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Having read this post, I am even more amazed that two years after having gone through this process for the CA bar exam, my son is willing ti to the same thing in NY this year. It sure sounds like the complete anthesis of a wonderful learning experience

Carolyn Elefant

Here, I have to dissent. I enjoyed studying for the NY and NJ bars after my law school graduation and even the Maryland practitioner's exam that I took 2 years ago (while working and with two young children) What I love about tests is that they are finite (which is what makes them so artificial) You have questions that you can master if you practice over and over again, a task that's completed in 2 days and a few months later (if you've worked hard enough and had the luck of getting the questions that you studied for), you get a piece of paper saying that you passed. Contrast that with the practice of law where even after you file a brief or a motion, new evidence may be discovered or facts may change so as to require changes to what you've argued. Indefinite dates for hearings and trials. And results which don't necessarily reflect some hard work, yes, but also luck - the jury or judges assigned to the case, the likeability of the client, etc...So much in law practice is out of one's control whereas the bar exam is almost completely within one's control.


I'm just surprised you remember all of this! I took 2 bar exams last summer and I think I've blocked out the entire process out of my mind.

Well, at least I think I've blocked it out of my mind, until I see someone walking down the street carrying a BarBri book and I get a little chill down my spine.

Not something I ever want to go through again. I knew that I was taking 2 states at once so that I wouldn't have to do it again for a good long while. If ever.


Way to bring back unpleasant memories! I took the Iowa bar exam 7 years ago and had mostly blocked the process out of my memory until I read your post. I don't think I studied nearly as much as you did. I definitely didn't go through the flash card process you described. Back then Iowa had a fantastic bar review class that was very cheap (I think it cost something like $300). For approximately 2 months, we had class every night weeknight for up to 4 hours. My study time was mostly spent reading the outlines and doing practice MBE questions. The whole process was miserable. My girlfriend was out of town for the summer and I spent every waking moment either missing her, studying, or feeling guilty for not studying. The exam itself was similarly miserable. The clock seemed to move backwards and every moment was unpleasant.

The second bar exam was much easier. I took the Illinois exam one year later and simply was too busy with work to spend anywhere near as much time studying. I think I prepared for 8 days. I just borrowed a friend's Bar Bri materials from the previous year and made the effort-saving assumption that the law hadn't changed in the last 12 months. Fortunately, my Iowa MBE score transferred and I was spared that hell the second time around.


I have very fond memories of the summer I studied for the bar. It was actually one of the few times in my life when I haven't been stressed out or felt woefully behind; and I was conscious even then that the bar was the last time any screw up of mine wouldn't have an impact on others (a client, for example).

I did BarBri. I treated it like a 9 to 5 job-- but even better because I could control my schedule. I would get up and go running, then attend morning classes. After class I would take a 2 hour break to have lunch with friends from the class, lie in the sun, and do tasks related to planning my wedding. Then I would study for exactly 4 hours-- until about 6 or 6:30-- and then I would do something fun like go out to dinner. On the weekends, I would go out of town to visit my fiance, but I would get up early on Sunday and study for another 4 hours.

It was great! My main regret: I didn't do enough TIMED, practice essay questions. It was quite a shock to my syestem to have to do 12 essay questions in a row with only 30 minutes for each--only 30 minutes to read and digest a complicated fact pattern, spot the issues, figure out solutions, and then outline and write an answer. I knew that if I blew a question, I wouldn't fail if I were strong enough on the other questions, so I focused on the questions I was strongest in and didn't waste time and energy on the ones where I knew I would be in trouble. But it wouldn't have been such a painful experience if I had practiced more TIMED essays.


I seem to recall that you've posted, and I've commented, on this before, but perhaps I'm just imagining things. I enjoyed my bar-study summer and was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I worked full time as a summer associate at a huge DC firm, and studied for the CO bar on my own nights & weekends.

Because I'm hearing impaired and can't understand audiotapes well, Bar-Bri gave me a full set of the CO bar-study videotapes. These were much easier to follow and stay focused on than audiotapes would have been. And by doing homestudy, I could go at my own pace, double up if I wanted to on one evening so I could go to a summer associate event or hang out with my (then-)boyfriend another, and go back to review things as necessary.

My approach was simple: do all the tapes, review and mark-up and occasionally summarize the outlines, and do LOTS of practice tests. I did PMBR, which I thought was a good use of some additional money because it forced me to take a timed practice test early in the summer and because the practice questions in the PMBR book were much harder than the Bar-Bri ones (and than the real MBE ones, I thought).

I also did a fair number of practice essays for the state portion of the test, but found these pretty easy and didn't spend as much time on them (other than learning - for the first time - how to use the very simple "IRAC" approach, which my law school didn't bother teaching, and learning how not to overthink the questions). I didn't bother making flash cards, though I tried using some that my boyfriend (two years removed from bar study) had prepared and found them not terribly helpful for my study style.

