Congratulations! Your adult child has officially graduated from law school. However, as you probably noticed, the excitement and celebrations abruptly came to a close as he or she almost immediately shifted to preparing for the biggest exam of his or her life – the bar exam. Make no mistake about it – even though your child persevered through semester after semester of really tough exams in law school, the bar exam really is the toughest exam your child will ever face.
Why is this, you ask? For starters, every state’s bar exam lasts at least two full days, and in most states, examinees must be prepared to answer a grueling series of essay, performance test, and multiple-choice questions covering up to a dozen or more subject areas. In law school, your child could more easily master the subjects tested because he or she learned just a handful per semester, and each final exam covered only a single subject area.
The bar exam is an entirely different animal. To prepare for that exam, your child must memorize all of the subjects tested, and any given essay question may cover up to two or three different subject areas. In addition, the exam’s multiple-choice questions are drawn from a combination of seven different subject areas, and your child will spend an entire day of the exam wading through 200 of these questions, constantly pivoting from subject area to subject area while maintaining a pace of just 1.8 minutes per question!
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that your child may seem like a different person during the intensive weeks of bar preparation. Perhaps the words preoccupied, anxious, cranky, irritable, and downright out-of-sorts come to mind. All of these words describe normal bar studiers. And given the intensity of the exam that lies ahead, you probably can understand why this is so.
In fact, if your child is not demonstrating at least some of these characteristics, the concern may be warranted. He or she may just be a “cool cucumber” – good at managing outward manifestations of stress. On the other hand, it’s possible that your child may not realize the rigor of preparation required, or perhaps the whole process has become so stressful that he or she has opted for an “avoidance” strategy. If you are concerned, you may want to find a moment to casually check in.
Many parents wonder how best to support their child during the crucial, intensive weeks of bar preparation. Below are a few tips to help you do this:
1. Don’t Underestimate Or Downplay What Your Child Is Going Through
Because the bar exam presents an entirely new challenge for your child, and because not all who prepare for it will pass, he or she is unlikely to feel comforted if you say things like “I’m sure you’ll do fine” or “You always think you’re going to fail, and then you do fine.” Far from it – this time, your child is convinced he or she is going to fail because there is real possibility that it could happen. In fact, only 62% of first-time takers passed a recent California bar exam, and just 43% of all takers passed, including repeaters.
Examinees often report that it drives them crazy when family or friends act as if the bar exam isn’t hard or they shouldn’t be stressed. So try to be as empathetic as you can, validating your child’s experience that bar preparation truly is incredibly stressful.
2. Encourage Your Child To Take Occasional Breaks
An old adage says, “There is a time to work and a time to play.” This could not be more true during bar preparation. Your child’s hard work will be more productive and lead to better results if he or she also builds in time for rest, recharging, and just plain fun.
The bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Your child needs to study long hours for many weeks, but he or she also needs an opportunity to recover from all the work. If not, he or she risks anxiety, burnout, or – even worse – unproductive study time where he or she is working all the time but accomplishing very little. Taking an afternoon, or even a full day, off each week is reasonable and healthy, provided that your child is following a disciplined study approach the rest of the time.
3. Know When To Encourage Your Child To Seek Additional Help
Most examinees enroll in a commercial bar preparation course like BarBri, Themis, or Kaplan, and these courses are expensive – running anywhere from $1,300 to over $3,000. Keeping up with the assigned lectures, memorization, and practice exams can take up to 8 to 12 hours most every day. Yet, for some examinees, this will not be enough. Some will need supplemental resources like Adaptibar or PMBR (helps with multiple-choice preparation), SeRiouS (helps with memorization), BarEssays.com (helps with essay and performance test preparation for the California exam) to boost their preparation in areas of challenge. Fortunately, these resources are relatively inexpensive in comparison to a commercial bar preparation course.
A personal bar exam tutor also can be extremely helpful. A tutor assists examinees by identifying particular areas of challenge, setting up a personalized study schedule that emphasizes areas of strength while ensuring sufficient practice in areas of weakness, and providing individualized feedback on practice essays and performance tests. Many students who fall behind on their commercial bar preparation courses’ one-size-fits-all study schedules find that a tutor can help them lay out a more realistic schedule that helps them concentrate their efforts on the most appropriate tasks for their personal needs.
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