If you are recent law graduate, you are not doubt thinking about studying for the bar exam. Here is a little advice for those of you who are either studying for the first time, or who are repeating the bar exam. Putting together a successful study plan is very important. Now is the time to start thinking about your bar studies. A little advance planning can make a big difference. Here are a few pointers:
A SUCCESSFUL STUDY PLAN
Perhaps one of the most important things for those preparing for the bar exam is to have a successful study plan. I don’t mean an assignment list provided to you by your bar prep provider. Instead, I mean a “study plan”, a plan for success. A successful study plan not only includes assignments – like completing MBEs, writing practice essays, reviewing and memorizing the substantive law – but it also takes into account the realities of your day – “I need to eat”, “I need to rest”, “I need to exercise”, “I need to keep my stress level at a manageable level”, “I need to work part time” or “I need to work full time”, “I need to stay healthy”. These are all critical to your success on the bar exam and will play as important a role in your success on the bar as your actual bar study.
HOW DO I CREATE A SUCCESSFUL STUDY PLAN?
A successful study plan requires: taking into account your weaknesses and strengths, establishing a routine and habit of study, creating and adhering to a realistic routine that will address your weaknesses and maintain or improve your strengths while also taking into account the amount of time that you actually have available to study (for example, whether you have all day to study, or you work part time, or you are working full time etc.) See below for a sample one day study schedule.
Finally, a successful study plan should maximize your effectiveness by scheduling the right kinds of work during the right times of day or evening (for example, it does not make much sense to practice MBE questions at 9:00 pm after a long work day when you are exhausted). Instead, get up earlier the next day to do MBEs in the morning before going to work. Even if all you can do is ten MBEs before going to work, do it. And, do it every day and you will establish a routine.
It is important to make adjustments to your study plan based upon what is realistic for you. Once you determine what you will do each day and for how long, you will likely need to make adjustments to your plan. You may discover that your initial plan of completing 50 MBEs after attending a four hour bar review lecture is not realistic for you. While it is very important to do a significant number of MBEs and to write many practice exams, you should also realize that this practice is best done at your peak times – when you are most alert. Therefore, you may decide to complete 20 MBEs before going to your bar review lecture and then an additional 20 MBEs after your bar review lecture.
ESTABLISH A ROUTINE:
One of the key features of any successful study plan is to establish a routine. While you will have some study days where your study day ends earlier or goes later, the key is establishing a regular routine. This includes where you study, how often you eat, exercise, take breaks as well as the types of study you do during the day and when. For example – getting in the habit/routine of completing MBEs every morning at the same time and place every day, writing practice essays on a regular basis (for example, you might use the following routine: write a practice essay every Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
Below you will find an example of a typical study day from a good study plan. Here is a sample study day for someone who does not have to work and can devote their entire time to bar study: Note that other study days would likely incorporate writing practice exams and/or attending a bar review lecture or workshop). Also, if like many examinees, you have to work part time or full time while studying for the bar exam, I can help you put together a study plan that is tailored to your schedule so that you are able to maximize the time that you do have.
SAMPLE ONE DAY STUDY SCHEDULE:
7:00 am – workout – short run or walk – (For example, 1 mile run/walk through your neighborhood)
7:30/7:45 am – shower, have a healthy breakfast and “disconnect for the day”. By disconnecting for the day, I mean: disconnect from your cell phone, the internet, text messaging and anything else that can lead to wasted time and loss of focus. This is really critical. Protect your study time, commit to certain study hours and refrain from checking email, voice mail, surfing the internet, checking and replying to text messages, and prepare your friends and family for your absence – see post: “Disconnecting to Pass the Bar”).
8:30 – 9:30 am – Complete 30 – 33 Torts MBEs
9:30 am – Take five minute break (do a couple of jumping jacks, just move around for a bit, eat a quick and healthy snack – for example, grab 6 or 8 almonds. Healthy snacks throughout the day are important to ensure a successful study day. We have all heard that eating small amounts throughout the day will help to keep your blood sugar level steady. This will help maintain your energy level through out the day as well and will lead to a much more productive study day).
9:35 am – check answers for the Torts MBEs above, review the explanations and make flashcards for each missed MBE. (Note: the amount of time this will take will vary and depend upon how many MBEs you missed, so take the time you need – the corrections you make now will result in a higher MBE score later on).
10:30 am – ten minute break – get up from your desk, move a bit, eat an apple or some other healthy snack like a couple of stalks of celery with peanut butter.
