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Recent Grads Strike Similar Chords on Bar Exam Prep

By Andrew Cohen

bar exam students
Clockwise from top left: Brittney Lovato,
Nicholas Jimenez, Rebekah Dehaven, and
Christina Chong

Brittney Lovato escaped with reality TV and periodic massages. Nicholas Jimenez sweated out the stress at 24-Hour Fitness. Random weekend getaways did the trick for Christina Chong, while evening time with family calmed a jittery Rebekah Dehaven.

Fresh from taking the dreaded bar exam, these 2013 Berkeley Law graduates now have the benefit of hindsight to advise future bar-takers. Their top tips: find a prep course well-tailored to your learning style, a healthy outlet from the rigors of studying, and the resolve to power through those final few weeks.

“It was difficult to get back into study mode after graduation celebrations and the excitement of finishing law school,” Dehaven said. “You need to study, but managing stress and anxiety is just as important. Don’t be afraid to find the balance you need.”

Start early

Most newly-minted law school graduates trade in their cap and gown for a bar review course and a summer immersed in test-prep. But some recommend getting familiar with the bar terrain before the prep course starts—or even earlier. 

“I took several bar subject courses in law school and found them to be really helpful,” Lovato said. “Evidence with Eleanor Swift, Criminal Procedure Investigations with Charles Weisselberg, and Estates and Trusts with Kristen Holmquist prepared me very well for the bar, and the professors were excellent.”

Chong agrees. “My advice is to start earlier than May because the amount of information you need to know for the test is massive,” she said.

BARBRI is the leading provider of bar review courses, and Jimenez applauded its effectiveness in providing cogent explanations and useful materials. But he warned against the false sense of security the BARBRI course can generate.

“It’s easy to follow along with the lectures and work through the material without doing the focused memorization that you need to recall on the test,” Jimenez said. “I really started doing that after BARBRI ended, about three weeks before the exam, and it would have been easier had I started that two or three weeks earlier.”

No shortcuts

All four graduates agree that shortcuts do not lead to bar-exam success.

Lovato studied from 9:30 am to 5 pm on weekdays with an hour off for lunch—before attending her three-hour evening BARBI lecture. She studied four to five hours on Saturday and Sunday, and then ramped up to 10 hours every day as the exam drew closer.

Chong—who had to work 10 to 20 hours a week while also preparing for the bar exam—routinely studied until 2 am. Dehaven stuck to a regular schedule, “starting very early and wrapping up by dinner time. But toward the end, I definitely had to put in longer hours.”

The Berkeley Law grads also warn against relying exclusively on a chosen prep course. Lovato signed up for BARBRI’s National Mini-Review one-day lecture, which offered “endless” practice essays and questions along with detailed explanations. “The material is also provided in multiple formats to meet different learning styles,” she said.

Jimenez supplemented his BARBRI class with “Bar in a Flash” flash cards and material from BarEssays.com. Chong asked for extra grading on her practice tests from bar course tutors.

Find your formula

Chong and Dehaven chose online prep courses while Jimenez and Lovato attended live lectures. “I need more breaks and I like to move around a lot, so the classroom setting wasn’t really working for me,” Chong said. “The professors speak fast, so it’s nice to be able to pause them online.”

Dehaven, who took the Maryland bar exam, was the only one who did not sign on with BARBRI, opting instead for the Themis bar review course.

“Whatever you would normally do to study for a closed-book exam, that’s what you should do for the bar,” Jimenez said. “There’s no escaping the need to just grind black-letter law into your noggin in whatever way works best for you, and then applying it as best you can.”

There’s also no denying the need to escape. Lovato’s reality TV breaks provided a welcome—and an ironic reality-check. “A bit embarrassing to admit, but it was a great release because I didn’t have to think at all while watching the show,” she said. “Seeing other people’s petty drama also helped my perspective and motivated me to keep pursing my dream.”

Whatever the preferred outlet or technique, Dehaven recommends “working to minimize as much of the other stress in your life as possible.” Chong echoed that sentiment, and urged staying connecting to people outside the bar-prep world to fend off feelings of isolation. “Don’t be scared to ask for comfort or support from family and friends,” she said. “They may not understand what you’re going through, but they’ll do the best they can to help you cope.”

8/20/2013