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Study 100 Hours, Pass the Bar Exam?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The bar exam is less than a month away. If you haven't started studying yet, is there any way that you could pass it? Blake Masters says that you have more than enough time.

Masters is a Stanford Law grad and tech entrepreneur who passed the California bar after studying for only 100 hours. So yeah, he knows what he's talking about.

And he's happy to share how he did it.

By the Numbers

Reasoning that the California bar lasts 18 hours, Blake decided that a 5:1 prep-to-test ratio was reasonable. After buying used bar prep materials online, Masters turned to the test structure. Test takers receive equal amounts of time for each of the three sections of the California bar -- the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), the essays, and the Performance Test (PT) -- but the sections are weighted differently. The essays count for 39 percent of the total score, the MBE counts for 35 percent, and the PT rounds out the total at 26 percent.

At first glance, it may seem wise to allocate your precious study time in proportion to a section's weight on the exam, dedicating almost 40 percent of your review time to the essay portion. Blake, however, committed 50 to 60 percent of his prep time to the MBE. Why? He explains:

Because multiple-choice is very objective, you can rack up a ton of points by doing well on the MBE. It is much harder to gain ground elsewhere. For example, though the essays are each graded on a 100-point scale, really good answers routinely get 70 or 75 points, while poor answers get 50 or 55. That's not a whole lot of variance. Much better to excel on the MBE and write average essays than to write great essays but do average on the MBE.

The condensed version of his MBE strategy? Memorize the bar outline and do 1,000 to 1,500 MBE practice questions. Don't forget to study your errors.

Essay Strategies

For the essay portion, Masters recommends learning the essay subjects by reading the bar prep outlines. That's a lot of material in California -- 13 subjects -- but that doesn't mean you have to know everything about a subject area. If you spend a few hours with each subject and know most of what's in the bar outline, you should be able to write a competent essay.

As for all those practice essays that your classmates are writing? If you're already a good writer, you can skip them. (Masters did.)

Finally, there's the PT. Masters spent a few hours reviewing the basic formats, but "largely ignored" the section because "PTs test skills that can't be learned or improved quickly."

The Masters plan requires excellent memorization, pre-existing writing skills, and nerves of steel. (It helps if you, like Blake, don't have a law firm gig hanging in the balance.) This plan isn't for everyone, but it's worth a shot if you're just starting to study.

Editor's Note, February 2, 2015: This post was first published in January 2013. It has since been updated.

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