HOW TO STUDY FOR THE BAR ON A BUDGET

Are you a law student, preparing to take the bar? If so, there is a fairly good chance that you are deeply in student loan debt. Did you know that it costs anywhere between $100-$1300 just to register for the bar alone depending on your state? You’ll also likely have to pay for a background check and other fees for your bar application. Expensive bar prep courses can also cost an additional $2000-$4000. In addition, you’ll need expensive bar prep software that usually costs around $200. Not to mention the opportunity costs if you are taking 1-3 months off of work to study for the bar. That means, taking the bar could easily cost you well over $5000, not including time taken off work to study! But I have good news for you. Studying for the bar does not have to cost an arm and a leg. And I have even better news. You can pass the bar studying approximately 20-30 hours a week. Here’s how to study for the bar on a budget.

study for the bar exam on a budget

A couple of preliminary matters: first, I took about 8 weeks to study for the bar. Second, I studied between 20-30 hours each week. And third, I am not a genius. If I can pass the bar this way, anyone who tried hard at a decent law school can do this. This is true because the bar is not like any other law school test you have studied for. Unlike your law school exams, you aren’t competing for the BEST score, just a passing score. Of course you want to do your best but you should weigh out what is most important to you. I don’t mean to state the obvious, but if making the BEST possible score on the bar is most important to you,  you will need to spend more time studying for the bar. (For example, if you are taking the MBE and you want a score that will easily transfer between states i.e. you think you might be moving a few years after taking the bar, then getting a good solid score is important.) If you have another endeavor (such as making money) is more important to you, then perhaps all you need is a passing score.  So take time to think about what is most important to you. But just because you might need more than 20-30 hours a week to study, doesn’t mean you can’t study for the bar on a budget. Here’s how.

HOW TO STUDY FOR THE BAR ON A BUDGET:

SIGN UP FOR A GOOD AND AFFORDABLE BAR PREP COURSE. 

I personally used BarMax and had a great experience but I have similarly situated friends who have passed the bar with AdaptiBar, Themis, and of course BarBri. BarBri is the most pricey and frankly, is not necessary. You can pay way less money and still pass the bar. I really liked using BarMax because I could access everything in their app. That meant that when I was with my toddler or otherwise on the go, I could be doing flash cards or taking practice MBE questions while also playing with him and his micro machines. Win-win. You can also do things like become a representative for one of the aforementioned companies to earn commissions and receive a discount on your bar prep materials.

USE FREE RESOURCES FROM YOUR LAW LIBRARY.

Using free resources from your law library is hands down one of the best ways to study for the bar on a budget. If you haven’t already checked to see what kind of bar prep materials your law school library has, that is probably the first place to start. I found ALL KINDS of goodies at my local library, including the fact that it was the only place I could find past state bar exams and answer explanations. It also had TONS of practice MBE and other essay questions. All for free! Your law library will also likely have all kinds of practice essay questions for all of the basic courses (i.e. criminal law, con law, civil procedure, etc). If your own law school library is disappointing or you don’t live near your law school anymore, make sure you check out other law school libraries close to you, even if they aren’t your alma mater. Law school libraries are the best resource ever.

USE FREE ONLINE RESOURCES.

In addition to using library resources to study for the bar on a budget, take advantage of free online resources. Plenty of states offer their past bar exam questions online. You can use this website here to see if your state has any free exams available online. If you are having trouble finding resources for the MBE, see this post from JD Advising. Or if you are looking for resources for the UBE, see this post. For any of the uniform courses (such as criminal law, civil procedure, constitutional law, etc) you can readily find ALL kinds of free practice essay questions online.

WORK PART TIME IF YOU CAN.

Something about the bar makes us all feel like we literally can’t do anything at all besides take the bar. That is not true. There are plenty of people who work while they study for the bar, and if you are really looking to stash some cash while you are studying for the bar, this is a great way to do so. What kind of part time work you do is up to you. Maybe you already have a job at a firm. Maybe you want to take a job that is nothing but fun. Or you could consider taking a temporary job (such as being a receptionist) where your boss would be 100% ok with you studying during slow times at work. Get creative. However you can make it work for you, try to work if you can. Don’t beat yourself up over it if you can’t.

SET THE RIGHT EXPECTATIONS

You are going to have to study for the bar. And it is not going to be particularly pleasant or easy. So, while you are not going to be studying 80 hours a week, you are still going to be studying and you are going to have to make the hours that you are actually studying count. You are also going to have to sit down and carve out the hours each week that you will be able to study. I got the bulk of my hours in on weekdays. As the bar got closer, I used Saturdays. I only studied on one Sunday, right before the bar.

