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Unlocking Bar Exam Success: The Roadmap to Conquer the Challenge

Unlocking Bar Exam Success: The Roadmap to Conquer the Challenge

Dayton Law Online LL.M. Graduates Share Advice on Passing the Bar Exam

Ask any successful person how they met a difficult challenge, and the answer is always the same: hard work, planning, and persistence.

Down deep, we all know this—it’s beyond cliche. But there must be something more, we ask. Otherwise, we’d all be successful at whatever endeavor we attempt.

Apparently, there isn’t. At least not when it comes to passing the bar examination—the two-day dragon that must be slayed before mere mortals can enter the kingdom of licensed attorneys.

Several recent students of the University of Dayton School of Law’s Online LL.M. Program—all of whom successfully passed the bar exam after their time at UDSL—were generous enough to share their experiences and advice on the best ways to prepare for, and conquer, the bar exam. They are representative of many in the UDSL Online LL.M. Program: English is their second or third language, they have a law degree from an institution outside the United States, and they’re juggling work, family, and educational responsibilities all at the same time.

In a nutshell, here is what these students said:

  1. Begin planning for the bar exam early, at least a year in advance, as early as your first day of class at UDSL.
  2. Trust your UDSL Online LL.M. classes and instructors to give you the subject matter knowledge and foundation necessary to tackle the bar exam.
  3. Enroll in a commercial bar exam preparation course to learn test-taking skills and tactics to pass the specific bar exam you’re planning to take. Some companies (such as Themis and BARBRI) even offer LL.M. “Extended” Bar Preparation courses.
  4. Treat bar exam preparation as a job: full-time, every day, for the last few months before the exam.
  5. Come to the exam healthy, rested, and relaxed enough to handle stress and any curve balls the exam might throw.

Begin Planning for the Bar Exam Early

Prof. Tommy Sangchompuphen, an Online LL.M. professor at the University of Dayton School of Law and publisher of the bar exam preparation blog, believes that preparation for the bar exam should begin on the first day of law school—not the last day.

Law students mistakenly think of bar exam preparation as a post-graduation activity, he said, but in fact, they should be taking steps to become familiar with the bar exam as early as possible. Sangchompuphen pointed out that, unlike Juris Doctor candidates who have at least three years to study law prior to the bar exam, students in an LL.M. program may have as little as one year to graduate and get ready for the bar exam.

The condensed time schedule, as well as the fact that many students in LL.M. programs are there precisely for the purpose of qualifying to take a bar exam, means that students should be aiming toward the bar exam from Day One.

“As students complete the courses in the online LL.M. program, what they should be thinking about is not necessarily sort of taking the courses in order to get their LL.M., but really taking the courses as a mechanism to prepare for the bar exam,” Sangchompuphen said.

Aside from bar exam study, the task of preparing an application to obtain a state law license is a complicated endeavor that requires careful advance planning. Character investigations can take from 4-6 months. Bar exam testing dates have long registration deadlines. Transcripts and letters of reference must be solicited for the bar application. The process of obtaining a law license can easily take up to one year from the initial application.

Each state has a different application process.

Katrien Keyaerts should know. Keyaerts, who earned her first law degree at the University of Brussels in Belgium, traversed the United States in support of her husband’s military career. She obtained licenses to practice law in New York and Maryland, and she briefly flirted with the idea of taking the Washington bar exam at a time when it appeared her family was moving to that state.

“Do your research,” Keyaerts said. “The National Conference of Bar Examiners website is a wonderful resource because it gives you all the information about each state.”

Although Keyaerts first earned her LL.M. from an Oklahoma law school, when she lived there for a time, she later enrolled as a non-degree student in the UDSL online LL.M. program in order to expand her bar eligibility options.

Trust Your UDSL Online LL.M. Classes and Instructors

USDL Online LL.M. classes and instructors give students the subject-matter knowledge and foundation they need to succeed at state bar examinations. At UDSL, students receive instruction on subjects that will be tested on the bar exam. Instructors at UDSL also emphasize the legal analysis and writing skills that are key to bar exam success. All Online LL.M. courses at UDSL are designed for an audience of students (many internationally educated) planning to take the bar exam.

