How To Study For The Bar Exam After Time Off
Although most students take the bar exam immediately after graduating from law school, this is not the case for everyone. Some people get jobs after law school that do not require a license to practice law. (and thus, they do not need to take the exam). Other people are unsuccessful on the exam and choose not to retake it. Still, others may experience unexpected life events that cause them to put off taking the bar exam. Or, maybe you are already licensed in one state but are taking another bar exam to become licensed in another state. And then, suddenly, these individuals find themselves in a position requiring them to take the bar exam, sometimes years (decades, even!) after they have finished law school. Whatever the reason, if you are taking the bar exam well after law school, you are not alone! In this post, we discuss some tips for preparing for the bar exam after time off.
How To Study For The Bar Exam After Time Off
1. Mentally prepare to study for the exam.
Studying for the bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. This is not an exam that you can cram for in two weeks. Most examinees spend weeks (if not months) preparing for the bar exam. And studying for the bar exam is a thankless job. The end goal (that letter indicating that you passed!) will not come for several months after the exam. So, you have to find the motivation each day to put in the time and study for this exam. This is not meant to deter you from your decision to take the bar exam, but rather to ensure that you evaluate whether you are in a good place mentally to put yourself through all this work. Make sure you understand the task that you are about to take on and be prepared to devote much of your time to studying to give yourself the best chance of a successful result on the exam.
2. Decide how and when you will study.
If it has been a while since you’ve taken a test, you may think that you don’t know how to study anymore. The first step is to decide when you will study. If you will be working or have other obligations in addition to studying, you will need to be very diligent in following a study schedule to make the most of your limited time. Block off times on your schedule when you are able to study, and make sure to let others (family, friends) know that you are unavailable during those times so as to avoid distractions. Check out How to Make a Stellar Part Time Study Schedule for tips on putting together a study schedule that fits your other obligations.
If you have the luxury of taking time off to study, figuring out where to begin can still be tough. Start by thinking about how you are productive at work (or how you were productive during law school). Are you more productive in the morning or the evening? Can you focus when surrounded by distractions, or do you need to be in a quiet area to be productive? Do you work best by yourself, or do you work better as a team or in a group? Creating an ideal study environment is the first step to ensuring that your study time will be productive and meaningful. Before you start studying, take some time to reflect on what kind of study environment will work best for you.
3. Take a full bar prep course.
Many people in the position of taking the bar exam after a break from school make the mistake of thinking that they know enough about the law (maybe from practicing or just working in a legal setting) that they will be able to get by on the bar exam. The bar exam tests many topics in a detailed manner where a cursory understanding of the subject is probably insufficient. For example, maybe you are familiar with what a secured transaction is, but cannot quickly recite the requirements for a security interest to attach to collateral (a rule that is highly tested on the Multistate Essay Exam!). A full bar exam course will provide access to the information you need to know to pass the bar exam.
Another benefit of a full bar exam course is that it can provide some structure if you are struggling to figure out how to study for the exam. Courses generally assign homework, such as specific multiple-choice questions and essays, and tell you exactly what to do each day to prepare for the exam. In addition to substantive law, courses also teach study skills and important tips and tricks about how the subjects are tested on the bar exam (and thus how you should be learning them). If you have the time and resources to devote to a full bar prep course, it is an excellent investment for someone who has been out of law school for a while.
4. Try to take some time off from your other obligations.
Even if you are already working in the legal profession, chances are that you don’t see many of the subjects that are tested on the bar exam on a day-to-day basis. So, you may be learning (or re-learning) many of these subjects anew as you prepare for the bar exam. It is often not enough to be able to recognize a topic for the bar exam. Rather, a deeper understanding of the complex subject matter is required to succeed on the bar exam. Developing this deeper understanding of the material can be time-consuming!
If you are working or have other obligations, consider taking some time off to prepare for the bar exam. We generally recommend that examinees spend about 400 hours preparing for the bar exam. If you are studying full time, that breaks down into 10 weeks of studying for 40 hours per week. Or, if you can devote more time to studying each day, it could be 8 weeks of studying for 50 hours per week. If you are not able to dedicate all of your time to studying for the exam, you may want to start studying earlier than 10 weeks before the bar exam. (For example, you could study for 15-20 hours per week, starting 15 weeks before the exam.)
Being able to take time off and dedicate your full attention to studying will make your study time more meaningful and effective. We understand that this is not always feasible, but if you can take even a couple of weeks off immediately prior to the exam, it creates a good opportunity to devote all of your attention to the task of passing the bar exam.
5. Consider hiring a tutor early in the bar prep process.
If you are really unsure about how to study for the exam or want to make sure that you start off on the right foot from the first day of studying, a tutor can help ensure that you are doing the right things to prepare for the exam. In addition to providing explanations of substantive material, tutors can often provide excellent guidance regarding how to study for (and pass!) the bar exam. Lots of students wait until the last minute to hire a tutor because they panic, thinking that they are not prepared for the exam. Hiring a tutor right away can help give you confidence, knowing that you are doing the rights things to prepare all throughout bar prep and you are spending your study time wisely. Check out JD Advising’s tutoring services – we have many extremely experienced tutors who are available to help with multiple bar exams!
6. Be sure to check the state’s other admissions requirements.
In addition to a passing score on the bar exam, many states have additional requirements for admission. These might include passing a background check and obtaining a passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). Some states require that the applicant obtain a passing score on the MPRE within a certain number of years prior to seeking admission in that state. So, if you took the MPRE back in law school (or did not take the MPRE if it was not administered at the time that you went to law school), you may also have to take the MPRE before being admitted to practice in the state. Be sure to check with your state’s board of law examiners for the requirements for admission in the state!
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