Bar Prep: When Should I Start Memorizing?

In the early stages of bar prep, many students become preoccupied with the question of when they should start memorizing. For those of you only in your second week, the answer is almost definitely: not yet.

There is a tremendous amount of information to commit to memory between now and the Bar Exam, but in these early stages, your focus should be on ABSORBING the law rather than memorizing it. 

How do you eat an elephant?

I’m not really one for metaphors, and I’m sure that if I read this last year when I was in your shoes, I would have rolled my eyes so hard they would have fallen out of my skull, but I truly believe that it’s helpful to think of the process of learning all you need to for the bar like you would eating an elephant. The sooner you realize that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, the better off you’ll be down the line.

Many of the lectures you’re watching in these early stages are covering the intricacies of subjects that you likely haven’t given a second thought in over two years, so your focus in these early goings should be on simply refreshing your memory. As you’re reviewing these subjects, make a point to identify the subtopics you may struggle with, so you can later tailor your review to shore up these areas of weakness.

For me, that meant Issue and Claim Preclusion in Civ Pro and Products Liability in Torts. There was something about both topics that just didn’t click for me in my first time watching those lectures. My worst nightmare was seeing either one pop up on an MEE essay and feeling like I just didn’t understand the concepts well enough to spit out a semi-coherent essay answer. Every day that went by that went by where I still hadn’t committed all the different rules for products liability to memory made me feel increasingly panicked.

If I couldn’t fill these glaring holes in my Bar Exam attack strategy, what hope did I have at committing all the information that was yet to come to memory in time for the test? As I began devoting more time to memorizing, I began falling behind in my personal study plan, an error I had repeatedly been told would serve as a death knell to any bar taker’s prospects if left uncorrected.

After speaking to a professor about my concerns, I came to realize that my obsession with memorization was coming at the detriment of my ability to focus my efforts on absorbing the law being taught in the lectures. I was putting far too much pressure on myself to memorize everything at once, an impossible task for even the most galaxy brained among us.

The ONLY way to memorize all I needed to was to do it one morsel at time, whether that meant a briefly reviewing a few flashcards every day, doing practice questions, or writing out rule statements for subjects I still didn’t quite have a grip on. It wasn’t until almost a month into Bar Prep when I finally felt like I was starting to have the law memorized cold, and even then the prospect of an MEE on Issue and Claim Preclusion still made my hands sweaty. But when I finally decided to try my luck with a time practice MEE on the subject, I was surprised at just how much I remembered. And the same I’m sure will be true for many of you.

I suppose this is all just a long, drawn out way of telling you not to stress memorization in the early going. As long as you’re putting the work in and eating that elephant one bite at a time, then you’re on the right path forward. There is going to come a day or a week within the next month where it feels like things just begin to CLICK for you. It likely won’t be today, or tomorrow, but it’ll come, as long as you’re putting the work in.

Author Danielle Steele, known in part for her prolificness, publishing a frankly insane 170+ books over the course of her distinguished career, hangs a sign in her office that I think all bar takers should take to heart. The sign offers a simple yet powerful declaration:

“There are no miracles. There is only discipline.”