My Ultimate Bar-Prep Guide: How I Passed the CA Bar Exam While Working Full-Time

This accurately sums up my mood throughout those two months of hell

The following is an extensive walk-through of how I tackled the July 2021 California bar exam (while holding down a demanding, full-time job). As always, what worked for me, may not work for you. There are many ways to achieve success on the bar exam. Your mileage may vary. 

TLDR (because your time is immensely precious now); I was stringent with my time, kept up with my schedule, optimized for success by cutting A LOT of corners, and used Barbri, Baressays.com, Adaptibar, Smart Bar Prep, Cal Bar Bible (for essay predictions), Critical Pass, The Bar Exam Toolbox Podcast, Bar MD (for the PT), and this super cheap and easy book of rule statements
You can find my frequently tested topics map here.

Pep Talk

Before we dive into this, I wanted to start with a quick pep talk. You’re likely reading this post because you’ve already made the decision to study for the California bar exam while working full-time. I know that decision wasn’t made lightly. I was there only a few months ago. I know you wouldn’t be making this decision if you didn’t need to. So, unlike the many other blogs out there (and people in your life), I’m not here to scare you off or talk you out of it. Quite the contrary – let me be the first (and maybe only) person to say, you’ve got this. 

As nice as it is to feel so accomplished, this was not the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The bar exam is not impossible and it’s not that bad. I recognize this conclusion might piss a few people off (especially those folks that are so enamored with tradition and the sanctity of their precious institutions). I recognize that this conclusion is a consequence of my privilege. But I also recognize that boasting about the impossibility of the bar exam is, in its own way, part of a rite of passage in this field. Unfortunately though, many rites of passage are just methods of gatekeeping in disguise. And because 80% of the bar exam is about mastering the mental game, toxic boasting and over exaggerations about an exam that isn’t worth the anxiety and anguish it causes, can paralyze prospective examinees. Hence, I refuse to indulge in it. 

The California Bar Exam is not that bad.

Now, this isn’t to say that studying for the bar while working full time will be a walk in the park. This will be a challenging and exhausting two months. It will require sheer diligence, persistence, discipline, ruthless optimization, and a little bit of luck. But importantly, it’s all doable. You’ll need to remind yourself of that throughout your studies. 

On that note, I’ll leave you with one more reminder: this exam is not worth your health, your sanity, or your life. Unfortunately, suicide among bar examinees is disturbingly common. I remember seeing some dark tweets among #lawtwitter peers as the exam date neared. A ridiculous, archaic, bullshit, privilege contest (that the President of the NCBE has yet to partake in herself – fun fact), is not worth your life. Failing is not the end of the world. I promise. 

Now, let’s get into it. 

My Situation 

I took and passed the July 2021 bar exam. When I graduated from law school, I was already well into my full-time career at Google. I was not in a position to take two months off to study. Originally, I had planned to take the February 2022 exam, giving myself more time to study. That’s the plan I had communicated to my family and peers. But, in a rather impulsive twist, just weeks before we’re supposed to start studying for the July exam, and against the advice of my law school, I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what happens.

Looking back, it was the best decision I made for myself at that moment. There is no way I would have found the time to study for the exam in February, especially this far along in my career. 

Note: because of the pandemic, I had to take the bar exam virtually at home. Hence, my study tips and schedule are built with those logistics in mind. 

Pre-Study Prep

There are few things I did to prepare myself for what I knew was about to be an exhausting two-month sprint. 

Research

First, I looked for bar blogs written by anyone else that attempted to study / work full-time. I came up empty. Rather, I only found posts and Reddit threads that discussed what a terrible idea it was to work full time and how impossible the California bar exam is (now you see why I included a pep talk in this post). The only blog post that actually helped (and brought me some comfort) was this one written by my law school advisor from back when he took the exam. Though it’s a bit dated (and I even disagree with a few points now having taken the exam), it’s still a great read with many excellent tips for optimization. 

Socials

Next, I closed down all of my socials except for Twitter. Some recommend that you go completely dark while studying. That would not have worked for me. Twitter is an important social outlet for me. It’s also how I keep up with my field. I knew that I would have a lot of extra anxiety from closing my Twitter account for two months, so I chose to continue using it, just less. I muted all of my Twitter and Messenger notifications so I could never be interrupted. I also muted any and all words that had to do with the bar exam. I didn’t care about nor did I want to see how other people were studying (because I know I’m the type who would be tempted to constantly change my study habits just to match). I also didn’t want to read or indulge in the exhaustion olympics. Being exhausted and pitiful is easy like / retweet bait (but it can also be overwhelming, toxic, and make you feel like you’re not doing enough when you actually are). Some people take comfort in commiserating. I don’t. Your mileage may vary. 

