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Which Bar Exam Prep Course Is Best?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

Law school graduation is upon us, but as 3Ls know, that certainly doesn't mean you've seen the light at the end of the tunnel yet. Before you can walk through the pearly gates of licensure, you need to pass that darn bar exam. It strikes fear and dread in the hearts of law students everywhere and most hearts slump at the notion of preparing to take it.

That's why it's big business to prep students to pass the bar exam. There are so many bar prep courses -- but which to choose? In this piece, we look at the numbers so assiduously collected by our friends at Above the Law and also give our own personal input on each of the more well-known courses. We know there's a lot to take in, but thankfully, there's one thing that's common to all successful takers.

ATL's List

We've decided to make it easy on both you and us by offering you a link to ATL's grand list of "best" bar prep courses. Of course, the most popular names feature right at the top.

  • Bar/Bri, Barbri
  • Themis
  • Kaplan

Like anything in life, that which has the greatest brand name familiarity often can command the greatest price. In the case of Bar/Bri, this seems to the case. Bar/Bri is by far the most well-known of the national bar exam prep programs and the two most popular jurisdictions also have the most expensive courses at around $4K a pop. Supposedly, the pass rate is 75-80 percent.

But the fact is this: most of the more reputable bar prep courses have comparable passage rates, but are probably significantly cheaper. There again, it all gets down to dollar demand. If you're fortunate to have more disposable income than you know what to do with, a few thousand here or there is no great shakes. But if you're responsible for a mortgage and children, hundreds of dollars can keep you up at night. For those in the latter camp, there is hope in passing the bar.

What's the Best?

"Best" is such a loaded term. For the most part, law grads want to know which program has the highest pass rate and will use this number to dictate which program they'll purchase -- if any. In truth, most persons who can get through law school should be smart enough to pass the bar. Bar prep programs are, quite frankly, drill sergeant programs intended to keep you in line. Only weirdos like studying for the bar -- and most who do enjoy studying for the bar have already been licensed at least in one other state.

Since bar prep programs are really nothing more than discipline programs, sufficient self-discipline will make the differences between the programs more and more muted. In other words, you must find the best in the program and in yourself. With enough hard work and determination, the differences between the programs largely fall away.

The Painful Truth: Working Your !ss Off

Having taken a bar exam prep course (I won't disclose which, for fear of seeming biased), I can honestly say that the best thing that one can do to pass is to practice past questions until you're exhausted. People who pass the bar the first time aren't necessarily any smarter, they're just better test takers. You have to train to give a passing answer, nothing more.

Most of us don't get to this stage until a significant amount of practice time has been put in. A former grader of the California State Bar once said to me that she estimated that an 80-point answer on the California Bar could be written on a single page. This tells you it's not about length.

What am I getting at? All bar prep programs are "the best" when you put sufficient work into them; and all of them are useless if you buy the program and binge-watch your summer away. No program can police your study habits. In fact, if you're a poor studier with bad habits, at least do your wallet a favor and don't purchase any program at all.

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