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Kaplan vs Barbri
A detailed comparison of the Kaplan and Barbri bar review courses
For aspiring lawyers who have done their homework in comparing bar review courses, their research often leads to a decision between Kaplan and Barbri. Both are bar prep behemoths, offering live classes, comprehensive coursework, and a track record of success. So how do you choose between these bar review courses when they are alike in so many ways? We take a close side-by-side look at the Kaplan and Barbri prep offerings in this in-depth guide and cover the most important decision points.
Kaplan offers students two different course options from which to choose, with varying features. Their course offerings include the following packages:
Complete Bar Review
The Complete Bar Review package is Kaplan’s flagship course. This prep package follows the traditional approach of conducting bar review through a live class. In total, students will attend 160+ hours of live classroom instruction (in-person or online) over roughly 8 weeks. Video lectures are always present to back up missed classes or act as a supplement to the live lectures. This course format prices out at around $2,900, which is slightly cheaper than Barbri’s analogous Guided Pass course.
Next up, Kaplan offers its “Convenience Package” for those aspiring attorneys wanting the whole hog. This package generally offers all of the same features as the Complete Bar Review course, but with the option to study for a second state’s bar exam, flashcards and a few other minor add-ons. This is the deluxe offering for students who don’t want to take any risks, or more likely, will need to take two bar exams. This course also offers the best apples-to-apples comparison with Barbri on pricing, as Barbri offers an analogous top tier package. Kaplan’s premium course prices out at around $4,000, the same as Barbri’s.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
The Kaplan Bar Lessons and Coursework
When comparing bar review courses, the most important aspect to consider (outside of price perhaps) is the quality of the curriculum and coursework. In order to pass the bar, it is critical that you get a prep course with detailed lessons, rock solid practice material and the right study plan to get you across the finish line. Fortunately for Kaplan, they have all of the above and rate out slightly higher than Barbri in our book.
Whether you’re an online-only student or are taking the live class, Kaplan’s syllabus acts as the backbone of your course. Your syllabus, which sensibly also serves as the dashboard of your online portal, directs you to your daily assignments. These daily tasks generally total to somewhere between 5 and 7 hours of work time, as they calculate it, but often take more time when factoring in breaks, re-reading text or reviewing practice problems. The days are long and filled with lessons, quizzes, practice exercises and reading recaps.
The live lessons are led by a team of stellar instructors, who go above and beyond to make sure you understand and retain the material. We found the Kaplan instructors to be not only incredibly knowledgeable on their respective topics, but also very gracious and approachable. The Kaplan instructors were always open to side questions during breaks and more than willing to take a more detailed dive into issues when called for. In addition, the classes were directed through lesson plans that were incredibly detailed, but without getting you lost in the weeds. They strike a very nice balance of enough detail with conciseness in getting you exactly what you need to know for the exam.
When you can’t make a live class, or if you’re an On Demand student, Kaplan’s video lectures are just as good. These video-based lessons cover the same general material as the live class and are led by some incredible attorneys and professors from around the country. The video lectures have really high production value, a cool PowerPoint slide feature to follow along, and are broken up into doable segments. You shouldn’t have to worry one bit about missing a live class as the video lectures are first class.
Highlight: Top Flight Practice Materials
Maybe the most impressive portion of Kaplan’s bar review course is their body of practice work. Between the 4,000+ MBE questions in the Qbank, the library of real, previously used essays (with model answers for comparison), online and book drills, and flashcards, there is never a shortage of prep work. And the quality of these practice materials is top notch.
The MBE questions are carefully crafted by Kaplan’s army of in-house lawyers and bar experts in an effort to closely track the real MBE, and they do a dang good job. Having taken bar review courses that license real NCBE-designed MBE questions and looking at them side-by-side with Kaplan’s simulated questions, I couldn’t tell the difference. And while the MBE questions are drafted in-house, Kaplan’s essays are not. Licensed from the NCBE, Kaplan’s essay bank is filled with past, real essay prompts, as well as sample outlines and model answers for each.
