Sitting for the bar exam is scary. For some students, that fear of this exam starts much earlier than the moment you walk into your test center. Law schools are trying to prepare you for the bar from the minute you step foot onto campus and starting that point, it’s unfortunately going to be in the back of your mind. Having the right mentality really makes all the difference in the world with getting rid of anxiety your 3L year as well as helping your chances of passing the bar on the first try.
First, if you’re a 3L, don’t let this exam hang over your head all year. The scariest thing about the bar is likely the exact same thing as the scariest thing about entering law school; it’s the fear of the unknown. Much like law school, you’ve always heard that the bar exam was going to be hard and require a lot of time studying, but other than that, you don’t really know all that much about it. Like law school, once you get into the thick of things in terms of studying, you start to see that it’s not that bad. As humans, we quickly adjust and begin to accept the routine of studying long hours and this soon becomes the norm and no longer seems so bad. So, do yourself a favor and educate yourself on what exactly the bar exam as well as bar study entails because the worst part about the whole process is truly just not knowing what to expect.
Now that you know not to let the bar exam loom over you while you’re trying (and hopefully) to make the most out of your 3L year by having a blast one last time before entering or reentering the workforce, let’s now turn to bar study. For the bar exam, you’re obviously going to be required to know a lot of law, and how to apply said law to fact patterns. That’s without a doubt a very big part of the game. However, going in mentally strong is absolutely paramount to your success as well. So, what can you do to ensure that you are mentally prepared for this exam?
Studying for the bar is a marathon not a race
DON’T burn yourself out in May or early June. Don’t lock yourself in your room and study 15 hours a day early on in the summer. You will burn yourself out and won’t be able to put in the longer hours needed as you get closer to the bar exam. As the bar comes closer, students that burned themselves out early on have to start taking days off because they can’t retain anything. This can leave you feeling guilty, but your brain may be so fried that you don’t have any other option. Don’t let this happen to you.
Create a daily routine/regime
Routines/regimens are healthy for you. Having a somewhat defined schedule is a very healthy way to handle your summer. Much like studying too long, not getting enough sunlight or exercise is going to make your days and summer feel 10x worse than it has to be. Getting sunlight and exercise makes the process seem much more manageable and you’ll soon realize that bar study doesn’t have to be as miserable as everyone makes it out to seem. A sample schedule look something like this:
- 9-12:30: Lecture
- 12:30-1:30: Review Bar Notes
- 1:30-2:30: Swim and take a lunch break
- 2:30 -4:30: Study
- 4:30 – 5:00: Break
- 5:00 – 7:00: Study
- 7:00- Bedtime: My time to relax and hang out with friends
Always have something to look forward to
It’s also wise to always have something to look forward to so that your life doesn’t feel like it is absolutely consumed with bar study. When you’re done studying for the day, you want to make sure that you aren’t spending additional energy still thinking about the bar and studying. Take your mind off of it and enjoy some of your summer (BIG SECRET: yes, you can still enjoy life while studying for the bar). Make plans to hang out with friends, bbq, plan your bar trip, etc. Here’s what a social schedule might look like during bar study:
- Mondays: Movie Theater
- Tuesdays: Nothing
- Wednesday: Farmers Market
- Thursday: Nothing
- Friday: Dinner with friends
- Saturday: Hang out at a friend’s house
Having these things to look forward to can really add some enjoyment to the summer and allow you to stay much more focused during the day when studying.
Try to take these suggestions and work these into your law school and bar study experience. Like I said, the scariest thing about the bar is just facing the unknown. Get rid of that fear by informing yourself of the process and what bar study actually looks like. Then, create a plan much like mine and all those that I’ve helped pass the bar exam and the process won’t be all that bad. Get your work done, enjoy a little bit of those nice summer evenings, and then pass that bar on the first try with Kaplan so that you can enjoy that well-deserved bar trip!
How can breaks help retention and mental health
Studying and taking the bar exam can be a very stressful time in many students’ lives. It’s a time we all try and forget once we finish taking the exam, but remains with us like a bad memory that we can just never forget. However, that does not have to be the case for you! Take some time and talk to people who have successfully navigated the world of bar studies and they will tell you, “take breaks while studying.”
Taking breaks while studying serves to give your brain a moment to digest what you have just been cramming in there for the past few hours. Without that time, you will not be able to convert newly learned information into long term memory for the exam; which means you will just have to go back and redo some of the work to learn what you have already covered. And that can lead to unneeded frustration and additional stress. Here’s what a Kaplan BAR Regional Manager had to say about his time studying for the BAR exam:
Taking breaks throughout your studying will keep you fresh, alert and more attentive to what you are studying. They will also help you stay efficient while studying. Remember there is no magic formula everyone can simply follow to pass the bar. The key is to do the work and to stay calm.