Thursday, June 10, 2010

Countdown to the Bar Exam: The Bar Prep Saga

The countdown to the bar exam has begun for most 2010 law grads.  They have had a chance to celebrate their graduation, visit with loved ones and hopefully relax a little.  However, with the bar exam looming, it proves challenging to fully feel finished with their academic legal career until the bar exam is behind them.

Naturally bar review is the next step.  Therefore, my next postings will provide bar support ideas for the distinct needs of students through each phase of bar review.  I have divided bar review into three parts based on my observations of how students’ mood/attitude changes during the process.  Since every student is unique, use this merely as a strategic guide and alter as needed based upon their individual needs. 

The three phases of bar review can be analogized to the three basic parts of a story.  Simply put: the beginning, middle and end.  Or equated to the more complicated romance novel: the romance, the break-up and then finally the reunion or happily ever after ending.  Or better yet to a grand epic: a mighty cause or purpose, a struggle or challenge and then ending with triumph and utter transformation from the journey.

In the Beginning… The Romance, Quest and Journey to Passing the Bar

Typically, the first part of a story or novel sets the stage and introduces the characters and the plot.  This is the hook. It is what draws in the reader and forces them to continue reading.  For bar review, this is the lead up to the first class and the introduction or orientation session.  Students receive packets of information in the mail or via email in the days or weeks leading up to the start of their bar review.  Some tear open the brown card board boxes as if it was their 8th birthday all over again; while others, leave them in a corner collecting dust until the final moment.  But all of them begin thinking about what lies ahead.

During this beginning phase of their bar prep, many students eagerly anticipate their start date.  Recently a few students confided in me that they are “excited” to get started with their bar prep classes and that it seems like bar review might even be “fun”.  (This was not the norm when I took the bar 10 years ago and may not be long lived for them either.)  Thus, the romance or epic quest has begun.

Although difficult to imagine anything about the bar exam being romantic, in a very real sense students have been bewitched by the bar for years.  They are giddy with anticipation to see what bar review is like, they have sweaty palms and heart palpitations when they think about the test itself and they likely devote more time and attention to studying for the bar than they have anything else in their lifetime- including courting their true love.

That said, it is important to encourage students to make the most of this starry eyed and idealistic phase.  Additionally, they have more energy and time now than they will later in the summer.  Based upon my experience working with students during this tumultuous period, I have compiled ten guiding principles to help usher them into the early phase of bar review. 

With these ten action points and guiding principles students should begin bar review on the right footing.  On this quest for success on the bar exam, romance quickly turns to heartache and challenge.  However, if students know what to expect and plan accordingly, passing the bar exam will be more easily achieved.  I hope that in passing these strategies and pieces of advice on to your students this summer will alleviate some of their stress and improve their chances of success on the bar exam.

In the Beginning of Bar Prep:

1.              Calendar everything!  Efficient time management is crucial to being successful on the bar exam.  Create a master calendar that records your lectures, essay and/or MPT and/or MBE practice time and what you will do with the limited free time that is left over.  Be as detailed as possible with your calendar in order to beneficially use your time and realistically plan for your summer.

2.              Delegate non-essential tasks!  Hire a babysitter, dog walker and enlist another member of your household to assist with household chores.  Delegate in order to free up more time in your day or week.  Prioritize your responsibilities and let go of all unnecessary duties or chores.  They will be there when the bar is over.

3.              Discuss your desire to pass the bar with your family and friends.  Letting your loved ones know how important passing the bar exam is to you and why you will not see much of them this coming summer will help you stay on track with your studying and garner more support from them when you need it most. 

4.              Arrange your travel plans and/or hotel stay.  No, I do not mean booking your tickets to Cabo for a long weekend in July!  Instead, make sure you book your hotel and/or flight so that you are near the bar exam testing location in your state.  Hotels fill quickly and you do not want to be stuck commuting for your bar exam.  (Also, ask for a fridge in your room.  It will allow you to eat in and avoid the extra expense and potential tummy trouble of eating out for every meal.)

5.              Review your state bar policies and rules.  Review the security policies, bar association requirements and testing location rules so that you do not need to make last minute arrangements.  Will you be able to use a laptop or must you handwrite?  Can you use a MAC or do you need a PC?  Are there restrictions on what you are allowed to wear or bring into the testing room?  Find out!

6.              Get healthy!  Avoid late nights, bar hopping and poor food choices.  It is time to eat smart so that you can think smart.  Again, advance planning will help you stick to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.  Incorporate exercise into your day.  Reward yourself with a brisk walk, bike ride or yoga class.  Countless studies show, not only that exercise boosts brain function, but exercise also promotes better sleep, improves mood and increases energy.  These are all things you will need during your bar prep! 

7.              Apply for an accommodation   If you are applying for a testing accommodation, make sure you know the requisite materials/documentation needed and the submission deadlines.  Get started early since this can be a time consuming process.

8.              Know thyself.  Follow your bar review provider’s program, listen during your orientation to absorb the many nuggets of useful information and do your best to adhere to their schedule.  HOWEVER, above all, listen to yourself!  You know your strengths and weaknesses.  You must learn the law and put it into practice but you may need to adapt your schedule to how you learn best.  Be flexible and trust your instincts.

9.              Seek additional help early!  Everyone is stressed during bar review.  However, you need to differentiate between stress and your need for academic/bar support.  If you are missing a key piece of information, a strategy for the MBE or a critical essay writing technique, it is best to recognize this early in your bar prep and remedy it before you become overwhelmed in your review.  First, approach your bar review provider.  You paid a considerable amount of money for their expertise and individualized assistance is part of that fee.  If they are unable to assist you, do not stop seeking help.  Go to your Academic Support, Bar Support, or Dean of Students at your law school to see how they can assist.  Last but not least, ask a friend or Law Professor.

10.           Adopt a mantra: “I will pass the bar exam!”  Remaining positive during your bar review will yield positive results.  Use “post it” notes to wallpaper your life with encouraging affirmations, distance yourself from negativity or overly stressed out peers and feel confident that your commitment and hard work will pay off.

(Lisa Young)

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