In June of this year, 16 years after I graduated from law school and took the Louisiana bar exam, I decided to take the Florida bar exam to help a client with some cases in the Sunshine State. I wanted to take a bar review course, but I wasn't going to be able to attend live lectures in Florida, so I decided to enroll in BARBRI and use the BARBRI iPhone app. The BARBRI course is $3,245, and for an extra $295 you can purchase BARBRI Mobile. (If you don't own an iOS device, the company will loan you an iPod touch in exchange for a $200 refundable deposit.) Note that the app itself is a free download from the App Store, but except for one feature noted below, you can't use the app unless you have paid for the BARBRI Mobile option as a part of your BARBRI course.
I found the app to be very useful, and I thought it would be interesting to write about the experience here, not only for anyone out there who is contemplating taking a bar exam (I know that a lot of law students read iPhone J.D.), but also for any attorneys who have been out of law school for a while and are curious about how technology has changed the way that people can study for a bar exam.
BARBRI is known for having good lecturers, and for the most part I was very happy with the people who taught the course, especially people who taught the six multistate bar exam (MBE) subjects. To watch a lecture on your iPhone, you select the lectures button at the bottom and you will see the available courses. Each lecture is broken up into one hour segments, so for example to learn Constitutional Law there are 3 one-hour segments for Con Law I and 3 one-hour segments for Con Law II.
The lectures are not located in the app itself; you download each lecture from within the app, either in video or audio format. I downloaded all of mine in video format, even though sometimes I would not pay attention to the screen and just listen using my headphones. After you have heard a lecture, it makes sense to delete it from your iPhone to save space, but you can keep it there if you think that you may want to listen to part of it again, or you can redownload a lecture that you have already heard. Here is Prof. David Epstein of S.M.U. (an excellent lecturer) teaching Contracts and Sales on my iPhone:
Watching the video on the iPhone works exactly like watching any other video. I found it useful that you could watch a lecture but easily pause if you need to take a break or easily go back if you want to listen to something again — things that you could not do if you were sitting in a classroom. And obviously, unlike a classroom lecture, you can watch these lectures at your own pace, at whatever time or place that you want.
Listening to the BARBRI lectures on my iPhone worked great. I would typically prop up my iPhone on a table and plug it in to my external speakers (I have a Bose SoundDock Portable) and sit at the table with the handouts and follow along with a lecture, but sometimes I would slip the iPhone into my shirt pocket and just listen to a lecture on my iPhone. Only rarely was it necessary to see the teachers — very few used a board or other visuals — but I usually found it more engaging to watch a person while they spoke.
2. Practice Questions
When you enroll in BARBRI, you receive well over a dozen books, many of which contain practice questions and practice tests. Because the actual MBE is a written test, it makes sense to take many of your practice exams using paper just to get into the habit of using a pencil, but I found it very useful to also do practice questions on the iPhone. You choose to answer questions by subject either with or without a timer, or you can take a 30 minute practice exam with questions in a mixed order from all three subjects.
When you are taking test questions the iPhone displays the question in the top half of the screen (you often need to scroll to see all of the question) and the four possible answers in the bottom half of the screen, and you simply tap the one that you think is correct. Instantly, you will see whether you got the question right or wrong, the right answer has an explanation of why it is right, and every wrong answer has an explanation of why it is wrong. (If you take a 30 minute practice exam, you wait until the end to see the answers.) When you are reviewing an answer that you know you are going to want to look at again, tap the "Review" switch at the top right to on. That way, over time, you can build up a set of questions that you have previously indicated you want to revisit, a good way to re-test yourself on the topics that you difficulty with on first pass. For me, this system worked really well. It was a fast-paced way to do practice questions, immediatley learn the right answer, and then, later on, go back to the questions that gave me trouble the first time.
The explanations of why answers are right or wrong include hyperlinks (the letters CMR) to an outline of the entire subject (the Conviser condensed outline). I found this very helpful because you can quickly see the correct answer and then remind yourself of the principle of law and how it fits in to the body of law as a whole.
The app keeps track of how many you got right or wrong for all of the questions that you tried within each subject matter. If you are doing well enough to pass the MBE, you see a green indicator for a subject. If not, you see red. Here is what my statistics looked like early on in my studying, at a time when you can see that I had much more studying to do, especially in Property. (Rule Against Perpetuities -- arrggh!!!)
The statistics go even deeper. In addition to telling you your overall percentage in a subject, the app can also show you how you are doing on the sub-topics within each major subject to help point you to the parts of the outline that require more attention. Additionally, if you are feeling competitive, you can even see how you are doing compared to all of the other people doing the practice questions, with results updated every night.
3. Mini Reviews
I mentioned before that within answers to questions you can see links to outlines of each subject area. You can also tap the Mini Reviews button at the bottom of the screen at any time to review the Conviser condensed outline for each of the MBE subjects.
4. BARBRI Challenge
Finally, the app includes a "game" called the BARBRI Challenge. Anyone can download the BARBRI app for free and play the game, even people not enrolled in BARBRI. You register and tell the app which law school you attend (or attended), and then the app gives you 10 random questions across all subject matters and gives you 15 minutes to answer. Read the question and tap an answer, and the app plays a buzzer sound if you got the answer wrong or a ding if you got the answer right and then brings you to the next question. (Unlike the main test questions within the app, in this game the app does not tell you why an answer is right or wrong.) Once you answer all of the questions you see your score. You can take as many tests as you want and over time you can see how you rank against other players, how your school ranks against other schools, and leaderboards with the top usernames from your law school and the top usernames from all law schools.
I think it is nice that BARBRI tried to take the gruelling task of studying for the bar exam and turn it into something competitive and, arguably, fun.
[UPDATE 10/7/10: BARBRI updated this app to support iPhone 4 multitasking.]
There is nothing enjoyable about studying for a bar exam, but if you have to do it, the BARBRI iPhone app is very useful. It makes it easy to attend classes on your own schedule, it provides you with a way to do practice questions no matter where you go, and it includes other useful features such as an electronic version of the Conviser mini-outlines and the BARBRI Challenge game. The app doesn't take the place of the books — for example, the test questions in the app are just for the MBE so you still need the books for state-specific topics — but it is a useful supplement.
Considering how expensive BARBRI costs, it is a shame that they don't just give you the iPhone app for free. BARBRI also has a computer program called StudySmart that is similar to the iPhone app and I am fairly certain that it does not cost extra; I didn't use it so I cannot say much about it.
I suppose that the proof is in the pudding, and in my case, using this app helped me to get scores on the MBE and Florida-specific portions of the bar exam that were well in excess of what was necessary to pass the bar. Would I have done as well without the iPhone app? Who knows ... and I never want to have to find out!