One of the most important aspects of your bar study is having a successful study plan. I have written several posts on this topic in the past, but here is an updated version for those of you about to take (and PASS) the February 2014 bar exam!
WHAT IS A SUCCESSFUL STUDY PLAN
Before you can develop a successful study plan, it is important to understand what makes a successful study plan. I do not mean an assignment list provided to you by your bar prep provider. Assignment lists or “schedules” like BarBri’s “Pace Program” are, in my opinion, in my opinion, are one size fits all, task lists. I personally think these are designed to keep you busy more than actually prepare you for the bar exam. When I refer to a successful study plan – I mean an actual “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.” 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.
SO HOW DO YOU 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, juggling the responsibilities of work and children and life in general). See below for a sample one day study schedule. Incidentally, most of my students are repeat bar takers and are working full time jobs and have only a few hours each week to study – and yet, they succeed. So, first off – I want you to recognize that you can succeed on this exam even if you do not have 8 to 14 hours a day to study. And, in fact (and this will be the subject of a future post), studying 14 hours a day, is actually quite counterproductive.
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 five or ten MBEs before going to work, do it. And, do it every day and you will establish a routine. This repetition and routine keeps your head in the game and your mind invested in the pursuit of passing.
BE SOMEWHAT FLEXIBLE WITH YOURSELF AND DO NOT BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF
Be realistic and don’t be so hard on yourself. One of the most common things that my students come to me over is their worries that they are not doing enough. This is because they are deeply invested in their future (understandably) and they fear that the amount of time that they have to devote to their studies will simply not be enough. Students are often very hard on themselves for having not completed the 50 MBEs they set out to do that day – and rather than focusing on what they actually DID accomplish (maybe it was 20 or 30 MBES) they focus on the 20 they did not complete. That is not what you should do. Clearly you must work and work hard to succeed. But, be mindful of the fact that quality is important – going through the motions might get you through 50 MBEs. But, it would be better to spend a more intensive time on fewer MBEs and actually learn from your mistakes so that you will not make those same mistakes again.
Things are bound to come up during the next few months – things you may not have planned on happening. So, it will likely be necessary to make adjustments to your study plan based upon what is realistic for you. You may discover that your initial plan of completing 50 MBEs after attending a four hour bar review lecture is just simply 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. Or, you might decide NOT to go to your videotaped bar review lecture . . . and instead study what YOU need to study. It IS okay to do that.
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 in establishing a regular routine. This includes where you will 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 (Note: if you are working full time, this could be your plan of attack for a weekend day):
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 throughout 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 completed or how many hours you spent memorizing the law, but instead, it will come from a combination of things – most important of which is consistency and quality in your review.
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.
Above all, work at maintaining a positive attitude. This will be much easier to do if you begin with realistic goals. And, should you find yourself spending hours and hours in a 150 page outline for one topic (I DO NOT RECOMMEND SPENDING HOURS REVIEWING LENGTHY OUTLINES) consider using a much more condensed version for that subject.
Good luck to you!