Tips for the Bar Exam Significant Other

When I was studying for the bar exam, my now-husband and I had been dating for about a year. He isn’t a lawyer (and is proud of it) and he didn’t know many lawyers until we got together.

Now I, on the other hand, am from a family of lawyers. My parents attended law school at different times and each was the spouse of the other when they took their respective bar exams. I grew up hearing the stories about each of their bar experiences and, well, frankly what it was like to live with someone who was studying for and taking the bar exam. The message was clear,

“This too shall pass.”

So years later when it was time for me to study for the bar exam, my parents were very supportive (not surprising). They came to visit a few times during the bar prep period which was great. But what struck me each time they came to visit was that they didn’t seem too terribly concerned about how I was doing, they were concerned about how my significant other was doing!

“How are you hanging in there?” my dad would say to my now-husband. “Want to go grab a beer?”

I wanted to wave my arms and say, “HELLO! I am the one suffering through the bar exam!”

My mom’s response (when I may have said something along these lines, although without the arm waving),

“You will be fine. But your dad and I understand what it is like to be with a person who is living through the bar exam. He deserves our sympathy and support.”

Once I got past my annoyance, I did start to appreciate what it must be like to be the significant other of someone studying for the bar exam. The person you love may be, well, temporarily absent and replaced with:

  • Someone who only talks about the bar or what happened in bar review.
  • Someone who can’t do anything without taking flashcards with them.
  • Someone who is, let’s admit, less than mentally stable.
  • Someone who has good days and bad days (sometimes good and bad in the same day).
  • Someone who has more books than you thought possible that they are lugging around.
  • Someone who you may not even recognize.
So what can significant others do to stay sane?
  • Get away with your own friends! Thought about planning a girl’s weekend/guy’s weekend? Now is the time.
  • Encourage your significant other to take breaks. And if they aren’t willing to take breaks, have them read this. And by break, I mean get out of the house! Or if you would rather not talk to them (completely understandable) take them to a movie. I went to a lot of movies during bar exam prep.
  • Plan a bar trip! One of the best traditions surrounding the bar is the bar trip. Plan a fun vacation where you can take your significant other away and watch them return to the person you love.
  • Find a community to vent to! Realizing that there are many significant others out there who may want a space to talk about their partners (without judgment), we are holding a Twitter Chat on Wednesday, June 27th at 8:00pm EST/5:00pm PST where significant others of bar takers can come together and feel the support of the community. Join us! Hashtag #barexamtools

I am here to tell you to stay strong, significant others! Your loved one will return to normal (at least that is the mantra my parents kept telling my now-husband). And I think he would agree that I did return to normal, that is, until bar results time (but that is an entirely different post!). Good luck!

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Are you balancing studying for the bar with family responsibilities? Check out my post on How to Study While Balancing Family Responsibilities.

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About Lee Burgess

Lee Burgess, Esq. is the co-founder of the Law School Toolbox, a resource for law students that demystifies the law school experience, the Bar Exam Toolbox, a resource for students getting ready for the bar exam and Trebuchet, a legal career resource. Lee is also the founder of Amicus Tutoring, LLC, a company she started to help students find success in law school and on the California bar exam. Lee has been adjunct faculty at two bay area law schools teaching classes on law school and bar exam preparation. You can find Lee on Twitter at @amicustutoring, @lawschooltools, @barexamtools & @trebuchetlegal.


  1. alisonmonahan says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Lee. I guess it’s a good sign that your then-SO still married you after enduring your bar exam prep!

  2. Christina says:

    Thank you so much for this! We are halfway through the studying and we just hit a wall (I’m a librarian). I was just thinking :-( errr how can I be supportive while staying out of the way. It feels a bit awkward being the girlfriend (we’ve been together a little over a year now). Thank you especially the … returning back to normal part. :)

    • Lee Burgess says:

      Christina, of course! I think this is something that isn’t talked about enough. My now-husband and I too celebrated our first dating anniversary while I was studying for the bar exam. It is a bit challenging, but we made it through and I am sure you guys will too!

