This was posted back in December of 2010. I found it to be extremely helpful, so I'll re-post it here. (I missed this post when I did a previous search).
ggocat wrote:I think you will find people who are happy and dissatisfied with both products.
I will share some thoughts despite the fact that I should be studying for the bar right now! (Can't believe I just wasted an hour on this post.)
I took Kaplan comprehensive for Texas online (MBE + TX state stuff). If I could do it all over again, I would probably stick with Kaplan, primarily because of the price. Kaplan-PMBR has been known for preparing students well for the MBE. I was plannning to take the Foundation course (one week MBE course) regardless. When I saw I could get the whole state package for just $1000 more, I was sold. Bar study for $2K is a good deal. If I had done both the PMBR Foundation and Barbri, I think it would have been an extra $1500 to $2000.
I really have nothing to say negatively about Kaplan's MBE prep. The outlines are tried and true. The Q-bank is fantastic, although many of the questions are a little long (from what I hear, longer and more convoluted than the actual bar). You can take a bunch of Qs online and see how you did in each subject area (broken down into sub-parts for each subject, as well). You can take certain types of questions, and you can track your progress. The only thing I didn't like is that there's no way to comprehensively review all the questions you got wrong. You have to go back and look at each quiz individually. Not a big deal.
I have been generally disappointed with the state-specific materials.
- You can access the lectures any time you want, streaming from your computer. You can even get ahead with the lectures if you want, which I understand you could not do with Barbri this year because you have to wait for them to upload the lectures in the afternoon. With Kaplan, I had all my lectures ready on Day 1. I even re-arranged the order I took some courses so I could tailor my studying the way I wanted, and I got ahead on lectures when I wanted, took days off when I wanted.
Meh (mostly Pro, but some negatives):
- The lecturers were a mixed bag. Some of the lecturers were great. When discussing issues, they would sometimes say how many times the issue has been tested in past 10 years and on what exams they were tested (this was especially true for procedure lectures). They would also sometimes say when something has never been tested or rarely tested. That's exactly what I wanted from my lecturers. Most lecturers would track the outline, and that was very helpful. But others jumped all around and didn't present the material in a cohesive way. Quite a few lecturers, however, never addressed when or how many times certain issues had been tested.
- "Ask an attorney" feature. You can e-mail Kaplan substantive law questions about any of their materials. This was helpful a few times, but then they started getting backed up, and there was a 5+ day wait. Sometimes they also just quoted from a treatise on the general subject matter and would not address my question. Sometimes they completely had no idea what they were talking about. For example, one time I asked about an oil and gas TX statute, and the response I received was a canned explanation of the common law (not statute).
- Essay grading. It's OK. You can take quite a few essays and have them graded. There are 4 grades (exceeds standard, meets standard, below standard, well below standard). This feature has been a mixed bag. Early on, they were very responsive. They have check boxes for each issue and whether you followed IRAC. Sometimes you get substantive comments, but other times they just say "You didn't state the rule correctly for X issue," without telling you what the rule is. As time progressed, grading got worse. Oftentimes they would skip sections. For example, I use number headings, and I would state the issue in the heading. On several essays, the grader said "where is the rest of your essay, you didn't address X issue," when I clearly had addressed the issue and included a very express heading labeling that part of the essay. This happened to a friend of mine, as well, so I don't think it's just me writing crappy essays. Finally, they have gotten really behind. I submitted my last essay on 7/11. As of today, 7/24, it still has not been graded. I stopped submitting essays because they probably wouldn't be reviewed in time for the bar.
- Essay book. Great, we have an essay book for every question since 2003 with outlines and sample answers. I've been using this a lot. It is an excellent resource overall. Some of the essays, though, are missing issues (compared to bar examiner's comments available online). Unfortunately, some of the essays are scattered throughout different sections of the book, and the table of contents doesn't identify where the essays are. So for about 30 essays I'm constantly having to "hunt and find" the outlines. Would be much easier if they just included a proper table of contents. I have also not been able to find some of the outlines. Maybe they are mislabled with incorrect testing year, or maybe they're missing completely. I dunno, but I'm not going to flip through the book one page at a time when I can't find the essay in two quick flip throughs.
- Bar notes. From what I understand, Barbri apparently has really detailed outlines, and then students go to class and have to take notes about the key subjects. Most students don't even use the outlines, they just use the bar notes. But for Kaplan, I found the bar notes pretty useless. Most of the lectures tracked the outlines verbatim (like, the lecturers were reading from the outline), except they would skip things that weren't important. So I just took notes in my lecture book.
