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When it comes to selecting a bar exam prep course, many students will often default to taking the most popular course among their classmates. After all, it's the most popular for a reason, right?
Unfortunately, the reason that a specific bar course will be more popular is not always a result of quality. It can very well be the result of new, or budget, courses that can only compete with the larger, more established courses by cutting prices. Sadly, while a higher cost doesn't guarantee quality, when prices are too good to be true, you need to do some more research, particularly if high pressure sales tactics are being used by on campus representatives (who can sometimes be your own classmates).
Testing Inside the Curve
While doing research on the various bar prep courses you can take, it is not a bad idea to explore what sort of market share each course controls. If your state's bar includes essay questions, it means that bar exam graders will be reading similar essays over and over again. Spending more than a minute or two per essay will likely put them behind schedule (and yes, your essays still get read even if you passed the MBE). While it's not something to bank on, you can expect that if your essays look like most other people's' essays then they will basically just be skimmed to ensure you spotted the correct issues. Creativity and being unique is likely to hurt you during the bar exam.
If you take the same course that a majority of test takers took, then your essays will be less likely to stand out, and therefore less likely to be read carefully. If your essay must be read carefully, rather than simply skimmed for issue spotting, there's more of a chance for the grader to dock you points (if for nothing else other than slowing down their process). This follows the common piece of advice for bar exam takers: Be a sheep.
Bar Prep is All About You
While taking the course with the most market share will teach you the same "canned" language that a majority of test takers will be using, those magic point earning phrases are not that unique.
Most of the large bar prep courses, like Barbri and Kaplan, teach nearly the exact same curriculum, using nearly the same phrasing. Smaller courses will also be teaching the exact same content. However, there will be minor differences in the offerings, as well as how you can attend, and what is available online, and of course, cost.
However, cost should not factor into your decision too much, if at all, as the cost of not getting the instruction you need and not passing the bar pales in comparison to the most expensive courses, and even some private bar tutors. The most important thing is to choose the course that's right for you.