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Friday, January 6, 2017

The California Bar Exam Study Techniques

by Andy Semotiuk

 No bar exam is easy. The California bar exam is no exception. More so than in any other jurisdiction in North America, however, the California exam is not only a test of mental stamina, but a test of physical and emotional endurance as well. Some applicants pass on their first attempt. Others take the exam several times before their names finally appear in the Daily Journal as successful applicants. If your name is on the list this time, congratulations! But if not, or if you are about to write the exam for the first time, read on.

This article is written for you. This article will set out some study techniques that will help you do your best.

Study Techniques

1. Study Answers to Previous Essay Exam Questions
By far the most important tip for preparing for the California state bar exam is to study the model answers to previous exam questions. If you are taking a bar review course like BAR/BRI for example, focus on the essay workbook. By reading an essay question from past exams, for example, outlining what you think the answer should be, and then comparing your answer to the BAR/BRI materials - you get an excellent picture of what you know, and what you still need to learn. By writing out your answer, at least in point form, before referring to the BAR/BRI answer, you clarify where your memory of the law is still hazy and needs sharpening. You can use the summary answers as review notes. Highlight key words. These highlighted notes will be invaluable study aids the night before the exam.

2. Read the Materials, Attend Lectures and Do Assignments
Your study patterns should follow a set formula. As best as you can, read the materials assigned before classes. Attend all the lectures or at least listen to the tapes of the ones you miss. Do the assignments. And write practice exams. Some of my wealthier friends signed up for extra bar preparation classes. This was a good idea and I benefited by listening to borrowed audio cassette tapes while driving to and from classes.

3. Employ Memory Devices Such as Acronyms
In preparing for the California bar exam you are confronted by an overwhelming niagra of legal materials. It is impossible to digest such an intimidating amount of knowledge without employing some memory devices to keep information as organized as possible. As often as possible, therefore, use pneumonias and acronyms to help your memory recall important concepts. For example, in real property law I used the acronym TIP to recall the four unities of title in joint possessory estates: Time, Title, Interest and Possession. (I just remembered that the T in TIP stood for the two unities of Time and Title). With a little creativity you can summarize entire courses into one or two word acronyms!

4. Use Funny or Exotic Images to Remember Concepts
Use a funny or exotic image technique to recall important concepts. For example, to remember the test for obscenity in constitutional law I imagined General Patton, pure naked, running laps around a track. This vision would help me recall that obscene material must appeal to the prurient interest, be patently offensive, and have no laps, that is no literary, 2rtistically, politically or socially redeeming feature. Making up rhymes, jingles and ridiculous exaggerated action stories with the materials helps to imbed the knowledge into the brain.

5. Check Off Correct Answers in the Answer Section of Multi State
Material when working on the multi state multiple-choice questions, make it a point to mark the correct answers to test questions in the answer section as opposed to the question section of your materials. This way later on you can review wrong answers again to brush up on weak areas without having to match up the answers to the questions.

6. Keep a Disciplined Daily Schedule
As far as possible try to keep balance in your daily schedule. That requires good nutrition, exercise and sleep. Studies indicate that the average person's peak attention span is 45 minutes - make use of this fact. Take cat naps when you are tired and breaks every hour.

Andy J. Semotiuk is an immigration attorney lawyer who has successfully written the California, New York, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia bar exams. A former United Nations correspondent, Mr. Semotiuk has been in private practice for over 25 years. He is an associate of the law firm of Hansma and Bristow in Edmonton, Alberta. He can be reached by email at or through his website at

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