Anyone with even a passing familiarity with bar exam preparation knows that long hours and discipline are essential to success. In fact, most successful bar studiers will tell you that they spent most of their waking hours engaged in their studies during the two to three months leading up to the exam.
Successful bar studiers do takes breaks throughout each day, but only for about 15 to 30 minutes at a time – just long enough to pour a cup of coffee, grab a quick bite to eat, run an errand, exercise, or indulge in a little escape from reality on social media, TV, or a streaming service. Best practices, however, demand expeditiously returning to the books because a realistic study schedule requires 10 to 12 hours of dedicated focus (unless you are an above-average human being with savant-level speed-reading, memorization, and comprehension skills!).
The harsh reality of the time and focus required to prepare successfully for the bar exam begs the question: Must bar studiers shun any notion of taking a full day off during their preparation, or – dare they even consider – a short weekend getaway? Would a break of that length necessarily be detrimental, or could it be neutral and even possibly beneficial?
First Things First – Setting up a Daily Plan that will Keep you Motivated and on Task
As noted above, most bar studiers take a few short breaks each day. Shifting to a less tedious activity for at least a few minutes refreshes your mind, allows some of the information processed during the most recent study period to sink in, and resets your ability to focus for the next stretch of study time.
Breaks also can serve as reward mechanisms, helping you to keep a positive outlook and encouraging productivity in pursuit of the next reward-centered break. Make a list of several things you love to do – take a run, call a friend, read a chapter in a novel, garden, go on a bike ride, cook dinner, etc. – and before each two to three-hour study period, plan for the reward that you will indulge in when you finish. My list during bar preparation season included walking my dog, eating anything Asian, going to the nail salon, and occasionally getting a massage.
Planning to Take a Full Day Off – is this Realistic and How Often?
What about longer periods of down time? Beyond building short breaks into each day, you likely can safely plan to take a half to full day off each week (yes, you read that right – each week) and still make more-than-sufficient progress with your overall study plan. Just be sure to stay on task and keep your focus during your daily study periods. Then, reward yourself at the end of the week by giving yourself at least several hours, and up to a full day, completely away from your studies.
How about Longer Get away? Can I “Get Away” with that?
Given the months of preparation before the exam, it’s almost inevitable that you will receive one or more invitations from family or friends to important life events like a graduation ceremony, anniversary celebration, or family reunion. Perhaps your best friend is getting married and has asked you to be the maid of honor or best man, or maybe you find yourself craving some extended solitude that doesn’t involve books or anything to do with the law. Whatever the case, events like these are often multi-day undertakings. Must you absolutely “bow out” because of the looming bar exam?
Not necessarily, but carefully consider the timing. Some bar studiers mistakenly take an extended break on the front end of the preparation period. They figure that starting a few days after their peers won’t make a difference because, after all, what’s a few days in the span of two or three months? However, allowing yourself to get behind from day one can lead to constant and unproductive feelings of stress and anxiety. Just a typical day’s task list can feel overwhelming. If you add catch-up work on top of your regular work, you may quickly start to experience a sense of mounting futility – not the best frame of mind when starting out!
Instead, jump in at the beginning of the preparation period and establish a steady and productive routine. Do this for at least the first two to three weeks before considering whether you can take an extended break. Then, to determine whether you can afford to take a couple days off, honestly assess your overall progress to date. If your gut tells you that you can take them, you probably can. But if your gut feels something more akin to panic about everything you had intended to accomplish and the rapidly shrinking number of days until the exam, you probably should plan for a shorter break. Aim, for example, to attend just the most important day of a multi-day event. Your family and friends are likely to understand that preparing for the bar exam is a massive undertaking, and they will want to support you in your quest to pass so you can more quickly return to a more balanced life with plenty of time for socializing.
You might also like…