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.

After all, you’re the dean of your own studies. And for sustainable momentum we know that we must enjoy the process (not just fixate on the goal of passing the bar).

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

There are many reasons your schedule will look different from everyone else’s: 

  • 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 at school.

Here’s just one example of what that could look like:

I took this excerpt from the sample 10-week study schedule from Passer’s Playbook (includes sample study schedules that span 1-10 weeks, study plans developed for clients, and example student schedules that go up to 17 weeks).

Samples and examples can be used as a template, but YOUR schedule should fit you like a handmade glove and be flexible to YOUR needs and without strict hour-by-hour timing.

You can’t predict what will happen, but you can account for it.

A personalized schedule helps you plan what you need to address each day. YOU are ultimately responsible for knowing what YOU need to learn the material and learn the skills to apply the material.

There are a million ways you could approach this which can’t (and shouldn’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 and you’re desperate for direction (which is why I 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 fast you go.

So here are reminders that will narrow down your routes and simplify the sudoku of choices…

1) 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 exam!

It’s more like you don’t have clarity and direction. Knowing where to go next is naturally motivating.

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 (even expected) if you end up being “wrong” or have to readjust this schedule along the way. No matter how much we plan and plan, we never know what will happen. It’s a roadmap to get it going, not to get it perfect. This also helps with your “motivation” problem.

2) Optimize for learning, then optimize for performance.

Bar prep is an experiment. Isolate and change one variable at a time.

In the beginning, you shouldn’t try to attempt practice questions timed, closed-book, grinding through six essays a day, all while memorizing. 

That all comes later. Sounds scary? You’ll become ready for it by the time you optimize for performance.

The point of preparation is that you’re not ready yet but will become ready. Even if you may not feel ready, your training will show its results anyway.

👉🏻 In the beginning, optimize for learning. You want to be sure you can even write a proper essay and solve multiple-choice questions in the first place!

  • Can you structure your IRAC correctly?
  • Are you reviewing sample answers?
  • Are you seeing what the MBE question is testing you on?
  • Can you extract information from the File and Library and synthesize an answer?
  • Can you remember what you memorized?

Notice how spending 4 hours watching lectures doesn’t count as learning. You can still do it if you want an introduction to the topic or it goes over answer explanations. Know how to use a prep course properly.

If you’re a repeater, be more judicious about which lectures to listen to.

“As a repeater, should I go through the whole course again?”

If that’s your question, the answer is no, and don’t ever ask that question again.

An example:

I recommended that a consult client who had a max of 3 hours a day implement a two-day block for each subject in the first phase (out of three phases):

Day 1: Review short outlines (Magicsheets, Approsheets, or others) to get a general familiarity with the subject matter.

Refer to increasingly larger source materials (Critical Pass or CMR) and lectures on an as-needed basis.

This “just in time” approach is efficient because you’re filing in the missing information as needed instead of consuming all information up front “just in case.”

(Also, this approach was fitting for this client who is an attorney candidate (essays and PT only) who didn’t need to know every little detail for the MBE. The frequently tested issues and rules on the essays will become apparent after repeated practice.)

Day 2: Work on ONE essay, untimed, open-book.

In this example, we assume it will take 1 to 1.5 hours to attempt a California essay. 30 minutes to review the model answer. Another 30 minutes to review source materials to solidify what you learned.

If you’re preparing for the MEE, then you’d approximately halve the time it takes to tackle an MEE question (30-45 minutes).

Notice that we’re allocating up to 2.5 hours on one essay when optimizing for learning because we’re taking our time doing it and then reviewing the answer. Reviewing the answer is where the learning happens. This is a lot more time than you might assume! When you build your schedule, be conservative with your time and figure out what is the minimum you’ll do on a given day. You can always add more.

You don’t start off playing a concerto on the piano from memory. You earn the right after mastering the foundations and repeated practice.

Around one-third or midway through prep, you can start to shift to optimizing for performance.

Now that you can answer questions correctly, you can see if you set a time limit. You can do them closed-book to see if you can recall correctly. You can use efficiency techniques (like essay cooking) to cut down on essay practice time.

Consider this shift in how you spend your time over the course of your bar prep. But, of course, adjust for your situation accordingly. You are the dean of your own studies. This is just one example. There are a million ways to make it work.

3) 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 how much skill and intuition you’ve gained.
  • To avoid burnout, 4-5 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 factors.

Less of a factor in my eyes is how many hours per day you have available to study, though the work-study student’s schedule will be more sensitive to this.

