Studying for the bar is a full time job. Unfortunately, you may already have a full time job and you only have so many hours left in the day to open that Barbri book. If you’re taking a different state bar or any bar for the second time, you probably have to resort to studying after work and during weekends.
Here are my recommendations for successful part time bar study. I can’t guarantee that you will pass the bar and I’m certainly not liable for ATL readers who still fail the bar after following this article. However, I can assure you that these recommendations will help you prepare for the bar exam by maximizing your available resources and free time.
1. Use your law school network to get bar prep materials, including books and outlines.
You don’t have time to take a bar prep course, but you do have the resources to get (free) bar prep materials. I hit up a friend who had just taken the bar exam for his MBE books, which he gladly unloaded in lieu of burning them. Another friend gave me his outlines for the state-specific essay topics. If you can’t get any materials through your friends, email your law school listserv to find former classmates and recent graduates who will (desperately) want to part with their bar books.
2. Start studying more than two months before the exam date.
I recall that I had approximately a month and a half to study for the bar after graduation (I took the February bar and my Barbri course didn’t start until after the New Year’s holiday). It was study all day, every day, and this was my entire life. If you’re studying part time, you want to give yourself more than a month and a half to two months of study time. Ideally, try to start studying at least three or four months ahead of time so that you can ease back into studying.
3. Bring a couple of study items to work in case you have time to kill.
Don’t shirk your regular work assignments, but squeeze in a little studying if you happen to get some downtime. Maybe you’re waiting for a partner to finish reviewing your draft and there’s nothing else on your plate. Maybe you’re at state court, waiting for your case to be called on the docket. You never know when a sliver of free time might appear. Be prepared with your bar study materials on hand. In fact, carry your notes and outlines everywhere in lieu of the Kindle or paperback book you might bring to read on the train.
4. MBE: Been there, done that. Use this to your advantage in how you study.
It sucks that you have to retake the MBE every time, even when you had a passing score the first time. However, you should have some recollection of the MBE areas from having studied them before. Refresh yourself, then take as many practice tests as possible. Instead of spending time obsessing over every answer, only check the questions that you got wrong and make sure that you know that aspect of the law for next time. When you don’t have entire weekdays to study, you don’t have the luxury of re-studying all the law that’s tested on the MBE. Nor should you have to go over everything in depth if it’s your second time around the block.
5. Practice more essays by outlining the spotted issues rather than writing out the essays.
Again, don’t waste time writing out the answers to each essay. You will have plenty of time to do so on the actual exam day and even then the testers aren’t looking for Pulitzer Prize-worthy writing. The key is spotting all the legal issues and applying the facts to those issues. Practice by making an outline of the potential issues arising from the essay scenario and check the sample answers to see how many issues you were able to find for analysis. The goal is to be comfortable and knowledgeable in spotting the issues for every state-specific topic that’s covered on your bar exam.
6. Make it a routine to study at least one hour per night after work.
Unless you’re dragging yourself home at midnight, make it a routine to study every night after work, even if it means making some sacrifices. Forgo that yoga class (go on Saturday instead), tell your friends that you need to skip happy hour. When your brain is regularly in bar study mode, your studying will be more productive in general and you will retain knowledge better than if you periodically pick up your bar book. All you need is one hour (or more, if you can spare it) to make part time bar studying work on so little time.
7. Give up your weekends – but not your sanity.
As previously mentioned, you will have to make sacrifices if you want to pass the bar, even more so than the very first time around. Weekends will be the only real time that you can devote to studying, so use them wisely. Get in eight hours of studying–12 hours if you can handle it. However, you do want to maintain your sanity and not have a mental breakdown during the exam. Relax and take breaks for lunch and dinner. Everyone needs to eat and you have to keep up your energy. Treat yourself to drinks with a friend at the end of the night (but don’t overindulge and be so hung over that you can’t study the next day).