Preparing for the bar exam is a significant undertaking, and a detailed study schedule is an important factor in your success on the exam. The “big box” bar prep companies often try to get students to follow a rigid, one-size-fits-all study schedule that leaves many students feeling overwhelmed and underprepared for the bar exam. Do not fall into this trap!
Whether you’re studying full-time or part-time, you can create your own study schedule and pass the bar exam. Here are five steps to take to create a bar exam study schedule that works for you.
1. Decide when to take the bar exam
Before you craft a study schedule, you must decide when to take the bar exam. In most states, the bar exam is offered twice per year — once in February and once in July. The bar exam usually consists of two full days of testing, although some states still require three full days of testing. This should not be a last-minute decision: many states have strict application deadlines and other requirements that must be satisfied at least three months prior to the administration of the bar exam.
The amount of time you’ll need to prepare for the bar exam depends on whether you’ll be studying full-time or part-time. Although no two students are alike, the experienced bar exam tutors at Bar Exam Toolbox generally recommend a minimum of 10 weeks for full-time study (40 to 50 hours per week) and a minimum of 15 to 20 weeks of part-time study (20 hours per week). You should also consider whether you’ll need extra time to prepare based on your academic performance during law school, the amount of time that has passed since you graduated, whether you are retaking the exam, and any disabilities you have.
2. Take an Inventory of your Commitments and get a Rough Idea of your Schedule
Once you’ve decided when to take the bar exam, you should assess your commitments outside of preparing for the bar exam to determine how much time you have to devote to study. If you plan to work while you study, how many hours per week will you work? Do you have family or childcare obligations? How will you fit in exercise, sleep, and other self-care that is critical to success on the bar exam?
Be realistic when you assess how many hours per day and week you can study. You should plan study as much as possible, but never more than 50 hours per week. The bar exam is best treated as a marathon and not a sprint — in order to succeed, you must have the energy needed to perform your best during the exam. You may also benefit from building in a few “buffer days” to your schedule to account for study breaks, unanticipated emergencies, and catching up on practice if needed.
3. Make a Calendar and Start to Divide up your Time
Once you have your study time blocked off, make a calendar and start to divide your time across the subjects tested on the bar exam and the different portions of the exam. Every state requires the multiple-choice Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), which tests seven subject areas. You will also face essay questions and at least one “performance test” designed to mimic a real-life lawyering task.
You’ll need to break up your time between mastering the substantive law tested on the exam and practicing MBE questions, essays, and performance tests. Because the subjects tested on the MBE may also appear on essay questions, it’s wise to devote more time to these subjects (especially in the first few weeks of study). However, you must still leave ample time for learning non-MBE subjects tested on the essays (like Business Associations and Trusts and Estates). You should also plan to work through performance tests on a regular basis, and since these do not require any knowledge of substantive law, this is something that you can work in from the very beginning of your study schedule.
Again, no two students are exactly alike. However, the team of bar exam tutors at Bar Exam Toolbox recommend that students spend at least 1/3 of their study time on timed practice, with the final one to two weeks of study devoted almost exclusively to timed practice. This means that you should plan to spend no more than 2/3 of your study time on video lectures, reviewing outlines, memorization, and other non-practice activities. Your goal should be to create a rough calendar which shows which subjects you’ll tackle on a weekly basis, with your practice period built in right before the exam.
4. Decide How to Hold yourself Accountable, and put your Schedule in Writing
Let’s face it — studying for the bar exam can be a drag, and it’s easy to lose focus and fall behind. As you create your study schedule, think about the most effective way to hold yourself accountable. There are many ways to do this. Some students work well with an online calendar application, and use this to block off periods of time for studying like they would a meeting or other appointment. Others (particularly visual learners) like to use handwritten calendars and daily or weekly to-do lists. You might also consider using a web-based project management application like Trello or Asana to track tasks, remind you of upcoming deadlines, and check off practice assignments as you complete these.
Whatever approach you decide to take, make sure that you put your schedule in writing. This will help you visualize your plan for the bar prep period and track your progress toward your goal: passing the bar exam!
5. Readjust your Study Schedule as Needed
Once you begin preparing for the bar exam, you may find that you need to adjust your study schedule periodically. This is one of the reasons why it is important to build in some “buffer days” at the start of this process. So long as you’re staying on track with the general principles discussed in this post, you can make adjustments to your schedule to account for extra time needed in certain weaker subjects or additional practice.
Can a Bar Tutor Help Create a Study Schedule?
If you need help creating or revising a bar exam study schedule, a private bar tutor can help. A bar tutor can customize a study schedule to meet your specific needs and hold you accountable to staying on schedule for success.