I’ve talked before about developing a study schedule, how to catch up when a schedule isn’t working, and even the basics of what to do when your bar study has a question mark at the end. But what do you do when the bar examiners keep pulling the rug out from under you, forcing you to constantly reevaluate your study plan?
Step 1: Pitch a Fit
I mean it. Take a moment to yell at your bar examiners in the privacy of your own home. Toss as many choice words as you want at them. Just…don’t send the email (or text, voicemail, website comment, skywriting, whatever).
The situation bar takers are in this year is hard. As a person who carefully designs detailed custom bar schedules that are tailored as well as possible for each person’s availability…well, let’s just say that I’m mad at a lot of different bar examiners right now. It’s very difficult to get a schedule just right. When you’re doing this for yourself, without the benefit of experience, it’s even harder – but not impossible! So give yourself the benefit of a few minutes to be mad at the world.
Are you done? (Probably not, but we’ll pretend). Let’s move on to a plan. First, have your examiners actually moved the exam yet, or are they just considering it? If they’re just considering it, proceed to Step 2. If they’ve actually moved the exam, skip to Step 3.
Step 2: Commit to the Current Bar Date
I know. It’s hard. The examiners told you Date A, but they also mentioned that they might possibly do Date B. The thing is that if they shift to Date B, you’re probably fine. If they don’t? Well…you missed a lot of important study time. If you keep studying and they do shift the date? You’re in a much better position than you would have been if you’d waited!
If they do move the date, whether you’ve been studying or not, move on to Step 3. If they kept the date but changed the format (online exam, etc.), skip to Step 4.
Step 3: Assess the Situation
There are two sides of this. First, there’s the material. What have you covered so far? Have you been practicing? What do you need to learn in order to be ready? Second, there’s your time. Can you maintain your current study rate for the additional time before the bar exam, or do you need to pare down to avoid burning out? Will you now need to get a part-time job that will cut down on your availability? Do you need to adjust your dates off of work or time when you have additional help with the kids so that you’ll be able to have a week or two of solid study time immediately before the bar exam?
Basically, make two maps: one that shows what you need to cover (if you’ve been following a study schedule, this should be comparatively easy), and one that shows how much time you now have. See how they line up. If your format has changed at all, move on to Step 4. If not, skip to Step 5.
Step 4: Dealing with a New Format
Many of the bar exams currently being delayed are also being changed to online exams with slightly different timing. The ones I have seen have kept the timing for individual questions constant, but have broken the exam into smaller parts (probably for a technical reason relating to the online exam) or are reducing the number of questions, with a proportional reduction in the overall time.
What does this mean? Two things. First, you need to start practicing your essays, performance tests, MBEs, and any other question type on your computer. Unless your bar examiners tell you otherwise, you can’t assume that you’ll have a printout to mark up. Find out what you’ll be allowed to use, and practice that way. Second, we always recommend incorporating full, timed exam practice sessions into your study schedule. A new format will change how you can schedule these. Pennsylvania, for example, has shifted to a three-day exam, with shorter sessions each day. While this is great for people who have lots of days but limited time each day, it also takes up more days for people who need to do more substantive review.
So, basically, be aware of your bar format as you proceed with your new plan, and move on to Step 5 for actual planning.
Step 5: Plotting Your New Bar Schedule
You’ve figured out how much time you have to study, what you need to study, and what your exam will look like. Now you need to actually map out a schedule. I do a lot of these, so I use dry-erase calendars. You may find this helpful as well, so that you can make adjustments once you figure out what works and what doesn’t. If you have a schedule that works for you and just need to expand it, move to 5A. If you’re starting from scratch, move to 5B.
Step 5A: Adapting an Existing Schedule
When you adapt an existing schedule, you really have two main options.
The first is to leave your schedule as-is, and just add another review of each subject to the end, but before any clean-up review you had planned. This has the benefit of making sure that you don’t go too long without reviewing a given subject.
The second is to include weekly full practice sessions. If you have enough time, you can combine this with the first option so that you spend, for example, 3 days doing substantive review and then 2-3 days doing a practice test. This additional practice, under timed conditions, will be invaluable on exam day, because you’ll know how to manage your time.
Step 5B: Creating a New Study Schedule
I really recommend dividing your time among substantive review, essay practice, and MBE practice, with at least one PT every week. See this blog post for more details, and adjust as needed if your format has changed.
Step 6: Buckle Down
This is a weird time for bar studiers. The only thing to do is buckle down and do your best. Good luck!