There’s no way around it — the bar exam is intimidating. It looms over every law student’s head, determining the trajectory of their career after law school. Preparing for the exam is like training for a marathon event. It requires practice, skill, and determination.
When should I start studying for the bar exam?
While you should go through law school with a focus on the bar exam (more on that later), you should start actively preparing for the bar exam well before the end of law school if you plan to study part-time or balance other obligations.
If you are studying full-time (40-50 hours per week), you should start studying a minimum of nine weeks ahead of the exam date, according to National Jurist.
If you work full-time or have other obligations, such as a family to care for, you should start studying earlier, around 15-20 weeks prior to the bar exam, dedicating 20 hours per week to studying.
How many hours should I study for the bar exam?
It is typically recommended that you study for about 400 to 600 hours for the bar exam. That is a staggering amount, but there’s a lot to do!.
If you are studying full-time, again, you should study 40-60 hours per week for nine or ten weeks. If you have other responsibilities, you should study 20 hours per week for a longer time, or more if possible.
How does this look on a daily basis? If you treat studying like a job, then you should be studying about 8 to 10 hours per day. However, if you are working full or part-time, then you should study a few hours each day and then full-time on weekends. If you can take off work the last two weeks of your study period to study full-time, that will allow you to focus more of your time on studying.
With all this said, your bar prep will depend on your needs and where you are in your life. Burnout acan be detrimental to your mental health and performance, so make sure that you’re doing what’s best for you.
How to Study for the Bar Exam: 12 Tips
1. Focus on the bar throughout law school
From the moment you start your legal education, each and every time you sit down to open a book to study the law, every time you read a case, every time you go to class, and every time you take an exam, you are preparing for the bar exam. Your participation during law school should always be undertaken with that ultimate goal in mind.
2. Master your legal doctrine
Easier said than done, right?
The bar exam tests your application of legal doctrine, so knowledge of doctrine is the essential starting point. Mastery of the legal doctrine covered in the JD program will put you in a good position to take the bar exam. Taking that approach involves a continued seriousness of purpose and a level of focus that leads to genuine mastery of the doctrinal material, and this is central to your ultimate success not only on the bar exam but also as a lawyer.
3. Study up on your cases and statutes
Reading and analyzing cases and statutes is also foundational to bar exam success. In California and other states, the general bar exam includes a section called the performance exam. That test requires you to read a mock client file and a mini-library with legal authority in the form of statutes and excerpted cases and analyze how the law you are given applies to the facts of a client scenario. In this timed exam, you must read and understand the significance of cases and statutes in an efficient manner. As you are reading cases and statutes throughout law school, you will develop the skill to read cases efficiently for purposes of being able to analyze the case or statute and apply it to a hypothetical set of facts. Keep in mind that all this work will help you succeed on the performance exam.
4. Create a schedule
This is a basic tip for studying for any exam, but it’s especially important for the bar exam because of the volume of material. It’s essential to put into place a clear set of study goals and enough time to achieve them. Set a schedule and stick to it as much as possible.
Select a quiet place to study so you will not be interrupted. Use a study plan designed so that you can complete your review in a timely and efficient manner. Be well-organized and methodical as you are studying, with all relevant materials at hand. Get the rest you need to stay focused, and take care of yourself as much as possible.
5. Prepare for all parts of the exam
Master all aspects of the exam, including the performance exam, essay writing, and multiple-choice questions. The skills required for each component of the exam differ. Your study and practice should include plenty of each of the components:
- Practice multiple choice questions by doing sample questions in online sources and study books or through commercial bar reviews, you’ll get used to the format and see which areas of law commonly show up. You can find more information on The MBE from the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website.
- Prepare for essay writing by practicing essays in each subject. You can find these in books and online resources with past essay questions and sample essay topics. The written portion of the bar exam is important to your overall score in every state, so it’s essential that you take your preparation for this component as seriously as you do the multiple-choice portion.
- Learn and practice the Performance Exam (if applicable). The performance exam is unique in that the law is provided; you don’t have to memorize anything for this part of the exam. But that does not mean you cannot prepare. Study and practice prior exams, to learn the process for tackling these questions and the types of documents you’ll be required to produce.
