18 May 2008

If You Failed the California Bar Exam: repeater info - what to do next?

A few friends have asked me what worked for me after failing then repeating and passing the bar exam. Here's what I replied over email to them, please let me know if there's anything to add in the comments:

There are three main things that mattered for me (and may matter for you) as I studied for the exam a second time:

(1) How you studied in the past (i.e., Barbri, PMBR, Survival Series, etc).

(2) How much you’re able/willing to spend this time (Is a firm helping to pay? Can you get an affordable bar study loan? Can family help?), and

(3) How much time you'll have for studying now (Are you going to work full time then take a month/two weeks off? Work part time for 12 weeks with the last two weeks off? Not work at all?)

I took barbri and both PMBR courses my first time. I felt Barbri was a good choice (if for nothing other than the good study materials – most repeater courses also depend on you’re having the Barbri Mini-Review and left over MBE questions). I felt PMBR was most valuable for their materials (over 3000 MBE questions that are okay with variously helpful explanations). If you can get the PBMR materials from a friend/craigslist (now’s a good time to look, people sell out their materials right away) it is probably more helpful than the courses which just give you drawn out explanations of the questions and a timed testing situation.

My situation was pretty flexible, I began studying a couple weeks after failing and determined that I would be able to afford about $2500 in study expenses (I’d say this on the low end of the scale when it comes to repeat study costs in order to get significant additional instruction, but is certainly varies based on different situations—I had a lot of ground to make up). Counting down the weeks from 14 weeks before the exam, my plan was to work full time for weeks 14-11, part time (15-20 hours/week at work) from 10-4, and take weeks 2-0 off. This was a good amount of time for me because I started pretty early, but others will find their situation is very different.

I used several resources for my studies, I’ll list them below, but don’t limit yourself to this list, I’ll list others further below).

(a) The Survival Series by Jeff Adachi – This is an amazing set of materials, best bang for your buck by a long shot. The main two volumes are called “Bar Breakers” and train you on writing essays, just incredible stuff there. The other materials are for studying the subjects – the Survival Guide is a set of condensed outlines which are not perfect, but a really excellent summary to memorize. There are also flash cards which are almost identical to the Survival Guide text. I made my own flash cards as per the Essay Intensive suggestion – I found it worked very well, but for three subjects I ran out of time and knew they were less likely to appear on the exam (though one of them did). I think everyone should get the 2 volumes and the survival guide, but flash cards are a maybe. Bar Breakers ($100?) Survival Guide ($30) Flash Cards ($100) (approximately, search for them on Craigslist then get the updates form Jeff’s website for free, great stuff).

(b) The Bar Code – they offer a book (The Cheat Sheets, $139, great – can’t recommend enough!), a class that meets 4 times and you get 15 graded essays (also amazing if you’re working and can’t attend weekly or daily classes – this is what I took , amazing essay feedback and the courses are excellent on helping with hard subjects – cost is $1300), or tutors (tutors are a bit more expensive, but you get 60-70 essays graded with incredible feedback and tons of personal help – this is what I would have used if I had a little more time and substantially more money –$3500-4000).

(c) John Holtz – private tutor ($450 retainer is very reasonable, he’ll go over your essays with you and create a study plan which is reasonable, his feedback is great and he works over the phone/fax) and teaches a Performance Test course (also $450, complex method that worked GREAT on one PT this summer, and was harder to apply for the other PT – overall, it was worth it. Email me if you want a more detailed review of his class and his method). The Bar Code also offers a 2 day PT course that others seemed to respect and the price is the same, $450.

(d) Strategies & Tactics for the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) by Kimm Alayne Walton – absolutely the best MBE study guide – all the “tips” and suggestions that PMBR will give you but presented in a much more organized and transparent method. This was highly recommended by John Holtz and The Bar Code tutors/teachers. Absolute necessity for repeaters, should be used by first time takers too.

(e) Flash cards – I made my own based on a summary of the materials in the BarBri Mini-review and the Adachi Survival Guide. I really liked this method. The most important thing is to keep the “answer” side of the card to under 25 words – otherwise it’s more than you can memorize which is the whole point. SHORT ANSWERS! This is super important, Adachi and The Bar Code agreed on this, keep the answers short. If you think there has to be more on the issue, separate it out onto another card. The Adachi cards a too long usually, must your own with SHORT answers. This will be part of you studying for the first 12 weeks and it will be all of you memorization practice for the last two weeks. Memorizing at the end is very important, see the Adachi book for the reasoning here – this made a HUGE difference for me as the first time I spend the first 10 weeks memorizing, then the last two weeks practicing essays – totally backwards!

