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Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Pass the Bar Exam: Maryland, New Jersey and New York edition

Hey Everyone,

This post is dedicated to all the bar takers. Taking the bar is the height of it all for most lawyers-to-be. Like I described in my jubilation post, iPassed, the Bar aka the fence aka the block aka the pole. aka all things hard to scale is "the final door to Esquire". Its the State Board Examination which, if passed, certifies you to practice law in the United States. Its the ultimate exam....the one all law students dread. My journey, anxiety, the ultimate relief that comes with passing the first time and all accompanying emotions, is detailed here.

Like I've said before, the exam is less about how intelligent you are and more about your ability to endure, persevere and function efficiently under pressure while maintaining your sanity.

The exam is administered twice a year, in July and in February.

To help the July bar takers, and all future bar takers, I have put together a compilation of tips from myself and nine colleagues of mine, in our own words. The pool of advice is designed to be very helpful to bar takers in any state but in the interest of those who are too busy to read it all, I have divided it into four editions. 

This first edition features advise from those who took the Maryland, New Jersey and New York bar exams. The second edition features advise from those who took the Virginia and Massachusetts bar exams. The third edition features advise from those who took the Georgia and Illinois bar exams. Lastly, the fourth edition features advise from a colleague who took the Pennsylvania bar exam.

If you know anyone in law school or taking the bar soon, please feel free to share all four posts. I'm sure there's more than enough ammunition to help anyone scale the bar, even on first try.

If you're preparing to take the bar, I recommend you read all four editions. 

Because I gave each writer a chance to explain their experience in their own words, you might find an overlap of tips. Notice them. If its worked for everyone, there's a higher chance that it work for you.

Me, Ral N., Esq. LL.M/ Passed the Maryland Bar Exam

Passing the bar has to be the most challenging task I've ever taken on (bar one). I had to make up my mind to do it, just once. I resigned the summer to the cause and barred everything else from my life. No major life decisions. No make ups. No break ups. No outside commitments. No traveling. By June 1, I ensured my life was stable and I was not going to destabilize it for anyone or anything UNTIL the exam was over. After I put it all in God's hands, I knew heaven only helps those who help themselves so knowing the rest were in my hands, I went to work.

The five most important things I ever did to pass the bar were:

1. Make a daily schedule. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. Schedule everything including your nap, lunch, driving time, etc. AND stick to it! It helps with focus. Accept the fact that the period you are studying is inexistent for your social life. Make sure the schedule includes MBE, essay practice AND review on specific subjects. My schedule started at wake-up 7am every morning and sleep at 11pm every night. That way, I got 8 hours of sleep= no burn out! I promise you very soon, your body will start doing your schedule unconsciously. Just stick with it. Please don't go in 24/7. If you do, by the exam, your body will start to give way.
My bar schedule- July 2011
(2) Make a What-I-Learned Today list. I took Shemer Bar Review and this was one of the tips I found incredibly helpful. Everyday write down something you heard that day that you may forget...something important that didn't stick. For example, I was constantly mixing up types of easements so I wrote that down. Two days before the exam, review the list and you will be reminded of little details you may have otherwise forgotten.

(3) Remember you don't need to know everything. You just need to know what to do when you come across something you don't know. Mine was question 5. I couldn't figure out if it was torts or constitutinal law (imagine that). By the time I looked up, I had spent 10 mins of the 25 allocated mins staring at it and thinking to myself (F888 my life!) I had to remember what I trained myself to do and do it in 15 mins. which was ARGUE THE FACTS. I basically did what was wrong/what was right analysis. Then, I said a prayer asking God to help me and moved on.  Please, after you've done your best, move on.
  (4) Practice Practice Practice. When you practice, write full answers, at first. Make sure you compare it with the model answers carefully to see what you missed, especially with the MBE practice because those are the trickiest. Read the analysis. Pretty soon, you'll start to see where your weaknesses lie. Get feedback from a mentor or teacher if you can.

Towards the end of bar study, around early july, stop writing out full answers. Just outline the answers. That way you're practicing issue spotting, which is 80% of passing the bar.

