Law school is over. Here comes the highest hurdle of your career: the bar exam! It may seem like an impossible task. But the bar exam is just another test in a series of tests. Remember that first grade spelling quiz? Or that poli-sci final you took hungover after the Beta House kegger? You got through those exams and you’ll get through this one too. We will give you some realistic, inexpensive and helpful tips to help you study for and pass the bar.
Before the Test
Ducks in a Row. The registration process for the bar exam can be as stressful as the exam itself. You have to keep track of deadlines, fees, your background check, and many other things. Create a checklist to keep track of what and when things need to be done. Don’t be caught by surprise. A missed deadline could mean waiting a whole year to take the bar. With the application done and the day set you have a clear road-map for the upcoming weeks.
Create a Study Schedule. This is going to be a commitment. Early on, block out the days and times you want to commit to exam prep. However, do not be too ambitious. You never want to resent your study schedule. You might have a job, your social networks, or other commitments to think about. Your study schedule should work with your personal and professional life. Many of the bar prep companies set impossible study goals. It’s almost like they forget humans are their customers. The schedule should be customized by you. Be productive at a comfortable pace. Block out 30 minute breaks. You know when test day is, so set your own goals.
Ideally, your study schedule should get you into a rhythm. Your schedule will fail if you feel it is taking away too much time from the things you like. This is how procrastination sets in or you burn out. You need to fall madly in love with your study schedule. Commit to it. This is not your gym membership. I’m talking a put a ring on it level of commitment. Studying, study groups, and practice tests have to become a routine so you will stick with it.
Finally, have your schedule everywhere. Buy a physical calendar. Set yourself reminders on your phone. Post sticky notes everywhere. The point of the study schedule is to keep you focused and diligent. You have to commit to few a hours of effortful study every day until test day. If you can do this you will be set to take the exam.
The Goldilocks Rule. This is why you set your own study schedule and goals. There is nothing more unproductive than trying to study when stressed. You don’t focus well and retain less. You should de-complicate your life as much as possible before going into bar-prep mode. Don’t schedule any major surgeries or weddings for the next few weeks. Also, don’t schedule as many social events as you normally would. Try to keep your partner happy. Heartbreak and BARBRI do not mix. Eliminate everything that might keep you from effortful study.
Don’t completely disconnect from the world. Get in touch with your family and friends. Let them know you will be busy for a little while. They will understand and support you. You now have a whole team supporting your mild social isolation. Yes, you’ll have to miss Nickel Shot Night at O’Halligans. Raincheck that coffee date. Nevertheless, you can still be a social butterfly. Take care of yourself first and prep will go easier. Plan regular study breaks. If you go out, have a curfew set. Do whatever relieves stress for you, but be ready to get back to the grind.
Form a Study Group. Misery loves company. And sometimes company brings beer. You are more likely to show up somewhere if people are expecting you. What’s the point of a study schedule if you feel isolated? A study group, along with your solo work, is a good motivator and a good way to study. You and your group are a support system. You will encourage and help each other. Find solidarity in your mutual goal.
Choose a Bar Review Course. There are many great online prep courses and books to choose from. Yes, some are pricy. Also, there is no one perfect prep course or book that works for everyone. People just learn differently. However, this does not mean you don’t have options. The key is to find the course or book that is right for you. Kaplan and BARBRI may have name recognition, but they are not the only option.
The perfect course is one that matches your learning style. Do a little soul searching and Google searching. Figure out if you like scribbling in workbooks or prefer online work. Do you learn better one-on-one or in a lecture hall? Compare prices. Read reviews. Find out the student success rate of each program. Moreover, there is plenty of extra material out there you can get for free. There are websites that sell prep books on the cheap. You can even borrow a past test-taker’s notes or study materials.
Brain Food. Consider incorporating more brain foods into your diet to increase your focus and memory. Eat more fish (like salmon & tuna), wholegrains, leafy vegetables, avocado, blueberries, nuts and seeds.
