After graduation season, future esquires are focused on one final milestone: passing their state’s bar exam. Studying for the bar exam can be stressful and overwhelming. The key to managing these feelings is to have a plan in place to guide exam preparation. Indeed, there is no single right way to prepare for the bar exam (regardless of which state bar exam you are preparing to take). Every individual is different. Every situation is different. That said, there are steps that future esquires can take to maximize their exam preparation and put themselves in the best position possible for passing the bar exam. This article presents 10 tips that are vital to passing the bar exam.
1. Celebrate Your Accomplishments
Before bar exam preparation begins, be sure to take some time to unwind from final exams and enjoy your graduation celebrations without worrying about your upcoming preparation. Graduating from law school is a great accomplishment and it is crucial that you take the time to admire the past three (or more) years of hard work and the resulting fruits of your labor. So relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy your final days or weeks of relaxation before bar exam preparation begins.
2. Prepare Your Family and Friends for the Demands of Bar Exam Preparation
Make sure your family, significant other (or those you live with), and friends understand the significance of the bar exam and the demands exam preparation will have on your time. Explain to them that the bar exam is the most important exam in your career journey as a future esquire and that it will be a high (if not the highest) priority for you. To that end, preparing for the bar exam may require you to take time off from work or substantially reduce your work schedule. If taking time off from work is not an option, consider starting your bar exam preparation early. This will allow you to have adequate study time and prevent burnout from attempting to juggle both a strenuous study schedule and a work schedule.
3. Enroll in Commercial Bar Review Courses
Future esquires should seriously consider taking a commercial bar review course to prepare for the bar exam. The bar exam is not like other exams you took in law school. The study materials you used for law school exams will not be helpful in preparing for the bar exam. Commercial bar exam courses are designed to teach you topics and guide you through practice questions that are comparable to those on the bar exam. Your likelihood of passing the bar exam is much greater if you prepare with a commercial bar review course.
4. Treat Bar Exam Preparation Like a Job
The best way to prepare for the bar exam is to treat preparation like a full-time job. You should aim to devote at least eight hours each day to studying. Most bar review courses hold review sessions from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. After a short break, you should study for an additional four to five hours in the afternoon. It is also important to have an effective place to study. Choosing a regular place that you go to around the same time each day can help your preparation feel more like a job and may help maximize your study time.
5. Vary Your Study Methods
In addition to the assignments offered by a bar review course, future esquires should use other tools to aid their study efforts, such as commercial flashcards, videos, and commercial outlines. Be sure to ask your law school what bar exam preparation resources it offers, which may include supplemental courses and lectures by law school professors. Using these tools will help maximize your time outside of coursework.
6. Solicit Feedback on Practice Questions
When preparing for the bar exam, it is important to use every resource available to you to improve your chances of success. One of the most valuable tools at your disposal is feedback from someone who has experience with evaluating and grading bar exam essays and practice questions. Take advantage of any mentoring programs offered by your law school or local bar association that will provide you with an opportunity to have your practice essays evaluated by an experienced attorney or other professional (such as professor or bar exam tutor).
7. Be Flexible with Your Routine
While it is important to establish a consistent study routine at the outset of bar exam preparation, recognize when it is necessary to be flexible with your preparation approach. For example, many successful bar exam takers regret blindly following everything on their bar review course schedule and “to do lists.” Understand that it is OK if you do not complete everything your course tells you to do, especially if you realize that the course’s schedule does not help you adequately retain information. It is perfectly acceptable to spend more time on what you find most helpful rather than merely finishing assignments to check the box of completion. Resist the urge to aimlessly complete your daily study tasks, and be intentional about how you allocate your study time.
8. Know Your Limits
One of the most important parts of preparing for the bar exam is knowing your limitations—know when you have studied enough each day and know when you have studied enough for each topic. Because there is so much riding on passing the bar exam, it is easy to be consumed by studying. Not knowing when you have reached your limit can lead to burnout and will ultimately be counterproductive. Remember, your mind can absorb only so much. So work hard, but know when to take breaks in order to give yourself the best chance of passing the bar exam.
9. Practice Healthy Habits
Perhaps the most beneficial and crucial step a future esquire can take toward passing the bar exam is to maintain healthy habits during bar exam preparation. Staying healthy during bar exam preparation does not just equate to successful performance on practice questions and practice essays; it also serves to avoid getting sick or overly stressed before and during the bar exam. Future esquires should exercise, take time to prepare nutritious meals, and get adequate sleep. Taking care of yourself will keep your body and brain healthy, enabling high performance during the bar examination.
10. Trust Your Preparation
Finally, have confidence that your preparation will lead to passing the bar exam. Your hard work will pay off, and you are one exam away from being a licensed attorney!
Brazitte Poole is an associate with Ogletree Deakins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Through the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, Brazitte served as an intern for the Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
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