If you’re taking the bar exam this summer, the thick books are probably already at your house. Hundreds and hundreds of pages, how are you going to learn all of that material? Answer: you’re not. The key to not getting overstressed about the bar exam (although you probably will, especially the week before the exam) is remembering that you don’t need to know everything on the exam. It’s okay if there are a couple of MBE questions that you have no clue on because you do not need to ace the bar exam; you only need to pass.
I took (and passed!) the Massachusetts Bar Exam last summer. I studied for the exam using Themis while working full time. I was a little nervous about the online-only format of Themis, but if you are self-disciplined, it is fine. With the bar exam experience relatively fresh in my mind, I have a few pieces of advice to share:
1. Do not over-rely on the practice essay questions provided by your bar prep company.
My experience was with Themis, but I have heard this is true of BarBri as well: the practice essay questions are not always representative of the length of a real bar exam essay question. I am not saying ignore the practice essay questions; they are definitely useful tools to practice analyzing fact patterns and writing bar exam essays, which differ somewhat from law school exam essays. However, make sure you also look at, and preferably practice your timing on, real past bar exam questions if you have access to them. The Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners posts past essay questions on its web site. If you spend some time practicing with real questions, you won’t be surprised when you receive 9 single-spaced pages of morning essay questions to answer in 3 hours. Avoiding surprises will improve not only your bar exam performance, but also your emotional well-being.
2. Read the exam information and follow the rules!
I know this should be common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow the rules, even when something as important as passing the bar exam is hanging in the balance. In Massachusetts, you’re not allowed to have a backpack in the exam room. People who brought bags to Hynes Convention Center on the first day of the exam were expected to check them. Some test takers decided not to check their bags, and instead hid them in the convention center before going into the exam room. The bar examiners announced right before the beginning of the exam that they had done a sweep of the convention center, picked up these unchecked bags, and if one of them was yours, you would have to go talk to them during lunch. They’d then decide your fate after you’d already taken half of the MBE. I can’t imagine that knowledge enhanced the affected individuals’ test performance, so please, read the instructions and follow the rules.
3. There will be external things that happen. Don’t let them psych you out.
I felt like I was surrounded by bad external forces. The girl behind me was talking about how she failed the exam the last time. The guy in front of me left every portion of the test 30 min. – 1 hour early. One of the guys in our row had to hand write the morning essays because he failed to properly install the test software. These things happen; just remember that you’re prepared.
Good luck on the exam! If you’re looking for supplemental bar prep resources, check out our past bar exam posts.