2020 has required flexibility and adaptation. One group substantially affected by this year’s changes are students who will sit for the bar exam. 2020 marked the first year in history that the bar exam was proctored remotely in certain jurisdictions, and many will adopt this format in 2021. Upon going remote, examinees will have to study for and approach the exam differently than in years past. The following is a list of some general tips that helped me study for the remote October exam in Illinois.
Most commercial bar preparation courses are still being administered remotely rather than in person. With this online structure, examinees must assume more responsibility to hold themselves accountable and stay on track with lesson plans. Bar preparation courses normally include a proposed schedule or suggestions for what examinees should be working on in a given day, but there are also many ways in which you can maximize productivity on your own.
Crafting a month-to-month schedule for your bar prep journey is one of the most helpful things you can do at the beginning of your studies. Take a moment to consider, for each day, how many hours you will be able to dedicate to bar prep, when exactly you can carve out those hours, and how the amount of study hours will change as the exam date gets closer. Are you an early riser and more productive in the mornings? Are you working simultaneously and only able to study after 5 p.m.? Having a general idea of your availability will help you to determine how much you are able to accomplish each day of the week. You can use the hourly estimates in your commercial bar prep course as a starting point. Many law schools also have an internal department dedicated to career services or bar exam passage, so you might consider reaching out to see if there is someone who can help you determine, on a daily or weekly basis, how much time you need to be spending on studying.
If you are working while studying for the bar exam, you will need to manage your time even more wisely. Be transparent with your employer about the time you must dedicate to studying. This will help you structure your study schedule around agreed-upon hours. It will also benefit your employer, who will not necessarily know when you are busy, due to remote working. If you are already working in the legal field, your employer is likely to be sympathetic as they have already undergone the rigor of bar prep themselves!
Lastly, look after your mental health. This year has presented quite a few changes and delays to otherwise longstanding bar exam policies, and it is very easy to become overwhelmed by the added stress of uncertainty. Focus on the study materials at your disposal, celebrate small victories in your understanding of the subject matter, and take care of your mental health throughout the process.
The bar exam covers roughly 14 topics, tested through both essay and multiple-choice questions. Needless to say, you are going to need to master a high volume of information. This will not happen overnight, so consistency and efficiency in how you study are key to covering as much information as possible in the months prior to the exam.
One thing that I found helpful while attempting to study alone at home was to develop a routine unique to my bar preparation to help me “get in the zone.” I have a hard time waking up extra early to study before work, so I got in the habit of going for a brisk walk in the morning while I listened to my favorite music and visited my local coffee shop. I also found that, especially in the weeks directly before the exam, taking a break from social media and minimizing distractions was helpful. These little exercises are not time-consuming and helped to set the tone for the day, direct my focus toward studying, and find some inspiration.
Additionally, before you start studying for the day, you should know exactly what you plan to accomplish during that session (perhaps by using the schedule technique mentioned above). Try to do something to advance your study plan every single day, whether it is just a quick run-through of a tricky area or a full set of practice questions and concept review.
It’s okay to have off days. The information itself is a lot to manage and sometimes work or personal obligations get in the way, but trying to get at least one thing done per day will help you stick to your routine and stay on track with your study plan at a time when examinees are forced to study from home with less guidance than in previous years. The hardest part is sitting down and beginning!
The year 2020 was the first time in the history of the bar exam in which the exam was administered entirely remotely. The new remote exam is taken on your own computer and in your own designated space rather than at a testing center. All of the commercial bar prep materials for the summer and fall 2020 exams were written and distributed with the idea of a physical exam in mind, making it difficult for examinees to suddenly adapt to an online format.
Now that we know a remote exam is a possibility across jurisdictions going forward, it is a good idea to get familiar with the new format in preparation for either scenario. If your jurisdiction has already announced a remote exam for 2021, you should study with your online materials as much as possible. This means typing your essay answers and practicing the online multiple-choice questions offered through your prep course rather than those in the hard-copy format.
In the few days directly before the exam, make sure you have a quiet, comfortable place to take the exam. Your jurisdiction will most likely allow you to test out the software’s tools and features beforehand, so take advantage of this opportunity so you know what is available to you come exam day. After you have selected an exam space, check your internet speed to ensure connectivity on exam day. You can also check the lighting on your webcam to make sure it is sufficient for your proctor to identify you. If you do not have a proper space in your home to take the exam, check with your law school to see if they offer testing rooms for exam day.
The last and most important tip is to stay motivated! If you are taking the bar exam, your end goal is likely to enjoy a long and successful career in the practice of law. The exam is one of the last steps before fulfilling that goal by embarking upon your legal career. It’s a lot of work right now, but you have already been working hard for three years in law school and have dedicated yourself to the learning experiences and challenges that come with being an attorney. You’re almost there, so focus on the excitement of reaching this significant milestone. And one last thing: best of luck!