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10,000 hours for California bar exam success?

Recently we’ve all been seeing a lot of references to the “10,000 hour rule” – the idea that one needs to spend 10,000 hours on an activity to be successful at it. This idea was popularized by writer Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. After reading Chapter 2, “The 10,000-Hour Rule”, should we be somewhat concerned that in order for bar exam candidates to be successful, they would need to spend ten thousand hours in preparation to achieve a passing score? OK, that is just absurd. No attorney spent ten thousand hours studying for the California Bar Exam, and if they did, they certainly went about it the wrong way. Gladwell suggests, “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness” (both on p. 41). Well, we don’t need “greatness” on the bar exam, just a passing score. So what information in the chapter supports the “10,000 hour” assertion? The 10,000-hour figure seems to be based on research compiled by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson and a study of chess players.

In a nutshell, the theories suggest that practice contributes to a level of success. Ok, with that we agree. The more a candidate practices, the better the result. But there’s another important component of the study’s findings that Gladwell skims over: the type of hours spent on the activity. Without going into laborious detail, the studies did not find that 10,000 hours was the “magic number of greatness” that Gladwell claims. They found that it was quality of time, rather than quantity, that made the most difference in levels of achievement.

This notion of “quality over quantity” is far from novel, but absolutely essential to bar exam success. It is not about how much you study, but how you study. The overwhelming long-term success of the Executive Bar Review program is due entirely to the quality of the instruction.

Courtesy of Executive Bar Review

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