I thought this was a good combination of affordable and focused on my weaknesses (I needed to make up on my PT and Essay scores which apparently is common). Essay Intensive helped with my essays, Holtz’s course helped with PTs, and I studied by making the memorizing flashcards from the mini-review and Survival Guide.

Finally, you'll know more when you get your score back (i.e., priority for MPE or essays or PTs). I freaked out quite a bit afterwards and did far too much research about the different programs that were available, but focused on the Bay Area. First, you should consider what you can afford in terms of time and money, then focus on what areas you need to work on, and last which programs fit those requirements (mine is only one of many examples).

Random thoughts now, sorry, just passing by, email me for other ideas or check here later for feedback or updates to this.

-----------old post repeated here for more options---------

Options, options, options. I've been researching which books, programs, tutors, and bullshit work the best and here's the general plan:

  1. Jeff Adachi's Bar Survival series - Bar Breakers I and II are the biggest parts, there are also flash cards (pretty good), a "Survival Guide" (has outlines which parallel the flashcards closely), and a book on the MBE's (which is supposed to be inferior to other MBE specific resources). ($100 off craigslist for all the above, ~$325 new)
  2. Strategies & Tactics for the MBEby Walton and Emanuel - recommended by many online and by John Holtz (see below). $56

Courses, seminars, tutors: (not all recommended, some just listed for convenience)
  1. John Holtz - PT and Essays, seminar and tutoring. 3 day course on the PT for $450 (reviews range from mixed to very positive, more on the positive end). Based in LA but teaches PT course in SF also. May be available to tutor for a similar price. Tutoring is over the phone and fax. Free study plan by email. You work off materials you already have or can get on the cheap (PMBR big books, Bar/bri stuff, the Walton book above, Bar Breakers, etc). I'll be using him personally, but below are some other options I researched.
  2. The Bar Code - $1200 for the "intensive" program, $3000 for the "complete program." Mixed reviews, some really like their materials, two of my friends recommended it. (I might use it with Holtz's program/help).
  3. Essay Advantage - Essays only, substantive review and essay feedback.
    1. $1500, taught by Jeff Adachi in SF, operated by Bar/bri. Supposed to be similar to the bar/bri experience but with sole focus on essays which get a bit more feedback than in the regular course (this apparently varies, but the same person has been grading them in SF for a while now and gives a respectable level of feedback).
    2. 12 classes, 6 graded essays. Classes during weekdays so incompatible with work.
  4. PT advantage - same as above, but for PT only, $450 for "alumni" of bar/bri.
  5. Emerson's tutorial bar review - Recommended by a friend of mine, but costs $4950.
  6. Barpassers - $2000, see chart, also recommended by a friend. Commonly used, slick presentation materials, on the affordable side but less personalized than most others.
  7. MicroMash - $900 for MBE's, $1600 for MBE's + State specific materials (for California at least). This is a computer program that is sold by Thompson-West. Supposed to be good help with MBE's. VERY similar to the Smart Study program Bar/bri students are familiar with.
  8. The Writing Edge - some people seem to like Vivian Dempsey, but her course is $5500, high even for a private tutor.
  9. CalBar Tutorial - many random recommendations, some negative though. Paul Pfau is behind this - some love him, some really hate him. Serious spite.
  10. Hugh Reed / passyourbar.com - good reviews out there, though few. Hugely expensive! Small classes for $4,400, private on-on-one tutoring for $14000 (and some options in between).
  11. Fleming’s - covers essays, performance exam, and MBE
  12. National Bar Review - private tutoring, they advertise heavily
  13. PASS - online course — covers essays and performance test
  14. Adaptibar - online MBE course.
  15. Bar Graders - private tutoring for essays
  16. Bar None Review - essays, MBE, performance exam
  17. Bar Perfect - private tutoring on essays, performance exam
  18. Shari Karney - too EXPENSIVE ($6,000 for limited help, $12,000 for the "platinum package" which I think includes hypnotherapy. Not a good choice in my opinion, few independent reviews. On the plus side, she includes her prices on the website (most other private tutors do not because it forces you to call and then they can personally sell you their brand of snake oil).
  19. There are others, post your recommendations, reviews, additions, or thoughts in the comments!
* Here's a link to my little spread sheet on the courses: (not updated!)


calbar blondie said...