I think I took three practice MBEs under test conditions -- the two PMBRs and one Bar-Bri -- and those were scary and stressful but extremely helpful preparation. They were also the only times during the summer I spent with other students studying for the bar, which was fine with me. Being around so many stressed out, hyper-competitive people upset the happy balance I'd achieved with work, bar study, spending time with my boyfriend, exercising, and enjoying the DC summer scene.

I went home to CO for about 10 days before the test, and that was my favorite time during the summer. I'd get up early in the morning, walk down to my favorite cafe and spend a few hours reviewing the commercial outlines and making my own notes about them. Then I'd go for a run or a hike or a bike ride and spend a couple of hours being active and outside. In the afternoon, I'd do practice questions for a few hours, and then I'd typically take the evening to relax with my folks or some friends. This not only kept me from flipping out, it also gave me some time away from the books to allow everything to gel in my mind.

The actual test was fine -- the MBE questions seemed easier than the practice questions, and the state portion was pretty straightforward. I had some interesting conversations with people during the breaks, and the overall atmosphere was friendly.

Unless you have a hard time studying and balancing things in your schedule, you might consider working during the bar study period. Not only does it help defray the costs of the test and prep materials (particularly if you're heading into a clerkship and/or don't want to commit to a firm or other bar-funding employer yet), it also keeps things in perspective and helps you avoid obsessing and over-studying. You might also try to enjoy the process of knowing the most black-letter law you EVER will.


Thank you for writing that. I'm currently studying for the bar and reading that made me feel better. Especially the part about blowing off most of June! :-)

Glib Gurl

Ditto what CeeQue said!


Right on...thanks for the post! With the exception of color-coding everything it sounds like I'm doing just about everything that you did. Hope I'm as successful as you come July 27-28. Anyway, thanks for your memories and for making me feel a bit better about my current (lack of) readiness. I scored a 114 raw on my Bar/Bri practice MBE today and am sweating things as a result.


Thanks for this post -- it makes me feel a lot better for not being as crazy as some of my other friends are getting. Two and a half weeks left...

Can we go sailing when this is all over? :)


I'm getting ready for the february bar, still trying to get a good schedule set for myself. Always good to hear others' survival stories!


Thank you - I had my first day of BarBri today and went into the full panic of "I'll never learn all this!" . . . "I can't possibly spend 12-16 hours studying a day!" . . . and then I went back and read your bar prep post. I will tell myself to treat this like a 9-5 job, and *not* panic.


I linked to you after my first big freak out. Thanks. I'm hanging in there. I like to draw pictures so I'm thinking the poster thing could be fun.



I am studying for the Indiana Bar right now and had my first real breakdown today... up until this point i would maybe get an hour or two in a day (with distractions of course)... i think i can do it, but the fear of having my name not be posted on the pass list invaded my soul and has made itself at home in my gut... deep breaths... i will try to relax... i'll be fine right???????


I just took the mass bar without bar bri or anything. The morning was no sweat (MBE) but teh afternoon seemed to kick everyones ass.
The essays were not bad in the least. I feel kinds ok...the mbe's were way easier than i thought. Gilbert book was an ass kicker that sets you up nicely.

good luck to all!


I graduated from law school in 2001. I worked as a lawyer abroad, so did not need to take the Bar exam. Now I'm back in the US and find that I definitely need to take it. I'm planning to take the February California Bar exam. Do you know if I start studying now if it will be enough time? I work full-time, so will be studying evenings and weekends. I don't know how to organize myself and get started. I need to have a schedule of what to do everyday. Do you have any suggestions?


Thanks for writing this and putting it out there. I stumbled onto it in search of a study schedule which I could use as a template because many offered are simply anxiety inducing and ineffective for how I study. And mine has been lacking. With less than two months to go for prep time, it really was perfect timing to see the suggestions!
Thanks again,


would u happen to still have any outlines for the MA bar exam that you could send to me? thanks!


Just wondering if anyone bothered doing their own set of complete notes. I started doing it for one subject and its taken me about a day and a half, but its about 15 pages and now I am thinking its probably not worth it, given PMBR and Barbri give fairly good outlines. Any thoughts from those geniuses who have comfortably passed the exam??

Eric Lamont

Took the Cal bar in 1961. Three days/24/52 minute questions. Passed on first try.

Still a member of the bar but will let it lapse in January. Made my pile.

Advice: Stick with Issue/rule/argument/conclusion (and don't get fancy).

One more...for Gawd's sake don't handwrite.



Great post!

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Supra Shoes

Everyone in Maine knows someone reasonably smart who didn't pass the bar on the first go-round.

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I could never take the bar. Too long, too stressful, etc etc etc. And yea, I've known quite a few lawyers who were really smart and had trouble with the bar.


You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post.

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