"Lack of time is actually lack of priorities." -- Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

"[Diligence is] the necessity of giving sufficient attention to detail to avoid error and prevail against obstacles." -- Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance

As I mentioned in my first post, you need to practice three things in order to pass the bar examination: diligence, anticipation of conditions, and reduction of stress. This post addresses diligence.

Diligence is continuous and systematic preparation for the bar examination without interruption or distraction. This does not mean that you should or must study 80 hours per week in order to pass the bar. This can be accomplished in less time than you think. The three steps to perfecting diligence are to eliminate distractions, create a plan of study, and recognize when you have studied enough.

1. Elimination of Distractions

Distractions come in two forms: external and internal. You must ruthlessly eliminate distractions from your study environment. Once you have done so, you will cut 10-20% at a minimum from your study time.

External distractions are things like a noisy environment, people interrupting you to ask you a question, or visual stimuli that attract the eye (such as a television in use or a good-looking man or woman walking by). Eliminate them. If you are studying at a university law library and friends from your law school class are studying there as well, let them know that you do not want to be interrupted. Tell them you will talk to them during lunch. Tell them if they see you walking to the bathroom, then they can speak to you. If you are studying at a public library, you will need to wear earplugs unless you already have the ability to block out the din you find in a crowded public library. If you are trying to study at a coffee shop, stop it! Get away from the sounds, smells, and sights. Study somewhere quiet and isolated, and when you finish early, go to the coffee shop and silently pity the fools who are there studying for the bar. If you are studying at home and other members of your family are present, make it clear that you are not to be disturbed from the hours of X until Y because you are studying. It is almost impossible that you cannot remove or greatly lessen an external distraction.

In fact, if you identify the distraction and do nothing about it, you have created an internal distraction. Internal distractions are those that exist because we want -- on a conscious or subconscious level -- them to distract us. For example, cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and general internet use are internal distractions. No one is forcing you to connect to the internet while you study. Unless you are using an online study tool, you should not connect to the internet during your study time.

Once you have a set study schedule, you can tell yourself, "I will check my e-mail everyday at 5pm, when I have finished studying. Then, if I want to play on the internet for 3 hours straight, it is ok because my important work is done." The same goes for other technological distractions: cell phones, MP3 players, handhelds, etc. Turn the stuff off. If you don't have the will power to turn the device off, then leave it somewhere else. If you don't have the will power to separate yourself physically from the device, then you might want to reconsider your choice of career because legal problems are often complex and require uninterrupted concentration to solve them.

2. Create a Plan of Study

Most bar preparation courses provide you with a study plan. [CLICK HERE for my reviews of a few study programs.] The most well-known is BarBri's catchily-named "PACE Program." When I took BarBri for the Oregon exam, I tried to follow the PACE program for about . . .1 day. It was clear to me that I would never have time to do all the work. Don't forget, the PACE Program is on top of the admonition from PMBR to do at least 50 sample MBE questions per day or risk utter destruction on the bar exam.

I had a wife and two children, and I was not going to abandon them for 70 hours a week so that I could keep up with some study program that BarBri probably created just to say to people who failed the bar, "Well, did you do everything on the PACE program?" "No." "Well, that must be why you failed; it couldn't be our materials." Still, if you think the PACE Program will work for you, then follow it. I think it is unrealistic. Nevertheless, the decision to not follow the program can induce great anxiety in some people. Relax. Ask around; I bet very few of your friends and colleagues are keeping up with the PACE program either.

So, now that you have abandoned an unrealistic study program, what do you do? Design one for yourself. How do you design a study program for yourself? You need to look at the information you need to learn, the amount of time you have to learn it, and your tolerance for sitting all by yourself reading black letter law, doing sample MBE questions, and writing out endless essays and performance tests.

