Help! My Studying Doesn’t Seem to be Paying Off

We are entering the final month of bar exam preparation. Some of you may feel you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Some of you may think that light is actually a train speeding toward you. If you are among the latter, you may be saying what a student told me the other day, “My studying just doesn’t seem to be paying off.”

You have likely been studying for at least a month now and maybe you have been seeing improvement in your practice scores. Hopefully, the MBE numbers continue to go up as well as any scores on essay feedback. But that may not be the case for everyone. Some folks are seeing scores similar to those they got a month ago. How is this possible after studying full time for more than a month!

You may be “studying” but not actually “learning” the law. 

Hours of studying do not necessarily equal better scores. They depend on what you are doing during that studying. For example, I would argue that unless you have a photographic memory, you don’t want to spend hours just staring at outlines. For most of us, this doesn’t mean we are actually learning something. Instead, you want to work with the material based on the type of learner you are. If you learn by listening, try listening to lectures, perhaps more than once. If you learn by doing, then perhaps you need to make your own study materials to help you synthesize and learn the material. Have you tried handwriting your own material? Some people find handwriting study materials actually helps them learn.

You may be spending all of your time making materials and not actually learning the content.

Another possible pitfall is spending all of your time making study materials and then not having any time to actually study the material. This often happens with flashcards. Students will spend hours and hours making flashcards, but won’t have any time to actually look at them. Then what good are the flashcards! You need to give yourself an opportunity to review the law. Remember most of us need repetition in order to memorize material.

You are moving through the subjects so quickly you haven’t had a chance to look at anything more than once. 

If it feels as though you aren’t getting any better, it may be because you are constantly studying new material and not giving anything a second look! Take an afternoon to review some law you have already learned and try applying that to an essay or an MBE. Is it easier because it isn’t brand new material? It might be!

Remember, at this point you likely are going to have an opportunity to review a bit more law as you finish covering new material. That is going to make you feel better.

The issue may not be with the law at all. It may be with your exam approach. 

Sometimes, the issue with your work isn’t with the knowledge of the law at all. Perhaps it is with how you are approaching the essays and MBEs. Are you struggling with issue spotting, organization, or time management on the essays? If so, this is something you want to work on across the board, as it may be hurting your essay score on each subject. You likely need to work on your exam approach—on how you approach a question from beginning to end.

The same is true for the MBEs. Are you struggling with time management or fatigue? These issues may have nothing to do with the substantive law. And you may need to seek guidance on taking MBE questions, generally.

And lastly, the same can be true with the performance test. With no law to learn, if your answers are not getting any better, you need to seek guidance on how to approach them better. If you aren’t getting this guidance from your bar review provider (I hope you are), then it may benefit you to check out some books or a tutor to help guide you through this process.

Anxiety and fear can prevent us from actually performing at our best. 

Anxiety and fear can cause physiological responses that make it difficult to focus, remember things, and even work efficiently. If you feel that no matter what you do, you are unable to perform well on an essay, this may be something you want to explore. Tons of resources are available including experts and therapists as well as other lower cost options. Don’t ignore the possibility that anxiety and fear could be holding you back and preventing you from being the best exam taker you can be.

If you are worried that bar exam preparation is not going well for you, it is time to evaluate and make some changes in your approach, so you can be ready for exam day.

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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2 comments on “Help! My Studying Doesn’t Seem to be Paying Off

  • Attitude is more important than the intensity of your study.

    When I took the bar exam, we had a very shall child. I had little time for study, so I committed myself to attending every single class, getting sleep, and studying the essential subjects on the multi-state part of the exam: evidence, property, contracts, criminal law, constitutional law, and torts. These subjects overlap many of the essay questions, e.g., secured transactions with contracts. I knew I would not have time to study the various state subjects, but I was committed to at least opening a book every day on the multi-state subjects.

    On the exam, there were six essay questions. Only one was a real stretch to answer, and it involved remedies in equity. If anyone discussed those in the BarBRI course, I don’t remember it. I passed, though I never cared to ask for my score.

    I won’t say that my method should work for anyone else, but I did myself a big favor by studying the essentials and not trying to become a law professor in two-dozen subjects in two months.

  • Thanks for sharing your story. I agree you definitely need to focus on the heavily tested areas. Almost everyone will wish they knew some law that they didn’t know on the test (I know I did) but that doesn’t mean you won’t pass.

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