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Tackling Bar Exam Studying

Post Authored By: Elaina Stevens

As someone who took the exam just a few months ago, it made sense to me to try to pass along what I learned while the experience is still fresh in my mind. 

Despite asking countless questions to lawyers and recent test takers, until I sat down for my first Barbri lecture video, it was hard for me to understand what studying would be like.  After all, it is a two day exam, essentially questioning everything you learned over the past three years.  Being the routine person that I am, I appreciated that Barbri set out precisely what I needed to do every day for my 9.5 weeks of studying.  However, I knew that I would need to put in plenty of my own time outside of Barbri to ensure that I was memorizing all of the materials. This leads to my first piece of advice:

1. Do What Works For You

Throughout studying, I found myself constantly asking myself: am I doing this right? Is this how I should be studying?  As I would come to find, as with most questions in the legal field, the answer is it depends.  There is no “right” answer.  I personally have always relied on flashcards to help me memorize information. It was helpful for me to make it goal to have a designated amount of flashcards memorized each day for whatever subject I was working on at the moment. Following the memorization for each set of flashcards for a given subject, I then would work on practice questions to test my ability to apply what I had memorized.  One thing to keep in mind, as more and more subjects are added to the mix and your knowledge continues to grow, a constant review of previously learned subjects is essential.

The time you take to study for the bar may seem like a long time, but it flies by fast and there is no time to waste.  Recognize what is working is what is not.  If you are like me and find staring at a lengthy outline to be useless, then it is time to find a more active approach.  By the time bar studying rolls around, remember that you have been in school for a good 19 years.  You know what works best for you. 

Part of what makes bar exam studying so grueling is the fact that there is no break prior to beginning the process.  You’ve just spent about three years in law school and then after finals come and go, immediately the bar journey begins.  Once it begins, it’s too easy to feel mentally, emotionally, and physically drained during those 8-10 weeks. Days may feel monotonous, and dread might set in. If that happens, it’s important to remember why you are doing this process in the first place. Why did you go to law school? What were you hoping to accomplish? Think about what is on the other end of the exam.  The payoff will be worth it. 

2. Stay Positive

I also found that making a list of everything I wanted to do after the exam (that I did not have time to do during the studying process) to be quite helpful, and this helped motivate me to keep studying hard.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Lastly, the most important tip when tackling bar exam studying is to take care of yourself.  With all the sitting around and studying for countless hours a day, I made it a point to try to go for walks to help clear my mind.  Get it out of your mind that you are “wasting” time away from studying if you take some time for yourself.  Keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy is essential and can lead to better focusing.

Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to others.  Talk to those who have already taken the exam. Talk to those who have not taken the exam as well, they can help be a healthy distraction. Maintain your focus, but do not shut yourself away from those who want a passing score for you almost as badly as you want it for yourself. Take it day by day and when exam day comes, know that you have done everything you can and should be proud, no matter the result.

About the Author:

Elaina Stevens is an associate attorney at David A. Axelrod & Associates. She graduated from DePaul University College of Law in December 2022 where she was a part-time evening student.  She has worked full-time at David A. Axelrod & Associates since post-undergrad, when she started at the firm as a receptionist, to becoming an associate attorney in May 2023.  Elaina focuses on personal injury and medical malpractice cases and is a member of CBA’s YLS Women in Law and Torts Litigation committees.

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