Top Ten Tips On Preparing For the Bar Exam
How do I prepare for the bar exam? There are many ways to answer that question. Obviously, you should study. You should also seriously consider using a commercial bar prep program. But there are aspects of bar prep that are more subtle and less obvious. In fact, there are some important steps you should take to prepare for the bar exam that go beyond flashcards and outlines. Because everyone is different, it is hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all plan for bar prep. However, there are a few things that all bar exam takers should when preparing for the bar exam.
Top Ten Tips On Preparing For the Bar Exam
1. Take it seriously.
This seems like it would go without saying. Take preparing for the bar exam seriously. Surprisingly, though, not everyone does!
Students have various reasons for not taking the bar exam seriously. Some believe that their excellent performance in law school will carry them through. Others believe that because someone they know passed—especially if that someone was not a strong student—that they automatically will pass, too. Still, others are in denial; if they don’t think about it, it will go away. Whatever the reasons are, they are false. Everyone, no matter how well they performed in law school, must study for the bar exam in order to pass. Take it seriously.
2. Gather your circle.
Everyone needs a “circle”: a group of people that provide support. Such support can come in a variety of forms: physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual. The people in your circle may include parents, your spouse or partner, family members, friends, clergy, and fellow bar-exam takers. Think about the people in your life that are most likely to be positive and supportive during these stressful weeks of bar preparation. Let them know what you are facing and how they can help you. Gather your circle.
3. Plan ahead.
Studying for the bar exam is similar to a full-time, short-term work project or a 10-week sabbatical. You wouldn’t launch into either of those things without some serious planning ahead of time. Planning ahead for your bar exam preparations can save you time and stress when it really counts.
When planning for your bar preparation, consider all aspects of your life. What study method will you use? Where and when will you do most of your studying? If you have young children, who will care for them while you are studying? Are there responsibilities at work that you could temporarily handoff to a coworker? Taking the time to think about these details now could prevent them from sabotaging your study time. Plan ahead.
4. Be realistic.
When preparing for the bar exam, you need to be realistic. This has two facets. First, be realistic about what you are going to be able to accomplish during your bar exam preparation. If you are working a full-time job and have young children at home, you might not be able to complete an online commercial bar course, make flashcards, utilize quiz bank apps, attend live bar prep classes, read study books, and create detailed outlines for every bar subject. Relax. You don’t have to do all those things to pass the bar. Realistically assess how much time you have to devote to studying. Then, choose the study method that is most effective for your learning style.
Second, be realistic about what you are going to be able to accomplish during your 10 or so weeks of bar exam preparation. Now is probably not the time to move to a new residence, remodel the kitchen, travel to a foreign country, have elective surgery, or start a business. Try to keep outside obligations and distractions to a minimum during this time. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do during the bar exam study period.
5. Be consistent.
For some people, consistency comes naturally. They get up at the same time every day, eat their meals at the same time, and generally have a consistent rhythm to their day. Other people struggle with maintaining a consistent schedule. If you are one of those people, don’t despair. There are plenty of successful people who do not do the same thing at the same time every day!
However, a study schedule that is haphazard and erratic can devastate your bar exam preparation. Although it is fine to study in the morning one day and in the evening another, failing to study all week and playing catch up on the weekend is not a good idea. Not only will your brain have to jump in and out of study mode, but you will also have a harder time maintaining your motivation to study if you go long stretches between study sessions. And frankly, you will probably end up running out of time before you cover all your bar prep material. Be consistent.
6. Keep fear in check.
Studying for the bar exam is a stressful experience. Just thinking about sitting in the test room on exam day can be terrifying to many students. It is easy to let fear and anxiety get the worst of you. If you are operating from a place of fear too often, your study efficacy will suffer.
So how do you keep fear in check? One way is to remind yourself of all the people who have passed the bar exam. Just think; all the people currently practicing law in your jurisdiction have passed the bar exam! These people are not superhumans or magicians. They are ordinary people who graduated from law school, just like you.