[Note – Reddit can get pretty toxic around the bar exam too. I completely avoided it] 

Sobriety

I cut every substance out of my life except for caffeine (no excuses, no cheat days). You need every brain cell in order to memorize an extensive (and unreasonable) amount of information. And you have no time for hangovers.

Letting People In | Shutting People Out 

The last thing I did (besides gathering supplements – discussed later) was selectively tell the folks who needed to know that I was doing this. I was on the fence about telling my manager and team as I did not want them to withhold projects or “go easy on me” as a result. Of course, the entire point of putting myself through this experience was to preserve my career growth. I ultimately decided to let my teammates know, simply because I knew at some point in those two months, my work product would suffer. I owed my team that advanced notice. I even met a few colleagues that went through the same experience. Those colleagues gave me phenomenal advice and support throughout, and words cannot adequately describe how grateful I am for them.

Outside of Google, I chose to tell very few people (including my own family). For starters, I have an unhealthy relationship with failure and the last thing I wanted to do was have to tell everyone that I failed the exam (especially after everyone warned me about trying to study / work full-time). With that, I nominated (or volun-told) my husband (obviously), and my law school advisor (who I’ve trusted for years now with navigating tricky decisions like this one), to be my emotional support squad. I would not let anyone else into this plan until a week or two before the exam date. 

In many ways, I felt liberated by keeping this to myself. I was kept out of the misery-swirl growing among my peers, I never had to talk about studying for the bar during the brief moments of social interaction I allowed myself, and for the most part, my summer was super quiet. Not to mention, the two people I went to when I was at my emotional wit’s end were the two people that knew me best (and therefore always knew what to say). And because they weren’t also trying to study for the bar, they were emotionally available (most of the time) for my bullshit and they weren’t implicitly trying to one-up me with their own study habits. I owe both of them an immense amount of gratitude. 

At the same time, I’m not sure I can fully recommend shutting people out while you’re going through this process. While I did have a small support squad, there were days that got incredibly dark and lonely where I would have benefited from the emotional support of my peers (who were also going through it). I think the worst part was my friends “reminding” me how lucky I am that I don’t have to take the exam until February. No hard feelings – they had no idea.

With that, I did start letting a few of my peers in on my plan a week or so before the exam kicked off. I will say, it was nice having a couple people to outline essays with on the weekends, especially since I was already feeling pretty confident by that point. So, imposter syndrome wasn’t much of an issue as it might have been had I started group-study earlier. 

Again, your mileage may vary. 

My Schedule 

Setting a schedule and sticking to it was probably the most important aspect of my study plan. I knew I was at a disadvantage since I didn’t have the majority of my work-week to study. I knew that most of my peers were studying for roughly 8-10 hours every day. I believe that’s the schedule Barbri recommends (with a few breaks built-in throughout). So, I had to reconfigure my Barbri schedule to work for me. You’ll likely need to do the same – no big deal. Here’s what I did: 

[Reminder: What worked for me may not quite work for you. Adjust accordingly]

First, I actually started my studying a week late (so I disadvantaged myself even more…). I had family in town for graduation and projects to close-out at work, so I missed the first week of Barbri. Looking back on it, I would have skipped that first week anyway. The first Barbri week is just incredibly lengthy lecture videos that serve as intros to each of the subjects you’re already going to cover in-depth. Then there’s a few lectures on how the exam works. Save yourself the time – you can find all of that information online or in your prep materials. The course doesn’t start to get substantive until week 2. 

