You Need a Study Plan: Why You Should Make Your Own Bar Prep Study Schedule in 2020

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.

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 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 study schedule. This alone is reason to abandon the cookie-cutter plan and create one that works for your situation.

Cool, 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’s about to die (which is why I finally got a car charger after months of denial about how good my phone’s battery actually was).

Here’s a first step 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 study plan, it’s not happening.

This is critical in times like this, with changes in policy, new event dates, etc. ready to strike at any time. 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.

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

If a study schedule is for everybody, then it’s for nobody. This is especially true this year now that exams are happening in July, early September, and late September. (Four times total including February! Anyone crazy enough to take all of them to diversify your chances?)

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.

Productivity comes from clarity. 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.

“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)

Second, you have a lot of time to prepare if your exam is in September. Maybe too much. How should you limit your study plan to avoid burnout?

It depends on your personal situation, particularly whether you’ve taken the exam before, and your strengths and weaknesses. Less of a factor in my eyes are: how much time per day you have available to study, and how long you’ve been out of school.

If you’ve taken the exam before…

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

You’d be better off doing a quick review of a subject (one day at most) and focusing on solving problems 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.

To avoid burnout, shoot for 10-12 weeks maximum doing the above full time. Adjust depending on where you struggle and where you need less time.

If you’re working at the same time or studying part time, spread out your study period but not too much. Instead, cut unnecessary activities.

If you’re a first timer…

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.

To avoid burnout, 4 months maximum full time is probably as long as you want to go. 

Note that these are maximums for avoiding burnout. You could make do with less time if you focus and dial in on essential activities. If your exam is in July, then you can still fit it in. Work expands to fill the time available.

Whatever your situation, this is why you want a plan—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. I have several sample study schedules and example student schedules in Passer’s Playbook 2.0. Here’s one example schedule for the early September bar.

But ultimately make a flexible plan for yourself and charter your own schedule so you know where you are headed.

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 limit.

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.

For more specifics on how to put together a 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.”

TLS user “justanotheruser” 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+ words into this article.

Feel free to send me your schedule and your thinking process. Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing right. You have the time now.

Take a couple hours now to save weeks 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.

Here’s the link to the guide again.

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