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Bar Prep: One Size Does NOT Fit All

Studying Law...

Similar to law school itself, the bar prep process can seem daunting to students and may encourage students to put it off. Students are faced with a plethora of different opinions regarding what the appropriate method and manner of bar prep should be for them. These opinions encompass bar prep questions that range from selecting the proper summer bar prep provider to determining how early to start reviewing the material during your 3L year. Like most 3Ls, I am often plagued by the anxiety that comes with making these decisions and trying to determine the best method of preparation for me. I have talked to my classmates, professors, co-workers, supervisors, and other lawyers to gain as much information as I can about the process in order to make the right decision for me. Through these conversations, I learned that everyone is different and will not approach bar prep in the same manner because you have to devise a plan that meets your learning style.

In addition to the standard summer bar prep programs, the West Virginia University College of Law offers a one semester, one credit course entitled Practical Legal Writing 1. The class offers third students the opportunity to start bar prep earlier during the school year and helps students to prepare for the summer bar prep programs. I am currently enrolled in the course because I thought that taking the class would help to alleviate some of my anxiety about the bar exam and summer bar prep. Before I signed up for the class, I had heard mixed opinions from other students about whether or not they thought that the class would be helpful to my overall bar prep experience. Additionally, I had heard that the class was overly time consuming for a one credit course.

Some of my classmates decided not to sign up for the class during our last semester of law school for various reasons. Some may have felt that they did not want to take a demanding one credit class during their last semester of law school because they would like to enjoy an easy last semester. Others may have felt that their high grades and study preparation that they had already put into their classes would enable them to jump into a summer bar prep program easily. Others may not have been able to fit the class into their schedule because it is only offered one night per week. Additionally, I think that the impending fear that surrounds the bar exam and bar prep generally makes the prep process seem daunting and because of this, some students may try to put bar prep off for as long as possible. As a result, I think that some students may be reluctant to sign up for a class that will constantly remind them of how difficult the bar exam will be and add extra stress to their lives. For some, instead of facing the animal that is bar prep head on it may be easier to put off the inevitable and rely on a summer bar prep program to prepare for the exam. Ultimately, I decided to sign up for the class after taking to some alumni who had taken the class and found that the pros outweighed the cons. In summary, I decided that taking the class would help to ease my mind and alleviate some of the stress that surrounds bar prep.

Jeff Kaiser, a 2013 graduate of the WVU College of Law, took Professor Wigal’s bar prep class during the spring semester of his 3L year and he recommended that I should do the same. When I spoke with Jeff, he expressed that he felt that if he learned one new little tip each class that would benefit him when he started his summer bar prep and took the bar exam, then taking the class was useful to him. The class helped to prepare him for starting bar prep in the summer. Instead of spending time in the summer learning how to write essays for the MEE or MPT, he was able to spend his time focusing on memorizing the law. Additionally, he thought that the class helped him to navigate the application process and Professor Wigal encouraged her students to submit their applications early in order to prevent any roadblocks in passing the character and fitness examination.

The first half of the semester is focused on learning how to write the multi-state essay answer (MEE) and the second half of the semester is focused on learning how to write the multi-state performance test answer (MPT). Each week, Professor Wigal assigns an essay question from an old bar exam. The subjects that are covered during her bar prep class include business organizations, family law, criminal law, and secured transactions. The practice essays are meant to teach students about the format of the questions and how to answer the questions appropriately for the graders.

As part of the class, Professor Wigal required each student to take a test to determine what our learning styles are so that we can figure out the best methods to intake and retain the information. The summer prep programs are set up to encompass a wide range of methods to reach out to different learning styles. The programs contain lectures that are meant to aid the auditory learners, and the outlines aid visual learners. On the other hand, practice problems and flashcards can help kinetic learners. Overall, the point of the exercise was for us to understand how the bar prep programs are set up so that we can adapt the program to fit our needs. During the bar prep process, Jeff said that it is important to have faith in yourself and how you learn. You cannot be focused on what other people are doing. For example, if flashcards are effective in helping you memorize new material, then by all means incorporate flashcards into your bar prep program. Additionally, he expressed that the bar prep process is essentially learning through practice because the format of questions and answers is just as important as knowing the law. Knowing the information is only half of the battle, you have to feel comfortable with the format and types of questions that you will be faced with during the exam.

Although I have not taken the bar examination yet, I have gained some insight into the prep and application process. Most importantly, I have learned that you have to listen to your gut and devise the appropriate course of action to attack the bar exam to fit your needs. You can listen to the opinions of other practitioners and your classmates, but everyone approaches the process differently and you have to find a system works for you to prepare for the exam. Bar prep is not a one-size fits all process. A method that works effectively for one person may not work as effectively for another person. While it is important to listen to others who have already been through the bar prep process, you ultimately have to be willing to adapt to a prep technique that will work for you. Additionally, you have to be willing to move from one method to another if it is not working for you. By starting bar prep earlier during your 3L year, you are able to ease your anxiety and learn how to utilize the summer bar prep programs in the most effective manner to meet your needs and pass the bar exam on the first time.

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