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Smart Bar Prep Review
Our complete review and analysis of the SmartBarPrep course, flashcards, and practice exams
The bar exam is notoriously difficult in most states. While you ostensibly gain all the knowledge and skills you require to pass the exam in law school, this is generally not the case, and a solid prep course will be necessary to help you prepare for the exam. But with so many bar review courses costing an arm and a leg, you may be wondering if a cheaper course like Smart Bar Prep is effective enough to get the job done. In this guide, we cover just that topic, and provide a firsthand review of Smart Bar Prep’s course in detail, including its pricing, quality of prep materials, and more.
Smart Bar Prep offers different plans and pricing for each of the different states. When you first sign up for your plan, you’ll need to first choose the state in which you will be taking the bar. This will determine your plan and pricing options.
For states that use the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), Smart Bar Prep has 4 course offerings with different levels of prep features, and each is priced between approximately $125 and $400.
The first, the Standard UBE/MEE Bar Exam course, is their entry level package with a price tag of about $125. Included with this package you will get (1) their well-organized Priority Outlines, (2) condensed breakdowns in Smart Sheets to aid with memorization, (3) Frequency Charts to inform you how often a MEE/MBE/MPT topic has appeared on the bar exam, and (4) Smart Guides which help you develop the best study plan for your bar prep. Our thoughts on these materials below.
Next, pricing in at about $200, is the Deluxe package. In addition to the outlines and study guides included in the Standard course, you will get access to their Smart Flashcards and printable flashcards.
At the next level up, Smart Bar Prep’s most popular course offering is the Ultimate package. Building on the previously mentioned packages, you also get access to MEE and MPT exams, essay reviews, and point sheets. These helpful features increase the price of the course though, making it right around $275.
The Pro package is the most inclusive offering, as it also provides you with more than 600 real MBE questions to ready you for the exam. It is their highest priced option, with a price tag in the neighborhood of $400.
For states that do not utilize the UBE, the prep packages are a little different. For example, in California, Smart Bar Prep offers 3 prep courses. It should also be noted that Smart Bar does not have course offerings for all states (Delaware, Florida, and Oklahoma, for example). Additionally, some jurisdictions have state specific sections on their exams (Hawaii, Mississippi and South Dakota, to name a few) that are not covered in the content supplied by Smart Bar Prep, so be sure to check their course listings for information about your particular jurisdiction.
Before I dive into a resource-by-resource analysis of the Smart Bar Prep tools, it is worth noting that Smart Bar Prep utilizes a unique 3-step method designed to help you study smarter as opposed to harder (hence the name “Smart” Bar Prep).
In the first step, they to use color-coding in their materials so you can prioritize the most important information. This has the effect of streamlining the information you need, and is awesome for visual learners. I loved this aspect of the prep materials. At the next level, Smart Bar Prep uses resources that allow you to optimize your learning experience through the use of cognitive science and adaptive learning. Finally, you use real questions from bar exams to drill and practice your knowledge, which I really liked as there is no better source of practice than previously used real questions. I found this methodology to be particularly effective for material comprehension and retention. Now let’s break down the study materials in more detail.
Your priority outlines are going to be your core study resource. They include every MBE and essay rule that’s been tested since 1995, as well as information about how frequently each rule has been tested. The entire outline is written in a straightforward, easy-to-understand manner that presents the most important principles, black letter law rules and concepts, all with a great balance of detail and brevity.
One of my favorite things about these priority outlines was the High/Medium/Low ratings provided for each rule. With just a glance at these color-coded graphics, I was able to make a quick determination regarding which topics I should spend the most time preparing for. Being a visual learner, the other feature that really stuck out for me was the highlighted tips in the right sidebar. I found the testing strategies in these highlighted tips to be super effective and incorporated them into my attack plan.
These sheets offer a condensed breakdown of the legal issues and black letter law on each subject. They’re built as quick-hit sheets to help with memorization, with the rules often being bunched together based on what might possibly be tested together. As with their priority outline, you will find the color-coded High/Medium/Low priority rating to help you quickly identify the importance of each rule. Again, I really liked this feature, making it possible for me to quickly spot the areas most tested so I could target my studying accordingly. I actually used the Smart Sheets a lot more that I originally thought I would, due to the clarity in which the rules were presented.
