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How to Survive the Bar Exam

Updated on August 23, 2011

Outline your study plan

As you begin contemplating taking the bar exam in your state, you'll need to figure out what your plan of attack will be. Are you going to use a commercial service like BarBri or are you going to try to go it alone?

Whichever method you choose, be aware that you will need to structure your time to allow the maximum amount of studying possible while maintaining your sanity. That might seem like an easy task at the beginning, but rest assured, you will find that increasingly difficult as the weeks progress. BarBri will not tell you exactly how to spend every minute of your day, so it's up to you to figure that out.

The first step is to figure out what is on the exam. Every state has its own structure for the bar exam, with different topics tested. Most states use the Multistate Bar Exam, which is a multiple choice exam that covers the following topics: Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Evidence, Property, and Torts. These same topics may or may not be included in your state's essay portion of the exam, and your state may or may not have a performance test. Do your research and find out what topics will be tested.

Next, outline your time.If you are using BarBri or another study service, you have an advantage at this step in your planning because they will give you a calendar. This will tell you when your classes are and other activities you can do during your free time. At this point, you should write out a daily schedule, including meals and down time. Don't forget exercise! Even a short walk in the middle of the day can help your brain process the huge volume of information you will be absorbing as you study.

Finally, set up some goals. It can be useful to set up target numbers. For example, you can tell yourself that you will complete a certain number of multiple choice questions each day or master a certain number of flash cards, etc. Write these goals down. Early on in your study process, it can feel like you are not making any progress. Accomplishing smaller goals can help you feel like you are achieving something.

Work your plan

One of the most important keys in studying for the bar exam is tenacity. Just don't stop. You may feel frustrated, brain-dead or overwhelmed. Just don't stop. You may come across nay-sayers or those who want to distract you from your work. Just don't stop. It is really that simple-- keep working as hard as you can for as long as you can.

BUT that doesn't mean you should only study. Remember, part of your plan includes down time. You need good relaxation more than ever now. Don't feel guilty for taking a little time each day for yourself. Just don't let your daily 30-minute TV dose turn into a movie marathon. Try to stay on track with your plan.

Accept the outcome

You only have a discrete amount of time to study for the bar exam. Once exam day arrives, the sufficiency of your efforts will be tested. Try to accept that you have done what you could and can only now focus on the test itself. The best approach is to live in the moment and let come what may.

Don't compare yourself to others. It does absolutely no good to compare what you have done with the work of those around you. There are so many factors that come into play when taking the exam-- some dependent on the individual, some on schooling or other circumstances-- that it actually doesn't make sense to compare yourself to those around you.

Assume everyone feels the same way you do on exam day. Are you freaking out? So is everyone else. Are you scared? Confident? Worried? Assume everyone in the room is feeling the same way, and you're more likely to settle down and focus. That's all you can do.

Go with the flow. At this point, you are probably not going to be able to miraculously pull some long-forgotten nugget of information from the recesses of your mind. That's OK. Just keep moving forward steadily, keeping an eye on the time, and you'll most likely get all the important points down. Don't overthink the questions. You may have had some absurdly tricky law school professors who delighted in hiding the ball. That isn't going to happen (most likely) on the bar exam. If there's ambiguity, point it out, but don't obsess over it. Just let yourself plod through the material methodically.

Enjoy the results

When you're done with the exam, celebrate! Take time to enjoy doing all the fun little things you put off while you were studying. Reconnect with friends who you didn't have time to talk with very much. Try to relax!

You will have several months to wait now before you find out how you did, so think positively and when someone asks you how it went, tell them with a grin, "Great!"


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