The most intimidating and dreaded part of becoming a lawyer is the notoriously rough bar exam—the final, enormous step in earning your title as a full-fledged lawyer and starting to work in your field the way you’ve been imagining for years.
With time frames that range from two to three days and a famously grueling schedule, studying for and preparing for the bar exam can be one of the most difficult tasks a new lawyer will face in their career, and since nobody wants to take it a second time, the pressure is on to pass the first time. Studying tips aside, you also need to keep yourself in tip-top physical and mental shape while preparing to get the best eventual result.
Study breaks are important and can provide a huge benefit
Setting weekly study goals is an important part of any study plan—and of course, making sure you complete them on time—but don’t forget to incorporate breaks into your weekly study plans. Study breaks are one of the most important and helpful parts of the studying process, and research supports taking mini-breaks every ninety or so minutes; some recommended ways to spend those breaks are by taking a quick walk, stretching, tidying up your apartment or workspace, or chatting with a friend on the phone (and let’s be real, your loved ones probably miss you a little bit since you’ve been shut away studying).
You could also try meal-prepping for the week ahead or running a quick errand during your breaks so you are still doing something productive that’s not simply more studying. Be mindful of the things that could derail your ultimate goal and have negative results, like eating too much junk food (which could make you crash and lead to weight gain), overdoing it on the caffeine (which could make you jittery), or listlessly scrolling through social media (which doesn’t motivate you to get back to work, and can easily suck you in).
Take care of yourself, physically and emotionally
When you’re focused on studying for long periods of time, it can be easy to let yourself go both physically and emotionally, but maintaining your mental and physical health is crucial to help you study at peak efficiency. Sleep, obviously, is essential, since sleep-deprived people can’t retain as much new information, so set strict bedtimes for yourself. Consider trying a sleep tracking app to make sure you’re getting the most out of your shut-eye. Avoid becoming dehydrated; since the brain is mostly made up of water, drinking the recommended eight glasses a day can help with focus and brain function as well as help you feel more alert.
Every now and then, check on your posture to make sure you’re not slumped over your desk, which could cause long-term back problems down the road. Every part of your body is important when it comes to taking in and retaining new information, so listen to your body and see what it needs. And don’t forget to take that occasional stretch break to counteract hours of sitting.
Treat bar exam prep like it’s your job
Having a schedule will help to keep you accountable and on track. Knowing what you’re supposed to be doing on specific days and at specific times is a way to feel you have some control over your situation, rather than panic-studying or aimlessly jumping from subject to subject for unstructured hours at a time. And simply being organized improves just about everything. If you approach bar exam prep like a job, you’ll be more likely to be your own excellent employee, tackling everything you need to do efficiently and on time.
Figure out which method works best for you
When it comes to studying for the bar, there are many different methods to get yourself where you need to be—you can study with fellow law students, take specialized classes, take online courses, and more—but the important thing is to find what works for you and go with that. Don’t try to force yourself to study in a way that doesn’t fit just because it was recommended by someone or is a more popular method.
If you try, say, a group class and just don’t like the feel of it or don’t believe you’re getting as much out of it as you would like to, don’t beat yourself up; everybody is different, and there is no better or worse way to study if what you’re doing is working for you. Try taking practice tests both solo and alone, or see if it’s possible to audit a class in your area before you commit to it. It might take a bit of time to shop around, but finding the right method for you will pay off when you can finally celebrate passing the bar.