How To Approach Bar Prep Over The Holidays
We’re approaching another year-end holiday season! And because this time of year is often very busy for folks and jam-packed with family and other personal obligations, we thought it might be helpful to discuss how to best approach bar prep during the holidays. Read on for some tips on how to do this!
How To Approach Bar Prep Over The Holidays
1. Determine where you are in your bar prep
First things first. It is okay to enjoy the holidays and take some time away from bar prep. However, to avoid anxiety and the “I-should-be-studying-now” guilt (and to actually enjoy your holidays!), some self-reflection and self-assessment are key. Your approach might be different depending on whether you are taking a commercial bar prep course or self-studying. This is relevant because commercial bar prep programs (like ours!) generally operate with a more upfront study schedule in mind from the beginning of the program to bar exam day. However, students studying independently don’t always have a very detailed bar prep study schedule.
Regardless, evaluate your bar prep schedule and determine where you are with respect to that schedule. Are you right where you are supposed to be or are you ahead of your schedule or behind? Figuring this out is key to your understanding of how much you still need to learn and, therefore, how flexible your study schedule is. That being said, be honest with yourself! You are not doing yourself any favors by trying to trick yourself.
Once you have gathered all the facts about your bar prep status and once you have a good sense of where you are in your bar prep schedule relative to the February bar exam, you will be able to accurately determine how many full days you can take off from bar prep and still stay on schedule. Again, be honest with yourself. How many days do you need to take off because you’ll be cooking a holiday meal? Or will there be several additional folks staying at your home? Make sure to incorporate those holiday-specific considerations as you further consider your bar prep schedule!
2. Incorporate holiday time off into your study schedule
Building off the above point, once you know when you want or need to take time off from bar prep this holiday season, incorporate that time off into your study schedule and re-calibrate your study schedule as needed. Do the day off that you need to take mean that there are two or three days the week after the holidays that you will need to study longer or double up on topics to catch up? Are you right on schedule so taking an additional day or two is not an issue? Planning out your breaks and time off will help you to understand what you may still need to do once the holidays are over.
If you’re someone who is completely married to their calendar and schedule, literally insert the details of your study schedule into the calendar application on your phone – this way, you will easily be able to stay on track and know whether tomorrow will be a study day or a “time off” day! If you decide that you will take a few days off from bar prep over the holiday season, update the remainder of your bar prep schedule, including on your phone! We recommend that you mark time off days as all-day events in your calendar application so that it is very easy to see that tomorrow will be a time of day!
For example, the subject of the calendar event might say, “No Bar Prep Day. Finish holiday shopping and have dinner with the family!” or something similar. This approach is useful because it helps to remind you why it is valuable to take some time away from bar prep – to enjoy holiday activities! It also helps make it obvious when you need to return to studying!
3. Communicate your plans with others
The holidays are often a time of high-stress levels for many folks: the whole family is gathering, there are approximately ten toddlers at your family gathering crying or yelling, something is burning in the kitchen . . . to save yourself some unnecessary extra stress, be clear and direct with your non-attorney friends and family. Tell these folks that this year, the holiday season and its celebrations will be a bit different for you because you are still studying for the February bar exam.
If phrases like “you’ll be fine,” “don’t worry about studying…relax!” and other phrases that brush off the importance of studying for the bar exam are a bit triggering for you, tell your friends and family to please not make those kinds of comments because they unintentionally cause you to do the exact opposite—worry about studying and stress!
Being honest and direct with your friends and family about the need to focus on studying or the desire to improve your bar prep performance will help your friends and family to know that you are not just being distant and aloof – rather, you need to learn a lot of material in a comparatively short amount of time, and you would like to make the most of your holiday to do that.
Remember to try to give your non-lawyer friends and family grace. Folks who are not lawyers or who have never had to study for the bar exam may truly not know how stressful and difficult the bar exam can be. For most folks, their frame of reference is a high school or college final exam. But the bar is different because law students have not taken a course on every topic generally covered on the bar exam, so bar preparation is inherently more complicated.
Sometimes supportive family members want to help but don’t know how. Don’t be afraid to ask your mom to quiz you on easements as you do some holiday baking. Does your family do game nights or trivia over the holidays? Sub in some of your MBE practice questions so you can still participate and study at the same time! Are you in charge of activities for your younger cousins? Suggest coloring and grab some crayons to try to draw out contracts rules while your cousins focus on coloring books.
4. Plan when you will study, but also what you will do to study
To recap, you have assessed where you currently stand in terms of your bar prep schedule, you have determined when you need to or want to take some time completely off from bar prep, and you have been very forthright with your friends and family about your slightly different holiday schedule this year. Great! Now it’s time to make a list of what you will do to study. (We promise you won’t need to check this list twice!)
