Allow myself to introduce... myself. I am a 30 year-old attorney, I work in the office of legal counsel to a state legislature, and I post under the nom-de-blog of Fitz-Hume at Begging the Question. Due to the nature of my work, I don't write about law or politics on my blog, so don't click over and expect anything from me related to the law beyond my simul-posting of this post. Not long ago, I was a mediocre student at a top twenty law school. I finished in the top third of my class, I participated in a two-year legal clinic assisting capital defenders, and I wrote for and served on the editorial board of a legal journal.
A quick aside, if you'll permit me. I think it is truly bad advice to take courses in law school just because they cover subjects tested on the bar exam. Beyond those courses that should make up the components of basic legal literacy (your first-year courses, plus evidence, admin law, and tax) I don't see any value in choosing your courses solely because they will be tested on the bar exam. Instead, take classes that interest you because you're more likely to care about those courses and perform well in them. Obviously, people will disagree with me, but you just don't need comprehensive knowledge of every subject tested on the bar. The first-level knowledge you need to pass the exam can be obtained from the review materials.
My bar preparation did not include PMBR or BarBri. I ordered the self-study kit from MicroMash and I could not have been happier.
I chose MicroMash for several reasons: (1) it was much cheaper than BarBri and PMBR, (2) you could get a refund for the cost of the materials if you failed the bar, and (3) I couldn't imagine sitting in class for several hours every day listening to someone drone on about the bar exam subjects. I had confidence that I could learn or re-learn everything I needed to know without watching videotaped lectures. If the mountain of debt I piled up during school was not motivation enough to get me to learn the material on my own, the BarBri videos weren't going to be the panacea.
To anyone looking for an alternative to BarBri, I recommend MicroMash without reservation. The CD-ROM filled with tens of thousands of multi-state multiple-choice practice questions is particularly useful in preparing for the Multi-State portion of the exam.
There is no reason that preparing for the bar exam should consume your summer. I did not study at all during May. Instead, I moved my family. During June, I spent perhaps an hour a day reading through the detailed outlines of the state-specific areas of law. I did not take notes, I did not make outlines, I did not write out practice answers. I just read the prepared outlines. I spent the rest of my time fishing, playing video games, reading for pleasure, or playing basketball. My bar preparation did not really begin until the Monday after the Fourth of July. For the next 3 1/2 weeks, I spent 10 to 12 hours per day studying, making notes, reading, re-reading, and outlining answers to practice essays. I divided my time pretty evenly between studying for the MBE and learning the state-specific topics. I spent the two days before the bar exam helping my co-blogger pack up his house and move.
And I passed the Virginia bar exam on the first try - without BarBri and without sacrificing my summer to the bar examiners.
I think that the fear most people have about passing the bar exam is misplaced. Yes, the bar exam is important. It may be the most important test you ever take, but a diligent law student has the tools to pass the exam. I'm not a genius, I'm not particularly gifted in terms of "getting" the law, and I certainly didn't exert an extraordinary amount of effort preparing for the bar, either, but I passed.