Bar exam scores are the lowest they’ve been in 30 years, which is bad news for the law school industry. The most popular reasoning is blamed on a decline in student applicants, leading to law schools accepting lower caliber students. I believe that there is a fundamental problem with law schools if their students can’t pass the bar exam after three grueling years of study, particularly if they’ve graduated from a decent law school.
I can’t speak for every school, but I personally know several extremely intelligent people who did not pass the July bar exam. I spent time studying with them over the summer and I know they put the hours in. They’ve worked in law firms and have great legal jobs but didn’t pass the bar. I also know they took Barbri or Kaplan’s courses – the two bar prep powerhouses. Costing around $3,000, these courses are a tough nut to swallow. But to most, not taking a bar prep course is a recipe for failure. And besides, after paying for three years of law school, $3K is just another drop in the bucket of student debt.
I took Barbri’s course and I followed their study schedule for exactly one day. It made me want to burn my study books, pull all my hair out and banish law from my head forever. There was no possible way I was going to be able to do all the work, most days averaging out to 12 hours if you do all the homework. I quickly took to the internet in search of alternate study options and found a blog post written by Blake Masters, “Pass the CA Bar Exam in 100 Hours,” which I highly recommend reading.
I figured that if he could pass the 3-day California bar studying 100 hours, then I could definitely pass the 2-day Georgia bar in the same amount of time. Using Blake’s excel sheet example (available here), I set out to make my own study schedule. I was working super-part time so instead of starting in July, I started studying in June and spread the hours out over two months.
How I Prepped For & Passed the Georgia Bar
First, I wrote in all the dates I was going to be out of town or days that I knew there was something going on that I wanted to do. Second, I wrote out which subjects I was going to cover on which days and how many practice questions or essays I was going to do.
Georgia weighs the sections differently than California so I adjusted accordingly. I spent 50% of my time (maybe more) on MBE prep and started with these subjects first. If you don’t score high enough on this section, then you automatically fail. Additionally, these have right and wrong answers unlike the essays. I spent about 30% of my time on essay prep and 20% on MPT’s. I found the MPT’s to be much easier on the bar than in the practice books.
I skipped listening to the lectures unless I was on a long car ride. I do not absorb information this way. I never opened the large outline book. Everything I needed (and more!) I found in the Conviser Mini Review. I completed 1,004 multiple choice questions and made sure that I understood why I got questions wrong. I made flash cards for most of the questions I got wrong and the black letter law and went over them until I had the law memorized. This was a highly effective study method for me because it prepped me for both the MBE and essay questions.
For the essays, I looked up the trending bar essay topics for GA and studied those. I didn’t study any subjects that didn’t appear on the GA Bar Exam in the last 10 years (Commercial Paper & Secured Transactions). If they appeared less than 5 times in the last 10 years (Evidence and Trusts) then I just glanced at 1 or 2 essay questions and answers. I also didn’t spend much time on Professional Responsibility since we had to pass the MPRE, which tests only this, in order to take the bar exam. I wrote out a total of 2 essays but I did read through several from each subject to make sure I could spot the issues and have some idea of how to answer. Additionally, I didn’t worry too much about differentiating between the MBE law and state law unless there was a glaring difference.
A good piece of advice that I got was that it really doesn’t matter if you get the law right on the essays. What matters is that you state the law with certainty (absolutely make it up if you don’t know it), apply the facts to it and decide on an outcome. I made sure to point out what the other side might argue and the strength of their arguments based on the law and facts. Georgia has 4 essays. Read the first and last paragraphs of each essay before you begin. This should tell you what subject the essay is mainly testing. The order in which you answer doesn't matter so you may as well start with the one you know the most about.
Unfortunately you can’t use highlighters but I found it helpful to write out the facts along the sides of the essay as I was reading to make sure that I incorporated them into my answer. Since you've already read through the first and last paragraphs, you should have a good idea of which facts are relevant.
Additionally, the most helpful lectures (that I actually did listen to) were for the mock-MBE tests. I can’t remember exactly what they were titled, maybe they were the Refresher lectures. Several of these lecturers gave great tips on answers that were always wrong and how to choose between two answers that both sounded right. Small words like “so” in an answer can make a big difference.
Time, or lack thereof, is the silent killer. Be very aware of how much time you’re spending on each answer. If you don’t know it, fill something in and come back later if you have time. Otherwise you’ll spend too long on that question and miss easier ones later down the road due to time constraints. On one section of the MBE, I was bubbling in the last answer as time was called. On the second section, I finished with 45 minutes to spare and revisited all the answers I was unsure of. I have no idea why the timing was so different on the two sections but many others felt the same way.
A good method to keeping a quick pace is to make a list as you go with two columns. On the left side, write down the question numbers of the ones you’re not quite sure about and want to revisit. On the right side, write down the questions that you have no idea what the answer is (there will be many of these!). If you have time to go back, start with the numbers on the left as you have a better chance of getting these right. But again, make sure you bubble in something the first go-around! You do not get penalized for wrong answers but you have zero chance of picking the right answer if you pick nothing at all.
2 days and 12 hours of testing is pretty brutal on the brain. You must condition your brain to stay alert for long periods of time - 3 hours to be exact. Then you’ll have an hour break and another 3 hours of testing. By the end of each day, your brain will feel like mush. I recommend practicing several 3 hour mock-tests towards the end of your study schedule to build stamina.
I think that a lot of people fail the bar exam due to stress. I’ll never forget the faces I saw walking into the exam room. People looked pale, exhausted and terrified. That cannot be good for your health. I highly recommend taking the time to understand what study habits work the best for you. I knew that my brain had a cut off point and that 10 – 12 hr days was not achievable or productive for me.
I made time to exercise, cook healthy meals, socialize and have fun. I did not rent a hotel room near the testing center. It was nice to escape the stressed out bar takers and spend the night in my own bed. Obviously, if you don’t live within driving distance to the test center then that’s not an option.
I’m a strong believer that the bar exam does not accurately indicate whether or not you’re capable of becoming a decent attorney and that law schools need to put far more emphasis on practical skills rather than classroom lectures. This change is happening at a very slow pace but in my opinion, testing someone on their ability to actually practice law is a much better indicator of success than the bar exam. But for now, you have to pass the bar to practice law.
Your best chance of passing depends on your ability to find the study methods that work for you, make your plan and stick to it. Put in the work, try not to stress out and have confidence that you've done the best you could do. Good luck!