Supporting Your Loved Ones Through Bar Prep

Do you have a close friend or loved one who has been affected by studying for the bar exam? You may be entitled to compensation! Okay, maybe we made that up. While it's true that watching a loved one study for the bar may make you feel like suing someone, there are better ways to deal with the pressure! Let’s take a look at a few ways you can help someone prepare for what is likely to be the last big exam of their life.

I. What Their Schedule Will Look Like

From the outset, you will need to understand their schedule. Bar prep is best viewed as a full-time job. Your loved one may be studying for around 30 hours a week for months. Another common study schedule involves studying 20 hours a week for four months or more while working full-time, and then taking the last two weeks off work to study full-time for the bar. Other students tackle bar prep nearly 40 hours a week right after law school ends from May through the end of July. Depending on whether they are working a full-time job at the same time, this may be either a six-hour-a-day schedule during the workweek, or a weekend-heavy approach of studying full days on the weekend and a few hours before or after work each day. They may even decide to study more hours as their exam date approaches, especially those who can’t take much time off of work before the bar to prepare.

Taking on a new, full-time commitment is never easy, and it is even harder if they have to continue to work their normal full-time job for some or all of the studying period. If you live with the test-taker, this is going to have an impact on you, as your loved one may need you to pick up more than your usual share of household work and chores, which will help reduce the amount of things on the test-taker’s plate and give them much less to worry about.

II. What You Can Do to Help

A. How You Can Help Them Prepare to Study

Again, it is best to think of this as a full time job. Most students function best in a distraction-free, office-type environment to help them perform their best. Create a separate spot which they can enter to study and exit to walk away from studying when they are “off work.” Then, encourage them to stick to their study schedule and both clock-in and clock-out. During the hours they are clocked-in, allow them their time and space and help them avoid distractions. When they are clocked-out, do the opposite: encourage them to unwind and think about other things. Both of you can work together to respect this arrangement.

As best as you can, be patient and flexible because bar studying is mentally and physically exhausting. Their schedules and stress levels will likely fluctuate throughout the process, despite their best efforts to keep everything stable.

B. How You Can Help Them Study

Not only can you help them study by themselves, but there are also ways you can directly help your loved one learn the material for the exam. The best way to study for the bar, and indeed to get better at anything in life, is to work on it actively. One of the most active ways to study is to practice by teaching the subjects to someone else. So, be a student for your loved one! Have them sit down and explain to you the various bar subjects or do multiple choice questions together — or even essay questions — let them explain how to reach the right answer and why that answer is right and the others are wrong.

This will not only reinforce what they already know, but also help them identify the gaps in their knowledge by noticing what they cannot sufficiently explain. Then, they can brush up on a rule or topic and teach it to you again until they get it right or until you get it, in which case it will be clear they know it well.

Other ways to help include just listening while the test-taker “thinks out loud” and bounces their ideas off of you, or having the test-taker make flashcards that you can then drill them on. This can be especially fun for kids as well! Note that some test-takers may still prefer to do the majority of their studying alone, so be flexible and open to helping however they prefer.

Further, motivation will be key for the months-long process. You can help them stay motivated for their studying by being positive, encouraging, and by listening to them vent.

C. How You Can Help Them With Their Mental, Physical, and Emotional Health

The skills and habits they — and you, by association! — pick up now to help with their mental, physical, and emotional health will help not only through the bar, but also for their entire legal careers and for the rest of their lives. All of these skills are applicable to life in general.

Mental health, like physical health (and really anything in life!) should be approached in a proactive and preventative way. But it is never too late to start. As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. But the reverse of that saying is also true: even if you start later than you should, just a handful of extra stitches can get you back to where you would have been had you done the one stitch in the first place!

We can work on mental health both directly and indirectly. As for the latter, studies show that there are a handful of things to focus on in order to make sure your mind is functioning properly and ready-to-go on a daily basis — getting exercise, eating and sleeping well, and spending time with a supportive social network. Just doing these things with no other specific focus on mental health is already quite helpful.

More directly, mental health can be improved with meditation, yoga, talking walks, or doing anything to disconnect your mind from thinking about worries, stresses, or things beyond the present moment.

The key is to find time to let your mind stop thinking about the bar. However, we cannot usually just tell our minds “stop thinking about that!” and expect it to work (just like telling someone with a fear of heights, “don’t look down!” will just make them look down!). Instead, we have to give our minds other things to think about instead of the bar. Give your mind positive fuel. Anything that makes you live in the moment, be present, or have fun is great: such as spending time with friends, getting a massage, spending time outside, or another favorite activity. Do these things together, too, for both of you. Spend time connecting and doing things with people who will let them forget about studying for a while.

Feeding bar-examinees is also a great way to be supportive, whether it means cooking for them, ordering takeout to their house, or just dropping off healthy groceries. Many bar examinees may not have the time or energy to get nutritious food unless it is literally and metaphorically handed to them on a plate!

