Information on Choosing a Bar Review Course/Method of Study

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I.P. Daly
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Information on Choosing a Bar Review Course/Method of Study

Postby I.P. Daly » Sat Mar 09, 2013 2:58 pm

The issue of selecting a bar review course comes up a lot. While it may not be a huge deal for someone that’s getting the cost of the course paid for by a firm, it can be a major financial decision for students that have to cover the costs out-of-pocket. Perhaps this thread can provide insight for folks searching for the right course. Below are some stats for New York courses. Although courses and prices vary by jurisdiction, NY is probably a decent barometer by which to gauge courses.

Sign up and receive free MPRE material from the various courses:
Many of the courses offer a free MPRE review program with supplements and lectures provided. By signing up and attending a live or online lecture, students can get an idea of the bar review course structure and format.

Attend a weekend review session:
In the fall and spring, BarBri and Kaplan (possibly others) travel to many schools and offer free weekend MBE review sessions. They provide free materials, and the review may also help students determine whether a live lecture is the best method of review for them.

Below is information about several of the major prep courses.

Hopefully bar takers can post info!

I) Self Study Without a Course
Price: Varies (obviously)
The are a lot of methods available (buying/borrowing books & outlines, using generic audio lectures from law libraries (e.g., Sum and Substance), using Baroutlines.

Really Helpful TLS Thread on Self-Studying

I've heard reports that in some cases, students with low GPA/class rank and poor LSAT scores should avoid self-study for the bar. I don't have a cite that verifies this, but if anyone has links to studies that verify this info, I'll post it here.

II) AmeriBar (LinkRemoved)
NY Tuition: Standard Package: $1295; Standard Package with Essay Critiques is $1595; Standard Package with AmeriBar's Pass the First Time Money-Back Guarantee is $1995; Standard Package plus intensive one-hour telephone tutoring sessions: $2695.

NY Pass Rate: Not Reported (some schools do survey their bar takes and track this information, however)

The Course:
AmeriBar offers a comprehensive online bar review course.

According to their website:
The complete course will prepare you for all portions of the bar exam. AmeriBar's Complete New York Home Study Program includes: AmeriBar's New York Essay Master Course (over 20 hours of audio lectures); AmeriBar's Multistate Bar Exam Course (over 40 hours of audio lectures); AmeriBar's Multistate Performance Test Course.

What TLSers have said about AmeriBar:

studebaker07 wrote:Check out AmeriBar. They have courses ranging in price from $1,200-$1,600. It's a "home study" program in that you can listen to the lectures on your own and do practice questions at your leisure. The only requirement for this program to be effective is that you be a self-starter and motivator. Do the unlimited essay critique (included in the $1,600 program) and you will get great feedback and more realistic scores than the bar bri exam trolls who only make you feel inferior.

I did AmeriBar and passed the first time and I was working at the same time I was studying. Only had to pay $900 too because I got a student rep discount. No complaints with the program. It's simple but it gets the job done.


III) BarBri (LinkRemoved)
NY Tuition (consult the website for other applicable charges): $3,675.00

NY Bar Pass Rate: Not Reported (some schools do survey their bar takes and track this information, however)

For a relatively small additional fee, BarBri also offers dual courses (e.g., NY/NJ, NY/MA).

According to their website, BarBri has been in the bar review industry for 45 years.

The Course:
Website Factsheet/Overview (LinkRemoved)
From BarBri's website: “BARBRI Bar Review is an intensive 8-9 week "all-inclusive" bar exam prep program comprised of everything you need to pass the New York Bar Exam. It includes: substantive law lectures, Multistate, Essay and Performance Test Workshops, substantive law outlines and practice exam materials. You do not need to purchase anything beyond what is included in the BARBRI course.”

With a deposit of $250.00 (non-refundable), students receive first year and upper level study materials including lectures, outlines, and StudySmart® practice questions. It also locks in your future bar review tuition at today’s price, no matter when or where you take the bar.

