Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How to pass the Virginia Bar Exam on your very first try

  • DO take PMBR's 6-day Course
  • DON'T let that course freak you out. It is designed to kick-start your studying, and to reinforce the fact that after 3 years of law school, you know pretty much nothing, and that you do, in fact, need to study for this Bar thing.
  • DO take BarBri courses. Preferably the Richmond BarBri, trust me on this one.
  • DON'T try to work and study for the Bar, if at all possible. Three solid months of non-stop grumpy studying will, if nothing else, give you the confidence to go in and show the Bar Examiners all that you know.
  • DO follow the schedule BarBri gives you. This way, you won't skimp on too many areas to make study room for the same subject over and over. If it's giving you fits, leave it be.
  • DON'T leave all your studying until the last minute. The guy sitting next to me, who was taking the test for the second time, told me he had studied "like, really hard, for like, two weeks, man." DON'T be this guy- his name wasn't on the pass list.
  • DO as many practice essays and multiple choice practice questions as you can. It is totally OK to refer to your notes as you go along.
  • DO listen to the PMBR CDs (especially if you, like me, have a dedicated hour commute one way to BarBri classes). Just replace your regular CD/radio time with those. The last thing you want is a Bananarama song stuck in your head during the exam.
  • DON'T change your study habits drastically for this test. It is hard, and it is long, but it is still a test. You know the study techniques that have been successful for you in the past (after all, you made it through law school somehow). Now is not the time to abandon the strategies that work for you. Personally, I made all my own flashcards from the BarBri lecture notes I took each day. Other friends who passed just made outlines. Bottom line- DO what works for you.
  • DON'T bother with PMBR's 3-day course (unless there are 2 weeks between the end of your BarBri and the exam). For me, it was just too close to the exam (I only had one "dead" week between the end of BarBri and the test itself, which I used to study the heck out of my own flashcards).
  • DO get your hotel reservations WAY in advance. Stay at least the night before the first and second days (if you can afford to stay after the second day is over, your drive home will be far less white-knuckled than mine).
  • DO bring your own breakfast to prepare in your hotel room. I was so glad to have brought my own oatmeal when I saw my hotel's excuse for continental breakfast get demolished by every other Bar Examinee.
  • DO get plenty of rest throughout the entire studying process. That extra hour of cramming contracts into your head at 12 am is not going to help as much as if you got that hour of sleep to refresh you. Same deal during the exam period- study a little the night before each session, but at some point, you need to set the books down, eat dinner, watch Little Miss Sunshine on HBO, and fall asleep.
  • DON'T PANIC. This is the very most important bit of advice I can give. Don't panic during study time, and certainly don't panic during the test. If you've followed your study schedule, you will be more than prepared for anything the Bar Examiners can throw at you. If you see something you don't know on the exam, DON'T let that rattle you. Breathe, relax, and let the answer come to you. Even if it never does, chances are nobody else understood the question either. Even if you get a softball of a question wrong, MOVE ON. Far better to not choke, and only get one question wrong, than to choke and get that question, plus a few others wrong in your panic.
  • Finally, Mom's sage wisdom. DO YOUR BEST.
I'll be happy to answer any other, more specific questions ya'll have, just let me know. Disclaimer: your mileage may vary. I obviously can't make any guarantees, but as advice goes, the above is the best I've got. I passed doing this crap, but you may or may not need something different. good luck.


Anonymous said...

What is the Richmond BarBri and where to go for enrollment? Thanks!

a little lark said...

Anonymous- Your law school should have BarBri representatives, check with them.

kesgrrl said...

i've gotta couple questions, if you don't mind me picking your brain. i'm taking the VA bar exam in july. (ugh). but, okay, why do you suggest the 6-day PMBR? i've got barbri all lined up (in washington, dc - richmond is too far) but i haven't done anything about registering for PMBR. i've heard other folks say that the course is worth it, but i've never heard a rationale. second, how much of a life did you let yourself have?? i know my wife understands that i need to study, but i don't want her to hate me by the end of it all!

okay, i have many more questions, but i'll let you be. thanks in advance for any advice. 'preciate it.

a little lark said...

Kesgrrl- First off, good luck in July! If you haven't gotten your hotel reservations yet, I strongly advise you to do so now (and can recommend highly the Holiday Inn Express closest to the civic center).

The 6 day course is worth it because they give you 2 HUGE multiple choice practice books on top of the in class practice tests. Note that the in class practice tests are really, really hard, and are totally designed to jump start your studying and freak you out a little bit. I don't know how helpful these sessions are in terms of substantive knowledge, but they're at least a little helpful in strategy. Also, my Bar Bri spent about 2 days on the multiple choice, total, so I was glad to have had the extra week, plus lots more practice questions to work on over the summer. The PMBR CDs are also good if you have a long drive.

OK, life...I really, really tried to have a life that summer and not have my husband hate me by the end. That really didn't work. In the first few weeks, we had a scheduled movie and lunch date every Sunday. As the exam got closer, I started really not enjoying myself on my break time, and I was really crabby, making the break time not at all worth it for either of us. I mean, my husband went out and bought Guitar Hero the week before the exam because he was so annoyed with me... And truth be told, I probably studied a lot more than strictly necessary (and more than Bar Bri's schedule dictated), but I really didn't want to fail the first time and think there was anything more I could have done.

Please feel free to ask me any other questions you've got!

kesgrrl said...

Thanks!! You know, I had a sneaking suspicion that getting a hotel room early was the way to go. Alas, it seems like everyone else had that idea too so the Holiday Inn Express was already booked! I managed to get a reservation at a hotel not far away, so that is at least one thing I can check on my "to do" list.

I appreciate your input on the PMBR course. My guess is that I'll end up taking it, just to be safe. My theory is that there is no such thing as too much preparation for this exam. I certainly don't want to have to take it again.

If you have any flashcards I can buy off you, let me know!

Anonymous said...

another helpful virginia bar exam blog with advice: