Studying for the bar exam is probably nothing like what you’ve ever done before. It may be hard for you to figure out at first how to approach it. For me, the start of my bar exam prep course felt like a great unknown. All I knew was that I had a little over two months to cram everything into my brain that would allow me to be “minimally competent” to practice law in my jurisdictions. I had no idea how I would achieve it in such a short time, but what I knew is that many have done it before me and were successful. Here are a few tips I learned along the way:
Trial and Error
It may take you a few days or even a couple of weeks to figure out what works for you. By all means, when studying for the bar exam, one size does NOT fit all. What works for other students in your prep course may not work for you at all. That does not mean you’re doing it wrong. You need to try out different approaches to creating your schedule and find one that maximizes your own time and effort.
I started out by showing up at my law school at 9 AM for the daily streaming of the lectures. I quickly found that the classroom was kept entirely too cold for me and other students comments during the lectures were distracting and annoying. As a result, I took my laptop and moved to my law review office.
I stayed there for a couple of weeks and streamed my lectures. Then I would drive to a park nearby and study in my car. However, I quickly found that other students in the office were likewise distracting. As such, I somewhat gave up and moved again.
In the end, I stayed home. I found that by doing so, I was able to start streaming my lectures much earlier in the day and could focus easier. For a change of scenery, I would take my dogs in the yard and study there. However, I know that even though I found my home to be the least distracting, it can be the most distracting location for others. After all, there’s always the fridge within reach, the TV to watch, maybe even laundry to fold. And if you have a family member at home during the day, their presence may not be helpful either. In the end, you’ll have to figure out the best study surrounding for you.
Treat Bar Prep Like a Full-Time Job
Studying for the bar exam is very different than studying for class. Procrastinating will not get you very far. Make it your goal to treat this as a full-time job.
Again, one size does not fit all. If you find that you can focus better if you hit the gym first thing in the morning, by all means, do so. If you need to blow off some steam on your lunch break by doing some cardio, do it. Gym breaks may not always be available while working full-time, but your goal is to maximize your efficiency while studying. Exercise is a great way to de-stress and refocus.
However, when it’s time to study, give it your entire attention. Don’t allow yourself to be tempted into chit-chatting with a friend in law school, or into taking your dogs for a walk if you study at home. Devote the hours ahead to watching your lectures and completing the tasks assigned for the day.
Allow Yourself Some Down Time
When the dreaded day came and it was time for me to walk into the exam room, I almost felt guilty about not studying from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed. In hindsight, I know that if I had done so, I would have burned out before the two months were over.
Allow yourself a little time to relax. Focus during the day on studying and completing your assignments, and allow yourself the evening off. Have dinner with your family or maybe watch a sit-com. Take those dogs for a walk. Let your mind rest.
Along those same lines, if you feel comfortable with it, allow yourself a day off on the weekend in the first month of studying. I truly enjoyed having one day without bar prep. I usually had a little less assigned for Saturday and Sunday, so I made it a goal to complete everything on Saturday. However, all bets were off in the second month of study. At that point, it’s time to give it your all.
Bar prep is hard, intense and stressful. But remind yourself, just as I did – others have done it before you. You’ll be successful too. Use the tips above to make the most of your study time. It’ll be over before you know it!