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Our thorough analysis of the BarMax bar review course
BarMax is different from traditional bar review heavyweights. With a killer digital experience, streamlined curriculum, and official practice questions licensed from the NCBE, BarMax has its sights set on modernizing bar prep. But does a cool digital platform and streamlined self-study curriculum translate to an effective bar exam prep course? We evaluate all of the pros and cons of the BarMax bar review course in this detailed guide.
BarMax offers three distinct bar review course options, which generally vary based on your state of examination. These offerings include:
BarMax’s UBE Course is their primary bar review course aimed at prepping students who will be taking the bar in one of the 35 or so jurisdictions that have adopted the uniform bar exam (UBE). Focusing on the MBE, MEE and MPT, this prep package offers comprehensive coverage of all things UBE. This course option costs a shade under $1,900.
As you may guess, the California Course is a comprehensive bar review course aimed at preparing students who will be taking the California bar. As California is the largest non-UBE bar exam in the country with its own structure and testing requirements, and likely because BarMax is a California-based company, they have created this bespoke offering for their California-based students. The MBE portion of the California Course remains the same as the UBE Course, but the essay and performance test sections of the prep work are narrowly focused on California. Like the UBE Course, this prep option will run you right around $1,900.
Finally, for those non-California students that will be taking the bar in a state that has not adopted the UBE, BarMax offers its MBE Course. As may be surmised from the course name, this offering focuses just on the MBE portion of the exam. This may be a good option for students who don’t want to spend up for one of the big courses like Kaplan or Barbri, and can combine this limited prep package with a state-specific supplement or book. This course costs a shade under $900.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Quality of BarMax Curriculum and Coursework
Compared to other bar review companies, BarMax takes a very streamlined approach in its curriculum. Aiming to make student’s precious study time as efficient as possible, they have carved out a lot of the fluff and use a very straightforward learning module approach. Every subject that will be tested on the bar, whether through the MBE portion or the essay and performance test section, is handled through a separate learning module. This includes subjects such as civil procedure, contracts and evidence, among the many others.
Within each of these modules, every major subject is broken down further into subtopics. By way of example, the civil procedure module is broken down into 7 subtopics, including subject matter in jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, joinder, and more. As such, these focused subtopics serve as the base units of the BarMax course. Complete your assignments for one subtopic, move on to the next. And when all subtopic units are complete within the overarching bar subject, you move onto the next subject.
That’s it. There is no magic to the course structure, it’s just work. You start at the top and grind your way down the list. While it isn’t a fun way to study, there isn’t really a fun way to study for the bar. Some other test prep companies try to spice things up by circling back to past topics, jumping around in their curriculum, and sprinkling in respites, but not BarMax.
I personally have no issue with this vanilla course structure. At the end of the day, the bar exam is just plain work and there’s no need to beat around the bush. Line up the material that must be learned in the most efficient manner and put the effort in.
Within the individual subtopics, each unit follows the same pattern: lecture, flashcards, multiple-choice questions. Again, there’s no special sauce or anything fancy here. Just a repeated framework that provides an effective means of learning and retaining bar material.
At the center of each lecture is one of BarMax’s black letter law outlines. Like the overall curriculum structure, these outlines are concise, efficient and don’t waste your time with any fluff that won’t be on the exam. They are filled with mnemonics, bullet point lists and abbreviations that make content recall easier. The outlines are clearly written with an eye towards efficiency and efficacy, and not over-the-top detail.
I found these outlines to be extremely valuable. They are nearly identical to the type of outlines that I studied from in law school (and assume you did as well), and thus provide a feeling of comfortability. Rather than reading some dense textbook, you get the material distilled down into its most important and readable form.
But the lecture doesn’t stop with the outline (I suppose if it did, it wouldn’t be a “lecture”). Each outline is keyed to an audio lecture from a Harvard Law School professor. When you open the lecture in the app or on desktop, the audio lecture starts playing and you follow along in the outline. While the two generally follow each other, they are definitely not exact matches. The audio lesson goes into much greater detail than is contained in the outline. The professor tells stories, reference cases and provides helpful examples. This really helps provide context and you can beef up your outlines with your own notes.
However, these audio lectures are where my biggest beef with BarMax lies. While they are very informative and helpful in fleshing out the outlines, I was just not a big fan of the audio-only style lesson. You end up staring at a static screen of notes while the professor talks at you in the background. It takes away all non-verbal communication and other cool features that may come with a video lesson.