I will use my study plan for the California bar exam as an example. The California bar has between 13 and 18 subjects (depending on how you count) from which the bar examiners may draw essay questions. These subjects overlap with the six subjects on the MBE. There are also two, three-hour Performance Tests, which require little knowledge of the law, but require practical skills to digest, organize, and write out the information into a coherent and high-scoring answer. Since I had recently relocated to California and was not working, I would be able to study whenever I wanted to for the February 2008 exam. Moreover, since I had recently taken the BarBri lecture course for the Oregon bar and was not about to waste $2500 and 2 hours a day commuting to the BarBri lecture course, I decided to study on my own with the BarBri California books and AdaptiBar for the MBE.

Given all that, I had decided to study from January 7 until February 25 in preparation for the test on February 26, 27, and 28. This is seven weeks of study time, during which I promised myself I would not study on weekends except for the weekend immediately prior to the exam. Thus, studying for seven weeks for 5 days a week gave me 35 days. Now, I could not study at home because it was too distracting. I did not live near a law school, so I could not study at a law library. Any attempt to study at a coffee shop or bookstore is insane (due to the unending external distractions) and should never be attempted. Therefore, I had to study at the local public library. Because the library did not open until 9am, that meant that I had an enforced starting point. The library was open until 9pm Monday-Thursday, but closed at 5pm on Friday. Because I wanted to make each day the same, I promised myself that I would end at 5pm or earlier. If I take out an hour of time for a 30 minute lunch and some breaks, then I have 7 hours per day to study, or 245 total hours during which I would study for and pass the bar. Another bonus to this schedule is that it roughly approximates the hours during which the bar examination is administered.

As I discuss more in the "Anticipation of Conditions" post, it is important to train your mind and body to be at peak performance during the correct hours of the day. Now, within those hours, I had to prioritize. I am a pretty good essay writer, so I knew that I could practice writing comparatively less than the multiple choice questions. On the other hand, the written portions of the California bar exam account for 65% of the final score, so if I were a weak writer, I would focus on that for probably 70% of my study time. In fact, in an interview with an anonymous California bar grader (which is unfortunately no longer available online), the grader stated she had only seen one instance of someone who clearly passed the written portion fail the bar due to low MBE scores. On the other hand, she had seen countless instances of people who received scores well above passing on the MBE (e.g., a 152 raw!) fail because they did not pass the written portions of the examination. In short, I realized that one must study and practice the essay and PT portions of the bar exam thoroughly.

I reviewed two subjects a day until all subjects were covered. From 9am until Noon, I quickly read a BarBri outline in the Conviser Mini Review, then went through it slowly and typed out my own condensed outline, working quickly enough to get it done by Noon. Then, I took a lunch break. After lunch, I did the same thing with the next topic. I made sure that I finished by 4pm. Then, I went to the California bar website and read as many essays and model answers on each of the day's two topics as I could. When I was too tired or it was 5pm, I went home. (If you will be taking the Cal Bar, you might also want to check out for real, graded bar exam essays.)

After about 8 days of this, it was time to review my outlines and do practice questions. Again, I would do two topics per day and include 50 or more MBE questions from AdaptiBar. So, for instance, I might review community property in the morning and write out 1 or 2 essays. Then after lunch I would do torts and write out 1 or 2 essays. While reviewing each outline, I would also make flash cards for any rule of law that had more than one element (e.g., negligence, burglary, all constitutional law balancing tests, etc.) and for the points of law that seemed difficult for me. Finally, I would do 50 torts questions and then go home. Repeat this pattern of doing a California-specific topic in the morning and an MBE topic in the afternoon until all 6 MBE subjects are reviewed. Then, finish up with the remaining California-specific topics and doing random MBEs in the late afternoon. Finally, interspersed within this schedule I had at least one 4-hour block per week where I wrote out a PT in its entirety and then reviewed the sample answers. Note all essays and PTs should be those posted on the California bar website. There you can see well-written answers by actual takers. Reality is important.

Starting about the third week of my studies, I began to create what I call "Issue Pairing" charts. These are charts that allow quick reference to topics that are often tested together. In my opinion, it is not enough to know that when a Wills question is asked you should go through the elements of a valid formal will. You should also know the esoteric points that the bar examiners are likely to ask about. You learn these by going through the essays on the bar website and writing down these issue pairing charts for each topic. CLICK HERE for two examples.

