Everyone told me that bar exam preparation in general would be a drag. Even after I mentally shifted into bar prep after graduation, 2020 has been a rollercoaster physically and psychologically.
Now let’s talk about how this affects my bar preparation. Our July bar exam was initially postponed to September 9 and 10, which meant that my 8-10 week prep has been extended to 14 weeks. As someone taking a commercial bar exam course, I am lucky to have a schedule of to-do items that updates every time I leave an assignment unfinished. But my entire preparation so far has just been a combination of me getting ahead, falling behind, playing catch-up, and eventually burning out. I have been so overwhelmed each week with the never-ending assignment load. After finishing a day’s work, I am generally too exhausted to review material I have already learned. It has been a cycle that I know isn’t working, but I can’t stop because I don’t have time to try a new process. If you’re someone prepping for the bar now, does this sound familiar?
Studying during a pandemic and experiencing the joys of an ever-shifting study schedule was not what I had in mind when I began this process. At the end of the day, it only seemed to matter that I keep up with the course (though I knew even as I was doing it that it wasn’t leading to long term retention of the material).
So…the bar exam is when again?
But last week, our exam was entirely cancelled, with our state opting for the online bar exam on October 5 and 6. Suddenly, my 14 weeks of preparation was extended to 18 weeks. My motivation dropped along with my optimism for ever seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. As someone who started studying at the end of spring semester, 3L year – it feels like 2020 will be entirely devoted to bar preparation at this rate.
There was no way bar prep during this time was going to be the same as it had been for students prepping in a previous summer. It was also obvious that this cycle of bar prepping, [trying to finish 7 tasks, not being as productive as I expect, no time for review, then beating myself up for not finishing everything on today’s list] was not EFFECTIVE. I spent more time stressing than actually studying. So, I began to wonder at a new, healthier normal: what if my study plans and my anxieties could all be in one place?
Here’s how I found a new normal
Every morning, I looked over my assignments in my commercial bar prep course and wrote them down. At most, I tried to keep them to 3-5 hours of work. I wanted to include review of material, but I also limited it to 5 task items total. There are 7 days in a week, so I thought reviewing one subject a day is manageable. A typical day would look like this:
- Property Lecture
- 16 MC Property Questions
- Review MC Answers
- Torts Practice Essay
- REVIEW: Make Contracts & Sales Flashcards
Super simplistic, I know. But hear me out. The simpler the list, the more productive you tend to be. So, looking over these 5 things in the morning, I think, “hey, not so bad.”
But this is the important part: as you work through each task, detail all you did underneath. For example:
1. Property Lecture
- Summary: Took notes. Highlighted in pink are topics I don’t understand.
- Question: How do you recognize a race notice statute?
- To-Do: Review MC questions about recording statutes so you can recognize the difference between a race notice statute and a notice statute.
2. 16 MC Property Questions
- Summary: scored ⅝; then ⅜
- Feeling: not great, this is actually the worst
- TAKING A BREAK TO FEEL BETTER
3. Review MC Answers
- Struggles: Mortgages, Recording Statutes, Concurrent Estates
- Demolished: RAP, Landlord Tenant, Adverse Possession
4. Torts Practice
- Feeling: okay, missed one big issue but not all bad
- Review: Landowner Duties under Negligence > Duty, Duty to Invitee and Strangers
5. REVIEW: Make Contracts & Sales Flashcards
- Spent the most time making flashcards for Mailbox rule
At the end of the day, when I looked over this list, I wasn’t as anxious about what I needed to do the next day. It wasn’t a blind list of “here are all the things I need to do today to stay on track.” Instead, I had really detailed notes about what I needed to do to stay on track for me. I clearly didn’t get Recording statutes in Property. I wasn’t feeling great about Mortgages, Concurrent Estates either. For Torts, Landowner Duties felt a little meh. All of these weaknesses would be under my #5 Review list item on a day where I’m reviewing Property or Torts. The method would ensure that I learn from my mistakes during bar prep.
I have been doing this for a full week now, and it has been pretty effective in keeping on a loop of productive studying while reinforcing topics I didn’t get the first time. It has also helped me feel accomplished at the end of each day, as opposed to setting lofty goals about things I need to do, then feeling defeated for not getting to everything. Moreover, I now have a notebook that details how I feel about different subtopics in my MBE study. Since some of us have a little bit more time to study now with the bar exam being moved online, I’d suggest you try to incorporate keeping a Bar Journal. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, but maybe it will prove to be a place of solace for you as it has been for me.