You’ll hear it over and over again: Preparing for the bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, it’s a cliche. Allow us another: Cliches are cliches for a reason. There’s truth in there.
The finish line is months away, and the best way to ensure success is by approaching the material in increments. That’s daunting in any setting, more so when you’re confined to your home. But there are ways to maximize your bar preparation regardless of where you’re hitting the books.
The first step is to set up a home study space that works for you. Then it comes down to sticking to a schedule, establishing a routine, allowing for breaks, removing distractions, and understanding that you’re not alone.
Here are five tips to help you prepare for the bar exam when you study at home.
1. Lay out a study schedule.
It’s recommended that students spend around 500 hours preparing for the bar exam. Considering most people have only two and a half months to commit to bar preparation after graduation, devoting considerable time to studying every day is essential. Does that sound like a full-time job? It should.
But it’s not enough to say, “I’ll shoot for 50 hours this week.” You need a detailed, yet flexible study plan, one that emphasizes distributed practice over cram sessions. Otherwise, you may find yourself procrastinating and thinking you can make up for lost time with debilitating all-nighters.
Allocate the hours accordingly for the first few weeks so you gain an understanding of what works for you. From there, you can tweak your schedule to fit your needs: Are there subjects you’re struggling to grasp? Do you need more time for practice questions or essays? Are you more productive during one part of the day than another?
No matter how detailed you get—from start and stop times, to specific material you plan on studying, to written-in breaks—you’ll appreciate waking up every day and knowing what’s on deck, especially if you’re confined to your home study space.
Those 500 hours look less daunting when they’re broken down into segments.
2. Establish a routine.
This is especially important for students spending most of their time studying at home.
It’s one thing to have a plan. It’s another to stick to it. That’s where routine comes in. Studying for upwards of 40 hours a week is the start, but it’s hardly the only aspect of routine. Routine means going to bed at the same time every night. It’s waking up at the same time every day. It’s eating meals at the same time. It’s taking breaks at the same time. It’s finding a rhythm that will have your mind on the bar exam as soon as you start your day, and winding down when the clock tells you to close up shop.
The early weeks should be spent, in part, figuring out a routine. To help with that, ask yourself questions following each session:
- What did I learn today?
- Was I productive?
- Did I take quality notes?
- Was I energized?
If you consistently answer yes, you’re likely well on your way to being prepared for the bar exam. If you answer no, alter your routine to reinforce the positive aspects of your session and work on improving the negatives.
Just remember, the closer you get to the exam, the more you should focus on being physically prepared as much as being mentally prepared. The bar exam begins at 9:30 a.m. each day. Make sure you’re ready for an early wakeup, followed by hours of sitting in one place.
3. Take mental breaks.
This is tied to the first two tips. It's important to be diligent about your study habits. It's almost equally important to step away from time to time to relax. After all, preparing for the bar exam is stressful enough, especially so if you're stuck at home.
Make sure you're accounting for that when you get into your routine. Take time to step outside for a walk or a run. Allow yourself a number of breaks throughout the day.
There are also a number of apps that benefit your mental health, including 'Calm' and 'Stop, Breathe & Think.' Part of staying motivated is having things to look forward to, and mental breaks can fill that space.
4. Remove distractions.
Quality studying is about focusing on the tasks at hand. It’s one of the main reasons you’d head to the library or local coffee shop to hit the books in the first place: You’re removing distractions.
That’s more difficult to do at home, where Netflix, your bed, or your favorite video game system are so close. You may think one episode of the latest streamable show couldn’t hurt your progress. Heck, you may even be tempted to have it on in the background.
But that will only cut into valuable study time, even if you have your books open while you watch. The other main distraction that has no place in bar preparation is social media. You could place your phone on the other side of the room to avoid checking it every 20 minutes or so. You could also change your social media passwords and have a friend or loved one hold them hostage (so to speak) until you’re finished studying for the day.
Having said that, one apparent distraction might actually benefit your preparation: music. Listening to classical music or movie soundtracks (basically, prioritizing songs without lyrics) can stimulate your mind. And if you have a good pair of headphones, you can block outside noise.
5. You may be alone, but you’re not alone.
This is something to tell yourself as stress mounts. Preparing for the bar exam is a lonely pursuit, but you’re not the only one going through it.
Reach out to your bar review course attorneys with questions and think about all of your classmates and friends who are in the same boat as you. Rely on them through the journey. Make it a point to set up virtual study sessions. Develop flashcards so you can quiz each other over video. Step away from the books to check in with your fellow aspiring lawyers.
And don’t leave out the people who have already gone through it, whether that’s friends, family, or your favorite professors. They are valuable resources in providing guidance on certain topics you’re struggling with or just encouraging words.
Just because you don't see them face-to-face doesn't mean they're not there to lend support, whatever that support may be. In fact, their goal is the same as yours: to have you pass the bar.