Studying for the bar exam can be an incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. There are lots of tips and tricks floating around about how to reduce your stress during this time. I firmly believe that you have to do what works for you. That means this is not a prescription of what you “have” to do to succeed. It’s merely a few of the things that worked for me, to give you some ideas. Take what you like, leave what you don’t, and adapt these for you and your life!
1. I Had a Study Buddy
Back in the day, most bar exam prep classes were held in person. Someone would pop on a pre-recorded video, and we would all sit in a classroom and watch the lectures. While traveling to the sessions every day was time-consuming, I am thankful I had that experience because I took my bar prep classes with one of my best friends from college. We didn’t hang out during class, but sometimes we went out afterward for a little bit. At the very least, it was great to have someone to commiserate with during breaks.
What can you do if you’re studying for the bar exam by yourself? Studying for the bar exam can be a lonely and isolating experience. Consider teaming up with a classmate or friend who is also studying for the bar exam, and take the lectures together. Or meet up at the same place and watch them independently. Whatever you do, just do something to connect you with someone else while you’re studying. Sharing the experience with someone else is a huge stress reliever.
2. I Exercised for Enjoyment, Not to Accomplish Anything
I viewed exercise during bar prep as an essential way to manage my stress and anxiety. But, I exercised differently than I had been prior to the bar. Before bar prep, I often used exercise as a way to get into shape or reach an end goal.
This time, instead of pursuing yet another accomplishment, like training for a race, I let all of that go and just focused on whatever workouts made me feel good. By not adding another thing to my plate, I was able to use exercise as a form of stress relief rather than another task to do. Because bar prep is all-consuming, I think it’s best to leave other big goals, including fitness ones, for after the exam.
3. I Rewarded Myself Often
I treated myself a lot during bar prep. I set small goals for myself, like mastering a certain topic or taking a set number of practice questions. And when I met those goals, I rewarded myself! This helped keep me motivated and positive during the long studying process.
What kinds of rewards am I talking about? Simple things, mostly. I ate lots of watermelon jolly ranchers that summer, treated myself to chipotle burritos on Fridays after class, and watched trashy reality TV at the end of a long week. In my opinion, you should do whatever it is that helps get you through bar prep, as long as it’s not hurting your health or well-being! These little treats definitely helped keep me sane, and reminded me that I had other things to do and look forward to that had nothing to do with studying.
4. I Committed to a Meditation Practice
For the first time in my life, I committed to a daily meditation practice. I’d always heard about the benefits of meditation, but even during law school I never got around to trying it out myself. It took the stress of bar prep to force me to give it a try.
It certainly did help me reduce my anxiety and was a useful tool to take with me beyond bar prep and into my legal practice. Consider incorporating meditation, deep breathing exercises, or visualization techniques into your study breaks or before bed to help you unwind.
5. I Prioritized My Sleep
Finally, the biggest thing I did for myself during bar prep was prioritizing my sleep. Getting sufficient sleep was my one non-negotiable that summer. I passed on movie nights, dinners out, and anything else that would have interfered with my sleep. I kept reminding myself that after the bar exam, I’d have plenty of time to do all the things I was putting off during bar prep, but the one thing I could not put off was sleep.
If there’s one thing that’s not worth sacrificing, it’s your sleep. It’s the only thing that can’t wait until after the exam, and one of the key things that will help you succeed.
Find What Works for You
Managing stress and anxiety when studying for the bar exam is all about finding what helps you. Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Hopefully, some of these tips resonate with you. Take them, and put your own twist on them. Remember, you really can minimize stress and anxiety and increase your chances of success on the bar exam if you do what feels right for you. Good luck!