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How to Pass the Bar Exam

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You've successfully made your way through law school and now you're one two-day test, i.e., the bar exam, away from becoming a lawyer.

First piece of advice: celebrate your JD quickly and then move on to bar exam prep immediately after graduation. Time is ticking.

Here are five more tips to help you pass the bar exam:

1. Sign up for a bar review course.

You may wonder why after three years of very expensive schooling you are now expected to pay even more money to learn what you thought you were supposed to be learning during law school. I know. Believe me, I know.

But now is not the time for you to worry about the cost of bar exam prep. Be as economical as possible, by all means, but think about what it would mean to you, financially, to fail the bar, face employers without a license to practice law, and have to pay to take the bar exam again. If you are really strapped for cash, there are special bar exam loans available exactly for this purpose.

Why sign up for a bar review course? Well, those who take bar review courses have great passage rates for a reason--the course employees study and analyze exams so they know what examiners are likely to test on and what they are looking for in answers; they can steer you to "hot topics" and train you how to deliver the right answers, and that is what is most important during the bar exam. Yes, you need to know and understand the fundamentals of the main areas of law, but all the legal knowledge in the world won't help if you don't know how to frame your answer as the graders want to read it.

2. Tell everyone you know not to expect to see you for two months.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Do not plan on doing anything else during those two months between graduation and the bar exam except study. Yes, you will have nights off and even whole days off here and there, which are essential for relaxing your brain, but don't schedule work, planning of family events, or other serious obligations during the two months before the bar exam.

Quite simply, the bar exam should be your full-time job during those months of studying; your promotion will come when you get the results that you passed.

3. Make a studying schedule and stick to it.

Your bar review course will most likely provide you a recommended schedule, and if you manage to abide by it, you'll be doing well. The main subjects tested on the bar exam will be the same basic courses you took first year, so be sure to dedicate huge chunks of time to Contracts, Torts, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, Property, and Civil Procedure. States vary as to the other subjects tested, but by signing up for a bar review course, you'll have the inside track on those as well.

A very basic bar exam prep study schedule can set aside a week to study each topic, including practice questions. That will leave you two weeks to devote time to trouble areas and to more nuanced areas of law that might be covered on your state's bar exam.

One tip here on studying: think about making flashcards. In the process of writing them, you'll be forced to condense rules of law into short snippets to fit on a card, exactly as you'll need to provide them in bar exam essays--and they just might sink into your brain as you write.

4. Do practice bar exams.

A large part of your preparation time should be spent taking practice bar exams, both multiple choice and essays, under exam-like conditions. You don't need to sit down and take an entire two days every week to take practice bar exams, but be sure you are doing enough multiple choice questions and essays so you have a good feel for the exam structure. Just like when you were preparing for the LSAT, the more comfortable you become with the test and its format, the more you'll be able to concentrate on the material and getting the answers correct.

Start doing practice questions even as early as the first week of studying; no, you won't get everything right, but if you pay attention to what you got wrong, those principles are likely to stick in your head even more than if you had simply tried to memorize them through studying. And, as an added bonus, if the questions were included in bar prep materials, they are also likely to be similar to those that will appear on the bar exam.

5. Think positively.

If you graduated in the top half of your law school class, chances are extremely good that you will pass the bar. If you graduated in the next quartile, the likelihood that you'll pass is still pretty good. Why? Because bar exams, no matter what state, test your competence to be a lawyer and not how great a lawyer you will be--and that means you need only earn a solid C on the exam to pass. If you've passed law school, there's no reason you can't pass the bar exam on the first try.

This doesn't mean you should rest on your law school accomplishments and assume you'll pass, of course. You still need to put the time and effort into learning and applying the materials, but the odds are in your favor that you'll pass--most states have higher than 50% pass rates--so remember those numbers when stress starts setting in.

And remember that it will all be over in mere weeks. With the right bar exam prep, you'll never have to go through it again.

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