Goats are people who are extremely curious and intelligent. Unlike sheep, which thoughtlessly follow the crowd, goats take the time to question where the crowd is going, if they want to go there too, and if so, which path is best employed.
According to Wikipedia, sheep are "frequently thought of as extremely unintelligent animals." Their strong herd mentality causes them to "congregate close to other members of a flock," and they "become stressed when separated from their flock members." Sheep are also "extremely food-oriented, and association of humans with regular feeding often results in sheep soliciting people for food. Those who are moving sheep may exploit this behavior by leading sheep with buckets of feed."
Sadly, this couldn't be a better analogy for many of the students who pay high prices to take commercial bar prep classes. Although law graduates are not unintelligent in the IQ sense, they can tend to lose some of their common sense because of their intense anxiety about passing the bar exam. They become driven by fear, and ths fact is well known by those who run commercial bar prep courses. They feed off these fears and draw students to themselves, like sheep, with the promise of food. What food do commercial prep courses provide? What nourishes these sheep? A sense of security and reassurance. The sheep feel reassured and safe if they are in a large group, and the commercial "shepherds" provide that. The shepherds tell sheep what to do and how to do it. Shepherds are calm and assured; they seem to know all the stats, tips, tricks, and anecdotes. Shepherds appear to ensure safety, but really, are they just manipulating fears to obtain a following?
Goats, on the other hands, "are extremely curious and intelligent" according to Wikipedia. "They are [ ] known for escaping their pens." They test fences, and "being very intelligent, once a weakness in the fence has been discovered, it will be exploited repeatedly." "Goats have an intensely inquisitive and intelligent nature: they will explore anything new or unfamiliar in their surroundings."
Goats see the bar exam as a new challenge and as an opportunity to discover for themselves how best to overcome it. They test the fence, as it were; they explore their options, then make an intelligent decision. A goat is not someone who just bucks the system because they are a non-conformist. Rather, a goat is someone who uses their own common sense to evaluate their challenge and intelligently come up with a way to overcome it.
If you are reading this, you may very well be a goat. You most certainly already have what it takes. If you have already been successful as a law student, then you possess the qualities necessary to pass the bar exam. You've already taken the LSAT and law school exams (not to mention all those undergraduate exams), so you know how to be a successful test taker. You've spent years going to classes, reading, and studying, so you have the ambition to achieve. All the years you've worked, just for the mere opportunity to sit for the bar exam, demonstrates your discipline and industriousness. You have what it takes to pass one more test. And that's all the bar exam is, a test.
You do not need to pay thousands of dollars to a commercial prep class to pass the bar exam. Nor do you have to waste your time on activities that thousands of bar examinees have come to assume are a necessary and useful part of bar prep. There is a better way!
When all is said and done, those who pass the bar exam are those who are adequately prepared. In other words, you must first understand what the bar exam is designed to test (i.e., the rules of the game), and then do the work necessary to prepare. No commercial prep class can do that for you. To pass the exam, you are going to have to do the work yourself. So why pay their high prices when it all comes down to your own effort?
This site will help guide you in doing a self-study. There is information on how to do a substantive review of the bar subjects, how to study for the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), the essays, and the Performance Tests (PTs). Not to mention many helpful hints and tips concerning the bar exam. Happy reading!
How It Happened
Prior to graduation, in my third year of law school, I began to seriously consider my bar exam preparation options. When I began to inquire of my friends what they were planning on doing to prepare, and what options they had considered, they all said they were either already signed up to take BarBri, or were about to. I was surprised to find that no one seemed to know of any other options. It was assumed that there were no other options; everyone takes BarBri - that’s just how it’s done.
This both surprised me and irked me. It surprised me because I knew there had to be options. And it irked me because I like to think that law students are smart, creative, resourceful individuals. I didn’t want to believe they wouldn’t think for themselves. Alas, just as in every area of life, there are people who just go with the crowd, letting themselves be flocked like sheep. They never ask themselves the basic questions: Where is the crowd going? Do I want to go there, too? If so, is this the best way to get there?
So I began to search the web and ask around a bit more. Sadly, I could find almost NOTHING on the internet about how to prepare for the bar exam besides information related to the various commercial prep classes. There were also a good number of bar-related books - books on essays, the MBE, the PT, etc. But nothing that just addressed the basic question: How does one prepare for the bar exam?
I found out that one of my school’s recent graduates had passed the exam without taking a commercial class. I spoke to him and found out that he had studied very part time in the evenings. Thinking that he would take the February bar as a practice (he assumed he would fail), he spent his study time taking practice exams. To his delight and surprise, he passed the bar.
