Finding a few places where you study your best is one of the most important parts of studying for the bar exam. My favorite spots depended on how much concentration I needed for a given task. From least concentration to most concentration, these tasks included reviewing easy material (subjects I was comfortable with, reviewing tough material (subjects I was not comfortable with), memorizing, and outlining. I’ve listed my study locations from those suitable for even the highest concentration tasks to those only suitable for easy reading:
Home is by far the best place to study because it is usually quiet (if your roommates are also in law school or studying for the bar), offers a low stress environment, and allows you to spread out all of your study materials. For the most part, nobody is going to kick you out of your own home because someone else has reserved it for a group study project or you’ve otherwise overstayed your welcome. Home is great for any kind of studying, including reviewing easy material, reviewing tough material, memorizing, and outlining. But you’re not always at home, and being a hermit is not good for your spirits, so you will need some other places to study.
Your Law School
If you are in law school currently, the libraries are a great place to go when you’re at school and need a place to study between classes or after class when you’re not ready to go home. While libraries can be great, there are also serious downsides to libraries. At Columbia, there were multiple library options, and my library preference changed as the years went by. This is because no library was a perfect study spot. My 1L library spots were the second floor and basement floor of the law school’s library. As a 2L, I preferred the first floor of the library, which was closed to non-law students. The advantages of these spots were that they were relatively quiet and close to the classrooms, but they also had substantial downsides in that they were cubicles and tables full of other stressed out law students. After awhile, the toxic atmosphere in the library became too much for me to handle, and a bedbug scare during my 2L year proved to be the last straw. As a 3L, I used the library for the School of International and Public Affairs where the students were much more relaxed, and I could look at the Arabic books during breaks. If you are studying for the bar exam on your law school campus, get creative and try out different places around campus.
There were a few places at school that I tended to study in apart from libraries. Empty classrooms were decent spots because they were quiet and pretty empty, but their chairs were uncomfortable, and I was constantly being interrupted by classes starting. The big chairs in the hallways were comfortable, but I usually used these areas when I didn’t mind being interrupted by a friend who wanted to chat. My favorite place to study though as I advanced in law school and studied for the bar exam was the office that served as the headquarters for all of the school’s law clinics (I spent my three last semesters in the Environmental Law Clinic). The clinic office was a quiet place that offered me a break from the tense atmosphere of the rest of the school (as was the clinic itself).
I found all of these spots at school to be good for any of the types of studying I might do from reading easy material to in-depth outlining.
Quieter Public Places
There were also various quiet public places that I would study in. These basically included public transportation—such as commuter rail, the quiet car on Amtrak, intra-city and intercity buses, and airplanes—as well as the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices. Now, I know this may be a controversial statement, but I would also put the NYC subway in this category (assuming you can find a seat). For the most part, the subway has its own quiet rhythm that I found easy to tune out. People rarely make eye contact much less actually speak with each other. These quieter public places were good for reading tougher material but not so much for outlining, reviewing, or otherwise because there’s generally not enough space to spread out.
Loud Public Places
“Loud public places” probably brings a number of things to mind: bars, night clubs, and the zoo. I wouldn’t dream of studying at any of these places. When I say loud public places, I mean cafes, which can be great for their coffee and snacks and relaxed atmosphere. But unless you have an exceptionally high tolerance for noise, you’re probably not going to be able to learn anything too difficult while at a cafe. In law school, I saved the reading for one class (which shall remain nameless) to read exclusively at a cafe once a week. I’d stick to easy work at cafes. While studying for the bar exam, you mind find that none of your work is “easy,” so a cafe might not be your best option.
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