Monday, June 5

10 Study Tips for the Bar Exam

While life feels a little crazy right now (post about that potentially coming soon), I'm really relieved that I don't have to take the bar exam again this summer. I was constantly stressed and anxious last summer, though I already miss the structural aspect of it; I love schedules and habits, so I'm kind of wishing this summer could have that kind of structure too.

I have a lot of friends taking the bar exam this summer, and I feel like I've been giving advice to everyone. Not that I mind it - I adore helping people, and having gone through this experience so recently, I'm more than happy to share what I've learned. Assuming you're investing in bar study materials (do people do it on their own?!), here are my 10 study tips for the bar exam!

(1) Go to the classes and/or watch the lectures.
Barbri offers both live classes and online lectures. I was all about going to the live lectures - I figured they would help me focus, but that didn't end up being the case. My ideal schedule started about four hours earlier than Barbri's live lectures started, so I was basically just moping around the house or wasting time before leaving for class. Sometimes it felt nice to just get out of the apartment, but once I figured out the lectures (which were pre-recorded) could be played at any time, I started watching my daily lecture right after my post-workout shower - right around 7AM.

(2) Keep a schedule that works for you
On a related note, what works for someone else may not work for you. Some people really liked having the lectures start later in the morning. Some people objectively learn better during live lectures. This requires knowing how and when you work best, and being willing to change throughout the summer based on what's working. I'm a morning person, so I started my day at 5AM, went to my barre class (it's a ballet-inspired workout - my hashtag all summer was #barreforthebar), came home, showered, had a coffee, then started my daily lecture. That worked for me.

During lectures, I followed along in the book and/or took notes, and sped up the lecture when I could. Sometimes the lecturers speak so slow, and honestly, no one has time for that. If you can absorb the information and take adequate notes while it's on a faster pace, do it! I normally finished the lecture around 10AM, took a short break, then studied for another two hours until lunch. If I worked that day, I headed to work right after lunch until 5PM or so, when I got home and studied again until around 7PM. If I didn't work, I got back to studying right after lunch until around 5-6PM. I would study a new section, answer questions corresponding to my morning lecture, practice an essay, or watch another lecture depending on how behind I was. After studying, I'd make dinner, clean, relax, or (most likely) watch a movie with J.

Overall, I studied 6-8 hours every day except for Saturday during the months of May and June. During July, I cut back on work and added Saturdays back into my study schedule. It worked for me!

(3) Keep track of your time
Everyone from my law school suggested we study 500 hours for the bar exam. It seemed like a lot, particularly when I hadn't started until the end of May. I definitely did not study 500 hours overall, but I probably did around 400. I know people who did more and less than me, and almost everyone passed - but honestly, why risk it? Study as much as you possibly can, because the more you study, the more prepared you'll probably feel for the actual exam!

I used an app (Pomodoro) to keep track of my time after having a skype meeting with a professor from my law school. Personally, I feel like we all over-estimate how much time we're actually studying versus doing other things like checking Facebook or just cleaning up around the house "for a second." Pomodoro helped me focus because I could set my own intervals; I could work for 25 minutes, then take a break to read. It keeps track of how many intervals you've done, so it's really easy to tell how much you've worked that day. Now that I'm doing a little freelance work, I'm definitely going to be using Pomodoro again to make sure I'm productive!

(4) Working is OK - as long as you can handle it
This totally depends on you and your needs. I didn't take out a loan last summer because I'd taken out more than enough for law school, and I really wanted to work. I was in a brand-new state with basically no connections, so I needed to start creating relationships with attorneys in town.

I was warned to not work, and if I had to, not to work a law job. Obviously I didn't heed this advice, but I'm glad I didn't. Working a few half-days a week worked out really well for me and my schedule. I worked afternoons after watching the daily lecture, then study again after work. It mixed up my schedule enough that I didn't get worn out from studying right away. I also got a chance to get my nose out of books while still remaining "focused" on the law, and I got human interaction beyond my husband. It also really helped that everyone at my office understood that I was studying, and that studying was the most important thing I was doing that summer. 

Personally, working during the summer was useful and actually beneficial. That may not be the case for you, so you need to figure out what you need and what works best for you.

(5) Exercise!
My morning workouts kept me sane all summer. As I said above concerning keeping a schedule, habits are so important. You're spending most of your summer sitting in a chair; if you don't move your body consistently, you will literally go insane.

I joined a barre studio and went to 5:30AM class every day. It was expensive, but you don't need to join a specific studio. I found barre and yoga group classes really nice during the summer, but there are plenty of cheaper options. Join a gym and work out at a set time every day. Take walks in the evening around a park! Try to be as active as you can, because your mind and body will feel so much better from it. You're going to think better if you treat your body better.

(6) Don't limit the ways in which you study
Practice and study in weird or funny ways! I did the "normal" stuff, like taking notes, reading notes, and flashcards... but as the summer went on, I became more creative. I looked up bar topics on Pinterest to try and find new outlines, which opened the door to so many different options for me when I struggled with topics (*cough* contracts). 

