Now that I am a senior associate in a private law firm, the summer I spent studying for the bar exam feels like a lifetime ago. But when I recently looked back on those days of Barbri lectures, flashcards, and practice essays while chatting with a current law student, I found myself smiling at memories of that time! If that sounds bonkers to you, don’t worry, it did to me too at first. But after thinking about why I could reflect on the summer I spent studying for the bar with fondness, I realized I consistently engaged in some healthy and helpful behaviors that allowed me to get through those weeks with relatively low stress and a great result - passing the bar.
If you’re currently studying for the bar exam, I hope these tips will help you do the same:
1. I kept to a set schedule.
After three years of a flexible schedule while in law school, I decided to follow some advice I had received myself about studying for the bar: treat it like a job.
Every morning, I got up at the same time, worked out, ate breakfast, and sat down at my desk by 9am to get to work. (As an aside: I went to school in one state, studied for the bar while staying with family in a second state, and had a job lined up in a third state, so I took the remote version of my bar prep course.)
I broke for lunch around the same time each day and stepped away from my desk to make it and eat it.
Then I was back at my desk until 5, finishing up the lectures and working through that day’s assignments. After that, I gave myself permission to break for the day, leaving time to make dinner and hang out with friends, family, or just the TV. It's important to note here that I did not just hole up at home all summer! I do not recommend lots of partying or late nights, but going out for a meal, movie, concert, or other social activity will not torpedo your study plan, and it will remind you that there's more to life than studying for the bar.
After the July 4th holiday, I upped my studying to add a couple of hours in the evening after dinner – mostly making and flipping through flashcards.
Because every day was predictable, I didn’t have to waste mental energy figuring out what to do and when, or stress about whether I was doing enough.
2. I practiced self-care.
The schedule I just discussed included time for exercise, which was my biggest form of self-care during bar studying and a huge source of stress relief. I was too broke from law school to join a gym, so every morning I would pop outside for a jog or follow along to an exercise DVD or youtube video. And because I exercised in the morning, I still had time for it even when I added evening study sessions after July 4.
3. I followed along with the course prep.
Early on in my prep, I realized I could either follow along with my course (Barbri) and trust the system, or follow along and worry that I needed to be doing more. I chose the former, and it was a huge help to my stress level.
Because I was studying on my own, this meant I needed to keep pace with the set schedule as if I was attending a live class, resisting the temptation to delay a lecture simply because I could. I also took care to keep up with the homework assigned daily. I didn’t always finish it, but I made my best effort to do so by 5pm daily, and I always finished any work I had to turn in to Barbri, like practice essays for a grade.
4. I limited my interactions with other bar studiers.
Law students have a tendency to stress each other out – that goes double during bar exam prep. I had no interest in rehashing that day’s lecture with anyone or talking about how many flashcards I was making and reviewing per day. Limiting those conversations was easy for me because I was living a couple states away from all my law school friends and took classes remotely. I would check in with a few friends on a regular basis to chat about our progress, or talk each other down from whatever mini study crisis we were having at the moment, and that was enough for me.
If you’re studying among lots of other test takers, don’t feel the need to engage if you don’t want to! Go home after class to study. If you live with other exam takers, ask for a moratorium on bar exam talk after 5pm everyday.
5. I retained perspective.
Whenever I started to feel the pressure of the bar exam looming, I just reminded myself of this:
It is a minimum competency exam.
You don’t need an A, you just need to pass! Up until that point in my life, when I took an exam in school or to get into college or law school, I was able to pass it. I could pass this too. So can you.
p.s. If you’re a law student or junior lawyer looking for practical tips to help you succeed in the workplace, please check out my blog: https://ThisLawyerLife.com.