Here's a common email that I receive from readers, along with my reply. I think that the person who emailed me has found themselves in a situation that is somewhat typical for repeaters, especially for those who work full-time. And the questions raised are common for almost all self-studiers. I expect that some of you have wondered about these same questions and would benefit from the exchange. Here it is:
I am interested in your book but have a question for you. I have been out of law school for 10 years working at a law firm. I have taken the bar 3 times, passing the mbe easily, but failing the essay (although I passed the pt portion). It has been a few years since I have taken the exam. If you were starting now to get ready for [the bar exam], where would you start? Read the conviser, long outines, listen to tapes??? Where do I begin?
Thanks for your email.
I can tell you exactly what I would do because when I took the exam for the second time, it was 2 years after my first attempt. So I was cold on all the law and basically had to start from scratch like you. There are 4 parts to getting ready for the bar exam - substantive review, essays, MBE & PT. But before that, the FIRST thing I would tell you is that if you are going to be working full time while you prepare for the exam, you are going to want to start really early. You will probably only have evening hours and the weekend to study for the exam, in addition to all those other things you need to do in life (like exercise, spend time with your family, do laundry, buy groceries, etc). Therefore, in your case, slow and steady wins the race. So you will want to start as soon as possible. It sounds like that is probably what you are doing, which is really smart.
Part 1 of prep is substantive review. I would actually shy away from reading outlines, and the reason is this - outlines are really good for summing up the law once you already know it. But, if you are starting cold on a subject, you really need to be "re-taught" the law so that you are sure you fully understand the concepts of the law, their application and relationship to other legal rules. So it's basically the difference between being in a class where someone is explaining the law to you vs. reading an outline of what you already know. If you don't already know the law, the outline isn't going to be much help. So that said, I highly recommend the Law in a Flash series. I used these cards when I not only studied for the bar exam, but also in law school classes when I had those professors who liked to play "hide the ball" and would just go on about legal theory but never explained to the class what the law was. It's a great way to teach yourself the law because the cards are laid out really well and they have tons of hypotheticals which truly test if you fully grasp the concepts. You can use the flashcards for a subject you've never learned and by the end of the deck you will completely understand the subject. So it is the ultimate self-study tool for learning/re-learning the law. If you have access to a law school library you can probably use them for free. If you think you want to buy your own, I have links on my blog on the resources page.
If you already have audio lectures they would be a good way to go, too. Especially if you have a daily commute or can listen to them while you cook dinner, exercise, etc. You will be able to kill two birds with one stone. The audio lectures would be superior to outlines for the same reason I already mentioned - because someone is explaining the law to you instead of outlines which just recap what you're already supposed to have learned.
Part 2 of prep is essays. If that is your weak point, you definitely want to focus on learning how to write a good bar essay. It's pretty much its own art form. You absolutely need to get the Bar Breaker book by Adachi. My essay strategy is really too long to explain in this email (I spend over 20 pages in my book talking about how to prepare for the essays), but basically it comes down to three things. (1) using GOOD model answers to learn how to write like them and get good at writing bar essays (I go into a lot of detail about how to accomplish this and this is one of the truly unique aspects of my approach). (2) doing a lot of practice essays. You need to start writing practice essays IMMEDIATELY. Do NOT fall into the trap of waiting until you know enough law to start doing practice essays. That is the kiss of death. Do them from day 1. Again, I completely explain the strategy in the book and give you step-by-step instructions about this part. (3) You also need to test yourself to find out how you're doing. I highly recommend using bargraders.com. I used them and can't say enough good things about their service. You take practice essays under timed conditions and within 48 hours your essay will be graded by actual past CA bar graders and will be returned to you. They break the grading down into the IRAC elements so you can see where your weak areas are. They also give comments and feedback which is really helpful. They'll tell you if you did really good in one section, or if you did bad in a section what it is that you did wrong. Again, this is invaluable information to have BEFORE you walk into the bar exam.
Part 3 of prep is MBE. It sounds like you don't need any help in this area. The one word of caution I would have for you though, is this: don't think just because you've scored well on the MBE before that you don't still have to make it an integral part of your study program. I've seen people switch their efforts from MBE to essays because they did good on the MBE but poorly on the essays, only to fail again and find out they did poorly on the MBE and well on the essays. Set yourself up for strong scores on all 3 parts of the exam. But FYI, I do go through MBE prep in the book as well.
Part 4 of prep is the PT. Again, it sounds like you do well in this area. So just like the MBE, I would just make sure you don't neglect it during your prep only to have it bite you in the butt later on. So make sure you do enough practice PTs. If you start studying really early, 1 PT every other week is enough. If you start Oct 1, and do 1 PT every other Sunday, you will complete 11 by the Feb bar. I do have some great tips and techniques in the book about PTs that might help you shave some time off your PT and give you a stronger finish.
Lastly, not to sound like a broken record, but my book answers all your questions and more. If you're concerned about how to get started, what to work on, how to work bar prep into your schedule, etc, the book will really help you. I purposefully designed it answer these common questions and provide a thorough program you can follow. Or you can just use it as a guidebook to forge your own path. Even if that's all you use it for, the many calendars, trackers, worksheets, etc will come in really handy. But for your specific issue (failing the essays), my book will show you how to overcome that problem.