Let’s get the obvious out of the way: The bar exam is not a pleasant experience. Lucky for you, dedicated Bar Exam Toolbox reader, you have ample materials at your disposal to help you tackle the exam like a pro.
However, I am sorry to be the bearer of some bad news – there is in fact something worse than the bar exam lurking around the 3L corner. And that is paying for the bar exam. Believe it or not, it costs a pretty penny to partake in this less-than-delightful experience. But setting aside the fact that bar exam expenses give new meaning to the phrase insult to injury, they are a not-often talked about reality that can hit hard without a little advance planning. Below are a few tips and tricks to keeping these costs down.
There are two primary cost categories to keep in mind. Most obviously, there are the direct costs, including any prep course you decide to take and/or supplementary materials you purchase.
When it comes to getting the best course for the best price, the most important thing is to enroll as soon as possible. Even if it feels ridiculously early to think about the bar, don’t ignore prep course advertisements! Most programs offer early-bird rates that you really don’t want to miss out on – companies generally offer a $1,000 discount for locking in early. If it still stresses you out, remember that signing up early doesn’t mean studying early! Register and set it aside. While this is the most popular way to save on a bar exam prep course, it is by no means the only one. You can also consider installment plans, working as a prep course campus representative, and asking a future employer about reimbursement.
You may find that you want to purchase supplementary study materials during bar prep. While they pale in comparison to full-fledged courses, these costs can add up quicker than you might imagine. For example, Critical Pass flashcards – the pre-populated, color-coded, life-saving gems that they are – were a popular study aid among my classmates and retail at about $160. One way to defray these costs is to buy used. Check in with friends from the class(es) ahead of you who may have them just laying around; check any law school marketplaces or forums where students might be selling them at a steep discount; check the internet. One word of caution on buying used: make sure everything you purchase is the most recent edition; if the law in a certain area has changed, you don’t want to be studying outdated materials.
In addition to the costs described above, there are also some softer, less-advertised costs associated with taking the bar exam. This is especially true for anyone sitting for the exam in a different city. Here are some tips on keeping these costs under control:
The key is booking your travel as far in advance as possible – once you know the dates and location of the exam, get the travel ball rolling. It’s also smart to compare different methods of travel. For example, while many people assume that taking a train will be less expensive than flying, this is not always the case. With the luxury of time, you can compare all your options. You might be surprised at the results.
In keeping with the theme of this post, booking your accommodations as early as possible is highly advisable. Hotels near your testing site will book up fast, and I cannot overstate the importance of proximity on test day. Being close by will avoid any additional stress about getting lost, arriving on time, you name it. If there was one area to consider spending a little more for convenience’s sake, this is probably it.
Depending on how far away you live from your testing site, the bar exam could potentially span the course of six to seven meals (and, if you’re anything like me, five to ten snacks). For folks who will be staying in a hotel, consider packing food. I brought a few PB&Js and a box of granola bars that worked both for breakfasts and mid-test snacking.
But traveling or not, everyone should give some thought to their test-day lunch plan. While not all test sites are created equal, in my experience, the general understanding is that BYO lunches are a no-go. More likely than not, your test site will offer pre-paid boxed lunches, including options for various dietary restrictions (they even had a vegan meal for me). Unfortunately, these are not cheap options – boxed lunches for the two days of testing ran me about $55. If you feel comfortable in the area around your testing site, you can of course venture elsewhere. But be prepared to fight crowds of other examinees who may have had the same idea.
One last cost category to consider are the taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, etc. that you may need to take between the train station or airport, hotel, and test site. If you are traveling with classmates, pooling costs will be a no-brainer. But even if you are flying solo, you should still consider carpooling. Your hotel will be filled with other examinees heading in the same direction; sharing a ride will not only save money, but will also save everyone time.
Finally, a general note on reimbursement. For those who anticipate being reimbursed by a employer, it is essential that to keep clear and organized records of everything you spend in connection with the bar exam. While it may seem far off, what you do now will impact your ability to recoup your costs down the road. Some things that helped me stay on top of this: I created a “Bar Exam Costs” gmail label for etickets, Uber receipts, and the like; I got itemized receipts whenever possible; and I asked the prep course I used for an expense summary.
Long story short, the bar exam is expensive. But with the tips above and a little advance planning, you can keep these costs under control.