Coursework at UDSL is designed to provide a foundation in U.S. law subjects and prepare students for the bar exam while not duplicating the educational materials available from commercial bar exam preparation services. Students receive supplemental study tools from day one. In addition, UDSL offers robust student support services, including a one-on-one, dedicated academic success instructor and a peer advisor, as well as supplemental resources such as CALI and Quimbee.

“What we provide is a tailored, individualized approach to make sure that the student is getting the most out of the program and really identifying their strengths and weaknesses,” Sangchompuphen said.

“The school is really with the graduates each step of the way from beginning and not till the end of the program, but basically until licensing,” he added. “What separates UDSL from other institutions is providing that unique tailored individual supplemental bar preparation program so that the students aren’t going alone.”

This approach is paying off. Students in the online LL.M. program believe that UDSL is committed to their success.

“The great thing about the University of Dayton is that they really take their LL.M. group to heart and they help them get prepared,” Keyaerts said.

Janette Mae Dillomes-Dixon, a lawyer from the Philippines who also practiced law in Thailand and Indonesia prior to moving to the United States, explains how UDSL’s Online LL.M. program helped position her for success on the Alabama bar exam.

“The UD LL.M. program gave me a comprehensive overview of American law and jurisprudence. 

The program covered all of the bar exam subjects, aside from a couple, and it helped me to understand the basics of all the bar exam subjects, so much so that when I started reviewing for the bar exam, it was all about bar taking skills and harnessing your ability to answer questions in the right format for the bar examiners.

I feel like if I did not take the LL.M., I would not have been as prepared as I was.”

Dixon’s focused study through the LL.M. program, complemented by additional bar exam preparation courses, including Celebration Bar Exam Review, paid off. Her score on the Alabama Bar Exam (UBE) was high enough to allow her to achieve qualification in 41 jurisdictions.

Enroll in a Commercial Bar Exam Preparation Course

Commercial bar exam preparation courses provide a critical supplement to the legal subject matter education students receive at UDSL. Bar exam preparation courses teach students the test-taking skills and tactics they will need to pass the specific bar exam they’re planning to take.

When Monica Dias de Brito Hayes began preparing for the bar exam with the BARBRI course she worried that she would be asked to learn a lot of new legal material. Dias de Brito Hayes, a UDSL Online LL.M. graduate who earned her first law degree (Bacharel em Direito) from Universidade Paulista in Sao Paulo, Brazil, said she was pleasantly surprised to find that that was not the case.

“I was afraid that when I started the BARBRI course there was going to be a lot that I hadn’t seen during the program,” she said. “But there wasn’t. The LL.M. program really gave me a good base.”

Milos Poplar, a recent UDSL online LL.M. graduate who earned his law degree at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, said that the subject-matter knowledge he picked up at UDSL gave him the confidence to focus his bar exam study efforts on test-taking skills.

Making a judgment call that turned out well for him, Poplar said he skipped law-heavy test preparation courses because their black-letter law training would be duplicative of what he’d already learned at UDSL.

Poplar signed up instead for AdaptiBar, a technology-driven approach to test preparation that simulates the Multistate Bar Exam and teaches how to succeed on essay tests as well.

“I felt really good when I was doing AdaptiBar,” Poplar said. “I felt like I’ve seen this before at law school. And so I felt like having done the LL.M. at UDSL really helped me understand the law and then only apply it for the bar exam more than having to relearn it again before the bar exam.”

Aside from AdaptiBar, Poplar also recommended the No Bull Bar Prep program, which focuses on practice questions and essays. Poplar also used flashcards (e.g., Anki Universal and related online tools), which he said helped with memorization and retention of key concepts.

Poplar’s strategy paid off when he passed the California bar exam.

Treat Bar Exam Preparation As a Job

Students should consider bar exam preparation a full-time job: study every day, all day, for the last few months before the exam. Students in the UDSL Online LL.M. program are well-positioned for success because they have already developed the stamina, time management, and online learning skills needed to adequately prepare for the bar exam.

Rocio Berlanga Arevalo, who passed the District of Columbia bar exam, said that the key to bar exam success is hard work.

Arevalo said she got slightly annoyed when friends and family wished her good luck on the bar exam.

“You don’t pass the bar because you have good luck,” Arevalo said. “You pass the bar because you started early, because you are prepared… because you have the courage, the discipline, the determination, everything.”

