Studying for the bar exam is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time, energy, and focus to make it happen. But if you’re juggling work on top of all that studying, it can feel even more overwhelming.
Preparing for the bar exam is costly not just in time but also financially (and mentally, and emotionally, and…). If no one else is supporting you or your family, then you’re probably working and cramming your studies, if you even have the energy left. Yikes, even the thought of that is dreadful.
But other bar takers have done it. And they were able to blow the exam out of the water. How did they balance a job and studying for the bar exam? It’s not impossible to do both at the same time, but it does require some creativity and discipline.
The first thing to keep in mind is that constraints force you to get creative and focus on what moves the needle. You’re not going to have much time or attention to waste on stuff like sitting still like a statue while the lecturer rambles for 4 hours. So you gotta make the most of your time.
This can be a blessing in disguise because you won’t be wasting time. Let me share some tactics for studying efficiently while working full time, with examples from past bar passers.
1. Set priorities and boundaries with work
Pay yourself first. By that, I mean, make studying your priority. Don’t give studying leftover change after selling your time to your employer.
Schedule your work day around when you need to study (not the other way around). For example, ask yourself: If you want to squeeze in 1 hour in the morning and 3 hours at night, what steps do you need to take to make that happen?
No time to study? Streamline your time to be efficient:
- Normally, when you get up in the morning, you get ready for work. During this bar prep period, you might get ready to study instead. If you have to pick out an outfit every morning, set up a “lookbook” of go-to combinations of clothes (or even the same outfit) so you don’t think about it in the morning. If you eat breakfast, pick an easy one like toast (as an example). Then spend those extra 30 minutes doing and reviewing 10 MBE questions. Why waste your morning alertness on your boss, when you could instead spend that mental energy toward your future and prioritize your goal of passing the bar?
- Spend lunchtime away from the water cooler, and instead try to solve an essay and review it.
- Picking up your kid from school? Bring outlines, an app, or flashcards to work with while waiting.
- Ask for help during this time. Your family, partner, or friends may be able to help pick up the slack.
- You may even be able to use time at work to study 🤫 (like Jinnyi did as a second-time passer)
Also, don’t take on any more work than you already have. If your employer already knows or can know that you’re preparing for the bar exam, then this can be easier to manage. If you’re leading a double life where they don’t know, then take a page out of my handbook when they try to give you more work:
- “I should be good for the next X weeks or so.”
- “I have enough work for the next X months or so.”
- “I feel pretty good at the moment but could take on a couple more items in the future. I’ll be sure to let you know when my bandwidth opens up.”
= “DON’T BOTHER ME RIGHT NOW” (if they get the hint).
Many employers are willing to let you take two or more weeks off right before the bar exam. They might be willing to let you go on a part-time schedule as well.
Before you pull a muscle bending your time around without realizing your employer would be fine with it, test the waters with them.
2. Make a study schedule
OK, so you drew some boundaries at work. Now what?
Same thing I recommend for every bar taker…
You need a study plan. Without it, you may end up doing random things, falling behind after you procrastinate from exhaustion, and then thinking, “Oh well, I have next time. I have a job, so I’ll be fine for now.”
No! Don’t let yourself slip into a status quo dream. You see the name of this website? You’re here to Make This Your Last Time.
Starting your prep early is ideal to give yourself more time, though no more than 5-6 months to avoid burnout. If you have just a couple of months, you know what they say: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Start here with some ideas on how to make your own study schedule. If you have a stock schedule from your bar review course (which assumes you have all the time in the world and live in your parents’ basement), you can and should tweak it to your needs.
Passer’s Playbook comes with study plans that I crafted for paying clients (each one taking a weekend to make), sample schedules that span 10 weeks to 1 week, and example schedules made by other bar takers.
3. Draw motivation from yourself
One of the three things you really need for bar prep is the ability to self-motivate. Without it, you’ve already lost. You’ll get pulled by the tides of work, and bar prep will become a secondary priority.