In addition, you get access to Kaplan’s Qbank and Qformative practice tools. The Qbank allows you create customized practice problem sets, filtered down by topic, difficulty, timing and more. It is a great asset for narrowly targeting your weaknesses and honing your skills in a particular area. The Qformative is also a huge benefit, taking a different approach to MBE questions. Rather than simply asking a series of MBE questions, the Qformative drill asks you just one, then follows up with a series of queries about that one question (such as “what is the primary legal issue at play?” or “what legal principle is being tested?”). The point is to analyze the concepts being tested and gain a deeper understanding of the material.
Whereas Kaplan offers just two packages, Barbri offers three (and more if you count their extended prep and tutoring offerings). The three Barbri packages include:
The Self Pass and Guided Pass prep packages are essentially the same in terms of content, lesson delivery and other features. The primary difference is that with the Guided Pass package, you get hard copy prep books, unlimited graded essays and perks around Barbri’s job network. In my opinion, the first two of those benefits are the real worthwhile features of the upgraded plan. Otherwise, these courses offer the same general study resources, including an Online Personal Study Plan, 2,500+ MBE practice problems, immersion workshops and more. The Self Pass course runs for around $2,000 and the flagship Guided Pass for $3,000.
Finally, similar to Kaplan’s deluxe “Convenience Package”, Barbri offers their “Ultimate Pass” course package. It ratchets up the level of resources and gives you access to the normal 8-week Barbri course PLUS an iPad, multi-state prep access and other features. For those students that will be practicing across state lines, give this package a good look.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Barbri Lessons and Coursework
There is no questioning that Barbri provides one of the most comprehensive curriculums in bar review. Over 8 or so long weeks, you will engage in lessons, work practice problems, review content-filled outlines, take practice tests, and more. Simply put, Barbri delivers a really good all-around prep package.
Driven by their proprietary AI system ISAAC (an acronym for “Intuitive Study Assistant and Coach”), Barbri designs a personalized study plan to fit your needs. This PSP (as it’s called) serves as your roadmap for your Barbri course. It directs you to your daily assignments and actually updates and changes your tasks as you progress. If you’re doing well on one topic but struggling with another, ISAAC will redirect work assignments to your weaker area to get you up to par. This is a really cool and beneficial feature.
Barbri’s lessons are also pretty darn good. They are not the best we have seen – we actually rate Kaplan’s lessons out a little higher – but they are solid and do get the job done. Barbri draws you in with some big instructor names in their video lectures like Erwin Chemerinsky and Richard Freer, and these videos are generally of excellent production value. However, it should be briefly noted that we did find the video lectures quite dry at times and we had to really focus to stay engaged.
Another nice aspect of the Barbri course is that they allow you to select whether you want to attend lectures in-person or on demand from home. You can do one or the other, or a little of each. It’s totally up to you. This is a really nice benefit, especially considering that Kaplan charges more for their in-person course, and it adds value if you prefer to bounce back and forth as your schedule allows. Barbri’s in-person courses are very high-quality, and generally speaking, not much different from Kaplan’s. You will get a rotating team of subject matter experts leading your classes, all of whom we found to be very knowledgeable and generous with their time.
And also like Kaplan, Barbri’s practice materials are first rate and nothing less than we’d expect. The practice questions are carefully crafted to mirror real MBE questions and essay prompts, and some of them even are actual NCBE-licensed questions. In addition, the practice is targeted by ISAAC to work on your weak spots and build knowledge in the areas that are tested most. This AI-driven approach to optimizing your study time is an incredible advantage you just don’t get with other companies.