As you can see, each issue statement is fairly straightforward, but then the issue pairing chart expands on the detail of analysis available to you. These charts do not mean that if an essay asks about a document created after a will was executed that you should discuss all the points in the chart, it just means you should think about them. I find issue pairing charts better than mere checklists because they actually help you see the law as a web of possibilities rather than a line from Problem A to Answer B. The bar graders want to see you analyze rather than regurgitate, and using issue charts based on prior essays is a great way to do this.

Finally, about two-weeks before the exam, I started to spend more time reviewing the topics that seemed most difficult for me. For instance, I went to law school in Oregon and never took a community property course, so it was a more difficult topic to review than criminal law. Therefore, I set aside two days during that final period to spend significant periods of time studying community property. Whichever state's bar exam you are taking, you will likely have one or two topics that seem more difficult than the rest.

CLICK HERE for a link to my study schedule for the February 2008 California Bar Exam.

3. Know When You Have Studied Enough

As you can see from my account of my study schedule and a review of my study schedule chart, I packed a lot into each day. The central point is to treat studying like a job: get to work the same time each day, bust ass, and then go home and do something else. The process of studying, like the act of working, should not be constantly present in your life.

What you do not see on my study chart are the afternoons when my brain was fried. I literally felt like I could not learn a single additional piece of information; in fact, it felt like I was forgetting things. If this feeling continued for more than about twenty or thirty minutes, I just stopped studying. But, I stayed at the library and did something else: read a book about tomatoes, grabbed a DVD and watched it on my computer, stared out the window. Sometimes, I would be refreshed and feel like studying again; other times, I would just stay at the library until 5pm and then go home.

You also must know when you have studied enough in the larger sense. If you are reviewing your criminal law outline and realize that you know everything on it, then stop reviewing it. Spend the time learning something else. If you are still several weeks out from the bar exam, be sure to go over the criminal law outline once a week instead of two or three times, and keep up the practice criminal MBEs and essays. What you are hoping to get from studying is a moment of calm where you are at peace with the subject you are studying. If you have ever had this feeling when studying for a college or law school test, then you already know what you are going for with the bar exam.

Post Script: What Diligence is NOT

Having discussed at length what I mean by diligence, it is important to note briefly what diligence is not. Diligence is not masochism. I have already mentioned that I believe one can pass the bar by studying for 7 or 8 hours per day and taking off weekends. I believe it because that is what I did when I passed the California bar. "But you had already taken a bar exam!" you may protest. True, but I studied only a little more when I took the Oregon exam. I did about 8 hours per day on the weekdays and added another 4 or 5 hours each Saturday. In retrospect, it was unnecessary to study on Saturday.

Please note that a form of masochism is to live in psychic state of fear of failure. If you really cannot believe that you will pass the bar without studying on the weekends, then go ahead and study on Saturday or Sunday, but not both days. You must have at least one day off. It is best if you don't think about the bar exam on that day at all, but you probably will. Just commit to not looking at or listening to any study materials.

You will succeed!


Angie said...

I was wondering if you could give me an example of your study schedule for the Oregon Bar. I am taking it in July, and have a spouse and two kids so the PACE schedule is not really even an option because I have other responsibilities. Also, do you have any opinion on whether to take the class in person or through the iPod version (which is only audio)? Thanks for your blog and all the information.

Admin said...

Angie, I feel for you. It sounds like your spouse works (?) so you have lots of schedules to juggle. I was lucky in that my wife was a stay-at-home mom. We agreed that so long as I was home by 5pm, I could do whatever I wanted from the time I woke up until 5. So, normally I would get to school (where the bar review course was held) around 7am and review the outline for the day's lecture. Then, I would attend lecture. After lecture, I would take a 30-60 minute break for lunch and then write my own outline of the day's lecture topic, limiting myself to 2 hours to get the outline done. Then, I would review an essay or two (usually writing at least one out in full) and then do MBE's for a couple of hours. I mixed it up similar to what you see on the California study schedule, but had less review time since I was in lecture 3-4 hours per day. I also studied 3-6 hours on Saturdays to make up for the lack of review time during the week.

