Five Tips for Early Bar Exam Prep

Whether you are taking the bar exam in three months or three years, the bar exam is one of life’s big events. You need to plan ahead.

Many law students think the bar exam tests on every minute detail of every law school subject. Fortunately, that is not true. What the bar exam tests is whether you know basic law and can do basic analysis.

People in the bottom 20 percent of the class have more trouble (PDF). So do foreign-trained lawyers with no J.D.

If you won’t be taking the bar exam for a while, you can sign up for the courses in law school that can prepare you. Take your school’s bar prep course. If you need help, go to Academic Support.

And if you are taking the bar exam soon, and you are determined to pass, then the two or three months of bar prep must be an intense period when you are totally focused on preparing for the bar exam, nothing else. It’s a marathon.

Here are some tips for getting ready early for the bar exam.

  1. Have You Eliminated All Distractions? Are you the one who walks the dog? Hire a dog walker. Do you have little children? This may sound callous, but the best thing you can do for them is to send them away. They will thank you later when you are a member of the bar. One of my students came to New York to prepare for the exam and left her 15-month-old baby with her parents. She visited the child on Skype. And she passed the bar! Do I need to tell you that you can’t plan your wedding while you are preparing for the bar exam?
  2. Do You Have a Dedicated Study Space? Your place to study can be at home or in a library. You must be able to work without being disturbed. Does the place look like a junk heap? Clean it out while you still have time. As soon as you buy your bar exam study aids, store them neatly in your study space, and stay organized. Speaking of distractions, toss out anything that beeps or flashes. No television, no telephone, no email.
  3. Are Your Finances in Order? Failing the bar exam is a financial catastrophe, but preparing is also expensive. You can’t study effectively if you’re worried about making the rent. You also can’t prepare well if you’re just looking for the cheapest fix. Figure out how much you will need. Know where your money will come from for the entire two or three-month period. If you need to ask for help, do it early. Get loans.
  4. Have You Arranged to Take Two Months Off From Work? If you are a first-time bar taker with a job, you will need at least eight weeks away from the office. Watch out. Sometimes my students’ employers have suggested that the bar candidate can come to the office, spend a few hours a day or a few days a week working, and then study. Don’t fall for it. As long as you are working even a few hours a week, thinking about your job will take space in your head that ought to be full of hearsay exceptions. Do you have paid or unpaid leave available? Sick days? Find a way.
  5. Have You Persuaded Your Family and Friends to Support You? This can be a tough one. Explain to your family and friends that you love them, but right now you need to be alone. You will not be able to go to parties on Saturday night or to Uncle Bert’s house for dinner on Sunday. Tell them you need their support. Remind them how proud they will be when you are a lawyer.

Finally, get prepared for an emotional ride. While you are studying intensively for the exam, expect highs and lows. Denial says: “The bar exam is going to be really easy, so I can go to the movies tonight.” Despair says: “Mom was right, I should have become a dentist/gone into the family business/married Harry.” Expect that while you are preparing for the bar exam, you will not be quite a normal human being.

You can do it! But you have to plan for it.

Originally published 2012-04-28.


  1. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    Great advice! If you can stand some more, check this out:

  2. Avatar Josh says:

    Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. These tips are good in moderation. But too much studying is not necessarily productive. Go out on Saturday night and have a beer. See your family. Watch a few movies. BUT stick with a plan to study and plan on spending the week or two before the exam being completely holed up and studying. I saw a movie in theaters the night before, and went to dinner the night of day one, and I passed.

  3. Avatar Matt Racine says:

    Good tips. Sounds like you read my mind. Here’s a get-ready-for-the-bar post I wrote a few months ago:

  4. Avatar Stephen says:

    Haha, oh the bar exam. I remember thinking “this test is in the bag!” Then thinking the opposite after I bombed a practice test the next day. That sort of thinking repeated many many times.

    The secret to passing is listed in this article though – FOCUS! Anybody can pass the bar exam, it just takes a lot of focus. Set apart those 8-10 hours a day. Exile yourself completely from facebook or any other distractions. When you are not studying, find the time to do things you enjoy to keep your sanity.

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