I would really like to see BarMax replace these audio lectures with video. Even if it was just the professor standing behind a podium talking at the camera with the notes on the other half of the screen, this would be a major improvement. In today’s day and age, video is easy to produce, so this is not asking much. And to be clear, this is not to imply that BarMax’s lectures are no good, because they are still quite helpful. You are talking about concise audio lectures from some of the brightest legal minds in an easily understandable fashion. But I’d just like to see BarMax take this portion of their coursework to the next level.
After you have completed your audio lesson plus outline overview, you move onto flashcards. There are generally 20 to 60 flashcards per subtopic and they follow the traditional flashcard approach. There is a term or legal principle on the front of the the card and the detailed definition or explanation on the back. Once reviewed, you can then mark the card as complete (if you know it) or incomplete (if you didn’t get it right). This allows for easy review of missed concepts later.
Following your flashcards session, you move into practice questions. There are generally just 2 to 6 multiple-choice questions per unit, which is not much and I’d like to see more here. That said, each question covers one of the main points from the module and is very high quality, as all MBE questions used in BarMax’s coursework are real questions used in past administrations of the bar exam.
BarMax licenses all of its practice materials from the NCBE to ensure that its students are getting top flight practice work. Though this is not exclusive to BarMax (Quimbee and Bar Prep Hero also do this), this is a fantastic advantage for their students. This includes 1,750+ MBE questions, 130+ MEE essays and 75+ MPT tests. There is generally no better form of practice question than that prepared by the body that makes the exam. Simulated questions from other bar prep companies can be good, but nothing quite as good as the real thing, so this is a big benefit for BarMax users.
Accompanying each practice question, BarMax provides a thorough explanation of the problem and all answer choices. Going well beyond a brief sentence or two, each explanation breaks down the legal issue and goes into great detail covering each answer choice. These are truly valuable explanations and have benefits well beyond just testing your knowledge, so they should always be reviewed.
That is the BarMax coursework in a nutshell. You work your way through all the material one subtopic at a time, until you conquer all of the work. In my opinion, the BarMax curriculum is not fancy, but it is effective. As mentioned, I would like to see them upgrade to video lessons from audio files, but I also get the data storage and technological limitations in having your bar prep course be mobile-based. Beyond that small complaint though I was actually quite impressed with BarMax’s curriculum. There is no fluff in this course and I found the structured style of learning to be quite effective, at least for me.
BarMax’s Mobile App
One of the biggest selling points of the BarMax course and why they make our best bar review courses list is their mobile app. While other companies offer a mobile app as an afterthought to their course, BarMax makes it a priority. In fact, they make it the basis of their course.
Designed for students on the go who need an easy and flexible method studying for the bar, this mobile app is truly top notch. The app contains everything you get in the desktop version of the BarMax course, which coincidentally takes a mobile approach on desktop. Other test prep companies give you a few hundred flashcards or a handful of practice problems in the accompanying mobile app. However, BarMax gives you everything, and it is a real advantage.
Not only do you get access to all of your study materials in the app, but this content can also be accessed offline. Once downloaded, the app and its underlying study materials can be accessed from anywhere. I don’t know how many people study for the bar from a mountaintop or under the ocean where there isn’t internet access, but I think the real benefit is you’re not burning up data while studying away from WiFi.
The app itself is very well laid out and easy to navigate. You can find all of your lectures, practice questions and flashcards in a breeze. And the function of the app is quite good as well. It is responsive, fast and has a very clean appearance. Though I’m not usually big on studying from my phone, I was a very big fan of this app.
BarMax Practice Tests
In total, BarMax provides four full-length MBE practice exams. This is a pretty respectable figure as compared to other bar review companies’ offerings and should be enough to adequately prep you for the MBE portion of the bar. As each MBE practice test takes a full day, followed by at least a half day of review (this is a must), you can’t do many more than 4 without risking wasting too much time on practice.
Not only that, the MBE questions on the practice tests are the same NCBE-licensed questions you get in the coursework. As such, you are getting practice questions that come as close to mirroring the real bar as possible. In addition, you get the same excellent problem explanations with all practice test questions, making for a very comprehensive follow up review day.
User Experience and Interface
When you toss aside traditional class lectures and take a digital-first approach to bar review, your interface and user experience better be darn good. Luckily for BarMax, their digital platform delivers.