      If you are on Twitter, we are having a Twitter chat this Wednesday about finding some balance during the bar exam study period (for those studying and those who love someone who is studying). Please come join! Wednesday June 27th @ 8:00pm EST Hashtag #barexamtools.

      Wishing you and your boyfriend luck with the next few weeks!

  3. heather says:

    I am in the same situation, my BF is going through studying to take the exam in less than 2 weeks. I need a support group from peope who either went though this or are the significant others.
    Can we just talk in some way? like e-mail?

    • Lee Burgess says:

      Hi Heather. I am so sorry your BF is going through such a hard time. Hopefully other folks who have posted here would like to chat with you about what you are going through. I am happy to connect people via email. Good luck.

  4. A guy I like failed the bar. He is retaking it in February. We last spoke a month ago. I feel like he is mad at me. I’m being selfish. This is his dream. I’ve emailed, texted, called numerous time and get no response. Is it the bar or is it me?

    I realize how ridiculous this sounds. I want there to be an ‘us’…


    • Although I can’t be sure, typically many people need a lot of space to study for the bar exam and that means that they are unresponsive to other people in their life. If I were you, I would give him the space to finish the exam this month and then reach out in early March. He is likely having a challenging time studying after a failure, so he may just want to focus on the task at hand.

  5. I need a support group as well, this is crazy! I have never felt so alone.
    My guy is a repeat taker and almost about to call it quits. I’m an emotional mess.

    • Lee Burgess says:

      I am so sorry to hear you are having a tough time. At least there is just over a week until the exam, so soon he will return to normal. Just remember, this is a really challenging time for him and he will go back to the person you love as soon as this test is over. That being said, make sure you do something nice for you too! Perhaps it is time to schedule some nights out with friends or family to give yourself a break too. Hang in there!

  6. Naidean Benn says:

    How long does it take for them to unwind after the exam? My boyfriend is taking the exam today. I have not talked to him except maybe 2 or 3 times on the phone and we’ve exchanged a few text messages. I’m ready for normalcy!

  7. Naidean Benn says:

    I guess I left out that we have not talked in nearly 2 months.

    • Lee Burgess says:

      I think it does take a few weeks to unwind after the exam. But he will return to normal though! Perhaps you can plan something fun for you guys to do to reconnect after he has recovered from the exam — perhaps a weekend away to one of your favorite places?

  8. lovelylilly says:

    My boyfriend got his results, but never told me if he passed or not. I never asked because I was afraid just in case. Things were a bit off that whole week and he broke up with me nine days after he got his results. I haven’t talked to him since he broke up with me because I think he failed the bar and needs some space, but this is killing me! I want to talk to him, but I know he needs me to leave him alone. Help :(

    • Oh no! That is really frustrating. Where did he take the bar exam? Most jurisdictions publish results in one way or another so you may be able to look it up.

      If he didn’t pass, he is likely going through a very challenging time that has nothing to do with you. You are smart to give him the space he needs, but I sure this is really difficult. Hang in there! I wish there were easier answers.

      • lovelylilly says:

        Thanks for the reply. We live in North Carolina so he took the bar July 30-31. I haven’t talked to him in three weeks and it’s killing me not knowing if he passed or not. I looked up the website with the names of people who passed and he’s not on there. However it says “There are a number of people who passed the bar exam but have NOT yet taken or passed the MPRE. These people are not on this list.” I just feel so bad if he didn’t pass, he studied so hard!

        • Lee Burgess says:

          Eek! Well do you know if he took the MPRE? Most people take it well before the bar exam, so he may not have passed. Perhaps you can reach out to him now that you know to simply offer support? He is likely going through a hard time right now.

  9. Hello,
    I started to date my boyfriend just prior to him prepping for the state bar exam. Now this week he is taking the exam and I am not sure what encouraging words to say to him other then sending positive vibes and energy and thinking of him…do you have any ideas of encouraging things to say over the next couple days? Know he needs his space but also want to make sure he knows I am here to support and cheer him on!

