It’s been a common question from our students over the past few weeks: “Are they going to postpone the bar exam?” And the answer is, we don’t know for sure, but it’s headed that direction, at least in some jurisdictions.
As you know, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is in charge of developing and producing bar exam content around the country. They are the people in charge. However, each jurisdiction is deciding on its own whether to proceed with administering the bar this summer.
So far, four states have elected to postpone. You heard that correctly, no bar exam in July 2020 for Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Hawaii. The first three are delaying until “Fall 2020,” but things are still up in the air. It’s something no one saw coming a few months back, but it’s happening. Here’s the NCBE page where you can keep tabs on your own jurisdiction. We at the Bar Exam Toolbox are also keeping track here.
As if studying for the bar wasn’t already fraught with enough uncertainty, stress and anxiety. Now this is thrown into the mix. We know the uncertainty is hard to handle. We’ve gotten a lot of questions recently, so we want to respond with the best available information.
So, what should you do if your exam is postponed?
1. Get your Finances in Order
A lot of law students graduate barely able to float financially until they take and pass the bar—and that’s if they pass the first time around. The exam itself is a big financial investment. So, if your exam is postponed, the first thing to think about is how you’re going to pay rent and buy groceries now that the whole timeline is pushed forward.
Should you take on a summer job and study later? Are there any loans available to you through your bank or a private lender? Is there anything you can do now to save up a little here and there so the burden isn’t so heavy? If you’re already working, consider how your study schedule may need to change if your exam is pushed into Fall 2020 instead of Summer.
There are jobs out there for folks with an J.D. but no Esq.—in other words, if you graduate but haven’t passed the bar yet. Consider doc. review jobs, or even going outside the legal field if necessary. Your financial options are something you can start planning ahead now, even while you wait for news about your exam dates.
2. Decide on a Study Plan
Traditionally, a lot of graduating 3Ls put off work to study for the bar. Obviously, this is not realistic for every bar taker, especially if you have a family to support or a career already in place. If not working was your plan, consider that you will need to adjust if your exam is postponed. It may not be possible to finish school in May or June and study unencumbered through until September or October. If you can, great! But if not, start thinking of other options.
One possibility is to spread your studying out over more time and take an increasingly deeper dive into materials as you go rather than cramming it all into the two months preceding your exam date. For example, you could work and lightly study all through Summer and really hunker down in the Fall. Or, you could talk to your boss now about your study schedule options. I often recommend to students that they float the idea of working half the week or having a couple of days per week where they go home early to get some studying done. This is often easier for an employer to agree to than giving them a total break from work.
Whatever you end up doing, we are here to help with self-study, customizable programs and individual attention to your unique situation. No bar student is the same, and we can tailor a program to suit your needs.
Even if you don’t hire a tutor, map out your schedule, decide now how many hours per day or week you can feasibly dedicate and think through your work situation to make sure you have a plan before Summer starts.
3. Figure out Logistics
“Will I get my money back?” “Can I still take the prep. course I was planning on?” “What are my exact exam dates going to be?” Like I said, lots of unknowns. If you have questions about fees, registration or the exam dates, check out the website for the licensing body in your jurisdiction. Even some of those states that have said they will postpone to Fall 2020 haven’t given completely clear guidance on when the exam will take place. But be patient, most of this information has not been published yet.
There’s not much you can do at the moment because the NCBE and each state are figuring out their next steps. So, hang tight and wait a bit longer. Once you get concrete information about whether your exam is postponed (and it’s looking likely in a lot of places), then you can start figuring out specifics.
If you have logistical questions, write them down. You can even email yourself a reminder to follow up on the various situations later so you can put it out of mind for the time being. Especially if you’re studying for exams, do this.
4. Remember, it’s a Marathon now, not a Race
If your exam is pushed to Fall 2020, the bright side is that you may have more time to study. I know, what a silver lining, right? Obviously, this situation is not ideal, but you might be able to swing studying for four or even five months instead of the typical two. Do you need to do that? It depends. There are some warning signs we typically look out for. How were your grades in law school on bar subjects? Will you be studying on your own or as part of a program? How good at staying on task are you? If you graduated at the bottom of your class or really struggled with law school exams—multiple choice, essays, or both, you probably want to give yourself some extra study time.
The important thing is not to burn out. If your plan is to study for four or five months, you shouldn’t try to work with the same intensity in the first week of bar study as you do in the final few weeks. It’s just not sustainable. Instead, give yourself smaller goals and proceed gradually. But have a plan in place.
One common complaint I hear from bar students is that they don’t feel they are ready to jump in and start essay and MBE practice because they “don’t know the law yet.” Well, if your exam is postponed, now you have an excellent opportunity to spend some quality time making your study outlines and memorizing all the black letter law for a month or more before diving into practice exams.
5. Try your Best to Stay Calm
Especially right now when there is little information out there and no one quite knows what will happen, try to stay calm. If there’s nothing you can do to change the situation, there’s no use letting it monopolize your thoughts and sap all of your mental energy. I mean that. It’s in your best interest to let it go.
We are thinking through this issue and talking about it daily and we will keep you as informed as possible. That said, once a few more states—especially big states like California—make a decision, the others will probably fall into line relatively quickly thereafter. I say this because it means you need to have a contingency plan ready to go. If your jurisdiction postpones, what’s your next step? You can brainstorm some ideas now so you’re not taken by surprise later.
As always, we are here to help. Many of us graduated law school during tough economic times, but we’ve never seen anything like the current COVID-19 situation. It’s an absolute mess. We sympathize with what you’re going through and we know it’s not easy. Hang in there! We will all get more information soon, and we’ll get through this together.