I just finished the bar last week. To prepare, I took BarBri. Much as I am not happy that I had to pay more money for this I can only blame law school, not BarBri. Overall, I would say that I am happy with what I got from BarBri.
Caveat: Have no idea if I passed the bar. I passed the bar.
I did not investigate any other bar prep courses. Everybody I knew took BarBri so I followed in their footsteps.
For each area of the law required on the bar, BarBri gave anywhere from four to six outlines. First, the full outline. Second, the condensed Conviser outline. Third, the lecture notes to fill in during lectures. Fourth, the essays section of the lecture notes have at least one high-level topic outline and sometimes more than one. Finally, the essay writing handouts available on their website usually have a one or two page high-level outline. So you get plenty of outlines, with various emphasis and levels of detail in each.
I heard some complaints from people about the outlines but I thought the outlines were fine. For the most part, I usually only used the lecture notes and then added in details from Conviser. [Addendum: there were a few parts on my bar that tested material that was in the full outline but not in Conviser or the class lecture.]
I wrote my own outlines from the lecture notes and Conviser but, with two children and a job, I only had time to do this for about a third of the subject areas. If had more time, I would have written an outline for everything. I also would have organized them by attack plans.
I was fortunate that I was able to attend live lectures. Most of the lecture is printed in the lecture notes book but there are blanks that you fill in. Depending upon the professor, it could be a single word to fill in or several sentences. I thought this worked fine because you did not have to scramble to write everything but you were forced to pay attention to the lecture.
The live lectures are little different in content from the lectures available on the website. However, you can ask the professor questions during break if you want to stand in line. The lecturers also make comments critical of BarBri at times which adds a bit of spice. They also crack on each other which is funny. Being there, you can also ask people around you for details you might have missed; however, with a video you can just rewind and get the same thing.
I never fell asleep during live lectures but I did fall asleep twice listening to lectures online while at home. Probably best not to listen to the lectures while sprawled on your couch.
For areas of the law that I had not previously studied, I followed one Barbri lecturer’s advice of reading some previous bar questions on the topic. Otherwise, I never did any pre-class prep work. I only reviewed outlines after going to the lecture.
I liked how many of the professors would give canned phrases to use in essay answers (I would see these phrases when reading my state bar’s posted model answers). That was helpful and I utilized that a lot during study and then on the bar itself.
The professors, as you would expect, vary greatly in quality. The best added context to the notes. The worst just read the material that was in the lecture notes.
BarBri has thousands of MBE questions. The questions vary in quality. As one professor said: once BarBri has written a question, they’ll never get rid of it.
The BarBri website has StudySmart MBE which is a nice tool to practice MBE questions. Every question that is in the two printed MBE practice books is available on their website. You can pick the number of questions and the areas of law and run through ten or a hundred in one sitting. For the obsessive, you also get a nightly update of how you are doing compared to the several thousand other BarBri attendees.
It is good early on for getting practice in. However, in order to work on timing, I think that it is necessary to use the BarBri MBE books with their “Scantron” page. That way you mimic the reality of the actual test by crossing off answers in the books and transferring to the Scantron. Do the questions on the website the first month and then switch to the books in July. Do the requisite 30-50 a day in the books. If you feel the need for more practice in order to learn the law, by all means go back to the website.
BarBri also provides an explanation of the correct answer for every question and an explanation for why the other answers are not correct. This is helpful and I found it good to review even those questions I got right because, as I found out, I did not always get it right for the correct reason. I did not always agree with them but that was less than 1% of the time.
BarBri claims that their questions are statistically harder than the actual MBE. I have no idea how they know this. That being said, BarBri does have approximately 200 released questions printed in the back of one of the MBE practice books. I worked on those the week before the bar and found my scores jumping up into the 80% range. I suggest working on these near the actual bar because the writing of the questions is distinctly different than BarBri’s practice questions. [Addendum: The licensed MBE questions that BarBri had were vastly different from BarBri questions and even the MBE questions on my bar exam. There are other companies that license MBE questions and you can even buy questions directly from the people who write the MBE.]
For the actual MBE, I did find that there was an odd mix of difficulties. Some were so obvious that I took no more then ten seconds. Most were straightforward. And then there were the definite oddballs that made me wonder if I had even studied the proper material. However, I did think that BarBri’s simulated questions did an excellent job of testing the law and helping you learn the material. For example, they test every element of burglary in many different ways so by the time you are done, you’ll really know what to look for with burglary.
My one complaint here would be that there was no official BarBri guide or lecture on general MBE strategies. There are lectures on many of the practice MBE by topic and the lecturers give lots of tips about what to look out for. But the nitty-gritty details such as how to schedule time, how to make up time, and how to keep track of questions to review were not communicated clearly. Or how to avoid getting sucked into a single question and losing five minutes on it. Or how to go about transferring answers to the scantron.