  10. I found this article and forwarded it to my boyfriend. I am preparing to take the OR bar exam in July– I have told him multiple times that my insanity is not permanent– but it helps to have the assurance of a third party :) He enjoyed the article a lot- I think we’ll be seeing more movies now.

    • Excellent! Glad you found it helpful. Just tell him to stick it out! You guys will be fine. Just a bit over a month to go! Good luck with your studying.

  11. So I’m the girlfriend (or at least I still hope so) of someone taking the bar exam. We are in a long distance relationship. Our relationship is awesome – all we do is enjoy each other’s company, support each other and have an amazing time when we’re together. I am planning on moving down there in a year to be with him and he has been talking about marriage and a family as a sure thing for over 8 months now. We just get along like nothing either of us have felt before. We’ve been together for about 1 year and 3 months. This relationship started long distance and continues so. Anyway, 3 weeks ago he broke down crying, out of nowhere and says “I can’t do this any more” and tried to end the relationship. I talked him out of it by asking 2 questions “Do you love me and do I make you happy”, he said yes to both and 15 minutes later things were fine. I attributed it to a stress break down. In addition, he has test anxiety and has been taking medication for it since High School. The very next day I called him at night and he was completely shut down, and didn’t even want to look at me (in the camera) on skype. I told him that all he has to do is focus on the exam, don’t worry about anyone else, not your family, friends and not me for right now – that I’ll be fine. I am supposed to go down to spend all of August with him (flight is on august 1st) and his exam is on July 29th, but after that last conversation where he was shut down, I have given him space and haven’t called or texted him for 3 weeks. I know he loves me, and as much as 10 days earlier he was calling me on skype and asking me just to stay on the line for several hours as he studied because my presence made him feel better and less alone (this was the 2nd week of studying). I am chalking this up to extreme stress and anxiety and his need to just isolate himself and focus on this exam without feeling guilty about not giving his gf enough attention. For this reason, I am thinking of still getting on my flight and going down there on August 1st – even if he had said in that last conversation (the 1 the day after I talked him out of breaking up) that he didn’t want me to because there would be no point. To say this behavior is out of the blue would be an understatement to the extreme. He was professing his love for me (as he does often) and talking about our lives together a week earlier. Should I give him a pass on this and attribute it to the stress and isolation of this exam and go down there (it will be 2 days after the exam) and see whether he’s snapped out of it? Or should I wait, not get on my flight, and see if he calls me to make it better. As a lawyer who’s gone through this, I wanted to ask your advice. (mind you I told him I was there for him, that I loved him with all my heart and that I understood that this is the most important thing right now and that may mean only talking for 10 minutes a day and 2 weeks before the exam not talking at all – I have tried to be very understanding). Help/Advice?

    • Lee Burgess says:

      This is a really tough situation. It does sound like your boyfriend is really struggling dealing with the pressure of the test (especially if he has severe anxiety issues). Sounds like you have been as understanding as you can be which makes you a great girlfriend. You know your relationship best, but perhaps it makes sense to postpone your trip by a few days to give him some space to recover from the exam before you show up. The few days after the exam are pretty much full of sleep and trying to get back into the real world. Then once he has had a few days to recover, you could travel down there and start talking about your future again. It does sound like the exam has more to do with what is going on with him than his feelings for you — so giving him space is likely the best thing to do. I realize though this must be very hard for you and I hope everything works out in the end once this exam is behind you!

      • I appreciate the reply! I just sent him a care package (15 minutes ago) with all different types of snacks (cliff bars, peanut butter cups) and some highlighters with a small note that simply said “Good Luck.” I think this is the most minimally intrusive way to let him know I am still here supporting him, I still love him and giving him space – it’ll get there 11 days before the exam. That is the only communication I’m going to have with him from now until the exam is over. I plan on not getting on any flight unless he asks me to – and hopefully he does. I really do hope this ends up strengthening our relationship in the long run because we make each other very happy and it would be a shame to lose out to the dreaded and all mighty Bar Exam Gods.

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