Another method to keep fear in check is to remember that when your law school accepted you, they were banking on the fact that you would pass the bar exam. Law schools’ reputations and funding depend in large part on their graduates passing the bar exam. Law schools do not accept people that they are convinced will not pass the bar exam. Your law school believed in you. Remember that as a way to keep your fear in check.
7. Give yourself a break.
Like being realistic, giving yourself a break has two aspects. First, give yourself a break mentally. Your brain functions in some ways like a muscle. It can work for a while, but then it needs to rest. You wouldn’t expect your body to do push-ups all day. Don’t expect your brain to study for hours on end with no break. Not only will you become frustrated and unmotivated, but your learning potential will also take a dive if you don’t give your brain a break.
Second, give yourself a break from a performance standpoint. You do not have to get 80% correct on every practice exam to pass the bar. In fact, you can bomb some of those practice exams and still pass the bar. You are going to have days where you are hitting some high-performance standards. Other days, not so much. When those low days happen, cut yourself some slack. Assess what you could have done better (if anything), then move on. Give yourself a break.
We suggest trying out the Pomodoro technique to build breaks into your study schedule!
8. Establish or maintain healthy habits.
We all hear about how important healthy habits are to success. Yet, if you are a late-night partier and a junk-food junkie, is now really a good time to make a major change in your lifestyle? Maybe not. However, consider making some small, incremental changes that can reap big study payoffs.
For example, if you are a night owl, don’t try to force yourself to be a lark. But do make sure that you are getting the amount of sleep you need. Speaking of sleep, recognize that different people have different sleep requirements. If you are one of those people who can be alert and productive with only 4 or 5 hours of sleep, I congratulate you. However, if you are like most people, you need a lot more than that. Getting enough sleep is a powerful way to stay healthy and boost your learning potential.
Also, if you are a couch potato, don’t suddenly sign up for a 5K or start training for a triathlon. If exercise was not part of your pre-bar-exam study routine, you may want to consider incorporating a few stretching exercises or short walks into your schedule. If you are a regular exerciser, keep it up during bar exam study. Although you may feel guilty for taking study time to hit the gym, your body and mind will likely perform better under the stress of bar exam study if you stick with your exercise routine. Establish or maintain healthy habits.
9. Get a partner.
If you are a person who thrives on study parties and group projects, this tip won’t be hard for you to put into practice. But what about those who always study alone? The idea of studying with a group or even one other person may seem overwhelming.
The good news is that having a partner on the bar exam journey does not mean that you have to even study with that person. It simply means that staying in touch with a person who is studying for the bar exam at the same time can provide a lot of psychological benefits. On those days when you feel overwhelmed and in despair, a fellow bar exam student can reassure you that they have felt the same way. Additionally, when your bar exam partner is panicking because they got a 2/6 on their graded essay, you can tell them that you got the same score on your first graded essay but that you improved to a 4/6 on your second. If you can’t figure out the logistics of your state’s character and fitness application, your partner may be able to provide some clarity. Receiving and providing emotional support from someone who is also in the trenches of bar exam study is a good reason to get a partner.
10. Keep it in perspective.
This may be the most difficult tip to put into practice when preparing for the bar exam. After all, you studied hard for 3 years and graduated from law school. If you don’t pass the bar exam, then what? All sorts of potential calamities may cross your mind. You won’t get a job. Your law school will be disgraced. You will be the only one in your law school class who does not pass. You will end up taking the bar exam over and over and never pass.
None of those things is likely to happen. One way to keep the bar exam in perspective is to enter the worst-case-scenario zone. What if you don’t pass the bar exam? You will likely be sad for a while, but then you will take it again. What if you have to take it more than once? That would be unfortunate; there is no getting around that. But looking at the situation from a global perspective, there are much worse things that could happen to you. I am pretty sure you could quickly come up with a list of things that are far worse than failing the bar exam, even failing it multiple times. Keep it in perspective.
Preparing for the bar exam is a task that is challenging and time-consuming. Remember that many people have gone before you on the bar exam journey. You, too, can do this!
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