From then on, my schedule was the following (explanation after): 

June: Monday-Friday

7am: wake-up, read critical pass flash-cards (30 minutes), start work

12-1pm: lunch + select one of the following: Barbri MBE practice set, lecture video, critical pass

5-6pm: hard stop on work, walk the dog / quick work-out / dinner 

7pm-11pm: Barbri scheduled activities for the day (as many as I could complete in 4 hours) 

Saturday-Sunday

7am-8am: wake-up, take the dog to the park and read critical pass flash-cards

8am-11pm: catch up on Barbri schedule from the past week

July: Monday-Friday

7am: wake-up, 20 Adaptibar questions, start work

12-1pm: lunch + Adaptibar practice set, or 1 set of flash-cards (rules), or 1 practice essay

5pm-6pm: hard stop on work, walk the dog while listening to Bar Exam Toolbox Podcast, dinner

7pm-11pm: practice essays, Adaptibar sets / lecture videos, memorize flash-cards 

Saturday-Sunday

7am-8am: wake-up, take the dog to the park and memorize rules flash-cards

8am-11pm: flash-cards, practice essays, Adaptibar lectures and practice sets

Week Before the Bar Exam [same schedule, no changes] 

Weekend Before the Bar Exam: Same schedule – practice essays + learn how the PT works (I know – stay with me) 

Day Before the Bar Exam: took the day off from work, kicked husband and dog out of town,  went hiking, made two days worth of pb&j sandwiches (I recommend really easy / plain / solid foods that aren’t going to disrupt your system), read over my rules flash-cards and did 10 Adaptibar questions before bed. 

Day(s) of Exam: Warm up with 10 Adaptibar Q’s; eat pb&j sandwiches, watch an Adaptibar lecture before bed. 

Note: I did not take any of the breaks that Barbri built into the schedule (such as for 4th of July). YMMV. 

A Few Notes About My Schedule 

You’ll notice from my schedule that (1) it is particularly rigorous and (2) I only built in 4 hours of study time per day during the week. Looking back, though I had a lot of anxiety over not studying as long as my peers during the week, I found that 4 hours was plenty, especially since I was studying roughly 16 hours/day on the weekends (and I didn’t take any days off). In fact, I may have actually overstudied for the exam as I was trying to compensate for lost time. 

With that, I still had days where I didn’t study the full four hours because I was too burnt out from the workday. I had days where I woke up later or went to bed earlier than planned. I had days where it felt like I had forgotten everything or I was missing every single MBE question. All of that is completely okay. I remind you that this exam is not worth your health or sanity. Barbri’s schedule is also quite intense exactly for this reason (i.e. my guess is that they build in some extra padding knowing that we’ll have “off” days). 

All of this is to say, don’t beat yourself up if you need to take a few rest days or if you fall off your schedule. Don’t go back, just keep pushing forward.

You’ll notice that I also quit Barbri entirely in July. I completed about 50% of the Barbri schedule. Looking back, I would have completed even less of it. I actually found Barbri to be a mostly unhelpful time-sink. (More about this in the study aid section). By July, I was ready to just start memorizing rule statements and drilling MBE questions. So, I switched entirely to Adaptibar, BarEssays.com / Barbri Essays, Bar Exam Toolbox Podcast, Smart Bar Prep (flashcards), and the flashcards I had made for myself. 

Lastly, you’ll notice that I didn’t practice a single PT until the weekend before the exam. That might sound absurd, but practically, the PT is worth a lot less points than the essays and MBEs, and it’s honestly the easiest portion of the exam to learn. In my opinion, you can study the entire breadth of the PT (and learn all of the tricks) in a weekend. 

I did have to cut several things out of my schedule in order to make this work. For example, I blocked my work calendar so that I wasn’t attending unnecessary meetings (so I could get more work done during the day). I limited my social interactions. I stayed up on my field but pretty much stopped all the reading I used to do for fun. I had to get comfortable with telling people no. And I wasn’t emotionally available for anyone, including family. You’ll likely have to make some sacrifices as well. It sucks but it’s only two months. And the people that love you will understand.

Optimization 

The most valuable piece of advice I received regarding my bar prep was that I needed to optimize. There’s an important difference between studying for the bar and optimizing for the bar. In other words, work smarter not harder. In California, there are 16 topics you have to learn. Of those 16 topics, estimate about 100 rules per topic, so ~1600+ rules to memorize. That’s simply not going to happen, especially when you’re not in a position to study full time. 

I didn’t figure out that I needed to optimize until July. I spent all of June trying to cram and memorize all the materials that Barbri sent me. Every time I picked up that massive outline book, I would become immediately overwhelmed. By July, when I realized that I hadn’t actually memorized anything yet (and I was quite behind on my Barbri schedule), I threw out the Barbri schedule and focused entirely on memorizing only the highly tested rules for the essays (See Smart Bar Prep). This greatly narrowed the scope of rules I actually needed to memorize. If I had to do it all over again, I would have started the optimization process in June. 