STUDY SMART.

Don’t waste your time listening to lectures. Seriously. Not even in fast forward mode. The only times that I listened to lectures was in the car or while I was working out as more of a supplement to my studying. Sitting and listening to a lecture is a big time waster.  You need to only study the basics. You don’t need to know every nuance of every law to pass the bar. So, spend your time reading through the outlines, making sure you understand the rules, and start memorizing them.

  1. Study the core courses the hardest. I focused on the topics that appeared on both sections of the Oklahoma bar. There was the MBE portion and an essay portion. Topics like Civ Pro, Crim law, Contracts, Property, Evidence, etc that were on both portions is where I spent the bulk of my time because it helps you get the most bang for your buck.
  2. Do practice exams and study past exams answers more than anything else. I used this same principle when I was studying for the LSAT. I focused on taking as many practice exams as I possibly could. I compared my answers with sample answers (when I could find them). I memorized the rule of law based on sample exam answers when I could. I truly believe this is the smartest way to study, because it teaches you how the rule of law applies. Same goes for the MBE (or whatever multiple choice part of the bar you will take). You have to learn how to flush out the wrong answers in multiple choice questions and the best way to learn how to master those questions is to take as many of them as you can get your hands on. BarMax offers more practice questions than you can probably get through and I’d wager that most of the bigger bar courses offer the same.

USE YOUR TIME WISELY. 

Every minute of your study time counts when you are not studying full time (40+ hours per week). Stay off of social media, turn off the TV, and focus up. You can do those things later. I found that flash cards were useful when I was hanging out with my baby. I am not the type of person that can focus very well when my babe is around, but I could study really lightly. I did not use a single flash card while I was in law school, but I found that they were quite handy while hanging out with my man cub to just keep those things fresh in my mind while I was in between study sessions. Make sure you are getting in 2-6 hours in each day. Start the day with a couple of practice questions and then start making sure you understand the rules and memorize away.

KNOW YOURSELF.

Knowing yourself is key to studying for the bar on a budget. Do you need the structure of sitting in a class with other people? You might need a more expensive structured course. You know under what conditions you study the best.

START EARLY. 

Most bar courses are around 6 weeks long. I started studying 8-9 weeks before the bar. If you want to study less than 40-50 hours per week, you should maximize your time by starting a little bit early. Not too early though, because you don’t want to burn yourself out or peak too soon. I’d say 8-9 weeks before the bar should be about perfect.

BE GOOD TO YOURSELF.

It is hard to take care of yourself sometimes when you are a busy law student. It is hard to take care of yourself when you are a busy lawyer. Don’t forget to be good to yourself. Get sleep. Take showers. Occasionally, eat some vegetables. Squeeze in work outs a few times a week, even if you can only get 20 minutes in at a time. These things make you feel good about yourself. People who feel good about themselves do better at things, like the bar.

I found it helpful to peak at other people’s schedules when I was starting out for the bar, except sometimes they were way too complicated and honestly freaked me out. Here is generally what I did each week. In addition, I worked out almost every day, and spent lots of quality time with my son and hubby.

A sneak peak at my study schedule:

Monday: (5 hours) warm up with 2-5 MBE questions, review wrong answers. Learn/study Civil Procedure.

Tuesday: (morning study session) practice Civ Pro essay, untimed. Start reviewing a sample answer. (afternoon session) review sample answer, memorize rules that I missed

Wednesday:  5-10 MBE questions, review wrong answers, study Criminal Law

Thursday: morning session: Take 25 MBE criminal law questions. Review answers. afternoon: study Property 2 hours

Friday: morning session Full, timed practice essay. evening session: review exam

Saturday: morning session: full, timed practice essay. afternoon: review exam

Sunday: off

You can study for the bar on a budget and still pass with flying colors. All it takes is a little careful planning and a lot of focus when you have the time dedicated to studying. Don’t fall for the gimmicky bar prep courses that make you feel like you will not succeed without them. You can succeed on almost any reputable bar prep course without spending an arm and a leg.

P.S. If you use my affiliate link for BarMax, you’ll get 10% off their already amazing prices. Like I said, I genuinely LOVED using BarMax because it made studying for the bar not only a ton cheaper, but way easier to do. It was invaluable being able to study on the go!

What did you do/are you doing to study for the bar? I’d love to hear from you!

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