Sonia P. Holmes, L ‘98 (South Carolina)
Let me share my strategy for passing the bar exam. I will discuss what you can expect during the three day exam and what steps you can take to ensure effective bar exam preparation, practice, and performance. I will also describe the study schedule and techniques I used to understand and master the material.
The South Carolina bar exam is a three (3) day marathon and covers seven major sections. The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is given the first day and constitutes one section. The final two days are state law essays grouped into six sections. Although each section has at least two subjects, the good news is that you will know what you are being tested on at least a week before you are scheduled to take the exam. That’s right — no surprises there. Equally important, there are several landmark cases that almost always appear on the exam. I know this to be true because past exams continuously cite the same cases when analyzing fact patterns. By now, if you are taking the SC Bar Review, you should have copies of the frequently tested fact patterns. If not, please contact me or anyone who attended the University of South Carolina Law School because this information is always made available to USC graduates, for whom these synopses of fact patterns are primarily intended. I recommend that you use these fact patterns to practice timing and writing your essays. I emphasize time management and examsmanship because they are critical to success on the South Carolina bar exam.
DAY ONE: 9:00am-4:30pm TOPICS: (6) MBE Subjects
The Multistate Bar Exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions from Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law, Evidence, Constitutional Law, and Property. South Carolina bar review classes typically devote the first two to three weeks to MBE subjects. Although PMBR is not offered in South Carolina, some students drive to North Carolina for the 3 day refresher course in July.
I urge you strongly to attend the classes, understand the material, and answer as many practice questions as you can. Disabuse yourself of the idea that memorizing legal rules is enough to get you through; it isn’t. The thing that separates successful from unsuccessful applicants is that while nearly every applicant, even those who are not successful, has sufficient knowledge of the legal rules, only the successful applicant understands the purposes, public policies, and social values underlying those legal rules. This is why in reviewing the answers to the practice tests it is not enough to confirm that you answered a question correctly. You need to ensure that your answers are correct for the right reasons. Personally, I found very helpful Professor Berry’s formula for answering multiple choice question: the correct answer is the one that gives the right answer for the right reason, i.e. True Result + True Reason = Correct Answer!
Treat each potential answer in a multiple choice question as a set of results and reasons. Then treat the result and reason of each answer as separate True/False questions. In other words, ask yourself whether the result given in each answer is true or false and then ask whether the reasons given for the result is true or false. The “correct” and “best” answer is the option that you answer True for each part; only one of the options will meet this criteria. If either a result or the reason given is false, the entire answer is false. There are no exceptions.
You must practice every day! Don’t be fooled into believing there are shortcuts or gimmicks you can use instead of putting in the time needed to master the material. Gimmicks and shortcuts are a waste of time and not worth the effort. During the week, I devoted at least 3 hours to practicing for the Multistate exam: 90 minutes in the morning answering questions and at least the same amount of time in the evening comparing my answers to the model answers. On the weekends I simulated the Multistate exam by answering 200 questions under timed conditions.
SOUTH CAROLINA ESSAY EXAM
9-11am: Agency and Corporations 11:30am-1:30pm: Domestic Relations and Equity 1:30-2:30pm: Lunch 3-5pm: Wills, Trusts and Estates
9-11am: UCC Articles 2, 9, 3, and 4 11:30-1:30pm: Insurance 1:30-2:30pm: Lunch 3-5pm: Federal Practice and South Carolina Civil Procedure
The subjects listed above are covered on the last two days of the exam. While the order may change, the subjects and times are standard for the South Carolina bar exam. You will be given at least four (4) and as many as eight (8) essays during each two hour testing period.
Preparation Tools: Schedule and Bar Material/Outlines
It is so important that you are intellectually, physically, and emotionally prepared for peak performance every day of the exam. To prepare for the bar, I devised and stuck to a schedule that governed my study efforts from Day One up through the last two days preceding the exam. My schedule listed specific objectives, practice hours, meditation, times for chores and relaxation, and sleep. Pursuing specific objectives daily assisted me in recognizing my strengths and weaknesses in particular subject areas. I also used my schedule to practice the essay portion of the bar exam. I found it very helpful to spend at least one day taking the essay portion of the exam under simulated exam conditions.
Tools for Practicing: MBE simulated tests and previous exam questions
As I indicated earlier, it is not enough to know the legal rules; what really counts is your ability to recognize legal issues and apply the controlling legal principles to the material facts of the problem and reach a well reasoned but concise conclusion. This takes practice! I found Professor Berry’s advice very helpful in structuring my answers on the bar. If you have read his Advice Page, you will recall that any legal conclusion is grounded in the law and the material facts of the case. An answer that makes no reference to the facts of the case is worthless and a conclusion that does not reference the controlling legal principle is fatally deficient. Pay careful attention to the “call of the question” because it will help you understand which legal rules and material facts must be addressed in your answer.
There is no mystery or secret formula for passing the South Carolina bar exam. You don’t need to be lucky or connected. What you must be is prepared and committed to achieving your goals. If you spend the six weeks preceding the bar exam engaged in a purposeful program of serious study, you will pass. Remember: no bar exam is difficult if you are prepared. On the other hand, no bar exam is easy if you are not. The choice is yours. I am confident you will make the right decisions. You know what to do and how to do it. Now go do it. If you’re like me, you will get the thrill of your life when you see the “Esq.” after your name for the first time!