Survivor’s Guide to the California Bar Exam


The bar exam is one of the most difficult exams that a person can take. Because it is so difficult, people spend weeks and months studying 8 hours a day, five days a week. Preparing for the bar exam is practically a full-time job.

If you are preparing for the California bar exam right now or if your exam date is coming up on the horizon, you need to make a plan of attack so that you can perform your best. Here are some tips to help you survive your California bar exam:

  1. Know the Exam Structure

The California bar exam takes place over two days. That means you’ll have just a sliver of extra time to cram for the material covered on the second day–of course, compared to the length of time you should be studying before exam day, one night is not much time.

On the first day of the exam, you will have about 3 hours in the morning to answer 3 essay questions. You will have 3 more hours in the afternoon during which you will answer 2 more essay questions and take a 90-minute performance test. These answers can be written or typed. It is advised that you type them because, typically, answers are longer and are easier to edit than if they were written by hand.

The second day is split the same way, 3 hours in the morning, 3 hours in the afternoon. That day, each three hour period will cover 100 multiple choice questions for a total of 200 questions.

  1. Break the Exam Into Topics of Study

The California bar exam covers 13 topics. These topics include:

  • Business Associations

  • Civil Procedure

  • Community Property

  • Constitutional Law

  • Contracts

  • Criminal Law and Procedure

  • Evidence

  • Professional Responsibility

  • Real Property

  • Remedies

  • Torts

  • Trusts

  • Wills and Succession

By breaking these topics into study groups, you can remain focused on each topic to really get a grasp on the concepts. You can create a rotating schedule of these topics in the beginning so that they each get the same amount of time.

Once you start to recognize which topics you are more comfortable with, you can start shifting your schedule. Take allotted time from subjects that you’re comfortable with and add it to the allotted time for the subjects that you still need to work on.

Splitting your study time into individual topics will begin to bring structure into your study routine.

  1. Create a Set Study Schedule

Take as much time as you can every day (up to 8 hours per day/40 hours per week) and designate that time only to studying. Tell your friends and family about your study schedule so that they can keep you accountable and they know not to disturb you during this time.

Eliminate any distractions that you can. Don’t study in your bedroom or living room where you are tempted to turn on the TV. Find a quiet, designated space for studying that you can comfortably stay in for hours–maybe a work desk, the kitchen table (if you live alone), or even a quiet section in the library.

Studying for 8 hours at a time may seem excessive, but when you remember that you will sit for a total of 4 3-hour sessions to take the bar, you’ll realize that building your stamina is just as beneficial as studying the material.

  1. Get One-on-One Time with a Tutor

Working with a bar prep tutor one-on-one will really benefit your study time. They can help you become more aware of the areas that you need to work in. They can provide you with tools to help you study and remember the material better. They can even provide something as simple as some social time without the guilt of breaking from your study time.

The main benefit of working with a tutor is that you can’t always see the areas that you’re struggling with. Sometimes we have blind spots. Bringing in a professional who can point out those blind spots and help you overcome them will be a huge asset to you.

  1. Take Practice Exams

Taking practice exams or using old exam questions to test your skills are both great ways to check your preparedness. Grade these exams and see which areas you know well and which areas still need some work.

You can start off by answering an essay question at a time or doing small quizzes of 10-20 multiple-choice questions. Eventually, you should work your way up to full run-throughs of the practice exam as if it were exam day.

Do 3 hours in the morning, 3 hours in the afternoon for two days and complete the practice exam start to finish. This will give you an idea of how well your brain functions around hour 5 on day two. These insights will help inform how you study so that your study time is more effective.

  1. Take Care of Yourself

This point may seem less important than the other points, but it is actually the most important. If you burn yourself out, eat junk food, never exercise, and never make time for fun, friends, or family, you will hardly make it through studying for the bar exam, let alone passing the exam itself.

You need to take care of yourself so that your body and brain can function at 100% when exam day rolls around. This means taking appropriate study breaks, making time one or two nights a week for a social outing, getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising.

Skipping these things or cutting corners will only make it harder on you. It may seem like your gaining extra minutes and hours, but if that study time isn’t effective, it’s all for nothing. Take care of yourself first.

The California bar exam is a mental marathon. But, if you train diligently every day, you will be ready when your exam date rolls around. I hope this survival guide helps to set you up for success. Good luck!


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