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What Is Bar Prep Really Like? Find Out!

What's it like to finish law school—to be finished with the daily (and nightly) rigors of analyzing cases, learning to write clearly and concisely about the law, dealing with multiple assignments, and all of the rest—and then plunge straight into what is commonly known as "bar prep," the intense, multi-week period of preparation for the state bar examination? Many new law graduates describe it as an experience that they'll never forget, both for its overwhelming nature and for the satisfaction of applying all that they experienced as law students to a single test. The legal community knows what bar prep is all about—and now we think you might want to know, too. So we've created an opportunity for you to get an inside look, through a journal being written by Kate Wolfson, J.D. '12, a proud graduate of the School of Law and now (good luck, Kate, we're cheering for you!) a participant in the exam preparation process.

Over the next several days, Wolfson will post entries here about her experiences. You can expect insights into both the highs and lows of bar prep, as well as her natural affinity for offering practical advice and the occasional "If I can do it, you can too!" spirit. So, whether you're getting ready to sit for the bar, you've been through it already, or you're just starting to think about law school, we believe there's something in these contributions for you.
 
Go here to learn how to apply to the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Kate Wolfson's Bar Prep Journal: Entry #4

 

With less than 24 hours to go, I think it is safe to say that the bar exam is imminent. Most of us have now taken multiple practice tests and studied to what we feel like might be our capacity.  At this point in the game, it is important to have crossed the threshold from rote memorization to really understanding and familiarizing oneself with the material. Although a vast amount of information spanning several subjects is tested, there are a limited number of fact patterns, key words, and ways to formulate questions to test our comprehension. Practicing issue-spotting is crucial, as it will assist on both the Multistate Bar Exam and the essay portions of the exam.    

I, along with most current bar-takers, have spent the last several days refining the concepts I have learned, and I am probably as ready as I'm going to be (even if I haven't admitted it to myself). The more questions I do, the more familiar things become, and I remember that I actually know many things about the laws and rules being tested. The shear amount of information, coupled with the time pressure, render a perfect score impossible—there is absolutely no way to know everything. However, a passing score is less than 70 percent, and if you've studied consistently to this point, you know more than you think you do! The end is in sight—we can do it. Good luck!
 
Tips of the day: 

  • Plan a trip or something to look forward to after the bar exam—it will help you get through this crazy time in your life.
  • Don’t forget to breathe, as there has been evidence to show that anxiety actually impairs the ability of your brain to think properly and recall information.

Until next time,
KW

Bar Prep Journal: Entry #3

 

The last week of bar prep is almost over, and as the bar exam gets closer, I continue to ponder new study strategies. I recently got an iPad, and the market has several free applications that provide flashcards and a variety of other study tools. If you have a smartphone, look for applications to assist with your journey. The key is practice, practice, practice. From what I understand, there is no such thing as repeating these concepts in your mind over and over too many times. The issue is finding the time and energy to absorb and memorize the immense amount of information spanning so many different subjects.

Speaking of the number of subjects, most law schools require you to take many of the bar-tested classes. At UB, we were required to take all of the Multistate Bar Exam subjects (torts, criminal law, contracts, property, evidence, and constitutional law). There are several other subjects tested in the essay portion of the exam, in addition to overlap of the MBE subjects. In Maryland, these include civil procedure, family law, criminal procedure, corporations, commercial law (UCC Articles 3, 4, and 9), agency and partnership, professional responsibility, and sales and leases (UCC Article 2). All of these courses are offered at UB and are recommended, if not required. I'll admit that I resisted taking a couple of the courses so I could take things I was more interested in at the time; I often wonder if my current experience in preparing to take the exam would be easier if I hadn’t been such a rebel.
 
We just had two full days of practice tests this week—one day of writing 10 essays and a Multistate Performance Test, and one day of 200 MBE questions. Practicing under test conditions is important, so you at least have an idea of what to expect and how it's going to feel when you sit for the real thing. Keep in mind that there may be people in the room doing things that you find distracting. Bring ear plugs and ignore them.  
 
Tip of the day: Remember the 5 Ps—Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.  
 
Until next time,
KW

Bar Prep Journal: Entry #2

In exactly three weeks, approximately 500 hours from now, I will begin taking the Maryland bar exam. The general consensus is that people begin to freak out around July 4. Needless to say, I am trying my best not to give in to the hype. I have started using flashcards while at the gym and practice at least outlining, if not writing out, essays on a daily basis. For those of you who are not familiar with the format of the bar exam, it is set up as follows (this is specific to Maryland—every state administers their exam differently):

Tuesday: Seven essays in the morning (25 minutes each for a total of two hours and 55 minutes), with a one-hour break for lunch. Then three essays (25 minutes each) and one Multistate Performance Test (90 minutes) in the afternoon, for a total afternoon time of two hours and 45 minutes.

Wednesday: 200 multiple choice/Multistate Bar Examination questions (100 questions for three hours in the morning and 100 questions for three hours in the afternoon, with a one-hour break for lunch in between).

