A year ago, when I was preparing for my last law school finals, I was both excited and nervous. I did not have a job lined up, and I could feel the pressure building. Then there was the bar exam, a challenge billed to be unlike any other.
I made it through the months of studying, took the bar, and a few months later found a position here at Mountain Dearborn. For those of you wrapping up law school and preparing for the bar, take heart. Here are some ways to survive the exam and move on with your new law career:
1. Know what kind of student you are.
You’ve made it through undergrad and law school, so chances are you’ve figured out effective studying strategies along the way. Rely on your tried-and-true approach before attempting to master a new study strategy. The bar exam presents unique challenges, however; if you find that your favorite study methods aren’t working, try another approach.
2. Don’t worry about what others are doing to prepare.
Everyone studies differently, from early risers to late night warriors. Some need to lock themselves in a library with noise-cancelling headphones, while others need white noise. Some people study in groups, while others prefer to work alone. There’s no perfect way to prepare for the bar exam. Find what helps YOU grasp the material, and stick to that.
3. Make time to do things you enjoy.
Exercise. Watch a movie. Hang out with your friends. Find something that is not bar-exam-related, and carve out some time to do it. This requires knowing yourself. If you will be stressed out taking time away from studying, and will only be focusing on how you need to get back and study, then I suggest limiting these activities; don’t put more stress on yourself. However, if you can get away from the bar exam for small moments each day or for a couple of days each week, and then get right back into it, that’s a worthwhile strategy.
4. Explain your study commitment to family and friends, and don’t be afraid to say no.
Studying for the bar exam is a major commitment. Early in the process, explain to family and friends how much time you need to invest in studying. Explain that you may not be available for social events. Ask for support and understanding. Don’t be afraid to say no to that beach trip when you have to study for Constitutional Law.
5. Don’t put your job search on hold.
This is a tough one. If you don’t have a position lined up while studying, you might wonder, as I did, “Why am I studying for this test when I don’t even have a job?” I sent out applications and went on interviews, but I picked a cut-off date, when I focused solely on the bar exam.
6. Be prepared beyond studying.
Details of taking the exam—who, what, where, when, how—can feel overwhelming. Some study programs and jurisdictions offer a practice exam at the actual site. It’s worth doing to know what you’re walking into on that first day. Prepare your kit a few days in advance. You don’t want to be hunting for an e-mail print-out or your number 2 pencils on the morning of the exam.
7. Focus on what’s in front of you and then what’s next.
The exam is broken down into four sections across two days, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I used that structure to help me focus on the task at hand and then shift my attention to the next section. There will be questions you can’t answer correctly, but try not to panic. Just focus on what is coming up.
8. During breaks between sections, don’t talk to others about the questions.
Yes, I realize this is borderline impossible, especially when your friend asks, “What was the deal with that Conflict of Laws essay?” Once you begin dissecting specific questions, you’ll start second-guessing your answers. But you can’t go back and change them, and you also don’t know if your friend is even correct. Stay focused on what’s next, not what’s passed.
For after the exam:
9. Be prepared for a million questions.
“How did you do?” “When do you get the results?” The questions can be annoying, but the people asking generally care, and they may have supported you along the way. Be kind and courteous, then change the subject if you don’t want to talk about it.
10. Take a break and then get to work.
If you have a job lined up, try to schedule a break before your first day of work. You probably need it. If you don’t have a job lined up, take a break, anyway. You need to decompress, before you start applying. Work your connections/network, offer to work for the experience if compensation isn’t available, and do whatever you can to get a foot in the door.
I’m sure you’re getting plenty of advice from family, friends, professors, bar prep courses and more. But the key is to figure out quickly what will be effective for YOU, because you’re the one taking the exam.