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Worst case scenarios: Survive the unexpected with your personal plan for bar prep

Bar Exam Prep

It’s safe to say the bar exam is no walk in the park, and this general knowledge factors into all test takers’ determination of which bar review course provides the best prep.

No matter which course you choose, you’ll likely learn the same rules the competitor course is teaching as must-knows for success in your state. What not all courses provide, however, is personal preparation and what you need to know to overcome challenges during the course of the exam that don’t necessarily involved the tested materials.

Setting yourself up for success in the following areas ahead of time can pay off big on test day, so save some time in your studies to consider the following:

Technical difficulties

Too many of my smartest friends shared stories of the heartbreak resulting from failed technology. If your state lets you take the test on a laptop, I highly recommend doing so. Typing your answers is a great way to stay within the allotted time frame for each exam portion, but unfortunately, it’s not always the most reliable

It may sound silly, but in the midst of a timed practice essay, test your ability to recover. Unplug your computer. Close out of the document without saving. “Accidentally” cut the highlighted text instead of copying it. Do something sending enough of a shock factor in a fail-safe environment, assess your state of mind when something goes wrong, and create a mental plan of action so you can focus on putting the words you just lost back on the page.

To take it one step further, practice having to go from typing to handwriting, as if your laptop crashed on real day. I prayed everyday of the test this wouldn’t happen to me, but I had friends who had to work through the dilemma. It doesn’t hurt to pray for the best, but preparing for the worst case scenario raises the bar on your bar prep.

On the same note, some people prefer handwriting to typing an exam. You might be one of them. It doesn’t hurt to use a practice essay to find out.

Eat, sleep, breathe

If one half of the bar exam horror stories I heard involved computers crashing, the other half have something to do with forgetting to eat right, sleep, or breathe. Your mom wasn’t kidding when she told you to eat a good breakfast before your grade school spelling test. I heard a story of someone wasting test time drinking out of the faucet in the bathroom and eating toilet paper because she’d been too nervous to eat breakfast that morning. You don’t need to do this. Instead, work healthy eating into your study time. Get up early and make some eggs, a protein shake, or whatever sort of solid food gets you going and provides a lasting boost. This will make it easier come test day to stomach the stress and feel as fueled as you did during bar review.

If you take medicine for anxiety, ADHD, or to help you sleep, it’s important to figure out how it affects your concentration prior to test day as well. The same goes for coffee and caffeine intake. Talk to your doctor regarding your prescriptions, and determine what works best for your body and brain sooner than later.

‘Nature’s call’

While jurisdictions vary, my test taking location was basically on lockdown when it came to using the restroom. I endured five seconds of fear when I forgot to take my drivers license with my admission ticket up to the proctor to request restroom access and wasted time going back for it. Similarly, don’t take long bathroom breaks over the course of your bar review. If you need to go during a practice test, keep the timer running. To decrease the urge to go, think of the elementary school days when your teacher made your class stop by the restrooms several times before boarding the bus for a field trip, and follow the same school of thought.

Social support

Bar review is not the time to find boyfriend or girlfriend, nor is it the time to fight with one. If you’re in a serious relationship, have a conversation early on and make sure your significant other understands the kind of support you need the most and that your studies, and not your interest in the relationship, require you to be available less for date nights and relaxing evenings.

For other friends and family, let them know the same. You’d love to attend your cousin’s graduation cruise, but a week off studying might not feel feasible, and that’s ok. Let them know you love them and how they can love on you, and make plans for fun on the other side of the exam.

Climate conditions

I lived next to a construction site the entire summer I studied for the bar, and this made for a lot of interesting background noise. While my test site was far quieter than my apartment, not all my friends were so lucky. I heard stories of railroad tracks, airfields, and other noisy situations interfering with test takers’ concentration, so if possible, try taking practice tests and studying in a variety of places, as even learning to tune out background noise in a coffee shop can instill a helpful habit for test day.

Another day that summer, my air conditioning went out. But at least I learned how to study in the heat. Try turning the thermostat up, studying somewhere cold without a sweater, and simulating other conditions you could find out of your control the day of the test.

The fine print

Each jurisdiction and provides rules and requirements for what to bring besides your brain on test day. While you may not need everything on the list, having it ahead of time may help your confidence. I had little plastic baggies labeled for each day of the test, containing everything my state allowed for each individual day. I may not have used the highlighter they listed as “optional,” but at least I avoided having to ease the “what-ifs” that might’ve popped into my head if I didn’t have one. Organize the items you need for each day, and plan a healthy lunch you’ll have time to chow down on during the break. By breaking down the regulations ahead of time, you’ll arrive for test day ready to overcome the challenges in the curriculum without worrying about any outside interferences.

Jillian Bliss Jillian Bliss holds a bachelors of journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and a juris doctor from SMU's Dedman School of Law. Her professional précis contains a plethora of public service positions, and her personal life encompasses a passion for equestrian activities and all things horses since a young age.