When you’re studying for the bar exam, figuring out what you should actually be doing with 10-12 hours of your time every day may be easier said than done. Everyone knows you need to review the law and do practice questions and force yourself to write out full, timed essays, but how do you break up your time? If you’ve been wondering how to get the most out of each day of bar prep, here are some tips for you.
Start your day early.
I know, most of you probably don’t like waking up early—especially those of you who just finished law school. You probably want to sleep in, which is understandable! But, the reality is that the exam you’re about to take will start in the morning. Very early in the morning. Especially if you’re not already a morning person, why not start training yourself to do your best thinking from 8 or 9 am onward? That’s what you’ll need to do on the test.
Triage your task list for the day.
If you’re working from some kind of study schedule (which you definitely should be), ask yourself which subjects are the hardest for you. Whichever ones need the most work, review those first. All assignments aren’t created equal. Pay attention to whether you’re going to be turning in an essay for feedback, writing it out in full, just outlining it, etc. This will affect how you prioritize. How much time will each activity take you? If you need to dedicate an uninterrupted 3 hours to a PT, make sure you carve out that time. Finally, look at any tasks that build on each other. If you have notes to review and an attack plan to make on that same topic, obviously review the notes first before attempting the attack plan. Prioritizing can be pretty common-sense, but if you take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to do it, it can make you feel a lot less overwhelmed and stressed.
Crank out an essay first thing in the morning.
If you asked most bar students which study activity they liked the most, you probably wouldn’t hear “writing essays!” very often. Why? Because they’re difficult, they take time, and they show us our weaknesses—which can be scary. They also don’t really feel like studying—but I promise you, they’re the best kind of studying you can get! Plus, it’s a great way to make your morning feel productive and set the tone for the rest of the day.
An essay in the morning can also help you figure out what to focus on throughout the day. Say, for example, you thought you knew Torts really well until you attempted an essay on strict liability which showed you that you’re fine with abnormally dangerous activities, but you know virtually nothing about strict products liability. Uh oh, that’s not good. But, it’s a great thing to know early in the day when you still have time to go back and brush up on that law. Use the essay to help guide you to what you need to work on.
If that’s not incentive enough, think of it this way: If you wake up and write an essay every morning from now until the exam, you will have something like 50 essays under your belt, which will be a big drop in the bucket!
Alternate active and passive learning.
If you think sitting in the corner and reading your outlines is going to teach you the law in the way you need to know it for this exam, you’re wrong. You need to actively engage with the material, test yourself on the structure and nuances of each topic, and practice writing (not just outlining issues). For most people, merely reading something is not the best way to learn it. Instead, try using your outline as a flash card and testing yourself on bits and pieces a little at a time until you can recite a whole topic from memory. Then, move onto the next topic. You can even say parts of your outline out loud or write them out by hand until they sink in.
Change gears every so often.
Try keeping your attention and focus sharp by switching up what you’re spending time on. Try something like this:
- Write a full, timed essay
- Take a quick break and stretch
- Review the essay against the sample answers
- Look up law you missed
- Read and understand that law
- Check out any facts you missed and ask yourself why you left them out
- Take a mini-break
- Drill the law you missed on the essay by turning it into an attack plan
- Write the attack plan over and over again until you memorize it
- Take the rules for the topics you missed and see if they make sense, explain them to yourself
- Say these rules out loud until you can do so without looking at your outline
- Take a break
- Do some MBE questions on that subject
- Take another break and have a snack
- Write another essay and start the whole process over again
Build in time every day for memorization.
Put the hearsay exceptions on your bathroom mirror. Put them in mnemonic form. This can be tricky, so come up with a good one that works for you. Every day when you brush your teeth, see if you can read the mnemonic and recall all the exceptions. Set aside half an hour right after lunch, before starting in with a new task, and focus on memorizing something unfamiliar. Just 30 minutes every day could end up being something like 20-30 extra hours of memorization by the time you get to the test!
Start with issues you don’t know well. Teach yourself the law and put the rules into very concise, numbered elements. Then drill yourself on the elements and see how far you can get. Make sure you build in time later in the week to review older topics and keep your memory fresh.
Train yourself physically to be a good bar-taker.
It actually takes quite a bit of discipline, stamina and focus to work on something like three back-to-back essays or a PT in three hours. Just sitting in the same place for that length of time can be grueling! When you’re studying and have your entire room or office open to you, it can be tempting to lounge around while you read flash cards, write an essay on your laptop while sitting on your bed or couch, etc. Don’t do this. When you do practice exams, sit at a desk or table and force yourself to get used to it. It might be uncomfortable at first, but you want to build that muscle memory so it doesn’t seem so uncomfortable when exam time comes.
Separate “on time” and “off time.”
You don’t need to read your outline over breakfast. You definitely don’t need waterproof flashcards for the bath or shower. You don’t need to play audio lectures on repeat to yourself while you’re falling asleep. Your brain will work a lot better if it gets some room to relax and if the information you’re feeding it has some space to ebb and flow a little bit. The bar is all-consuming enough. You don’t need to let it take over every waking moment of your life. If you do, you run serious risk of burning out, which is not something to take lightly. Burnout is real, and it’s a reason at least some people fail every year—they just give up. Give yourself a break now and then! It will really help you stay in a positive mindset, which will allow the material to sink in better.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- The Ins and Outs of Studying for the Bar Exam
- Common Bar Essay Problems and How to Avoid Them
- Can Taking a Break Save Your MBE Score
- Warning Signs You May Need Extra Help as a First Time Bar Exam Taker
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