A timeline for tackling the California Bar Exam

Yesterday was a day many law students and foreign attorneys dreaded – we found out if we passed or failed the California Bar Exam. I was elated to see that I’d passed – I had worked long and hard for that result. Now I’m hoping to share some info on how I went about it – for first timers, retakers and foreign attorneys in particular.

Here is a timeline I followed that got me to that end goal. Normally, it is recommended to study for 6 months full-time prior to taking the bar. I added an extra few months to my schedule because I’m a foreign attorney.

6-7 months before exam

  • Gather your study materials and enrol in your study programs of choice (see my post on recommended materials/providers)
  • Write extensive notes on each subject (approx. 20 pages/subject) (alternatively, gather detailed notes from another source, review extensively and supplement with your own notes)
  • Create flowcharts and tables for complex areas e.g. freedom of speech, searches and seizures, property interests (see some of my other posts for flowcharts/tables)

1-6 months before exam

  • Determine how many MBEs, essays and PTs you want to complete before the exam. Break it down into daily and weekly goals. I aimed for the following:
    • MBEs: 3000 before the exam, 45 per study day
    • Essays: at least 3 per subject before the exam – more for commonly tested subjects e.g. contracts. At least 1 per week – more as the exam is nearing.
    • PTs: all of the PTs available on calbar site, and do them multiple times. At least 1 PT a week.
  • Review 1 subject each week/every other week
  • Condense extensive written notes (written previously) into a shorter document (approx. 10 pages/subject)
  • Create issue checklists/flowcharts for each subject
  • Write 1 or 2 essays each week/every other week
  • Review written essays, either with the help of a tutor or comparison to released answers
  • MBE practice using recommended resources below
  • Review PT approach and refining PT steps regularly
  • Write 1 PT every other week
  • Review PTs, either with the help of a tutor or comparison to released answers
  • Summary of Emanuel study tips for each subject

1-4 weeks before exam

  • Write important tests (phrases you want to memorize, elements for crimes etc.) for each subject, either on flash cards or in a word doc (I used a table format, with columns for the concept and the elements to remember)
  • Do MBE NCBE exam simulations and review of incorrect answers
  • Look into crossover essays/essays that test more than 1 topic. Crossover essays are becoming more common and it’s important to be able to spot them/know how to navigate them
    • Do some crossover essays for each subject and compare to essay answers provided on the bar site
    • Write a list of past crossover essays and potential future crossover topics
  • Compile your final stretch study documents. Print outs of:
    • Important tests/elements to memorize for each subject
    • Reviews of MBE questions (especially the ones you got wrong)
    • Summary of Emanuel study approach for each subject
    • Issue checklists
  • 2 weeks before exam:
    • Memorize tests and law, using flashcards or important tests document
    • Write everything you know for each subject on blank paper then compare to important test document, to see what you’re forgetting or recalling incorrectly
    • Review lecture notes on essay approach for each subject (e.g. Themis)
    • Write 1-page summaries/issue checklists/flowcharts for each subject

Weekend before exam

  • Try to get some rest
  • If you really feel the need to study, do a maximum of 8 hrs a day, and stick to memorizing important tests and Emanuel MBE strategies
  • No MBE testing/essay writing
  • Don’t try to learn new material

Setting up and preparing for exam days

If you’re doing the exam remotely, you also want to make sure you have your exam room and tech set up with lots of time to spare.

  • Print off a copy of the Calbar regulations and prohibited items and tick off the setup steps as you go. Leave time to check with calbar if you have any questions.
  • Make a checklist of important items – paper and pens for PT, ID, a pillow if you need it, power bank etc.
  • Make a list of things you need to do on the morning of each exam day, such as taking pain relief, having breakfast, turning off your phone and checking settings on your laptop
  • Set up an area outside your exam room with the california bar support line, the examsoft support line, your phone, snacks and water
  • Ensure your laptop is set up for exam – make sure antivirus protections are turned off, that your webcam/mic works, that keyboard shortcuts are turned off (e.g. on my laptop F8 turns off the webcam, gulp!)
  • Purchase and check emergency items e.g. battery pack in case of a power outage.
  • Keep an eye on Facebook groups, emails and CA State Bar Twitter accounts for last minute changes/announcements.
  • Review sleeping schedule and tailor to be in line with exam start time
  • Print a copy of the official exam schedule and tape it to your exam room door.
  • Think of a game-day song to get you in the right mindset and listen to it on exam day
  • If you have a pet, get someone to look after them (I know someone who had his dogs scratching at his exam door during an essay – I can’t think of anything more stressful and distracting).

I hope this helps 🙂 Please feel free to email me if you have any questions. And remember, you’ve got this!

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