BarBri v. Kaplan - 2014 Edition
March 20, 2014 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Which prep class should I take for the July Minnesota bar?

Until today, I was pretty comfortable in my decision to take Kaplan's Bar Review course instead of Barbri, because:
  1. It was cheaper.
  2. I liked the look of their website (from the demo given by the on campus rep) better than what I saw of Barbri when I took their MPRE course.
  3. I wouldn't mind doing my part to shake up Barbri's monopoly on scared 3Ls.
Two and three were not entirely persuasive, but when combined with one, they helped seal my decision...until today when I successfully negotiated my way out of paying for my own bar prep class.

Now I'm wondering if I'll feel like a chump for not going for the "proven" option, especially since my reasons for bucking the trend amount to stubborn principles and an appreciation for good web design.

Possibly relevant facts:
  • Minnesota is a UBE state now.
  • I have no interest in attending "lectures", I'd much rather watch the videos at home on my own time (at 1.5x speed). I have verified that both Barbri and Kaplan allow me to do that.
  • I have heard terrible things about the Barbri lecturers (I expected better of you, Erwin Chemerinsky), but nothing about the Kaplan ones.
  • I intend to do lots of practice questions, both multiple choice and essay.
  • Themis is an option in MN but not an option for me because I have heard bad things about it from people that I trust.
  • I was never quite crazy enough to self-study, and now that money is no option I will definitely be purchasing a course.
  • The bar passage rate for my law school is >90%. I am not in the bottom 10% of my class.
Googling for bar prep course reviews hasn't really helped because forums seem to either be filled with shills or people who say "just take barbri -- why take the risk"?

I've seen a number of previouslies, but I'm curious is anyone has more recent experience that they can share.
posted by sparklemotion to Education (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had friends who did one or the other of those companies for last year's bar, various states. They sounded pretty much the same to me -- lecture component, self-test components, graded essay components, memorization aids. Both programs have more material than a normal person can cover in the 8 weeks or whatever, so you won't run out of practice questions either way.
posted by unreadyhero at 8:27 PM on March 20, 2014

Barbri is a rip-off. Once you've gone through the glorified hazing ritual that is the bar exam, you'll totally see how outrageous it is that these bar prep companies charge so much for their courses. I'd go with Kaplan and not give it a second thought. A good friend took Kaplan for California and passed.

Please trust me: the lectures are relevant only because you need them to fill in the blanks on all of the outlines. None of my real learning came from watching the lectures; it came when I made and reviewed my flash cards and did practice tests.

And I know you said no Themis, but: I negotiated Themis down to around $850, and I passed.

I'm taking a second jurisdiction this July! You can do it! Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions about any of this stuff.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:43 PM on March 20, 2014

Sparklemotion, I am in a similar boat, and would love to watch videos at 1.5x speed. Can you please tell me more about how you verified this was possible? Is this through the default software, or do you plan to somehow download and watch in VLC or another media player. Have you actually tested this, or are you just relying on the reps word? Thank you for any advice!

Also, even though your firm may be paying for the course, keep in mind that's considered taxable income, so it will still save you some money to go with the cheaper option.
posted by User7 at 8:48 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll preface this by saying I've passed two of the hardest bars on the first try. The first I used barbri and the second I bought the books second hand and did self study.

While barbri is expensive as hell they do a very good job and I was very pleased overall. I would use them again almost certainly.

Now is not the time to get cheap or do anything risky. Yes I realize that attitude perpetuates barbris bullshit monopoly.

Ask yourself this can you afford to fail the bar? If it isn't the end of the world for you go for it.

That being said you have a relatively easy bar. Your school's passage rate is irrelevant because the vast majority of those people used barbri. Law school does not prepare you for the bar (nor should it, passing the bar and being a good lawyer have a tenuous connection at best). Most people who fail the bar aren't in the bottom 10%. People who fail the bar (unless it's CA totally different ball game) either under prepare because they have burnt out or have some sort of personal crisis. Show me 10 people who failed the bar and I'll show you 5 people whose significant other broke up with them during the 6 weeks leading up to the test.

As a general sidenote I thought Kaplans LSAT preppy was mediocre at best. If I was going for a barbri alternative it wouldn't be Kaplan.
posted by whoaali at 8:55 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're not paying for it, I don't really see the point in taking Kaplan over BarBri.

Frankly, you probably don't need either; you probably just need a BarBri book from the year before for $100. You're going to pass, most likely. But, again, it's not costing you anything, and I've never heard anyone ever suggest that any other option is more effective than BarBri.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:50 PM on March 20, 2014

BarBri is good. Someone told you Chemernitsky isn't good? Suggest you actually watch.

PMBR got me through the multi-state, it was great. Don't go cheap, this is the one you wanna pass on the first go.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:51 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did the Barbri full course, in person and all sitting in a giant stadium while professors lectured, for the NYBar. I passed on the first attempt.

Things didn't pan out in NYC for me, so I moved to California. I bought second hand Barbri books off ebay and practiced off those. I passed the California bar on the first attempt.

I am unconvinced that going to the actual classes is really worthwhile if you have a study ethic at all. The Barbri books are excellent, as are their flash card programs, and, if you have the time and learning style which works for learning directly from books, I would suggest you have the chance to do it on the cheap with second hand study materials.
posted by bswinburn at 10:51 PM on March 20, 2014

I did barbri for ny and ma. Passed first time for each. I'm sure other courses are fine--but there is safety in the herd. You've got the greater portion of people studying from one guidebook; if there's a topic not covered by barbri and 90% of the people taking the test thus get it wrong, chances are the question will get thrown out. I found that reassuring and reason enough not to be an outlier. You just need to pass, so aiming just to be one of the dumb drones is ok.

