As anyone that sat for any Bar Exam can attest, passing a state’s Bar is no easy feat. The Bar Exam is not simply a test of legal application, but an assessment of one’s stamina and endurance – the haze of the lawyering profession.
Studying for any state Bar Exam is considered a full-time job in and of itself. Popular preparatory programs, like Kaplan and Barbri, schedule a 10-week review period (7 weeks for the February exam), suggesting subscribed students dedicate, on average, 8-10 hours a day reviewing the multitude of topics that can appear on the exam. During this 10-week period, most test takers forego employment in order to focus solely on bar prep. Unfortunately, not every bar applicant has the luxury of forfeiting a regular paycheck for the two-month (or more!) period.
I was one of those unfortunate test takers. During the 10-week prep period preceding the Florida February Bar Exam, I continued at my recently acquired, full-time position at Nova Southeastern University, using all my personal and sick days solely for the week of and the week preceding the exam.
As a librarian who participates in our bar coaching program, I encounter students who anticipate working full- or part-time while studying for their Bar Exam. Working full-time or part-time during bar prep, while not preferable, is not impossible. Although highly discouraged, there are steps that can increase a bar applicant’s chances at bar passage if he or she must continue their employment. Thus, I decided to share some tips I passed along to my own working students. I found these tips extremely beneficial while working full-time and studying for the Florida February Bar Exam:
- Start Early
In the weeks approaching the Bar Exam, the consensus amongst bar prep professionals is that students should study 8-10 hours a day, for approximately 10 weeks, before sitting their state exam. Our bar coaching program highly suggests a bar applicant complete, at least, 2,500 practice multiple choice questions and 11-12 practice essay questions during the bar prep period to more so increase those odds. These numbers may vary. Regardless, if a bar prepper is working anywhere upwards of 25 hours a week – about 5 hours per day – and topping off with an additional 8-10 hours of dedicated study, even at the minimum total of 13 hours a day, a prepper will more than likely feel strained and overworked, consequently minimizing his or her work efficiency and retention when approaching daily bar prep tasks.
Lessening the 8-10 hour study period to 3-5 hours a by extending the weeks dedicated to bar prep can have a distinguishing effect for full- or part-time employees sitting the Bar Exam. By starting a couple months early, bar preppers can meet their hourly study goals while maintaining focus and a standard of performance that is put at risk when one is overworked. This will ensure realistically conducive study periods, as well as assist bar preppers in completing the suggested number of practice questions and essays needed to successfully prepare for the Bar Exam.
- Study Smarter, Not Harder
Many a bar prep student enters into their bar study period expecting to spend their 8-10 hour days single-mindedly focused on their study of the law. In the age of social media, cell phones, and online quizzes that finally answer the largely debated question of, “What Kind of Cookie Are You?” (Double Chocolate-Chip!) it is hardly surprising that a bar prepper’s focus may sometimes deviate from their once anticipated 8-hour study mission.
Instead of diving headlong into each subject, it is best to properly pace daily study periods so as to avoid a burnout or crash later down the line. A popular technique I utilized was the Pomodoro Technique. This technique is a time management method proven to increase productivity and efficiency when attempting to learn large amounts of information in shorter periods of time. The foundation of the technique requires intense, active focus for a moderate period, usually about 20-30 minutes, followed by a 5-10 minute break, then repeating this process for the allotted hourly study period.
For instance, if a prepper wanted to study for a total of 4 hours, then studying in 25-minute intervals, punctuated by the scheduled 5-minute breaks, will allow time in between studying to rest the brain, process what was learned, and dive back in once the resting period is complete. By using this method, a prepper can find themselves maintaining greater focus and retaining more information within shorter periods of time. Thus, proving itself a more efficient and useful study process.
- Meal Prep
This is something so small that can really make a big difference when every minute counts! Meal prep not only ensures that a prepper is getting the proper nutrition throughout the week to keep those brain cells pumping, but it also saves hours deciding on dinner and lunch throughout the week when one does not have that time to waste.
A healthy diet equating to healthy brain function is not news to many, but how to do within limited time constraints can become an extra stressor a prepper doesn’t need during their bar prep period. For my meal prep recipes, I made sure to include at least one vegetable, one protein, and various carbohydrates in each prepared dish. Each meal was planned and written, by date, into my study schedule. By pre-planning meals, one can save time, thought, and energy by setting aside the few hours, once or twice per week, to prepare healthy, delicious, and nutritious meals to benefit brain function and their overall Bar study experience.
