Jan 31, 2013
Five Keys to a Successful Final Month of Bar Preparation
by Lee Burgess
If you are studying for the bar exam, you are close to a milestone—there is about one month left until the exam (my students continue to remind me how many days are left each week). That means you likely have been studying for a month or longer. It is a great time to re-group and make sure you are ready to complete the final weeks of preparation. Here are five keys to making the most of your final month.
1. Don’t just study the law, practice applying the law.
I spend a lot of time talking about this, but it is because folks continue to ignore my very important advice. You must practice applying the law to be successful on the bar exam. This shouldn’t be a surprise since the fact that we know how to identify legally significant facts and apply them to the law is what makes us lawyers (anyone can memorize outlines of law, right?). Yet students get caught up in how much law there is to memorize and don’t spend time practicing.
You must practice. You must do MBE questions every day that you study. You must write every day. You must do performance tests under test conditions.
Practicing teaches us so much! You get the following benefits from practice:
- You get to review the law and practice writing out the rules.
- You get to test your understanding of the law as it is applied to facts.
- You get to do something active (practicing) versus something passive (reading outlines).
- You get to refine your test-taking strategies.
- You get to self-evaluate your work and get feedback.
Those are lots of benefits! Yet students still are hesitant about practicing. Don’t be one of those people! Sit down and practice every part of the exam. You are going to be glad you did come exam day.
2. Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically.
Are you tired or emotionally exhausted? I bet most folks studying will respond “yes” to this question. And you have every right to be. You likely have been studying and pushing yourself quite a bit over the last month or so (longer, probably, if you are studying and working at the same time).
But if you are exhausted you must take a break. Taking a break is often just as important as a few more hours of studying. Break time allows your brain to rest and recuperate from the workout you are putting it through. Just as athletes need time to rest in order for their muscles to repair, your brain needs a break too.
What should you do on these breaks? Something that you find relaxing and positive. You want to try to get away from the books or the computer. Spend time with people who make you happy. Because studying requires hours and hours of sitting, you may want to do something active. Now, granted, for much of the country, the winter isn’t the best time to do “active” things outside, but you can still walk around at a shopping mall, go to the gym or attend a yoga class (one of my favorite activities to de-stress).
Now, beyond taking breaks (they are very important from a mental perspective), you must take care of yourself physically as well. Your body and how it feels is significantly connected to how you perform on bar exam day. You must have energy to study and produce great work, focus for clear thinking, and resilience to make it through long study and exam days.
This means that you need to take care of yourself. You need to eat the right foods (both while you study and while you are at the exam). Not sure what those are? Don’t worry; here are some suggestions for you ( what to eat during the exam days and even some foods that can make you smarter). You also need to move your body. Exercise is important, especially with the amount of time you are spending sitting (we know it is bad for us, some are even calling it the smoking of our generation!). This doesn’t mean you need to run five miles every day. But you need to move around. Take a walk. Go to an exercise class. Play with your dogs. Go to the park with your kids. The key is to get your blood moving, get away from the desk and move around. Exercise helps with stress, anxiety and fatigue. Oh, and it helps us sleep too (also important).
3. Evaluate where you are and create a plan to get where you want to be.
With the practice I discussed above, you want to evaluate your work so you can be smart and strategic about your study. This doesn’t mean that you can just do MBE questions on your iPad while lying in bed and think you have an accurate appreciation of how you are doing. You need to do a three-hour practice exam to assess your accuracy in testing conditions. (Not sure where to get one of these tests? Check out the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.) Once you get feedback on this practice test, you will be able to target your study plan to focus on weak areas of understanding. You will also be able to make sure that you are identifying (and brainstorming how to overcome) any fatigue during long testing sessions. MBE practice will give you the information you need to best use the last month of preparation.
Writing practice is also critical and gives you the opportunity to evaluate your work (here are some tips for self-evaluating your writing practice). You need to identify areas of weakness so you can focus your study time where it needs to be. Are you struggling with writing under time pressure? Are you missing issues? Is your writing lacking incredibly important analysis? You can answer these questions for yourself, make smart prep decisions and develop a study plan that is right for you.
4. Plan for bar exam week.
It is never too early to create a bar exam week plan. If you haven’t done so, you should decide if you are going to stay at a hotel near the testing center. If you do book a hotel, can you get a fridge in your room to make it easier to prepare and eat healthy food? If you are not going to stay near the testing location, do you know how you are getting form point a to point b on testing day? Do you have everything you need to take to the hotel with you? These are all decisions you want to make now, so you don’t have to frantically make last-minute decisions in the days or weeks before the test.
5. Keep things in perspective.
This test is a whopper. If you are taking it for the first time or you are taking it again after a failure, I know you feel the stakes are high and there is a ton riding on how you do. You may feel this test is defining you or your legal career. I get that. I spend all day talking to students who feel the same way.
Here is the thing, though. Although this test is incredibly important to pass and, yes, all of us have felt the stress of this exam, it is just a test. They are just questions on paper. The bar examiners are testing you on law you have been studying for three or more years. It is not life or death (although I know at times it might feel that way), and it is likely not the most difficult thing you have done in your life.
So try to do your best at keeping this test in perspective. Doing so will help you calm your anxiety and focus only on the task at hand. Don’t let this test become something it is not. Be thoughtful about how much power you are giving this exam.
You can do this! Have a great final month of preparation and you will be ready for test 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®.