Don't let anyone fool you into believing that you must spend thousands of dollars on a commercial prep course in order to pass the bar exam.
Anyone who claims that these expensive courses are necessary is wrong and is perpetuating a myth that the course creators want you to believe; many law students (this author included) have passed the bar exam with nothing more than a used set of bar outlines.
While these courses aren't necessary, they do provide a few distinct advantages to a bar hopeful; but these advantages can be obtained from other sources for cheap, or even free. These advantages include: comprehensive outlines that cover all legal subjects, practice bar exam questions, and a guide for how much to study.
All of these benefits are useful (if not essential), but none are worth the total price of the course. The smartest and most economical solution is to obtain some second-hand course materials and begin your bar exam studies independently of these multi-thousand dollar prep courses. If you are lucky, you may find everything you need for a few hundred dollars (or even for free). Here is how:
Obtaining Bar Exam Outlines:
Good outlines are essential to anyone studying for the bar exam. Even after three years of law school, you will not have a thorough knowledge of all fields of law; you will have only learned the core fields (contract, criminal, constitutional, property, and tort law), and a few elective courses such as corporate law or first amendment law. Three years simply isn't enough time to learn it all. But with good outlines and a lot of studying, you can use the knowledge you have already gained to get a quick grasp of these other fields of law which you haven't yet become acquainted with.
While these outlines are essential, you do not need to spend thousands on a commercial course to obtain them. These outlines do not need to be brand new, and even if published years earlier, they should still be mostly accurate. To be sure, though, simply ask your professors whether any major changes in the states law have occurred since the date of publish and note those changes.
You can find such outlines from several different sources:
Friends: Do you know any new lawyers? Ask them if they kept their bar prep materials or know of anyone who did. Many of these people would be glad to sell or lend them to you… usually with compliments for attempting the bar without a commercial course.
Libraries: Bar prep materials can sometimes be found in libraries. Search your local public libraries and your own law library for older copies of these materials. These libraries also make great study areas, so keep your eyes open for comfortable places to study, you will need them.
Online: Search amazon, eBay, and craigslist, and you will usually find bar prep materials for sale at much cheaper prices than paying for the entire bar prep course.
Forums: Online forums are very handy. With a quick Google search, you can find many discussions involving bar studies and what materials were used.
Obtain Practice Bar Exam Questions:
State-Specific Practice Questions: The easiest source for state state specific practice questions will typically be the study materials themselves. Most commercial outlines will come with practice questions, but if not, you may have to buy a used book of questions online.
MBE Practice Questions: If these practice questions to not come with your second-hand study materials, you can find them used much more easily than the state-specific books. A quick search will show many different options from books, to flash-cards, to e-book practice tests.
Obtain a Bar Prep Syllabus:
The intense bar exam study regiment is intimidating enough to scare many students into paying for bar prep courses simply because the don't know "how much studying is enough". The fear of the unknown is a powerful force, but fear of the bar exam is stronger yet; thus many law students willingly pay companies to tell them how much they need to study in order to pass the bar.
Mimic Your Peers: You will have friends taking the commercial courses; ask them how much time is devoted to each subject. This will give you a good idea of how much time you need to spend on various fields of law and how to split up reading versus working on practice questions. While this is a good starting point, you should tailor your studies to your strengths; see below.
Look at your outlines: Break the outlines into categories by size. The outlines that are 50 or less pages can usually be tackled within one day, while the bigger outlines may need to be broken up into two to three days.
Count Your Weekdays: Determine how many weekdays you have until the bar exam, you should have roughly twice as many weekdays until the exam than you have days of reading. These extra days will be used for practice questions, extra reading on tougher subjects, and finally a week or two of attack outline review before the exam; as well as the occasional day of rest.
Use Your Weekends Wisely: Studying for the bar exam is an intensive task and you do not want to burn out; you should set aside one day of your weekend for just yourself and whatever you do for relaxation. Schedule one light day each weekend for practice essays and multiple choice questions that cover the topics of your previous week's studies.
Organize Your days: If there are subjects that you are already familiar with, alternate these with the more difficult subjects. For example, your torts outline will likely require three days of reading, so if you are unsure on torts, schedule two easier one day outlines to fill out that five day week instead of trying to tackle another difficult subject. Plan for about 6-8 hours a day for each outline, and a couple hours at night to clean up your notes from that day's studies and review the next days outline.
Utilize Your Law School
Many law schools provide assistance and services to their graduates who are studying for the bar exam. A professor may be made available for the grading of practice essays, or lectures might be provided which covering exam tips and tricks.
Begin Your Bar Exam Studies
Many people will be too scared to attempt the bar exam without the commercial course, but believe me, anyone can do it if they can obtain outlines and are diligent in their studies. I suggest gathering these materials early, If you can't find the outlines you need you may very well have to pay a bar prep course just to obtain study materials. Once these materials are obtained, though, you are on level footing with all of your peers and are on your way to passing the bar exam.
The next step (and article) is the same for all bar hopefuls: Begin Your Bar Exam Studies.