The Road Less Traveled: 10 Things to Remember as a First-Generation Law Graduate Sitting for the Bar Exam
By Ms. JD Editor • July 29, 2021•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Features, Bar Exam
“I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”
This past year has been a year like no other. A year full of social unrest, with an unprecedented global pandemic and an economic crisis. Despite these circumstances, thousands of law school graduates are studying and sitting for the Bar exam. Many of whom are first-generation law graduates. Being the first is never easy. When you are the first, you’re repeatedly in the position where you learn life lessons through "trial by error." As a first-generation law student, you often create the course rather than have a path to follow. Sometimes the pressure of paving the way can be overwhelming. But I encourage you to allow the position to fuel your determination rather than stifle it. Many others and I were in your shoes as first-generation law graduates sitting for this daunting exam. We passed the exam, and you will pass too. But as you prepare, this list is just a little something to help keep you going.
Breathe. – First things first, breathe. Yes, you are the first. I understand better than anyone the pressure that comes with that. However, sitting for this exam is solely about you. Although you likely relate the need to succeed with making your immediate family proud and creating opportunities for future generations to come, this isn't about anyone else. Take one thing at a time. Throughout your entire law school career, you have taken dozens of exams. This exam is no different. Prepare, stay calm, and stay focused.
Plan. – If you haven’t started already, now is the time to plan. Have a detailed schedule. Break your study schedule down, day by day and hour by hour. Also, make sure to schedule a time to take breaks. Some days you may not accomplish every goal you set, but aspire to achieve as much as you can. Days you do not reach your goal, give yourself grace and start again tomorrow.
Say No. – It is time to learn how to say no. You cannot do everything that people ask of you. As a first-generation bar examinee, you may have other obligations that others may not. For example, you may be working full time while studying for the bar exam. Therefore, you must make decisions to maximize your studying time based on your personal circumstances. Since you are the first, it may be difficult for some people around you to understand. Still, you must say no to people and understand that "no" does not mean never. It only means not right now.
Prioritize Yourself And Don’t Apologize For It. – Self-care is the best care. You will perform the best when you are in your best physical, mental, and emotional condition. Don’t allow studying or everyday stressors to affect your well-being negatively.
Invest in Yourself. – Now is the time to consider your finances. Everyone's financial situation is different. However, if you can, you should use your resources to invest in your bar preparation as much as possible. If you must cut back in other areas of your life to invest, do so. Remember, the goal should be to make financial decisions to relieve stress and prepare you for success.
Ask Questions. – Do not be afraid to ask as many questions as possible. The worst thing that you can do is wait until exam day to address concerns. You want to go into the exam as confident as possible. Remember, there are not any stupid questions.
Immerse Yourself In The Material. – For the next couple of weeks, the bar exam should be your sole focus. Consider watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, and reading books centered around how to take the exam. It might sound daunting or overwhelming, but it will be worth it. At this moment, you should cut out all distractions. Maintain a healthy study/life balance but remain focused. Anything that is not a necessity can wait until after the exam is complete.
Memorize. – Memorization is critical. A month from the exam, you need to start solidifying your ability to recall the law you have been learning in preparation for this exam. Try using flashcards, online programs, or writing out rule statements. Knowing complete rule statements is half the battle when writing essays and when analyzing multiple-choice questions. The only three words you should be thinking about in the final weeks leading up to the exam are "memorize, memorize, memorize."
Practice. – Practice makes perfect. The best way to be prepared for the exam is to practice under exam-like conditions. Think about it like this: if someone were preparing to run a race, they would run a specified distance repeatedly to train their body for the ultimate competition. A runner does this because they are "conditioning" their bodies. Or in other words, a runner is training their body to perform. It would be best if you approached preparing for this exam in the same way. When you continuously practice MBE, MEE, and MPT questions under exam-like conditions, you are conditioning your body and mind to perform on test day.
Most Importantly, Remember That You Are Already Your Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams. As you go into the exam day, remember that you are already your ancestors' wildest dreams regardless of the exam results. You made it this far. You have already opened doors for generations to come. Sitting for the bar exam is just the final step. We are all rooting for you, and we are proud of you regardless of the outcome.