Bar Exams v. Law School Exams

Law school exams and the bar exam both test analysis and problem-solving. However, this is where the similarities end.

  • Law school exams are sequential in that you take one exam at a time spread out over 1-2 weeks, and each exam tests one subject. Therefore, studying tends to be “massed practice,” where you focus on one subject at a time and let go of that information once you are tested on it.
  • The bar exam is one exam that tests multiple subjects (and skills) at the same time. Although the depth of material might be less than a law school exam, you don’t know what will be tested or how it will be tested (MBE or essay). Therefore, you have to store large amounts of material and be able to retrieve it on demand. You must prepare for everything and anything.

Cramming Doesn’t Work

Cramming might *work* for law school but it won’t work for the bar exam. Your brain needs time to learn and retain the material. 500px-forgettingcurve-svg_In 1885 German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus published his ground-breaking study on memory and learning where he described the forgetting curve (decline of memory) and how spaced repetition decreases its effects.

Spaced Repetition Works

Every time you recall and review information, it becomes more embedded into long-term memory. Your brain is able to organize and “file” information which builds connections between and among concepts. This is what makes it possible to store and retrieve more information over time. Therefore, massed practice (repeating something 10x in one day) is less-effective than spaced repetition (repeating something 10x over ten days).
On the bar exam, you not only need to know information but you also have to retrieve it. Repeated engagement with material spaced over time is the most effective way achieve this. Spaced repetition provides context, which in turn provides cues for retrieval. Being able to access information then makes it possible for you to engage in higher level reasoning (i.e., legal analysis). Therefore, stop making excuses and start studying.

-KSK

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