Life doesn’t stop for bar exam preparation, even though it sometimes might feel like it should. To make the most of your (seemingly) endless study hours, you’ll need to optimize your study strategy.
Here are eight suggestions for successful study sessions and overall bar exam preparation.
1. Enroll in a Bar Review Course
If you're preparing for the bar exam, you will certainly, absolutely, positively want to sign on for a full bar review course. Why? For starters, choosing to forgo the invaluable advice and guidance of trained, experienced specialists versed in the most effective ways of successfully passing this all-important exam is...well, unwise.
Secondly, enlisting in a proven, comprehensive bar review course such as Pieper's Full Bar Review Course grants you access to not just its expert team of attorneys, but a wide array of other beneficial aids and services you simply won't find anywhere else, including, among many others: easily accessible practice materials—Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) questions, Multistate Essay Exams (MEEs), and Multistate Performance Tests (MPTs)—from prior bar exams; the thorough review of material during lecture; and essential memorization tools (mnemonics).
Highlights from the Pieper Full Bar Review Course include:
- Comprehensive review of lecture material
- Proximity to helpful attorneys who know a thing or two about the law, and about this exam.
- Ease of schedule-making
You'll likely remember clever mnemonics, such as this below, for many years after you've aced the bar exam:
The ingredients for a TACO make a contract!
- T – definite Terms (express or implied)
- A – Acceptance of the terms
- C – Consideration
- O – an Offer that invites an acceptance
- Easy access to practice materials such as MBE questions, MEEs and MPTs from prior exams
It's no secret that practice testing is among the most effective methods of study. So, that's what we do: We practice taking the test with actual questions from previous exams!
2. Get Into a Routine
Enrolling in Pieper's Full Bar Review Course guarantees access to all the resources and expertise necessary to pass. You'll want to develop a routine so that you know what to do and when to do it so that you're efficient with your time and absorb as much material as you can. Enlisting with Pieper is similar to joining a team of marathon runners; because that's what preparing for this exam is like—training for a marathon, and then running it.
If you or someone you know has ever trained for such a battle of physical endurance, then you might know it requires strict, diligent adherence to a demanding training routine.
Bar exam preparation is no different.
It's more than just studying every day...
Such a routine involves waking up and going to bed around the same time; maintaining a set schedule—as in starting lecture at the same time, every day; taking study breaks, again, at the same time, and using afternoons for review, every day.
You have a lot of material to cover, but locking down a proper routine facilitates retention, provides the greatest amount of time for review of the law and application of skills through practice questions, and will prevent you from burning out early on in the process.
3. Find Your Study Space
Disruptive surroundings can make or break a study session, and the latter means that precious time has been wasted. While practice testing should take place in a noisy environment, at least a few times, the location of your first few weeks of prep should be centered on your preferences—or more accurately, your tendencies. It should be your study oasis.
Some questions to ask yourself when establishing such a spot include:
- Are you likely to become distracted?
- Is there adequate space to splay papers?
- Is there a (clean and decent) bathroom nearby?
- How’s the lighting?
- Are food and drink allowed?
- If you absolutely do not want to speak to other humans, is there a chance you’ll run into cohorts?
Negative responses to any of these prompts may be valid grounds for relocation.
4. Favor Proven Study Habits
Not all study tactics are created equal. Unfortunately, common practices, such as rereading notes over and over, assaulting those notes with highlighters, and marathon cram sessions, are all but useless if they’re your only methods. Don’t fret: The same studies point, definitively, to other tactics that do work.
Distributed Practice and Practice Testing
After extensive study, it was determined that distributed practice and practice testing are the two most effective study habits.
- "Distributed" means breaking up practice into a number of short sessions over a longer period of time, as exemplified by our sample schedule template. This is proven to be more effective than longer, uninterrupted study sessions, by a long shot.
- "Practice testing" not only fosters effective learning, but also protects against panic and stress. When utilizing this method, commit to it fully by mimicking testing conditions. You may very well be seated near people with irritating habits or ticks, so be sure to get in a few practice tests in noisy environments to establish the habit of biting your tongue while grinding through what needs to be done.
To heighten the efficacy of your practice tests, try employing formative self-assessments. This entails reviewing your practice test scores and grader feedback, figuring out what you did wrong, and studying those concepts more.
Additionally, if you can combat the shame and/or embarrassment associated with mistake-making or error-related negativity (ERN) by replacing this with error-related positivity (Pe, for short), you’re more likely to learn from your mistakes and get it right the next time around.
No doubt, most students who have completed undergraduate and graduate degrees have also stayed up all night studying, maybe even successfully. We must insist, however, that you scrap the idea entirely for bar exam studies.
For starters, the amount of caffeine necessary to still be coherent at 7 a.m. after a sleepless night is unhealthy, and most definitely won’t help you retain information. Sure, you’ll zoom through page after page of review, but you probably won’t have a clue as to what you’ve read. You can also bet your bottom dollar that the daylight hours to follow will be experienced by a vague (and grumpy) shell of your real and best self.
5. Take Care
Good self-care will not only help boost the effectiveness of your study sessions, but likely help prevent nervous breakdowns, too. Your physical, mental and emotional health are all important, always—but especially so as you prepare to push yourself to unknown limits of bar exam prep.
It may seem impossible to quiet your mind for even a short meditation session, but if you can manage it, this can help boost your concentration and improve self-discipline. There are many mindfulness software applications floating around that offer guided meditation practice. Among these: Stop, Breathe, Think.
