How I Passed the Texas Bar Exam

Induction Ceremony Program Booklet (Austin, TX)

Disclaimer: This is what worked for me. I am not suggesting or promoting my methods or practices, or any of the programs mentioned. Although I am posting this on April 3, 2012, I took the July 2011 Texas Bar Exam and this blog post was written the day after I received my results online. I was busy looking for a job and never posted it. By the way, I got my results in November and found a job in December.

I usually don’t write too much about personal matters. I like to keep my blog about reading; however, I decided to write this post in case some other soul is out there googling “how to pass the Texas bar exam” like I was. I wanted to write this down while it was still fresh on my mind.

Yesterday, I found out that I passed the Texas Bar Exam on the first try. I was ecstatic! I tried to recall the feelings that I had over the last 3 years and 3 months. I’ve had a mix of anxiety, joy, and nervousness. I’ve had great triumphs and smalls setbacks. But, the feeling that I felt yesterday when I saw my name on that list was worth every single moment of studying, crying, being broke, worrying, living with family, traveling for conferences and law school prep, dragging heavy books around, buying $900+ laptops, and countless hours reading in the library. I’ve broken my tips down into what helped me to prepare for the bar during law school, what helped me during bar prep, and what helped me on the day of the exam.

Before Law School

I’ll keep this section brief. Before law school, I focused a lot on writing. My degree was in English and I also taught writing. Now, a lot of people think that they are good writers, but they are not. I actually enjoy writing and I focus on keeping my writing as well-organized as possible. My knowledge in the areas of grammar and punctuation are well above average (although, I do make mistakes like everyone else, especially when blogging). I am sure that this helped me immensely on the writing portions of the bar. Where my knowledge might have been lacking, my answers were succinct and easy to understand. This likely helped the graders understand my responses, at least.

During Law School

During law school, I took bar classes. This tip may seem basic, but I know that many of my friends took “fluff” classes after second year in order to pad their GPA’s. They graduated “with honors” but had not learned much law after the first year. I took harder classes, some of which dragged my GPA down, but when bar prep came around, none of the subjects were new to me.

When I started my commercial bar prep course, there was only one bar class that I had not taken, which was Oil and Gas law. The only reason that I had not taken it was because the time that it was offered conflicted with the time that I had to pick my son up from school; the following semester, it conflicted with my internship. However, had I known that it was not only “on the bar,” it was also interwoven into the Property essay questions, I would have found a way to take it.

Since I did not take Oil and Gas, I started reading a book called The Oil and Gas Primer. I started reading it during the second semester of my last year of  law school. I read the first half of the book twice. It helped me get a basic foundation; I took notes on the vocabulary at the same time.

By taking bar classes, I was able to review certain areas of the law during bar prep, instead of trying to learn them during bar prep. There is no time for that during bar prep….but, I’ll get to that.

I made detailed outlines or took detailed notes in class, or both. I saved every single handout and informative email sent by professors. I categorized them and referred to them when need be. During bar study, I referred to them because the information was often much more compact and useful than the massive amounts of information from BarBri.

During my first year of law school, I took LEEWS (http://www.leews.com/)  and started practicing that system of essay writing. It worked well for me and I used a lot of the tips that I picked up for bar essay writing. (Disclaimer: I distributed information for the company while I was in law school, but I was not paid or asked to promote it in this post.)

My school offered an MBE course, which I took. In the course, we reviewed MBE subjects and took practice exams. The practice tests were extremely useful; we were required to achieve 60% or better on each subject area. If we did not meet this barrier, we had to retest. Some of the restest questions were the same, but not all. What really helped, though, was the explanations after the test that were conducted by the professors. I should mention that this course was provided through a partnership with Kaplan PMBR. All of the professors who participated were also PMBR lecturers.

