Getting ready for the bar exam undoubtedly requires hours of study, for weeks on end. If you choose a bar review course other than BarMax, expect to spend eight to 12 weeks studying, for eight to 12 hours each day, six days a week. If that sounds overwhelming (and it should!), it's important to realize that you can actually take a far more efficient approach to your bar exam prep. This is how BarMax students have been successful preparing for both the California and New York bar exams while working full-time.
Before you start, take the time to gather everything to you need to apply to take the exam. Give yourself plenty of time to fill out your paperwork, complete the background check, and locate the historical records required to complete the application.
It's a lengthy (and expensive!) process, and studying the right way gives you the best chance at only having to do it once.
Create a Personalized Study Space
You'll study a lot, so adding some personal flair to your space will make it a bit more enjoyable to be in. Do your best to create a study space that allows for quiet instrumental study music, meditation, and light stretching. This will enable you to avoid a dead silent space, without the distraction of singing along. Meditating will keep you relaxed, and an area to get up and move around to stretch your muscles will prevent pain and fatigue from setting in as quickly.
Develop a Personalized Study Plan
The bar doesn't come with a one-size-fits-all study plan. If you took a bar exam prep course, start with that suggested study schedule as a guideline. If you find it works for you, great. If not, modify it according to your needs.
Focus on knowing your study strengths and weaknesses. Identify things that help you focus, and things to avoid because they distract you. List the things you think they will help you, and what will hinder you.
List your best subjects, followed by your weakest. What is your biggest fear on the bar exam? What subjects make you want to cry? Once you've written it out, take a break. Allot more time in your schedule for your weaker subjects.
Now, use what you know about yourself:
- Are you willing to retake this exam or are you determined to do whatever it takes to only have to do it once?
- Will you need plenty of breaks?
- What kind of learner are you? If you know you're a visual learner, don't waste time on going to lectures.
- Are you dealing with a bad back or other health issues that prevent you from remaining seated for too long? Set up areas where you can move around or change positions but continue to study.
Block off the two to three months before your exam date on your calendar. Write in the subjects as you should study them. Break down the monthly calendar into a daily schedule that works for you, based on any other commitments you may have. Start with the hardest topics in the morning.
Make adjustments as needed, only if you discover it's not working for you.
Study Smart — Not Too Much, Not Too Little
Think you can cram it all in in the two weeks before test day? Think again. Tempted to spend 20 hours a day in "study" mode? Study too little, and you won't have time to get everything in. Study too much, and you'll burn out and feel overwhelmed. Provide room for ample breaks to move, eat, sleep, and shower. Your brain will appreciate the rest.
Set up a Better Sleep Schedule
Your brain will perform better when you've had plenty of rest. The bar exam will start early in the morning. It's ideal to mimic your study schedule so you can do your best thinking starting anywhere between 8 and 9 a.m. Aim to get your eight hours of sleep a night, and follow all the guidelines to get a good night's rest.
Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand
Don't turn yourself into a caffeine-powered zombie, because this can hurt your health. A little caffeine is okay — but avoid the temptation to guzzle coffee. Keep some snacks on hand to help boost your energy between scheduled mealtime breaks. Good options include:
- Dark chocolate — there's a bit of caffeine in all chocolate, but the darker, the more you'll get.
- Almonds — an excellent source of healthy fats and proteins.
- Air-popped popcorn — healthy alternative to greasy chips.
- Fruit salad — get something sweet without filling yourself with candy.
Beyond snacks, do your best to keep your overall diet as nutritionally sound as possible. It's what's best for your brain and your body.
Get a Handle on Anxiety and Stress
Being nervous and anxious about the exam is okay. But, if you can't get it under control, it could have negative effects on your performance. Make sure you:
- Find ways to relax — gardening, cooking, bubble baths, massage, music
- Practice deep breathing and meditation
- Have a good support network of friends and family to help you
- Reach out to a therapist if you need additional help
Take Practice Tests Under Test Conditions
Studying for the bar involves taking practice tests, so you should match the test conditions. It's not about the amount of information you can store in your brain, but about the way you convey the information to others.
Set timers according to the time limits for each section on your state's exam. When you're out of time for your essay portion, stop. Read it and aim to improve it the next time. Practice until you find it easy to complete the tasks within the allotted time. Plan to take a full-length bar exam during your prep at least once. This ensures you know what it's like before you go in for the real test, which can be a wonderful way to handle anxiety.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can also use Exam Proctor to simulate the MBE portion of the bar exam.
Two to three months of full-time study may seem like a lot of time, but in reality, it'll go by much quicker than you realize. If you're in a state with a notoriously difficult bar exam, give yourself the three months maybe even more.
Follow this advice, and you'll be ready to go on the big day!