Hi Zeb(abe?),
Curious to know here if Holtz gave you the requisite amount of tutoring time you expected? He has such a busy seminar schedule, I would be worried he could not devote any time to personal tutoring for July.
Congrats to you!

Abe said...

Hi Blondie,
Holtz was good on the timing, but you're right that he's not a full time personal tutor (which is not what he advertizes himself as at all).

His tutoring service is basically for supplementing your other study programs, whatever they are. He asks for a $450 retainer and charges $120/hour. However, he was more than fair with me in his billing - he even offered to refund some of my money because I didn't use the full retainer amount.

Holtz's main service is his Maximizer PT course which is good: a complex system that's worth applying and a series of tips and advice that is invaluable. My favorite was "you're always a winner!" (i.e., you can always get what the supervisor, judge, boss asks you to get).

The tutoring service is some general work on prep and writing but more about going over essays which he gives you comments on. He also gives you a good prep schedule. I thoght it was worth it, easily the lowest price for an excellent and knowledgable tutor.

As far as timing, you need to set up times to talk, but he made himself available for me with out any problems - if I wanted to talk I could just call and he was usually there or he'd call back quickly - early or late hours were no problem either. He even went over a couple essays with me after the PT classes.

That being said, he only accepts so many tutoring students as he can get to without becoming overwhelmed with work.

Also, if people here are going to use him, you all should mention that you were referred by each other - he offers some small discounts off your cost (I can't get any referal credit, but that shouldn't stop any of you from working with each other to save $25 or $50).

TT said...

Hi Abe,

Could you email me your detailed review of John Holtz's PT class and his method?

I came very close to pass in 2008 Feb exam. My PT scores were 70 & 55. Had I got a 60 in PT-2, I would pass the exam.

So, I know the key for me to pass next time is my performance in PT. The problem I had before was I did not practice enough PT. It was difficult to find the motivation to do the 3-hour test.

However, this time I'm sure I would find the motivation to practice PT. But, I don't know if I can develop my own strategies & methods through the practice. Or, I should just learn from John Holtz's 3-day class?

Congratulations and thank you very much for your help.

Anonymous said...

Can you please advise me, if the Adachi Survival Kit also useful for people that will study for other states then CA?

Abe said...

Adachi's books say it's about an approach that is California focused but applicable to all states. Basically, it's best for California as some areas only apply here, but there is plenty of cross over into multistate topics making it still (I suppose) useful in other states. Can't say too directly as I used it in CA and only have good things to say about it.

Dedicated to the Law said...

This list is very helpful. I attended law school out of state. So, I am not familiar with the various courses!


KW said...


Thanks for the post. I am thinking about doing Holtz's seminar but am not sure to go with 1 or 3 day. Which one did you do? Do you know if he gives you the same strategy in the 1 day as he does in the 3 day? I would love to hear more about what his class is like if you have time to reply...

Abe said...

I took the 3 day seminar from Holtz and I used him as a private tutor. In terms of the PT seminar, I think you get a hell of a lot more practice with the 3 days seminar and enough time between courses to absorb and practice the methods enough to build on them with additional practice and thought at the next meetings. His method is not so bizarre that you cannot figure it out in one day - but I'm glad I had three days to get the hang of it. And I won't argue wit the results: I thought the first day's PT was challenging but that I got a good chunk of the important information down ... but the day three PT was perfect for Holtz's methods and I think I did pretty well on it as a result.

I'm sure his method is the same regardless of whether you take the 1 or 3 days course; the main difference is your exposure to it while working with him I imagine. The extra practice was worth it for me; not so much forcing you into doing the PT prep that you need, but guiding you as you spend time learning how to approach them. This was time much better spent than the two days BARBRI covered PTs and the feedback was dramatically better.