With that, I cut many corners. For starters, I chose a throwaway subject (i.e. a subject I just wasn’t going to learn). That was California Civ Pro. Most of the Federal Civ Pro rules are similar to the Cal Civ Pro highly tested rules (not to mention, Cal Civ Pro doesn’t seem to be a popular essay topic). That’s where the California Bar Exam 2021 Rules Book comes in handy – I memorized only the few Cal Civ Pro rules that were in that book (mostly venue and service of process). I skipped the Barbri lectures entirely for this topic. I did the same for Business Organizations, Wills & Trusts, and California Community Property. 

I also completely stopped reading the Barbri outlines. The Barbri outlines cover every single possible rule that could appear on the bar exam (it’s way too much – and most of the rules are obscure and unlikely to show up on the exam). Again, I switched to memorizing the rule statements in the California Bar Exam 2021 Rules Book (which uses the most heavily tested rule statements). I decided that I would only memorize rule statements for the essay portion. MBE would be covered by repetitive practice with Adaptibar (more on that below). 

I also relied on the predictions from the Cal Bar Bible for the essays (more on this below). This might seem like a risky strategy, but life requires strategic bets. This year, Cal Bar Bible was 4 for 5 on their predictions for the essay topics. As a result, I was super prepared for 4 of the 5 essays (and I just BS’d my way through the 5th). I would do the same thing again – especially since Cal Bar Bible has had a pretty good streak over the past few years. If anything, you should know 5 of the essay topics absolutely cold and the rest you should know enough to fake it until you make it. (For example, memorize the Cal Community Property intro paragraph and you’re 60% of the way there for that essay). 

Ditching Barbri in July was also the smartest thing I did for my bar prep. I knew that my MBE accuracy was pretty solid (according to Adaptibar) so I focused primarily on drilling essays and memorizing that narrow scope of rule statements for July. I mostly rotated between my California Bar Exam Rules 2021 flashcards, Smart Bar Prep flashcards, Baressays.com, and Adaptibar. 

I also listened to myself – which might seem obvious. I knew from law school that outlines wouldn’t work for me. That didn’t change for the bar. So, I used outline substitutes (such as flashcards, podcasts, and lecture videos). I saw others on Twitter writing out the rules on whiteboards and in notebooks. I tried that and it didn’t work for me. But, rewriting all of the rules from the California Bar Exam Rules 2021 book into flashcards did work for me. I saw some folks would record themselves reading their rule statements. That didn’t work for me, but listening to others read rules on podcasts (like the Bar Exam Toolkit Podcast) did work for me. I’ve always been good at retaining information from listening to lectures, so lecture-based resources were the best for me. 

The most important part of optimization is accepting that you’re not going to be able to learn everything. So, take some bets, cut some corners, learn the most important and most frequently tested rules cold, and you should be okay. Let the massive Barbri manuals go.

Lastly, I found it helpful to try to understand the policy behind each of the rules I was memorizing. Understanding why these rules exist might help you retain the information beyond just rote memorization.

You can find my frequently tested topics map here

Study Aids / Supplements

If you’re reading this before you’ve created your own study schedule and supplement plan, then my only reminder is again, your mileage may vary. If you’ve already chosen your supplements and formed your plan, STICK WITH IT. Don’t switch it up just because I went about studying differently. Your plan will likely continue working for you. 

With that, let’s talk about study supplements. 

When I was studying Computer Science in undergrad, I distinctly remember my operating systems class (now that was the hardest exam I’ve ever taken in my life). In operating systems, there’s an important premise, called the context switching theory, that suggests that there’s always a cost to “switching.” The example given was shopping lines at Costco. A shopper could keep switching to the shortest lines to attempt to speed up their check-out time. However, a shopper that keeps their place in line might actually get served quicker than the switcher. This theory is used for optimizing OS algorithms. But you can also apply the theory to optimizing your studies, especially when it comes to choosing supplements [See also]. 

In other words, there are thousands of supplements out there to choose from. Your peers are naturally going to choose different ones. Most supplements do and say the same things. Pick the ones that work for you and stick with them. Resist FOMO. Switching to a brand new supplement midway through your studies may cost you more productivity in the long run. 

The following is a list of supplements I used throughout bar prep and my thoughts regarding each. [Note: it genuinely bothers me how expensive bar prep resources are, so I try to highlight the cheaper / most cost-effective resources here]. 