(5) Like I said in (3), you can't possibly know everything. So when you study, focus on relevant (common) issues first. For Criminal Law and Procedure questions, focus on search and seizure, right to counsel, and Miranda warnings. For Contracts, study the terms of the offers and the acceptances, oral agreements, underline any dates mentioned in the fact patterns, and notice if the sale of goods has occurred. For Constitutional Law, learn state action, due process, equal protection, and the 1st Amendment. For Evidence, issues of hearsay, impeachment, and character are commonly tested. For Property, learn the issues of ownership and rights in land and be able to distinguish between an easement (all types), profit, and license. Finally, for Torts, focus on negligence, intentional torts, and products liability.

NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, STAY POSITIVE. You will have moments of doubt when you question your sanity for even putting yourself through this. You will even start to consider other career paths you could have taken and jobs you could get without taking the bar. This is normal, just remember to pull yourself out of it....
remind yourself that many have done it and so can you, remind yourself of the reason why you want to be a lawyer and renew the promise to yourself to remain steadfast in your goal.   

Nkechi I., Esq./ Passed the Maryland and New Jersey bar Exams

My first piece of advice – BREATHE, this too shall pass. First, it is JUST A TEST. Remember that the only thing that can rid you of your anxiety is preparation, because with preparation comes confidence. So here are a few words of wisdom on how to prepare. I personally sat for Maryland and New Jersey and took Shemer Bar Review, as well as the 6-day Kaplan course at the beginning of the summer. However, these tips can be helpful no matter what state you are sitting for.

Develop a realistic routine and stick to it. You may have heard people say that you should ease into the studying process so as not to burn yourself out. Specifically, they may say that at the beginning of the summer your study days should be shorter. Then after about the 4th of July, you should be buckling down and be eating, sleeping, and breathing the bar. I agree with not burning yourself out, but I personally chose a different approach. From the beginning of the summer, I put in about eight hours of studying per day, not including class which was an additional three and a half to four hours in the evenings. I continued to do so until two days before the bar. This was especially helpful in helping me build endurance because, as you know, the bar is a long, two (sometimes three)-day process, and you need to stay alert and focused throughout. With this schedule, I was still able to take every Sunday off to relax.

To take it one step further, develop a realistic routine that you can implement daily, even if the subject matter changes. For example, in the mornings, I would write the two or four essays assigned for that day and about thirty MBEs straight through. Then, I would debrief all my essays and MBEs. After lunch, I would devote two hours to substantive review of a particular subject. This format worked regardless of what subject matter I was studying on a typical day. Also, completing all the questions before debriefing is crucial because it helps you get used to doing multiple questions in one sitting.

2,500 MBEs by the end of the summer. This should be your GOAL. If you don’t get to 2, 500, don’t panic. However, doing MBEs were helpful for two reasons. First, there are only so many ways that you can test on an issue. So the more questions you do, you will begin to see that the questions start to repeat themselves—but with different characters—and you will become more familiar with the issues. Second, doing MBEs really helped me learn little intricacies of the law that I may have otherwise overlooked.

Get a study buddy. Emphasis on the “A” – meaning ONE. We’ve all been through the beginning of 1L year where we scramble to find a group to study with and, before the first month of school is over, we end up with a completely different group. This is not the time to do that. By now you should know your study habits and what works for you. Pick one person who, at the very least, is as disciplined or more disciplined than you are. Even if you don’t follow the same routine daily, it is helpful to have someone meeting you at the library or wherever you study because you hold each other accountable and motivate each other. My study partner and I developed the same routine and stuck with it the whole summer, and we both passed. Good luck!! I wish you all the best!!!

Izu E., Esq. / Passed the New York Bar Exam

In order to prepare for the New York bar, I enrolled in Barbri for my main bar review course.  However, I also enrolled in Kaplan’s MBE 6 day and 3 day mini-course. While Barbri does cover both the essay and multiple choice sections of the bar, I wanted to make sure that I was over prepared to take this exam.  In addition, I know that I am not a fan of multiple choice tests; therefore, I enrolled in Kaplan for the extra help. My first piece of advice would be to take the bar prep courses you believe will best suit your learning style and needs.

Barbri did a great job of given their students a calendar with day-to-day assignments. At times these assignments seemed daunting and took forever to complete-but I tried my best to stick to the calendar.  However, as we came closer to the bar exam, I added my own assignments to the calendar and removed some of the assignments that Barbri suggested.  Though, I never changed any of the essay recommendations that Barbri assigned. The essay model answers that Barbri provided were amazing.

Kaplan’s practice MBE questions were very helpful and I heard are often harder than the actual exam. I tried to do MBE questions from the Kaplan materials every day. In addition, Kaplan provided PowerPoint presentations that explained the important rules of law for each MBE topic.

