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5 Time Management Tips for Bar Studying

Dayna Smith

5 Time Management Tips for Bar Studying
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Each year, students leave law school and move into an intense period of studying for the bar exam. If you’re in this position, you might understandably find the prospect of studying for up to 600 hours over eight to ten weeks overwhelming. The following five tips will help you manage your time throughout bar study to maximize your study efforts.

1. Map Out Your Master Plan

The first step of time management is figuring out what bar study will look like for you. Take out a monthly calendar and mark the dates of your bar exam. Then, think about what’s happening between now and then. Is there a wedding coming up that you must attend? A family event? What about recurring obligations, like a weekly volunteer shift? It’s generally not recommended to work while studying, but if you are, note your workdays too.

Mark all those commitments on your calendar, also noting how long they’ll take. You may have to skip an entire day of studying if you’re in a friend’s wedding, but maybe you can squeeze in a half day around a family event.

Once you understand what non-bar obligations are on your calendar, it’s time to plug in your studying. This doesn’t need to be a detailed daily plan—your bar course will often give you that. Instead, this is where you note for yourself how many hours a day you plan to study. Remember that you should plan to study 400-600 hours for the bar exam, but you also need a sustainable schedule. Planning short breaks for yourself, such as taking a half-day off each week, will help keep you energized and on track.

2. Warn Your Family and Friends

Now that you know what your master plan looks like, it’s time to address distractions. Often, the hardest distractions to avoid are those that come from the outside. Maybe it’s a friend you don’t see often asking you to lunch or a family member wanting to go to the beach. Whatever it is, you must be ready to prioritize yourself and your career by prioritizing studying.

Communication makes managing these distractions easier. Tell your family and friends beforehand you will be studying for the bar exam and what that entails. Non-lawyers (and even lawyers!) may not understand how intense the bar exam is. Telling them in advance, and reminding them, if need be, that you must commit hundreds of hours to studying will help you manage their expectations and focus on the exam.

3. Establish a Daily Routine

Because many commercial prep courses provide the tasks you should complete each day, everyone’s precise daily schedule will look different. However, you should still create a consistent daily routine. A daily routine will help get you going on days you don’t feel motivated to study and builds opportunities to rest and recharge.

When building your daily routine, consider starting your day early. Even if you’re not an early riser, you’ll have to start early for the bar exam, so you should practice during studying. You should also pick a reasonable stopping time for each day. Don’t forget to include other necessary activities, such as eating regular meals and exercising.

A sample 10-hour study routine might be:

  • 7:00–7:30 a.m.                        Exercise
  • 7:30–8:00 a.m.                        Shower and Breakfast
  • 8:00–10:00 a.m.                      Study
  • 10:00–10:30 a.m.                    Break
  • 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.            Study
  • 12:30–1:00 p.m.                      Lunch
  • 1:00–3:00 p.m.                        Study
  • 3:00–3:30 p.m.                        Break
  • 3:30–5:30 p.m.                        Study
  • 5:30–6:00 p.m.                        Dinner
  • 6:00–8:00 p.m.                        Study

Creating a daily routine will help you have productive study days by eliminating uncertainty. Be sure to reevaluate your routine as you progress through bar study to ensure it continues to be manageable and productive.

4.  Bounce Back from Breaks

Breaks in your studying will happen, so it’s important to have a plan to get back on track. Your daily routine will help, but it may be hard even to get started the day after a break, so take time the night before to set yourself up for success the next day. Lay out the materials you’ll need, prepare meals and snacks, and plan a small reward for your first break of the day—whatever it will take to get you going that morning.

If the break is unplanned, you may feel guilty for taking that time off, but you shouldn’t let it hinder progress. Acknowledge that you had an unplanned break and reflect on what caused it. Were you burnt out? Did someone ask you to do something you couldn’t say no to? If you’re burning out, you may have to revise your routine and master plan. If it was just a one-time thing, think about how you might handle a similar situation in the future. The key is not to let an unexpected break impact the next study session—learn from it and move on, adjusting future study days if necessary to make up for the lost time.

5. Reevaluate

Part of time management during bar study is regularly asking yourself if your plans are working. Are you accomplishing your assigned tasks and spending time memorizing the material? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you have some time to recharge? If you’re not happy with an answer to one or more of these questions, it’s time to adjust. Perhaps you need to wake up earlier to get more study time in. Maybe you need to build in an afternoon break to rest before the next study period.

Ultimately, you need a plan that dedicates enough time to studying while avoiding burnout. It may take a few weeks to find a workable daily routine and master plan, and it might change as you get closer to the exam. Set yourself a reminder at least once a week to reflect and reevaluate your routine and schedule—it’s better to make the adjustments as you go rather than realize a week before the exam that you need more study time.