Cal Bar Bible (FREE): This is just a site dedicated to predicting the California Bar Exam essay topics. I did say you needed a little bit of luck! They’ve had a pretty good streak the past few years and for July 2021, they guessed 4 out of 5 essay topics correctly (the wild card being correct). 

  • How I Used Cal Bar Bible: I put a lot of stock into the predicted topics and studied those more heavily than the others. 
  • What I Would Do Differently: Nothing – 4 out of 5 is pretty good and as I’ve been saying throughout this guide, you have to take strategic bets.
  • Most Useful Resources: I only used their predictions. 

Baressays.com (Might be offered by your law school): [Note: this resource was offered to us by SCU Law but it’s also cheap if you need to order it yourself]. Baressays.com is a database collection of bar essays since the 1990’s (?). You can do practice essays and read sample answers ranging in scores from 40’s-65’s. 

  • How I Used Baressays.com: I drilled essays (outlining mostly) starting in July. I also  read through the sample answers to feel better about my progress (lol – seriously look at answers that got 50-65…). I would also jump on Zoom with a few friends and outline answers together. I tried to do an essay per day starting in July (and 6 or so over the weekends). 
  • What I Would Do Differently: Nothing – I drilled Barbri essays in June and Baressays.com in July when I was looking for something different. That worked for me. 
  • Most Useful Resources: The database of essays and answers is extensive and fantastic. 

Barbri ($$$$): I really wish I could get away with not recommending Barbri. Barbri is absurdly expensive, unnecessarily time-consuming, and ridiculously daunting. The only reason I still recommend Barbri is for the state specific resources (because I’m not really sure where else you can get those outside of the commercial bar prep companies). 

  • How I used Barbri: As I discussed in the schedule section, I only completed about 50% of the Barbri recommended schedule (and I did not complete the first week of lectures). I watched all of the lecture videos (on 2x speed), and completed most of the MBE practice sets. I actually ended up skipping most of the essay practice during the month of June and then drilled them back-to-back in July. I also spent a bit of time (unsuccessfully) trying to cram those phone-book sized outlines they sent us. I had only 2 of my essays graded.
  • What I Would Do Differently: I realized in July that Barbri is built to over-prepare but it is the absolute antithesis of optimization (see section above). Barbri attempts to teach you everything that could possibly be on the bar exam (regardless of whether those topics were even tested within the last decade or so). That’s why the lecture videos are 4-5+ hours and the outlines are mini-casebooks in themselves. Additionally, Barbri writes their own MBE questions and purposefully makes them twice as hard as the actual bar exam MBEs. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have listened to only the California topics and I definitely would not have wasted my weekends reading the massive outlines. 
  • Most Useful Resources: I found that the most useful Barbri resources were the MBE questions (because it makes the actual exam questions seem a lot easier), the mini-outlines for all of the bar exam topics + the California specific materials (these are the 1-10 page outlines they give you before you listen to each video), and the practice essays + model answers (including the PT practice exams).  Everything else, in my honest opinion, was overkill and it did more to psyche me out than actually help me prepare.

Adaptibar ($ varies): I LOVE Adaptibar. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Adaptibar is a must-have (yet reasonably priced) bar study resource. Adaptibar is the only bar supplement that uses real, licensed, MBE questions. It has a bank of over 2k questions and the app uses machine learning to drill your weakest points. Not only that but it also times you per question so that you can get used to answering Q’s within a comfortable target window (usually 45 secs-1 min).  Additionally, the Adaptibar lecture videos are short, easy, and targeted. The lecturer is phenomenal (S/O to Jonathan Grossman – I still mutter “shut up and pick it” to this day). Grossman actually teaches you how to game the MBE and focuses mostly on the highly tested topics. I especially loved the mobile app. 

  • How I Used Adaptibar: I used Adaptibar steadily in June but then entirely switched off of Barbri to Adaptibar in July. My goal was to complete all 2000 questions in the question bank. I believe Adaptibar recommends completing 1300 questions at 70% accuracy. I hit 70% accuracy with 1500 questions completed. In July, I used Adaptibar daily (with a goal of completing ~50 questions per day). I also listened to every lecture video (multiple times – they’re great for repetition), and I took all of the practice MBE exams. 
  • What I Would Do Differently: Ditch Barbri earlier and prioritize Adaptibar in June. 
  • Most Useful: all of it, especially the lecture videos (which you can order a la carte to keep costs down). 

