It is not quite time to sign up for the July 2020 bar in most jurisdictions, but if you’re a 3L, you’re probably thinking about what next summer will look like as you begin studying. Many students sign up for commercial bar prep courses and wait to begin bar prep when those are released, but that is not the only way to approach the test. Some law schools also include bar prep as part of the curriculum, and if yours does, that would be something to take into consideration before committing to an extended study plan.
What works for most students will never work for all students, however. Now is a good time to evaluate your lifestyle to see if an alternative study plan would be better for you.
Risks of Extended Study
Think back to a book you read six months ago. Can you recall exactly what the protagonist wore at the beginning of the book? If you can, I’m impressed, because I sure can’t. Though reading a book is obviously different from studying for a rule dense test, most people don’t have memory that works in a way that makes remembering minute details months later easy.
You will hear this over and over because it is true. Studying for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint. It is also generally not an ultra-marathon (but really, how do people run 100 miles?). The test prep companies have carefully tailored their courses to the average student, and if you are disciplined, those weeks following 3L tend to suffice.
There is a big risk of forgetting what you studied at the beginning and unless you are someone who will continually refresh the old rules and rememorize rule statements, extended study can be challenging. Many students are still in the midst of job searches and figuring out post-law school logistics during 3L, and adding on bar study is often not ideal.
Who should Consider following an Extended Study Plan?
It might be tempting to give yourself more time to prepare for the bar, but for most students, focusing on finishing law school strong will serve you best.
There are, of course, exceptions. Not every 3L is similarly situated. If you are looking toward bar prep with dread, know that you are far from alone. Among others, students who have families, students with certain disabilities, and students who have to work full-time might want to consider an extended study plan.
Students with Families
I took my first bar exam after moving across the country with a not quite helpful five year old. It was hard. It would have been nearly impossible without the help of a partner who bore the brunt of virtually all of her care for the three months after law school. Without this help, the option to take more time to study would have been invaluable, and if you are in that situation, it is absolutely worth spreading the study out so you don’t burn out.
Students with certain disabilities
This will be highly personal. If you are someone who needed extra time to absorb what you were learning in law school classes for any reason, you might want to consider spreading out your study time. If you start just after school ends, you will be taking large bites of material like everyone else, but if you begin a few months earlier, you will have a chance to break down what can be complex material in nibble form.
Just be cautious – give yourself enough time to backtrack on the material and refresh what you have already learned. Don’t allow yourself to get into a trap of relearning the same material over and over, but do make sure to integrate earlier material into your later quizzes and flashcards. An experienced tutor can help you manage this process.
In an ideal world, studying for the bar would be your only job, but with law school loans, that’s just not practical for everyone. If you must work, consider planning to take periodic days off so you can have focused study time. When you have break time, use it wisely. It’s a good idea to have flashcards with you at all times. There are fantastic apps that will allow you to flip through them when things are slow.
Starting your bar prep early can help make sure that you are ready to go in July, but it will be important that you have scheduled time off near the exam so you can make sure you are where you need to be in terms of test day logistics and test preparation.
You want to Start Early. How should you Begin?
Several of the larger test prep companies offer extended study plans, but that’s not the only way to get ahead. If you aren’t ready to jump into a commercial program, your law school library will have bar prep books that you can start working through. You can familiarize yourself with the types of multiple-choice questions you will see on the exam and many of the books have detailed answers. It is never too early to start making flashcards. A quick internet search will also give you access to free questions and outlines, but make sure they come from quality sources.
Know that these things alone will not replace a bar prep course, but they can help make things smoother for when you do begin yours. Regardless of the study plan you choose, make sure you schedule time to take care of yourself. Burn out will not serve you well.