Repeater guarantee:
According to the website, if students take a BARBRI bar review course for the first time for a particular state and do not pass that state’s bar exam or do not sit for that state’s bar exam, they may repeat the same course once for the same state the next time a course is offered without paying additional tuition.

What TLSers have said about BarBri:

blsingindisguise wrote:At the outset, let me make clear that I have no financial interest in any bar prep company. I am a recent graduate who will be sitting for the July NY bar, and I prepped for the bar using an on-site video course.

BARBRI continues to be by far the dominant market player in bar preparation. An antitrust lawsuit appears to have helped to open the market up to some competition, but at least in NY BARBRI is so much the default choice that the few people who take other courses are treated like curiosities. The self-reinforcing conventional wisdom is that Barbri is for people who don't want to take chances, and this seems to justify the exorbitant price tag in the range of $3500 -- a lot of money to pay for some books and the privilege of watching videos in a crowded lecture hall.

Yet I've found that my BARBRI experience has made my studying unnecessarily frustrating and difficult, and if I could do it again I'd find a cheaper, simpler course. My views are hardly universal, but I've heard others express similar feelings. I'd like to at least list some of the pros and cons (cons first) so that others might make a more informed choice. I'd also like to add that my employer does not pay for bar courses (whereas many large firms do) so this is a consideration.


1) The videos themselves -- one of the selling points of BARBRI -- are just not very good or worthwhile. Maybe 10% of the lecturers are dynamic enough to hold your interest for the 3-4 hour sessions. Many move too quickly through the most challenging material. Many simply don't cover enough law at all. At least a few were terribly disorganized, such that it was a struggle to interpret lecture notes. There's also just something really miserable about having to sit through 3-4 hours of a badly taped, bad audio quality large screen video lecture in itself.

2) The video lecture "handouts": most lecturers use fill-in-the-blank handouts that you work through during the lectures. I found that these tended to make my mind completely shut off, listening only for the blanks to fill in.

3) Barbri advises you to take these fill-in-the-blank lecture notes and retype them into outlines. I found this to be a tedious and exhausting process that failed to help reinforce material (because I was just typing as fast as I could to get finished) and took up time that could have been much better spent doing something else. I eventually stopped.

4) The workload is highly unrealistic and inefficient. Barbri's "interactive paced program" simply gives more work than 90% of takers can accomplish, and for me this was demoralizing (there's a little percentage bar that moves as you check things off, and if you can't keep up, you watch it fall further and further behind). The weighting also seemed off -- too much time was devoted to "essay strategies" and to the MPT, as an example.

5) A confusing array of materials -- Barbri gives you so many different books and online materials that it's sometimes hard to know what to do. For example, there are "Conviser Mini Review" outlines, full outlines, and lecture handouts for each MBE subject, and the information is often presented in different ways in each so that they don't reinforce each other well.

6) MBE multiple choice questions are almost nothing like the real questions. Barbri's questions are trickier in terms of logic and reading comp, but don't test as much substantive law knowledge as the bar. The bar is much more likely to ask you a Q where you just straight up have to know a UCC provision to get it right, but it might be a more obscure provision than the ones tested commonly by Barbri (although, ultimately, the real questions tend to be easier).

7) Barbri's "harder than the real thing" essays -- don't find these helpful. Also don't like the fact that the graders grade harder than the real exam (what I've heard) -- again, just demoralizing to me.

The Pros:

1) Having some kind of program was I guess better than nothing.

2) The simulated MBE at the actual bar location is very very useful (but there may be a way to do this without the whole course).

3) Seeing percentiles is reassuring -- if you know that you're even in the top 50% of BARBRI students you know you have a damn good chance of passing.

4) The "Conviser Mini Review" is an excellent and comprehensive outline of every topic. I wish I had just studied from this one book all along.