Critical Pass ($$): Critical Pass is an excellent resource if you’re like me and prefer flash-cards over outlines. Critical Pass focuses on the highly tested MBE topics and rule statements. I especially appreciate the reasonable cost. 

  • How I Used Critical Pass: I picked a topic to focus on per week and would try to flip through that topic set first thing in the morning and right before bed. I loved picking a set to read through while I was at the park. I never attempted to memorize the decks, but treated them like I would my law school outlines. Repetition was key here. I stopped using Critical Pass in July once I was comfortable with all of the topics. 
  • What I Would Do Differently: I would have replaced the Barbri outlines entirely with Critical Pass. It would have been a better use of my time to read through Critical Pass sets instead of trying to cram the massive Barbri outlines every weekend in June. [Note: Critical Pass does not include the California topics, but you can write them in if you want]
  • Most Useful: All of it. 

Smart Bar Prep ($ varies): I discovered Smart Bar Prep when I was looking for ways to optimize my studying. This is when I realized that there is only a finite amount of questions that can be tested per topic on the exam, so it doesn’t make sense to try to learn absolutely everything. Smart Bar Prep has a frequently tested topics / rules document that I found particularly useful. Smart Bar Prep also has a flashcard database for all topics (including California). 

  • How I Used Smart Bar Prep: I used the frequently tested rules guide to re-configure my entire study plan for July, focusing on memorizing only the frequently tested rules. I used the flashcard database every single day in July (see schedule). Like Adaptibar, Smart Bar Prep adapts so that it repeatedly drills your weakest subjects / rules. 
  • What I Would Do Differently: Use Smart Bar Prep resources earlier in June. 
  • Most Useful Resources: Smart Bar Prep has a lot of different resources. I only used the frequently tested topics guide and the flashcard database. 

California Bar Exam Rules 2021 ($): The author of this book is the absolute GOAT. This $17 book was a literal god-send when I discovered it in July. I’m mad that I didn’t discover this book earlier in law school. This tiny, $17 book contains short and easy rule statements for every frequently tested essay topic on the California bar exam. I highly recommend this one.

  • How I Used California Bar Exam Rules 2021: This became a bar study staple for me in July. I turned every single rule statement into a handwritten flashcard (that was great for memorization). These would then become the flashcards I would attempt to actually memorize for the essays. This is the only word for word memorization I did. The rule statements are short and easy to digest. 
  • What I Would Do Differently: Start using this resource in June instead of July. 
  • Most Useful: all of it. 

Bar Exam Toolbox Podcast (Free): I absolutely adore the women who created this amazing (AND FREE!!!) bar study resource. The podcast is just episodes of the hosts reading rule statements and running through practice hypos. Short, sweet, portable, and great for repetition. You can find all of the episodes here or on Spotify. HUGE thank you to folks like this. 

  • How I Used the Podcast: I would listen to random episodes when I was walking the dog, in the shower, in the car, while I was cooking, before bed, etc. 
  • What I Would Do Differently: nothing – I started this podcast mid-June. 
  • Most Useful: I really enjoyed the “listen and learn” series but there are other series dedicated to exam strategies, law school, and career advice that you might find useful.

Bar MD (FREE): This is another excellent free resource. I used Bar MD entirely for the PT (I did not use Barbri’s PT lectures). Bar MD succinctly explains (and walks through) how to approach the PT (offline and virtually). 

  • How I Used Bar MD: I watched all of the Bar MD lecture videos for the PT the weekend before the bar exam. I followed along with the practice PT’s and explanations. I then read through all of the Barbri PT templates the night before the exam. The templates are less important than the actual strategy (which Bar MD covers at length). 
  • What I Would Do Differently: Nothing – studying the PT the weekend before the exam seemed risky but it was the exact amount of time I needed to feel prepared.
  • Most Useful: Bar MD has other excellent resources for other topics, but I only used the PT lecture videos.  

Productivity Apps

I used two productivity apps while I was studying: 

  • Forest: Every hour of productivity allows you to plant a virtual tree in your virtual forest. The app blocks out all of your notifications (for however long you choose to set your study window) and penalizes you for leaving the app (except for the apps on your allow list) by not allowing you to complete your tree. I was so proud of my cacti-filled deserts… 
  • Workmode: This a chrome extension that lets you block websites as long as the extension is toggled on. I would block social media and certain blog sites that would serve as major distractions.  

Bonus, my bar exam study playlist that consists of super repetitive instrumentals. 

