Coronavirus and Bar Exam Preparation (Do You Study Now or Later?)

You’re probably getting a headache from all the news about the novel coronavirus, the contradictory posts in your social feed, and companies you forgot existed emailing you random thoughts about COVID-19 (“we’re here for you”).

While I reserve the right as an introvert to smugly judge those who have cabin fever after ONE day of quarantine (what the hell’s wrong with you guys), I understand that this pandemic may be seriously impacting your livelihood—or even threatening your lives or those around you.

Bad news one minute, good news the next.

Despair and hope, rinse and repeat.

Look. Things have changed. Accept it.

We don’t have all the information. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to adapt to the new situation, but without panicking.

We’re all susceptible to panic. Panic causes regressive reasoning, which effectively turns us back into children. But we also have the ability to trigger a “circuit breaker” to go back to making rational and growth-oriented decisions.

Just like how we are “flattening the curve” of new infections through social distancing and lockdowns, we can “flatten the curve” of how we react to the situation.

Here are some “circuit breakers” to consider if you are preparing for the next bar exam (or just scared in general).

The bar examiners are aware of the coronavirus

Don’t worry. The admissions authorities are aware and taking this into consideration. For example, the March LSAT has been canceled.

It’s conceivable that they will postpone or cancel the July bar exam out of an abundance of caution. Contrary to belief, they are not robotic reptilians. They understand. The NCBE is monitoring the situation.

Update: Various states, particularly the more populated ones like CA and NY, are postponing the exam to September (see how to get on track if you’re taking one of those exams in Sept.). The NCBE has provided two alternate sets of dates 9/10-11 and 9/30-10/1 for states to consider. Others are staying put in July. You can check the status of each state here.

It’s also fortunate that all these things are happening right after the last bar exam. This means we have months to recover. And I’m optimistic that the worst will be over by July (see below), at least before any subsequent outbreaks.

What does this mean for you?

Still prepare a study plan if you were going to. Assume July is happening, if not an exam sometime in the fall. If it doesn’t happen, you can still adapt your plan to the next exam. If it does happen, you’ll be ahead of the bar takers who got distracted and panicked.

Preparing a contingency plan like this (like with your 100 cans of beans) will help lower your anxiety and increase your chances of passing. Being a lawyer means being a professional preparer.

You may be distracted right now, but this may be the opportunity you’ve been looking to buckle down.

studying for bar exam during coronavirus quarantine

The MTYLT philosophy of thoughtful and deliberate preparation has not changed.

Of course, if you have serious shit going on, please take care of yourself and your family first. And good luck to anyone who needs to homeschool their kids.

Stop obsessing over the news

The news industry is designed to drive fear and emotions into you, under the pretext of informing you. Simple as that.

If you focus only on the apocalyptic news, it looks like life has come to a standstill and the world is going to be permanently covered in a cloud of coronavirus.

I get it. Symptoms (and prognosis) are bad if you’re immunocompromised. I’ve imagined the worst case where I don’t get to see 2021. I check the financial news and markets many times a day.

But I realized being dramatic isn’t doing me any favors or giving me much more information than if I would just stay still and see what happens. It’s probably giving me too much information to my detriment.

Stay still when information is popping up left and right to steal your attention like pigeons trying to take your food, but you still have to move through and forward.

Distractions are killer for a mentally demanding activity like bar preparation (or a job you want to keep right now). You can’t multitask, no matter how good you think you are.

You don’t need to check on the death toll every hour. Real-time news is no more valuable than delayed news.

Being obsessively informed makes us unproductive. It makes us scared, anxious, or stressed for no reason. It’s just introducing unnecessary mental friction in your day.

Curiosity kills the cat. So close those browser tabs for now. Consume slowly. Even if you disconnect completely, someone will tell you about anything major you need to know, or you can catch up after what is more of an actual priority.

There is also good news

The death toll is exploding—at least in Italy.

The financial markets are in absolute chaos—at least in the U.S.

People are physically fighting over toilet paper—at least in Walmart (torts issue anyone?).

But things are also getting better elsewhere:

Patients are recovering in China after implementing social distancing. They are closing hospitals because there isn’t enough demand. The curve has flattened as a result of the lockdown. No new infections were reported in China for the first time in three months. (Even if the actual number of cases is grossly underestimated, remember that China has a population of over 1.4 billion.)

South Korea is recovering rapidly thanks to its efficient testing and precautions.

Tests are available in the U.S. also. You can get tested. Look up your local medical center.

Financial markets aren’t as bad (relatively) in China.

Landlords and lenders are willing to work with you (they don’t want to be caught being assholes). The IRS has pushed back the tax deadline.

People are volunteering to deliver groceries to the elderly. People with their own “circuit breakers” are sharing groceries.

Just like the bar exam, it’s not all doom and gloom out there. Just like the bar exam, there are (fact) patterns.

People pass the bar exam all the time. In fact, MOST people pass eventually.

Similarly, we can look to the concerted effort of the world against the virus. If we follow the pattern of other countries and other pandemics, we (in the U.S.) are going to be able to put this behind us.

Wouldn’t you rather be optimistic?

I teach the concept of “flipping the chessboard” in Mental Engines. There is always an upside to every situation.

Yes, this may be a life-or-death situation, especially for the vulnerable. Yes, as we do for the bar exam, we should prepare for possible scenarios (although I didn’t need to buy any toilet paper because I’m a bidet hipster). Yes, we should help our family and friends in their time of need to the extent we can. Yes, we should keep a distance from one another as practical to slow down the spread of infection. Yes, we definitely should quarantine and keep the older folks indoors, even if you have to commit false imprisonment.


Although the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to be over, it is going to pass. I believe and hope that the worst will be over by July.

Imagine coming out of all this strong, united, together—like the immune system itself. Our savings are back up. The economy is booming. Pollution is gone. People are in euphoria, breathing fresh air, and comfortable entering each other’s personal space again. I have hated and will still hate people who cough into the air, however.

Don’t use this as a means to panic and automatically push your plans back. Lean into this new situation. Be proactive and creative.

Don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal of making this your last time.

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