Sample full weekday schedule:

Attend lecture on evidence (8-Noon)
Lunch (Noon-12:45)
Review lecture notes and type outline (12:45-2:45)
2 practice essays (outline one; full write the other (2:45-3:30)
Review Torts outline (written several days earlier)
30 MBE questions from PMBR book; review answers (3:30-5:00)

If you want to keep a reasonable schedule, you need to pack a lot into each hour.

If your spouse can work with it, maybe you should attend the lecture each morning and do as much review/practice as you can until your kids/spouse need you home. Then, study all day during one of the weekend days (ie, 7am to 7pm, with appropriate sanity breaks) and then take Sunday off. Take at least one day off except maybe the weekend or two before the exam.

iPod vs. Lecture? Know thyself. I would have failed the bar with the iPod set up. I would have probably listened to the lectures at different times each day and would have, as a result, been unable to get into a satisfactory routine. If you are the kind of person who can learn alone, then the iPod thing is a good idea. That is a decision you need to make on your own. Probably the biggest benefit is that you can repeatedly listen to lectures. On the other hand, this could become a crutch and prevent you from actually learning it yourself. That said, I had several friends who passed using the iPod BarBri or some other sort of audio method.

Finally, I plan on posting my Oregon bar outlines and checklists soon, so check back. While I always recommend that people make their own outlines, I hope my outlines might assist people to see what others who have passed the bar have done.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate you providing your sample study schedule for when you prepared for the California Bar. I, unfortunately, spent thousands on a commercial Bar review course and failed the exam this last summer. However, it was only by 16 points and I know where I went wrong (my essays were poop!!). It is free to use my commercial course information again to repeat the Bar exam now, but I have been attempting to supplement it by using other writing strategies and customizing the schedule to benefit me. I have two questions for you re: your schedule: When you say "quick read through all 6 MBE outlines" (on February 1st of your schedule), does this mean the summary outlines that we produced early on or the commercial outlines again? Also, on January 28th you state, "Flashcards for all MBE subjects", was this reviewing the flashcards you had previously made or producing more on weak areas?? Thanks for your help, this is a great blog.

Bar Advisor said...

Anonymous @1/9/2013

Before I answer your questions, I just want to be clear that my schedule is what worked for me, and is not necessarily recommended for everyone. The best use of your time will depend on how you study and what your strengths and weaknesses are.

That said....

By "quick read through all 6 MBE outlines," I was referring to the outlines that I myself created. Since I made the outlines myself, they were more meaningful and easier to study from. You can see the outlines I created for the California bar exam at California bar outlines . [For non-California people, you can get my general MBE outlines at MBE Outlines .]

As for the MBE flashcards --- Yes, these were flashcards I had previously made while I had been studying. I didn't use pre-made flashcards, though I know some people like them.

Hope that answered your questions.

Mike said...

Yes, that answered my question... Thank you!!

I will work to tailor your schedule to include a little more time writing timed essay exams, to put myself under the pressure again (as you had indicated in a previous post). I had issues with that on the Bar.

By the way, I really like that you incorporate practical application of the law that you have been studying throughout your entire 7 weeks, rather than studying Evidence on week 1 and not touching it again until the week or two before the bar (this was what the program/schedule from the large Bar review company does).

Finally, I am shocked that you make yourself and your materials available, via this blog, to the poor saps behind you in the California Bar experience--what a great person. I just wish I would have found this blog last summer.

Thanks for your time.

Susie B said...

Great information on your blog. Thanks for posting!

Quick question re: memorization, with 2 weeks until the exam I am at the same point you were on your memorization schedule. I had planned one topic a day, but I notice you covering sometimes 3 topics a day to memorize. How did you do that? What techniques did you use to help memorizing?

