The written portion of the Virginia Bar Exam is a worth 60%, and is comprised of nine essays and ten short answers. You are responsible for 23 state-specific subjects, more than any other bar in the country. The essays will test you on about half of those subjects, with each essay typically testing on more than one subject. The remaining subjects will likely show up in the short answers. On the ten short answers, the average score is 5/10 correct, which should also give you some idea as to their overall difficulty. Most of them will be multiple-choice, while a select few will be fill-in-the-blank.
Each essay is worth ten points and each short answer is worth one point, for a total of 100 raw points. In the morning, you will have three hours to answer the first five essays. Plan for 35 minutes per essay - to read, outline, and answer. In the afternoon, you will have three hours to answer the remaining four essays and ten short answers. Again, average yourself at 35 minutes per essay and 35 minutes for the ten short answers, although the short answers should not take you 35 minutes to complete. Answer the short answers first. If they take you fifteen minutes to complete, then do the math; you now have 40 minutes to complete the remaining four essays.
The VBBE writes tough - but fair - essays. They are not gimme points, and they are not the sort of essays that you can B.S. your way through. On the other hand, they are well-written and seek specific answers (not hide-the-ball-type). All this is to say that, unlike other bar exams, you can't blow off Virginia's state-specific subjects in favor of investing all of your time into the MBE. If you are not fully prepared for this portion of the exam, you are dead in the water.
The 35-Minute Rule
35 minutes per essay - to read, outline, and answer- means that you have to move efficiently. Barbri stresses the importance of outlining your answer before writing it. They suggest 5-10 minutes for reading, 10-15 minutes for outlining, and 10-15 for writing. If that works for you, do it.
I often found that outlining Barbri's way ate away at precious time, so I didn't really outline. Plus, 10-15 minutes to answer some Virginia essays just isn't possible. As I read an essay, I made small notations in the margin. When the essay posited its questions at the end, I answered each one in a few words (e.g., (a) "No. Summary judgment invalid. Depositions are not used to determine validity. (b) John takes priority because he is a holder in due course. All elements satisfied. (c) Jane may use an Alford plea for X reasons.) My brief jots were the points that I needed to make in my answer - the most important points I needed to cover. Nothing more. From there, I dove into writing my answer. I preferred a skeleton outline if it meant extra time to craft my answer.
23 state-specific subjects is a tall order. No easy way around it. And accept this fact sooner than later: you will not know everything. Don't try to, either, because you'll give yourself an anxiety attack. You'll never know everything -- but you don't need to either.
That's one of my biggest beefs with Barbri. They throw all of these subjects at you, one after another, and lead you to believe that because all may be tested, all are equally important. That's Barbri's way of covering themselves (i.e., "If we say, 'know everything,' then we can also say 'told you so!' if the VBBE tests you on something obscure.") The problem is, when you try to know everything, you end up knowing everything at a C-level. And that's from where your anxiety will come. As you review practice essays, you'll realize that you don't know the important aspects of each subject as well as you should, because you spent too much time on the obscure details. Your knowledge will be patchy and, in your head, will feel disorganized. How does everything fit together? Why can't I recall material that I already covered? It's a slippery slope that can devolve into a meltdown two weeks before the exam. I just wouldn't recommend Barbri's approach.
Efficient Approach to Studying
Instead (and once more), you don't need to know everything, but you do need to know the important things. Barbri will give you a chart showing frequencies at which the VBBE tests each subject. Looking at this chart, you can break down the subjects into three categories: high, medium, and low. Under high-frequency, place the top 3-4 commonly tested subjects (e.g., VA Civ Pro, Wills / Trusts, Fed. Jur., Equity, etc.). Under medium-frequency, place the middle bunch of commonly tested subjects (there's about 10). And under low-frequency, place the subjects that are rarely tested or, when they are, are not worth very much (there's an additional 10 or so). Then start with the first tier. Study those subjects cold, as typically all of them are tested on each exam. Once you are comfortable with these subjects, then move to the second tier and repeat the process. All subjects are important, but the third tier carries the "least important" ones. Apply your time accordingly.
Knowing a subject cold does NOT mean knowing everything within that subject. Read through all of the practice essays. They are organized by subject. You will see which areas within each subject are commonly tested, and which areas aren't. The practice essays - not the Barbri outlines or lecture handouts - should dictate what to study and where to focus your efforts.
If you want to follow Barbri's schedule and outline practice essays three or four per night, go ahead. I don't recommend it, but it's better than nothing. A better use of your time would be to read the Virginia Essay book from cover to cover at least once. Again, take each subject one at a time. Within each subject, read each essay and its corresponding answer (no outlining). This process will make clear what law is commonly tested within each subject, and which isn't.
Studying for the bar exam is hard enough, so don't make it harder on yourself. Use your time efficiently by following a schedule that corresponds with the law the VBBE frequently tests. In other words, apply far more time to understanding the subjects on which the VBBE will almost certainly test you, and less time on the ones on which they may only briefly test you. It's better to know nothing about Tax Law but to be fluent in VA Civil Procedure than to know both at a C level. The former approach will yield more raw points.