Thinking Creatively About Your Bar Exam Prep

beach in mexicoMany law students and repeat bar takers dread studying for the bar exam. This is understandable, right? I mean, honestly, the months I spent studying for the bar were not my favorite. Furthermore, we are told by our law schools, bar review providers, and any lawyer who will talk to us that bar prep is supposed to be awful. You are supposed to be miserable. It is just the name of the game.

Today, I want to challenge this assumption. I want to suggest that perhaps bar prep doesn’t have to be as horrible as everyone makes it out to be. Perhaps you can, actually, not be miserable during bar prep. Is it possible? Dare we even ask?

Could you study from a beach in Mexico? 

Although I did not take advantage of this idea back when I studied for the bar exam, I think it could have been great! With technology, if you are planning on using a bar prep program like Themis, AdaptiBar, and the like, you can access all of your materials online, eliminating the need to sit in a classroom to study for the bar exam. Sure, you do need a quiet study location where you can listen to lectures, complete practice exams, and memorize material. But that doesn’t necessarily need to be your apartment. Some people may actually study better in a different location without as many distractions of normal life. Could this be you?

Also, if you live in a very expensive area, like San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles, it may be cheaper to move out of your apartment and go somewhere else for a few months. You should definitely run the numbers! It doesn’t need to be a beach in Mexico; it could be a cabin in the mountains or a friend’s guesthouse in wine country. There may be a lot of opportunities when you start thinking about it.

Another benefit of studying from somewhere else is that perhaps that location makes you happier than studying at home. Are you happier with more sunshine (if you live somewhere like San Francisco) or less heat (if you live somewhere like Atlanta)? Location does a lot to affect our mood. If you could change location to help you feel better, why wouldn’t you?

Can you schedule your bar prep around activities that make you happy? 

Your location often dictates what you can do for fun outside of study time (yes, believe it or not, there is time to take breaks outside of study time). If you do decide to change your location, you’ll want to stay somewhere that has activities that make you happy. For example, if you like to surf in the mornings, you should try to study somewhere near the ocean. Or if you are a runner, then study where there is great running to allow you to blow off stress.

Even if you don’t change your location, you can still think outside the box and schedule bar prep around activities that make you happy. If you are doing an on-demand course, you have more control over your study schedule, allowing for things like yoga, going to the park with your kid, or movie nights with your significant other. Instead of letting bar prep run your life, you can choose to organize bar prep around your life. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Could you attend bar exam lectures on a cruise ship? 

I recently learned about an outside-the-box bar prep option that sounded kind of fun—cruising while learning how to best study for the MBE. Jonathan Grossman, who runs a website called What’s the Issue, is a bar exam tutor, a bar exam instructor at a Florida law school, and just released subject matter videos with AdaptiBar. He is hosting a cruise called Sailing Passed the Bar Exam in May 2014.  Included are Florida essays and MBE tactics to help with bar prep. When he told me about the cruise a month or so ago, my first thought was “Huh, can you study for the bar on a cruise?” and then my second thought was “Why not!” I like this out-of-the box approach to make bar prep more bearable.

Can you just decide not to be miserable? 

Even if you can’t change your location, remember that your mind-set is still something you have control over. You can decide how you want to approach this experience. If you go into it thinking “Gee, this is going to be the worst few months of my life”—well, they probably will be. But if you go in thinking that it will be hard but manageable, well, then, you are already in a better spot than many of your peers.

A special note to those studying while working

If you are working while studying for the bar exam, it may be difficult to leave town to do something more creative with your bar prep. But you should still reflect on how best to balance studying and life, so you are able to maintain your sanity while working really hard. This is typically done by preparing for a longer period of time—to prevent exhaustion and burnout. You still need to have time to take care of yourself and to do at least one or two things you enjoy!

Have you participated in some creative bar prep? Share your stories in the comments.

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®.

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3 comments on “Thinking Creatively About Your Bar Exam Prep

  • My daughter was a year old when I prepared for the Bar Exam, and we had just moved to a big city. I determined that I would attend every class of BarBri and open a book every day, even if i didn’t really study much. I didn’t have the option to disappear from my family. I also determined that I didn’t have time to study all the subjects that are not on the multi-state, so I studied for the multi-state and prayed that the overlap would carry me to passage.

    I prepared mentally much better than I actually studied. I didn’t party and cram as some of the younger people did. My reality was my family, so I was well-centered. During the exam, when I needed to use the bathroom at least three times, I didn’t panic. The goal is passage, not perfection. I passed.

  • I took the bar exam back in 1964 but the essence of the process hasn’t really changed that much except that much prep is now on line so you don’t have to go where it is, as I did, and you get to use a computer. I had worked more than most during law school at Vanderbilt, and taken the second summer at The University of Texas in preparation for admission to the Texas bar. I took the live bar exam review course in the evenings, mostly to catch up on some Texas law that may have been more emphasized then, but couldn’t afford all of the printed outlines, etc. that many used.

    I had studied in law school, despite sometimes having to work full time, which had got me the “Tsetse Fly Award” in the April Fool issue of the paper for logging the most sleep on the front row in 8:00 A.M. 1L Criminal Law, and had my typed briefs, hornbooks, etc., and didn’t know I was supposed to be coming into the bar exam prep process ill-prepared and scared, so I didn’t. The review lectures and notes were helpful for review and particularly with some Texas things I hadn’t taken, etc., and I went over to U. Tex. law library, where I had worked the preceding summer, and reviewed the Texas Bar Journal, law reviews, and recent S.W.2d, etc., reports.

    What I remember best about the process was that I had more free time than I ever had in school and it was kind of like a month-long vacation during which I relaxed (not my best skill) and enjoyed myself, despite some financial stresses and not having a job lined up.

    What I recall best about the actual bar exam was one section where I got through with so much free time that (having an uncorrectable vision problem) I was so afraid that I had not seen and had omitted something that I actually asked the lawyer who had written that section of the exam, meaning I noted that I had actually sought help during it. There was one question in Texas law that I had been aware of but couldn’t remember the statutory text, so I put, and apparently got credit for, “Check statute and the First Nat. Bank’s handy green and pink chart.” I kept one of those in my Probate Code throughout my practice. I don’t think I blew too much time on those long convoluted “and . . . where do they probate the estates of the survivors?” questions. I was afraid I hadn’t passed, which didn’t help with job hunting, but passed easily on the first try.

  • I took the attitude that I would rather be miserable one (more) time and buckle down to pass the exam than take it less seriously and take it more than once. I sat at home and studied all day. It was terrible and I overstudied but it was worth it to feel confident that I was going to pass. I passed. I don’t regret the miserableness of those two months of studying for the satisfaction of passing.

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