How to Reduce Negative Externalities Caused by the Bar Exam

 An externality is the effect of a transaction on a third-party who is not part of the transaction.  An externality may be either positive or negative.  In the case of the bar exam, the externality discussed here is the negative effect bar exam studies can have on your relationships with your family and friends.  Unless you want these relationships to be damaged or destroyed, you should give some thought to them before and during your bar exam study program.

Have the Talk

If you know any non-bar takers who you routinely see at least once a week, you need to let them know you are about to start studying for the bar exam.  The obvious people to speak with are your significant other, close friends, and children, if you have any.  (For more on S.O. and children, see below.) You should explain that you will be taking the bar exam soon, that it is a difficult test that requires a lot of studying, and that you will not be as available as before.  Tell them this will only last a couple of months, but that it will be intense.  Promise them (and fulfill that promise!) that you will be available on Saturday or Sunday to hang out and that you will be available each day during the evenings to talk.  (As I have discussed elsewhere, I do not believe that it is necessary to study 12 hours per day, 7 days per week to pass the bar exam.)

Significant Other

If you have been with your S.O. through law school, then he or she has gotten used to you keeping long hours away in order to attend class, do your homework, study for final exams, and work at clerking gigs.  If you have already come to an accommodation about this, then the bar exam should not be much different.  Maybe you will be away a couple more hours per day and occasionally on a weekend, but not much more.  If your S.O. is upset at the amount of time you are studying, then (assuming you aren't spending more than 50 or 60 hours per week studying -- and I don't think you should be) there really is no call for this behavior.  Explain that once you get a job as an attorney, it is likely that you will work a minimum of 40 hours per week, which will equate to at least 50 hours per week away from home when you factor in lunch breaks, commute time, and extra-curricular, work-related activities.  If your S.O. cannot take the time away now, the problem is likely to get worse. 

Of course, if you are going to preach in this manner, you have to make the time when you are with your S.O. quality time.  Vent a little about your bar exam stress, but do not make it the sole topic of conversation.  Study at your study place (e.g., law library) and live the rest of your life when you are at home.  (I hate to create some sort of dualistic conflict between life and work, since they are interwoven and cannot really be separated, but it is a useful concept here.)  In the end, if your relationship with your S.O. is healthy going into the bar exam, it should be strong after the bar exam.


The majority of people taking the bar exam do not have children.  For those of you who do, it presents a special problem.  If your children are very young (under 3), then the burden is really on whoever will be caring for the children while you are studying.  Be sure to thank that person often.  If it is your significant other, then get a babysitter every couple of weeks and go out to dinner or even a night away.

If your children are older -- but not so old they don't want to talk to you :) -- then you need to be sure you make time for them.  You can tell them you have a very hard test coming up and that you need lots of time alone to study, but children simply cannot comprehend studying for 7-10 weeks straight for a single test. It seems ridiculous to them.

When children are involved, I highly recommend having a set schedule and never varying from it.  I have discussed my rigid studying schedule elsewhere.  The importance of having a set schedule is two-fold:  (1) your children always know when you are available (e.g., after 5pm M-F, after Noon on Saturday, and all day on Sunday); and (2) you are forced to learn during those hours or else -- it is a great motivator. 


The important thing is that you anticipate who will notice your absence during bar exam studies and to explain to them that it is only temporary.

[UPDATE:  For another, related view, CLICK HERE.]

[Photo: Sara. Nel]


Cramming and the Bar Exam

I have mentioned before that I am an interested reader of motivational authors. Another author whose work I respect is Stephen Covey. In his bestselling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he compares diligence and true knowledge to cramming and false learning. Although the context in which he discusses these issues is not directly related to the bar exam, the discussion is relevant and inspirational:

To focus on technique is like cramming your way through school. You sometimes get by, perhaps even get good grades, but if you don't pay the price day in and day out, you never achieve true mastery of the subjects you study or develop an educated mind.

Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm – to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut.

And so it is with the bar exam. There is no way to cram for the bar exam at the last minute and pass. At least, no normal person can do it. Unless your super-humanity has been proven time and again, you should assume you are “normal” and study accordingly, with diligence and conscientiousness. I wish I could provide you with a Lazy Man's Guide to the Bar Exam, but no such shortcuts exist.

How to Outline for the Bar Exam

If you're sitting for the bar exam, then chances are you have been through law school. If you have been through law school, then you are acquainted with the Cult of the Outline.

The Cult of the Outline was made most famous in the movie “The Paper Chase” where one of the characters was a law student obsessed with creating the perfect outline to prepare for his final exam. Although he created the most miraculous outline in the history of outlines, he was unable to pass the final exam.

The moral of the story is that outlines are merely tools.  If a tool is of use to you, then you use it; if a tool is of no use to you, then you ignore it.  If someone tries to tell you it is impossible to pass the bar without making your own outlines, they are wrong.  (I know someone who passed the bar exam simply by reading the Conviser Mini Review from cover to cover over and over again until he had memorized everything.)

I was always able to use outlines effectively to organize my thoughts.  I used outlines in law school and in preparation for the bar exam.  (See my MBE outlines, my Oregon bar exam outlines and my California bar exam outlines.)  But, for some people, outlines are at best useless and at worst create psychosis.

To me, the act of creating an outline is a way to filter out what is unnecessary and keep what is needed.

How I Created My Outlines

For the bar exam, I created my outlines as follows:  I skimmed the day's topic in the BarBri Conviser Mini Review prior to attending that day's bar review lecture.  At the lecture, I took notes on my computer or in the BarBri In Class Workbook on what seemed important.  Then, after lunch, I spent two hours typing up an outline.  Limit yourself to two hours as it will force you to quickly sift through what matters.  Also, do it right after the bar review lecture so the important points are clear in your mind.  Since you will be reviewing each topic over and over again during the course of your studies, you will be able to add necessary detail to the outline over the next few weeks.  Once the outline is complete, you will still have a few weeks to memorize it completely.

[Note:  I used this creation process when I took the Oregon bar.  When I took the California bar, most outlines were already done, so I only needed to make a few new outlines for different subjects (e.g., Community Property and Remedies) and edit those outlines with state specific material (e.g., Evidence and Civil Procedure).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, I did not take the full BarBri lecture course a second time.]

If you plan to use outlines, then you should create them yourself, to suit your learning style. Although I have provided you with free copies of my outlines for Oregon and California, I suggest that you refer to those as models for what your own outlines should look like, rather than simply try to memorize them.  Everyone's brain works a bit differently, so they way I organize material for memorization might confuse someone else, and vice versa.

["Bacon Flow Chart" by ChrisL_AK (click the picture for larger view)]


Mentality and Bar Exam Success

I have stated elsewhere that visualizing success on the bar exam is important to a successful outcome.

Here is a video that I put together to help teach visualization techniques and to provide a visualization script to help you study effectively for the bar exam.

Copyright 2009-Present Eclectic Esquire Media, LLC. Powered by Blogger
Disclaimer/Terms of Service
Blogger Templates create by Deluxe Templates. WP by Masterplan