- Study Aids
- MBE Critical Pass Note Cards
These cards are sent from the heavens! Reading and re-reading 30-50 page outlines can be tedious. Words begin to blur, heads start to nod, and suddenly those five pages regarding third-party beneficiaries you just spent 30 minutes letting your eyes glaze over are now simply dust in the wind. Full- or part-time working bar preppers do not have this time to waste.
Flashcards are a classic memorization tool. MBE Critical Pass Note Cards are pre-made flashcards that contain all of the most commonly tested rules of each MBE subjects – organized by topic and outlined by sub-section! The cards are durable, capable of resisting all your highlights and eraser marks, and they even leave space to write out the state exceptions, directly on each card, next to its corresponding rule. These cards are – as they are aptly named – “critical” pieces for memorization, especially when one does not have time to complete monotonous outline review. These can be extraordinarily helpful when studying MBE subjects, and save purchasers time from having to create flashcards from any given outline. Although I can’t exactly call them ‘concise,’ these flashcards are comprehensive and exceptionally organized. I highly recommend these in accompaniment to any bar prep course.
Keep in mind, they are a bit of a pretty penny. At $159.99 a pop, the price can seem steep for newly minted law school graduates. However, I do believe the cost is worth the reward for this prepared set of complete MBE flashcards. Plus, the purchase of the flashcards set also comes with the Critical Pass Mobile App. From this App., purchasers can download the Critical Pass Flashcards to any apple or android device. Just like the print flashcards, bar preppers are able to highlight, note, and quiz themselves via their cell phone, laptop, or any other supporting portable device.
- Auditory Aids
Other aids I found just as useful – and much better for my wallet – were the auditory study aids offered in disc format on the library shelf, and digitally via West Academic Library App.
When you’re on a time crunch, every minute counts. This can include your daily commute, grocery shopping, or other similar, small and thoughtless activities. These small activities still compound our day-to-day living and grossly interrupt day-to-day study. Commuting to-and-fro a full- or part-time job, be it anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours, will add up. It does no good to let this time go to waste. Using auditory aids, like the Sum and Substance Series or Law School Legends, will help consistently refresh the tested material and gain a deeper understanding of vital topics. Instead of precious time wasted listening to the latest cold-case podcast, bar preppers can use that time wisely and listen to one of several MBE auditory aids.
For auditory learners, these are a not-so-hidden gem! Available for check-out in most law libraries, users can easily listen to the application of substantive legal topics on their daily commute, during their daily exercise routine, while completing household chores, or anywhere else one is unable to pick up a book, but is still able to lend an attentive ear.
- Practice! Practice! Practice!
Many a test taker refuse to practice multiple choice or essay questions until they feel they have obtained sufficient knowledge to score a 90% or above on each and every trial. This is simply not feasible. Practice test questions, both multiple choice AND essay questions, are still material learning methods and critical to bar prep. The more practice questions read, and answers reviewed, only increases performance on the bar exam. This is because preppers are introduced to specific questions and responses more likely to appear on the Bar Exam, and they are given application examples that will assist their understanding when working through similar problems. Practice questions give insight into the types of questions that appear on the exam, and the more a student reviews those questions the stronger their score will be. It is always important to keep in mind, a low practice score will not be a final testing score – so long as you practice! practice! practice!
- Utilize (and Thank!) Your Support System
Although preppers may feel completely isolated from the outside world, there is always a small team working alongside them and pushing for their Bar Exam success. The significant other who checks in to make sure they’re still eating, or a work colleague who offers to take on an extra project knowing that their day to day load is more than most can bear. These individuals who offer care and support during Bar prep periods are integral to maintaining mental stability, and are always underappreciated when a Bar examiner’s central focus remains on the exam itself.
I am eternally grateful to my fellow librarians at the Panza Maurer Law Library. Their support was a motivating factor to practice those extra 15 multiple choice questions a night, and the final push to review just one more essay. The support they showed me is the same support I hope to pass on to my students. Through our Bar Success Program, I am happy to give that same motivation, care, and support to each of our working bar prep students.