You Need a Study Plan: Why You Should Make Your Own Bar Prep Study Schedule

The only thing I remember from law school is my negotiations professor saying this in class randomly:

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”

It’s so true. Is bar preparation worth doing? Then it’s worth doing right.

We know that we must enjoy the process (not merely fixate on the goal of passing the bar) for sustainable momentum.

Just as what’s enjoyable is personal, bar prep is also personal. Your study plan and schedule are personal.

Sample 4-week study schedule for bar prep
Sample 4-week study schedule from Passer’s Playbook. This should be a template that’s flexible to YOUR needs and without strict hour-by-hour timing.

After all, you’re the “dean of your own studies.” You’re ultimately responsible for learning the material as well as the skills to apply the material.

You might be working while studying for the bar exam. Maybe you have every day free for bar prep and don’t want to blow this opportunity. Or maybe you only have the first 6 hours of your day free while the kids are in school/Zoom classes.

There are a million ways you could approach this which can’t be captured with a unified master calendar. There is no one-size-fits-all bar prep study schedule. This alone is reason to abandon the cookie-cutter plan and create one that works for your situation.

Like why spend more time on Torts and less time on Evidence if that default autopilot setting doesn’t make sense to you?

Great, but where do you begin?

You may be lost and not sure where to start heading from here. Like you ran into an unfamiliar part of town and your phone dies (which is why I finally got a car charger after months of denial about how good my phone’s battery actually was).

Like the Titanic, going in the right direction is more important than how hard you go.

So here’s a first reminder that will narrow down your routes and simplify the sudoku of choices…

First, PLAN BEFORE YOU NEED TO. If it’s not in your bar prep study schedule/plan, it’s not happening.

If you don’t feel like studying, it’s not that you’re not motivated. You do have the motivation! To pass the bar!

It’s more like you don’t have clarity and direction.

That’s where a conscious study plan comes into play. When some things are uncertain, you want other things to be stable. It gives you room to breathe, maneuver, and think ahead.

I’ll show you below how to craft a flexible study timeline that works for you. Not the other way around. Not a strict preordained prophecy you must realize to open the iron gates into the bar.

Because if a bar prep study schedule is for everybody, then it’s for nobody.

How refreshing is it to know that you can, in fact, design your own curriculum?

It’s also OK if you end up being “wrong” or have to readjust this schedule along the way. It’s a roadmap to get it going, not to get it perfect. No matter how much we plan and plan, we never know what will happen.

Second, figure out how much time you’ll need.

Maybe you have too little or too much on your hands. Work expands to fill the time you have available. How should you draw boundaries for your study plan and avoid burnout?

How do you know if you’re spending too little time or too much time? Generally speaking:

  • You want to get to a point where if you see a question, it looks familiar to another question you’ve seen. If it starts to feel repetitive, that’s good. That’s the point. It’s not necessarily about the number of hours but the amount of intuition you’ve gained.
  • To avoid burnout, 4 months maximum full time is probably as long as you want to go. You could make do with less than this if you focus and dial in on essential activities.

Ultimately, the length of your preparation depends on your personal situation, particularly whether you’ve taken the exam before, and your strengths and weaknesses. Your focus and your willingness to expose your ego to bruises are also key.

Less of a factor in my eyes is how many hours per day you have available to study.

Let’s compare guidelines for first timers and retakers:

(If it’s been more than a few years since law school, count yourself as if you’re a first timer, though you’ll probably have more time since you’re not beginning your prep right after graduation. Try not to go over the 4-month maximum.)

If you’re a first timer…

You probably have about 10 weeks in May-July (or more if you’re taking the February bar), starting right after graduation and a series of finals.

Unfortunately, 10 weeks don’t give you a ton of time. First timers and those who have other responsibilities like work or family are usually in a time crunch.

However, constraints make you more creative and efficient with your time. Work expands and shrinks to fill the time available.

That said, you may benefit from some extra time spent trying to understand the issues, the rules, and how your particular exam is structured and what the mechanics are. It’s not just about knowing the substance but also the game itself. As a first timer, you may not necessarily know the procedures.

If you’re taking a commercial prep course, it can give you some structure. Review their study schedule, and be sure it makes sense to you. And use it properly so you’re learning. If you’re taking a bar review course, I talk about how to best utilize your course for learning.

It can be scary to deviate from the study plan your course gave you when things are coming at you full speed, but always be willing to tweak it to fit your needs.

You are allowed to tailor your studies by cutting out low-value, unnecessary activities. Students often realize 3 weeks before the exam that they wasted 7 weeks consuming empty-calorie intellectual candy. It’s often in those last 3 weeks that things click. More on “unnecessary activities” below.

