Typing v. Handwriting the bar exam

Although I am a huge proponent of typing the bar exam (and, in fact, I typed during both of the bar exams that I have taken), I will discuss what I believe are the pros and cons of each method.  Then, you can make up your own mind.


All bar jurisdictions of which I am aware permit examinees to take the bar exam using a laptop computer.  This requires the examinee to purchase overpriced exam software ($150 or more for a single exam) to secure his or her computer during the exam.  The added expense is worth it.

In my opinion, typing the exam on your computer is the clear winner.  Most people that I know can type much faster than they can write by hand.  I am no exception.  In fact, I actually believe that I can think better when I am typing that when I am writing something long-hand.  This is especially true when in an exam setting that demands quick regurgitation with minimal analysis.  If I am ruminating about my place in the universe, well, then, maybe I'll use a pencil and paper, especially since doodling helps me contemplate.

If you have taken all of your law school exams on a computer and have taken all of your outlines on a computer, then your brain is used to thinking about the law with a keyboard in front of it.  DO NOT change this for the bar exam.  Habituation is important  to the process of studying and exam performance.  Anticipate conditions and practice under those conditions.

There is, however, at least one negative to typing the exam:  a computer glitch.  At every bar exam, there are at least a handful of people whose computers crash, break, or otherwise fail to perform as expected.  This is terrible.  If you are anticipating taking the test on your computer, and it crashes in the middle of a performance test, you will likely freak.  This is an argument for using pen and paper. 

Of course, if you practice writing a few essays by hand during your studies, then you will be prepared for this.  I wrote a few essays and one entire performance test out by hand during my studies for the California bar exam to prepare for this eventuality.

Even with this fear of computer mayhem, I personally cannot imagine that I could have written enough or well enough or legibly enough to have passed a bar exam had I been hand-writing.  (Of course, there are some who can do it -- see comments to this post.)

[Note to MAC users:  I have known a few MAC people who borrow a beat-down 5-year-old PC on which to take the bar exam.  Then, because the computer has sat unused in someone's closet for the past year, the computer crashes during or shortly before the test.  Don't let this happen to you.  As far as I know, the exam software that all bar jurisdictions use is for PCs only.  So, you will need to have access to a working PC.  Since you can get a laptop for a few hundred dollars, I suggest you buy a new one if you can't borrow something less than two years old.  It is worth the expense for peace of mind.  There is another option, which is to run some sort of PC emulation software on you MAC.  I have no idea how to do this or how stable this is, so do this at your own risk.  If someone has done this, please post a comment.]

[UPDATE:  One commenter has stated that MAC users can now get bar exam software for their computers, so no need to use a PC if you don't have one.]


The only advantage I can see to this method is that you do not have any chance of a computer crash.  Seriously, unless you have cramp-less hands or are a luddite, I cannot imagine how writing the exam by hand can be of any advantage.

Of course, if you have such a severe phobia of computer crashes that will keep you from performing at your peak during the exam, then by all means, hand-write the bar.

If anyone out there can think of any other benefits to writing the exam by hand, please post a comment. 

[UPDATE:  Based on one of the comments to this post, I should add that if your thoughts flow better when handwriting and you feel that you can handwrite the volume of words needed on a bar exam, then you should hand write.  The key is using the tool (computer vs. pen) that YOU believe will get you the best result on the bar exam.

My judgment here may have been a bit harsh and does reflect my bias in favor of typing, though I do like to handwrite when I am thinking creatively, I do not like to handwrite when I am taking tests or explaining information gathered through research.]

[Photos:  bigpresch and kevinzim]


Inexpensive bar exam study

So, you want to study for the bar without spending a lot of money? 

You are about to study for the bar exam, but don't have the $3,000 or more for BarBri and no one and no firm has offered to foot the bill. 

What do you do?

First, you will need study materials.  If you know someone who took the bar last year, ask them if they still have their prep books.  Maybe they will give them to you for free or sell them to you cheap. 

If you can't find someone with books, check on Craigslist for used bar prep materials.  I sold my California bar exam books on Craigslist once I got my pass results.  I sold them for 40% of what I paid for them new.  (If you are in California, be sure to check out my special report about how to study for the California bar exam for $500 or less.) 

