Studying for the bar exam is a difficult task law graduates face and adding a pandemic into the mix does not ease the stress and anxiety that comes with it. Putting aside the hardships of trying to focus on or prioritize studying when the world looks as far from normal as possible, sitting for a completely online and remote exam does not help.
In October 2020, bar takers were faced with taking the first ever online and remote bar examination. There were technical issues and newfound challenges to overcome. Because the format of the exam changed, bar takers had to adapt. Below are some study adjustments and practice tips for those who are also prepping during a pandemic and have to face the full online exam.
1. Find something you can do every day that brings you joy and even just a moment of relaxation. This could be going for a walk, cooking a meal, doing a daily skin care routine – just something that separates your head space from bar preparation that you can look forward to before or after studying.
2. Study how you are used to studying. Your bar prep program (if you opt for one) will recommend work for the week, but that does not mean it is all you should do or what you have to do. If flashcards worked for you in law school and undergrad, then use flashcards to memorize the information. If watching videos helps you learn, then rewatch the lectures until the information sticks. Some bar prep programs allow you to download the lectures as audio files so you can listen to them when you’re driving or doing something around the house. You do not have to feel obligated to follow what your program suggests if what they are suggesting is not what has worked for you in the past. Be open to being adaptable using the materials they provided you with. The bar prep programs are blanket programs for all test takers, so it’s ultimately up to you to figure out how best to prepare yourself to learn all of the information and remember it come test day.
3. Plan out your days. Writing tasks down can help you visualize what you need to get done and how much free time you’ll allow yourself. It also may enhance your productivity knowing that there are items on a list you need to cross off. Write down that you want to watch a lecture and review flashcards before bed. Even write down that you want to give yourself time to watch television or finish a chapter in the book you were reading – a good visual of what your day will look like can keep you accountable and on track to getting through as much of your bar prep as possible.
4. Time yourself. All bar prep courses will tell you this, but with a completely online software, time is truly of the essence. With the MPT in particular, you will have to balance reviewing the case packet, taking notes, and writing your answer on one screen. It’s important you figure out a method to remember what information you’ll need for your answer and a quick way for accessing that information again. Do practice multiple choice questions in a timed setting – maybe not all 100 at one time every time you practice, but maybe in groups of 25 or 50 to see how you pace yourself. Once again, studying for this exam is finding out what works for you. Maybe getting a pair of blue light glasses to reduce eyestrain could help you during the three hour blocks you have to test. For the essays, practice reading the prompt on your computer and typing the answer below it. Try not to practice reading from the books you are given because that is not how your exam will be. It’s all about preparing yourself for test day – and you need to put yourself in the best position to adapt to an online format.
5. Ask for advice. If you know an October 2020 bar taker, reach out to them to see what worked while they studied to get ideas for what might also work for you. The bar prep courses are not designed to meet your individual learning style, so try to seek out how others were able to maintain all that information for test day. For bar prep courses that allow you to ask lecturers questions or get extra feedback on your essays, utilize that.
6. Plan where you will take your exam in advance. With the exam offered remotely, know beforehand where you can take the exam, unbothered, and with access to Wi-Fi. If you have a busy or loud home, try to see if your law school has a place where you can sit for the exam. A local library might have private study rooms you can reserve or your place of employment might offer you a quiet office space. Figuring out where you will actually take the exam is essential and once you have that settled, you’ll be able to focus on the content of the exam.
7. Know your limits. You will hear constantly that bar prep is “a marathon not a sprint,” and it is. If you hit a point in studying where you just keep rereading the same page or you are having difficulty understanding a concept, take a step back and try again the next day. Bar prep is not a time where you can forget to take care of yourself. It’s challenging enough having to adjust to life in quarantine and adding studying for a demanding exam does not make bar prep an easy experience. However, it won’t get easier if you overwork yourself and forget to take time to refresh and restart.
Bar prep is a daunting process, but there are people in your network who went through it and want to help you get through it too. At times, you will feel like you know nothing and you might feel like taking the exam is impossible. However, you succeeded through three years of law school and you can succeed through this process too.