Set goals. Your goals can help you stay motivated. Do you want to leave your employer and find a better job eventually? Maybe start your own law firm? Why are you doing this?
Keep your WHY in mind as motivation to put this bar exam behind you once and for all. Drew passed the bar exam by realizing that not passing hurts more than struggling now.
Sure, motivational speeches might make you say, “Yeah! I needed this today!!” Well, you better use that burst of motivation today then.
But at the same time, make sure that your goals are specific and achievable so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by them. For example, if you want to study 4 hours per day, then set a goal of studying 1 hour at lunch and 3 hours in the evening after work. If you want to do 6 hours, how about 1 hour in the morning, 1 hour at lunch, and 4 hours in the evening?
If you need ongoing accountability, find a study partner. Enjoying the process is key to sustainable motivation and momentum.
4. Take advantage of resources, tools, and supplements for bar prep
The thing you’re lacking right now is TIME and ENERGY.
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel yourself and do everything on your own. There are resources out there already streamlined to assist with rapid learning. Use these tools to get that extra boost in study efficiency. Keep it simple, like these guys did to pass the first remote bar exam during the pandemic.
But don’t get mired in them either. Be conscious and deliberate about how you’re using them.
If you’re using a bar review course, know how to use them effectively. If you’re using outlines or flashcards, don’t hide behind them thinking you’ll be all set if you “know the information”; you also have to know how to USE the information.
Often, with less time to throw around, wrestling with past exam questions is the most efficient and effective way to solidify your skills and develop an intuition of what’s important (since important topics will come up more frequently than others). Active learning via practicing will help you memorize and retain the material, too!
5. Don’t procrastinate
You’re juggling a job and bar prep. I get it. It’s hard and time-consuming.
I’ve been there too. I worked part-time while studying for the bar exam. I’ve had full-time attorney jobs while running MTYLT, so I know the effort it takes to succeed in two things at the same time.
It can be tough to manage work, studying for the bar exam, and all the other commitments in your life. But remember from above that constraints force you to get creative and focus on what moves the needle.
This is where the schedule you made will come in handy as a reminder of the time you have left. Even though your schedule is a living document, it can help you stick to a general timeline and keep you on track. The bar exam isn’t going to budge, so you’ll have to fit your studies before then.
If you let the temptation of comfort wash over you for too many days, it’s back to la-la land for you. Back to the status quo. I’ve seen people continue to keep their status quo identity as a repeater for YEARS. Never end up in that situation because you won’t get out of that perpetual dream state. Keep a solid grip over your vision of becoming an attorney.
6. Get enough sleep
Bar prep is mentally demanding. It’s not an issue of time—but of ENERGY. After work, you’re probably drained.
Sleep is the #1 predictor of energy, so make sure to get sleep.
One way to help with a proper sleeping rhythm is to use sleepyti.me to set when to sleep and when to wake up in increments of 90 minutes.
7. You still need breaks from bar prep
Even though you have a tight timetable, you still need to give your brain a break every once in a while.
If you’re in the flow and can keep studying, great! Otherwise, taking regular breaks can help you be productive. For example, a cycle of 20 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest can help you keep focused consistently.
Studying for the bar exam efficiently while working (full time or otherwise)
Studying for the bar exam while working is definitely possible with the right approach. Your predecessors have done it, and so can you. If you have a job to juggle, you just have to be strategic about how you manage your bar studies:
- Set priorities and boundaries with your employer
- Make a study schedule
- Draw motivation from yourself
- Take advantage of resources, tools, and supplements for bar prep
- Don’t procrastinate
- Get enough sleep
- You still need breaks from bar prep
Boundaries, a realistic plan, and resources in your arsenal can help ensure that you’re making the most of your time while still working. With these steps, you will eventually pass the bar exam and achieve your goal of working as an attorney (without the bar prep this time).