In addition to some really solid lessons and well-designed coursework, Barbri delivers some industry leading prep books that align with your personal study plan. The giant stack of books you will receive upon signing up with Barbri cover three categories – outlines, lecture handouts, and practice books. The package includes the following specific titles (assuming you’re in a UBE state for sake of explanation):
MBE Practice Questions
Multistate Performance Test Workbook
The Conviser Mini Review for MEE-MBE
Lecture Handouts for MBE-MEE
That is a lot of prep books. But beyond the mere quantity of materials you will receive, the quality of these varying content-laden coursebooks, lecture notes and practice materials is absolutely top notch. The outlines are content-rich and expertly communicate need-to-know legal principles and concepts in very understandable and basic terms. With bar study, you need to learn and retain information in a way that makes recall easy, where you’re not trying to remember material among an amorphous blob of information. You need to mentally index key principles, definitions and concepts, and these books really help with that.
In addition, the books containing your practice material are quite helpful. Much of your assigned homework through your personal study plan will take place in these study books. These books are filled with multiple-choice questions, essay prompts and performance tests. They are well-organized, contain thoughtful and clear explanations, and provide a nice means of reinforcing the content you are learning in the lessons. All in all, these are some of the best bar review books we have seen and are a highlight of the Barbri course.
The bar exam is likely the highest stakes test that you’ll take in your life, and something you definitely do not want to take twice. Not to mention your bar review course is likely going to cost you an arm and a leg. That is why it is critical that you select the best bar review course for your individual needs. And that decision isn’t made any easier when choosing between two of the best courses available. We hope this comparison has been helpful in informing your decision, but if you’re still unsure as to which course is right for you, here is our final point-by-point verdict:
Course Options and Price – Edge: Kaplan. When it comes to bar prep, money talks. And looking at just the raw cost of these courses, Kaplan’s Complete Bar Review course is $100 cheaper at full retail. Additionally, Kaplan’s course can often be found on sale for much, much less (sometimes half that cost), while we don’t usually see such steep discounts with Barbri.
Quality of Coursework – Edge: Kaplan. Kaplan’s curriculum and coursework get the edge over Barbri as a result of some category best practice materials and daily lesson plan. While Barbri’s very cool, AI-driven personal study plan and robust coursework make them a close second, we just found Kaplan to have the better overall curriculum. Their lessons are first rate, the study plan is efficiently and effectively organized, and the assigned work narrowly targets the most important topics – all wrapped around some amazing practice materials.
Classes – Tie. The Kaplan and Barbri classes are very similar in nature and each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Kaplan offers some awesome in-person classes and above average video lessons, with one complaint being that the video lesson audio was poor at times. The Barbri in-person classes are similarly solid, and have above average video lectures as well, with the note that we found them a little dry. We can’t make a call one way or another here, so label this a tie.
Books – Edge: Barbri. As discussed in further detail above, Barbri’s legendary books take the cake here. Kaplan’s books hold their own, and we actually would take the Kaplan books over just about every other course out there, but the Barbri books just can’t be touched. The outlines, lecture note handbooks and practice workbooks are all detailed, well-written and efficiently get you everything you need to know to pass the bar.
User Experience and Interface – Tie. Both bar review giants offer killer digital interfaces. As you would expect, both companies have sunk significant resources into their modern and easy-to-use digital platforms. They’re both winners here.
Online Content Access Period – Tie. As most bar review courses run from shortly after graduation until the date of the exam, there is no clear winner and loser in this category. It’s not like the GMAT where one course may give you 3 months to prepare while the other gives you 6 months. Both Kaplan and Barbri each have approximately 8 week long review courses, with online content access tied to the length of those courses, generally speaking.
Kaplan generally offers the less expensive bar review course. If you take Kaplan’s Complete Bar Review package, you will likely save at least $100 over Barbri, and possibly a lot more with their regular, steep discounts.
How long are the Barbri and Kaplan bar review courses?
Each course boasts approximately 8 weeks of intense and near-daily prep work.
How many hours a day are the Kaplan and Barbri bar review courses?
Kaplan and Barbri each require a minimum of 5-7 hours of prep work and study time per day, depending on your assigned tasks. That is the minimum, however, and many study days can take closer to 10 hours or longer with additional reading and extracurricular practice work.