Some notes:

  • The essay portion of the exam is state-specific and focuses on the laws of the state in which you are sitting for the exam.
  • The MPT has its own specific rules and guidelines and uses a closed universe of law unique to each problem. For more information on the MPT, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.
  • The MBE focuses on federal law.
  • The bar exam is offered twice a year across the country—once at the end of February and once at the end of July.
  • For more information on the Maryland Bar Exam and admission requirements, visit the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners' website.

Due to the vast amount of information being tested and the relatively brief time allotted to prepare for the exam, taking a bar prep course is extremely important. I am confident that any course you choose to take will help prepare you, as long as you do what is assigned. However, bar prep is expensive. Courses generally range from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on whether you watch videos online exclusively or you have on-site professors teaching your classes. Also, the date you sign up for your course matters—the closer you get to the exam, the more expensive it gets. So sign up earlier to lock yourself into a lower cost course.

Everyone learns differently and has different needs, so determine what works best for you in law school and choose a preparatory course that aligns with your needs. As I said in my previous entry, you can become a student rep for a bar prep company. Companies offering Maryland bar prep include (but may not be limited to) BARBRI, Kaplan, Merlin, Shemer, and Themis. Most companies offer student reps a free course upon graduation, if they meet the requirements set forth at the start of the position. Many companies allow third-year law students to become reps, so inquire ASAP—you'll be glad you did.

Off to eat lunch now and take a criminal procedure quiz....

Until next time,
KW

p.s. Study hard, but don't forget to take time for yourself. Watch your favorite TV show, grab dinner with a friend, bake cookies, spend time with your children (or whatever floats your boat). You deserve a break.

Bar Prep Journal: Entry #1


It's midnight on a Wednesday, and I am sitting at home saturated with information after an average day of bar review and studying. The bar exam is 27 days away, and I have no idea how I will learn, absorb, and retain the 14 subjects that will be tested in a way to analyze the plethora of fact patterns that will come my way and adequately apply the law as required. The only thing preventing an imminent anxiety attack is knowing that I only need a 70 percent to pass the exam. Let's rewind to four years ago....
 
On June 16, 2008, I sat for the LSAT exam. I had given law school a significant amount of thought, and after going back and forth several times, I decided it was my next step. After taking an LSAT review course in D.C., I took the test in Salem, Ore. I wasn't exactly thrilled by my score, but that's just me—I set pretty high expectations of myself. It didn't matter, though, because I got into law school.

I loved UB from the moment I received my acceptance letter. By the end of March, I was sold—from the accessibility of the dean at Preview Day, to the mock classes and the friendly faculty and staff, to its location in the heart of Mount Vernon—I knew UB was the right place for me.

In choosing a law school, there are several things one should consider: geographic location and where you think you want to practice law; the subject areas you're already interested in; the programs and career services offered that bring prospective employers to campus; the faculty; the bar passage rate; publications, moot court and trial team opportunities (perhaps you know you want to litigate or you'd like to be published); the facilities; extracurricular activities; the list could go on. Once you make the decision, make the best of the fact that YOU'RE IN LAW SCHOOL! It's difficult! But it can be rewarding and fun. And there are resources and support and opportunities to get involved that will make your experience unforgettable.
 
Some advice to consider during your first year (obviously, take what I say with a grain of salt, as I'm no expert):

1. Don't jump on the anxiety bandwagon. The people who brag about the amount of time they spend in the library are primarily on Facebook, and talking about your exams afterwards is the perfect recipe for a panic attack.
2. Don't forget to breathe, eat, and exercise. Go to the gym, watch your favorite movie, bake cookies ... it's going to be OK.
3. Become a student rep for a bar prep company! It will save you thousands of dollars, and the work required is totally doable while you're in school. (If you don't become a rep, sign up for a course early—signing up as a 1L is nonbinding, but it locks you into the current price which is sure to be $300-$500+ in three years. It's almost never too late to switch!)
4. Study with friends, or don't. Remember that everyone learns differently, and figure out what works for you.
5. DO THE READING! The Socratic method can be brutal, and you're not spending all this money and time to be lazy and squeak by.
6. Get involved! Don't try and do too much the first year, but find a student group (or two) that you're interested in and become a member or go to events. Keep in mind that the people running the groups are also students and understand what it's like to be a 1L—they won't expect you to over-commit and would love your participation, even in small doses.
7. Don't be afraid to ask for help! Not only from the faculty and staff—who are not only paid to be there, they actually care—but also from upperclassmen (they've been through it before and have valuable information to get you through it, too).
8. Be respectful of your classmates, and understand that even when they're smiling, they're having a hard time, too. And don't eat potato chips in the library.
9. NETWORK! It's all about who you know: get an internship; attend the career panels and receptions; find mentors—these things will all help you get a job (before and) after you graduate.
10. Have fun. Make friends and memories, study hard, and enjoy yourself. These three (or four, or more) years will fly by, and you'll be crossing the stage before you know it.

When I took the LSAT, I knew it would be the hardest thing I had done up to that point. I was sure law school would be the next hardest thing, and the bar exam would be next. Let me tell you: Law school was a breeze compared to studying for the bar. But all lawyers make this journey, and I will persevere! Now I'm off to get eight hours of sleep so I can get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Until next time,
KW