People decide to “go it alone” for bar prep for a number of reasons or circumstances. One reason may be cost – after going into debt for law school or spending a fortune on a bar review course the first time, you just don’t have the money to spend on it this time. Another reason may be that you have to work while you are also studying for the bar exam and don’t want to be committed to a time-sensitive schedule put out by a bar prep program. Finally, you’ve kept or accumulated materials to use for your bar prep and feel confident about your ability to do this on your own. Whatever reason you have, consider the following suggestions to help you enhance your experience and increase your chance for success.
1. Put Yourself on a Schedule
It may sound a bit counter intuitive, but the most important thing you can do if you are studying on your own for the bar exam is to put yourself on a schedule. If you are that person who is trying to avoid the restrictions of a schedule, then you’re probably “yelling” at me right now that a schedule is what you are trying to avoid. My response to you is that what you are actually avoiding is someone else’s rigid or fixed schedule. Your own schedule is an entirely different thing – at least it should be.
The most important thing about bar prep is to stay on track. This is especially true if your time is limited because you are working at the same time. We all have those thoughts about “getting caught up” once we get behind. Unfortunately, because bar prep requires the internalization of a great deal of information within a short period of time, there is a risk you will not have a real opportunity to catch up – that is unless you actually program these opportunities into your own unique schedule.
So, find a calendar that works for you – use something online or go old-school. The Bar Exam Toolbox can help you structure a schedule based on your own unique needs. How will you cover all the necessary topics over the amount of time you have to devote to this task? When you will review those topics later in the schedule? When will you will take timed practice exams? And don’t forget to schedule a full day, or at least a half day toward the end, to practice focusing over a long period of time.
2. Find a Space you can Devote to bar prep
Another important thing you should do is to identify some space for your bar prep that is not multi-use or accessible by the other people in your life. If you’re lucky to have a separate room in your home, then make it your bar prep “war room.” Children, spouses, guests, etc., should not have access to this space for the duration of your study schedule. I have even known people who sublet office space from a business for the 2-3-month period they would need to study for the bar. Your “space” could even be a favorite cubicle at a school library (not your law school library) where you can focus.
The important reason for choosing a more isolated location is that it promotes consistency and routine. But be careful. If you choose a location where other people are located, especially friends, you will have to avoid the temptation to “chat” when you should be studying. For this reason, I would encourage you to become something of a hermit during this time. Pick an office space or library that is out of the way where you know you will not run into other people you know. And if you go the more public route, don’t forget to purchase a good pair of noise cancelling headphones.
3. Make sure to Relax a Little
Again, emphasis on the “little.” Your physical, mental, and even social health can only help you if you are not stressed out once you actually sit down to take the bar exam. Take a walk, meditate, play with your children, or go out for a late-night snack with your significant other. Most importantly though, get some sleep. Your brain needs to rest and relax as well. There are several studies that address the benefit of sleep for retaining the knowledge you will need when undergoing this type of intense testing.
The key, if you have chosen to study for the bar exam on your own, is to find balance. Pace yourself, find a quiet space, and relax. If you can do these three things successfully, success on the bar exam is more likely to follow.