I’m Going To Prison. (Actually, Just Studying for the Bar)

I wanted to entitle this article “Solitary Confinement or How I Plan To Study For the Bar Exam” but I was convinced it would send too many Bar takers running for the hills – but I digress…so I called it Going To Prison…

Bar Prep for the Texas Bar started on May 23rd  - I’m taking an online course which requires me sitting in front of my computer for at least 3 hours a day listening to someone drone on about subjects I could quite frankly care less about. Yes, I know it’s the Bar. Yes, I know its the most difficult test I will ever take. Yes, I know I HAVE to pass it on the first go-round – but honestly, I’d rather be doing anything but studying for this fetid exam.

This is exactly why I realize that I have to go into the “hole” if you will and place myself into solitary confinement to get ready for this thing. Trying to study from home just isn’t going to cut it – there are too many distractions swirling around and it is too easy to get drug off course by those distractions. Admittedly I have not studied as arduously as I know I should have in these first few weeks – heck, even as I write this blog I’m actually procrastinating from doing note cards.

This can’t keep up – it is a one way ticket to a non-legal career. So if you’re like me and get too easily distracted here are some great tips I’ve found from across the web on how to tackle the Bar Exam.

it’s better to formulate a plan late than never. Josh Camson at the Lawyerist tells us to treat the bar exam like running a marathon - and that “interval training” is the key to gearing up to the Bar . He suggests little breaks to clear your mind and help you to remain sharp in studying. My problem studying from home is that a “little” break more often than not turns into a “big” break.

When I go to lunch with friends I usually find myself knocking off for the rest of the day because I really don’t have a plan of attack so to speak. Another suggestion Camson had was locking yourself in a room all day and then rewarding yourself with a day out with friends or a trip to the movies. This “prison” method of interval training probably works better for my habits. I plan on going to the local community college and manning a study room for the next few days and then scheduling a mid-week lunch as something to give myself to look forward to instead of being habitually interrupted or finding ways to be interrupted.

Another great piece of advice I came across in formulating a plan for studying for the Bar was suggested by Lisa Young at Law School Academic Support Blog.  Lisa suggests that balancing good sleep, nutrition, and exercise habits are key to keeping in good mental and physical shape during the Bar. Brilliant! While it sounds self explanatory, I honestly did not think about those things in the first few weeks I’ve been studying for the Bar. Meanwhile I’ve noticed my pants getting a little tighter during that time. It’s real easy to grab some chips or snacks from the kitchen to munch on while listening to these endless videos. However at this rate come August I’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe and from previous experience that’s not cheap (in the last year I’ve lost 60lbs).

One of the ways I was able to lose so much weight was sticking to a rigid schedule – anyone that’s ever dieted can tell you its no small accomplishment. Young’s idea of balancing exercise, sleep, and nutrition fits in greatly to creating a schedule to manage studying for the Bar and exercising. Developing a daily schedule really helped me reach my weight goal so it seems that there is no reason it wouldn’t work in this setting either to get ready for the Bar Exam.

One further piece of advice I would advice is to turn off the cell phone when you sit down to study. It doesn’t take much to derail my train of  thought when I’m studying. Keeping myself in the “zone” is difficult enough while studying for the Bar.  I’ve found that if I wall myself off from as many outside distractions as possible I’m able to get my work done quicker and retain more information.

I understand I’m not reinventing the wheel here but putting pen to paper….um ….finger to keyboard helps bring the plan to life for me. As someone who absolutely needs structure , sitting down and formulating a daily schedule and recognizing potential pitfalls is exactly what I needed to tackle the beast.

If you’re struggling with the same or similar issues while preparing for the Bar – know that you’re not the only one having internal panic attacks because you know you’re not doing what you need to do and breathe – then formulate a plan of attack – and then do it.

Here’s an example of the daily schedule I created to keep myself on task. By sticking to this schedule I’ve been able to focus on my Bar prep material like I know I should. The main thing I’ve found that helps keep me focused is getting to the frame of mind of treating this like a job – after all my job and livelihood all depend on whether or not I pass this test.


8:00am Wake up – Breakfast – Travel to Library

9:00am Begin Bar Prep Video

12:30pm Lunch Break

1:30pm Review Bar Prep Notes

4:30pm Home

5pm Down time

6pm Exercise

7pm Shower/Dinner

8pm Make/Review Note Cards from Daily Lecture

10pm Watch Conan O’Brien

11pm Bed

Yes.  Prison is known for its very strict schedule.

How are you studying (or studied) for the bar exam?  Please share your tips.

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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9 comments on “I’m Going To Prison. (Actually, Just Studying for the Bar)

  • Your schedule looks almost identical to my study schedule for the NY Bar exam summer of 1988, though I didn’t find it necessary to have an extra evening session. However, I did spend part of the weekend studying. One thing that you should leave room for in your schedule is doing practice tests – I’ve found that if you do every practice question you can lay your hands on, you will invariably get at least one of those Qs on the test.

    As for my lessons from the bar, I documented them 22 years ago and they were reposted at Associate’s Mind last summer:




  • You have some great advice here. I’m currently studying for the MD bar exam and I too found that my “small” breaks turn into longer ones. My schedule looks a bit different from yours, because my studying is done during the day and my lectures are in class at night, but I find that I really need to keep a rigid schedule as well. The best advice I’ve received so far is to stick to this schedule. Without one, people tend to flounder and spend more time trying to figure what to do now or what not to do now than they do actually studying.

