It’s 2019, and that means it’s the year you’re going to take the bar exam! It’s time to get into a routine. Remember that every week day should include the following things (not necessarily in this order):
Over the past few years, bar review companies have expanded the products and services they offer in an effort to enhance student learning. Obviously, this is a laudable goal. However, it has also left many bar studiers feeling overwhelmed with assignments.
The most beneficial activity you can do is practice actual bar exam questions – essays, MBEs, and MPTs. If your bar company is assigning other types of questions, which don’t replicate exam questions, decide whether they are enhancing your understanding of the doctrine or your exam skills enough to spend time on them. It’s not all or nothing. You can choose to do extra assignments for some subjects and not for others. The same is true for reading the big outlines thoroughly.
You don’t have to do 100% of the bar company’s assignments in order to pass. You need to make strategic choices. Don’t just mindlessly go through your bar company’s assignments in order to check them off. Think about what enhances your learning the most.
Remember that at this stage there are three main things you should be doing every day:
Actively watch bar company lectures.
Solidify your study materials for the material covered in your lecture (make them yourself or annotate your lecture notes).
Do practice. Essays, MBEs, and/or MPTs, every single day.
Many people are beginning bar study this week, though some will begin next week. In order to get off to a good start, it’s important to establish and assess your routine. You want to develop a study schedule that works for you. You want to do your most difficult tasks at the time that your brain functions best. If you’re not a morning person and your plan for the summer is to wake up and start studying at 6am, it’s going to be a struggle. You have plenty of time to get ready to wake up early on exam day. You can build up to that.
Bar study may feel easy in the beginning. All of those stories you heard about 10-12 hour days seem like exaggerations. They’re not. The first week or so will be slower. Things will pick up quickly. It’s important to get into a good routine now so that you have places you feel comfortable working, and know what tasks you prefer to do at what times of day. You can switch things up. Switching up locations in particular can be very helpful. But you still need a plan.
Remember that you want to do three things every day – watch lecture, make your study materials, and do practice. You don’t need to make your own study materials from scratch. It’s fine to annotate commercial materials. But you need to think ahead to the last two weeks when you will be focusing on memorization, and make sure that every day you have the materials you will use to memorize the material you learned that day. You won’t have any time to make materials later on.
You also need to do at least two hours of practice every day. That could be essays, MBEs, or MPTs. Ideally, it would be some combination of them. But don’t just do practice for the sake of doing it. You need to thoroughly review each answer and answer explanation and understand why you answered a question correctly or incorrectly. Then you need to do something about the question you answered incorrectly – clarify the rule in your outline, add the rule to your outline or a flashcard, write down a test-taking tip that you learned. Always keep moving forward, and always keep reflecting on everything you’re doing.
The holiday season is upon us and you may be thinking about how to balance bar study with holiday celebrations. If you have already begun studying for the February bar exam, you are in great shape!
Remember that you have a long haul ahead of you and it’s important to take real breaks. So, take time to celebrate whatever you like to celebrate with your loved ones.
Many people take a full week off from their jobs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I would not recommend that you take that amount of time off from bar study. But, it is a good idea to at least take a couple of days off to rest, recharge, and reconnect with your long-term goals. Keeping those goals in mind will help when you are feeling stressed out in the midst of your bar studies.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations recently with people who are retaking the bar exam. The hardest part of retaking the bar is always starting to study again. After you get through the first few days, you’ll be back into a groove. Here are five things to keep in mind:
1) Be kind to yourself. Having to retake the bar exam brings up a lot of emotions. Give yourself some time to feel the sadness, anger, frustration and grief. Then push through it and study. The only thing you can do now is to once again give the exam everything you’ve got. It may feel like you are alone, but you are not. Lots of people have had to retake the bar and do so successfully. Many people are feeling the same things you are right now. Reach out to them. Seek support from loved ones and from your law school. You are smart and capable. You will pass the bar this time. Keep telling yourself that.
2) Start with a subject you like. Many people feel like they should start with their weakest subject so that they will have more time to work with it. Getting back into studying is difficult enough. Start with a subject you feel pretty good about. You can get to that tough subject next.
3) Remember that you have done a lot and you know a lot. You’re not starting from zero. Spend some time taking stock of the materials you have, and deciding what study materials you can use, and what you want to make anew. You don’t need to do everything all over again. You don’t need to watch all of the lectures again. Use the materials you have. You have laid a very solid foundation for yourself. That gives you a leg up.
4) Prioritize practice. You’re not seeing anything new for the first time now. You have already been through this process. Use all of that extra time to practice actual bar questions. Do MBEs and essays every day. Do MPTs at least once each week. Practice practice practice. Reflect on that practice every time you do it. Add every rule that you learn or clarify through a practice question to your outline or flashcards. Keep a journal of tips for yourself based on your common mistakes.
5) Take care of yourself. Self care is an essential part of any bar study plan. It is especially critical when you are retaking the bar. Make sure that you build in practices that are good for your physical, mental, and emotional health every single day. Give yourself a daily opportunity to wind down. Pay attention to your stress level and your physical exhaustion. You need to be well to be productive. It’s important to build in wellness practices early on, and maintain them as the exam gets closer and more stressful. (This will be important to maintain after you earn your law license as well.)
It’s the end of August, which means that law schools are filling up with new 1Ls, excited to begin their law school journeys. I used to tell students not to worry about the bar exam yet – just focus about the first semester, and you’ll be able to get to the bar exam later. While it’s true that you don’t need to worry about the details of the bar exam yet, your legal career does start now, and it’s important to spend the time developing the learning habits you will need for the bar exam and for law practice.
Both the bar exam and law practice require you to work with a large volume of material – to understand it, synthesize it, and ultimately apply it to a new set of facts. Those are the skills you are learning from day one of law school. Beware of shortcuts. If you don’t figure out how to do this in the manner that works best for you, it will be harder later.
That means you’ve got to struggle through making case briefs. It means you need to struggle through making your own study materials – outlines, flashcards, charts. You may think that this doesn’t apply to you, that you can use other people’s outlines or canned briefs and still do well. Maybe you can, but it will be much harder, and you won’t graduate with some of the fundamental analytic skills that lawyers need.
The first semester of law school is difficult. Everything is new and different. But you can do it. Many people have done it before you. There are resources at your school to help – get to know your academic support professors and your Student Affairs staff. Really engage with your class material. All of that will pay off when you enter the bar study period because you will be able to hit the ground running.
Every year I speak to students who tell me that they don’t know how to study. They got through law school without figuring out who they are as learners. That makes bar prep much harder. I’m not saying never look at anyone else’s outlines or commercial study materials. It’s helpful to use them as a tool – as a reference point. But you need to know how to get to that place yourself too. You need to work with the material to make it your own. Now is the time to develop that skill set so that it becomes second nature to you. It will pay off for the bar exam, and throughout your legal career.