Since you have landed here, I am assuming that you have either successfully finished law school or will be graduating soon. Understanding the rigors you have endured, congratulations is certainly in order. But like me, after finishing law school, I am sure you are thinking “okay, I successfully jumped that hurdle, now I need to jump the next and most important one – passing the Bar.”
Taking the Bar exam is much different than taking an exam in law school. Putting aside the logistics, time constraints, and two day intensity; the Bar exam is put together by the state bar regulatory agencies in an attempt to test for whether a person would be a competent attorney. Thus, the exam is different in many ways as to what you have been exposed to.
For this reason alone, taking a Bar preparation course is critical. And note, if this is the first time you are taking the Bar exam, it is important that you choose a full service course which prepares you for all aspects of the exam including the multiple choice, essays and the performance exam.
For many of you, passing the Bar exam the first time is vital. For some, you already have a job lined up which would disappear if you didn’t pass the first time. Others may have had to take out substantial student loans which now, that you have graduated, will require repayment.
Either way, a Bar exam preparation course is essential. To further complicate matters, as I am sure you have heard, and as amply reported in publications like the Los Angeles Times and the ABA Journal, Bar exam pass rates have been on a steady decline for the last several years. To compound that problem, many states, like California, are refusing to lower their exam pass cut lines to raise the pass rates.
In other words, the state bar licensing agencies are refusing to grade the Bar exam on a curve, citing the need to preserve public protection. As a result, today’s Bar exams are just as difficult to pass as those given twenty years ago when I took mine. So then you might be wondering, “why are the Bar pass rates steadily decreasing, it is not as if today’s students are less intelligent than those from twenty years ago?”
You are correct, today’s students are just as intelligent, but there is something else going on. An analysis was done and the researchers found that the decline was not due to lower scores on the multiple choice portion of the exam (known as the MBE). It was determined that the lower bar pass rates were due to a higher failure rate on the essay questions.
It was found that because of societal changes (including that students today study in a different manner than in the past) and changes in the way many law schools are administering their classroom exams, many of today’s students taking the Bar are having difficulty following the call of an essay question; they are not spotting a sufficient number of issues in the fact patterns; they are having trouble applying the law to the facts and analyzing them; and their grammar and spelling is not up to par.
Unfortunately, the long standing traditional Bar preparation courses have not adapted their curriculums to compensate for this change. In the past, the MBE was considered the most difficult and tricky portion of the exam to pass. Consequently, the major emphasis, in the companies offering full service Bar review, focused on the techniques of mastering MBE.
These full service companies provided essay questions with model answers and had some discussion about the basic IRAC approach (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion, a cumbersome, outdated method not really suited to address today’s timed essay questions containing multiple issues and cross over subjects). The companies assumed the skills required to actually break down and analyze essay questions were learned within the law school curriculum. Basically, the methodology for these companies in preparation for essay exams was the old axiom, “practice makes perfect.”
Today, although the full service giants in the Bar prep industry like BarBri, Flemings, and Kaplan, and the smaller ones like Bar Max, AmeriBar, and Themis, continue to offer full service courses and dominate the market, their curriculums have remained the same for several years.
When choosing a Bar exam preparation course, remember that not all courses are alike. Most of the Bar review courses are not full service courses, as they focus on one particular aspect of the Bar (usually as a supplement). For example, courses their courses may only focus on the MBE portion or the essay portion or just the performance portion. Then there are companies which focus on a particular type of exam or jurisdiction, for example, a course focusing just on the California first year exam or the New York exam. Other companies are focused on those students who have previously failed the exam, and thus their approach with the second time takers is much different than if you are a first time taker.
If you are a first time taker, these limited courses will not fulfill all of your needs and should not be considered as your primary Bar preparation course. If you find that you need some supplementation at some point, then, of course, you should look at what they offer.
Because it is critical that as a first time taker you take a full service course, I will not be including those limited curriculum focused companies within the comparison below. The companies, that I know of, which have the limited focused curriculum include: Adapti Bar; Bar Graders; Bar Made Easy; PMBR; Bar Outlines; Bar Secrets; Bar Review Solutions; Bar Prep Hero; Smart Bar Prep; Omni Prep Patent; Internet Bar Exam Review; My Bar Prep; Pass the Bar; Pieper Bar Review; Marino Bar Review; Bar Exam Doctor; Supreme Bar Review; Skillman Method; and The Writing Edge.
