How to Pass the California Bar Exam

The bar exam is stressful on its own, but the California version is one of the hardest forms of this exam in the country, since it requires a higher passing score than most other states. For this reason, many students struggle to the California bar or simply crack under the pressure. With that said, we’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.

While the California bar exam is a hard test, it’s not impossible to pass. To pass, you need to properly prepare and know your enemy well. So, we’re going to take you through a handful of tips that you can use to pass the California bar exam. Read on to learn more.

Know Your Enemy

The bar exam is a complicated test; there is no way around that. Still, there are some things you can learn before taking it that will make some of the questions feel less foreign. In fact, knowing what the test looks like beforehand can reduce your stress and boost your confidence, which is a key formula for success.

The good news is that questions on the California bar have three components, which can help you narrow down your answers.


First and foremost, bar questions have a result. The result can be many things, but it allows you to eliminate distractor questions that don’t relate to the result. For example, if a law is unconstitutional as a result, you can cross off any answers that don’t relate to the constitution. This will help you with pacing during the exam, too.


While the smallest part of each bar answers, the connector trips a lot of test-takers up. This is because many people aren’t paying close attention to words like “if” and “because.”

Still, these words can be the difference between an answer being true or false. So, make sure you slow down your reading, and pay close attention to these words.


The last aspect of each question to know is the reason. This part of the question is where you have to use your knowledge of the law and apply it to the answer. Unfortunately, this part of each question is tricky, because the test may have misleading statements. Always be sure to trust your gut if something sounds fishy, and eliminate answers that don’t make complete sense.

These three aspects are relevant to most questions—even the essay questions. So, if you know them well, you won’t have to worry about pacing or getting stuck with four answers that look good.

Have the Right Prep Tools

Preparation is half the battle. Without the right prep tools, you’re making the bar exam even harder. So, we’re going to take you through some prep tools that will give you an edge on the test.

Bar Prep Courses

First and foremost, we’re going to start with bar prep courses. These courses give you the tools you need to succeed. While they’re not cheap, the right bar prep course is worth every penny. The materials will help you approach information with new perspectives and some courses will come with tutors to assist you.

Practice Exams

Practice makes perfect, especially for the California bar exam. For this reason, we recommend taking as many practice exams as possible. The benefit is two-fold: on one hand, you’ll familiarize yourself with the format and style of the questions; on the other hand, practice exams can teach you proper pacing, so you don’t run out of time.

Binders, Different Colored Pens, Notebooks

Finally, make sure you stock up on study supplies. Keeping your information organized and easily accessible will save you time and give you more flexibility. Instead of scrambling to find your notes, they’ll be right where you left them. The same goes for different colored pens and highlighters that can help make information stand out more easily.

When it comes to the bar, the study materials are abundant. So, feel free to get creative and see what works for you.

Practice Active Studying

One of the most underrated tips for the bar exam is active studying. Active studying is something that can take your knowledge and understanding of the law to the next level. This is because passive studying has proven to be less effective for knowledge retention than active studying. Still, you should practice both, so we’ll outline how you can do that effectively.

Passive Studying

Passive studying is the traditional studying method many people are used to. Passive studying consists of reading flashcards, making notes, and looking over the information in a textbook. While there is a time and place for passive studying, it’s not the most effective method.

This is because passive studying fails to challenge your mind and keep you engaged. For these reasons, you’ll likely feel drowsy and unfocused after long sessions of passive studying. Still, we recommend using passive studying methods to develop the foundation of your knowledge. Then, you can try out new techniques as you feel more comfortable—this is essential for complicated exams like the California bar.

Active Studying

While passive studying focuses on reading, active studying challenges your mind and keeps you engaged. Instead of reading over notes, active studying methods force you to answer questions, rewrite your notes, or make adjustments to things you’ve already written. These methods are essential because they make it easier for your brain to remember patterns and tasks.

Some  effective active studying methods include:

  • Highlighting areas of your textbook.
  • Answering questions from previous bar exams.
  • Working with peers.
  • Preparing materials for study groups.
  • Creating your own outline of material to study.
  • Summarizing difficult information in easily comprehensible terms.
  • Defining jargon.
  • Working with a tutor.

These are only a handful of active studying methods, so feel free to get creative with them. With a balanced approach that incorporates passive and active studying, you’ll have a better chance of passing the California bar exam.

