UPDATED: Bar exam success tip: Use spaced repetition flash cards!

How I studied for the California Bar Exam

Update: Gabriel Teninbaum over at www.spacedrepetition.com is offering a $20 discount to my readers who purchase a year subscription to his SeRiouS spaced repetition system for bar exam studiers!

Just head over to the site and use referral code strebeck20 to get your discount. Full disclosure: this is an affiliate deal, if you haven’t guessed it yet.

For more info, check out the video:

SeRiouS: Spaced Repetition Systems from SRS on Vimeo.

Now, back to the original post:

One thing I noticed right away was that the flash card program was completely worthless to me.In honor of the upcoming Bar Exam season, I’m posting this about how I studied.

When I began studying for the California Bar Exam, I was faced with the question of whether to use a paid-for study program or not. Being a self-starter who usually does better learning on my own, I contemplated not using one. I eventually caved, and used Barmax (due to the convenience of it being an iPad app), thinking that I would regret it a lot if I didn’t pass.

However, one thing I noticed right away was that the flash card program was completely worthless to me. I didn’t see how I would effectively memorize an entire subject worth of cards in two days, as the schedule said. My brain simply doesn’t work like that, and I know that I’m not alone. Alternatively, I drew upon my previous experience with spaced repetition software to craft my own flash card regimen. This served me well, as I had very good recall of all the relevant law by the time of the exam.

A quick warning

This system worked for me, but I can’t guarantee that it will work for you. I do think that spaced repetition is the best way to memorize large volumes of information, and I’m not the only one. The important thing is to start early, and to make learning the law a priority. If you are using a program that has its own way of doing things, feel free to go that route. For the more adventurous/crazy, my method might be worth a try.

My schedule

I basically spent the first few weeks listening to the lectures and re-learning all of the material on a surface level. This helped me to get a good overall picture of the law. I spent a little longer relistening to subjects that I hadn’t learned in school, like Community Property. Then I spent a few hours a day using my spaced rep program, adding new cards and working on memorizing the new ones. This was a lot of work, but as I said, well worth it. I alternated this time with time spent taking practice exams, at first with notes open and no time limit, but as I learned the info I would impose test-like restrictions.

The flash cards:

I made my flash cards with one idea each on them. More than that is just too much to learn.I made my flash cards with one idea each on them. More than that (which is my problem with many commercial flash cards) is just too much to learn. You want to either have the bare-bones elements of a law, or more info on one specific element. Don’t worry, you will be memorizing all of it in due time, so space it out. As I said, this is more time-consuming, but it is important for memorization. Being able to spit out the elements of something as if it were second nature will serve you well when taking the exam.

The software:

There are plenty of spaced repetition programs out there, many of which are free and open source. These include:

  • SuperMemo (pretty archaic interface when I used it years ago, but it may be improved now)
  • Anki (open source, but the mobile apps cost a lot)
  • Mnemosyne (also open source, nice and simple interface)
  • Repetitions (Software on Mac/PC and good phone/tablet apps)

Whatever you choose, good luck taking the exam.Personally, I used Repetitions, purchasing it for both my iPad and for my Android device. I liked the ability to sync across all of the devices, though the others may have better solutions in time.

Whatever you choose, good luck taking the exam. If you want to shoot me any questions, feel free.

photo credit: Light reading via photopin (license)

2 thoughts on “UPDATED: Bar exam success tip: Use spaced repetition flash cards!”

  1. Hi Zach, I went to school with you – your year, too.

    I was actually going to send some information to Al Sturgeon about Anki, another spaced repetition program, that I used to study for the bar exam. When I googled “Anki california bar exam,” this post was the second thing that popped up!

    Anyway, just saying “hi.” I hope things are going well in the solo game. I might be jumping into it in the future.


    p.s., to anyone else reading this, spaced repetition flash cards are the most effective method for memorizing information that I have ever used

    • Great to hear from you! Things are going really well. I love being a solo Internet-based lawyer!

      Yeah, I can’t imagine memorizing all of that bar exam info any other way. I’ve got a link up there for the SeRiouS product – the cool thing is that it’s got all the info in there and you can group up with others at your school to add professor-specific courses. Meaning that you can be using this throughout law school, which would have been super helpful. It’s just a matter of discipline and hitting those flash cards daily.

      I think that I didn’t use Anki because you had to pay for the app or some other issue.


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