One video before the simulated MBE had a couple suggestions about working on timing. One video reviewing the crimes simulated MBE had a suggestion on how to track questions for review. That was all that I found in the standard materials. (Maybe I missed something as I did miss a few days due to work.)
Doing the math, you have 1.8 minutes to do an MBE question. That is one minute and forty-eight seconds. I strove to get down to 1.5 minutes and thus gave myself 30 minutes to review questions that I got stuck on or that I guessed on. I found it best to just keep track of my timing about every fifteen to twenty questions.
On the last page of the MBE booklet I had two columns. One was for questions that I struggled with and had to pick an answer I was not sure about. The other column was for questions that I did not know and just picked the best sounding answer. I reviewed each of these in the last thirty minutes.
Rather than fill in the bubble for the scantron for every question, I would just transfer answers over before I turned a page. You have to be careful about correctly transferring the questions but you save time as you go to your scantron less often (about 25 times rather than 100).
Finally, one professor suggested using “mulligans” whereby if you didn’t know the answer in a reasonable amount of time, just eliminate the answers that look wrong and pick one of the remaining. Then move on and forget the question (and mark it in your “to review” list in the back of the MBE booklet). Remember, there are 200 questions and you don’t need all of them to pass.
I liked the professors who taught the essay writing. I also watched all of the essay writing tips videos which are distinctly different material than what the essay professors give. BarBri provides a guide for every area that is tested on the bar. The guides have checklists and brief overviews. I found these helpful and worked on memorizing the checklists. Overall, BarBri has excellent resources available online for working on essays.
Unfortunately, I did not have the time to turn in any graded tests – due to my personal schedule – so I am not sure how good the feedback is from that.
The BarBri practice essays book has six to ten essays questions for each tested area. These were all the actual released questions from previous bars. Also included are an issue outline and a BarBri sample answer for each essay question. Two quibbles here. First, the outlines and sample answers were not written in a single hour so they can make you feel inadequate. Second, they do not give a lot of information about what actually were the major issues to hit in a passing essay. I do have to add that BarBri also has a lecture for each essay on the website but I did not have time to watch those so maybe they covered more details about determining what were major issues and what were minor issues.
As a final note, in the last weeks and only if your state bar releases actual model answers written during the bar, I think it best to only review those questions for which you have the model answers. This gives you a more realistic idea of what you should do on the exam.
What to say? My bar exam had it. The lectures here were a little overblown as there is not much that can be done to prepare. It appears that the development of Performance Tests is still a work in progress so sometimes they are poorly written. My actual PTs were straightforward.
I found BarBri’s most useful advice to be “sweat the details” when reading the directions. There were also some practical advice about organizing the answer and the materials. I followed what BarBri said and I think it helped me a lot in this regards.
The Performance Test lectures themselves appear to be about 2/3 inspirational speech and 1/3 how-to. This is fine because you need those pep talks and horror stories to help you cope with the stress.
Interactive Paced Program
Probably the most hated and most useful aspect to BarBri’s website is the interactive paced program. I did not even know about it the first week so I was quite lost until I discovered it. Basically it is a guide to plan your study for each day. You check off boxes as you do the work.
It can be quite daunting. In particular, there is a percentage meter that keeps track of your progress. Frankly, as a parent of two children, I found the paced program to be overwhelming. Therefore I just did what I could each day. When I found the spare time, I would go back and find things that I had not “done” enough to check off and then I would do them. All in all, it was fine for keeping track of what needed to be done. But do not become a slave to it.
BarBri scheduled a day for the simulated MBE and another day for simulating the essays. I found the MBE day useful because you sat there working on the questions for six hours. The essays I found less helpful and left after an hour.
For those, there was not enough space for everybody who showed up and there was not enough power so we were swapping power outlets. Maybe the real bar has been like that for some but I didn’t think it was worth my time. Moreover, the simulated essay questions were written by BarBri and I only wanted to spend my time on previous bar questions by that time.
As noted above, I did not think that we got enough general advice about the MBEs and strategies for those. However, we did get lots of general advice that I found helpful. To wit:
- Learn the law by practice
- Practice writing essays every day
- Practice MBE questions every day
- Review the answers
- Simulate the environment of the exam
- Practice at the time that you will be taking the bar (that means getting up early)
- Get used to three or four hours with water and no food
- Prepare yourself for laptop failures or other difficulties
- Step away and relax often
- Realize that there is too much material and you will have to triage:
- What you need to work on
- What you don’t need to work on
- What you will not have time to learn