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You Can Go the Distance: What I Wish I Knew Before Bar Exam Preparation

— May 2, 2023

Bar exam preparation is a long and arduous process, but preparing early can give you a leg up and peace of mind when you are ready to begin.

I still have the dreaded nightmares of running late to the bar exam or opening the bar exam materials to discover that I have no idea how to answer the questions. Preparing for the bar exam is one of the most demanding situations you will go through in your life, but there are ways to make this experience less stressful. Here are just a few of the things I wish someone would have told me before I prepared for the bar exam. And, because everybody loves a bit of trivia, see if you can identify the songs and artists associated with the quotes in each section below!

“Can you pay my bills?”

I, like many law students, relied primarily on student loans and scholarships to support myself during law school. I also earned money by working as a tutor during the school year and by clerking at a law firm during the summer. Needless to say, these jobs—which I truly did enjoy—did not make me rich.

As I started to seriously think about preparing for the bar exam during my last semester of law school, I quickly realized that I would not be earning money during the May-through-July study period. I created a budget based on what I currently had in my bank account to ensure that I had enough money to pay my rent, buy food (and copious amounts of coffee), and have enough in case of emergency.

Everyone has different obligations, so be sure to create a budget that fits your lifestyle needs. Studying for the bar exam is a full-time job, so it is imperative that you focus on adequately preparing instead of balancing multiple jobs. If you do need a source of income while you study, see if you can get a part-time job that best suits your study schedule. You can work as a barista at a coffee shop a few mornings each week or as a waiter at a restaurant in the evenings. Just make sure that you have a financial plan and stick to it.

“Getting to feel free and easy/When I am with you/Getting to know what to say.”

One of the most helpful courses I took in law school was a bar exam prep course in my last semester of law school. The course did not focus on the substance of the different subjects of the exam, nor could it realistically do so. But it did a fantastic job exposing my classmates and me to the different components of the bar exam, which was the Uniform Bar Exam in my jurisdiction (Nebraska). I was able to practice MBE-style multiple-choice questions and MEE-style essays as well as several MPTs. This was extremely helpful because I was able to develop a plan to answer these efficiently and effectively. By the end of the course, I had a thorough grasp on the test components, which allowed me to focus exclusively on learning the substantive materials when I started my bar prep course.

“All my bags are packed/I’m ready to go/I’m standin’ here outside your door.”

One thing I really wish I had prepared for earlier was the exam day. No, not the actual exam itself, but the logistics surrounding it. My bar exam was not held in the city where I was living, so I needed to plan housing, food, and transportation for the three days I would be traveling for the exam. Luckily, two of my best friends were also taking the bar exam in my jurisdiction, so we rented a house and bought groceries to grill out while we were there. We decided to do this instead of staying at a hotel because 1) it was a cheaper option; and 2) we felt that we would be more comfortable if we could hang out together instead of stressing out in a lonely hotel room. (I also had several friends who stayed in a hotel by themselves because they needed time to themselves.)

Burgers on the grill; image by Maude Frédérique Lavoie, via
Burgers on the grill; image by Maude Frédérique Lavoie, via

The key is to figure out what will work best for you and book early. Some bar exams are held in big cities with plenty of lodging options, but some locations may be more difficult to book. Also, if you are traveling to a different jurisdiction that requires you to fly or take a train, please, please, please, book a ticket that provides you with plenty of time before the exam. You don’t want to have your flight canceled the day before and then scramble to get there in time to sit for the bar exam.

“So if we get the big jobs, and we make the big money, when we look back now, will that joke still be funny?”

Before you take the deep dive into bar prep, make sure to enjoy graduation! This may be the last time that you see several of your classmates who you just spent the last two to three years seeing every day. Your law school will likely have several events planned for the week leading up to graduation, so be sure to take part in these and enjoy yourself. Celebrate your major accomplishment of graduating from law school with your friends and family. You will not look back and wish you would have studied the night before graduation, but you will look back fondly on the memories you made during that last week of law school.

“Slow down, you move too fast/You got to make the morning last.”

Once you are ready to begin bar prep, I cannot stress enough to pace yourself. It is very easy to fall into the trap of starting off by studying for 14 hours every day and covering a wide range of subjects. I know this is one of the oldest cliches in the book but bear with me: Bar prep is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to take time to relax your mind. 

Luckily, if you are taking a bar prep course, it should provide you with a daily schedule to follow. And, it is totally okay to do more practice than this schedule provides, but just don’t overdo it. You will have more than two months to study, and burning out early in your studies will not set you up for long-term success on exam day.

Bar exam preparation is a long and arduous process, but preparing early can give you a leg up and peace of mind when you are ready to begin. Remember to use the resources available to you and reach out to someone if you need help. You can surmount this challenge and be successful on exam day!

Answers to Song Lyrics:

  1. Bills, Bills, Bills – Destiny’s Child
  2. Getting to Know You – Rodgers & Hammerstein (The King and I)
  3. Graduation (Friends Forever) – Vitamin C
  4. Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver
  5. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) – Simon & Garfunkel

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