How to Learn Your Bar Exam Outlines
Excelling on the bar exam has three parts: First you have to have good materials (that is, good lecture handouts or good outlines!), then you have to understand those materials (i.e. through attending lecture or private tutoring) and then lastly, you have to memorize those materials. It is not enough to be familiar with vague bar exam concepts, you have to know the details cold. The MBE – and many state essay exams – do not test fundamental concepts, they test details.
How to Learn Your Bar Exam Outlines
Many students feel overwhelmed by the amount they have to learn. Here are some tips for memorizing your outlines:
1. Actively review your outlines Many students try to learn their bar exam outlines by reading them multiple times; however, it is much better to actively review your outlines. This allows you to concentrate on the material, understand it, and remember it.
How do you actively review your outlines? Color-code them. Draw diagrams and pictures. Invent mnemonics. Repeat information out loud. Explain it to a friend. Quiz yourself and quiz others. I used to cover up my outlines, then try to jot down (not in neat handwriting — in messy handwriting!) everything I knew about a topic. Then, I’d look back at my outline, see what I was missing, and repeat it until I got everything. Then I’d move on to the next section.
We don’t recommend that you re-write all of your outlines super-neatly (that tends to take a lot of time and be mindless!) We also don’t recommend you make flashcards out of all of your outlines (flashcards are good for certain portions of the exam but making flashcards for every part of every subject is too time-consuming!)
2. Go through one section at a time, then move on. If you have a 50-page outline, go through the first ten pages over and over again, until you know them. Only then should you move on to the next ten pages. If you try to learn all 50 pages at once, you will feel anxious and overwhelmed.
3. Take breaks. Memorizing is hard work. You cannot memorize for four hours in a row. Instead, incorporate frequent breaks into your bar review schedule.
4. Make sure you understand the material as you are actively reviewing it. If you understand how or why something works, you will memorize it better. If you have trouble with a concept, google it, or ask someone who may know the answer. Understanding the rationale for a rule or being able to come up with real-life examples of how a rule works can aid in memorization.
5. Keep coming back to your outlines. It is not enough to look at something once, memorize it, and then put it away for seven weeks. Instead, keep reviewing your outlines. Try to review each one at least once a week. That way, you will know the material you learned in the beginning of your bar review extremely well by the end of it. Your review week can truly be to review and take practice exams (rather than relearning everything again!)
6. Focus on what matters. You cannot learn everything perfectly. Focus on the MBE subjects and the highly tested state subjects. Within the MBE subjects, focus on the heavily tested areas of law (i.e. negligence, hearsay exceptions, presentation of evidence contract formation, etc.). For your state essay subjects, focus on the subjects and areas that have been heavily tested. Be smart about how you spend your study time.
7. Remember you do not have to write the perfect answers or answer every question perfectly. Many states require that you receive the equivalent of a D+ or C- to pass. Easier said than done (the bar exam is hard!) but it is worth it to know you can still pass and not know a lot of the material.
Actively reviewing and memorizing your outlines allows you to connect with the material. This, in turn, makes the material more memorable and easier to recall and apply on the actual exam.
If you have any tips for learning your outlines, please let us know what they are! Good luck!
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