’Tis the season when folks around the country start preparing for the bar exam. Studying for the bar exam is challenging whether you are taking it for the first time, taking it for a second time, taking a full bar review course, or studying on your own.
When I talk to students who have failed the bar exam in the past, folks often tell me that they struggled with staying on a study schedule and doing practice exams (that they knew on some level were necessary).
Many students also find that they fall victim to procrastination, life distractions, or self-sabotaging behaviors during the bar preparation period. Consequently, when students call me about bar preparation, they are typically looking for one thing, accountability.
Are you looking for more accountability in your bar preparation? If so, here are five suggestions to help you stay productive, get the work done that needs to be done, and hopefully find exam success.
1. Be realistic and flexible. The bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be realistic about your workload so you can stay on task, not burn out, and not fall behind. That means setting reasonable goals. When students set unrealistic goals for themselves and then quickly fall behind, they start down a slippery slope that only leads to procrastination and lack of productivity. And once students feel they are behind, they are less likely to keep to their study schedule. This is not a good thing, as you can imagine. So if you do fall behind, take a look at your study schedule and be reasonable. Update it so you feel as though you are getting back on track. Constantly feeling behind and not re-grouping will not help you reach your study goals.
2. Keep a journal. Sure, this sounds like something we did as kids, but keeping a journal can be a very effective way to help you stay on task with your bar exam preparation. I recommend that all my students keep a daily study journal for the bar exam, especially if they are repeat takers and studying alone. Doing so gives you time to reflect on your progress and also forces you to be accountable to yourself. This is why many nutritionists and personal trainers, for example, require food or exercise journals. If we have to write it down, we are better at staying on track.
If you are planning on keeping a journal, don’t let it turn into a negative exercise. I recommend that my students track first what they did that day that will help them find exam success and then what they wish they could have done better. Do not allow journal time to be where you bash on yourself for not studying hard enough or not doing as much work as planned. You want to spend the time reflecting and making positive commitments for the future.
3. Find another person to check in with. Some students like to have a bar prep buddy or someone to check in with on a regular basis. When I was studying for the bar exam, my friend and I consistently checked in with each other, even comparing how we were doing on keeping up with our study schedule. She was a great buddy because we had a similar study style, work ethic, and perspective. We had another friend who did not share our study style and every time I checked in with her, I left feeling stressed and overwhelmed. So, frankly, I stopped talking to her about how I was doing with my bar prep. It is important to make sure that your study buddy helps your preparation and doesn’t hurt it.
4. Develop a routine. One way we can be accountable to ourselves is if we develop and stick to a routine. Get up at the same time each morning, eat breakfast, go to the library—you get the idea. This takes the decision making out of your study regimen, which will reduce stress and encourage you to do what you need to do to succeed every day.
5. Be smart about selecting your bar exam review provider. If you are someone who needs a lot of accountability, be smart when selecting your bar review provider. There are numerous options for you to consider that offer different levels of feedback, one-on-one contact, and accountability. It is important that you spend time reflecting on your needs. For instance, if a student tells me that he/she just cannot force him/herself to do practice essays unless they are turned in to someone, then the student must select a provider that will review a large number of essays (because, as we have discussed before, practice is an essential part of your bar preparation).
When it all comes down to it, studying for the bar exam is a lot of work. You need to think about setting up a structured study plan with the right amount of accountability for you.
Good luck with your bar exam preparation!
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®.