Sunday, July 8, 2012

Three Weeks Left: How To Act, Starring Your Index Cards, and Gearing Up for Virginia Short Answers

Studying for the bar is like a corkscrew. Every week you turn the screw a little tighter. Every issue I've discussed - proper study method, index cards, hierarchical subjects, sleep, exercise, etc - becomes more important. Gradually, everything converges.

The Next Three Weeks

With a little less than three weeks left, you're now in the thick of it. Whether or not you studied diligently in the previous two months, the next couple weeks will be critical. The good news is, from hereon out, you should be able to retain just about anything you study. The even better news is, the studying should be easier now - if you're studying properly! Subjects will be more familiar. Issues will be clearer. You should see progress on your MBE practice questions, and the practice essays as a whole will no longer be the confidence killers they once were.

The bad news is, now is the time when students can fall prey to a damaging mindset: "Shit! Only three weeks left! I need to go into overdrive. 16 hour-days from hereon out. No exercise, no decent meals, no rest, no perspective, minimal sleep. Nothing but the bar exam on my mind. . . . And yet I'm already way behind on the Barbri Pace Program. There's so much I feel like I still don't know. I have to know everything in three weeks. How is that going to happen? Holy crap! I'm freaking out!"

How to Act

Don't be that person. While you need to work hard in the next three weeks, you also need to work smart. Don't put in more than 8-10 solid hours of study per day. If 8-10 solid hours of study per day is taking you 16 hours, then I don't need to tell you that you're being distracted and inefficient. Also, take care of your body! Eat strong, healthy foods - not junk food. Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Relax for at least an hour per day. Go for a run, hang out with family, do something mindless - anything that removes you from bar prep.

Better yet, have your significant other or nearby friend or family member step in and force you to balance your time. Have them tell you, "Study for the next two hours; then we're playing a game of basketball," or "I'll pick you up at 8:00 PM for dinner; use your time wisely until then." Whatever the activity is, work it into your schedule. This approach will force you to be as efficient as possible with the time allotted. If I'm repeating myself, it's because this issue is important - and I know how easy they are to ignore.

How Not to Act

The alternative approach is a recipe for poor studying. If you gave yourself an extra hour or two of studying per day, instead of mindless relaxation, you won't be better off. What would normally take you an hour to review will now take you an hour and a half, because psychologically you know you have more time to spread out over. Throw in a couple more breaks and some distractions, and - poof! - you're back to being a poor studier.

When you're studying for the bar, the rest of your life shouldn't go on hold. I realize that, at times, your life will feel strained by bar prep, but it's important to keep a healthy balance as best you can - especially towards the end!

Index Cards - Starring Them

You should be finished with making your index cards, and headlong into learning them. You'll find that reviewing 50 index cards for a big subject will take substantially less time than reviewing that subject's 50+ page outline. You did the hard work already - filtering the important issues out. Now you need to learn those rules cold, and how to apply them.

For each subject, you will have important cards and less important cards. Star the important ones and put them in one pile and the rest in another pile. Essentially, you want two "piles" for each subject. Whenever you rifle through a subject, learn the starred cards first. Once you're comfortable with them, then move onto the non-starred cards.

Examples of starred cards could be issues that S&T's outlines highlight, or that frequently reoccur in the Virginia essays or on MBE questions, or that Professor Freer stressed in his lecture. Examples of non-starred cards could be MBE questions that tripped you up but which aren't commonly tested, or an issue in a Virginia essay you thought was worth noting.

Virginia Short Answers

On the written portion of the Virginia Bar Exam, you will have nine essays worth ten points each and ten short answers worth one point each. Students tend to blow off studying for the short answers, thinking that by preparing for the essays, they'll be prepared already.

Not really. Barbri's Short Answer section is there for a reason, and it's actually pretty good preparation. The problem is that Barbri's Pace Program doesn't address the short answers until about the last week, which is way too late. Barbri thinks you can go through these questions once and be OK. Not true.

Here's my recommendation: tear out this section and make three or four copies of it. Then, starting this week, take one copy and go through all of the questions. I expect you'll get 50% correct. Don't worry. Go through the answers and learn from your mistakes. At the end of this week or early next week, take another copy and go through every question again. This time, I expect you'll get 75% correct - a marked improvement. Again, go through your incorrect answers and learn from your mistakes. After a third run-through, you should be getting 90% correct. After a fourth run-through, you should be getting 97% correct. Getting 97% correct on actual, previous short answers questions is as good as it gets. There's no better way to prep for short answer questions.

That's all for now. If you're freaking out and desperate for some crash-course tutoring sessions, feel free to contact me. Good luck, everyone, and keep on trucking!

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