Well, when I was studying for the bar, I definitely found the 4th of July to be a milestone of sorts. The bar exam was no longer “weeks” away; it was, well, “days” away. I was starting to realize that I needed to commit these binders or books of law to memory. This was completely overwhelming—overwhelming almost to the point that I had moments when I was sure I was going to fail. Sound familiar to anyone?
It should. Because my inbox and voicemail have been filled lately with students questioning whether or not they can even do this. Whether or not they need to change anything about their bar study. Wanting to know what strategy they should follow for the final weeks. Basically, folks were freaking out and were full of questions.
So I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you here on how you should handle the July freak-out and how you should move forward for the rest of the month. (You should also check out my guest post on Solo Practice University’s Blog: DOs and DON’Ts for the Final Weeks of Bar Exam Prep.)
Take a break and give yourself time to regroup.
If you are mentally exhausted or overwhelmed by bar prep, it is likely you haven’t been taking any time off to regroup or recharge. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You cannot push yourself to study all day, every day going into the exam, especially if you have already been studying for five weeks up to this point. It just isn’t practical or plausible for most of us!
Be honest with yourself about how you are doing on the MBE.
In order to gauge whether or not you are doing okay, you need to look at your performance and decide if you are doing passing work. Have you taken a practice MBE yet? Well, get on that! (You can purchase exams from the National Conference of Bar Examiners here.) That will let you know if you are doing well (remember in most states a so-called “failing” score, 65 percent correct, is enough to pass).
If you are not doing well, do something to fix it!
First, identify what is going wrong:
- Is it the law? Are you missing questions because you don’t know the rule?
- Are you burning out part way through the three-hour block? Do you need to take breaks throughout the testing period?
- Are you getting easily “distracted” and “tricked” by the examiners? Do you need to learn more about the test as a whole?
- Are you worried that your bar prep isn’t teaching you a method for the MBE that is working for you? Should you invest in hiring a tutor?
Considering these questions will help you troubleshoot your MBE performance and hopefully pull your score up before test day.
If you are doing well, then you need to keep up the good work to get better, but take solace in the fact that you are on your way! This should help with anxiety and stress around the final weeks of preparation.
Be honest with yourself about how you are doing on the writing portion.
If you are taking a commercial bar review course, most have a feedback component to it. You should be turning in essays (and performance tests, if applicable) to get as much feedback as possible.
Have you turned in all the essays they will read? Well, then you can hire a tutor to read essays and send you feedback. You can also use sample answers to self-evaluate your writing. How do you do that? I recommend that you make a list of what a quality essay includes. For example, here is my list for the California bar (similar to many jurisdictions):
- Correct issue identification.
- Writing in IRAC form.
- Quality analysis of the facts (did you argue both sides when possible).
- It is easy to read (headers and concise, clear writing).
- It looks professional.
- It answers the call of the question or the questions asked.
- It was written in the time allowed.
So take this list (or a list that you have come up with) and self-evaluate your writing. You should be able to compare your writing with sample answers and determine whether or not you are doing okay. If you are not, then it is time to identify your weaknesses and get some help. If you are doing pretty well, then take a deep breath and keep up the good work!
For more thoughts on the writing portion of the bar exam check out my post on tips for writing a great essay for the bar exam.
Develop a plan for the final weeks of prep.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or that you don’t know how you are going to get it all done, then make a plan. This should be a daily study schedule where you attack the subjects you have left and review the subjects you have covered already and make sure you do tons of practice. But you aren’t learning the law just to learn it, you must simplify the law in order to make it memorizable and you must practice applying it (tips for simplifying the law can be found here).
Having a plan can help calm the anxious feeling that there is not enough time. There is still quite a bit of time if you are smart about how you study.
Try different coping mechanisms.
Almost all of us have felt stress get the best of us. The way we need to handle this is by coming up with coping mechanisms that work for us. We hosted a Twitter chat last week where our friends talked about the coping mechanisms that worked for them. You should check out the post above, but here are some of the suggestions:
- Eating right/exercising
- Taking breaks to spend time with friends/family
- Even watching a good TV show
If none of these work for you and you are feeling the anxiety has become debilitating, then it may be time to talk to a professional to help you cope. This is not something you should be ashamed of, but you must take care of yourself during this process. If you need help, ask for it!
The July freak-out will pass and you will make it to bar exam week. Keeping these tips in mind will hopefully make it easier to get there.
Check out these other posts that might be of interest to you:
- Bar Study Tips: Coping With Stress
- Bar Study Tips: Getting Mentally Ready for the Bar Exam
- Tools for Bar Exam Success: Bar Exam Mind- A Book Review
- Bar Study Tip: Establish a Bar Exam Routine
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