How to Prepare for the Bar Exam

Anyone preparing for the upcoming bar exam has heard plenty of horror stories about this “grueling ordeal.” And yes, preparing for, and taking the bar exam, is an intense challenge. Since you’re on the doorstep of this professional milestone, however, let’s begin with this stipulation: You’re no stranger to challenges.

This brief post cannot go into extensive study strategies. Needless to say, there are comprehensive test-preparation courses that do just that — for a tidy fee. Instead, our goal here is to provide a few pieces of simple advice in the hope that readers might find one or two tips that resonate and make a difference when the proctor says, “You may begin.”

Physical Preparations for the Bar Exam

It goes without saying. These exam-prep weeks place extraordinary demands on your mental faculties, and a disciplined study schedule will keep you mentally sharp. But don’t neglect your physical needs. Remember, on test days you must sustain the energy for a high-level performance all day long. That means it’s not enough just to be a strong starter or to have a good spurt as the finish line draws near. In the bar exam marathon, advantage goes to the physically fit.

So take good care of yourself. Make sure to eat well, exercise regularly, effectively manage your stress, and get enough sleep. A good night’s sleep is widely regarded as the single most important preparation on the night before an exam — regardless of how much studying you have done.

While you’re answering sample questions or writing simulated essay questions, pay attention to how you’re performing at various times of the day. Are you “foggy” during early morning study sessions because you haven’t adjusted your sleep schedule in anticipation of the test? Are you mentally sluggish when studying after lunch, or have you experimented with your diet to minimize this problem? Do you “run out of gas” mid-afternoon, or have you managed your physical needs to stack-the-deck in your favor? Know thyself!

Mental Preparations and Focus

These pre-exam weeks are all about focus — and the ruthless exclusion of anything (social media, entertainment, parties, etc.) that seeks to steal time and attention. Make an inviolable commitment to consistent daily study schedule during the weeks before the exam. Set a quota of several dozen MBE questions and a couple of essay questions every day — and don’t allow anything to intrude. Practice, practice, practice!

How to enforce this mental discipline? Understand what motivates you and harness that power to keep you charged up for the long march ahead. Motivate yourself with an unwavering fixation on your goal and remind yourself again, and again. Eyes on the prize!

Manage Your Bar Exam Preparation Stress

Unmanaged stress has been a “deal killer” for more than a few prospective lawyers who suffered the consequences of a poor bar exam performance. Yes, you need to feel the competitive adrenaline that powers you ahead — but this powerful force has a dark side, as well, and it’s prudent to address the issue before it gets out of hand.

How to keep your stress in check? The most reliable antidote may be mastery of your subject matter. Even when you’ve done all the right homework, unhealthful stress can still cause problems. Try physical movement, deep breathing, music, and meditation — all of which are time-tested ways to dissipate stress and encourage a relaxed mindset. Conversation with an empathetic, trusted advisor or loved one also can prove invaluable.

Learn From Those Who Have Been There

Those who are now preparing for the big test can learn a lot from those who’ve already been there. So why not make a point of asking lawyers you respect? Pay special attention to lawyers who not only did well on their bar exams — but who also express a confident clarity about why they did well. (As the saying goes, “success leaves clues”.) At the same time, be open to lessons from those who met with failure, and who offer plausible explanations about preparations that did not work.

Good luck! And once you’ve taken the exam, check out our post, 6 Things to Do After You Take the Bar Exam!

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