How to make the bar prep experience fit you

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By Makenzie Way, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

How is it possible that we’re already this far into bar prep? Someone needs to tell the world to slow down because I feel like I’m just now getting the hang of this whole ‘studying for the bar’ thing. 

Everyone told me bar prep was a trial and error sort of process … that it was different than studying for law school, and I believed them kind of, but boy were they right. While BARBRI provides you with a personalized approach to studying, you still need to customize its features and your own actions to make it fit you perfectly. 

Here’s how I’ve customized my own bar prep experience to make it more fitting for my needs:

Choose the perfect start date

One of the benefits of taking BARBRI is that your Personal Study Plan (PSP) is available before graduation, and you can select a start date that works for you. While some may choose to wait until after graduation, others may have a light finals schedule and choose to start a little early.

When I logged in to my PSP, I was guided through selecting my course start date then from there ISAAC adjusted my plan and hours needed per day. If I knew I needed to take a day off down the road, I could do that as well.

Take some breaks

I learned pretty quickly that sitting down for five or six straight hours every day, seven days a week, was exhausting, but I stuck to it for about a month because social media and a plethora of blog posts convinced me I had to. 

By the end of the month, I noticed I wasn’t retaining as much information, and I just felt tired. I was no longer being effective, even though I was hitting my target number every day. So, what did I do? Easy, I took a break.

First, I took a moment to reset. Burn out is real, and your mental health is truly important for bar prep. I’ve been reminded that preparing for the bar is a marathon, not a sprint.

Second, I rearranged my study schedule so I could take breaks in between my assignments, especially the essays and practice MPTs. By giving myself small 30-minute breaks in between the more lengthy assignments, I was able to stay productive and energized and retain more information. 

Third, I thought about things I could do during this break time that would help me recharge. Maybe it was a quick walk around my neighborhood, eating a healthy snack or time playing with my dog. Even though the break wasn’t necessarily productive for my studies, it was productive for my mental wellness which helped me to jump back in later.

Take a break from studying

Create a study space

In the beginning, I was watching lecture videos in bed or on the sofa because that’s what I’ve always done but, alas, the comfort of my bed made staying focused for such long periods of time difficult (to say nothing of the resulting backaches). 

Moral of the story: if you don’t have a study space set aside, take some time to create one. It doesn’t have to be fancy but try to score yourself a desk and a comfortable chair (IKEA has some great options). Not only will your back thank you, but you may also notice an increase in productivity. 

Always review the model answers

It seems cliché but review the model answers even if you get the question right or “pass” the essay. Not only does reviewing model answers solidify legal concepts in your brain, but it also points out small details you may have missed. These small details can be crucial for the MBE.

When it comes to essays, the model answers for MEE and MPT questions are also fantastic examples of how best to structure and organize a response. I tried to ingrain the model answer formatting into my brain so wouldn’t waste precious time on the exam deciding how best to layout my answer. 

Employ the ‘honey’ test

Group studying has never been my thing. Maybe those of you who formed study groups already knew the benefits of the ‘honey’ test, but I for one did not, and I was amazed by how effective it was. 

Basically, one evening I was excited about a certain new concept so I explained it to my dad. A few days later, when writing a practice essay, I noticed that I was able to recall that concept perfectly – a little light bulb went off in my brain. I decided to test the theory, and sure enough, the more I explained concepts, especially ones I was struggling to understand or retain, the more they stuck with me for later use.  

Complete entire tasks first

It’s easy to click complete on a couple of assignments to hit your target hours for the day with the intention of actually completing those tasks by end-of-day (but ultimately failing to do so). In an ideal world, you would immediately complete the task the following morning before moving forward with your work, buuuut if you’re anything like me, more often than not you’ll just keep pushing it off. 

This is dangerous because ISAAC will have no idea that the task hasn’t been completed, and thus your progress calculation will be inaccurate. Basically, it’ll be up to you to correct the error of your ways and get yourself back on track.

Don’t avoid assignments

You may think you’re already good at certain assignments or, conversely, know you’ll struggle with them. For me personally, I kept putting off the essay questions because I was confident in my essay writing abilities and had scored well on the first few essay prompts. I don’t recommend this, obviously, and I have changed my own behavior accordingly. 

Putting certain types of assignments off will just result in a piling up of those assignments. For me, I ended up having to spend two whole days doing nothing but essays (it wasn’t fun). ISAAC recommends assignments in a specific order for a reason, one of which is to give your mind a break in between the tasks. Messing with this is risky. 

And just because you’re “good” at something, does not mean you’re perfect. There is always room for improvement. Likewise, just because you struggle with something does not mean you will always struggle with it Practice is essential to overcoming weaknesses! 

Bar prep is not a one-size-fits-all journey. The great thing about BARBRI is that it can be personalized specifically for you and your schedule customizations. Taking advantage of that functionality, following through with assignments and giving yourself the breaks that you need will help make the bar prep experience fit you perfectly.

Interested in some more strategies? Check out these additional bar exam study tips from the experts at BARBRI.

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