Back in the old days, we studied for the bar exam as a community. We actually had to show up at a location (usually the lecture hall of our law school) to listen to a lecture, either presented live or on a movie screen via a recording. This routine forced upon us a structure; lecture in the morning, lunch, back to our apartments or the library to review the morning lecture and to review the outline for the lecture the next day. In the evening, after dinner, we might issue spot old fact patterns, practice taking some MBE’s, or tackle a performance exam, either in small groups or alone. Within that structure, some of us would go to the gym a few days a week, and maybe out for a beer with friends on an occasional Friday or Saturday night.
In this age of technology, structure is not forced upon you, and you are not usually part of a community. Instead, the implementation of structure and your participation in a community has to be a conscious choice. Lectures are available on the internet at a time you consider convenient. You might not even view lectures if you’ve chosen a review program that simply tests your knowledge, letting you move on once you have seemingly mastered a particular topic. Technology has taken away the threat that you will miss anything, leading to a belief that you can always catch up – right? Not necessarily. And whether you interact with others during this time is another issue altogether.
Structure is Your Friend While Studying for the Bar
Structure and a schedule, will actually keep you on track and focused. It will also prevent the unnecessary spikes in stress levels when you get behind in your preparation. Whether or not you get in a car, you should “go” somewhere. It could be a room or corner in your own home. But it should be a place where you can focus in quiet. Watch the videos or complete the exercises at a set time each day. Each day should have a routine that you are committed to keeping. Lecture, review, practice, and in between, eat and sometimes exercise (even if you just take a walk around the block). If you get off track, just juggle your day to get back on schedule – don’t put it off.
Don’t be on an Island by Yourself
Whether you interact with others during this time is another issue altogether. While technology allows us to go it alone, some form of community is also beneficial. It’s good to know that others are struggling just as you are, and feeling the same things during their own bar prep. Talking through difficult issues, laughing about a funny lecturer, even complaining about bar prep. All of this helps to relieve some tension. A good laugh with others reminds you that you are not alone, and probably, that you are on track in your own bar prep. Just don’t take this concept of community too far by going out socially for more than the occasional beer.
You Might Even Consider Going “Old-School”
I’ve known more than a few law school graduates who would share office space somewhere quiet, and would “go to the office” to study for the bar. An alternative approach is to keep your law school study group going. When I was a full-time law professor a few years ago, I taught two sisters who were one year apart in school. When the first sister graduated, she invited her study group to study for the bar at her family home. The group of 4 or 5, would meet at the home every weekday. They would watch a lecture together on the big screen TV, and go over practice exams after having lunch. They might even get in the pool while discussing those practice exams to escape the blistering central California heat. Pool time had the added benefit of releasing some stress. The next year, the second sister invited her study group to do the same thing. My recollection is that with the exception of one person, all the other members of both study groups passed the bar exam on their first attempt.
So, what is the moral of this story? Technology gives you lots of options. You don’t have to worry about missing a lecture if you’re not feeling well, etc. But technology should not be used as an excuse to be more casual. You may think you are relieving stress by not being so committed to a fixed schedule and avoiding people, but, in fact, the opposite may be true. The part of technology that provides flexibility, should be embraced. But only within a structure you’ve put in place to ensure you stay on track and remain focused. Technology, structure, and community each have an important role in bar prep!