Looking toward the future of how students prep for exams, BarMax has made their mobile app the heart of their bar review offerings. Even the desktop version of their course looks like you’re working in an app on your iPad. Whether you will like this depends on personal preference, but there is no denying that is very aesthetically appealing. The interface has a very clean and modern feel, while maintaining a simple and easily understandable layout.
The navigation bar appears along the left side of the screen under the traditional hamburger mobile menu. It clearly directs you to your main study resources, including your coursework, office hours webcasts, message boards, essay submissions and more. Everything is easily found from this intuitive navigation bar. In addition, the function of the app is fantastic. It is snappy and responsive, and the overall page load times are super-fast. It is everything you would expect from a first-rate mobile app.
Does BarMax Have Prep Books?
The answer to this query is, not really. When you sign up for BarMax’s course they will send you print copies of their outlines, but there are no actual textbooks or supplementary lesson books. The print outlines you get are the same ones found online and are made for those students that like to take notes in paperbacks, like myself.
I personally love hard copy prep books for the ease of dog-earing pages, highlighting important points and taking notes in the margins. I know you can do all of these things digitally, but there is something visceral about the feeling of using a paperback prep book to study. So I appreciate that BarMax provides print copies in addition to their digital outlines. In addition, the 4 practice tests are also provided in print for those students that want to prep that way, though the explanations to such problems are online.
Additional Study Resources to Pass the Bar Exam
Every bar review course worth their salt provides some form of supplementary resources to students to aid in their prep. BarMax is no exception. In addition to their core bar review coursework, BarMax additionally provides the following resources:
Instructor support by chat, email or message board
Detailed analytics around performance
Personalized essay feedback from past bar exam graders
Checklists / task lists
Study calendar / course calendar
That is a lot of supplementary assistance beyond the lectures, flashcards and practice materials. The most notable resource of the bunch is the instructor support. As a BarMax student you are entitled to unlimited support from BarMax’s bar exam experts. You can chat, email or drop a message in a forum for them whenever you’d like.
I took advantage of this opportunity when taking the course and found it to be fairly helpful, though the turnaround times were a little slow. I left two messages for the BarMax team on the message board, and it took 4 and 5 days, respectively, to get an answer back. So not exactly lightning quick. That said, the responses were thorough and definitely helped. So the support is there, just a little on the slow side.
The other resource most worthy of mention is the personalized essay feedback from past bar exam graders. BarMax gives each student 10 complimentary essay submissions for feedback. The person reading your essay is a past bar exam grader and knows exactly what to look for, making the analysis very helpful. I found the feedback useful for realizing where I needed to make my writing more succinct and where I needed to focus more on issue spotting. Overall, they provide some excellent critiques of your essays. It’s too bad you only get 10 submissions.
One of the cool features of the BarMax course is that access to all of your study materials is instant and lasts for a lifetime. Now hopefully you won’t need to access the materials again after you take the bar exam, but just in case, it’s nice to know you have a course for life. Almost all other courses will charge you some sort of fee to repeat, but not BarMax.
In addition, some bar review companies make you wait to access your materials, but with BarMax, access is instantaneous, even if you’re 5 months out from your test date. These are two of the more generous policies we have seen.
Pass or Money Back Guarantee
It is worth noting that BarMax offers a bar pass guarantee, though with some onerous stipulations. If you fail, you need to notify BarMax within 2 weeks. Then you also have to provide proof of payment for and enrollment in another course. That is a lot to do and a big commitment in less than 2 weeks after having found out you didn’t pass the bar. So while the money back guarantee is nice, be prepared for some strict requirements.
I would also note that BarMax offers a 7-day satisfaction guarantee. If you’re not happy with your course purchase you can get your money back within 7 days, though they will keep your NCBE licensing fees and shipping costs.
Verdict: BarMax Review Course
For those students seeking a comprehensive bar review course with a focus on flexible, online self-study, BarMax could be a great option for you. BarMax offers a thorough curriculum that covers everything you will need to know for the bar in a streamlined manner. They place clear emphasis on efficiency and flexibility by providing concise subject outlines, flashcards and practice questions that are accessible from anywhere, at any time.
I wasn’t crazy about BarMax’s audio lectures and wish they would upgrade to video lessons like most every other bar review course, particularly given that they are already paying top tier Harvard Law School professors to conduct their lectures. However, the audio lessons are nonetheless effective when used in conjunction with their succinct black letter law outlines and other course materials. In short, you should give BarMax a really good look if you are a motivated self-learner and trying to save some serious cash on your bar review course.