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Last-Minute Bar Review Tips

Bone up on Black Letter Law and MBE questions, 
but more importantly stay focused and relaxed

Scott F. Pearce, Esq.
American Lawyer Media
02-14-2000

Bar applicants are especially worried about what to do during the last week before the exam. Although there are significant individual differences between applicants, here are some general guidelines that some students have found invaluable.

It's helpful to examine several different aspects of bar preparation: black letter law knowledge, test-taking skills, physical health and emotional balance. Successful applicants are not always the smartest ones -- they're the ones who are best prepared to perform on the days of the examination.


BLACK LETTER LAW KNOWLEDGE
Experts agree that short-term memory is less than two weeks, and many contend it is less than one week. The last week before the bar exam is the ideal time to memorize the law. This is the perfect time to jam into your memory all those "three-part tests" and "common-law." Also, this is the time to memorize essay approaches for each subject, to create the most complete, well-organized answers possible under time constraints.


TEST-TAKING SKILLS
Many bar review experts recommend that applicants do their daily allotment of MBE practice right through the weekend before the bar examination. Experience suggests that many students reach a point of diminishing returns a few days before the exam, and not all experts are preoccupied with making sure students are doing a lot of MBE work a week before the exam. Similarly, students should outline essays and other exams rather than write them out entirely in the week before the exam. Because students spend much of their previous work developing and sharpening skills, by the week before the exam they are ready to memorize material and concentrate on their physical and emotional health.


PHYSICAL HEALTH
Everybody agrees that the mind-body connection can be crucial to success on the bar examination. The most knowledgeable and skilful applicant will under perform if he or she doesn't get plenty of good rest the week before the examination. Often, it's useful for bar applicants to take more time to exercise during the last week of their preparation, even if that only means taking the family dog out for longer walks than usual. Many students get better rest after they have worked away some of their excess nervous energy. Night owls should reorient their schedules the week before the exam, so they are prepared to do their best at nine or ten in the morning. Finally, the week before the exam is a good time to lean away from the processed sugar and caffeine, particularly late in the day.


EMOTIONAL BALANCE
"Know Thyself" is the best general advice on this subject. It is very important that a bar applicant feel like taking the bar examination when it's time to start writing or picking MBE choices. This is the wrong time to try to resolve profound interpersonal conflicts, and it's the wrong time to pick fights. It's sensible to recognize, however, that there is a significant emotional or spiritual element at the root of a poised performance on the bar exam, and to act accordingly.


SETTING THE STAGE FOR SUCCESS
Many successful bar candidates treat the two to three days of the exam as if they were a space shuttle mission. They have an hour-by-hour agenda for the entire bar exam experience. They know the exact route to the exam from the hotel, or they have a couple of backup rides available if they are commuting. Often, it makes sense to visit the site of the exam a few days before the test is given, so the surroundings are more familiar when it matters most. Students who are staying in a hotel should get a room on the lowest floor possible, so as to avoid potential tort or criminal liability for incidents that are foreseeable during extended elevator rides with uptight and neurotic bar applicants.


THE DAY OF THE EXAM
Get up early enough so you don't have to hurry. Have a decent breakfast. Consider doing a few MBE questions to warm up your brain, but don't look up the answers. Follow your plan. Use earplugs. Have a little chocolate or candy on you, along with spare pens and pencils. Do not make small talk with people who have obvious psychological problems.


THE BOTTOM LINE
The bar examination is one of the most traumatic events in the life of a lawyer. During the last week before the test, focus on memorization and attend to your physical and emotional health to best ensure peak performance. Your professional license is at stake.


TOP FIVE THINGS TO DO

1. Memorize black letter law details and essay approaches;

2. Outline essays and performance tests;

3. Exercise well and get proper rest;

4. Eat well;

5. Reflect on how close you are to realizing one of your dreams.


TOP FIVE THINGS TO AVOID

1. Pull an "all-nighter" before walking in for the first day of the bar exam;

2. Engage in emotional / erotic soap opera scenes with loved ones;

3. Begin new bad habits or quit old bad habits;

4. Reflect on the most painful events in your personal and professional life;

5. Visit your doctor for a major physical examination.

Scott Pearce is an experienced bar examination tutor in Los Angeles. He provides bar examination tutorial and home study services for bar students throughout the country. Previously, Pearce lectured and tutored at Bar/Bri, Barpassers, and PMBR. For more information, visit Pearce's Web site at http://www.passthebar.com.