10:40 am – BEGIN ESSAY ISSUE SPOTTING EXERCISE. Read through four torts essays. For each essay, use the following method: 1) read and issue spot the essay, 2) quickly check the model answer to see if you correctly identified the issues, 3) if you did not spot all of the issues then go back to the fact pattern and try to identify which facts trigger the issues that you missed, 4) read the entire model answer, 5) study the model answer and create your own outline from the answer – this outline should be your model for how to approach this essay in the future. You will likely spend about 40 – 50 minutes per essay (15 minutes to issues spot, 5 minutes to check your issues, 20 – 30 minutes to sort out missed issues and to create your own outline/approach for tackling this essay in the future).
10:40 – 11:20 am – Torts Essay One (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)
11:20 am – five minute break – get up from your desk, move around.
11:25 am – 12:05 pm – Torts Essay Two (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)
12:05 pm – 12: 50 pm- lunch break – eat healthy, have something you enjoy, relax (AVOID: email, cell phone, t.v., surfing the net – these are all potential distractions that could lead to lost time – how many times have you just intended to “quickly check your email” and found that it lead to getting involved in replying to emails, becoming emotionally engaged in someone else’s problem, or simply just wasting an hour surfing the web. Don’t take the risk of picking up your cell phone or checking your email. Instead, protect the time you have promised to yourself to study – guard it. See also: post about “Disconnecting to Pass the Bar”).
12:50 – 1:30 pm – Torts Essay Three (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)
1:30 – 1:35 pm – five minute break – get up from your desk, move around.
1:35 – 2:15 pm – Torts Essay Four (from “Essay Issue Spotting Exercise” above)
2:15 – 2:25 pm – ten minute break – get up from your desk, move around, perhaps go outside for some fresh air, have a healthy snack.
2:25 pm – OUTLINE REVIEW – Study/review Contracts substantive outline – it is recommended that you conduct your review in 50 minute increments, taking a 5 or 10 minute break every 50 minutes. This will enable you to study more hours per day and to study more effectively/productively because the breaks will prevent fatigue and will allow for more alert study periods. See recommended outline study intervals below:
2:25 – 3:15 pm – Review Contracts outline (see above).
3:15 – 3:25 pm – 5 or 10 minute break (get up, move around, stretch).
3::25 – 4:15 – Continue Contracts outline review.
4:15 – 4:25 pm – 5 or 10 minute break (get up, move around, stretch, eat a healthy snack).
4:25 – 5:15 pm – Continue Contracts outline review
5:15 – 6:15 pm – Dinner break – get up, move around, stretch, eat something healthy, make a short phone call to a supportive friend, spouse or family member – the key here is to only contact someone who is supportive of you, positive and aware and respectful of your commitment to study for and pass the bar).
6:15 – 7:15 pm – REVIEW TWO CONTRACTS ESSAYS (Spend 30 minutes for each essay and do the following: 1) Read and issue spot Contracts essay (15 minutes), 2) Check issues against the answer, read entire answer and make note of missed issues (15 minutes).
7:15 – 7:20 pm – Take a 5 minute break.
7:20 – 8:00 pm – REVIEW ESSAY APPROACHES FOR TORTS (Review the approaches/outlines that you created for the four Torts essays earlier during the day. The reason this makes sense is that you will reinforce the issue spotting and organization that you learned from your earlier review. And, since exam fact patterns repeat over and over again from one bar exam to the next, this review of past bar essays is one of the most effective ways to improve your issues spotting ability and to prepare for writing a well organized essay. Spend about ten minutes to review each essay outline/approach).
8:00 pm – End your study and relax.
Ultimately, your success on the bar exam will not come down to counting up how many MBEs you complete or how many hours you spend memorizing but instead, it will come from a combination of things.
Be positive, be flexible and adhere to a regular and realistic routine. In addition, keep in mind that your goal when reviewing a topic on a given day is not necessarily to master the entire subject that day. Instead, your goal should be to gain a better understanding of the topic that day and to recognize that you will need to repetitively review every topic over a period of time (two months is typical) in order to truly master it.
Students often find themselves frustrated by their own unrealistic expectations and goals. Instead of embarking on an eight or ten hour review of your Contracts outline, review it for three hours (taking a short break every hour) and then follow that with a review of two or three Contracts essays. By reviewing essays in the same topic, you will give yourself a context to the rules you are reading and trying to memorize. Repeat this several times during the weak while alternating your review of other topics, completing MBEs and writing practice essays.
Above all, work at maintaining a positive attitude. This will be much easier to do if you begin with realistic goals.
Good luck to you!
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