- Stupid checkpoint quizzes. Kaplan "makes" you take checkpoint quizzes and then review your materials or re-watch lectures. This was a huge waste of time, and I quickly stopped doing them. These are multiple choice quizzes on ESSAY subjects. They schedule about 1 hour for each quiz (remember 2 quizzes each subject) and 1.5 hours to review the first quiz. That's minimum 3.5 hours for each subject to review multiple choice quizzes for essay topics. I think you are much better off doing 5-6 essays for each subject, or however many you can get done. Further, these quizzes did NOT line up with the lectures at all. On TX civil procedure, for example, the lecturer said "statutes of limitations have never been tested, so I'm not going to cover them in the lecture." When I took the checkpoint quiz, 25% of the questions (yes, actually 25%) were on statutes of limitations. That's when I first began to realize what a waste of time those quizzes are.
I ended up taking all of the level 1 quizzes. On several of these quizzes, I noticed errors. I e-mailed Kaplan, and they sometimes gave a BS answer, but other times they said I was right and that the question would be flagged by their staff for review.
So why am I making such a big deal about the quizzes? I am fairly certain that the guarantee doesn't apply unless you do everything Kaplan says, which means all the quizzes and quiz review. Given that they repeatedly scheduled me for 12.5+ hours of work per day (without breaks), I decided to kiss that guarantee goodbye. The amount of time they scheduled me on some days was just not helpful/doable. I've done some 12+ hours (of actual studying) this past week, but most of the time 12+ hours is not helpful or practical. (Also, you should check on the guarantee, 'cause I don't think it's money-back. I think they just let you retake the course. But honestly, even if I fail, I probably wouldn't retake the course. I'd just study the outlines more and memorize more.)
- Outlines are somewhat deficient. Plain and simple, the outlines do not contain all the relevant information. See my comment above about Bar Notes. Because the lectures track the outlines more than Barbri (from what barbri friends tell me), the outlines I'm guessing are less detailed than Barbri's. That can be a good thing sometimes, I guess. But some issues that have been actually TESTED ON THE BAR were not in the outline books. I have found at least 3. For one of those issues, a friend of mine in Barbri mentioned a random issue/rule in TX, and I was like "WTF, I didn't know that." Sure enough, I looked up the statutes online and found the rule. Then I looked at the essay that I had already done and that had been graded "exceeds the standard" by Kaplan. The issue was clearly applicable, but the rule wasn't in my outline book, and the Kaplan grader did not say I missed the issue. It also wasn't in the essay book. So maybe Barbri just has their crap together more. Sometimes I feel like Kaplan "rushed" the substantive material.
I do like, however, the way Kaplan organizes the outlines (material on the right, general "line diagram" big picture on the left). Pick up a free copy of their MPRE book to see what I mean about the outlines. They were handing this out for free at my school, but I think you can also download it free from their website.
- Tested topics. What I've been doing the past week is making my own outline of all topics tested on as many essays as I can outline. (I'm close to 100 now). I'm also keeping an excel spreadsheet that briefly identifies each issue tested on each exam. So I can go back and say "Hey, issue X has been tested on 7 of the last 8 exams." (This has happened.) Kaplan did not create any such outline or chart from what I can tell. This would have been fairly easy to do, and I think they should have done it. I'm not sure if Barbri does it, though. I'm just saying, it would have been something that's relatively easy to do because they already outlined every single essay. In the outlines, however, they do place stars by "highly tested" subjects. So, they've done a decent job with that. I just would have liked more detail.
- Focus on IRAC. Kaplan says over and over and over again to use IRAC. They grade your essays lower if you don't do IRAC. But I am definitely NOT doing IRAC on the bar. For the past 3 administrations, TX has posted "selected answers" on the website. I reviewed all of these. Almost every single one follows CRAC or CRA. TX asks very specific questions often (e.g., "Did the court err in awarding child support" or "Among whom should T's estate be divided and in what shares" or "Who has superior interest in the laptop."). Almost every single selected answer starts with a conclusion, and many don't even address the issue in a heading (questions in TX are numbered, so people just use those numbers to organize an answer).
Anyway, this isn't a big issue, but it just seems like Kaplan is trying to force-feed me something that the TX bar examiners have not expressed a preference for. In fact, they seem to prefer not-IRAC. Is this evidence of Kaplan not reviewing those essays? I dunno. Maybe they did and just made a conscious effort to disregard what TX bar examiners seem to prefer.
Conclusion / tl;dr
- MBE review is great, particularly the q-bank. You can get access to q-bank, I think, for about $300 if you don't want to do a course.
- Comprehensive review has been disappointing overall, but probably worth the extra money if you are going to do the MBE course. To just buy the Barbri books, for me it was looking like $300 on craigslist. So, I was going to spend $1000 on MBE course, $300 on q-bank, and $300 on books. Again, the comprehensive course was $2K inclusive of MBE, so I only spent about $400 more.
- Despite my quasi-dissatisfaction with the comprehensive course, I would take it again. This was the first year it was offered, so I would hope that next year they clean up some of the problem areas.