Staying Sane

Lastly, you’ll want to have a few non-bar related activities for your own sanity. Here were some of mine: 

  • Working out: I used to do boxing / kickboxing and running before law school. I tried to keep this up, if anything for 30 minutes, during bar prep. This worked for June but I was too anxious by July to do anything but study. In July, I relied heavily on walking my dog to get me out of the house (and even then I was listening to bar prep podcasts on my walks). I recommend trying to do something active everyday (even if only for 10 minutes!). I even bought a standing desk which would allow me to stand / pace while listening to lectures. 
  • Mindless Cartoons: Between balancing my job and trying to cram useless rules into my head all hours of the day, I needed to unwind with something absolutely mindless. So, for two months I binged nothing but Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, Rick and Morty, China IL, South Park, and Mr. Pickles, all before bed. 
  • Leaning on my Support Squad: Lastly, I think I ranted at my advisor every single day about the bar. I didn’t even need a response, I just needed to be miserable for 15 minutes every day. Still, my advisor always responded with a one liner reminding me that I could do it and that the bar exam is indeed not impossible. And that’s exactly what I needed to hear every single time. Find the people that will do the same for you. 

Hopefully this guide was somewhat useful. Best of luck with your studies. Remember, the bar exam isn’t actually all that bad and it’s only two months. Work smarter, not harder, optimize for success, and you’ll be fine. Worst case scenario, you take it again (no big deal). 

You got this! 

19 thoughts on “My Ultimate Bar-Prep Guide: How I Passed the CA Bar Exam While Working Full-Time

  1. Hi Jess, thanks so much for this robust guide! Question: are the rule statements in the book California Bar Exam Rules 2021 duplicative of the rule statements in SmartBarPrep? I am looking for a rule statement resource but can’t figure out if these two cover different material or are the if they overlap each other. Why did you use both? Thanks!

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    1. Hey! The California Bar Exam rule book covers all of the rules you need for all of the essay topics. I memorized every rule in that book for the essays.

      Smart Bar prep has a nice extensive rules flashcard set up that I liked to use when I wanted something different to study (good for MBE too). I didn’t really focus on memorizing those. I really liked that the flashcards drilled your weakest topics.

      If you had to only pick one, I’d pick the Cal book. The Smart Bar Prep is just an extra study tool but they both cover the same material (just presented differently — which I liked).

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    2. Hi Jess ! I’m preparing for the CA Baby Bar on the 28th of this month and I googled “ca bar exam pass tips” and your blog came up. I’m SO GLAD IT DID ! I’ve been using adaptibar and bar essays. I was also considering doing the barbri prep but based on what you said, I’ll skip it. Thank you so much for you advice and congratulations on passing the bar !

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  2. Wow. This has to be some of the worst advice i’ve seen. Lets recap a few of my favorite takeaways: 1)you want some sort of praise for deciding to take the bar exam late (terrible idea) 2) you want some sort of praise for working while studying for the exam (even more terrible of an idea); 3) You go to great lengths to highlight how your financial privilege was key to your success (this is a little odd but glad you could afford all the programs and books); 4) You advocate for not studying the performance test until the week before; 5) You posted your Adaptibar scores as some sort of flex. Thanks for the cringe content but leave the bar exam tips to the professionals.

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    1. Hey! Thank you so much for taking the time to read the post. I’m sorry my advice did not resonate with you. It’s honestly not for everyone. I definitely don’t need any praise — passing the exam was enough for me.

      Re: financial privilege: you’re correct. I’m incredibly privileged to be able to afford the many supplements that I used to pass the exam. This is why, however, I chose to highlight resources that are cheaper than the overtly expensive ones like Barbri. I hate that aspect of the bar and I even wrote about that in depth here: https://ctrlaltdissent.com/2021/11/14/i-passed-the-california-bar-exam-abolish-it/

      It looks like this post didn’t work for you, and that’s completely okay. Best of luck with your future endeavors!

      Like

  3. Wow, so first off I’d like to say thank you so much for your article. This is my 4th time taking the CA bar exam during Covid— graduated may 20 with a covid semester. Your breakdown of how you studied is super helpful, especially for repeaters. Yeah, some students have to work and can’t afford bar prep and all that so some people have to really learn a different way. I know several people who studied this way (with some variation) achieving successful results . I appreciate you writing how each mode (ex critical pass) worked for you and how you would do XYZ different. This is how I’ve been studying- ditching Themis and focusing on AdaptiBar and just zoning in more directly towards studying and have found this approach to be so far rewarding and am going to incorporate what you said in your article. Thank you again so much!