I thinking of splitting my days into 3's: memorize, essays and MBE. Any suggestions?

Bar Advisor said...

Susie -- I prefer to spend short bursts of time on each subject (1-2 hours) rather than an entire day on a subject. I did this for two reasons: (1) it mimics the skipping around process on the bar exam and (2) I can't focus on one thing for much longer than that.

I used self-made flashcards and talking to myself as my main memorization techniques. By this time in bar prep, I had a lot of the outlines memorized anyway, just from practicing so much. So, when I say "memorize an entire outline," it sounds harder than it was. So, I would go through the outline and read the topic heading, and then recite to myself what I thought should come next. Then, I would check to see how much of it I got right. If I was having a real hard time with a particular topic, I would flag it and be sure to go over it again near the end of the day. Also, sometimes I would make a new flashcard if I thought the topic was important enough to warrant it.

I think splitting your day into threes is a good one. After spending some time memorizing, you can solidify that information by actively practicing it on a couple of essays and some MBE questions.

Hope this helped. Good luck!

Mike said...

Hello Bar Advisor, I just wanted to update you-- this is Mike from earlier posts. I wanted to let you know that I followed a schedule very similar to your sample schedule over the last two months, but I substituted many of your MBE days with Essay writing (my weakness). I have written out (timed) about 5-6 essays for every subject, made flashcards (as you suggested) and modified/reviewed your outlines several times. I really appreciate your guidance, I feel SO much more ready then I did in July. Thanks so much-- I'll keep you posted!

Bar Advisor said...

Mike, thank you for letting me know about your progress. It is nice to hear from people who find this blog useful; it makes it all worth it. I look forward to hearing how you feel the essays went on the bar exam.

Mike said...

Bar Advisor... well, it's done! I usually am not this type of guy, but I wanted to let you know that if my results come back negative on May 17th I would be sort of shocked. I attribute much of this feeling to being better prepared than I was last time. I attribute being better prepared to the use of your sample schedule (modified for my weaknesses), use of your outlines, and practice, practice practice! As I said before, I think that your system makes WAY more sense then what I did last summer with taking one subject a week. Your system had me front-load all of the law for the first two weeks and then master it by practicing and flashcarding for the next 6-7 weeks. I want to express my gratitude to you for supplying this information to all of us for our use and your contribution of amazing advice and support. I plan on posting on here again for you after May 17th to tell you GOOD news. We'll see, thanks again!!

Bar Advisor said...

Mike, that sounds fantastic. I can't wait to hear back from you in May.


Mike said...

Hey Matt,

It's Mike (from earlier posts), I PASSED!!!! Man, I soooo appreciate the sample study schedule that you provided me, the outlines and the mental techniques. I used it all with success! You're a fantastic person for offering this stuff to Bar takers while not looking for anything in return. Blogs are so distant in getting to know people, but I wish I could shoot the "crap" and buy you a drink!! You're a hell of a guy.

Thanks again,


Bar Advisor said...


I am really glad to hear from you. Congratulations on passing the bar exam. I thought you would, based on your March 2nd comment.

Your comment really made my day. Based on my Google analytics, I know lots of people are reading my blogs (Bar Exam Mind being the other one), but I don't get a ton of comments or email feedback, so I really, really appreciate you taking the time to let me know.

If you ever find yourself in San Diego, use the CONTACT button at the top of this site and drop me a line. Maybe we can meet at Pizza Port or Stone Brewery and we can get a beer.


Mike said...


Sounds good! I just got hired with a Workers' Compensation Defense Firm in Fresno and coincidentally may be in San Diego often. In fact, the Partners already discussed me making an appearance there this week. I may have to take you up on that plan.

Thanks again Matt! Please know that you have made a dramatic impact (with this blog) in the lives of at least one man, his wife, and two daughters. I'm an ATTORNEY!!!

And yes, after all of this, that beer sounds good...


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