Most bar students I work with study for two to three months before the exam. Now that COVID-19 is pushing more and more July bars around the country to Fall 2020, it’s time to start thinking about how, where, and when you will study if your exam dates change.
Even if you work with a bar study program or tutor, it will be crucial to pace yourself. One thing I’ve noticed over the years as a bar tutor is that most students are smart enough to pass. What gets in the way are other things:
- the ability to stay on track and keep oneself accountable,
- the willingness to take a hard look at one’s own weaknesses and learn from them
- the drive to practice every single day
These things are harder than the black letter law. And you know what? If you study for longer, they get even more difficult. Why? Well, for starters, studying for the bar exam is a pretty awful experience, especially if you’ve failed once or multiple times in the past. The whole process is demoralizing, expensive, all-consuming, and mind-numbingly tedious. I don’t have to tell you that. But a little preparation can go a long way.
If you’re looking to spread your study time over several months this Summer and Fall, here are a list of action items you can get started with to make your life easier in the long run:
1. Get your Materials in Order
I firmly believe that making your own outlines is a step toward success on the bar exam. A couple of caveats: if you’re working full-time or have little time to study, this is not something to prioritize (buy your commercial outlines and just learn them as they are). However, now that we’re discussing the possibility of having extra study time on your hands, I would recommend making your own outlines.
I made my own outlines when I studied for the bar and it took, frankly, a long time. But they helped me so much! You don’t need to start completely from scratch, though. There are lots of good commercial outlines out there. Try Bar Essays, or Lean Sheets as your base and customize them yourself. The key here? Make sure you understand every line of each outline. If you don’t know what something means, you will have a tough time using that law when you practice. Make them your own. And by all means, keep them short.
2. Organize your Calendar
You can make a google calendar, use a free online platform like trello, or map it all out on paper. The crucial thing is that your method works for you. Once you learn your exam dates, here are some steps you can take:
- Block off the days and weeks you will study
- Figure out how many hours per day you will dedicate and what timeframes
- Take the list of subjects tested on your bar exam and come up with a scheme that allows you to hit each subject at least twice over the whole study period
- Consider what blocks of time you will need for various activities (making outlines, memorizing, practicing your writing, MBE practice, etc.)
- Build in time for catching up (trust me, everyone needs this!)
- Make yourself a daily routine
3. Designate your Space
At the moment, we are all social-distancing at home. It can be hard to imagine going back into packed lecture halls or big groups, and we don’t know yet whether that will even be possible for the next exam administration. Regardless of how you study, think about where you will work.
I have tutored bar students studying in all sorts of situations: at their apartment, back home with their parents, in Europe on vacation with a partner, at Starbucks, in the library, in a box, with a fox—you get the idea. You can study for the bar anywhere you have fast wifi, peace and quiet, and lots of uninterrupted time.
That said, when determining where you want to spend your days, here are some ideas to keep in mind. In your study space:
- Are there zero distractions?
- Will you feel pressure to do anything besides study?
- Do you have the right food, water, light, desk, chair, materials, etc. available?
- Will you be comfortable for many hours per day for many days?
- Is there a place nearby to take breaks, get outside, or exercise?
I remember one student I worked with who decided to study at an Airbnb. This is actually pretty common, especially for my international students. His set-up was okay, but the only places to work were either the couch or sitting on his bed. This might sound fine at first, but after a while, believe me, you will want a table and chair kind of situation—especially when it comes to performance tests and simulating the real exam. These are the kinds of things to start thinking through now.
4. Handle Logistics
Oh, the logistics! Every bar season, I swear, there’s some kind of disaster. I’ve had students lose their homes, suffer tragic loss of a loved one, get sick, undergo emergency surgery, take long flights for unavoidable obligations, the list goes on and on. What I’m saying is, life doesn’t stop for the bar exam. If you can plan ahead for any logistical hurdles, now is the time.
Make sure your childcare, job, finances, and even food and laundry situations are as locked down as possible before you start studying. If you do it right, you won’t have a ton of time and energy left to deal with these things while preparing for the bar.
5. Be Flexible
Now more than ever, it’s important to stay calm and be as flexible as possible. We don’t know when your exam is going to be anymore than you do. And that makes for uneasiness. We know. We understand that kind of uncertainty is stifling.
This whole COVID-19 situation is one big awful mess. You may not get the precise bar study experience you hoped for, but you will be okay. Hang in there. A little bit of planning now can go a long way later. If you have the time, why not take some steps to prepare. You might be glad you did.