This week marks one year since I graduated law school. This time last year, I began one of the most stressful, drawn out periods in my life- studying for the Bar Exam with a newborn. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed. You know when you finish a long semester, get through finals, and all you want to do is turn your brain off for summer or winter break? Yeah, you don’t get to do that when you have a Bar Exam coming up. You know when you just have a baby and all you want to do is take a few months off so that you can cuddle with it all day and not have to worry about your sleep deprivation? You don’t get to do that if you had your baby in the middle of law school. Basically the weight of all your responsibilities is doubled when you’re studying for a bar while simultaneously taking care of a baby. In retrospect, though, it really wasn’t that bad. I think I did a little more stressing than I needed to. And for all of you reading this that are about to embark on the same journey I’ve been on, know that you can do it. Here’s how I did:1. Sign up for Bar Prep. Words cannot express how much I think this helped. I’ve heard of people passing the bar without taking any sort of formal bar prep courses, but I’m really not sure I could have done it… unless maybe I bought all the books and lectures that came with it from someone else who already went through it. One great thing about bar prep courses is the structure. Several weeks before it begins, they send you a schedule with all the tasks you need to complete each day leading up to the exam. I’ll write more about how I approached that in a bit. Another thing I liked was the video lectures. There is at least one lecture for every topic on the bar exam, and a lecture for the major practice exams you’ll take during your course of study. The practice exams, especially the essay questions and answers that come with them, are awesome. Not only that, but a bar prep course usually comes with professors that will personally grade your essays for you. Basically, bar prep courses are the way to go, which leads me to a question I remember stressing about a lot…
- Which bar prep course should I go with? There were two competing bar prep courses that campaigned at my law school (Hawaii)- Kaplan and BarBri. I took the Texas bar exam, and am not quite sure what other companies are out there or advertised at law schools there, but Kaplan and BarBri seem to be at the top of things. I chose Kaplan for one reason and one reason only- it was way cheaper. A couple weeks into my course I remember googling things like “How to Pass the Bar Exam” and my heart sank when I heard people dismissing Kaplan, and saying that BarBri was the only way to go. I believed them for a sec, and figured if you’re paying that much more for BarBri than it must be better, right? Well, after finishing the Kaplan course and doing pretty well on an out-of-state Bar Exam on my first try, I would have to say I’m extremely happy I went with Kaplan. I obviously can’t compare the two since I have no idea what BarBri is like, but Kaplan was awesome and I have absolutely no complaints. I’m happy I saved almost $1,000 going with the cheaper course. Lord knows I needed it with the new baby (and to pay for flights and hotels to Texas for the exam). Another thing to note is that I went with the online-only option, simply because I was taking an out-of-state bar exam and they didn’t offer prep for Texas in Hawaii classrooms.
2. Stick to a Schedule. You can read more about the schedule I kept while studying for the bar exam here, but I’ll summarize. I studied anywhere from 6-8 hours a day, depending on what work was planned for the day, how I did on practice exams, and what sort of mood my baby was in. I began my day of studying at 10am (unless you count the audio lectures I listened to on the way to the gym and while lifting weights).
- First: Watch Lecture (3-4 hours):The first thing I did, as suggested by my bar prep course, was watch the day’s lecture, which was usually 3-4 hours long. In theory, you should be taking notes while you watch the lecture (you’ll get an outline with blanks to fill in as you listen). I started off doing really well with taking these notes, but over time I realized that this was a good time to multitask instead. While I listened to the day’s lecture, I completed light household chores and spent some time playing with my baby. If I heard something I really felt the need to write down to help me remember it later, I’d stop whatever else I was doing. But otherwise, I’d leave the muscle memory or whatever writing helps with to practice essays. If you choose to do what I did, it’s really important that you remember to actively listen, and not let your mind wander off. After finishing the lecture, I’d take a 10-15 minute outdoor break with my baby.
- Second: Make Flashcards/Review (1 hour): After you watch the lecture, (at least for Kaplan) there is a checkpoint quiz you take based on the lecture. You’re supposed to take about an hour reviewing the lecture before you attempt the quiz. When I first started the course, I’d use this time to make flashcards based on the notes from the lecture. As I was writing out my flashcards, I’d read what I was writing out-loud to my baby. I thought this was useful at first, but later decided it was a waste of time. Instead, I decided to use this time to write out practice essays based on the subject of the lecture. If I didn’t feel comfortable enough with the topic to write my own essay out, I’d just copy the essay word-for-word from the answer book. I think this helped me learn the rules and the structure better than flashcards (I’ll write more about that again in a bit).
- Third: Take the Checkpoint Quiz and review questions missed (30-60 minutes): Your checkpoint quiz will be based on the lecture you listened to that morning. Your bar prep course will assign you more work to do based on the number of questions you get wrong (this work will be stuff like read a section again or listen to another lecture). I usually saved this extra work for the weekend, or the end of the day if I still had time to study. After taking the quiz and reviewing the answers to the questions I’d miss, I’d take another outdoor break with my baby.