While studying for the bar, I basically kept the same routine that I used in law school. I studied six days a week for as long as I possibly could and then took Sundays off to go to church, run my errands, and cook for the week. I am a morning person, so I would often study in the morning before class and go to bed early-around 10 pm. Therefore, I was either in class or studying from about 9 am until 10 pm. I did take breaks occasionally to go to the gym and have cat naps (which helped to keep my energy up). 

My second piece of advice would be to use a schedule that you know will work for you. If your law school routine was successful-then stick to that routine. If your law school routine did not work for you – get rid of it fast and find a schedule that will help you get through the bar.

At first – I was excited to study for the bar.  However, this excitement soon wore off. Studying for the bar is a long and monotonous process. I was able to get through the summer studying because of the support of my friends and family and the fear of failing.  

My last piece of advice would be to surround yourself with positive people and mentors while taking the bar.

If you put your mind to it 110% and are honest with yourself – you can accomplish anything. Good luck with the bar!

Nnamdi N., Esq. / Passed the New York and New Jersey bar exams

I took the New York and New Jersey Bar exams. My experience will primarily focus on the New York exam because you inherently study for the New Jersey exam because of the limited subject matter. I used Kaplan as my Bar preparation course. In addition to enrolling in the Kaplan main Bar preparation course I also enrolled in the Kaplan 6-Day foundation course which focused solely on the MBE subjects. I generally studied for the Bar alone but I had people around to keep me motivated. I had two Bar mentors who provided me with tools that worked for them and additional encouragement. I studied with flashcards, outlines, Kaplan study books and I listened to mp3s of Bar subjects.

MBE/Subject Approach: The foundation course, as its title suggests, gives you a foundation of what you should already know. Although you took most of these classes 1-2 years ago the course refreshes your memory and allows you to key into those subjects and topics you had no clue about when you took the classes initially.

After completing the foundation course I did 50 MBE questions a day. From weeks 1-6 I dedicated one day for each subject (i.e. Monday – Torts, Tuesday – Crim Law/Pro, Wednesday – Evidence, Thursday – Property, Friday – Con Law, Saturday - Contracts). From weeks 7-10, I did questions on all of the subjects.

When the main course began and more subjects were being introduced, I made a schedule. Kaplan provided us with an ideal Bar study schedule but I did not think it worked for me. I attended every 9am lecture course at American University although it was the same video available online. This course usually ended between 12pm – 1pm. After an hour break I would review what I learned in the lecture (i.e. reread my notes, make/study flashcards, outline, and do multiple choice questions pertaining to the lecture subject). This usually took 4-5 hours. After an hour break I would review my MBE subject(s) and do my 50 questions reviewing and write out my wrong answers on a “wrong answer sheet” so I could continually review my wrong answers. This usually took 4-5 hours. After finishing my MBE review and questions I would work on either Bar essays or MPT questions. This usually took 2-3 hours.

Essay Approach: The essays are obviously very important on the New York and New Jersey exams but I did not focus on the writing/timing element as much as I focused on the comprehending/knowing the information element. I figured I would rather write an essay with less time and more substance than write an essay with a lot of time and less substance.

I approached the New York essays with this thinking since there is a lot of information to account for as a result of 20+ subjects. At the week 7-8 mark I had all the information that could be on the exam in the form of stacks and stacks of flashcards. Since everything was not going to be on the exam I had to figure out a way to determine the important subjects and focus on them. Based upon past Bar subject trends I figured I could estimate what subjects would be on the current exam. The most important question, however, was which topics would be tested.

I started looking at past essays as far back as the 1990s noting the subjects that were tested and the topics of these questions. Since this consisted of looking at many essays I read each question noting the subject, jotted down a couple ideas of what the answers might be, and then I looked at the answers to see what types of topics/theories of law that were discussed.

After having this list of past subjects and topics I noticed subjects and topics that were tested multiple times and subjects and topics that were rarely tested. With this list I cut down my stack of flashcards leaving only the topics covered on the past exams. This “stack cut down” probably decreased my stack 30% but in my mind there was a higher likelihood that my 70% stack would cover close to 100% of the exam. Granted this approach is very risky and it might have been done out of sheer panic of the breadth of information but it was definitely calculated in that I read hundreds of past essays.

