The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (or COVID-19) led many law schools to temporarily close their campuses in recent weeks. For some law students, this meant an abrupt loss of on-campus student housing. This unprecedented scenario has forced many law students to reconsider their plans for the summer, including where they will study for the bar exam.
If you’re a law student who was forced to relocate as the result of a campus closure, you’ll need to adapt to your new circumstances quickly and make the most of the months leading up to the bar exam. At the time of this post, we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely and have not learned of any changes to the July 2020 bar exam in California or other states. But it’s always best to check with the NBCE or your local bar for updates. Assuming the bar exam is administered in the last week of July as scheduled, here are some strategies you can put in place to successfully prepare for the bar exam.
1. Consider an online bar prep course or remote bar exam tutoring
You may have planned to participate in an in-person commercial bar prep course at your law school campus. If this is no longer an option, you may want to consider an online bar prep course that offers video lectures and other online course materials. You do not need to purchase a big-name bar course to pass the bar exam, but many students choose to do so. There are online alternatives like AdaptiBar (for Multistate Bar Examination or “MBE” multiple choice prep), SmartBar Prep (for substantive outlines that can be downloaded as PDFs), and Lean Sheets (for condensed outlines and flashcards geared toward memorization that can be downloaded upon purchase). A remote bar prep tutor is another great option for students who are studying out-of-state or away from a campus.
2. Create a dedicated study space and keep it organized
Regardless of where you take the bar exam, you’ll be responsible for learning and memorizing an extensive amount of material. Most students end up amassing a lot of printed material, including books, printed outlines, practice essays, flashcards, and more. It’s crucial to dedicate an area in your home to study space and keep it organized. If you can, clear off a desk or table that you’ll use exclusively for bar prep. Make sure that you have good lighting and plenty of supplies like pens, highlighters, and sticky notes to help you parse through the material.
3. Put a support network in place
Moving away from your law school campus can result in a loss of social support. Connect with your trusted classmates and think about ways you can maintain connection during bar prep. You might want to schedule a weekly video check-in using FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Zoom. You don’t need to talk about substantive bar content (and may even want to consider making the topic “off-limits”), but it’s important to check in with your friends and support one another through the bar prep process.
4. Plan to take regular breaks and stay healthy
Preparing for the bar exam is stressful even under the best circumstances. An unexpected change in plans can really add to that stress. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to plan for regular breaks from your bar studies. Studying for the bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. You want to be at peak performance levels when you sit for the exam, so be mindful of burnout and don’t overdo it too early in the season. Although this may sound counterintuitive, we have seen many students fail the exam who claim to have studied 10 or more hours a day, seven days a week.
Along these lines, you should create a self-care plan before you start studying for the bar exam. Consider downloading a meditation app and working mindfulness into your daily routine. Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, and Aura are all great options. Plan to get exercise, eat healthy, and get good sleep. Try to avoid alcohol to the extent possible, as it can disrupt your sleep and exacerbate anxiety. If you think talking to a therapist might help you manage anxiety about the bar exam, see if you can find a local provider or look into a remote service like Talkspace, which allows you to talk to a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home.
5. Make your travel plans to the testing site in advance
If you need to travel to a testing site in a distant city or another state, make your travel plans well in advance. If you plan to fly to the testing location, you should arrive a minimum of one day before the exam begins and get acquainted with your route to and from the testing site. In many states, the bar exam is administered at a convention center, which typically means that there are a lot of nearby hotel options. In light of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, we strongly recommend that you purchase travel insurance or book fully refundable flights and hotel rooms in the event anything changes.
Set Yourself up for Bar Exam Success
A change in plans can feel like a major setback, but don’t dwell on this for too long. Taking these proactive steps will help set you up for success on the bar exam. Try to keep a positive mindset regardless of the circumstances and envision yourself passing when results are released. Good luck!