Today is June 29th, which means the start of the final countdown to the July bar exam. As of today there are just 24 more days until the test begins.
I think this weekend (the start of July) represents an important milestone in your study period—an opportunity to check your progress and refine your plan for the upcoming weeks to help set you up for success. As part of this reevaluation, I want to offer some DOs and DON’Ts for the final weeks of bar prep.
1. Practice, practice, practice. If you have been reading my posts over the last month, you might think I sound like a broken record on this point. But that is just how important practice is to bar exam success.
You have learned a lot of law in the last month or so. But knowing the law is not enough. You must know how to apply the law. Many jurisdictions even note in their instructions that application of the law is a necessary and critical part of your essay score.
What do I mean by practice? You should be writing every day. You should be doing MBEs every day. Why wouldn’t you? These are active forms of studying (and much less boring than staring at flashcards and outlines). They also test your understanding of the law rather than just rote memorization.
When students come to me after a bar failure, typically they confess that they didn’t practice the essays and/or MBEs adequately. Please don’t let this be you! Practice, get feedback (by reviewing sample answers or working with a tutor), re-write, write again, take more MBEs—practicing can only help you come exam day!
2. Do a mental-readiness check-in.
Mental-readiness is all too often forgotten as part of bar prep—mainly because we just accept the reality that the bar prep process will leave us stressed, unbalanced, and full of anxiety.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. And ignoring those feelings, instead of dealing with them, can actually hinder your bar prep. Anxiety can be debilitating, and stress can prevent you from sleeping and thinking clearly—and leave you struggling with day-of-testing anxiety.
So if you are wrestling with the mental aspect of getting ready for the bar exam, have no fear—there are resources to help you.
- Bar Exam Mind: A book (check out my review here), website, and podcast on getting mentally ready for the bar exam.
- Mind Over Bar: A course, website, and blog that combines mindfulness, sports psychology, and cutting-edge brain research to help you find exam success (click here for tips from Mind Over Bar).
Many students find success with meditation, visualization, or relaxation techniques. Finding techniques that work for you will get you mentally ready for the bar exam.
Want to learn more about this topic? The Bar Exam Toolbox just hosted a Twitter Chat this week on “Staying Balanced During Bar Prep.” You can check out a transcript of our chat here and get tons of quality tips from bar experts!
3. Continue to take breaks.
I was giving a talk on the bar exam last spring and a student asked me if it was a good idea to increase study hours to more than 12 hours a day, 7 days a week during the second month of prep. My answer? Simply, no.
Many people describe the bar exam as a marathon and not a sprint. Just like an athlete training for a marathon (I will be honest, running is not my thing, but I have many friends who run) you must take time to rest and allow yourself to recover so you can perform your best on race day. The bar exam is no different. There is a real risk of burnout going into the last few weeks. The key is to continue to keep up with your study schedule and remain disciplined, but don’t cheat yourself out of very important recovery time!
4. Evaluate your study methods.
One of my students who was a repeat taker said something very telling to me last bar season (he is now a lawyer, by the way). He was studying for the California bar exam for the second time. He said that during his commercial bar preparation program he knew that he wasn’t learning the law and practicing the way he needed to. He knew things weren’t going well. But he just kept going. And he ended up getting disappointing results.
What if he had admitted to himself that things weren’t going well and had reached out for help? What if he had read some books, got a tutor, or just tried to re-think how he was preparing? Perhaps the outcome of his first exam would have been different.
It is critical that you evaluate how you have been studying and make any necessary changes. And you do this by practicing and evaluating how things are going. It is not too late! Twenty-four days is longer than most final exam periods during law school. And think about how much law you used to learn for finals! If you are concerned that your bar prep approach isn’t working for you, make a change. Don’t stay with the status quo if it is not working. The stakes are too high.
5. Come up with a plan for bar week.
Many people forget that the logistical planning surrounding bar week can also influence your likelihood for success. You don’t want to leave this planning to the last minute. What do I mean by planning?
- Where are you going to stay?
- How are you going to get to the testing center each day?
- If you are taking public transportation, do you have alternate routes to get there? (Things do happen.)
Many people also forget how important it is to think about what you are going to eat during bar week. I am a big fan of food, but when it comes to bar review, you want to think of food as the fuel that will help you get through! So start experimenting now with food you can eat for breakfast and lunch. Remember, most jurisdictions don’t allow you to have snacks during the testing period, so you need to stay full through both the morning and afternoon sessions. And you don’t want your lunch to put you to sleep, either! Brainstorm what kind of food you can bring for lunch that will keep in a backpack and make you feel good. Another note: I personally don’t think you should go out and try to buy food during the lunch breaks. There are just too many things that can go wrong. Instead, brainstorm a quality, healthy lunch that you can pack for exam day (or eat in your hotel room).
1. Spend all your study hours memorizing the law.
Remember, memorization is not enough! It is impossible to know all the law on the exam, unless you have a photographic memory. It is likely you won’t know the law for a given question on the test (either the MBE or the essay) and I am here to tell you that is okay! (To be honest, I made up some quality constitutional law on my bar exam and still passed.) Memorizing the law is just a small part of the overall preparation plan. Make sure you allow adequate time for practice as well!
2. Decide you don’t have time for things like making healthy meals and exercising.
Sometimes we forget that without our health, we cannot do something like pass the bar exam. (Check out this post by Greenhorn Legal on why health matters.) Take care of yourself. Give yourself time to get outside, exercise, or do whatever makes you feel good. Don’t decide you don’t have time to shop for or cook healthy food. Your body needs to be in tip-top shape to allow you to succeed on the bar exam. Make sure you keep your health a priority!
3. Decide you can’t do it.
I love watching the Olympics and I am excited for the summer games that start just after the bar! Most people know that mental preparation for a competition is critically important. If you go into a match or a game thinking you will fail, it is likely you will fail. You must visualize your success.
The bar exam is the Olympics of your legal career (up to this point at least). You must make sure you have the right attitude going into testing day. Deciding that you will not succeed will not get you to your goal. Instead of spending time getting down on yourself, spend time reading about tips and tricks to help yourself get mentally ready (as discussed above).
4. Throw your study schedule out the window.
Although it is important to reevaluate your study methods and schedule, you don’t want to throw your schedule out the window. You need to be methodical about your studying and make sure that you have given every subject time and effort and practice. You must have an overall schedule. It can be adjusted if something changes, but you cannot just take things day by day. It is too risky to spend a week on evidence but ignore three other subjects (all of which could turn out to be essay questions!).
5. Neglect time for full-length practice exams.
Many of us don’t work in three-hour blocks. Because of this, it is critical that you take practice exams simulating the testing blocks and the time of day the test is given. For example, even if you are not a morning person, you must take practice exams in the morning to get used to it. In addition, you need to work on time management over the entire testing block. Full-length practice exams are a must-do as part of your final weeks of preparation. Although many students may feel these can be too time-consuming, they are part of the all-important practice portion of your preparation. So take the time! On test day you will be glad you did!
Keeping these DOs and DON’Ts in mind going into the final weeks will help you keep up your preparation and be ready for exam day.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.