If you’ve taken the bar exam before…

You don’t need to spend gobs of time to re-learn the law (i.e., procrastinate).

You’d be better off doing a quick review of a subject (in one day for example) and focusing on solving problems on that subject to fill in the holes and get to know the topics. Refer to outlines after attempting problems, not before. Abstract concepts will make more sense and stay on you better after seeing examples.

You probably have some idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are. Adjust your time depending on where you struggle and where you need less time.

Instead of doing the exact same thing you did before, identify the things that move the needle, and cut unnecessary activities. Take some time to put together a battle plan. As a veteran, you have to do things differently from some of your peers who are panicking and doing whatever comes to them (no plan), or doing whatever their bar program tells them to (any plan is better than no plan).

I allude to these unnecessary activities in this workshop recording (starts at this linked timestamp at 16:57).

If you’re working at the same time or studying part time…

Spread out your study period but not too much (try not to go over the 4-month maximum). Instead, cut unnecessary activities, as discussed above.

You’ll have to be creative with your constraints. Or you may have to target another exam date.

Whatever your situation, this is why you want a plan—a bar prep study schedule to know how to allocate your time thoughtfully, instead of doing random things. 

Templates and schedules made by someone else are a good place to get ideas and kickstart your own.

There are several sample study schedules and several example student schedules in Passer’s Playbook 2.0. Here’s one such example schedule, designed for 9 weeks of study (good for July exam takers). Here’s another example, designed for 16 weeks of study (better for February exam takers).

Use them as inspiration if you want, but ultimately make a flexible plan for yourself and charter your own schedule so you know where you are headed on this personal journey.

Remember, productivity comes from clarity (and enjoyment). So let’s get a better idea up front of how we should spend our time. Not based on what someone else tells you… but based on what makes sense to you.

To that end, consider the following five factors…

1. What’s your time horizon? (How many weeks?) This is your starting point.

2. Are you a repeater? If yes, spend less time on “background review.” See also above for maximum time limits.

3. Are you working at the same time? (No, studying full time / Yes, working part time < 30 hrs/wk / Yes, working full time > 40 hrs/wk)

Constraints make you more creative and efficient with your time. The less time you have available, prioritize more the things that move the needle (practice and feedback).

4. How many subjects are you preparing for? What are your 3 weakest? You may want to double up and “sandwich” these for more exposure; see below link.

5. Which are your weak areas? (MBE, essays, and/or PTs)

If you need more work on essays, certain subjects, MBE, etc., plan to do more of those.

If you can answer these questions, that’s a great start to creating a plan customized just for you.

Now you have two choices when it comes to planning your bar preparation:

You could just use whatever default study schedule you get from your bar prep company. That’s fine too. It can work. It’s designed to work for the common denominator.

I just sometimes hear about how they regret it by the end because they end up farming tasks rather than actually learning.

Are you solving the problems you want to solve, or the problems you think that you are supposed to solve?

OR…

If you’ve read this far, you suspect there might be a more effective way to attack your bar preparation.

And that is to design your own study schedule, catered to your unique needs.

Since you are the dean of your own studies, you can make a curriculum that serves YOU. One that will give you clarity and won’t leave you lost.

Now I’m not going to force you. You may not have a lot of time until your next exam. (You could use the stock schedule already available from your course, or the examples and samples in Passer’s Playbook as inspiration.)

But if a bad plan is better than no plan, a good plan is better than a bad plan.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”—Old logging aphorism (A-Linc didn’t actually say this apparently)

Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing right.

Take a few hours now to save weeks or months of feeling lost. If you don’t have a direction to go in right now, you might as well set this up now instead of doing random things every day.

Like the Titanic, heading in the right direction toward clear waters is more important than how fast you go. Calmly and methodically.

If you want more specifics on how to put together your own custom schedule, take a look at the guide below with the above answers handy. You’ll learn the answers to these questions:

  • What can you consider in your study schedule for effective learning?
  • How to avoid this: “I already almost completely forgot what I studied a month and half ago! This caused some serious panic during the last 2-3 weeks before the bar, because I was freaked out by the fact that I already forgot most of the stuff”
  • What was my personal study schedule?

“I think sitting down and actually making a study schedule that made sense to my habits was huge. . . . There was an article that was very informative when I put together my own study schedule.”

Person who passed the California Bar Exam on the 6th attempt

Yes, this is going to take some time to do. Yes, this is a pretty long article. No, I don’t want to format 2,500+ more words into this article.

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