5) The "everyone else is doing it" factor -- but that's sort of self-evident. If you're the kind of person that's so terrified of going against the grain, i.e., a law student, maybe taking Barbri will reassure you. There is, to be fair, lots of reassurance in the course. They're constantly reminding you that you just need to do x and y to be on track, and the lecturers are always telling you their CRAZY stories about the dummy in front of them at the exam, and some people find this to be a security blanket. I found it irritating and babying and a time waster.

Anyway, it's not like you're going to fail BECAUSE you take barbri, so it isn't like taking barbri is going to be a catastrophe for anyone. I just think that price-sensitive students might consider other options and realize that as long as you have a little bit of self-discipline and did decently in law school, you can probably pass quite easily without Barbri. I don't know anything about the cheaper options. I know Themis is cheaper, and I've heard it's fine but a bit no-frills. There are all kinds of books, flashcards, etc. You have to figure out what works for you. But don't get sucked into taking Barbri just because it's the thing to do, at least not if you're footing the bill.

Pufer wrote:Friend of mine got Themis for like $200 (he won some kind of one-off super deal) and absolutely blew the Bar away (think up in the realm of the top score in the state). I paid more than 10 times that for BarBri and got almost an identical score as he did.

Even with the knowledge that I probably could've done every bit as well as my friend did if I had taken Themis too, if given the choice again (even assuming the same $200 deal for Themis) I'd still choose BarBri. On top of the wild over-preparing that all of us did, my friend fell into in the trap of thinking "oh shit, the shittiness of my simple-ass bar prep course is going to fuck me compared to everyone else" and over-prepared even more. I'd like to think that I would be above that, but having lived through the shitshow that is the two weeks before the bar exam, I probably would've done the exact same thing (and I'm that guy who had zero stress leading into 1L finals and every other test I've ever taken; the fucking bar exam is every bit as bad as everyone says it is).

Reduce the potential for stress as much as possible. Pay the bazillion dollars for BarBri, do a half-assed job, panic and cram the shit out of it during the last two weeks, then pass like everyone else who was doing the exact same thing.


petsoundspop wrote:I took BarBri for NY and passed on my first try but in all honesty I thought it was a total ripoff. Could have bought the materials off ebay and still passed. Not to mention that dealing with BarBri customer service is like pulling teeth. They don't really give a shit about individual customers as they are THE bar prep giant. I feel like a lot of the BarBri love is just self-fullfiling prophecy based on a never-ending cycle of 3L fear. For what it's worth, I had a handful of friends who took Themis for NY and all of them passed with plenty of room to spare. Several of these friends took and passed multiple jurisdictions.

Don't get me wrong, BarBri definitely will do the trick but Themis (at least for NY and MA) seems just as adequate for a fraction of the price. So much of Bar Exam success depends on your own discipline and work ethic over the summer and less to do with what company you use. If you put in the time and effort, odds are you will pass.


IV) Kaplan
NY Tuition: Online course: $2,250; Live course: $3,200 (like BarBri, Kaplan also offers dual courses)

NY Pass Rate: Not Reported (some schools do survey their bar takes and track this information, however)

Kaplan also offers early enrollment incentives. Some students also elect to purchase Kaplan's supplemental MBE course only (PMBR).

Kaplan provides a lot of free material on their Youtube Page, and they offer a free MBE flashcard app available through iTunes.

According to their website:
The Kaplan approach provides you with the direct and efficient path to successfully applying your legal knowledge the way it's tested on the bar. Here's how it works:

Step 1: Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) Foundation (6 days)
Step 2: Comprehensive Subject Review & Practice (up to 36 days; varies by state)
Step 3: Full-Length Simulated Exams and Final Review (4 to 5 days)
Step 4: Final Countdown Study Plan (approximately 14 days; varies by student)

What TLSers have said about Kaplan:

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.


V) Pieper
NY Tuition: bar review course: $3,650; Early-Start Home Study Program: $3,995; Concentrated Weekends: $1,095.

