Four Bar Exam Obsessions (You Could Do Without)

We are just under a month out to the bar exam and I know everyone’s stress level is getting high. As I talk to folks studying around the country, I am starting to notice that students are becoming obsessed with all things bar exam related. And some of these obsessions are not productive and could actually be damaging to your preparation. Here I have suggested four bar exam obsessions you could do without.

1. Obsessing over practice test scores. 

Practice is critical to your bar exam preparation. You need to practice all parts of the test, the essay portion, the multiple-choice portion, and the performance test portion (if your test has a performance test portion). And feedback is incredibly important on practice exams. You want to get as much feedback as possible. Many commercial bar review programs offer feedback on at least a few essays and/or performance tests and if you want additional feedback, you can hire a tutor to give you more. In addition, you want to be taking at least one full-length MBE practice test to give you an idea of how you are doing on the MBE.

So all of this is great, right? But what happens when you aren’t terribly happy with your scores? I have watched student after student get obsessed with practice test scores, to the detriment of their studying. It is essential to understand what is important about practice scores—they are just one type of feedback. To me, the score that tells you that you are passing or failing is less important than the detailed feedback. What was good about the passing one? What still needed work? What was the major issue that caused you to fail the essay? This feedback is more important than scores because it tells you what you are doing right and what you still need to work on.

The thing about the grading of the written portion of the bar exam is that the exams are graded by a person. Bar graders do a really good job to standardize the grading process, but it isn’t perfect. So if you are obsessed that you didn’t “pass” by five points on your last practice essay, remember that there is no guarantee of a passing score on the actual exam day. Same goes for a “passing” essay. If you pass by five points, don’t be so sure another grader would have graded it the same way! That is why you can obsess only so much about scores. Instead, focus on getting your writing to be as strong as possible.

Now, as we turn to the MBE, it is a good idea to get feedback on how you are doing with MBE questions. Remember—you don’t need to get 100 percent (or even 85 percent correct) to “pass” the MBE. To get an accurate read on how you are doing, however, you need to do a bunch of questions (really, at least 100) and not just small groups of questions (many students just do 30 at a time). These longer sets will give you a better measure of how your progress is coming along.

It is important to know how you are doing, but don’t let practice scores get you down! There is still plenty of time to study hard and get ready for the exam. And if your practice scores all of a sudden start going down, it is possible you are struggling with burnout (check out some tips for that here).

2. Obsessing over bar exam predictions. 

If you are taking a bar review course, it is likely that someone is going to share bar exam predictions with you. Sometimes they are completely right and sometimes they are completely wrong. What breaks my heart is when someone chooses what to study and what not to study based on one person’s prediction! I wouldn’t gamble on that.

Instead, how can you focus on what is best to study? Study the heavily tested subjects. Look at what has been tested most frequently. For instance, in California, almost every year professional responsibility is tested (because we all need to be ethical, right?). So be ready for a question on professional responsibility, no matter what the predictions say.

3. Obsessing over not knowing all the law. 

This comes up over, and over, and over again. It is practically impossible for us to know all of the law tested on the bar exam. It would be unrealistic to ask you to be an expert in more than a dozen subjects tested. Instead, the bar exam is a minimum competency knowledge of the law test. You need to know a little about a lot. Will there be law on the exam that you won’t know? Sure! But there is so much law that could possibly be covered, it is unlikely that obsessing over legal details will prevent being surprised on the exam.

What do I think is the best way to determine what you need to know? Practice by using past questions. You are going to start to see patterns of rules that are tested over and over again. Sure the analysis might be different, but law is law. And be ready to handle a situation where you don’t know the law, because it will happen to all of you (it happened to me). And you know what? I still passed. And so can you. For the MBE, there is actually a lot of public information about the most heavily tested areas of the law. You should check it out if you haven’t already!

4. Obsessing over what will happen if you fail. 

Obsessive thoughts about failure can be paralyzing and can prevent you from doing your best work. If you find yourself unable to focus because you are constantly worried about failing, it may be worth taking a step back and making sure you are in a good mental place to conquer this exam. There are tons of resources and tips out there (many of which are free).

So take a break at this point in your bar study and ask yourself if you are struggling with any of these issues. If so, take a moment and think about how you can remedy that. It will help you be a better bar exam studier for the duration of your preparation.

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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