I google everything, and during my first weeks of law school, I consistently googled, “getting through law school with my sanity intact.” I desperately searched for others who had made it through law school without losing their minds. My obsession with clarifying with Google that there were others who had survived, followed me into bar exam prep, where I googled “Will I pass the bar?” and “Will I die if I don’t?” incessantly. And as I’m sure you are already aware, Google could not decide these answers for me.
I cannot promise that you will pass the bar. No one can. This exam is hard, it tests your wit, as well as your stamina. It can be a grueling process, but there are some steps you can take to help remedy it and, hopefully, pass. I have always felt that as long as I did all I could, I couldn’t fault myself for the result. My first experience with the bar, it wasn’t until it was too late that I recognized I wasn’t doing everything I could. But the second time around, I used the tools below to help me conquer my fear of the exam, and ensure that I had done everything I could to pass.
It is very easy to tie your self-worth to this exam. Refrain from this. After graduation, when everyone is jumping straight into bar prep, forgetting their families and friends, and piling on the pressure, step away. Take some time to relax, do some box breathing (in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four), and recognize that this is only an exam. Failing the exam is not the end of the world, passing the exam does not guarantee that rainbows will now shine all around you forever. It is a test to get a license. It does not define the kind of person you are. It does not take away from your gifts or add to your strengths.
I failed the bar exam on my first attempt and I spent a few days letting myself feel like a loser. Then I remembered that this was a test, I could take it again if I wanted to. My failure did not define me – and actually, it made me better. I learned so much from failing; more than I would have learned had I passed.
Don’t let the bar exam beat you by thinking your score is a reflection of who you are as a person. It is not.
2. Make Your Own Study Schedule
One of the biggest things that helped me conquer the exam was creating my own study schedule. The first time, I used a study schedule by Themis, and stuck to it as well as I could, but when I couldn’t finish the task list, I watched the tasks pile up on the next day, sending my stress to new heights.
The second time, I created my own schedule. I was lucky enough to have an amazing Bar Exam Toolbox tutor who helped me break down my studying into actionable steps – after doing another substantive review, I began my tutoring phase with reviewing one subject (or two depending on their length), writing three essays on it, and doing at least 34-50 MBE on it. Having ownership of my schedule gave me more accountability. It helped me draft my days around studying so that I could still connect with family and friends and continue to feel human.
An interesting note: when I was studying the first time, I paid attention to the clock in an almost OCD like fashion. I did not want to study more than 8 hours a day and I was so fixated on making sure that I didn’t go outside those bounds that I constantly felt like I didn’t have enough time to complete the Themis tasks. When I took ownership of my schedule, and had a solid plan of attack for what to do every day, my days became about getting those things done, and when I was finished, I was finished. Some days, it took my 6 hours, others it took 8. But I always felt like I had enough time and that helped my stress levels tremendously.
3. Review Your Answers
Reviewing your answers after doing a set of MBE questions or answering an essay question is imperative. After each block of MBE, I would sit with my outlines and go through each question again. Sometimes, I had gotten an answer right for the wrong reason, or for a reason I couldn’t explain. Reviewing my answers gave me a deeper understanding of how the law weaves its web.
My first time around, I barely reviewed my answers. I spent more time watching lectures (which I knew were not doing anything to help me because I am not an auditory learner by any means) and then when it came time to review the MBE answers, I would skim them and move on. When I took the time on my second attempt to really review my answers, I learned so much more. I will be honest, on my first bar prep, my MBE scores barely sailed above a 40%. My second time, I used AdaptiBar and chronically reviewed my answers. I also paid attention to the subjects and topics I was consistently getting wrong. In doing this, I was able to hone in on exactly what I needed to work on.
4. Learn the Hard Stuff
This goes hand in hand with step 3. Make sure you are taking time to learn the hard things. During the first bar prep, I found it super easy to stick to the things I knew so that when I took a practice test or essay, I was getting something right. But that is the most crippling thing I could have done and was the reason I got such a low MBE score and a barely passing MEE score the first time. The next time I studied for the bar I made sure to face the scary hard stuff straight on. This choice boosted my MBE and MEE scores significantly.
5. Rest & Movement
It is absolutely okay to rest during bar prep. Get good sleep, meaning, sleep in a dark cool room with little distraction. Aim to go to bed by 10pm and get up by 7am. Going to sleep, and staying asleep around these times will help your brain to recover from all the mental stimulation and stress during the day. It will help you remember better, help you stay more focused while studying, and just all around make you feel better.
In addition to rest, try and do some gentle movement throughout the day. The first bar prep, I tried to do CrossFit classes, personal training, and walking. I was waking up far too early to achieve any of these things and then mad at myself when my 8 hours of sitting hurt my hips. The second time, I focused on biking or walking each day for a half hour. At some point during prep, I started running. This movement time gave me something to look forward to, an outlet for my stress, and helped energize me for the day. Midday, I would walk on the treadmill while reviewing or take my notecards out to the street. Whatever you do, be gentle with yourself, and recognize it is okay to stop early or go longer depending on how you feel.
The bar exam is exhausting. Prepping can make you feel like a caged animal about to explode, and in the end there is no guarantee you’ll pass. If you decide early on to make these steps part of your prep, and you decide to believe that as long as you do all that you can, you can’t fault yourself for the result, you’ll survive the experience. And if you’re like me, even learn to thrive in it.