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 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.

Here’s an example of what that could look like, based on the sample 4-week study schedule from Passer’s Playbook (taken from sample study schedules that span 1-10 weeks, also has example student schedules that go up to 17 weeks).

Sample 4-week study schedule for bar prep

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’re ultimately responsible for knowing what YOU need to learn the material and learn the skills to apply the material.

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.

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 (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 fast 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, 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, 4-5 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 key.

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

Let’s compare scheduling guidelines for first timers and retakers:

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. 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.

(BTW, if it’s been more than a few years since law school, count yourself as a first timer. Although you’ll probably have more time than a typical first timer since you’re not beginning your prep right after graduation, try not to go over the 4-month maximum. Use the extra time to strategize your approach to bar prep, prepare materials, etc. rather than too much substantive studying.)

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 (though 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 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. It will also propose guidelines and factors to help you develop your plan.

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 upfront how we should spend our time. Not based on what someone else tells you… but based on what makes sense to you.

Sure, 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?

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 our 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. 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.

“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 with putting together a schedule that fits you like a handmade glove, take a look at Passer’s Playbook. You’ll get sample schedules, example schedules from real students, and detailed study plans I made for clients (who passed of course).
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