NY Bar Pass Rate: Not Reported (some schools do survey their bar takes and track this information, however)

The Course:
From Piepers website:
The Pieper New York-Multistate Bar Review Course is full-service bar review course consisting of approximately 175 hours of lecture. In addition to the most comprehensive lectures anywhere, the course is complemented by volumes of written material designed to prepare you for success on every aspect of the New York State Bar Exam. For over 35 years, we have been successfully preparing students for this exam.

What TLSers have said about Pieper:
reasonable_man wrote:Neither of these dog shit courses [Kaplan/BarBri] are the way to go. Pieper people pass; all day long. And they will probably pay you back for the deposit you put down for Barbri.

I took Pieper in July 2008. Passed the first time and my MBE score was in the upper 90 to 95%. Go with Pieper..


VI) Themis
NY Tuition: $1495

NY Bar Pass Rate: 90% (summer 2011)

The Course:
From their website:
Themis Bar Review combines decades of experience in bar review with the latest eLearning methodology and technology to fully prepare you for the New York bar exam—completely online. Our Integrated Learning System™ provides a daily to-do list, customizable schedule that adjusts to your study pace, and a Personal Bar Exam Adviser to help guide you throughout your studies. No other review provides this level of professional and personal support to ensure your success!

Themis' website offers sample lectures and outlines, among other things.

What TLSers have said about Themis:
hasmith wrote:I used Themis for the IL bar and passed. I felt like I was well prepared. In Illinois, you only find out your score if you failed so I do not know if I passed by a little or a lot. I don't have any knowledge of the NY bar but everyone I know that has used Themis (in IL) has been pretty happy with it. Themis offers NY bar review.

Themis is a good deal. Themis will even credit your account for up to 250 bucks if you initially deposited with another course. I do not have any affiliation with Themis but just wanted to share my thoughts. The bar is scary, and I think a lot of people go with BarBri because it seems like the only game in town. If you are not paying for the course, it is not necessarily a concern. I do not think BarBri is worth the 3k charge. Themis is exclusively online, so if you really like the live lectures it is not an option, but many people simply watch the vids of the BarBri lectures anyway.

If you are looking for MBE only prep, adaptibar is a good course. Our school offered a few free memberships so I used that along with Themis. Honestly, I do not think you need it as a supplement to a full bar course, but as a standalone product it is pretty good.

presh wrote:A guy in the year before me used Themis. There are pros and cons. The big pro is obviously much cheaper. The cons, as described to me, are that (1) the infrastructure is not as set up for Themis (they sometimes have trouble with the site crashing) and (2) the course itself gives you more freedom.

The guy who took it from my school was possibly the most intelligent person I have ever met and definitely not lazy. But he had some trouble self-motivating as much as he needed to for Themis.

TL;DR. Probably a good idea, but you need to have massive amounts of self-discipline.

Wellsfargowagon wrote:BarBri is "the way to go" only if you're risk-averse and your firm is picking up the tab. Granted, that describes many bar takers. Not me, though. I did Themis because I had to pay for bar prep out-of-pocket, liked the format (10-30 min lectures with short multiple-choice quizzes in between), and figured that no one bar-prep class will differ much from any other.

Turns out I was right about the lack of difference. Of my close law school friends, some did BarBri, but most did Themis. Both courses taught basically the same stuff. This is only anecdotal evidence, but everyone in the group who did Themis, passed. Plus, at least last year, Themis gave a public-interest discount to the tune of several hundred dollars to folks entering public-service jobs, including clerkships. I passed the Bar after having spent less than $1,000 for prep.

In short, don't let BarBri's stranglehold on the bar-prep market deter you from giving other courses a hard look.


VII) Other material and courses to consider (under development)
Celebration Bar Review
Jackson Mumey of Celebration Bar Review is a prolific Youtuber, and Celebration offers many free advice videos on Youtube.

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