Take Practice Tests. Know thy self, know thy enemy. Sun Tzu may be a little cliché in this case, but his words ring true. Taking a practice exam is the only way to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Test taking, like studying, has a rhythm. No one wants to be the awkward uncle on the dance floor. You should practice as much as possible. You need to understand how the test works and how best to convey your knowledge. Learn to spot the tricks the test makers have inserted in the test. If you are weak with essay writing make it a priority to improve.
Rest the Day Before. Cramming the day before a test is never a good idea. You have already studied for weeks or months. Have confidence in your mastery of the information. You can quiz yourself or plan a final study group. This does not mean you should pull an all-nighter. After a short review, spend the rest of the day doing something that makes you happy. You are probably nervous, so plan an activity that will take your mind off things. However, this is not the time to party until you see the sunrise. Don’t show up hung-over to the test.
Murphy’s Law Applies. You are probably already nervous and stressed. Do not add to this by putting yourself in a compromising position. Your mind should be focused and clear on the goal of passing this test. Rushing to the test location because you are late will not help.
Go to bed early and set an alarm at least 2-3 hours ahead of test time. Have a meal/snack ready. Plan a route to the testing center. Look up the weather and traffic reports for that day. Have a friend or family member with a car on standby if you need a ride. Make sure they know your test time. If you plan wisely you will reduce your stress on test day.
Eat a Good Meal. The old phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” remains true. Your brain and body need energy to perform well. Do not take the test on an empty stomach, but do not carbo-load either. You want to make the most of the time given. An empty stomach can be a huge distraction to you on test day. You can also shave precious test time by running to the bathroom because of a full bladder or an upset stomach.
Have a light breakfast or a snack on test day. Cereal, eggs, toast with jam, yogurt, fruit, and oatmeal are all good choices. Avoid surgery foods or energy drinks! You do not want to show up to the test jittery and crash after an hour.
Avoid the Other Test-takers. Sometimes being around the nervous energy of others can be bad for you. Don’t let others psych you out. Especially the one know-it-all who always seems to show up to breed insecurity in others. Stay focused and calm. You got this.
Keep Calm and Carry On. This is a stressful time. It’s OK to admit that. But, you have been studying for weeks. You have gone to every study group meeting. All that brain food has made your mind sharper. You know the facts and you have done everything right. All this knowledge is not going to disappear. The worst you could do is cloud your mind with negativity or become overwhelmed.
Do what you can to calm your mind before the exam. Listen to a confidence-boosting playlist. Find your fight song. As Will Ferrell advised, during a difficult time “We gotta keep our composure”.
Pace Yourself. Keep track of the time, but don’t rush. Read everything carefully so you don’t get tripped up by a question.
Focus on Your Strengths. Part of pacing yourself is tackling the questions you are most comfortable answering. If you don’t know the answer, move on. If you dwell on it, you waste time and psyche yourself out. Remember to thoroughly analyze the facts they give you. Show that you know and understand the law and clearly explain the facts given.
After the Test
Treat. Yo. Self. Take a breath. Exhale slowly. YOU DID IT! It is over for now. Whether you think you aced it or not you deserve a reward for your hard work. After weeks of study schedules, study groups, practice tests, and stress you can finally relax. Remember that your mental health is important. You have just finished one of the most stressful tasks in your legal career. You need to allow your mind and body to unwind if you want to be healthy. It’s out of your hands now, so do not dwell on it for the rest of the day.
Keep that one question that stumped you out of your mind. Don’t ask the other test takers how they did. Put your notes away. You have earned a rest. Treat yourself to a nice dinner or have a few drinks with friends. Get a massage. Nap for hours. Play a game. Take a trip. Do anything that will get your mind off the test. Once you have a clear mind and a rested body tackle the next day.
If You Bombed. Everyone can have a bad day. Most people have bombed a test at least once. There is no shame in that. You can always take it again. It is time to do some self-reflection and evaluate the facts. Figure out what you nailed and what you struggled with. Focus on what should have been done better to score more points. Maybe you need find a new prep course or study guide. Get as much help as you can from friends, professors, past test-takers, and/or a tutor.
If You Passed. Get yourself to Nickel Shot Night at O’Halligans.
I hope you found at least a few of these tips helpful. Best of luck on the exam.