While in law school my bar preparation strategy was to completely forget about the bar exam until after graduation when I started my bar review course. Clearly, this was much more of an avoidance technique than a true strategy. Regardless, I unwittingly ended up learning a few skills that prepared me for the bar better than any bar review course could.
Come finals time, I always made my own course outlines. Outlining forced me to actively engage in the material and find my problem areas. In turn, when it came time for bar prep, I had an idea of where I struggled and where I excelled. Then, during bar review I could effectively use the same outlining/study techniques that I used during law school.
It also taught me to do whatever it took to understand both the inner workings and the big picture of each doctrine. Some subjects/sub-topics I learned better by making flow charts. For others, I made bullet point lists. During bar prep, corny as it might sound, I wrote folk songs to help me remember the different conflict of laws tests. Outlining taught me to let go of my ego and focus on learning.
2. Structuring a Legal Essay
During my fifth semester at Hastings I worked as a teaching fellow for a first-year civil procedure class. As a teaching fellow I reviewed student essays on course material and gave individualized feedback to around 40 students. By helping students properly structure their essays, I internalized the “IRAC” process. This helped me immeasurably on the essay portion of the exam. I didn’t waste any time grappling with essay structure. Instead, I was able to focus on spotting issues and racking up points.
3. Stress Management
Law school has a reputation of being one of the most stress-inducing professional and/or graduate programs one can enter. Then, once you’ve finally triumphed over that stress and graduated, you have to take a nerve-wracking multi-day test that determines whether or not you can enter the profession you’ve just accrued (hundreds of) thousands of dollars in debt to enter. No level of Zen master could escape that without feeling some gut-wrenching stress. As one would expect, I had many stress headaches in the bar exam’s preceding months.
However, one of the most important stress-management tools that law school taught me was how to separate the important things in life—what I need for my mental health—from unnecessary distractions. Here’re some of the things I got rid of during bar prep: Facebook, eating junk food and drinking alcohol, using a computer/phone/anything with a screen within an hour of bed. Perhaps more important was finding the things I wouldn’t compromise/feel guilty about if I spent time away from studying doing. Things like exercising, cooking and eating healthy food, playing my guitar, and sleeping 8 hours a night. Doing these things allowed me to work hard without “burning out”, and ultimately helped me pass the bar exam and put that stress behind me.
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