During Bar Study

I am not trying to tout my study habits during bar study. I will say up front that I was not the person who followed BarBri’s schedule, or the suggested schedule from my school 100%, or even close to it. Here is what I did and did not do:

  • I DID NOT submit practice essays to be graded by BarBri. I did not know enough law to write out essay questions during the entire bar study period. Also, I was a hand-writer and BarBri wanted typed essays submitted. This would require me to either type up my essays, or mail them to BarBri to be graded. I decided early on that that would be a waste of time (for me!). If you need essay feedback, by all means either take the time to send them to your bar prep company or bar prep tutor.
  • I DID look through several years of practice essays and during the last 3 weeks of bar study, I focused almost exclusively on writing out practice answers or outlining answers, then comparing them to model answers.
  • I DID NOT complete 2000 practice MBE questions, nor did I spend an excessive amount of time working out of the MBE books provided by BarBri.
  • I DID do hundreds (probably not thousands – I didn’t count them, but maybe 1000 or so) of practice questions using the BarBri app on my phone. I kept pace with BarBri’s suggested number of practice questions, at  least 25-30 or so a day. I read the explanations after each question and marked questions that I needed to review again. This was all done on my iPhone app. I also uploaded my scores so that I could compare my performance to others who were studying for the bar. (Remember, I started my practice MBE questions during law school).
  • I DID NOT supplement my bar study with any other program besides BarBri.
  • I DID go directly to the bar examiner’s website to pull off questions and answers because it was just easier than lugging around books.
  • I DID NOT skip any lectures! I also DID NOT always attend the live lectures. The lectures were offered on video at my school & occasionally watched them at home. When I watched at home, I sat for the entire 3 hours with no distractions – no TV or phone. I only took breaks that were scheduled within the video itself, just as I would have at a live lecture. (Let me add that I was absolutely broke during bar prep and had car problems, which was why I did not attend every single live lecture.)
  • I DID take notes in the lecture handbook for every lecture. This was vitally important to me because it meant that at least once during the summer, I was exposed to every piece of information that the lecturers thought was relevant.
  • I DID attend the BarBri essay-writing workshop. It was helpful. I also DID do the BarBri  MBE “midterm.” I scored horribly and after that, I started re-reading outlines (long outlines) in my weakest areas, like property. I did exponentially better on the real deal.
  • I DID not review each question. I didn’t have the time. I only reviewed questions that I got wrong and I only focused on areas where I did very poorly.
  • I DID NOT have a set schedule. This was good and bad. I listened to my body, took a night off when I needed to, and rested when I was exhausted. However, I would get up at 4 am sometimes to do practice questions, etc., or do them while eating dinner. I listened to my body and used my common sense, along with paying careful attention to the BarBri schedule and my suggested school schedule to make sure that I did not fall behind.
  • I NEVER did the pre-reading the night before a lecture. I never had time.
  • I DID do a practice MPT and I submitted it to BarBri; however, I had done practice MPTs for a class I took on Texas Practice (the first day of the bar exam), so MPTs were not new to me.
  • I DID NOT study with anyone else. I mean, every now and then I sat at a table with, or by, a friend but we did not study together.
  • I DID NOT fully utilize the available bar mentors at my school.
  • I DID do lots of practice MPTs during law school. I DID NOT spend time on them during bar study; during bar study, I only did one or two.
  • I DID NOT pay for the extra BarBri session specifically for Day 1 of the Texas Bar Exam. Instead, I studied bar-focused class materials on Civil and Criminal Procedure in Texas. (I had taken a whole class on preparation for Day 1 & I did go to the summer prep course offered by my teacher, who was also a Kaplan instructor.)
  • I disabled my Facebook account, but I did waste some time on Twitter. 🙂

I hope this is helpful to someone. If so, please post in the comments!

The Night Before the Bar Exam
Interestingly enough, I almost missed the first day of the exam. I had it written down incorrectly and had also told my family the wrong dates. I didn’t realize the bar exam was the next day until I started getting “good luck!” text messages and emails with last-minute suggestions. Basically, I didn’t have time to be too anxious, so I relaxed and read over a long Criminal Procedure outline in preparation for Day 1. I went to bed early (9pm), and prayed. I believe I was too nervous to eat. My son spent the night at my mother’s house.
 
During the Bar Exam
 
I was a hand-writer. I was too nervous to drive, so I had planned for my sister to drive me and pick me up for all three days. On Day 1, I ate a light breakfast, but I couldn’t finish it. I was too nerved-up. I had a clear pencil pouch with my necessary supplies, entry ticket, and ID. I had my sister wait outside for a few  minutes in case I had forgotten anything.
 
Day 1
I used all of my time on Day 1. I did not talk to anyone after the exam. I went straight to the car and left. No calls, no text messages to other examinees. I did a few practice questions in Real Property, but I was mostly too tired and nervous to do anything else.
 