Work with a Tutor

Studying on your own is a great way to prepare for the bar, but sometimes we all need a little help. There is no shame in working with a tutor, and tutors can help you implement new studying techniques, approach material from new angles, and keep you focused and on schedule. Still, it’s hard to know which tutoring method is the right fit, so we’re going to take you through some things to be mindful of.

In-Person Tutors

Working with in-person tutors is a great way to see results. In-person tutors will typically host sessions in classroom-like settings, so you get some hands-on experience. Plus, in-person tutors are more likely to incorporate group sessions that enable peer learning.

Still, the drawback of in-person tutoring is the lack of flexibility. You’ll have to meet at specified locations, set times up in advance, and bring study materials with you. Unfortunately, in-person tutoring is inconvenient sometimes. With that said, the lack of flexibility can work to your advantage if you lack discipline. This is because in-person tutors can hold you accountable.

Online Tutors

If you’re someone who works full-time or has many obligations each week, you might want to consider an online tutor. Online tutors allow you to use your phone or computer to work with tutors from around the country. Plus, most platforms like Varsity Tutors or BarMax have online tutors that are familiar with the California bar exam.

Online tutors are also more affordable than in-person tutors. This makes it advantageous to work with online tutors if money is on the tighter side. Still, working with online tutors is not perfect. Online tutors fail to provide students with a classroom-style experience and it’s harder to keep online students accountable.

While everyone has different tutoring needs, there is a good fit for everyone. Working with tutors can feel intimidating, but it’s definitely worth the commitment.

Follow a Schedule

Unfortunately, everything you do will be hindered if you don’t follow a schedule. If you’re study routine is all over the place, you’ll end up studying less, which results in less preparation for the bar exam. The good news is that we have a few scheduling tips to help you with short-term and long-term studying.

Short-Term Studying

When we say short-term studying, we’re referring to techniques that will help you during individual studying sessions. These are methods you can use to get the most out of studying each night. In fact, these methods will allow you to study longer without risking burnout.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a method of studying that uses a reward system and checklist to keep you grounded. While it sounds complicated, it’s simple and fun to implement. We’ll give you a quick breakdown of how each step of the Pomodoro Technique works:

  1. Begin studying for the bar exam.
  2. Set a timer for 25-30 minutes.
  3. Study for the bar until the timer runs out.
  4. Rest for five minutes and write about any distracting thoughts you had.
  5. Every four “pomodoros” (study cycles) you can take a longer break for about 25-30 minutes.

The Pomodoro Technique works because it enables short bursts of focus, while the intermittent breaks give your brain time to recover. This technique will help you with burnout,  and allow you to survive studying for marathon sessions.

The 90/20 Rule

The 90/20 rule focuses on breaking study sessions down into sets. Each set consists of 90 minutes of studying followed by a 20-minute break. This method works because your brain only has so much energy to focus on each hour. Once your brain runs out of fuel, it needs to rest and recover—this is where the 20-minute rest period comes in.

When you follow this technique, you can study for longer periods without burning out. Still, we recommend limiting your study periods to three or four sets. Burnout can and will still happen, so think of this as a way to prolong facing the inevitable.

Long-Term Studying

When we refer to long-term studying, we’re talking about studying routines you can follow for months or even years. With long-term studying, it’s all about developing good habits and avoiding burnout.

Limit Your Studying Time Each Week

Instead of going all-out with studying, we recommend limiting your time. Unfortunately, you’ll burn out if you study for four hours a day every day of the week. While it might seem efficient at first, this approach to studying will leave you with less knowledge retention and more fatigue.

Instead of studying every day, limit yourself to 3 or 4 days each week over a longer period. This will give your mind time to rest and give you opportunities to rest before test day.

Schedule Your Days in Advance and Stick to the Plan

Another long-term studying trick is to schedule your days in advance. For each day of the week, pick a section of the exam to study. For example, you can do multiple choice on Monday and the essay portion on Wednesday. This will help you stay organized and prevent burnout.

Final Thoughts

We know that the California bar is a hard test and that preparing for it can feel like a nightmare. Luckily, our tips can help you achieve success on the exam and on other exams that might follow. While your success depends on you, the more tricks you have up your sleeve the better.

Once you know your enemy and how to face it, winning is that much easier.