This step is more complicated and requires you to plan exactly what you will study and what you will do to study during the holidays. What does this mean? Well, think of this as a very specific schedule where you identify the topics you will study for that day and how you will study them. For example, if you need to focus on torts, you may want to review your outline and make use of your flashcards for one hour. And then, you maybe want to answer 20 MBE practice questions, compare your answers against the answer sheet, and determine what you missed on the MBE questions that you did not answer correctly. Make sure to prepare this kind of plan across all bar prep subject areas!
If taking a day off is more anxiety-inducing than studying, plan to do some review on those days. Spending an hour or two doing practice essays or multiple-choice questions can be a great way to stay engaged without devoting an entire day to studying!
5. Establish a daily routine for this time of year
We have heavily focused on planning your study schedule, in conjunction with your holiday schedule, in advance. However, actually sticking to this schedule is a matter of routine. So create two specific routines for yourself: a study day routine and an off-day routine!
A study day routine may look something like this:
Wake up 7:00 am
Go for a jog 7:30 am
Shower and get ready 7:30 am to 8:30 am
Study contracts 8:30 am to 11:30 am
Break and lunch 11:30 am to 12:30 pm
Contracts MBE practice 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm
An off-day routine, however, may look something more like this:
Wake up 8:00 am
Finish up holiday shopping 8:30 am to 12:30 pm
Lunch 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm
Your study day routine obviously needs to be more regimented and specific, while your off-day routine can be as specific and detailed (or not!) as you would prefer. The point is that it is easier to stick to your pre-determined study schedule if you get into the habit of having certain routines that you implement every day to maximize your productivity and efficiency.
6. Study in a quiet place, generally
The holidays can be . . . well, loud! If you or your family is planning to host the holiday festivities or have guests staying at your home for multiple nights, be sure to reserve a space that will be private and quiet in your home. This can be incredibly helpful if you need to study while your relatives bustle in and out. For some folks, this may mean having to go to the library for some portion of that time. Others may be lucky to find a hidden space in their home that will shield them from distractions. Distractions are not helpful for bar prep, so knowing how to best minimize them (either by sneaking away or fully leaving your home for some period of time) will help you to make the most of your holiday bar prep time.
7. But be adaptable! Study on a plane or long train or bus ride, if you are traveling
The holidays and travel are almost synonymous! Given that, if you are flying somewhere or will be on a long train or bus ride, make the most of that time to study! If you’re an introvert, studying will make you look busy enough that strangers won’t try to interact or start conversations with you. Grab a pair of noise-canceling headphones, put on some classical music (or nothing at all!), and review your outline or take practice questions.
Studying while traveling does come with its own limitations, though! You likely won’t have a stable desk, so you can’t have several books and notebooks open. There also might be some distractions around you from other travelers. However, we recommend that you control what you can control – noise-isolating headphones, some electronic resources off of which you can study, and a good attitude are incredibly helpful!
8. Don’t forget to be in the present moment and not to too harsh on yourself
Bar prep is not an easy process. Bar exam prep during the holidays can definitely be stressful. But, when you have a day off from bar prep, make sure to be present in the moment. What is the point of taking a day away from bar prep if you’re constantly thinking and worrying about only bar prep? It is okay to relax, and it is okay to enjoy the holidays despite your upcoming bar exam! Enjoy the days away from bar prep, and have a good time!
Further, while this is easier said than done, try not to be so hard on yourself. Don’t make yourself feel guilty for wanting or needing a day away from bar prep during the holidays. It’s just the reality of the business of the holiday season! You worked hard for at least three years in law school, and you worked hard in your undergraduate career. It is okay to put yourself and your friends and family first during the holiday season. Do not mentally frame this as sacrificing your bar exam studying, but rather re-prioritizing your immediate bar prep goals.
9. After the holiday, re-assess your bar prep
Once the holidays have come and gone, you will have the opportunity to reassess your bar prep goals. Hopefully, you have taken our advice and enjoyed the holidays, have been present with friends and family, and feel re-energized! Again, honestly assess your bar prep progress and tweak your bar prep schedule accordingly. This allows you to bounce back from any time away from bar prep you may have taken.
For additional tips on how to make the most of holiday bar prep, please visit our additional blog posts on this topic here and here. Additionally, feel free to make use of and personalize JD Advising’s Sample Bar Exam Study Schedule for February Takers. If you need additional resources, please check out JD Advising’s wide variety of bar exam preparation resources, free bar exam resources, and other helpful bar preparation blog posts.
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