Sorted from the most to the least tested, these charts provide information regarding how often each rule has appeared on the bar exam, as well as how many questions you might expect to see for each topic. The presentation of this information includes the use of bar graphs so you can quickly visualize how often each item is tested.
In my opinion, it is not much more than a recap of what you’ll find in the Priority Outlines and Smart Sheets; it is just delivered in a different format. As a result, I didn’t find myself referring to it often, but I can see where others might find it as a useful tool. With that said, I did like that these frequency charts provided page numbers of the Priority Outlines for cross-referencing, making it very easy to locate the subjects in those outlines.
Included with all packages except the Standard, Smart Bar Prep provides over 650 digital flashcards. Aligned with the Priority Outlines and Smart Sheets, and containing the same High/Medium/Low priority ratings, these flashcards are a great component of the prep package, and useful for those who like to study on the go.
They are perfect for those times when you have a little bit of free time, but not enough for deep study. Being a learner who prefers a more tactile tool, I was happy to find that these flashcards are also available in a printable PDF format, and often found myself pulling out my printed cards for a quick review.
Practice Exams, Questions, & Essays
One of the best ways to prep for the bar exam is to hammer practice questions and take practice tests, and this course provides plenty. Even better, the practice questions and tests provided by Smart Bar are from real past exams. Knowing that the questions and practice tests were the real deal gave me a bit of added confidence and the feeling that I was one step ahead already.
I was especially impressed with the detailed explanations that accompany each practice question, which helped me understand the reasons for my incorrect answers. I was also happy to see the inclusion of point sheets that are used to score the MPT questions so I could self-assess my responses. That was a big value-add worth noting.
Finally, you’ll get “Smart Guides” to the MEE, MBE and MPT. These study guides are built to simplify and explain how to prepare for each of these exams. Each is packed full of tips, strategies and step-by-step approaches to maximize your score. Included are tips for breaking down the questions and answer structures, as well helpful advice for condensing information into something more manageable for future review, such as outlines or flashcards. For me, the most useful part of this guide was in how to best approach the essay portion of the exam. The biggest takeaway is that I learned to carefully organize my thoughts before drafting the final essay.
As you can tell from the course descriptions, the content delivered from Smart Bar Prep is entirely digital, with PDF material you can download and print. There are no printed materials provided, no video lessons, and no live instruction. Personally, I think short video lessons would be beneficial in supplementing the course content, and I am one of those students who prefer to study with a real book, so the lack of videos and hard copy books was a little disappointing. For me, those are the only drawbacks to Smart Bar Prep’s approach. Otherwise, the content and prep materials they provide is spot on. If you’re looking for prep plan that includes videos, printed materials, or live instruction, be sure to check out our team’s detailed review of Best Bar Review Courses.
Content Access Period
With Smart Bar Prep’s study material being delivered to you entirely as a standard digital PDF, you are able to access it from your laptop, tablet or phone, and you can even print it out and keep it as long as you’d like. It won’t expire or go away, however, the download link to access the course content does have an expiration date at around the 6-month mark, so be sure to download everything to your computer before then.
The digital flashcards do have an access period of 5-7 months, but you’ll still be able to print out the PDF versions of the flashcards to use as you please. Overall, that’s a great deal.
Since the files are downloadable, you’ll get immediate access with no waiting period, which means you can start working immediately. Free samples of the UBE study materials are available for download on their website, so you can check out the program before you sign up.
As with many of these programs, Smart Bar Prep stands behind their product. They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you read through their study guides, outlines and other materials and for any reason you’re not happy with what you get, all you have to do is email them and you’ll get a full refund for the outlines and study guides. That’s an extra level of peace of mind.
Refunds are not offered, however, for the portion of your purchase relating to the MBE Practice questions. Licensing fees are paid to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) in order to have access to those materials, so that portion of your course costs, if applicable, will not be eligible for a refund.
Verdict: Smart Bar Prep Review
In the end, from a written prep material perspective, it doesn’t get much more thorough, well-organized or easy to use than the Smart Bar Prep course. This course epitomizes the saying “worker smarter, not harder.” While this prep package isn’t as robust as the major players like Kaplan and Barbri, and I would like to see them incorporate some videos and hardcopy materials with their content, it doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of this course. If you’re a self-motivated student and don’t feel you need supplemental videos or live classes in your study plan, Smart Bar Prep’s course will be a really good option for you. Overall, the program is affordable and comprehensive, offering the materials and guidance you’ll need in preparing to pass the bar exam.