Studying for the bar exam sometimes feels like a vortex that swallows up everything. It sometimes feels like the same day over and over, like the movie Groundhog Day, and the only thing that changes is the subject you’re studying. It feels like the outside world has ceased to exist.
Trust me, that ain’t the case. One of the most challenging aspects of studying for the bar exam is that the world keeps right on spinning and your day-to-day obligations will roll right over you if you let them.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with outside responsibilities during the bar exam, but you ought to plan ahead for how to deal with professional and personal obligations before you begin studying for the bar exam.
Finish All Bar Application/Graduation Matters
Before bar prep begins make sure you’ve cleared all your law school requirements, done all the paperwork, and done whatever financial counseling they require. Get that diploma and make sure it’s signed!
And make sure your bar application is done, and I mean done-done. Don’t put off the character and fitness portion of the application, for example.
These are problems that you don’t want cropping up while studying for the bar and that are entirely avoidable.
Don’t Work if You Don’t Have To
Do not work during bar prep unless you absolutely have to. Either your bar prep or your work will suffer, and neither is a good outcome.
Not working during bar prep is a luxury that many can’t afford. And the truth is that the legal profession would be all-in-all better if we had greater representation drawn from across the socio-economic spectrum. So, if you have to work or get a side hustle to afford to study or to minimize debt, then work. But understand ahead of time that a job will make bar studying much more difficult.
Plan Ahead to Minimize Financial Distractions
Take care of as many financial distractions in advance as you can.
Pay your rent or mortgage, utilities, Internet, and phone bills ahead of time if you can afford it. Schedule automatic payments. Or, if you’re like me and you refuse to let The Man take automatic payments from you, then place ample reminders on your phone and your calendar and everywhere else. You think that you won’t forget things like paying bills or rent. And you might not!
But you might.
Designate a Space to Study
You will need a place to study for about two straight months. It should be comfortable and free from distractions. Your study space should be as close to home as possible because you don’t want to waste time commuting.
Some people like to study in libraries, others in coffee shops, and some at home. Whatever works for you is best, but make sure you know where you will study. After all, coffee shops sometimes close unexpectedly, libraries are sometimes filled with weird class trips full of children, and even home study spaces are sometimes taken over by your aunt.
Make a Bar Prep Calendar
Even if you aren’t the “calendar type”, make one for bar prep. I’m not the calendar type. I hate making calendars and checklists. Hate it! But did I do it during the bar? You bet I did.
Your number one calendar priority should be big blocks of time for studying as best fits your personal study habits and learning style. If you’re searching for a job after the bar, don’t forget to block off time for job hunting.
Also don’t forget to leave yourself some time for physical activity, for rest, and for socializing. These are the first things to fall to the wayside during bar prep. That’s ok! Something has to give! But if you schedule time for these things ahead of time then you’ll have a better chance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
Put any important events or dates on the bar prep calendar because, believe me, you’ll forget important deadlines and dates. Anniversaries? Birthdays? Put them on the calendar if they mean anything to you.
Make a Priorities List
Some things will likely fall through the cracks during your bar prep. As Robbie Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley.” So prioritize ahead of time what can be compromised and what cannot be compromised.
Be honest with yourself. How important is going to the gym? How important is your relationship with your significant other? How important is your friendship with your best high school friend? How important is watching your favorite sitcom?
Consider your priorities seriously. Even the most prepared person, even that person you know who is “always on top of things” will potentially get overwhelmed with this exam. It’s almost inevitable that something will suffer in your personal or professional life.
So be honest with yourself before bar prep about what that ought to be.
The most important and often overlooked aspect of a good bar prep strategy is to manage expectations with your family, friends, and colleagues. If you ignore all my other advice at least please do this one thing: Talk to the people in your life who are important to you!
Unless your friends and family are attorneys, they probably don’t know what the bar exam is like. They don’t know how stressful bar prep can be or how it can take over your life. To them, it might seem that you’ve vanished into a dark apartment, a library, or just off the face of Earth. They might resent calls that aren’t answered or text messages that get no response. They might believe that you no longer care about them because they just haven’t seen you in weeks.
Tell these people ahead of time that you might be unavailable for a bit and that you might not get back to them as quickly as you used to. The bar exam is your number one focus during bar prep, and that’s all there is to it.
Believe me, your friends and family will understand if you communicate with them.