6. Take a bar review course
Many law schools offer bar review courses in their curriculum that allow for practice and feedback on essays and practice on multiple-choice questions as well. Take advantage of these as much as possible.
There also are good commercial bar review courses and it is good to investigate and take advantage of those that have a good track record. Typically a commercial bar review course will include materials for each subject tested on the bar exam and a study plan for you to follow as you prepare to take the test, as well as practice and feedback.
7. Use free study materials online
Free materials are also available online. In California, the State Bar website has past exams with sample passing answers for both essay questions and for the performance exam. Using these in your study can provide insight into what is tested in each of the subject areas.
You should also work on your timing so that you are able to cover the materials required within the time allowed. The NCBE website provides multiple-choice questions you can use to practice timing and resources regarding coverage of the Multistate Bar Exam.
8. Get a study buddy
Study partners can be very helpful when you are preparing for the bar exam. Studying with another person is particularly helpful for certain types of learners who process information well verbally. Studying with a study partner can also help keep you motivated when things get a bit tiring, and can also help fill in the gaps if something is not quite making sense as you are reviewing the materials.
9. Use memory hacks
Memorization of legal doctrine is key in preparing for a bar exam because you walk into the room with nothing but your brain and a pen (okay, a computer), and you must be able to write about legal doctrine and apply legal concepts accurately and quickly.
Flashcards, recordings, checklists, mnemonics, and flow charts are all very helpful when studying for the bar exam, particularly if you are a visual learner (meaning that you learn by looking at graphic depictions of information.) Even students who have never relied on these types of learning devices in prior academic programs may find that these charts and graphics are helpful approaches. Some students say that they can visualize a chart as they are writing their answers during the bar exam. There are many study aids available online, and if time permits it is even more effective to make your own.
Other memory hacks you can use include:
- Chunking: Break down complicated ideas into smaller chunks of related topics.
Spaced repetition: Leaving yourself enough time to study is key for this hack, which basically means to revisit information regularly over time so that you can retain it better.
- Pegging: Associate a concept that’s tough to remember with a funny or odd word, phrase, visual or rhyme.
- Chaining/linking: Link concepts together using related visuals or partners so that you can remember them all.
- Teaching someone else: This is where your study buddy comes in handy. Teach each other legal concepts and you’ll have an easier time remembering them.
10. Practice, practice, practice
Practice is key in preparing for the bar exam. Athletes practice a tremendous amount for the ultimate moment of truth: the big game. In the same way, whenever you write an exam, you may want to view it as practice for the bar exam.
St. Francis students preparing for the First Year Law Students’ Exam recently trained by practicing writing essays in an hour, then practicing writing three essays in three hours, followed by three hours of multiple-choice questions in an additional three hours. Yes, that is a full day of testing practice. And they did it three times. Taking a test for a full day can be a somewhat daunting experience, but it is far less so if you practice that specific experience several times prior to taking the bar exam. You know what to expect and how to pace yourself.
11. Keep things in perspective
When studying for the bar exam, it is also important to keep things in perspective. Know yourself and bear in mind how you’ve always learned best. Realize the power of the words, “I’m busy studying right now.” Unforeseen events can distract you, and that is bound to happen, but must be controlled.
Friends and family typically are very supportive and can help you find the space to focus. You will be very busy for a relatively short time, and then, if all goes well, good results will follow, and you fill out some additional paperwork, well on your way to becoming a lawyer.
12. Practice self care
It may be easy to bypass taking care of yourself during this stressful time, but that’s the exact opposite of what you should do. Making sure you get enough sleep, fit in some exercise, and eat nutritious food will keep you feeling focused and healthy as you prepare.
Choose a Law School With Consistent Bar School Results
St. Francis students consistently perform better on the California First Year Law Students Exam (FYLSE) and California General Bar Exam (CBX) than students from several other law schools. These include some that are accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California and sometimes even those approved by the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar of the American Bar Association (ABA).
St. Francis School of Law allows you to take control of your career by offering an innovative JD curriculum online. Prepare for success on the bar exam — and beyond — at St. Francis. Apply now.