Should you work while studying for the bar exam?

GUEST BLOG by Brian C. Pike, Esq.
Passed the July 2015 New York Bar Exam
Automation Architect at Riverview Law

Do I work during the Bar Exam?  Should I work while I study? What a dreaded question.  If you have ever asked a practicing attorney this question they fall into two heavily defended camps: (1) in moderation; or (2) none at all. My take? I think it is entirely a personal decision.

During the summer of 2015, I had the tremendous opportunity to work with an amazing group of people at BARBRI while studying for the bar exam as a social media intern.  I had connected with BARBRI’s social media manager, Melody Maleitzke, while she judged a social media competition at my law school.  It truly was a wonderful experience to learn from an industry veteran and I’m honored to pass-along a few of the tips I learned along the way.  I’ll give a series of lessons with examples of how it worked for me before asking you to ask yourself: should you work while studying for the bar exam?

  • Be honest with yourself. I think this is the hardest lesson learned and is the reason why I listed it first.  As BARBRI will tell you, studying for the bar exam is a mental beat down. I describe it as boot camp for your brain. However, don’t let that discourage you. You should listen when your instructors say it is an honor to take the bar exam —you’ve worked really hard to get where you are.  And along the way you’ve made habits that work for you. Don’t give into peer pressure to abandon those habits. This goes double for when it comes to subjects. You want to be bad in an area that you don’t know because BARBRI will give you wonderful tools to help you improve in that area.

    For me: I’ve always been the type of person to overload myself and burn out.  Fortunately, I have a wonderful girlfriend who helped me realize when I needed to take a break.  But I didn’t always put it on those around me.  I built into my schedule a number of breaks for me to unwind and refresh my brain.  If you study for an hour, take a 10-minute break to watch a cat video or, even better, get up and enjoy some fresh air.

  • Make a schedule.  No matter what your study habits are, making a schedule is important. BARBRI will give you a great outline of what topics you will study and when, but get into the habit, especially if you are balancing work, of planning out your week.

    For me: I made a rough outline for the entire process of studying for the bar.  On Sunday, I would sit down and see what needed to be moved around and also to make myself aware of what deadlines for work I had that week.
  • Be honest with those around you.  This goes for both your employers (if you should choose to work), and your friends and family.  Share your schedule with your boss(es) and your loved ones so they have an idea of what you up against.  If your boss wants you to take on a new assignment, don’t feel shy in saying that it might not be a good idea because you have property coming up this week.

    For me: I shared my weekly plan with my bosses and also those I spent a significant amount of time with.  This allowed me to stick to my schedule and not to over-commit in any one area.  Plus, if something really interesting came up in work, I could use my breaks to tackle it as a mental refresher.
  • Don’t be your own worst enemy.  This is my last tip.  The bar exam is entirely a mental game, and the game begins when you study.  It is completely possible to have a full-time job and study for the bar exam, but you have to know when to turn it off for the night.  Studying for the bar exam is about being honest with yourself on what works for you, and what doesn’t; what areas you really know, and which ones you need to spend more time on.

    For me: I’m the type of person who thrives on lists.  I completed between 95-100% of the assigned work from BARBRI.  Now, many of those assignments are given as guidelines.  You might need to spend the full 3-4 hours reviewing your notes on a topic area you really aren’t understanding.  Or you might need even less in another area.  What I can recommend and what I did is to really crank it up in the last two weeks.  I toned my actual work down to 0 and turned my studying up to 100.  Find the balance that will leave you feeling satisfied at the end of the day when you call it a night.

So, weigh my tips and decide for yourself: is it right for me?  Will I let one area slip more than another?  Do I not feel comfortable sticking to such a tight schedule?  Am I afraid of disappointing those I work with?  Then maybe you should consider working less, or on a project-basis.  At the end of the day, I believe anyone can work and study for the bar.  The question for you is how much you think you can work and still feel happy with your study progress.

#BarPrepLife: Creatures of Habit

This was a good experience because, much like what I expect to happen during the bar exam, I was working near strangers in a room that I had never been in before.

When it comes to studying for the bar, it is clear that “bar-preppers” are creatures of habit.

The library, the local coffee shop, the kitchen table; everyone has their favorite study spot.  I recently received some advice from a lawyer about the need to switch environments when it comes to studying for the bar exam.

The lawyer told me that it is a good idea to change your study spot every so often in order to get used to working in a new environment in an attempt to adapt to the unfamiliar location of the bar exam.  For many students, the bar exam is administered in a place that is completely new and foreign.  In Michigan, the July bar exam takes place at the Michigan State University basketball arena, also known as the Breslin Center.  As I have never studied, nor taken a huge exam, in a basketball arena, I decided to take this advice to heart and study in a new environment.

Throughout bar prep, I have been studying at my law school.  This is unfamiliar for me because I have always studied at home for law school exams. At first, it took a while to get acquainted with the new space. Overall, it was a good experience because I was able to test myself by studying in an unfamiliar environment with distractions that are different than what I am accustomed to.

In an attempt to really try out this method of studying in a completely new environment, I went to the public library.  This was a good experience because, much like what I expect to happen during the bar exam, I was working near strangers in a room that I had never been in before.  It took me some time to get used to being in such an unfamiliar space, but I am glad that I am using my study time to discover by strengths and weaknesses so that when it comes time to taking the bar exam, I will be ready to perform.

Throughout bar prep, I plan on studying in different environments every so often in order to mentally prepare myself for the unfamiliar setting of the bar exam.  I think that this strategy will help me to #OwnTheBar.

Thoughts on studying in a new setting during bar prep? Tweet me or Instagram me @BarPrepLife!