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    1. Awesome! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. Best of luck with the exam this time around and please LMK if there’s anything else I can do to help!

      Like

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I appreciate your post, I really do. I needed to read someone who actually works full time could pass the exam, what I see in social media are only children that study 8 hours a day, everyday. That’s not an option for some of us.

    I’ll be taking the exam next July, so I have time, but definitely your advices are appreciated.

    Thank you again,

    Best.

    Like

    1. Hey Cristain, i would be taking the GA Bar exam next July as well and wanted to know if it was CA or a different state bar exam you would be taking ?

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  5. Highly motivational for me. Thanks a ton Jess for writing in detail. I am working full time and managing family, it is tough but not impossible I believe. This is my first day to plan and start up again to prepare for CA bar, entered close-by Library, opened the Laptop and search “how to prepare CA bar exam” & saw your blog, fantastic. Thanks again.

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  6. Hi Jess,

    Wonderful guide. Amazed you were able to be so efficient with your schedule and pass the bar while working full time. However, I didn’t see any time allocated for those Costco trips!

    I took the bar 3x, and I completely agree with your guidance. By the third try, I studied far less, but my sole focus was half a day of practice essays, half a day of practice mbes. I stopped watching lectures or doing any readings. Best decision ever.

    I’m glad you found baressays.com and adaptibar to be useful. It sounds like, just like me, you learn the best by doing, so those two study tools were highly effective. Not only that, but they’re a small fraction of the price of the traditional bar prep tools.

    Thanks for writing this all out. I can tell you’re someone who likes to give back by sharing your knowledge. I admire that a lot.

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  7. I love your post, as it gives insight how you did what you needed to do to pass. Congratulations. However, I caution everyone from using the rule book you used as it is filled with errors on the substantive law and may cause folks to get their MBE questions wrong if they rely on it too much. It is however a great list and f commonly used rules. But they beed ti be crossed checked with other sources. On Fundamental level I wouldn’t give that author a dime as he Edmond pled guilty to federal fraud crimes against the US Navy. He is currently awaiting sentencing. He will never become an attorney. Please use caution. Other list of riles can be obtained from blacks law dictionary or any study source which will likely be more accurate. Your article is fantastic and I am so happy for you passing the bar while working full-time!

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  8. Wow, I am taking the bar in July and knee deep in Barbri overload. I am so glad I stumbled on this and it reinforced my feeling that Barbri and adaptibar alone isn’t going to get me there. I have been searching for easy rule statements and outlines and I bought the book and smart bar prep and I feel a bit better about everything now- TY!

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  9. This entire post was so helpful, Jess! Thank you so much for taking the time to write it! I am currently preparing for the Cal Bar and have incorporated some of your insights in my study routine. With that being said, I was wondering, did you write out complete essays or primarily focus on outlining? If you primarily outlined, did you switch to writing complete essays towards the last week of bar prep? I keep hearing different approaches to studying for essays and would love to hear your input!

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  10. Hey Jess, Congratulations on Passing the CA Bar Exam! I know how hard you worked, Well done. Thank you so much for this blog post. It has really motivated me and given me the courage and zeal to take the bar exams one last time. It helped me approach taking the bar exam differently this time around, considering this would be my fourth time taking the GA Bar exam. I was looking for other ways to help me prepare because i was so tired of writing the same exam every year. It can be extremely frustrating but i refuse to give up and i want to write the GA Bar Exams one last time. I plan on taking the GA Bar exam in July Next year, hopefully i would be fully prepared. Is it possible to get some of the materials/personal outlines (apart from the critical pass) you used and prepared mostly for the MBE questions since the essay would be different because of the different rules In CA and GA. I also wanted to know if you knew anyone who took the GA Bar Exams that i could contact and get some of their essay materials they used to pass (apart from the ones mentioned above). Thanks in advance and i wish you all the best.

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  11. Jess,

    Thank you for your blog post. I graduated law school in 2018, took the bar 3 times, didn’t pass, and I’m attempting to take it again this February. Your tips are very helpful (coming from someone who’s gone through studying a few times). This time I’m fortunate to be able to afford a tutor, while I work part time until the test in Feb. I personally never felt like the commercial bar courses were helpful, besides the structured schedule, they weren’t tailored to my style of studying. Hope you’re doing great!

    Like

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