It’s time to channel your inner Rocky and jump in front of a mirror. It’s time to go crazy with the post-it notes on your bathroom mirror. Light some candles. Hit the treadmill. Crack open that brand new agenda you spent way too much money on but, “it’s worth it because it has a kitten on the front!” Go ahead, do all of these things and more because the season you are about to embark on is not for the unprepared. Welcome to the weeks before your bar examination studying begins. And if you’re like me, welcome to the 24 hours between graduation and Day 1. May the odds be ever in your favor.
While the content you need to learn to successfully pass the bar exam is challenging, one of the more challenging tasks is the mental preparation it takes to embark on a 10+ week study journey. So, if I could go back and do it all again (which I sincerely hope I will never have to do), here are three speeches I would give myself.
Get Your Ducks In A Row
Please, literally get your ducks in a row. Place those small daily life tasks – the ones you’ve been pushing off since your 1L year – on a to do list. If you don’t have any paper, I suggest that $40 agenda you just bought. Handling these life tasks prior to being absorbed by the Hearsay Rule will open up mental real estate. The last thing you want to be worrying about in the middle of a study day is that you need to get a new credit card because yours expires in 3 days. If you’re having trouble thinking of some things that might take up mental real estate that isn’t for sale then I’ve taken the liberty of making a short list.
- Sell those law school books that you won’t ever open again
- Clean out that junk drawer that’s been stressing you out
- Make a study schedule that fits your abilities
- Get your oil changed
- Load up your public transportation pass
- Find a gym (if that’s your gig)
Scope Out Some Work Spaces
Another thing you have no mental real estate to house during bar prep is worrying about where you’re going to study on a given day. Although a broad decision to post up on your couch or at your favorite coffee shop sounds simple enough, these options may pose hidden issues that don’t deserve your stress. You may think that staying in and studying is the most efficient because of the time you save. You think, “Well, I save 30 minutes commuting and that’s time I will spend on understanding the Commerce Clause.” I am not here to tell you that you are wrong, or that staying in won’t help you. I’m directing your attention to put some work into determining what will actually work for you prior to Day 1. Even if you studied on your couch for final exams, that was for a finite time period compared to the 10+ weeks you will spend studying for the bar exam. Understanding before-hand that you may need alternative work spaces will keep you from tearing up that couch you indented not only with your body, but with the 12 books you have open. Even knowing which coffee shop offers the least distractions, keeps you from shivering or using those noise cancelling headphones to block out the John Mayer that will inevitably play over the speakers will help you keep your mind clear when stress creeps in.
Whether you ultimately decide to stay at home, go to a coffee shop, or to a nearby library, figuring out which will work will help you avoid later stress on a Wednesday when you don’t have the energy to perform such thought.
Understand It’s A Marathon Not A Sprint
The bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. This is such an old saying, and I too sometimes have to stop my eyes from rolling my eyes when I hear it. But it holds tried & true through every day, hour and second that passes during bar prep. You can’t get over that finish line if you cramp up mid run. During the little time you have prior to studying, it’s important to “stretch” and prepare your mind for the long journey you have in front of you. Sure, it’s important to hit the ground running (no pun intended) and fully immerse yourself in the material you are about to learn. But spending the first week pulling 14 hour days is only going to leave you wiped out and cramped up by the end of the first month.
Mentally preparing yourself to accept that it’s okay to spend 8 hours one day and maybe 6 hours the next will help you eliminate any guilt you may manifest by thinking you have to pull 14 hour study days every day. Not only is it an unhealthy mindset to think that the more hours you study the better your chance, but in the long run it will hinder your mental ability to retain the information you need to retain. Putting in the mental work prior to study days will give you more mental real estate to actually deal with the subjects and issues at hand rather than worrying about whether your lunch break was too long.
If these three cups of tea aren’t your preferred flavor, there are always a million ways to prepare for the bar exam, and there is no right or wrong way. There is only mental real estate for sale, and unfortunately most of it is bought by your state’s bar admission requirements, the bar exam study period.