There’s also no definite answer to quantitive questions that people like to ask. For example, how many hours do I need to study to pass, or how many questions do I need to do to pass… There are wide-ranging cases of bar takers doing the impossible and fumbling under the most favorable conditions.

There are other factors to consider, broken down below:

  • Are you a first timer or a retaker?
  • How long has it been you’ve graduated from law school or taken the exam?
  • Are you working at the same time (or have other responsibilities that take time)?

And some soft considerations as to “how long it will take”:

  • Any language barriers? 
  • Legal differences between the U.S. and your country?
  • Are you self-aware, thoughtful, thorough, introspective, and teachable? Do you have the will to act? (Thinking “I know this already” can keep you stuck.)
  • How academically talented are you? (Trick question. Don’t worry. As a bottom 11% law school graduate, I can tell you that the bar exam is an acquirable skill.)

4) Let’s compare scheduling guidelines for first timers and retakers (and if you’re working and studying at the same time):

These are the main categories where your approach may diverge, so scroll down to the parts that apply to you below:

If it’s been more than a few years since law school or your last attempt: Count yourself as if you’re a first timer. You’ll probably have more time than a typical first timer since you’re not beginning your prep right after graduation. Still, try not to go over the 4-month maximum, and use the extra time to strategize your approach to bar prep, prepare materials, etc. rather than too much substantive studying at first.

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

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. The course outline is merely a suggestion!

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 and focusing on solving problems on that subject to fill in the holes and get to know the topics.

For example, you could spend a day (at most) reviewing an outline or consulting a lecture or other source material. After that, you can refer to an outline after attempting problems, matching your work with it. Abstract concepts will make more sense and stay in 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 who wants the war to be over, 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 (though any plan is better than no plan).

But that doesn’t mean you spend even more time on passive activities (that you already did last time), get lost in supplement hell jumping around collecting different resources and begging people, debate minutiae about the perfect program…

STOP! You’re wasting time on pointless tactical maneuvers that don’t move the needle in your learning.

Be DECISIVE and DELIBERATE. Like something? Get it, and USE what you have on hand. Don’t like something? Stop doing it. There’s a balance between too little and too much.

I also allude to unnecessary activities in this workshop recording (starts at this linked timestamp at 16:57). I also exhaustively list suggestions and example questions to ask yourself to determine what these unnecessary activities for you are, in Chapter 4 of the Big Playbook in Passer’s Playbook.

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

The bottleneck for you isn’t just time but also mental stamina, energy, and attention after work.

You’ll probably have to distribute your time unevenly. For example, if you’re working five days a week with weekends off, then most of your study time will be allocated to the weekends. There is a student example of this type of schedule in Passer’s Playbook (see Cara’s example).

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.

Or depending on how your situation develops, you may have to target another exam date. This should be a last resort, though. You want to pass the exam ASAP or at least use the next exam as a real experience: a mock exam with feedback.

Be honest with yourself. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless with a job and an exam to study for. Or you may be underestimating the exam and overestimating yourself. Once you know the truth, you can do something about it. Just don’t make an excuse to delay the exam.

Bottom line, you’ll have to be creative with your constraints.

5) Whatever your situation, this is why you want a personal 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 good places to get ideas and kickstart your own.

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).

There are several more example student schedules spanning different numbers of weeks (along with sample study schedules and detailed study plans) in Passer’s Playbook. Passer’s Playbook will also propose more guidelines and factors to consider when designing your schedule.

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.

You could just use whatever default study schedule you get from your bar prep company. That’s fine too. I’m not being sarcastic. It can work, at least as a starting point. It’s designed to work for the common denominator.


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.

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

If a bad plan is better than no plan, a good plan is better than a bad plan.

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

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

Madie had a 6-weeks bar prep study schedule/plan: "I was terrified of diverging from the conventional path or 'proven' methods, but I very quickly realized I needed to change my strategy. . . . My deepest gratitude to Brian and this community for developing a viable alternative method that actually garners results!!"
From the private FB group

If you’ve read this far, you might suspect there’s a more organized way to attack your bar preparation than doing random tasks.

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

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

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 is more important than how fast you go. Calmly and methodically toward clear waters.

If you want more help or inspiration with putting together a schedule that fits you like a handmade glove, take a look at the scheduling section in Passer’s Playbook.

You’ll get sample schedules, example schedules from real students, and detailed study plans I made for clients (who passed).

Share This