Choosing a Bar Exam Tutor – Ask the Right Questions

Every day I talk to prospective students looking for a California bar exam tutor. I’ve been asked so many questions, but I think there are four really important questions that everyone should consider when searching for the right bar tutor.

  1. What teaching process does the tutor use?

When considering working with a bar exam tutor, you want to know: What is their underlying teaching theory? Or do they even have one? This is an important way to determine whether a tutor is dedicated to teaching and has spent the time to learn how to tutor and teach, rather than simply looking to supplement income from a less than successful legal practice. Listen carefully to the tutor outline their teaching theory. Does it make sense? Is it grounded in anything meaningful?   Does it feel ad hoc or is it filled with platitudes and “feel good” talk or will you just be overwhelmed with charts and outlines and left to yourself? Nothing is more frustrating to students than hiring a so-called professional only to learn that this person has no clue what he or she is doing. It’s not just money thrown away, but six months wasted before the next opportunity to take the bar exam. Make sure you know what this tutor has planned for you and why.

  1. How long has the tutor been teaching bar prep?

Passing the bar exam is vitally important to you. Entrusting your future to somebody with little to no experience is a plan for disaster. If you needed open-heart surgery, you wouldn’t look for a brand new heart surgeon. If you were charged with murder, you wouldn’t want to hire a recent law school graduate to defend you. Why? Because the stakes are far too great to trust anyone but a seasoned professional. The same is true for preparation for the California bar exam; until you pass the exam, your future is on hold so the stakes are high. You don’t need to be training material for someone looking to build a tutoring business. Look for an experienced tutor to get you there.

  1. Does the tutor do anything else professionally?

This is an important question because you want to make sure your bar tutor isn’t distracted. Bar prep takes over your life and you deserve a tutor that is attentive to your needs throughout the program. You don’t want your tutor worried about preparing discovery documents in some personal injury case, or consumed with grading law school exams while they’re preparing you for the bar. If someone tutors “on the side,” it is very likely that you will be low on the list of priorities. You want a tutor who is focused on your success and only your success. Anything less should be unacceptable.

  1. Did the tutor actually take and pass the California bar exam?

This might come as a surprise, but there are tutors offering their services to prepare students to pass the California bar exam that have not actually passed the California bar exam themselves. Ask! This is not a situation where “You’ve seen one bar exam, you’ve seen ‘em all.” The California bar exam is different—it is unique in its difficulty and you want someone who has taken it and has passed, preferably on their first try. You also want someone intimately acquainted with this particular exam so that they can act as a knowledgeable guide, not just someone with general test taking tips. A tutor should be, above all else, an expert that you can count on for answers, advice and guidance.

On a related note, research a prospective tutor’s standing with the State Bar of California. Are they a member? A member in good standing? They need not be active because you only need to be active to practice law and many full-time tutors and bar exam preparation professionals do not practice, but they should be members in good standing because 1) as mentioned, they should have passed the bar exam, and 2) they should be participants in the legal community of California with their professional character and activities held to the ethical standards of that community. As someone striving to become a member of the Bar, you know its importance and its prestige, so it should raise a red flag if someone has disciplinary problems on their record or, for some reason, passed the bar exam and never joined the State Bar.

Remember, when interviewing and researching a prospective tutor, you are looking for an experienced expert who is reliable—someone who can help you achieve what is seemingly impossible. Take care in your search. Make sure you make the right choice so you never have to make this choice again.