Studying for the bar exam requires a lot of time. Some people recommend that you treat it like a job and that’s fine as long as that job is not 9-5, Monday-Friday. You need to treat bar prep like a 60+ hour a week job where you sometimes have to work early mornings, evenings, and weekends. Even though you you’ve got to put in a lot of study time, it’s so important to take study breaks. No one can study 12-14 hours a day, every day, for weeks and weeks on end. Your brain needs a break. It needs a chance to process information. By taking periodic breaks you’ll stay energized, have better focus, and manage stress and anxiety.
- Take short breaks every few hours. Some days you’ll be able to study 3-4 hours without a break and some days you’ll need one every hour. When you feel yourself losing focus, stop studying for a few minutes. Get up and walk around, eat lunch, meditate. Don’t blow off the entire day, but do take a break and get back to it.
- Take a break at the end of the day and do something you like. Have a little fun and watch tv, play a video game, go for a run, have dinner with friends. Give yourself something to look forward to.
- Take at least 1 day off each week. If you’re not comfortable taking a whole day off, try the “split” day break. For example, study Saturday morning until about noon (or lunch-time) and then take the rest of the day off. Don’t start studying again until Sunday afternoon.
There is no way you can be productive for 60 hours a week if you don’t take breaks. You have to give your brain some time off if you want it to work efficiently and effectively.
It’s the first week of bar prep and you’re thinking “this is not so bad.” Yes, you’ve got to do the work but it’s manageable. It is like the first day of school all over again—your study zone is set up with brand new books, fresh highlighters, unopened packs of index cards. You’re up early, work hard, and are finished in plenty of time to watch NBA play-off games. You can’t imagine why anyone would need to study 60 hours a week and you’re beginning to think those bar exam horror stories are a bit exaggerated. You’ve got this thing under control.
Welcome to the honeymoon phase.
This honeymoon will not last 10 weeks. I wish it would. I want everything to go smoothly and I want you to feel confident and secure every step of the way. The reality is that in a few weeks you will stumble, become disillusioned, get a bit grouchy. Studying 60 hours a week will seem like nothing and you’ll find yourself griping at every little thing: the bar lecturer isn’t wearing a tie, the bar lecturer is wearing a tie, the outline book won’t stay open, your computer screen is too bright, etc. However, you don’t quit when things get hard. You work through it. You might ask for help or you might figure it out on your own. Either way, you and the bar exam are in this for the long haul. You need to be aware of this now so that when the honeymoon does end, you don’t file for divorce.
In order to successfully prepare for the bar exam, you have to manage your time. Although commercial bar prep companies provide a daily study schedule, it doesn’t take your life into account. What if you’re working part-time? Going to an out of town event? Get sick? You need to create a plan that keeps you on track yet fits your schedule. This means spending at least 50 hours a week on bar study. You will learn new material every day so don’t get behind because there is no time to catch up. You want this to be the last test you ever take so don’t try to game the exam because you are a good test-taker or don’t want to over-study. Instead, commit to the process and develop a routine that includes lectures, outlining, reviewing, and practice. You are much more likely to actually do something if you plan for it so create a schedule that includes studying, breaks, social, family, hygiene and other upkeep. For example:
||Wake-up, go for run
||Shower, eat breakfast, pack lunch, walk to library
||Watch Contracts lecture
||Create streamlined outline from lecture notes
||Do and review Contracts essay
||Do and review 17 MBE
||Walk home, eat dinner
||Review Contracts notes
||Check email, social media
||Watch tv, hang out with friends
||Plan schedule for next day
||Go to bed
The commercial bar prep schedule is there to keep you on track but it’s up to you to manage your time and actually do the work. Commit to the process for the next ten weeks and you won’t have to do it again.
Just days ago you took your last law school exam and celebrated graduation and hooding with family and friends. I hope you had fun because now it’s time to get going. You’ve worked hard for almost three years so 10 more weeks is no big deal. You can rest in August. For many of you, commercial bar prep starts this week and the course will quickly feel overwhelming with all of the material and assignments. This is because commercial bar courses have to reach a lot of people all with different levels of knowledge and ability. Don’t try to do everything. Don’t follow the program like a robot. Instead, figure out the best way to use the program and the material in a way that works for you. For example:
Go through the prepared study schedule and adjust it to fit your learning and study needs.
- Are you going to review outlines before or after the lectures? Not at all?
- Are you going to study from the lecture notes or create your own outline?
- Will you do practice problems immediately after lectures, after you’ve reviewed the material, or the next day after you’ve had time to process?
Try out a few different study areas and see which atmosphere promotes focused learning (hint: it will not be anywhere in the vicinity of a tv, refrigerator, couch, or bed).
- Do you need to be in a quiet, open space like a library?
- Do you need to be around people or by yourself?
- Are you more productive in the morning or afternoon?
Regardless of what you do, the first week of commercial bar prep is the best time to figure things out. The amount of work is manageable and you feel in control and motivated. Take advantage of the opportunity and make mistakes now instead of in July.