    The daily exercise and sleep advice is great too! My bar instructors have told us that this will be extremely important come time to take the bar, but many people push this off to the side. Sleeping and exercising will help keep our stamina up mentally and physically, so that a two day exam will seem like nothing!

  • Great post, Jack! I’m glad that you’ve worked out a schedule. I’m concerned that eight hours a day won’t be enough. IMO, you should consider adding another hour or two for taking practice exams. Consider cutting lunch to a half hour and cutting out the hour of scheduled downtime in the evening. (And no, I’m not kidding. I wish I was.)

    Also, consider using a study partner who studies the same way you do. I found that the best thing to keep me focused and on schedule was my study partner. It was too easy to run a little late or for lunch to run a little long if I didn’t have someone counting on me to show up to study.

  • I agree that you have to create a schedule and more importantly follow it. I had to break my schedule down into more discrete elements than you have when I was studying for the Illinois Bar Exam in 2008. I had to determine which specific subjects I would cover from, say, 9-12, such as Contracts from 9-10; Torts from 10-11 and so forth.

    Another suggestion is to change the venue. For example, I would study at the school in the morning, go to the BarBri lecture in the afternoon and process/reflect/prepare for the next day in the evening at Barnes & Noble. I also did not study at home. I wanted home to be my sanctuary from the bar exam. When I walked in the door, I was done for the day.

    Finally, I agree that taking practice exams (both written and MBE) is just as important if not more important than reviewing notecards and outlining.

  • Taking the tests and correcting them, both essay and multi-state, is a very good way to hammer the rules into your head. Write as many essays as you can. Go as far in the multi-state questions as you can. Correct them all. Some people type out the answers to every question to reinforce the rule. This is good for people who are not natural essay writers. Make extra time for this.
    During the exam you will be aware of missing, or guessing, many of the answers. You will be surprised at how different the exam questions look from the practice questions. Every question will be a “gut check”. Be prepared for that so you don’t panic when it happens. Practice taking timed exams. Almost nothing will be more upsetting than not getting a chance to answer all , or nearly all, of the questions. Of course you did this in law school, but it’s more important now than it ever was then.
    It is an honor to take the bar exam. Try to keep your energy up. There is no reason you cannot enjoy the process of preparing for, and taking, the exam.

  • Thank you all very much for the comments – they are greatly appreciated. I will adjust my schedule to add in time for the practice tests. Perhaps I can do those on Saturday at the end of the week so I’ve had a chance to let everything I’ve covered to absorb. Once again thank you all very much for the help!.

  • I found that the study habits that got me through law school helped me pass the bar. I was never one of those people who studied crazy amounts (even though I did well in school). I had a fairly casual schedule, going to the public town library from 10-4 each day with a break for lunch. Maybe a little review at night. I had some friends who were at the law school library every day from 9am-midnight which seemed crazy to me, although I think they spent some of that time socializing. I also took the BarBri classes, and I think I used the MicroMash exams on my computer. I just kept taking practice tests over and over, and having my essays graded by the BarBri people.

    They said to us “your graders for the real exam will be grading your essays while watching the Patriots games. Make your answers clear enough so that you don’t annoy them and make them have to look away from the game any longer than necessary to figure out what you are trying to say.” I thought that was good advice.

    When we took the BarBri fake bar exam at the actual place we’d take the real one, I left and went home and scored my test. I passed. After that I didn’t worry too much about it.

  • “Studying” is what one does in grade school and college. “Practicing” is what one does in law school and beyond. Those who fail the bar exam usually know the material, they just have not practiced applying it so they are quick and accurate enough. I know I am making a semantics argument between “studying” and “practicing” but I do believe there is a significant difference in meaning between the two. Studying is what scholars do, practicing is what lawyers do. Studying is book smarts, practicing is street smarts. Studying is memorizing concepts. Practicing is applying concepts to every and any imaginable fact pattern. Yes, one has to study some for a superficial understanding of the concepts, but practicing will teach more than reading and memorizing ever will. People do not fail the bar exam because they are ignorant of the law, they fail because they are not practice ready. They cannot demonstrate that they have applied enough to be trusted with real people’s problems. 

    • Practice questions, practice questions, essays, practice questions, practice questions, essays, practice questions, practice questions, essays. REPEAT.

      Read the model answers for every practice question you answered correctly, and for every one you answered incorrectly.

      Lectures are great for subjects you either did not take, or did not ‘grasp’ well in law school. Otherwise, I find them an incredible waste of time (my personal opinion).

      Spend your precious little time memorizing elements, answering (timed) MBE questions, and writing as many essays you can get your hands on.

      Preparing for the bar exam is about training to get as many points as YOU possibly can; Nothing more, and nothing less. It is not a re-hash of law school, nor should it be treated as such. You don’t prepare for a sporting event by analyzing theory to death. You prepare by practicing jump shots, refining your back swing or adjusting your chip shot. It’s all about earning points. I took the exam mutliple times. It’s only until I understood this approach that I passed. You can know all the black-letter law that exists. You will not pass until you practice earning points. Best of luck to you.

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