In addition to these limited focus companies, there are several companies which provide Bar review in a tutorial setting, whether one-on-one or in small groups, but mostly face-to-face. These are usually regional companies, requiring your attendance and have very limited enrollment. In addition, because they are so hands-on personal tutorial courses, they mainly cater to those Bar takers who have previously failed the exam.
Because of the small capacity, the regional considerations and that the course curriculums often focus on the student who has already taken the Bar exam, I am of the opinion that these companies should also not be considered by the first time taker (but of course, that is a personal choice). Thus, I will not include the companies that focus on a tutorial format in the comparison below. The companies, I know of, in this category include: Bar None Review; Bar Plus Review; Bar Review; Bar Winners; Law Tutorial; Law Tutors; Open Book; Southwest Bar Review; The Bar Coach; and The Bar Code.
That leaves the full service companies for your review and comparison. The full service companies, which I am currently aware of, include: Side Bar; BarBri; Bar Max; Kaplan; Themis; Flemings; and AmeriBar.
Before we begin the comparison, I would like to say a word about published Bar pass rates and published pricing for these individual companies. Of the seven full service Bar Prep companies, three (Themis, Bar Max, and Flemings) publish Bar pass rates. BarBri does not officially publish Bar pass rates, however it has been reported in the press that their sales people verbally tout an 80 percent pass rate.
The publication of a Bar pass rate, by a Bar prep company, has always left me in a quandary. How precisely do these companies establish a protocol to accurately assess the percentage of those people who have taken their course and then passed the Bar exam?
It seems to me to be enigmatic to make such a determination and then publish this as a selling point. The individual state bars administering the exams certainly do not collect any data concerning whether a person took a Bar prep course, more or less a particular brand. In addition, many states do not publish the names of those people who passed the exam.
Thus, the official arbiters of the exams certainly are not the source of this information for the Bar prep companies to publish. There can be only one way to establish this kind of information which would be unreliable and thus produce inaccurate results. That would be after the six months of taking the exam and then receiving their results, each individual student would have to contact the Bar prep company they used and tell them whether they passed or failed the exam.
For a pass rate to be reliable and accurate, 100 percent of the those who purchased the Bar prep course would have to voluntarily respond to the company and be truthful about whether they passed or failed. If even a fraction of those (let us say 20 percent) did not respond to the company, the results would be far from accurate and thus misleading to publish.
Someone once told me that at least one of the companies establish their pass rate based upon those who took the exam, failed and then contacted the company requesting to retake the course for free. Here again, this can never be an accurate portrayal of a pass rate because often, those who fail on their first try decide that the Bar prep course they took was not good enough and they then engage a different company to prepare them for the second go around (and as mentioned above, there are several companies only focused on that market niche).
Therefore, in my opinion, any published Bar pass rate proffered by a Bar prep company is deceptive. In using this as a criteria in your evaluation of the companies below, consider this; there is a Civil Jury Instruction in almost every State which basically says: “If you decide that a witness did not tell the truth about something important, you may choose not to believe anything that witness said in her other testimony.” There is much wisdom behind that jury instruction, and based upon that criteria, I personally cannot recommend any company which publishes Bar pass rates.
If you agree with my opinion concerning published pass rates, that would eliminate Themis, Bar Max, and Flemings from serious consideration (and if the BarBri sales representatives are also instructed to tout these pass rates, they should be eliminated as well).
That leaves four full service companies (Side Bar, BarBri, Kaplan, and AmeriBar) to evaluate and compare. However, to be fair, all seven companies will be included in the comparison below.
Now about published pricing. Here again, not all companies are alike and have different and sometimes complex pricing structures. For example, Flemings has different tiers of pricing: Short Term is more than $2,000, Long Term is more than $3,000 and Ultimate is in excess of $6,000. Each tier has a different level of course and preparation materials provided. AmeriBar has a similar tiered pricing structure.
I question this kind of pricing, because how is a first time Bar exam taker going to know what level or tier is right for them in order to pass the exam? Frankly, if the first time taker actually knew the answer to that question, they would be so clairvoyant and knowledgeable that they would not need a Bar prep course at all.
On the other hand, other companies, like Side Bar, provide 100 percent of all course and preparation materials, that would be required to pass the Bar, for a single price.