Let the countdown continue. As of today, there are just 17 more days until the bar exam. Many students at this point, okay, almost all students at this point, are wondering what do I need to do to get ready for test day? What sort of study schedule should I be following to get everything done?
A study schedule is something that is very personal to you, but I do think there are some general parameters and considerations you should include. By keeping these tips in mind, you should feel confident that you have put together a plan for success on test day!
Tip #1: Get a blank calendar because it is time to reevaluate. Why should it be blank? It is time to reevaluate where you are and what there is left to learn. I think the final days are really about you, not what your commercial bar review course thinks you should be doing. (Now, if you aren’t studying for the entire prep period, and instead studying on a more condensed schedule, I do recommend that you follow your bar prep schedule provided to you by your bar review course to make sure you cover all the necessary topics. For more on studying without using an eight to ten week commercial bar course, check out this story.)
Tip #2: Set your cutoff study time the day before the exam. In my opinion, and many experts will agree with me, you should set a cutoff time on July 23 to stop studying. It is important to allow yourself to rest before exam day and also give yourself an opportunity to get everything together for the test (including checking in if you are staying at a hotel). What is important to remember is that nothing you learn in those final few extra hours is going to make or break your test. The bar is about the overall preparation and not the last moments of cramming. My recommendation? Cut yourself off at noon (before lunch). But that is just my preference. You should pick your own time (and note it should be no later than 5:00 p.m. the day before the exam).
Tip #3: Make time for full-length practice sessions. Sure, doing an essay here or there can be helpful and doing 33 MBE questions at a time can help you gauge how you are doing. But you absolutely must practice full-length tests in order to make sure you are ready for test day. These full-length tests not only test your time management but they also force you to confront any testing anxiety, deal with fatigue, and get used to testing situations. For example, in California you are not allowed to bring food or drink into the testing room. Many of my students find it distracting not to have water next to them while they work. So students must practice getting used to this.
Not sure where to get practice tests? Well, most jurisdictions publish past exam questions; so pull together a set. If one subject is more commonly tested than others, make sure that subject is in the set. For example, in California most bar exams include a question on professional responsibility. So I always recommend that my students do a full-length practice exam with a professional responsibility question. Because you are likely to get one on test day!
How many full-length practice exams should you do and when should you do them?
For the written portion of the bar, I don’t recommend that you wait until the days before the exam to take a practice test. That may be too late. I think next week is great—so perhaps around 10 days before the exam. That way if things don’t go so well or you identify weaknesses in your exam-taking strategy, you have time to correct them and still do another practice four days before the exam.
One more thought—if your state requires a practical element to the bar (the performance test or MPT), make sure you incorporate that into your practice tests for the writing portion.
For the MBE portion of the exam as well, I think it is a good idea to do a practice test, approximately 8 days before the exam. And if you have already done a full exam during your prep, you might just want to do one three-hour block of questions versus six hours of questions. But again, if it doesn’t go well, you want time to study and make it better!
So on your blank calendar, identify the days you are going to take full-length practice exams and write them down.
Tip #4: Make a list of the subjects tested on the exam. Place the MBE subjects in one list and the essay subjects in another list. Now rank each subject, putting the one you feel most confident about at the top of the list and the least confident about at the bottom of the list.
What should you be studying first? You guessed it, the subjects you feel worst about. Students frequently make the mistake of spending their time disproportionately on the subjects they either like the most or understand the best. Why? Well, because it is easier and makes us feel good!
But instead, I challenge you to study what you don’t know and don’t understand. This way, you will have more of an opportunity to review the subject again, if necessary. It is critical you keep this list in mind as you put together your schedule.
Tip #5: Take out a pencil and assign one MBE subject to each of the next 6 days of studying. If you decide to do a practice exam 10 days before the test, that means (if you start tomorrow) you will have enough time for each MBE subject. But what about essay subjects?
Tip #6: Assign at least one essay subject (if not more) to the six days of the MBE subjects. Right now I can almost hear you saying, “Wait, I have to study more than one subject in a given day?” Yes! Sorry to have to tell you this, but there are a lot of subjects to learn before test day, so you need to study at least two subjects a day (depending on how many subjects are on your exam).
Is this possible? Sure it is. Let’s say you are right now studying 9 hours a day. If you are studying two subjects, then that leaves 4 1/2 hours a day for reviewing and practicing. That is quite a lot of time on one subject (even if it doesn’t seem like it). Feeling overwhelmed? Then simplify that material to what you need to know!
Tip #7: Make daily goals. Although the overall schedule is important, you need to evaluate your own needs and set daily goals. For example, I recommend you write every day. In addition, especially if you are struggling at all with the MBE (and let’s be honest, who isn’t), you want to set aside targets for MBE practice on a daily basis.
Besides your daily study goals, you want to include other “life” things as well—like exercise, yoga, or whatever you do to take care of yourself. Those are important “to-dos” and should be included as part of your bar schedule.
To make sure that you don’t forget these daily goals, write them on your calendar!
Tip #8: Track weak areas. Every day as you review a subject, you should make a list of weak areas. That way, the next time you review that subject you start with those weak areas first. Trust me, although it may seem overwhelming (you may have a bit of a long list), it will get shorter the more you study. Once you understand or have something memorized, cross it off the list.
Tip #9: Leave the last few days to targeted study and practice. I think it is important to use the last few days for targeted study and practice. It is during this time that you will work through your list of weak areas (see above) and also review heavily tested subjects (like professional responsibility in California as I mentioned before).
Tip #10: Don’t forget to take a break! And although it may feel like time is running out, you must take a break! During these break times (either a whole or partial day) take part in some stress-relieving activities. Need help? Check out these tips for coping with bar exam stress.
These last few weeks of bar prep are critical to get you ready for test day. Putting together a study schedule and sticking to it is a great way to set yourself up for success. Good luck!
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®.