You may think that the bar exam is a test of your legal knowledge and ability. In reality, bar exam success is often the result of a disciplined approach to time-management. In fact, if I had to bet on who would be more likely to pass the bar, a student with a high IQ or a student with a solid study plan and the discipline to follow it, my money is on the latter. The good news is that your approach to bar review time-management (unlike your IQ) is something that is within your ability to control.
When it comes to the bar exam, the sheer volume of material you must learn in a relatively short amount of time can leave even the most diligent student feeling anxious and overwhelmed. The best antidote to feeling this way is to develop a long-range study plan. Think of it as your own personal syllabus.
What if your bar review course already gives you a syllabus to follow? That is a great starting point, but don’t assume that this one-size-fits-all approach is going to fit your situation. Better to use their suggested study plan as a template for creating your own. No single organizational approach is going to work for everyone so the key is to find what works for you.
Regardless of how you organize your day, you will want to keep these time-management principles in mind:
Designate a study space. If you go to the library, find a quiet area. Some libraries let you reserve private study rooms. If you study at home, create a study space that is consistent, organized and inviting. Avoid a cluttered area with a lot of distractions. It does not have to be anything fancy. A dining room table works just fine for this purpose.
Schedule your time. Set aside consistent blocks of time each day for uninterrupted study. Turn off cell phones, e-mails, instant messaging, etc. Do not allow any distractions during these times.
Plan your time. Make use of a daily planner or study calendar. Before you begin studying, create a detailed overview of what you intend to accomplish in each hour. This makes it easier to track your progress and identify when you have fallen behind.
Get yourself into exam mode. If you are not a morning person, do your practice testing early in the day to train your mind to be alert during exam hours. Go to sleep early so that your body clock is on “bar exam time.” Remember if you are used to studying until 2:00 AM and waking up at noon every day, it will be difficult to function when the real bar exam kicks off at 9:00 AM.
Start on time. If your study plan calls for you to begin studying at 8:00 AM that means you must be at your study place and ready to study by 8:00 AM. Wake up far enough in advance to allow time for breakfast, reading the paper, exercise, and getting to your study location.
Organize in advance. If you spend a lot of time getting yourself organized in the morning before you begin studying, eliminate this time-wasting activity by organizing your study materials in advance. A good way to do this is to put together a bar review study bag (or box). Keep everything you might need to study in this bag and take it with you when you go to your study place. Examples of things to include in your bar review bag: bar review books, note cards, pens and pencils, pencil sharpener, ear plugs, etc.
Don’t procrastinate. You must be ruthless in eliminating distractions and time-wasting activities from your day. If you feel a sudden urge to clean out your sock drawer, it is probably because you are putting off studying.
Schedule breaks throughout your day. Knowing when to stop studying is as important as knowing when to start. Make sure you schedule breaks for meals and occasional downtime to avoid burnout. If you are too tired and hungry to focus, then your study time becomes counter-productive.
Get help as needed. If you are having difficulty getting your study plan in order, seek advice from experts. If you are taking a bar review course, ask for assistance in creating and implementing your study plan. Don’t be shy about asking for help. After all, you are paying these people a lot of money. You are entitled to their assistance.
Strong organizational and time-management skills provide a solid foundation for passing the bar exam. Use your study time effectively and I would be willing to bet on your bar exam success.