Day 2
My school provided lunch. I did not talk to anyone during the lunch breaks. I grabbed my lunch and laid on a park bench to rest. The weather was beautiful, not too hot. I didn’t dare go to sleep, but I relaxed deeply and even kicked my shoes off. I didn’t have a car with me, so I didn’t have one to go to. After Day 2, I was no longer a bundle of nerves. I was almost done. I spend the evening reading long outlines. I stayed up rather late, until about midnight doing rote memorization exercises so that I could recall information quickly the next day. I had to flush out all of the MBE stuff and focus on Texas-specific laws. There wasn’t much time left, though.
 
Day 3
I was really nervous about Day 3. Essay Day meant straight-memory and writing. Again, I was a hand-writer. My hand hurt a bit on Day 1 after a half-day of writing, so I figured it would be killing me on Day 3. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I timed myself and remained as relaxed as possible. I felt okay after the morning essays I purposely left a bit early so that I could grab my lunch and study.
 
Day 3 was the only day that brought my outlines (they were left outside of the testing room, as required). I grabbed them, grabbed my lunch, and found a secluded spot. Based on the morning essays, one can predict what topics will be on the afternoon essays. So, I separated the outlines for the topics still to be tested and furiously reviewed them. The lunch break was long and it only took me about 5 minutes to eat, so I ended up getting a pretty decent extra study session in.
 
Yes, I saw others laughing and talking. Some of them, in fact, failed. I, personally, had too much riding on the exam to relax to the point of laughing and talking. I barely spoke to the people that I recognized from school, but I did speak just to be cordial. I gulped down an energy drink and, just like that, I walked back into the exam room and finished the test. I finished early and left well before time was called. I was focused on keeping my answers succinct; that is probably the main reason why I finished early, not because I was just that “good.”
 
Right After the Bar Exam
 
While waiting for my sister, a few people tried to engage me in conversation about the exam. I seriously thought that was pointless. Why stress about something that we no longer had any control over? There was also a group outside of the testing building conducting a survey about whether or not we were happy with our bar prep. My sister and I walked downtown to eat an early dinner. She says that I seemed relaxed, calm, and confident. I say that I was just glad that that it was over!
 
The worst parts of taking the actual exam were 1) timing; and, 2) waiting. You have to watch your time carefully. There were clocks provided in front of each hand-writing section that made this easier. I had worn a watch just in case. As far as waiting, I despised those who chose to type the test. They greatly outnumbered the rest of us. A good amount of all of our time was spent listening to their extra instructions and waiting for them to get “technical assistance” after each portion of the exam. I really wish that they could have been put into a separate room or something, but we were all in one huge auditorium-like setting. At least the temperature was comfortable. It was neither too hot or too cold…this is coming from someone who is chronically cold and had worn layers and socks just in case.
 
Waiting for Results 
 
I seriously forgot about the exam for the next three months…oh, that is, when people were not harassing me over whether or not I had yet received my results. I didn’t get nervous/obsessed with my status until about a week before the exam. In the meantime, I started working to get back on my feet financially and daydreaming about my future career. (I started working in temporary/part time positions, but I didn’t get a full time job until December.) I am very happy that I passed. Wait, I am beyond happy. It was seriously one of the best feelings that I have ever had in my life. Had I known what joy I would feel, I would have studied like a crazy person. I’m glad that I did what worked best for me, though.
 
I hope that those of you out there reading this will figure out what works best for you. In case you are wondering, I am not going to share my exact score. Good luck!
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The Huffington Post Jumps on the Natural Hair Bandwagon

One of the country’s favorite liberal news websites has wasted little time jumping on the Natural Hair bandwagon. It was only a matter of time, considering the fact that they recently introduced a “Black Voices” section. This section includes all of the usual predictable banter – HIV rates, gay black men, and now, hair care (yawn).

A recent article, entitled YouTube’s Top 5 Natural Hair Care Vlogs, showcases 5 black women who have channels focused on natural (relaxer-free) hair care for black women. Like any and everything related to natural hair, this article has been emailed around and praised by many black women. While I was happy to see these women getting positive attention, which will  inevitably increase the value of their individual brands, I get the sinking feeling that this is one more step towards the commercialization and, to some extent, exploitation, of the natural hair movement.

