This post originally appeared in slightly different form as a guest blog post on the Lawyerist blog.
Are some study strategies better than others? Emphatically yes. For one thing, good ways to study for the bar exam are active, not passive. Studying actively helps you wrestle with the rules, work out how they apply, and get them into your mental inventory.
Here are 10 study strategies: five bad ones and five good ones. We teach the good study strategies in our BarWrite bar review courses, and we help students use then in our Private Coaching Programs.
5 Bad study strategies for the UBE
Most important, bad study strategies make you feel like you are working hard–and you are working hard–but they do not cause the law to stick to your brain or increase your ability to do legal analysis. Therefore, they exhaust you, but they do not challenge you.
1. Just reading and reading. First of all, if the aim is to learn the law, just reading will not work. Period. We all tried it in law school. If it didn’t work then, it will not work for the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). Thus, you need to study actively, not just passively.
2. Re-outlining your long outlines or making new long outlines or recopying notes. Writing things out feels like real work, and as you write and the law passes by your eyes, it seems like you are learning something. But just wait three or four hours and ask yourself what you have learned. Probably, Nothing. Accordingly, these are not good study strategies.
3. Listening to tapes or other recordings covering material you have not yet learned. You can only review what you already know. Thus, I have never heard of anyone’s learning Evidence solely by listening to a recording.
4. Listening twice to new lecture material on a DVD. Or even listening once at normal speed. Do NOT push the cursor back and listen to any part of a lecture again. If there’s something you didn’t catch, study the topic in your books. In addition, there are ways to speed up a DVD without altering the sound. Don’t let watching DVDs eat up all your time.
5. Doing 35 or 50 or 100 MBE practice questions a day . . . before you have learned the law. If you don’t know the law, doing practice MBE questions will not magically raise your grade. Students come to me who have worn themselves out doing thousands of practice questions, year after year. Their children never see them. Alas, they never raise their grades. First learn the basics of the law, then do practice questions.
5 Good study strategies for the UBE
Good study strategies for the UBE are active, not passive. Thus, they get you out of your comfort zone. In some cases, in fact, they are excruciatingly painful. But with good study strategies, the law and how it applies stick to your brain.
The best study strategies involve flash cards, on the one hand, and practice questions, on the other.
1. Ask questions about the material before you read it. Then quiz yourself afterwards. Surveying and quizzing are classic study methods. They are simply a helpful framework for your studying. Accordingly, you also need other strategies.
2. Make your own flashcards, learn them, and see how those rules fit into the short outlines your bar-prep courses or the NCBE give you. These are two parts of the structure, the individual rules and how the rules fit together.
3. Do quizzes and practice essays. Review the questions and answers until you can explain the answers to a six-year-old. We all enjoy looking at “new” material. That’s human nature. But doing quizzes and practice essays and then studying how the law applies is one of the best ways to learn the law for the bar exam. Especially important is that doing quizzes and practice essays by itself is not enough. Studying how the law applies is key.
4. Especially painful, and very valuable, for the MBE: analyze the fact patterns to see how the rules of law apply to the facts. Analyze the fact patterns of MBE questions to make sure you know exactly how the rules of law apply to the facts. In my view, the MBE questions rarely contain traps or tricks. But it certainly does seem that way, if you can’t systematically apply the rules to the facts. Finally, analyzing how the elements apply to the facts is key.
5. Review every subject three or four times before bar exam day, quizzing yourself each time. Keep track of the date on which you reviewed each set of notes. It seems like one review is enough, but it isn’t. Accordingly, it helps to make a chart to be sure you are reviewing each area of law several times. Hat tip: John Pieper.
In conclusion. Use good study strategies. Learn the law. Pass the bar exam.
Mary Campbell Gallagher is founder and president of BarWrite® and BarWrite Press, which helps LLMs and retakers raise their scores on every part of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). BarWrite’s award-winning program is the pioneer in recognizing the needs of LLMs in bar preparation. Dr. Gallagher is the author of Scoring High on Bar Exam Essays and Perform Your Best on the Bar Exam Performance Test (MPT).