Treat Studying for the Bar Exam Like a Job

9 - 5I got an email from a bar studier today asking if it was okay, when studying full time for the bar exam, to work until 6:30 each night and then spend time with his family. He was worried that wasn’t going to be enough preparation to successfully study for the bar. I am so glad he wrote to me because that is just not the case! I think the most successful way to prepare for the bar exam is to treat it like a full-time job.

How many hours a week can you study, really? 

I remember when I was studying for the bar exam, there were folks who were constantly telling me how they were in the library until 11:00 every night (when it closed). They thought I was crazy because I left at 6:30 every day. Know what? I still was able to pass the exam while spending time with my significant other, seeing friends, and catching a movie every now and then.

I think it is important to be realistic about how many hours one can actually study effectively in a given week. I would argue that most of us can’t productively study more than 45 to 50 hours a week. That would mean studying each day until the early evening and half a day on Saturday. You would also take Sundays off (another critical element to effective bar exam preparation is taking breaks). If you think of it, that is a full-time job and then some. That is a huge amount of work in a given day.

But why isn’t more, better? 

At a certain point there are diminishing returns when it comes to studying for the bar exam. Hours logged in the library are not the same as effective study hours. Unless you are a night owl, most of us aren’t going to do our best work between 8:00 and 11:00 in the evening (sure, I might have done amazing work late at night when I was 21, but I am not 21 anymore and neither are you). So is it really worth it to log those extra hours, just because? (Now, if you are a night owl, you might want to adjust your schedule to start later and end later. But remember—the exam starts in the morning, so you need to get used to getting up and starting to think and write effectively first thing!)

Furthermore, I would say no, more is not better, mainly because burnout is a serious risk when it comes to bar exam studying. The bar preparation period is a marathon and not a sprint; it is critical that you pace yourself—and not hit a wall and burn out on studying. Burnout can set you back days or even weeks depending on how severe it is. And burnout close to exam time can prevent you from being rested and focused on exam days. So over-studying, although it may sound like a great idea, isn’t something you want to do when preparing for the bar exam.

What if you can’t get everything done in 45 to 50 hours? 

Many studiers would argue that they can’t get everything done in 45 to 50 hours a week. I would push back on that and question what they are actually doing during those hours. First, are you focused when you study, free from distractions like cell phones and email? Second, are you spending time actively studying and working with the material and not just passively listening to lectures? Third, are you making your own study materials, reviewing the law, and doing that all-important practice? I think most people who feel they don’t have enough time to do what they need to do should consider how they are spending their time. So make sure you are getting the most bang for your studying buck during those hours that you allocate to studying, by focusing, studying actively, and practicing.

As you sit down to get ready to study again, think through a daily schedule that works for you. Give yourself quality study hours that are reasonable. Then, go to the gym, have dinner with your significant other, or go to the park with your kids. Having some balance will make you a better bar exam studier and lead you down the road to bar exam success.

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One comment on “Treat Studying for the Bar Exam Like a Job

  • I agree with this completely. This is exactly how I approached bar study and law school in general and it worked for me. I kept my fixed schedule even more so because during bar study at my law school I was taking the bus every morning and back home in the evening. So I had a pretty set schedule with that, giving me enough time to do what I needed to do while on camps. And yes I passed the first time. I also had no problem sleeping on the evenings of each exam day meaning I actually was able to go out after the final day of the exam because I hadn’t exhausted myself with a crazy schedule.

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