Tuesday, May 22, 2018
What do a political candidate and a bar preppper have in common? Well, this past week, the answer is a lot!
On Tuesday, political candidates all around the country were vying for their respective party's nomination in the primary election. I attended an election results watch party where several of the candidates were successful in securing their nominations, allowing them to run on the party ticket in November. The feeling in the banquet room was a strange mix of having accomplished so much, yet having so far still to go. Each successful candidate worked hard for months to secure the primary nomination, besting other qualified candidates. So, Tuesday was surely a night for celebration. But, the excitement was quickly tempered for many by the realization that securing the primary nod is just the beginning. Each successful candidate now faces a grueling twenty-six week general election campaign schedule.
That odd sense of "unfinished accomplishments" was equally present a few days later at our law school graduation ceremony. While the students were thrilled to be receiving their diplomas on stage, most were also acutely aware that their work was not done. Rather, the hard work was just beginning. The graduates now face 10 weeks of (potentially grueling) bar preparation! Despite all that the students have accomplished during law school, most could only muster a qualified sense of achievement—contingent on the bar exam.
The parallel between political candidate and bar prepper got me thinking – perhaps the bar preppers could learn some study tips from the campaign trail. (The internet is replete with strategies and tips for managing a successful campaign. To remain party-neutral in this post, I’ve omitted citations to specific sources.) Here are a few campaign suggestions that are equally applicable to bar preppers:
Get on the ballot. Make sure that you’ve properly applied to sit for the bar exam in your desired jurisdiction. Also, don’t forget that if you move residences or start a new job between now and the date that you are sworn into the state bar, you’ll have to complete an update form. To access the correct update/amendment form, you can use this directory to lookup the contact information for the National Conference of Bar Examiners or a specific jurisdiction. Please be aware some jurisdictions require you to update both the NCBE and the specific jurisdiction directly.
Get to know your electorate. If you don’t already know exactly what is tested on the bar exam, now is the time to figure it out. You need to know what topics are tested, and how frequently each topic appears on the exam. For starters, most commercial bar preparation companies provide frequency charts and review this material during the first week of class. These detailed statistics will prove invaluable in July. See my Supermarket Sweep post for more details about how to maximize the usefulness of frequency charts.
Write your campaign plan. The commercial bar preparation courses give you a good time-management template, but be sure you’ve accounted for personal events (such as weddings or vacations) and personal preferences (such as watching the lecture videos in the morning or in the afternoon). According to most research, you want to aim for at least 600 hours of bar preparation studying. To help you track your hours, Download 600 Hours to Success, an interactive excel timesheet.
Gather a good team. You are going to need support. Talk with your friends and family about your expectations (and theirs) for the next 10 weeks. Is everyone on the same page? Are you expected to visit Great Aunt June? Who will do the grocery shopping and laundry? To start the discussion, I recommend writing a letter to your team members. For a good example, see the sample letter in “Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals” by Sara J. Berman. In addition to your friends and family, utilize the resources of your law school’s academic support or bar preparation center.
Prepare for long days. You will likely be working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for the next 10 weeks. At first blush, you may be thinking: I worked 60 hours a week during law school, so what’s the big deal? The difference is what you did during those 60 hours. In law school, large sections of your day were planned and guided by professors. Plus the day was typically broken-up into varied chunks of class time, reading, clinic work, student organization events, co-curricular practices, and legal research/writing. During bar preparation, you alone are in charge of keeping everything on track, and the days can become repetitive and monotonous. In short, there is little variety and little oversight during bar preparation. Therefore, you need to create a detailed plan and rely on your team to keep you on track. (Re-read the tips above.)
If you follow these basic suggestions for navigating the campaign trail, you should be poised for bar exam success.