What Is the Best Way to Study for the Bar Exam?

studying for testThere is one month left until the next bar exam and folks around the country are starting to ask themselves if their preparation plan is working. One common activity that people spend a ton of time doing around this time is listening to video lectures. Why? Well, videos are typically a huge component of large commercial bar review programs.

Can Videos Teach You the Law for the Bar Exam? 

Although most commercial bar review programs seem to agree that videos are the right way to deliver the substantive law, they may not be the best teaching method for everyone. Think about it for a moment. Remember a time you listened to a very long lecture that was not dynamic (there was no dialogue between you and the lecturer). What did you retain from that lecture? Were you able to leave that lecture with an understanding of the topic discussed? Did you remember the topics covered? Did you remember the details of what was covered?

Unless you are an auditory learner, this exercise might just cause you to scratch your head because you can’t even remember what topic was covered in the last lecture you listened to let alone the details of the lecture.

So for those of us who are non-auditory learners, what do we do?

Use Video Lectures, But Sparingly. 

A lot of great information can be delivered through video. (Hey, if you are reading Solo Practice University’s blog, you probably already enjoying and learning from its nearly 1100 video lectures as a student.) I am not suggesting that video isn’t a great way to share a lot of information or even learn a lot of things.

The bar exam is unique, however. Most videos are set up to review the law for you—in order for you to retain it, commit it to memory, and regurgitate it on an essay or an MBE question. This is a passive form of learning. Passive learning assumes that your brain is like an empty “file cabinet” that can be filled up with information as it is presented to you. That means if you hear a lecture or view a video lecture, it goes into the file cabinet and you will be able to regurgitate it later. There are some studies that say that a student remembers only about ten percent of the content taught during a class. Sit with that for a moment—10 percent.

Because you have limited time to study for the bar exam, you need to determine whether using video lectures is the most efficient way to learn the law. Can you afford to retain as little as 10 percent of the material presented to you? For those of us who are retaining as little as 10 percent, we have to carefully ask ourselves whether this is the best use of our time.

Instead of Passively Listening to Lectures, Try Active Learning.

If I am trying to convince you to not listen to lectures, then what are you supposed to do? Try active learning. Active learning is more, well, active. You have to do more work! Your brain is not like a tape recorder simply transcribing what you hear. You have to learn the material. You have to test yourself constantly to see if you are retaining information. You have to study and learn material that is challenging for you. You need to apply the information you have “learned” to make sure you know how to use it. And you need to get feedback on the work you have done to be sure that you are understanding the concepts.

Active learning requires, for most of us, more effort. But with that effort comes increased learning and real understanding.

So How Do I Know What Will Work Best For Me

You need to experiment, try different things.

Let’s say tomorrow you are slated to listen to a four-hour contracts lecture. Go ahead, listen to it. After the lecture, test yourself on what you have retained. What are you able to write down? What do you actually remember? Then take out a contracts essay question and try to answer it. Do you remember enough law to effectively answer the question?

On the next day, instead of listening to a four-hour torts lecture, actively study torts. Review the outlines or make your own shorter outlines. Practice writing out the rules by hand. Test yourself on the application of those rules by using essays and MBE questions. Then as before, take out an essay question, in Torts this time, and try to answer it. Do you remember any more law by actively studying than you did by listening to a lecture?

This simple exercise will help you determine which works best for you, whether listening to video lectures or active studying on your own will best prepare you for the upcoming bar exam.

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®.

This entry was posted in Bar Exam, Guest Bloggers and tagged Bar Exam, Lee Burgess. Bookmark the permalink.

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One comment on “What Is the Best Way to Study for the Bar Exam?

  • Your inquiry brought back memories of my studying for the NY years ago. Toward the end of my third year, I learned of Charles Sparacio, a professor at St. Johns University Law School if Queens, NY. He was highly recommended.

    Since I attended, NYU School of Law, a “national” school that did not concentrate on NY law in its curriculum, I needed someone who knew NY well–and could communicate. Sparacio was the guy. At the time, I had a full-time job as a law firm clerk. Sparacio’s course went from 6-9 pm, M-F, and 9-3, Sat. and Sunday. (Classes were held in the auditorium of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.) The course went for eight weeks. (Bottom line, I passed (then went through a six-month inquiry by the Character Committee, fingerprints-and-all, passed that, and was admitted.

    At the time–and, perhaps, today, as well, the NY two-day bar exam was the toughest in the country. However, after getting through NYU quite nicely, I “slid over to the bar review course. It did the trick, and I haven’t looked back since.

    George Gold

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