Before completing her online LL.M. at UDSL, Arevalo earned a law degree (Licenciado en Derecho) from Universidad Autonoma de Coahuila (Saltillo) in Mexico.

Yahya Shakir said he believes it’s critical to obtain buy-in from family members. Without understanding and space from family, it’s not possible to make the effort necessary to pass the bar exam.

“It’s an animal, that bar exam,” he said. “You have to really just say, ‘I don’t hate you guys, but I’m trying to accomplish this goal for the family, and I need to focus on it.’”

Shakir, retired from two previous careers, said he was back “on the job” again while preparing for the bar exam. Studying for the bar exam was a job where he worked four to eight hours daily. “Basically, that was my job,” he said.

How badly did Shakir want to pass the bar? After graduating from Concord Law School, he took and failed the notoriously challenging California bar examination three times. Encouragement from family members led Shakir to enroll in UDSL’s online LL.M. program to strengthen his knowledge of legal subject matter. He passed the State of Washington bar exam on the first attempt, and he is now admitted to practice law in Maryland, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Armed Forces, 4th Circuit, 11th Circuit, 9th Circuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Monica Dias de Brito Hayes used a spreadsheet to plan and track her bar exam study times. Her spreadsheet listed in close detail which days she would study for the bar exam, the number of hours, and the subject matter for each day’s study session.

“It’s kind of crazy, but you do have to be very methodical,” Dias de Brito Hayes said. “Otherwise time goes by and you end up not finishing the bar prep course.”

“There’s no magic, there’s no secret,” she added. “You have to know the rules and you have to know what you’re going to answer on the test. In order to do that, you have to study and you have to put in the hours.”

Dias de Brito Hayes studied approximately 400 hours, roughly six hours per day, before passing the District of Columbia bar exam.

Come to the Exam Healthy, Rested, and Relaxed

The final key to bar exam success is to arrive at the test-taking site in strong physical and mental condition. With months of preparation behind them, students should have confidence they’ve already put in the necessary work — and be able to resist the temptation to stay up late cramming in a last-minute study session. Instead, students should be well-rested and mentally sharp enough to handle any hiccups or curve balls the exam might throw.

Letizia Gianni, who earned her first degree in law from Luiss University in Rome, remarked that it’s important for test-takers to arrive on testing day rested, relaxed, and ready to handle unforeseen or difficult questions.

“At the end of the day, all you need is really to earn a passing score,” she said. “I feel like relaxing is the best technique. On the day of the exams, the most important things are just breathing, relaxing, and getting it done.”

“Of course,” she added, “if you’re not prepared, then relaxing is going to be difficult!”

Time management is a skill that several former UDSL students cited as key to successfully completing the bar exam.

As a factor in determining bar exam success, time management is right up there with subject-matter knowledge, or nearly so. You can’t score points on questions that go unanswered, and the surest path to an unanswered question is spending too much time on the questions that come before.

Fortunately, time management is a skill that can be learned with practice.

“By practicing time management you can really maximize your score,” Keyaerts said. “Don’t throw away points by taking too long per question.”

The well-traveled Keyaerts suggested that test-takers familiarize themselves with the structure of the bar exam that they will be taking (how long is each part of the test, which parts will be multiple choice or essays, etc.) as well as the physical location of the testing site. The experience of taking the bar exam is completely different from one state to another, she said.

Mastering the Bar Exam: Your Winning Strategy

In conclusion, passing the bar exam is indeed a formidable challenge. Still, the insights shared by recent graduates of the University of Dayton School of Law's Online LL.M. Program shed light on a path to success. As you embark on this journey, remember that hard work, planning, and persistence are the fundamental keys to conquering this dragon. Start planning early, trust in your LL.M. classes and instructors, enroll in a commercial bar exam preparation course, and treat your preparation as a full-time job in the months leading up to the exam.

Additionally, take care of your physical and mental well-being, arriving at the exam site rested and relaxed. Time management is crucial, so practice this skill to maximize your score. While there's no secret or magic formula, the combination of diligent preparation and a focused approach can lead you to success.

In the end, your determination, discipline, and courage will be the driving forces behind your achievement in passing the bar exam. Best of luck on your journey to becoming a licensed attorney. You've got this!

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