No doubt: The Michigan Bar Exam is a challenge. Even the most accomplished student is daunted by its size and scope. Determination, fear and intimidation are just some of the feelings this test gives to its candidates. It is a huge project; the ultimate final exam.
How should you approach your studies? How much time do you need to put into it? What should I study? Do I study everything?
All excellent questions . . . but the real question you need to ask is, “What is the most efficient way for me to study? How do I get the most out of my time?” The answer is simple. You want to devote as much as your time as you can to Quality Studying. The Michigan Bar Exam favors those who are organized, those who can work quickly and demonstrate their knowledge clearly.
To build those skills, you need to engage yourself in Quality Studies. Quality Studying is characterized by 1) engaging more than one sense (e.g. hearing and writing; seeing and rewriting, etc.); 2) making your own study materials; 3) practicing essay and MBE questions; 4) condensing longer outlines into shorter outlines; and 5) planned activities for every day with extra exercises available if necessary. Notice that I did not define the length of time. Quantity Studying is more concerning with the ‘clock hours’ spent on bar studies whether it is really helpful or not. This includes 1) attending lectures without taking notes or reviewing anything prior to the lecture; 2) reading old tests and model answers without actually practicing; 3) justifying not following your schedule by saying you’ll ‘make it up later’ but not putting the unfinished tasks in your study schedule; 4) failing to schedule your studies and just doing what you want; and 5) only engaging one sense when studying.
How Quality Studying Makes You More Efficient
1. Planning- Planning while your not under the pressure of the test gives you a roadmap to success. Do it in as detailed a manner as possible. The better your plan, the more likely you’ll follow it and profit from it. By the way, you can modify and change your plan as your needs/style/progress dictates. Make sure to include test practice, outline preparation time, review time and schedule plenty of breaks for meals, stretching and coffee (or whatever other vice you engage in). Also set goals to reach each day and have a reward for yourself at the end of the week (generally on Sunday when you deserve a break and a treat).
2. Practice Old Questions – The Michigan Bar essays are given to you to keep after the test. All the tests are published as are the Model Answers. Going back 5 or more test cycles gives you a good idea of what to expect. By practicing the questions, you get a better idea of timing and strategy for issue spotting and an eye for detail. The MBE has official released questions and many commercial bar prep services have thousands of their own questions. In short, there is plenty of materials
3. Make Your Own Outlines- Making your own outlines forces you to learn the law. It focuses you on big concepts rather than drowning you in minutiae. You are more likely to understand the concepts and ideas behind the law rather than trying to master every rule, sub rule and exception. By learning bigger concepts, you are really drawing out the problem-solving aspects of law (and lawyering). Yes, it is time consuming and boring at best. However, my experience in teaching students is that those who took the time to create and perfect their outlines did much better than those who did not.
4. Think Long Term – Studying for the Michigan Bar Exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Know some days will be better than others. If you plan your studies, make your own outlines, practice old exams and do so with regularity and focus, you will pass the Michigan Bar Exam and lose the last vestige of your student identity.
Good Luck Future Lawyers!