How Am I Supposed To Know All Of This Material?: Advice and Tips on Memorization for the Bar Exam

When you’re studying for the bar exam, you always have one thought that comes in waves: how am I supposed to remember all of this stuff? This post offers students advice on how to remember and memorize a large amount of information in a short period of time that they need for the bar exam.

Why is memorizing important? On the MBE and MEE, the devil is in the details. The bar examiners are not going to test you on whether you know general principles – they are testing to see whether you know the nuances and intricacies of the law. So, in order to do this, memorization becomes key.

  • Begin memorization after you have finished a subject. Do not work on memorizing a subject until you’ve finished review of a subject (once lectures and outlines are completed). You want to make sure you have the big picture before you begin to memorize the small pieces.
  • Plan your memorization resources. Know what you are going to use to memorize, whether it be your outlines, lectures, or flashcards. Knowing what you’re going to use to memorize is half the battle.
  • Work on memorizing one subject at a time, one subtopic at a time. When you’re ready to schedule time to memorize, start with one subject and one subtopic. Say, for example, you’re ready to memorize criminal law. First, start with homicide. Once you feel comfortable with your homicide elements and can either repeat them aloud or write them down from memory, then move on to the theft crimes. Once you can comfortably say or write down the elements of the theft crimes, move to the crimes against habitation. When you start small, you not only accomplish more, but it becomes more manageable and less overwhelming.
  • Take breaks. Memorizing is one of the most strenuous tasks of the bar exam, and can be the most exhausting. When you’re memorizing, take short mental breaks in between topics. Give yourself a chance to regroup before putting that stress on your brain again.
  • After you’ve memorized each subtopic, look at the subject in totality again. Once you’ve worked on memorizing the parts, look at the whole. Review an outline or review all of your flashcards together. After you memorized the parts, reviewing the entirety of a subject will help you remember how to fit in everything together.
  • Build in subject reviews throughout your bar study period. You always have to remember to build in subject review throughout your bar study, so that the “forgetting curve” doesn’t kick in. Building in what you’ve already memorized and reviewed throughout the course of your bar study is studying with “spaced repetition,” and is the most effective way to remember everything you need to know for the bar exam.

So, that is a rundown of the memorization process. Now, what techniques should you use to memorize? There are a lot of different options, depending on what works best for you.

  1. Use your outline. You can review your outline, then cover parts of it, and see if you can restate principles. Doing this over-and-over helps students memorize. If you’re more of a visual learner, you can cover up portions of your outline and see if you can re-write them
  2. Speak rules aloud. If you are an auditory learner, then you probably benefit from saying rules out loud in order to memorize them. Repeating rules aloud, over and over, helps the memorization process.
  3. Make visual aids with the material. Many students memorize best with charts, flowcharts, and graphs. Make them, and then visually work on memorizing them.
  4. Use flashcards. Some students love flashcards, others do not. If you’re not a flashcard person, do not try to become one for the bar exam. If you are one, using them to memorize can be fantastic. You can either make your own, or use pre-made ones through Critical Pass or Kaplan Bar Review. Remember that it’s difficult to make your own flashcards for every piece of your outline – it’s extremely time consuming. If you want to make your own flashcards, stick to making them for rule statements and element-based rules only.
  5. Use mnemonics or stories to help you memorize. Mnemonics may help you recall elements of a particular rule. Consider the classic example of “MY LEGS” to memorize the categories that fall into the Statute of Frauds (Marriage, Year, Land, Executor’s Agreements, Guaranty, Sale of Goods). For other students, thinking about fact patterns or stories associated with rules helps them memorize.
  6. Understanding the law. A key component to all memorization is understanding. Once you understand a concept or rule and can explain it, it will become easier to memorize. Try explaining legal concepts before you memorize them – it will likely make the memorization process faster.

One of the most important things to remember, too, with memorization, is to take care of yourself. If you’re burned out, and it’s 12 AM after a 12 hour study day, you’re likely not going to memorize well. Take breaks. Eat well and exercise. Get a good night’s sleep. Taking care of yourself actually helps the memorization process.

Finally, please know that this is a process. You’re not going to have everything memorized all of the time. Evidentially, it’s not until a couple weeks before the actual exam that student’s feel comfortable with the material. So, if you’re already worried – know that it is normal to not feel like you have a grasp on every subject until you are close to the actual exam – and this is okay.

Every day you are studying, you are working on the memorization process and you just don’t realize it. Every time you practice and every time you review, you are beginning to memorize. When you’re beginning to freak out about the vast amount of information, remind yourself that you are studying, you are learning, this is a process, and it is working. Also, always remember to take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ve got this.

If you need a reminder, I’ll always provide you with one.

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