Saturday, July 05, 2008

More on how to study for the bar exam

Ilya Somin's updated his post (here), and I agree with some of his points: (1) figure out your own, best way of studying and key your bar prep to that, (2) try not to overstress, (3) be disciplined in your studying, and (4) remember that failing the bar exam is not the end of the world. (Ilya, did I summarize these points fairly?)

Where he and I disagree is on how risk-averse the average law graduate should be when preparing for the bar. And, of course, everyone should determine his own level of risk-tolerance. When I took the California bar, a year after law school (after my clerkship ended), I took Bar/BRI, made flash cards, commiserated with my friends, and made it through the test relatively unscathed. Twenty years later, when I sat for the Nevada bar, I looked a lot more like Kevin Costner in Tin Cup. (Remember the scene where he's wearing every golf-swing gadget ever made?) I took Bar/BRI again, bought flash cards and old bar review books off eBay, did the computer-generated review tests, made outlines of my outlines of my outlines (I'm not kidding!), and basically worried myself into a tizzy, because I know how awful I am at memorizing things and how bad I am at taking multiple-choice tests.

The stakes were much higher for me the first time around. I had a law firm job and, even though the firm would have kept me around if I'd needed to take the bar exam a second time, my career would have been stalled for a bit during the extra time, and my stress level would have shot through the roof. I was a tenured full professor when I took the Nevada Bar and my life wouldn't have changed one whit had I not passed (although I probably would have lost some credibility with my students had I failed).

Here's what I think that Ilya and Jim Chen (his post here) and I are all saying (Jim, let me know if you agree): like Robin Williams's character in the movie Dead Again, it's important to know what you are.

In the movie, Williams plays a disbarred (or whatever you call a de-licensed doctor) shrink. Kenneth Branagh plays a detective who, among other things, may be trying to quit smoking. Williams tells Branagh that "[s]omeone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There's no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you're a nonsmoker, you'll know."

So, when it comes to studying for the bar, you're either risk-averse or risk-taking. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that.

Good luck on this summer's bar exams--in every jurisdiction.


Jim Chen said...

Hi Nancy. Thanks for your response. I've extended the discussion. As before and always, I'd love to hear your reaction.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, I have come to the conclusion that you and Jim are actually being too kind to the posts by Prof. Somin. I think the original advice, and even his amended post, are truly dangerous to a large chunk of law students. Many, many of them (even ones who did well in law school) who would follow his model of studying two weeks for the exam and treating it as just regurgitating memorized information would wind up being cautionary tales for their gossipy classmates and workmates.

Even apart from the risk-averse aspects and all the other cautions you and Jim rightly give, I think Prof. Somin's view is simply bad advice on the merits. I conclude that it is not about over-studying for the bar, "just in case," it is about studying properly for it, period. And the suggested approach is just foolish for most people quite apart from the dire consequences.

That's my 2 cents. I am sorry to be so uncharitable about it, and I don't know Prof. Somin at all, but I am truly concerned someone reading his posts might rationalize cutting corners or somehow think they can pass a bar exam with a couple weeks of cramming rules.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments, Jim & Alan! Jim, I've responded to your post over at MoneyLaw--thanks for the opportunity! And Alan, I agree with you that the downside for the folks who take Ilya's advice and then fail the bar is likely to be just awful. I worry a great deal about the consequences for them. I'd like to see some war stories from folks who fail--how bad WERE the consequences for them? Maybe the data will show that there is a reason that people are stressed out enough to overstudy.

Stephen said...

Two weeks at four hours a day just doesn't quite seem like enough time.

I still remember the year that 25% of Berkley's class failed the California Bar from not taking it seriously enough.