-While fretting over which bar review course to take I stumbled on the earlier reviews for BARBRI and vowed to write my own if I ended up passing the bar. I got the good news, so here goes.
-By way of background I'm a graduate of a good law school who had a rocky 1L and 2L year. Definitely not a gunner, journal editor, etc. I took the bar in a fairly difficult state which has the MPT and is heavy on essays. This was my first time sitting for a bar exam.
-BARBRI paced program was ridiculously ambitious. Unless you’re exceptionally good at picking things up you will fall behind. Badly, at some point.
-Remind yourself the objective is not to stick to the schedule. The objective is to understand each subject thoroughly. If you feel like you still don’t know a topic – especially one appearing on both the MBE and essays – slow down until you get it. I abandoned the schedule early on; it was the right decision.
-Lectures were quite helpful, with lecturers who used effective anecdotes, mnemonics, &c to get you to remember (and pay attention). Arnold Rochvarg, Paula Franzese, and Mary Cheh were three lecturers for my state who really stood out as excellent. The length of the lectures does get to you. I recommend looking at them online instead of driving to the live sessions. Could have done with a little less humor. This is bar review, not amateur comic night.
-You should do nearly all of the BARBRI practice questions on subjects you’re weak in. Thankfully, BARBRI provides plenty of them. I was very bad at Evidence. I had gotten a B- in it as a 2L and no longer remembered even basic concepts like “Best Evidence”. I did about 90% of the practice Evidence questions and eventually did well enough to not have problems with it on the bar.
-Online practice exams were extremely useful. BARBRI's score reports show you what precise areas within each subject you need to improve on. BARBRI has an online ranking system that compares your MBE subject scores with other students’. Don’t be afraid if you are below average in the rankings. I was in the bottom third of every percentile except for Con Law (53rd Percentile). Keep in mind that people who score higher than you may be “cheating” with the books as they go along. I personally imposed a strict “closed book” policy on myself for every practice exam. In the end, the MBE was not that hard. Also, don’t avoid the difficult questions. I did the hardest questions first and usually got low scores. This was frustrating but a great way to learn the fine points of the law.
-Essay writing workshops had slow pacing and used up way too much time. I would have preferred more of a focus on MBE staples like Torts, Contracts, etc. than days wasted on this topic. Just examine the form of model essays from past bar exams in your state.
-Practice essay assignments were a disappointment. Comments from graders were next to useless. Their suggestions were vague and only a few sentences long. Misspellings were common. Received one analysis chiding me for my spelling errors (I made none) that was itself full of errors. Some graders are obviously “phoning it in” and typing generic comments to paste on all of their essays. BARBRI really needs to tighten things up in this area. Either use better graders or hire more to reduce each grader’s workload. Don't do it on the cheap and expect us not to notice.
-BARBRI essay grading is absurdly strict. I understand that they want to motivate people, but going to extremes makes no sense. Received a 3 on one essay and a 1 on another. Neither essay had substantive comments about improving my technique. Due to the lack of constructive feedback I stopped turning in assignments.
-Practice exams towards the end of the course are probably overkill. I only did the half-day MBE and ended up doing fine on the real thing. Mainly because I used the last few days to shore up my weak points instead of worrying about not being on track with the paced program.
-Written materials were, as a whole, excellent despite a few errors. BARBRI does a good job of covering what is likely to appear on the exam, as opposed to what is likely to be the focus of 1st year law school courses. Convenient diagrams. Good emphasis on the various distinctions in your state. Conviser mini review was concise, accurate, and one of their best review materials.
-BARBRI materials should be supplemented with some kind of written work. Both outlines/flashcards and practice exams. I used the BARBRI books to write hundreds of flash cards as time went by. These cards were worth their weight in gold during the last 2-3 weeks. Also remember to do lots of BARBRI's practice essays. My state "recycled" a tricky Commercial Paper question from an earlier exam. It was in BARBRI's essay book; knowing the fact pattern helped me nail it. Other people, who either used different materials or didn't review their BARBRI essay books, were stumped. If you don’t like to write, force yourself to do it. Learning through “osmosis” alone - reading model answers & outlines passively – is one of the most common reasons why people fail.
-I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to study at your own pace and absorb the material. Even if it means ignoring the paced program and not turning in certain assignments.
-My "ditch the schedule" advice is not an invitation to procrastinate. I still studied hard for two months without ever feeling 100% prepared. If you have trouble motivating yourself, expect to receive a nasty surprise come exam day.
-As a whole I would recommend BARBRI. It did not make bar review pleasant, but it did make it manageable. Despite the program's serious flaws, knowing that I had taken BARBRI's course was a tremendous comfort to me in those last few days before the exam.
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