Prepping for the Bar Exam on a Time Crunch

About the Author:

Cheryl Blount is a Summer 2009 JIOP alum and is currently an associate at Scott Patton PC in Houston, Texas.

Published: May 30, 2014

Although it seems like an impossible feat, you can pass your state’s bar exam with two weeks of intense studying with the proper preparation. This article is not intended to promote only giving yourself a few weeks preparation for the bar exam, but a short timeline may be inevitable. Since my law school was divided into quarters instead of semesters and I graduated in early spring, my options were either to take the bar two weeks after graduation or wait for five months. If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t fret!  Here are my tips on how to set yourself up for a pass:

Put In the Legwork Early
Do not get me wrong; I did not give myself only two weeks without first putting in some early legwork. First, if you can afford it on your student budget, invest in a bar preparation course. The companies offering these courses have analyzed the bar exams in each state for several years, they know exactly what is tested, and can accurately predict question trends. You can sign up for a bar preparation course as early as your first year in law school.

The bar preparation companies typically set up the course with outlines and lectures on each legal subject that could be tested. You should at least give yourself six months prior to the bar exam to keep up with the lectures while you are still attending school. For example, I had watched every subject lecture and completed the bar outlines before my two-weeks of bar study. However, the more legwork you can manage, the less stressful your short bar study session will be. So prepare early!

Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Your state’s bar exam will be divided into different sections, which will most likely include at least a multistate multiple-choice section and an essay section. If you do not enroll in a bar preparation course, get a hold of practice multistate multiple-choice and essay questions and see how you perform on them. As you practice, take them under similar testing conditions, including but not limited to time constraints.

After a few practice sessions, size up your strengths and weaknesses and then hone in on what you can make the most improvement on. Spending more time on sections of the exam on which you are excelling in practice will not be as valuable.

Study Someplace Practical
If you are reading this, you probably already know the study conditions that are best for you, whether that is a quiet library or noisy coffee shop. If you prefer to study in a nosier place, like I did, I would suggest that you get used to working in a quieter environment the closer you get to the bar exam. Unless you can muster the noise of an auditorium of clicking keyboards, you will probably wear earplugs during the bar exam. Getting used to the actual exam day environment will calm any anxiety or stress related to unfamiliar surroundings.

Stock Up and Stay Healthy
After you have put in the legwork and found the perfect study spot, prepare your mind and body for your two-week cram session. You will spend more than 12 hours a day studying during this time period, so you will need to set yourself up for minimal distractions. Additionally, your health is crucial for optimal studying and exam taking. 

Here is a brief, nonexclusive list of things you should do to prepare, which can be modified to fit your needs:   

(1) Stock up your fridge full of quick, healthy meals and snacks to last you through the two weeks (I lived off healthy frozen meals during my study session);
(2) Wean off of your regular caffeine intake, as you will have to take the bar exam without coffee breaks;
(3) Get plenty of rest, as it is usually more beneficial to your brain power than spending that time studying; and
(4) Make time to sweat (or at least get outside) and release some stress.

Trust That It Will All Come Together
Lastly, trust the process of repetition. The bar exam is all about breadth of information, not necessarily depth. Create a process in your study method to constantly review the information that you have already studied. Although it will feel like there is no room left in your brain, the repetitive review process produces results. 

For me, panic started to set in the night before the essay portion of the bar exam. I felt like I could not remember anything; nothing was sticking with me. However, I kept reviewing until it was time to get rest before the big day. When I woke up the next morning to review my materials one more time, everything clicked! Although it might not always be the answer, it sometimes pays to trust your brain to follow through with your hard work in lieu of sacrificing much-needed sleep.


Copyright © 2014, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).

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