I won’t get into a detailed discussion of the individual women who were profiled. I have watched videos by all of them, and I am probably subscribed to all of them. I am curious about how they chose these particular women, considering the fact that there are other natural hair vloggers with more subscribers and page views, but nevertheless, these ladies were chosen. They all make pretty good videos and, if you’re interested, you should check them out.

I’ve been watching hair care videos on YouTube since 2008. I’ve seen at least several hundred of them. I’ve learned a thing or two here and there, but what I have found is that the way YouTube works, there is a continual need to provide new content in order to make money (yes, YouTube partners make money). At some point, there is only so much that one can say about hair. What happens is that, once a hair vlogger has covered her basic hair routine, along with a few hair tutorials, she has to look elsewhere to provide new content. She also usually begins receiving product endorsement deals. She will either endorse those products or start pushing her own product lines, neither of which actually contributed to her hair’s health and/or growth. Now, I’m not knocking capitalism. I’m just explaining how it works and why I’m careful about doting too much praise on hair vloggers. Many of the ones that are most highly praised are making a lot of money. Some who just as or more dedicated to healthy hair practices and not so into making money and “branding” themselves, get little to no credit for their contributions.

I would love to see the day when “natural hair” or “black hair” is not really a topic that needs to be discussed. I would love to see “black beauty” simply labeled “beauty.” It would be great if women didn’t get pushed into buying hair products they don’t need in order to support a YouTuber’s part time income. In the meantime, these ladies are helping (some) women gain insight on how to achieve healthy hair. I just hope that viewers don’t get too caught up in buying what these ladies are selling.

Reading THROWBACK | The Sunday Paper

For many Americans, the Sunday paper was a part of a weekly family ritual. I remember my dad reading the Sunday paper from cover-to-cover. He would always save the “funnies” for me. I devoured the silly colored comics, blissfully reading the jokes and looking at the classic illustrations.

My mom would grab the “sales papers” looking for bargains and coupons. My sister and I would help her clip coupons, especially if we saw something we liked. If we found a coupon for a snack or treat, my mom was much more likely to purchase it for us during our next shopping trip.

The whole family shared the television programming guide. My sister would look at her favorite sections, which varied from week to week. As I got older, I started looking at the political sections of the paper. My dad spent a good deal of time ranting about what was written in this section and I wanted to understand what he was talking about.

When I got older and moved out, I subscribed to the weekend edition of the paper and continued this family reading tradition on my own. Eventually, I canceled my subscription. My paper kept disappearing from the porch of my apartment, which was annoying. I also found it hard to justify the costs once I acquired home internet services. All of the information I needed was online. I still purchase a Sunday paper occasionally, especially around Christmas time when retailers increafe their paper sales ads. But, even those are moving online…

Every now and then, I pine for this ritual. New technology is helping newspapers and magazines re-invent themselves. As much as I love technology, an LCD screen can never replace that newspaper smell and the sound of the thin gray paper crinkling as the reader unfolds and turns a page. I hold on to hope that the newspaper as we know it will never disappear. For today, I’ll do my part by picking up a Sunday paper.

Is it just me or are magazines boring?

I like to read.  Naturally, I read magazines, books, newspapers, online articles, blogs, the writing of my students, and pretty much anything else that I can get my hands on. However, I have noticed that magazines are just plain boring these days. I mean, how did magazines become pages full of advertisements with articles stuck somewhere in the middle. There are multiple page advertisements, inserts, “beauty” or “lifestyle” or “technology” sections that are full of overly-priced items that the editor’s think, or pretend to think, that you should buy even though some of the products serve the same purpose as the product advertised on the last page.

Even the articles are becoming advertisements for the people who write them. They’ll have feature writers whose product, book, or website seems to be the main focus of the article. I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to read magazines to learn something about the world or about myself, not to hear about this lame artist’s newest project or this entrepreneur’s newest venture.

Also, I’ve noticed that many magazines don’t need to be published every month. They are repeating almost the exact same information from the exact same writers every month. What a waste of paper. I wonder when we as a society are going to start demanding that this waste of paper end and that magazines go online and, in order to make money as they must, simply utilize online subscriptions or individual purchases of each issue rather than waste tons of paper each year. I have one magazine subscription- Essence magazine- and I would not mind logging in to read it online rather than having piles of magazines accumulate in my home. I wonder if anyone else feels this way……Nevertheless, I will start adding reviews on which magazines to skip, which ones to browse, and which ones to buy.