Bar Prep occurs in five stages. As a recent Bar Examinee, I will tell you what you’re about to experience.
Any difficult process begins the same: we all deny it’s happening. With the bar exam, the denial occurs passively as other big things happen in your life. You just finished final exams and graduated. Or you just relocated. You just got engaged or married. You recently had a child. You are looking for a job.
These major things will cloud your vision. You know that bar prep is around the corner, but you are not ready to accept it.
The next stage is nostalgia. You will begin your studies in earnest. You will go to classes, watch videos, take notes, etc. on topics that you studied way back at the beginning of law school. Contracts, property, constitutional law, torts, and so on.
You will have energy and your familiarity with these topics will put you a bit at ease. You will strangely feel like this is not going to be so bad.
This stage lasts for about a week—maybe two, if you’re lucky.
After a brief period of something resembling okay-ness, you will descend into discomfort. You will realize that the exam—and your preparation—will cover many topics only some of which you are familiar with and others you have never encountered before. You will feel overwhelmed and underprepared.
You will write your first graded practice essay and feel a jolt of unease as you fail to recall from memory any rule statements or legal propositions. You will feel very bad about yourself and very uncomfortable with your studies.
You will start to shift into new topics before you feel solid on the old topics. You will be tested on three topics in one day and you will forget that you had already covered the first topic that seemed so familiar only recently.
The multiple choice sets you complete will be harder than you expected. And you will struggle to hit your targets.
But here’s an important piece of information to hold onto during this time: your discomfort during this stage is the reason you will pass the exam. Your discomfort will drive you to study hard and focus. You will not be distracted by seemingly endless number of other, better opportunities happening in the early summer.
And here’s another important piece of information: do not let your discomfort dictate your study schedule. Follow the schedule your bar study program has for you. Do not study constantly or sprint ahead of the program. Slow and steady and uncomfortable is the path to success.
And if you are feeling especially overwhelmed, use your nervous energy to prepare in simple low-energy ways after you complete what you need to for the day: make flashcards of key terms and phrases; print out example answer essays and organize them by topic; organize yourself. Do mindless things that will help you study down the road.
I would like to tell you that things improve after ‘Discomfort,’ but I’m here to tell you how it is not how you want it to be. You will feel worse. Sometime after the Fourth of July (assuming you are taking the July exam), you will start to panic.
You will notice that there are only a few weeks until the actual exam begins. You will genuinely believe you cannot pass the exam.
You will nervously talk to friends, family, peers, and professors about the exam, about rumors about the exam, about crises arising among the ranks, and other disaster stories.
Here’s the thing: if you have been following your program and working slow, steady, and uncomfortably—and you have not been afflicted with a major medical emergency or family tragedy—you will be okay. You just have to have put in the work, keep putting in the work, trust the process, and be good to yourself.
I cannot stress this last bit enough: be good to yourself. Go see a movie, go out to dinner with a friend, get enough sleep, exercise some, watch some TV, breathe. If you put in the time and effort to study, you can take a moment to do something fun and relaxing. In fact, you really should.
In the final couple weeks before the exam, you will enter the ‘a lot’ stage. In this stage, you will feel many intense emotions. You must anticipate and prepare for this inner tumult to prevent it from torpedoing your efforts.
About two weeks out, make sure you have all the items you will need for the exam and all the logistics are worked out.
- Your car is running (or whatever transportation you need to the exam)
- Your computer is functional and test-ready
- You have proper identification and documentation to enter the test area
- You have pens or pencils (as necessary or required)
- You have comfortable and test-acceptable clothes and footwear
Doing all of these little things in advance will help you control your headspace come the days of the exam.
Finally, identify the two or three topics you are most afraid of getting essays on and make attack outlines covering the major areas within those topics. And read them, study them, and memorize them. You may not get tested on these topics, but you will not be afraid of being tested on these topics during the exam.
Treat bar prep like a full-time job. Study slow, steady, and uncomfortably. Make progress each day and review topics that trouble you. Take your studies seriously, but do not allow them to consume all of your waking hours. Take time to breathe, relax, and care for yourself.
Do these things and you will be okay.