Challenging physical tasks are helpful as well — getting exercise is especially helpful because it not only distracts your mind, but it also provides an endorphin boost that can help you stay positive throughout your studies. Challenging mental tasks are also helpful in general, but while studying for the bar it is not always recommended to start learning a new skill or language. Save that for afterwards.

  • TIP: The "breaks" that examinees take are going to be short! Any sort of relaxing or challenging activities may be just for an hour or a scheduled evening "off" but not for a whole day. No matter how short, that one hour or evening really helps!

A crucial aspect of success in bar studying, and indeed any big project in life, is avoiding burnout. It is better to study a little bit less and maybe score a few less points on the exam than it is to overwork and maybe score a few more points but have a large chance of getting burnt out before the test and not being able to finish the exam at all.

If your loved one does find themselves feeling burnt out, take a full break from studying. Take off a long weekend and help them totally forget about the bar. Get refreshed. Wipe clean the mental slate to rest and relax. Then decide together if they are ready to come back to studying or if they even need another full day or two off. Be kind to yourselves. Be patient here and take it slow. If they come back too fast from burnout, their studying will be less effective and they will be more prone to burn out again.

One More Thing: Any amount of help, helps! Even if you do not live with the test-taker: whether you are a far-away family member or a close but busy friend, any amount of help can really make a difference. Here is a list of things you can do even if you aren’t there on a daily basis:

  • Drop off a nourishing meal;
  • Do something fun with the examinee's kids;
    • Many people who take the bar (including many BarMax students!) are parents so anything that takes the kids away for a while is very helpful!
  • Offer to run errands or to do laundry;
  • Put together a care package of (mostly) healthy snacks;
  • Plan to spend time together doing brief enjoyable activities to let them take a brain break;
    • Please do this on their schedule!
  • Ask them to share their study schedule and whether they want help being held accountable to it.

Beyond the actual physical task of completing household chores, helping alleviate the mental load of managing their home and life — such as meal planning, helping schedule their appointments, contacting childcare providers, making a cleaning task-list, and more — is very helpful. Test-takers do not usually have a lot of mental space left over to deal with making decisions after a long day of studying.

No matter how much or how little you can do to help, the goal here is to give them freedom and patience to succeed at something that is extremely important to them, but extremely difficult at the same time. Law school itself is hard, and adding on a months-long study process for a test is another big stressor on top of that. Both the test-taker and their support network may be exhausted after this years-long process, but no matter what, please do not give up on them. They may be tired, irritable, and stressed but please give them the grace and patience you would need in a similar position. They still love you and will return to seeming fully human when this is over! Practice being there for them and being kind to them and to yourself through this process. Just being there for them at all can be so, so helpful.

D. How You Can Help Yourself

One important thing to keep in mind while helping others is to always continue to help yourself. If you find yourself feeling overly stressed about their stresses, make sure you take a break, relax, and help yourself with all the methods discussed above as well. You cannot support them unless you are feeling stable and able to support yourself. Just like you are encouraging them to do, make sure you find ways to be present, rest, relax, and do things you enjoy.

This not only helps you, but also sets a good example for the person you are supporting. Prioritizing your mental and physical health helps other people feel like they have permission to do the same.

III. What to Do During the Testing Period

Often, the test-taker must choose a testing location and arrange travel to and from the location as well as a place to stay during the testing. Depending on the two of you, you might want to stay with them for the testing period. The day before the test you both should do a practice run of getting to the testing site and finding a place to park. You will also want to prepare snacks and anything else you need to take into the test itself.

We do not recommend studying the day before the bar as it is just as likely to be overly stressful as it is to be helpful. Instead, they should trust their preparation up to that point and both of you should get the day off to either take a walk or veg-out on the couch and rest. The hard work is almost over!

IV. What To Do After the Bar

After the big day, it is time to relax and celebrate! Forget about the test for a while. There is no more need to think about the bar exam until the results come back. They shouldn’t re-hash any question they weren’t sure about or look up any laws after the fact.

Sometimes it is helpful to have a reward in store for right after a big project. Taking a few days off, taking a quick trip to the beach, going out for a movie or buying something for both of you can be great rewards. Holding off on this goal until after the bar can serve two purposes. One, it can be a nice way to celebrate and forget and two, it can serve as something to look forward to throughout the stresses of studying. They can keep themselves motivated by saying, “I can’t wait to finish the bar and go on that road trip I have been looking forward to!” or, “Just a few more weeks of studying and then it’s movie night and sleeping in late the next day!!” A reward at the end of the tunnel can help you more easily get through difficult times.

Now that the work is done, it is a good time for everyone involved to rest and relax. The household responsibilities can go back to normal and as best as they can, the test-taker should try to show gratitude and appreciation to anyone and everyone who helped them throughout the process. They should say, “Thank you!” to you and the rest of the support network. Finally, it is your turn to relax! Would this text & list work popped out into a separate shaded text box?