Hey everyone! Some exciting news: I passed the Virginia Bar Exam after sitting for it for the first time this February! I was so thankful, especially because I did not follow the traditional bar prep strategy of prepping full time. If you can prep full time, do it. If you can’t, like me, then having a regimented schedule set is key, as is starting a little early. Either way, the most critical aspect of bar preparation is learning to maximize your preparation time and to take care of your mindset going into prep and to the test. That means “trimming the fat” of your prep course and maximizing engaged learning (think, the review books, practice tests and essays!).
I had begun working in the Summer, and I was in the position where I either would lose all the growth I had worked to create or would need to continue working part time. This meant that I had to be very adaptable with my schedule, and with how I prepared for the exam.
Because of this, my schedule had to be very regimented in order to successfully pursue both goals simultaneously (I also decided last minute, in the midst of prep, to compete for the Miss Chesterfield Competition in early January! It was the only local that wasn’t too close to the bar, so it meant that any free time I had left in those first few weeks was devoted to competition preparation). In total, I prepped about 10-11 weeks total for the bar exam, with 3 weekends completely off and most Sundays off. I also took a bar prep course offered by WM during my final semester of law school, which most definitely gave me a leg up. If your school has one, it’s well worth the time investment (even though ours landed on a Friday!).
I spent 3-6 hours daily on prep, up until the last two weeks, when I spent closer to 8 hours daily. Sometimes, depending on work, this was first thing in the morning, sometimes it was into the late hours of the night. I started right around Thanksgiving to give myself a jumpstart. I switched up the time of day I focused on bar prep daily, but I always blocked off the time I prepped so I got into “prep mode”.
One thing to mention: during bar prep, some days you will be less productive than others. The critical thing I learned with these is that moving forward and not mentally penalizing yourself for off-days is crucial to your success. Bar prep is in many respects a mental exercise dependent on your stamina and mind-set. You will most likely have some “off” days during prep, and that’s ok. Bouncing back and not beating yourself up after is key to ensure you have the right head space!
Two weeks before the exam, I quit most of work (outside of checking emails) and also cut out the gym (I did at home workouts to save time). During this time period, I was averaging 6-7 hours daily.
My daily schedule (leading up until the last two weeks)
6:30 am: Wake up/get ready.
7 am: Leave to go to Gym/Workout. (4x a week)
8:30 am: Bar Prep begins! (I had a premiere protein shake and cucumbers for my snack everyday).
11:30-12:30: Bar Prep Ends. (30 min break)
10:30-12: Miss Chesterfield/Miss Virginia Prep (This was my “fun” activity during prep!) .
That’s it. That was my life for ten weeks. I won’t say it was a good time, but I will say it was worth it on April 17th!
I definitely recommend having something to focus on during the interval between the conclusion of the exam and the day results are released. For me, it was work, but it can be anything that lets you take your mind away from the pending results.
If your friends have already taken the bar, use their experiences to guide you. A big perk for me of taking it for the first time in February was getting to ask my law school colleagues for advice- some of which I’ve included here, with their permission!
For me, faith was really important. I prayed a lot during bar prep for peace of mind, especially during the bar. On the morning before the start of the essay portion of the exam, I had started to feel a little nervous. I prayed to God to guide me on this next portion, if it was his will. I had this feeling that property (my weakest subject, by far) would be on the test. So, to quell my nerves, I studied one single page from the property section of the Barbri Mini Review. That page ended up being the subject on one of the afternoon essays. Trust your gut!
I was lucky and Barbri was almost entirely covered (I paid like $20, I think) by my Miss Virginia scholarship money. (Shoutout to the Miss Virginia Organization and to Jen Bailey, the scholarship dynamo for helping me to figure out how to cover bar prep with my scholarships!) So, that left me funds in my budget, and allowed me to add two supplemental programs: Adaptibar and Lexbar (this is VA specific for the essays). I highly recommend both, and have a code for Lexbar- VBESUCCESS for $25 off. Pro-tip, if you look online, you can likely find an adaptibar discount!
Looking at old essays from your state (or UBE if you’re in a UBE state) is also key. In Virginia, WM has a bunch (linked below). These are great as a tool to see what has been/will possibly be asked. For example, because Commercial Paper hadn’t been asked in several years, although it was a less commonly tested subject, I realized it may be tested when I took the test. That hunch was right- it was one of the essays.
Here’s the link: https://law.wm.edu/academics/howto/prepareforbar/pastexams/
I watched approximately 1/2 of the Barbri subject videos (at the fastest speed), skipped the essay review videos entirely (but read every single one of the sample answers + explanations), and did every essay in the book as well as 20 of the essays from the WM site + Lexbar. I tried to finish all of the videos in the first 4 weeks. I mostly ignored the large Barbri outlines and used the Convisor mini review. I also did a bunch of MBE practice questions, including every set from Barbri and about 1200 from adaptibar. Every night before bed, I did at least 20 MBE questions. I tracked my progress and what areas I was weakest in (property). My final Barbri practice MBE, I scored around 75%, so I tapered off the MBE questions in the last few weeks (I did around 25 a day, with two 100 questions practice tests in the last two weeks).
Anytime I got something wrong on an essay or on the MBE practice, I would handwrite a flashcard with the correct answer. I also did flashcards for my weak subject areas, and reviewed all of them for 2 hours the two weeks before the bar.
One thing to note: I totally, completely, made up portions of the law on one of the essays on the bar. I remembered the names of 2/5 English Covenants and completely made up the names for the other three, as well as the legal principals as to how they should be applied. I walked out so fearful that I had failed because of that one essay. Remember, all you need to pass the bar is a “D”- so even if you don’t know everything, you very likely will still pass. Just make sure to write something for every essay, even if it’s made up. Logical guesses and conjectures are always better than not including anything at all. Formatting is also an integral component of bar essays. Make sure you are practicing either IRAC or CREAC (I did IRAC) as a means to organize your essay. I also emphasized the conclusion and key points using bolding so it would be impossible for the graders to miss.
Great Advice that I utilized from other Attorneys during prep:
“Be Regimented and read funny blog posts about the bar”- Haley Moss, Esquire
“Practice the Essays. Do every Essay in the Book”- Kendall von Michalofski, Esquire
“Write yourself an encouraging letter to open after you get results in case you fail- this will help you to manage and have a game plan all set to go! Treat it like a job and set a schedule.”- Sarah Faris, Esquire
“Write “I will pass the bar exam the first time” out on paper or a notecard, and put it on a
place you will see every day.” and “make sure you review every answer, even when you get a question right”- Krystal Gurnell, Esquire
I will definitely say, getting to call myself an Attorney is probably the best feeling I’ve had *bar* none in my life. Pulling up the pass list and seeing my name on it felt very surreal. It made all of the work well worth it. But, I will add this- if you don’t pass your first time, or second time, or third time that’s ok! So many superbly intelligent and highly skilled attorneys fail the bar examination (hello, allegedly including FDR). You are worth so much more than a single exam. You’ve got this!
Bye for now,
Hallie Hovey-Murray, Esq.