Chemerinsky is fine. It's Paula Franceze who drove me absolutely bonkers. The singing ("that's my prerogative") and the frank Sinatra doesn't prefer Orville redenbacher, good lord.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:09 AM on March 21, 2014

I was signed up for barbri in ny but didn't go to any lectures (I wasn't paying for it). I just studied the books/outlines. I passed on the first try.

If I recall correctly, for NY at least, once you exclude non-native-English speakers, people who aren't on their first attempt, and people who went to non-Aba approved schools, etc. the passage rate is like 95%+.

Go with the cheapest option; you'll be fine.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:33 AM on March 21, 2014

I did barbri and watched lectures at home. The thing I liked the most was that they had a day by day plan that I followed to make sure I covered everything and maximized my study time.

However, I also agree that you will be fine if you are diligent and study on your own or with another course or just books.
posted by unreasonable at 5:06 AM on March 21, 2014

I bought the BarBri books off Craigslist and studied on my own. It was fine. I don't think the "classes" are helpful, from what I've heard.
posted by miss tea at 5:17 AM on March 21, 2014

Admiral Haddock is right, if you're not spending your own money then play it safe, stay with the herd.
posted by grobstein at 6:37 AM on March 21, 2014

Response by poster: User7: I am in a similar boat, and would love to watch videos at 1.5x speed. Can you please tell me more about how you verified this was possible?

I made the Kaplan student rep show me in the web app, and he also claimed it was possible in the mobile app (but I haven't seen independent confirmation). The Barbri student rep (who was sitting at the next table) told me that they have the same feature, but now that I'm looking at the MPRE lectures again, I'm not seeing that option from within their webapp. Grr.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:44 AM on March 21, 2014

I took Kaplan for the NY and NJ bar last July. I watched the lectures at 1.5 speed and passed both on the first attempt. I think both courses are comparable in their content. In my experience, it really came down to committing to study every single day. Studying when you are bored. Studying when you are tired. Studying when you can't stand to think about property rules. Studying when everyone else is enjoying the warm weather outside. You don't have to study 12 hours a day but you just have to have a schedule and stick with it for the whole term. Good luck!
posted by allthingsconsidered at 6:44 AM on March 21, 2014

I have no familiarity with the essay or practice portions of the UBE, but the Kaplan PMBR course was great.
posted by Handstand Devil at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2014

Chemerinsky is still lecturing for BarBri? Wow. My anecdata is ancient, since I took BarBri in '97 for the CA bar (and passed on the first try) and Pieper for NY in '98 (and passed on the first try.)

I felt BarBri had me very well prepared for the California bar, but really I had prepared myself well but sitting my butt in a chair every day for eight or ten hours a day between graduation and the exam. Do carve out time to exercise and take the occasional break, but treat it as a job, and you'll be fine.
posted by ambrosia at 12:27 PM on March 21, 2014

When I took BarBri last summer, it was not possible to watch the videos at 1.5x speed from the BarBri website. People have complained about this a lot, because it used to be possible. I don't know whether they've fixed it yet.

The bar passage rate for my law school is >90%. I am not in the bottom 10% of my class.

You're going to be absolutely fine as long as you put some effort into this. Either prep course is probably fine and will likely overprepare you if you follow the lesson plans 100%.
posted by Carmelita Spats at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did barbri in '09. The lecturers ranged from decent to godawful. One detail I remember is how unprofessional the administration of the program was. Their emails always featured lots of mistakes, crazy fonts in different colors, etc. It always seemed like the whole company was just on the verge of collapsing under the weight of its own incompetency. Their written materials were good, not great--and you often had to rely on them for subjects where the professor was bad. All that said, I passed. I think they were just responsible for a bit of unnecessary stress.
posted by soonertbone at 8:24 PM on March 21, 2014

Response by poster: An update now that I know I passed. I ended up going with Kaplan, but I would not do it again.

As I mentioned originally, the firm paid for the course, so money wasn't really an issue.

There were some technical problems: Kaplan's web interface was a little wonky (I couldn't get practice tests to work in Chrome without being in Incognito mode). I couldn't get e-book access to the materials on my Kindle (there was something about still having my 1st gen kindle on the account, but tech support was never very clear). On android, the audio lectures were MP3s, but they loaded as videos -- so I had to do a fair bit of wrangling to get them to open in an audio player (so that I could listen with the screen off to conserve battery life).

Educationally, it seemed fine, and I'll admit that I didn't finish all of the materials. (Note to anyone taking Kaplan later -- don't skip the foundation courses!)

But, when it comes down to it, I didn't pass by much (my score was high enough to get me into any UBE state, but not by a lot), and I knew coming out of the exam that I hadn't "aced" it. That meant 2+ months of anxiety wondering if I had just passed, or just failed. All compounded with the fact that I didn't take the most common advice from seasoned attorneys which was "just take BarBri." If I had failed, I would never know if it was because of my poor prep, or because Kaplan led me astray. It would have been nice to have one less worry for the past 9 weeks.

Thanks all for your suggestions and advice!
posted by sparklemotion at 8:20 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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