don’t agree, but that is one perspective.

Want to know why I think students don’t practice? They just don’t like it, simple as that.

Bar essays, performance tests, and MBEs are boring and not fun to practice. But that is just not a quality excuse. True, most of you could come up with more exciting things to do than practice bar exam questions, but there just isn’t a more effective way to study and use your time. Practice allows you to review the law (it takes law to answer a question) and to develop your pre-question approach (for essays and MBEs). And it gives you the opportunity for feedback (either from a tutor or even by just comparing your answers with sample answers supplied by your bar review provider or the bar examiners).

If you are getting ready to retake the bar exam or to take it for the first time, make sure you build a significant amount of practice into your study plan. It is critical for exam success.

And For Those Still in Law School . . . 

If you are still in law school, remember that you can use your remaining exams in school to perfect your test-taking skills. You should have an effective pre-essay approach for your law school exams and also write out as many practice exams as possible. The test-taking skills necessary to conquer the bar exam are not that different from those that you use in law school. So use law school as an opportunity to practice and perfect the art of “sketching out” your answer.

If the great masters of the art world knew they needed to practice before painting a masterpiece, it is foolish to think you don’t need to as well. Make sure you include pre-exam approaches and practice in your law school or bar exam study plans.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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4 comments on “We All Need Practice to Perform at Our Best – #Bar Exam

  • Hi Lee,

    I read the above and lots memories of hard spent hours, days and weeks studying for the NY Bar Exam came flooding back. I agree that: “Bar essays, performance tests, and MBEs are boring and not fun to practice.” but a lot of practice under exam conditions is required to make the grade as knowing the law or being a good writer is not enough. As someone who has recently hung out his shingle in the area of ADR & Construction Law a lot of the same dedication and persistence is required.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for your comment! You are right that the same dedication and discipline necessary to be successful at the bar exam is necessary for a successful legal career. Good luck with your new practice.

  • Lee, I have to agree with you (and Mark). Practice, practice, practice. It’s awful at the time. But it’s really the only way to prepare.
    It’s also the only way to really measure your progress during the stages of bar preparation which I think is important.

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