I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy the part of my job that involves developing custom schedules. It really is the perfect job for my puzzle-oriented brain.
Well, when the bar exam is an indeterminate amount of time in the future, the puzzle becomes infinitely more complicated. If your bar date is TBD, whether due to a pandemic or simply due to personal circumstances, there are things you can do to make your schedule effective.
Step One: Assess the Amount of Time you have Until the Exam
If this is unknown (again, pandemic!), base this on the “standard” next bar date for now, and then adjust once you get more information. If your bar date is set but subject to change, again, go with your “known” information, with permission to be lenient with yourself if it changes. Remember: early preparation will not go to waste if your bar date gets pushed back, but stalling on preparations because your bar date “might” change is extremely likely to bite you later.
Step Two: Assess the Amount of Time you have Available to Study on a Day-to-Day Basis
This is really always a good idea. But there’s a new twist. Maybe you can afford to be out of work for two months, but a potentially-delayed bar date means that you need to find a part-time job fast. Or perhaps you can stay home indefinitely due to your support network, but you’re suddenly studying at home with your kids running around. These are just two possibilities that could seriously cut into your prep time. So design your study schedule on the assumption that you’ll have less time, and either give yourself “recommended” tasks with extra review/practice, or give yourself permission to work ahead in your schedule if you have more time than anticipated. Working ahead will give you a buffer for when things go off track later, or will give you time to do additional work closer to the (date-uncertain) exam.
Step Three: Assess your Study Materials and Practice Questions
So if you’ve stuck with me this far, you might now be wondering what the heck I think you should actually do, and this is where we’re getting into that. You have a date-uncertain bar exam and probably anywhere from two months to six months to prepare for it. That’s a huge gap! But we can still offer some advice.
Start with your performance test practice. Most bar exams include some sort of performance test, and no matter how far away from the exam you are, you should be practicing this at least weekly. Why? Well, it’s a skill-based part of the exam, which means that you don’t have to worry about losing memory. But timing is important, which means that practice is absolutely critical. By practicing early and regularly, you can really boost points.
Next, move on to your study outlines. If you’re three or more months away from the exam, you may be able to devote a full week to each subject, which is really fantastic. You also might not want to be memorizing just yet. What you should try to do is get your study outlines in shape so that they are easy to memorize when the time comes. Not sure when that time will be? No problem! As long as you have materials that you can easily revisit and memorize because they are written in the way that you learn and write.
Note that I said “and write” at the end of that last sentence. At the risk of being overly repetitious, it’s not enough to just make the study outlines. You need to make sure that they are useful. Yes, they need to be memorizable for you, but they also need to be set up so that they are making it easy for you to write answers to exam questions (or find answers on multiple choice questions). The best way to make sure you are doing this is to do regular practice, preferably using real bar questions. And don’t forget to self-evaluate! By reviewing even terrible essays and MBE practice sessions, you will figure out not only what law you didn’t understand, but also how you can set up your outlines so that you can answer questions more effectively.
Step Four: Give yourself Permission to have a Question Mark at the End of your Study Schedule
Many bar studiers right now don’t know exactly when their exam will be. The advice above still applies. You want to set yourself up in such a way that no matter when the bar happens, you have (1) reviewed all subject areas, (2) outlined the information so that you understand it, and (3) practiced all question types. Once you get your final bar date, you can then work in opportunities for you to re-review and memorize all subject areas. The best way to do this is to add even more practice to your study schedule so that you have more than just rote memorization: you want to have the ability to use the law for effective analysis. You might have two weeks or two months for this review. But if you gave yourself a solid foundation in the preceding weeks, you will be able to prioritize memorization and practice and make that time really count.