MPT Approach: I approached the MPT differently than the MBE and the essays sections because the information/answers are given to you but you have to find them, articulate your findings, and be within the time constraints. I practiced actual MPTs generally 3 times a week after my MBE reviews. Since the MPT practice usually occurred at the end of the night I outlined my answers rather than writing the entire answers out.

Conclusion: That was my approach in a nutshell. The important thing to remember is that you are going to have good days and bad days during this process. Utilize your breaks to get away from it all. I made sure I was nourished, worked out, jogged, watched a movie, or played a mindless iPhone game. Always remember that if it does not go your way the world will not end and you could always take the exam again (Hilary Clinton did and she ended up okay…).
Be Absolutely Ready and PASS the Bar!!

James Harris-Chappell- Passed the Maryland and New Jersey Bar Exams

1. Don't worry about who passed or failed before you. They have absolutely nothing to do with you. You work harder than all of them. Many brilliant people have failed and persons a few trees short of a forest have passed.  It is up to you. 

2. Don't read textbooks for hours, answer questions.  Right or wrong, you will learn from every question you answer.

*If you have any questions for any of the contributors, please put them in your comments and I'll get it answered and post it back for you.

Stay Inspired....


Planistix said...


Anonymous said...
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Princess R said...
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Anthony Balsamo said...

Night before I get my results from the Maryland Bar...have no idea why I am reading this stuff except that I am very sure I failed...I know for a fact I came no where close enough to following the Schemer schedule which I also took.

I just wanted to say thank you as I know this information will help a lot of people including me if I take it again.

I will be sure to share this and I applaud your generosity in taking time to actually post all these tips.

Anthony Balsamo said...

Night before I receive the Maryland Bar results. I took Shemer as well and have come to terms with the fact that I likely failed as due to multiple reasons out of my control as well as not enough -self-a** kicking-, and wanted to read some tips and stories on the BAR.

Regardless of what happens I want to thank you for taking the time to be so generous in providing these tips. It is very kind of you and I wish you the best in your life and will definitely book-mark and share this.

Princess R said...

Thanks for your encouraging comment Anthony. The process of waiting for the results is very nerve-wrecking. Rooting for you for tomorrow! And I trust that even if it doesn't happen for you tomorrow, don't forget- true strength is in the ability to keep your head up and keep trying till you make it. I wish you all the best!

Anthony Balsamo said...

Thought I would update I passed...I have no idea how...perhaps as you said the prayers helped.

I will continue to read your blog (first personal one I have ever read). You are an inspiration...not to sound creepy...considering everything you have been through.

Keep us informed of your success and good deads

Princess R said...

Congratulations Anthony on passing the bar! See? the anxiety often leads us to doubt ourselves. I'm so glad you were wrong! Thanks for reading Nwavic...please do become a member. Congrats again, Esquire.

Anonymous said...

This is uplifting...2 days to go.

Princess R said...

Hang in there! Sending you best wishes!

Anonymous said...

I am awaiting July bar results and found your blog. Like Anthony above (Nov 2012) I am really doubting myself at this point and afraid I failed. I am a repeat taker so I know what it feels like to see FAIL by your seat number. Your comment "true strength is in the ability to keep your head up and keep trying till you make it" is very encouraging. I just wanted to say thank you. If things don't work out for me Nov 1 I will keep my head up and start focusing on the Feb bar. I can't let this test get the best of me!!! Thanks again.

Princess R said...

Dear Anonymous, thank you so much for your comment. Its simply amazing the hole uncertainty can put us in. Please don't stop being encouraged. Keep your head up and try to do things that'll distract you and keep your spirits up. November is almost here. Whatever the outcome is, keep striving. I wish you all the best! Please do keep me updated. Stay Inspired!

Rue Kasandra Meadows said...

Hello there! I find your post really helpful, though I'm from the Philippines. I'm hoping to pass the bar exam and become one of the greatest Filipino lawyers. Thanks and Good luck to everyone!

Princess R said...

Thank you for reading Rue! I wish you best of luck! You will do great!

Anonymous said...

This is LONG overdue but thanks for the information. I took all of your pieces of advice, especially the bit about making a daily study schedule routine (and sticking to it). Your testimonials were helpful and reassuring and I'm glad to say that I passed the Maryland bar.

Princess R said...

Dear Anonymous,
CONGRATULATIONS! on passing the bar! YOU did it! I am glad I could be helpful. I wish you all the best as you start your legal career! Kudos!