If you were born in the early nineties like I was, you might have found Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide helpful for navigating the bizarre age of adolescence. I certainly did. Now that I’ve reached the age of adulthood, I’ve realized that we deserve survival guides for all stages of our lives, especially when we are studying for a professional licensing exam!
In February 2022, I sat for my first bar exam. I survived it, but not without learning life-long lessons that I will take with me as I prepare for a second bar exam in another jurisdiction in July 2022. In the true spirit of compiling a survival guide, the best tips did not come to me in a neatly organized fashion. Instead, I reflected on the thousands of tips I learned while studying for the bar exam, and now I’m declassifying the four with the biggest impact.
Tip #135—Plan Ahead
If you are working and need to take time off of work or if you plan to work while you study, plan ahead to avoid a full plate of stressors. The bar exam itself is already a stressful event. Still, it doesn’t have to be as stressful if you put the work in to prepare for the exam. Likewise, studying for the bar exam doesn’t have to be as stressful if you plan to remove additional stressors that coincide with your bar prep. Whether it’s graduation plans, moving plans, marriage or baby plans, etc., you should plan these events before your commitment to begin studying. I’m grateful for the head start I gave myself to start studying early. I’m even more grateful that I could be fully present for my friends and family who came to visit me and celebrate my graduation. Make sure to give yourself that time too.
Tip #427—Reflect on How You Learn Best
Sometime in the planning phase of each bar exam, bar prep companies will bombard you with marketing material to convince you to spend your money with them to guarantee that you pass. Most of us understand that marketing materials can exaggerate claims of success. Let’s be real; the big bar prep companies are nearly identical in their presentation of the material, so the best way to avoid any marketing gimmicks is first to understand what you need to study for the bar. You can spend thousands of dollars on bar prep materials and still fail because you never used the material to learn how you best learn. On the other hand, you could spend no money on bar prep materials and still pass if you understand how much time and preparation you need to pass the exam. When the major bar prep companies came to visit my law school, I knew what kind of study structure I needed and picked the bar prep company that best suited my study needs. The best preparation is knowing yourself first.
Tip #598—Rest and Take Breaks
I’ll be honest; this was the hardest tip for me to implement. Studying for the bar exam is exhausting and figuring out how to recharge my batteries sometimes seemed just as tiring! The peak stress of bar prep kicked in when my MBE scores stopped improving—and I panicked. However, I realized that the amount of time I spent effectively resting my brain directly impacted the amount of time I could effectively study, and I ultimately became more intentional in the ways I took my breaks. It came down to recognizing what kind of break I needed, as not all breaks are the same. A 20-minute scroll on TikTok does not give your brain the same rest as a 20-minute stroll outside with some fresh air. A short walk outside gave me the mental clarity I needed to realize that my study processes were not working and then pivoted to something more manageable after my break. Sometimes I would even schedule my mindful breaks into my study schedule.
Tip #846—Find and Thank Your Shoulder to Lean On
Everyone—and I mean everyone—finds the study phase to be the most emotionally grueling part of the bar exam. Even the brightest minds will struggle to find the energy and motivation to consume hours of legal rules and principles from multiple legal disciplines. Whether you are taking the exam alongside your law school colleagues or studying for an exam on your own, find the person who will let you vent your bar prep frustrations. I was alone among my law school peers by taking a bar exam in a different state than my colleagues, yet many of my law school friends were my biggest supporters. They may or may not have understood what I was going through, but their listening ear always helped me process and recognize the frustrations of bar prep.
Until Next Time . . .
Although I learned a lot during my first go at a bar exam, the biggest tip I learned was to know myself first and then figure out how to work with the bar prep study materials. As the legal team at Ned’s Declassified liked to remind us, the results of this survival guide may vary, and knowing which tips to embrace and let go of will help you get the most out of any survival guide you come across. I will reflect on my tips as I gear up to take another bar exam in July 2022. I’ll be sure to update my survival guide then. Stay tuned.