He really breaks down the common tactics the testers use and gives you a strategy to identify them and build your PT on the same sets of issues and approaches that repeat over and over. At first I was resistant to what he said, I thought, "well, sure, he seems clever when he points out little lists and patterns but that's only because he's gone over this with hindsight, a careful eye, and unlimited time." But as you go over test after test you realize it repeats; the test makers are using the same methods and you can figure out how to identify them more and more quickly then breakdown what they want you to see, then include it all in your reply. Sure, some of the things he points out are cute ("look at the pictures if they include any, there's pointy shit all over that toy robot and kids are gonna kill themselves with it! Say so!") but even these give you an idea of how to be creative (even if just a bit) to pick out things that are not only worth mentioning, but which might actually help you with the larger questions at issue.

It's a bit hard to explain and I obviously don't know exactly how much of a difference Holtz made for me ... but I don't regret taking his course or using him as a tutor: his prices are outstanding and his products were VERY valuable for me.

If you know a friend who is taking his course, use them as a reference, he'll give them some discount ($50 IIRC). Doesn't do me any good to be used as a referral, so find a friend who you can save a few bucks with by signing up together.

Best luck! Do some great work when you're done =)

Rebecca said...

Hi Abe,

Do you have any notes on strategies or techniques for the PT? I'm an out-of-stater preparing on my own and haven't gotten to the PT yet so I was scouring the Internet for tips/advice and came across your blog. W/ less than two weeks to go things aren't looking good...I agree BarBreaker is great though!



Abe said...

Well, 2 weeks is not very much time to prepare for the PT and I don't know what your other study requirements are so I really couldn't give you much meaningful advice. That being said, I used Holtz's method (he offers a few classes and some practice materials) and found it very helpful. It is similar to BarBri's technique but, well, it's hard to explain what his method is. I would suggest outlining several PT's which have published model answers to see if you're getting the issues and finding (and focusing on) the important passages in the PT tests (i.e., the numbered rules in the cases, extracting information from pictures or diagrams, etc).

Sorry, I'm sure you're looking for more detail and help than this, but I fear any suggestion I have would be potentially worse than useless without knowing what your other study methods are. I cannot summarize Holtz's method easily and I can't be sure it would be what meets your needs, sorry.

I watched several people change their study strategies very late in the process and I cannot say it ever seemed like a good idea. I suggest sticking with your study plan (assuming it included time for PT as well as the essays and MBEs) and doing a lot of memorization. That's what worked for me in the end, hopefully you'll find the same happy result several months from now.

Best luck, now off the blogs and back to studying!

Anonymous said...

I am thinking of using John Crossfield or Steven Perez, whos website is www.calweasel.com. I don't see much about Steven on the blogs. Has anyone used him? John does essays only and Steven does MBE, essay and PT. I also have heard Holtz is great too for PT but don't know much about him as a private tutor. He's got the most reasonable prices, though.

Sunit said...

Hi Abe

I wanted to use your friend as a reference to get some $ off holtz..is there any way i could email you directly to get his info..also, i just wanted to ask what kind of score to expect if you follow holtz's method during the exam..


myraesq said...

With Holtz's style for PT you can get a score of 70 to 80. Seriously.

Holly said...

Hi Abe,

I wanted to comment on your review of Shari Karney's course, called Barwinners. I took the Platinum course and it was well worth the money I spent on it. I was a repeat taker (3 times) and I had a private tutor at my disposal to help me with any and all questions I had on all parts of the test. I had extensive feedback on my work and practice exams and my friends who took the regular course (which is the same price as BarBri's course with their essay & PT workshops) also had 26 essays and PTs returned with personal feedback (I wouldn't call that "limited").

The stress management specialist does have a background in hypnotherapy however in my case he just used his insight to help me focus on test anxiety issues and management techniques so I didn't freak out during the actual exam (which had happened before).

Needless to say, I (finally!) passed the bar with this course and am a bit protective of them. Would definitely recommend them to others, lots of personalized attention, no getting lost in the crowd. Just wanted to give you a review since you said you couldn't find many independent reviews :)

Great compilation of all the courses, though!

Erin Hill said...

Hi Abe,

I also took the Platinum course from Shari and Lenny (Hypnotherapist) and they changed my life. However, I did not pass the bar, nor did my friend who took the course with me. I will pass the bar, but it was not the right time for me during their course. I am thankful to them for their guidance. That is all I am going to say...
Take care,
Erin :)