I also found a short post online by someone who passed the bar on his second attempt. For the second time around, he chose to spend more time doing practice exams, as well as copying model answers to improve his writing. He passed his next exam, and attributed it to his modified approach.
Instinctively, I knew these people were on to something. It just makes sense that if you are going to be asked to do tasks A, B and C on an exam, you should spend your time practicing tasks A, B and C. Working on tasks X, Y and Z are not only unhelpful, they are a waste of precious time. Furthermore, it makes sense that you should learn to do tasks A, B and C the “right” way (i.e., the way that the graders want them done). We learn this at an early age. Our entire educational system is based on the idea that you learn material, and then demonstrate that knowledge by regurgitating it on exams in very specific ways. Find out what the teacher wants, and make sure you give it to them that way.
The bar exam is the same. There is a lot of information to know and understand. And the way it is tested is systematic. There are years of prior questions, as well as sample answers to those questions, made available for this express purpose. It is important to know “the rules of the game,” as it were, so you can play the game and win.
As I came to find all this out, I decided I did not want to take BarBri or any other commercial prep class. I didn’t like the idea that I would pay thousands of dollars for them to tell me what I could find out on my own. I knew it would all come down to my own effort anyway. Plus, I didn’t like their basic culture - the atmosphere they created. It seemed completely fear-based to me. It starts with the fear that you can’t pass the bar exam without them. Based on my friends’ accounts, the fear continues once you start class - the fear that you’re not doing enough or aren’t scoring well enough. The instructors then become like gods to their students because they magnanimously come to rescue the students out of the fear they’ve put them in. Suddenly all is well with the world because the BarBri instructor is here to show the way.
I prefer to equip people with knowledge and a plan. I believe that a person who has a motivation to succeed can achieve anything when given the proper tools and instruction.
Since BarBri was unable to provide value proportionate to its cost, or an atmosphere that I wanted to participate in, I chose to self-study for the bar exam. I resourced myself with every piece of material that I thought necessary or helpful, and then some. I began to falter through my self-study approach.
Shortly after I began studying, my husband and I found out some life-changing news: I was pregnant. The surprise of the pregnancy threw me for a loop. For two weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about how this would change our lives, and completely ceased bar prep. Once I got my act back together, the first trimester nausea had kicked in to high gear. I spent the rest of my prep time miserable, and struggled each day to study. As I faced the bar exam, I knew it would take a miraculous line-up of perfect essay questions to pass because I had only gotten through about half the material.
Sure enough, some subjects I had not covered showed up on the exam, and I failed. I was devastated and embarrassed that I failed.
I didn’t retake the following administration of the exam because my son was born early that month. And I didn’t take either of the following year’s exams. I was very busy as a stay at home mom, and there was no way I could carve out enough time to have a proper go at the bar exam. I knew that when I took it again, I would make it the last time. I refused to fail again, so I had to wait until I could properly prepare for it. Finally, I knew it was time to take the exam again. So I registered to take the exam 2 years after my first attempt.
Despite having failed the first time, and all the subsequent time I had to think about whether I did the right thing by studying on my own, or whether I should have taken BarBri, I never changed my mind. Not only was I confident in going the self-study route, I believed in it even more this time. This time I knew which materials were superior, and which were necessary. I knew that it was important not to get every book that you see on Amazon, thinking it will hold the key to passing, because it just ends up confusing you. I was able to get started working right away on the things that were useful, and skip all the others. And this was very important because this time around I had even less time to study.
I was still at home full-time, so I was relegated to studying a few hours in the evening and about a day or a day and a half on the weekends, when my husband could watch our son. I was also cold on all the law since it had been 2 years since I took the exam. But in the end, taking the bar for a second time gave me the chance to really get the self-study approach nailed down. I was able to come up with a trustworthy schedule and study routine. I created calendars, trackers, and other worksheets to keep everything organized and ensure I was on track. I had developed an entire self-study system.
I passed the exam, but was a little bit disappointed afterwards that all my hard work in figuring out how to study for the bar exam would be wasted. I knew that I possessed valuable information that could save many people a lot of hard work and frustration. I also knew that if this information was available to others, they would feel as though there are viable bar prep options. So I began the Be A Goat blog, so I could start to share my knowledge, experience, and story with others. Then I decided to write my system down and publish The Goat's Guide so I could make it easier to share with people.
It has been my desire to share my self-study program and assist others in their journey to being successful on the bar exam. I hope you will find my knowledge very useful, and pray that it becomes part of the story of how you passed the bar exam.