Many students ask me what a day in the life of a bar studier should look like. They come to me with stories about professors who warn that if they study any fewer than twelve hours, they would surely fail. Or, they pass along the rumor that all you need to do is study really hard two weeks before the bar exam to guarantee a passing score.
The truth is, there is no one way to structure your bar exam studies (though some commercial bar prep programs may try to convince you otherwise.) Studying for the bar exam is wholly subjective, supremely customizable, and ideally, will be tailored to your own personal learning style. But, there are some things we have figured out here at Bar Exam Toolbox that could be useful to build a schedule around so that you’re more focused on the quality of your study, than quantity for quantity’s sake.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The best way to prepare to pass the bar exam is to pretend to take it (or parts of it, at least) over and over again. Knowing the law perfectly will do you no good if you don’t know how to apply it, or how to structure an essay in a way that matches what the bar examiners like to see. As I often tell students, the bar examiners are not particularly creative, and they don’t expect you to be either. There are plenty of resources that actually give you standardized templates for certain kinds of bar exam questions. If you write enough essays, even your own answers can end up serving as templates as you revisit frequently tested topics for practice. Practice reinforces memorization through active learning, and builds familiarity and comfort with subjects and essay structures that will surely appear on the bar exam in some form. Therefore, practice is the best way to feel prepared and an important part of scheduling your day like a bar taker.
Build Endurance Through Timing
I remember by afternoon of the third day (yes, there were three when I took the California bar exam), I was so drained, I thought I’d need to use one hand to lift the other onto the keyboard in order to get myself typing again. Building this endurance loops back to practice, and doing it under timed, multi-hour conditions. Additionally, you can further train your body by aligning your practice with the hours you would be tested in the same way during the bar. So, if three hours of essay writing start between 8:30 and 9:00 am during the test, then you want to start your day around the same time with three hours of essay writing. The next day, do three and a half hours of writing—two essays and one Performance Test—in the afternoon. That way, you will start associating certain times of day with certain kinds of writing. Plus, by the time you sit for the bar exam, writing for three hours straight will feel like cake.
Our brains are not designed to operate in high gear for eight hours at a time without stopping. In fact, the bar exam itself builds in a nice, long lunch between the first and second half of the day. During the test, you want to use that time to relax as much as possible. Don’t associate with anyone who plans on debriefing what they just wrote on the exam. Instead, get some sun if it’s available, find a spot of nature, surround yourself with people who share your pact to not discuss the test, and enjoy your food. About twenty minutes before the exam starts up again, you can find a quiet spot to clear your head, breathe deeply, think through some positive affirmations, and get yourself back in the zone for part two. Similarly, you need to build meaningful breaks into your study, on a day-to-day basis, as well as for entire days or even a weekend here and there throughout the process. As consuming as the test may be, your life has to have some bar-free hours in order to make studying, the exam, and life, more bearable.
So, how do we turn these principles into a schedule? Here’s what mine looked like back when I was studying for the bar exam, after I had spent the first couple of weeks of study creating substantive materials and practicing writing one essay or Performance Test at a time:
8:30 am – 11:30 am: Write three essays in a row
11:30 am –12:00 pm: BREAK (Stretch, get water, eat a snack, etc…)
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm: Check essay answers, make corrections, incorporate corrections into study materials
1:00 – 2:30: LONG LUNCH (This can include mind-numbing TV, a walk or some other exercise, a chat with a friend, a nap, or whatever else you need to feel refreshed. It does NOT include thinking, talking, or worrying about the bar exam.)
2:30 – End of Day: MBE Practice and/or Memorization (depending on where you are in your studies and what you need to be working on that day.)
8:30 am – 11:30 am: MBE Practice and/or Memorization
11:30 am –12:00 pm: BREAK
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm: Check MBE answers, make corrections, incorporate corrections into study materials
1:00 – 2:30: LONG LUNCH (See proposed activities above. Same ban on anything bar-related applies.)
2:30 – 7:00: Write two essays and one performance test
7:00 – End of day: Dinner and then more MBE practice or memorization if needed
Alternate Schedules A and B throughout the week, always gauging when you need a day without writing, or a day off entirely, in order to avoid burnout. By the time the bar exam rolls around, even if you completely blank on some law or get a heavy dose of anxiety that freezes you up for a bit, you can be secure in the knowledge that you are perfectly capable of completing the work within the time you are given. Additionally, having done that much practice, there will be at least a few familiar essays that replicate structures you have encountered during your hours of practice.
This schedule does not protect entirely against exhaustion, nor does it guarantee that you will know everything on the exam. However, it is a way of studying smart that allows you to practice a wide breadth of tested material, build your stamina and endurance, as well as take the breaks you need to get through the exam with your wellbeing intact.