If you can't find anything on Craigslist, maybe you can get some outlines from people who took the test earlier.  This is not as good as having professionally prepared review materials because the professional materials have so much more information.  Still, if you are impoverished, a good outline might be enough to get you through the bar exam.

(Click to get my free MBE outlines.  If you are taking the Oregon bar, click here for my Oregon outlines; if you are taking the California bar, click here for my California outlines.)

Second, find practice questions for the MBE.  Here, you will almost certainly need to spend money if you can't get a PMBR or BarBri MBE prep book for free from someone.  Again, look on Craigslist.  If you aren't having any luck, consider purchasing the least expensive PMBR package or Adaptibar.  (CLICK HERE to learn how to get $50 off Adaptibar's regular price!.)   (You may also want to try this book or these flashcards, though I personally have not used them and cannot say how helpful they might be.)

Third, you will need to find practice essay questions and model answers.  If you purchase a used study course, you should already have access to such material.  If you do not purchase review materials, you will need to get this material elsewhere.  Check you state's bar website for model questions and answers.  The California bar site has many years' worth of real bar exam essay questions and superb model answers.  You can get a huge amount of practice here.  In fact, when I was studying for the California bar, I got fed up with the BarBri model answers and relied exclusively on the model answers provided by the California bar on its website.  (If you are in California, be sure to check out

Fourth, you must practice the performance test in the same way that you practice the essays.  Again, if your state bar provides such materials (as does the California bar), then you can use these free materials.  If not, then your only recourse is to find some professionally prepared materials.  ( also has Cal PTs.)

Good Luck.

[Disclaimer:  I took the BarBri review course when I took the Oregon bar and I used the Barbri books when I took the California bar.  If you can afford it, I recommend you use a paid review course.]

[Photo:  AMagill]


How to Develop Persistence

One of my favorite books is Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill.

Think and Grow Rich has been a best-seller for many years, and rightly so.  While it is ostensibly aimed at wanna-be entrepreneur-millionaires, the book has a great collection of advice for people who wish to be successful at any endeavor.  Among the tips contained in the book is a four-part strategy for how to develop persistence.  Persistence is a quality necessary to be successful at the bar exam.

Napoleon Hill's four-part strategy is as follows -- you need:

1.  A definite purpose backed by a burning desire for its fulfillment.

2.  A definite plan, expressed in continuous action.

3.  A mind closed tightly against all negative and discouraging influences, including negative suggestions of relatives, friends, and acquaintances.

4.  A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage you to follow through with both plan and purpose.

So, if you are studying for the bar exam now, make sure that you have all of these four steps covered.  If not, do something about it!  Get to where the hardest part about passing the bar exam is simply waiting for the first day of the test.

Make the studying and the desire givens, and the "pass" is sure to follow.


Bar Advisor Quick Start Guide

Over the last year or so, I have compiled as much bar exam advice and as many bar exam tips as I could think of.  For those of you new to this blog, here is a summary of what I believe are the most important and helpful posts.  I will, of course, continue to post useful information, but the following posts are what I believe are the foundation for a successful run at passing the bar exam. 

[Note: if you haven't already selected a bar exam study course, check out this post.]

In my opinion, the bar examination is a test that is as much about your state of mind as it is about how much and how well you have studied black letter law. It is my belief that you need to understand yourself and figure out how to remain calm during the preparation and test-taking process. You need to understand the process of diligent preparation for the act of taking the test before you can study appropriately to learn the information needed to pass the bar examination. (You can even have some fun and study for the bar exam while playing board games.)

Recommended Reading:

I recommend that you read my posts about general mental preparation before you read the posts about studying for particular segments of the bar exam.

First, read my posts on (1) diligence, (2) anticipation of conditions, and (3) stress reduction. I suggest that you digest the contents of these posts for a week or so before reading anything else.

Second, once you have begun to implement the ideas and suggestions contained in these three posts on mental preparedness, read the posts about studying for the discrete segments of the bar examination: (1) MBE study and test tips, (2) essay writing tips, and (3) performance test tips. (Also, if you are taking the Oregon bar exam or the California bar exam, you might want to check out my free Oregon bar exam outlines or my free California bar exam outlines.)

Finally, a few weeks before the start date of the bar exam (and before you make your hotel reservations), I suggest you read my post about how to make the actual test-taking experience a successful one.

Thank you for reading and good luck!

[Photos by cornflakegirl, ricardo.martins and DAEllis.]
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