I also practiced torts and criminal law when J played video games, or when we watched X-Files in the evening. "Whoops, no warrant!" "That was definitely some unprivileged contact!" I'm sure I was very annoying, but guess who passed the bar exam?! 😜

My friend Abby was the queen of flash cards. They worked so well for her, but they just didn't work for me. The most helpful part for me was that I wrote them by hand. Writing and re-writing notes is how my brain processes information I need to memorize, so eventually, I just stuck with that - and it worked.

(7) Study the right answers
It sucks to get the answer wrong, right? And, especially at the beginning, you're going to get a LOT of wrong answers. When I got questions wrong, I started writing down the questions and the right answer. I printed off so many pages of questions and answers, but it paid off because I started getting those questions right!

I took the time to actually see how and why I got the questions wrong. It took forever, and I had so many moments when I questioned if it was really worth it. Yes - yes it was.

(8) Focus on your weak points - but know when to walk away
Throughout the summer, I mostly just did multiple choice questions. Every time I practiced an essay (and after I actually learned the format they wanted), I basically killed it. So I focused on what I needed help on, which was multiple choice. I was really bad at multiple choice... for a really long time. So I didn't do any of the graded essays or write out a full essay, even once. But my bar exam essay score was amazing, so it clearly didn't hurt me... but it may have made me feel more prepared if I did.

I also focused on the topics that I was struggling with. I was bad at pretty much everything at the beginning, except maybe Civ Pro and Con Law. But as studying went on, it became clear which topics I had just temporarily forgotten and which I was legitimately bad at. For example, I was getting really bad scores in Torts, but after I started studying, I started testing at the 90th percentile.

In contrast, I had to study contracts until literally the day before the exam. I really struggled with it, and I was getting so many questions wrong. By the end, my scores improved a lot because of that focused studying and figuring out the areas I was consistently getting wrong.

I also had to give up in a couple areas. At a certain point, a week or so before the exam, I had to just accept that I was never going to understand the Rule Against Perpetuities in time for the exam. I just accepted that I would guess on those questions, and that was fine. I had to focus on other areas that I was struggling with, and which were a lot more likely to come up on the exam.

(9) Don't talk to other people studying for the exam
Seriously, don't. I mean it. If you know other people studying for the same exam you are, generally just stay away; it will only make you feel inadequate and insecure. You'll inevitably talk about how much you're studying compared to how much they're studying and what subjects they're doing well in, which will naturally be the ones you really suck at. It's one of the reasons I stopped going to in-person lectures, because I couldn't handle hearing the people behind me talk about studying.

The one exception? Maybe talk to like, two people. I had two friends who I discussed bar study with over the summer and it was fine. My friend Abby and I were study buddies all through law school, so we knew we worked well together. It turned out to be a smart decision because guess who was good at contracts? Abby. Guess who was really good at evidence, which turned out to be Abby's Waterloo? Me! When I was really struggling with a concept, I'd call her up and ask her to explain it, and I did the same when she was struggling with an evidence question. 

It was great to have a few friends I could call to complain to, empathize with, and question throughout the experience. It also helped to have someone else (you trust) explain a tough concept, and it's helpful for you to explain a concept to someone else because it solidifies your weak points with that concept.

(10) Appreciate your off-time and the people you spend it with
You don't get a lot of free time. It sucks to say, but it's true. Even when you technically have free time - like in the evenings, or on the weekend - you'll probably feel stressed out that you're not studying. Last summer, I had a small panic attack inside a book store because, after shopping for 15 minutes, it's like I kept envisioning a clock, ticking away all the time that I wasn't using the study. It sounds stupid, right? Well, that was my brain on bar prep.

I had an easier time relaxing in the evenings, because at that point, I had put in significant time during the day. Emotionally, I needed to relax after a full day of prep. I needed to watch stupid shows and read fluffy books and let my brain rest from the days' worth of knowledge.

I really relied on my partner, J, to encourage me in all aspects of my life. He was the one who told me it was okay to take an evening walk around the park and distracted me with non-bar prep talk. He told me constantly that I was intelligent and amazing and that I could do this. I didn't believe him all the time, but he never wavered.

If you have friends or partners helping you, emotionally, with bar prep, thank them all the time for putting up with you. Honestly, I was so annoying! 😂 As I said above, I would constantly make bar prep-related comments when he played video games or when we watched shows. J was so patient and understanding, and I thanked him constantly for his attitude while I was in the midst of anxiety. Whoever it is hanging out with you, they are saints.


To all of you studying for the bar exam: 
You are so smart and capable. Study hard for as long as you can, and remember that this is only temporary. Don't lose faith in yourself just because you're starting out and not getting great scores - that is normal! Do what you need to do to stay sane and get through this. What works for someone else may not work for you, and that's fine; while this is, ultimately, a competition, the only thing you can control is you.

Good luck!

Do you have any tips or advice for people taking the bar exam?


  1. I just found your blog (while searching for evidence charts) and omg I'm in love! I'm studying for the bar right now and reading these tips really helped with some things my study buddy and I were struggling with.

    1. Hey Mary! SO happy that these tips were useful for you. :) I took the bar last summer and it was probably the hardest few months of my life. Please let me know if there's any other topic (law school/bar/attorney-related or otherwise) that you'd like me to cover!

      xo - M

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