- Fourth: 33 MBE Questions (1 hour): This is something I always made time for, and I think this helped me feel 100% comfortable on the Multi-State section going into the exam. If you do 33 questions every single day and review the answers to the questions you got wrong, there is no reason you shouldn’t pass this portion of the exam. One great thing about the bar prep courses is that it keeps track of the types of questions you get wrong, so you can do more of those kinds of questions in the future. Again, while I was doing this, I’d read the question and answer out-loud to my baby. It slows you down a bit, but time has never really been an issue for me on exams so I wasn’t worried about it. If you’re the type of person who runs out of time on tests, I would probably skip the reading aloud thing and just take it under normal test circumstances (which is what the course recommends, anyway.)
- Fifth: Essay Questions (1 hour): Reading essay questions, writing my own answers, and then writing out word-for-word the correct answer to the essay question was the NUMBER ONE study method that helped me pass the exam. In fact, during the last couple of weeks before the exam this is all I would do (other than the 33 MBE questions a day). On the plane to Texas and the few days before and during the exam, ALL I was doing was reviewing outlines to the essay questions I hand-wrote.
- Sixth: Make-up work (1 hour or so): If you have any extra time that day, do the work assigned to you based on your missed checkpoint quiz questions. The more you do now, the more free time you’ll have on the weekend.
- Seventh: Decompression: I usually cut myself off from studying between 5 and 7pm at the latest. I always figured by this point there isn’t much else that was going to fit in my brain. Plus, I felt bad for not giving my baby 100% of my attention and I needed some serious cuddle and playtime. Also, it’s dinner time and somebody needs to cook some food around here. After I put the baby to bed around 8 or 9, I’d allow myself 1 hour of mindless television, if I could even make it that long without slipping into a deep sleep where I’d dream about the rules of evidence and the elements of adverse possession.
3. Eat right and exercise. I woke up at 5 or 6 every morning and spent 1-2 hours at the gym before starting my study day. This is what made me feel like a somewhat-normal person. This is what kept my breakdowns to a minimum (I think I only had one or two, actually. Maybe three.). I would tell you to get plenty of sleep, but you have a baby so I won’t insult you.
4. Listen to your audio lectures. When I wasn’t studying, I was listening to my audio lectures. I downloaded them all to my iPad. I listened to them in the car. I listened to them at the gym. I listened to them in the shower. I listened to them when I was cooking dinner. I listened to them so much that while I was taking the exam, I could hear the man or woman’s voice in my head dictating the rules to me. In fact, to this day I can still hear rules in my head. When I’m watching legal shows, I can recite these rules with the same pace and tone as the people on my damn audio lectures.
5. Write out your essays. I already explained this one, but I’m giving it’s own number to stress how important it is for you to do this. 6. HAVE FUN. Call me sick and twisted, but I remember actually having some fun studying for the bar exam. Not only on the weekends, which for the most part I TOOK OFF, but actually while I was studying. If you’re like me, you will learn almost as much, if not more, while you’re studying for the bar than you did during your whole three years of law school. Learning is fun. That’s why you’ve been in school for about 18 years at this point, isn’t it? But really, do fun things on the weekend. Swim in the ocean. Drink too much wine. Take time to decompress before Monday. The calmer, happier, and more positive you are, the more you will soak in.
Now, for other things to think about, such as:
1. What to do with your baby. Seriously, I think my baby is a happier, more well-adjusted baby because of the bar exam. Besides having hours of lectures probably rattling around in her head as well, she is used to being thrown some toys and left to fend for herself. Okay, that sounded bad, but you know what I mean. She is very independent. And smart, if I do say so myself. I do consider myself somewhat of an attachment parenter, though, and I never let her cry if she needed me. Babywearing always did the trick for us. I would throw her in my Moby wrap and stand while studying if I needed to.
2. What to do during the Bar. I, personally, wasn’t ready to leave my baby for one day, much less three days. I knew I would be much more stressed without her than having her in my hotel room. Although my baby started sleeping through the night a month or so before the actual Bar Exam, she wasn’t used to Texas time and woke up several times each night before each exam. I naturally woke up too, but I was able to fall back asleep (mostly). I did not get a full-nights sleep before any exam, but I did fine, so don’t stress too much. Just do what you can.
3. What to do after the Bar. DON’T look over your notes and stress about any questions you might have missed. You WILL miss questions. You WILL think you failed. When I walked out of the exam room on the last day, I honestly wasn’t sure whether or not I passed. Chances are you did, so don’t worry. Instead, let your baby tear up any notes you took. Trust me, it’ll be loads of fun for both of you.
You guys, it has been a year since I went through this process, so I know I missed some things. I wanted to write this post while it was still fresh in my head, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even after I received the letter saying I passed, I didn’t want to think about it anymore. So if you have any questions about anything I wrote about or anything I might have missed, feel free to ask. GOOD LUCK! You’ll be a lawyer soon. ????