Also, try not use your breaks to tune into general news stations. While reality television can act as mindless brain candy, actual reality will likely cause stress, irritation, anger, or any slew of negative emotions with long-lasting staying power. Don’t let bad news throw off your groove.
Regarding significant others, friends and family—prepare to spend some time away from them for a little while. You know the adage: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That said, you will need a support system—emotionally, financially, maybe even physically. In the interest of remaining likeable, be kind to your loved ones even when bar exam studies get the best of you. Their support is invaluable, and will continue to be, as your career progresses.
Brain Food: Foods for Thought
Processed and sugary foods can be detrimental to your health and your studies. Instead, try some of these foods that naturally work with your body rather than against it:
- Nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts and cashews are nutrient-rich snacks packed with healthy fats, which are your brain’s most efficient source of energy.
- Blueberries are teeming with more antioxidants than your average health supplement, and may help to improve memory.
- Eggs and nutritional yeast are great sources of B12, which can otherwise only be found in meats. B12 supports energy and overall vitality.
- Organic salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which support cognitive function, while also improving joint lubrication and heart health. Eat sparingly to account for mercury contamination in fish.
- Bone broth promotes healthy transmutation of serotonin to melatonin, which helps you sleep. This can be especially helpful for those suffering from anxiety-induced insomnia.
- Broccoli contains several nutrients that protect new neuroconnections, helping to move from short-term to long-term memory very quickly.
- Dark chocolate can satisfy your sweets craving, and also provides iron, magnesium and fiber, which all contribute to healthy blood flow in the brain.
6. Know Your Notes
The purpose of note-taking is threefold:
- Record information
- Organize information
- Review information
These days, it’s more common to witness a lecture hall filled with open laptops and iPads than with hurried, cramped hands pushing pens across a ruled notebook. While it can be helpful to record the audio from a lecture (with explicit permission, of course), it is also important to recognize that handwriting your notes, while painful, is the more effective strategy for retaining information.
And you have entire rules of law to memorize; there’s just no way around it.
On Writing by Hand
Polyglottal language-hacker and author Benny Lewis says of learning that we retain more from study sessions after spending 15 minutes summarizing the material for ourselves with pen and paper. It is hypothesized that this works because the creative act of writing plays an active role in “reintroducing your mind to material, and closing the learning loop.”
Other Note-Taking Strategies
Mind Maps by GoConqr: This tool allows you to organize complex information in a way that is visually easy to digest.
Other note-taking tips include:
- Starring any information that your instructor emphasizes
- Using bullets and diagrams wherever appropriate
- Dividing notes into sections based upon topic
- Creating your own shorthand
- Comparing notes with a friend
7. Stay Focused
Our individual capacities for willpower work in much same way our muscles do. This means it is possible to strengthen your willpower, but also to wear down your ability to resist temptations as you continually exude it over time. Can’t stick to a diet? Blame science. But don’t let that be your excuse for unfocused, and therefore unsuccessful, bar exam preparation.
Get (and Stay) Motivated
When motivation levels naturally dwindle, it can be tricky to coerce them back.
One way to stay motivated is to make studying for the bar exam fun with a (practical) reward system. Think 30 minutes of trashy television, not three-hour, five-star meals. Save the major, time-consuming rewards for the home stretch to make them feel extra-special.
Remove distractions that fuel procrastination, such as: your phone, laptop, pet (no offense, Fluffy) and Netflix. Avoid posting to social media, even to talk about bar exam prep. Especially not to talk about bar exam prep. You’ll be tempted to check on likes and comments every other minute, and ain’t nobody got time for that.
Pros and Cons of a Study Buddy
Many prefer to torment themselves—err, study—in solace. While there is certainly value there, there is also value in tandem study sessions.
A proper study buddy may:
- Deter procrastination
- Encourage accountability regarding your schedule
- Promote healthy competition
However, the wrong study buddy could be an enabler of bad habits who:
- Reasons with procrastination
- Poo-poos your beautiful schedule
- Causes you more stress than they relieve
8. Stimulate your Brain with Music
Strategically curating a personalized music playlist ahead of time for your study sessions could help you stay focused and on track for longer periods of time than with no music, or the wrong music. It will also stop you from wasting time scanning your 20,000-track library after each song ends.
Many have heard of the “Mozart Effect,” and so assume classical music is the best, or only type of music to aid your studies. If classical music puts you to sleep though, or if you don’t like it, the supposed effect might be lost on you.
Possible alternatives include listening to video game or movie soundtracks, or digging into some ambient electronic music. Note: Try for soundtracks devoid of lyrics, as they engage language functions in your brain and make it more difficult to retain whatever you’ve just read.
Something scientists are referring to as “Binaural Beats” seem to positively affect cognitive function in some individuals, too. This is because it causes certain dopamine responses in individuals with certain spontaneous eye-blink rates (EBR), which in turn causes improved divergent thinking ability.
Divergent thinking is defined in psychology as a way of solving problems, wherein a variety of possible solutions are proposed in an effort to find one that works—an ability that, if sharpened, could prove to be a valuable tool during the bar exam.
Study Playlist Sampler
You’re able to focus more if you listen to music that is either familiar or that you enjoy versus music that you dislike, regardless of its intended effects. On that note, we’ve constructed a sampler YouTube playlist including some video game soundtracks, movie soundtracks, binaural beats, ambient electronica, and more. You can target which genres or sounds tickle your fancy, and use that as a jump-off point from which to curate your perfect custom playlist for studying for the bar exam. Listen to the playlist here.
*To make changes to the playlist, copy and paste YouTube URLs into cells in column A. Then, a link to your new, automagically updated playlist can be found in cell A1.