How to Study for the Bar Exam


Erika Heyder-Seeley

Erika Heyder-Seeley is the Division Director for North and South Carolina with Parker + Lynch Legal. She serves as the co-chair of the NC Bar Association’s Bar Exam Committee and has volunteered as a bar exam tutor for the past 10 years. She has passed the bar exam in North Carolina, Virginia and New York and hopes to never have to take another bar exam again!

You study for the LSATs for months, grapple through 3 years of law school and can see the light at the end of the tunnel… but there is one final challenge you must overcome before becoming a lawyer: the dreaded bar exam. For years, it has been touted as the hardest professional exam, and one of the most difficult (if not THE most difficult) exams to pass. But with a clear plan and a healthy dose of perseverance, you can check off this final obstacle and kickstart your legal career.  

When to start studying:

Preparing for the bar exam should start in the beginning of your 3L year. At this point, you need to decide which testing prep company you will use and sort out any logistical details (where you will live, finances if aren’t working or getting student loans, childcare, etc. ). You want your study period to be as stress-free as possible and your only focus should be on preparing for the exam. Furthermore, you want to spend the bulk of your time learning the subjects and completing practice questions and then the last couple weeks reviewing all of the subjects (especially the ones you struggle the most with and state-specific laws) and taking timed exams. Remember, the key is to study smarter, not harder!

How long to study for the exam:

This will differ for everyone, but the average test taker needs to study around 400 hours in order to pass. The key is making a timeline and sticking to it—map out what you are going to do each and every day of your designated study period and be realistic. Allot breaks and lunches each day, family time, time to celebrate special events, holidays, etc. Be sure to break up your day to avoid boredom and use sample timelines offered by testing companies as a baseline.


In addition to challenging your memory, knowledge and diligence, the exam can also challenge your budget. The exam isn’t cheap, typically costing around $3,000 depending on the state and testing company you use. If you have financial concerns, be sure to ask your law school about any grants they may offer. Testing companies may offer discounts as well—it never hurts to ask! Stay on top of exam registration deadlines, as the prices increase the longer you wait. You may be surprised at how early the deadlines are and the amount of paperwork that is necessary to register, so submit your application early to avoid late fees.

Study tips:

  • Understand that you WILL burn out and break down at various points during your studying, but you must persist! When I started studying for my first exam, I was told that typically, bar studiers experience 3 breakdowns of some sort. Be kind to yourself and understand that all of your hard work WILL pay off!
  • Call your state bar associations to inquire if they provide free tutors and/or other resources.
  • Take advantage of any prep programs your law school offers. Ask professors to proofread your essays.
  • Make sure your family and friends understand that this time will be high stress and high stakes and provide suggestions as to how they can support you during this time. Use these same people to help you study with flash cards, proofread essays, etc.
  • Utilize various types of studying tools to avoid monotony. I put posters in my bathroom that I could read in the shower, listened to bar prep CD’s in my car, read flashcards at the gym—it’s important to discover early on what works best for you.
  • Read A LOT of sample essay answers—while the emphasis is often rightfully put on writing out bar essays yourself, it’s equally important to read successful essay answers to see WHY they scored well. Review formats, word tracks used in explaining issues and the law, how they discussed exceptions and state-specific laws and more. Reading enough of these essays will provide you with a thorough understanding of what a good essay looks like and how to tackle every type of essay question.

Remember, studying for the bar is a marathon, not a race! And whether you’re studying for the bar exam, recently passed, or still waiting for your results – feel free to browse our top legal jobs best suited for your needs. Good luck!

Erika Heyder Seeley is an Attorney Search Director with Parker + Lynch Legal, a service offering of Special Counsel. Connect with Erika on LinkedIn or via email today.

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