Nope. It’s not ideal.
The bar exam is arguably the most difficult test that a person can take, but you’ve also got financial considerations to think about.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of taking time off work to study for the bar exam. And as a single mother, non-traditional student who worked her way through law school and after, I faced the formidable reality of studying for the bar exam while still pulling in full-time hours.
Take it from me: you can get through this, but you‘ll have to be resourceful and creative. Here are a few ways to study for the bar exam while working full-time.
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Get Creative with Your Work Schedule
Okay, so you may not be able to quit your job for three months to study for the bar. However, you might be able to strategically maneuver your schedule to work better for you during this period.
If you’re working at a law firm or in another legal position, your boss will probably understand the pressure you’re under with the bar exam on the horizon. Maybe you can double up on hours at certain times to create extra study time during certain weeks.
Perhaps you can work from home and save yourself some time commuting. Alternatively, maybe you can push back a few assignments until after the bar. Think through some possibilities and go in with a plan so that you can present it to your boss.
At the very least, try to a week off before the bar exam so that you can give a final push during your studying. This way, you won’t be concerned about work commitments around the bar exam.
Squeeze in Studying Schedule Where You Can
Because you’re working full-time, you have fewer available hours to commit to studying. This means that you have to try to get in as much bar review as possible, given your schedule constraints. Many courses offer a variety of mediums for you to use their program, so take full advantage of this— whether that means watching videos during your workout, reviewing flashcards while waiting in line at the grocery store, or listening to audio lectures while driving back and forth to work.
Don’t Skip A Solid Bar Exam Prep Course
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’re working full-time that you can simply self-study and do not need a bar exam prep course. Additionally, don’t assume that just because your preferred review course doesn’t mesh with your work schedule, you have no choice but to study on your own.
Remember: you didn’t write the bar exam or the bar prep books, so don’t think that you will suddenly be able to crack them on your own. Participating in a bar course can help law students like you stay on track and hold you accountable. Additionally, with more non-traditional legal programs available, courses like BarMax offer flexible scheduling or online options to accommodate your schedule.
You may be concerned about taking a bar review course because of the cost. If you’re already having to work full-time, you may have your own financial pressures to deal with. However, it is important that you look at the course as a financial investment. If you pass the bar exam on your first go-around, you can begin your legal career sooner and increase your income faster than if it takes you multiple attempts to pass it. Additionally, you may miss out on promising opportunities if you fail the bar exam.
There are some creative options that you can use to help minimize the cost, such as:
- Serving as a bar prep course representative during law school
- Looking for discounts on in-person or online courses
- Completing a bar prep class offered for a full semester at your law school
- Attending free bar prep introduction sessions at your law school or other nearby facilities
- Purchasing used review books that are still current
Basically, consider using commercially prepared outlines to be sure that you can get through as much information as possible while working in an effective way. Also, look for courses that are more geared toward your situation and provide more condensed forms of review.
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Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Law School Students
While you might want to check in with your peers on occasion, don’t try to measure your progress with theirs. This may make you feel anxious, which will not help. It doesn’t matter how quickly each of you respectively completes your studying, just as long as you both make it to the finish line. Furthermore, unless you’re trying to get a reward for having the highest score on the bar exam in your state, you don’t have to do exceptionally well on the bar exam— you just have to pass! Aiming for a C may seem insufficient to someone who might have worked during law school, took law school classes and had other responsibilities, but keeping realistic expectations in mind may help you lower your stress level.
Concentrate on Specific Sections of The Bar Where You Need The Most Help
When you have other commitments outside studying, you have to be more strategic with how you spend your time. While you may learn some strategies that can help you gain a few points, you need to look for areas that will matter the most to your score.
Consider your weaknesses. If there were law school subjects that you didn’t take, you may need to devote extra time for those subjects on the test. If contracts or property was not your forte, your time may be better spent honing in on these areas.
On the other hand, if you’re a whiz in corporations, you may be able to bank on this area giving you some extra points on the test. I don’t remember ever preparing a single essay question or MPT answer during my studying since my legal research— and writing was my best asset in law school! Think through your own strengths when considering how to divide your limited time.
Start Studying Sooner
Since you’re working during your study time, you might want to begin studying sooner so that you can spend fewer hours each week during your preparation. The reality is that you will have less time to study than other test takers who can devote their entire lives to bar prep.
Start studying as soon as you can after finals to stretch out your study schedule as long as possible. This will ultimately allow you to reduce the number of hours that you can study each week to a more manageable level while also retaining your full-time position.
Divide the number of hours the course program recommends by the number of weeks you have to study to determine the number of hours you should be studying each week.
Optimize Your Bar Study Schedule by Marking Your Calendar
When you are balancing work and studying for the bar, you must be extra diligent about how you manage your time. If you’re not careful, you may waste hours of precious time and not even know where it went. Early in the process, mark your calendar with your study goals. If you plan on studying each week for 20 hours, write down how you will spend this time, such as watching videos, reviewing books or taking practice tests.
Try to devote blocks of time to your studying instead of a stray hour here or there. Your study time must be impactful, and it’s easier to study in a chunk of time at once rather than going back and forth between your work and home life and your studying.
Also, try to schedule study sessions when you’re at your peak cognitive level. If you’re not a night person, studying at midnight is probably not going to be that effective. Likewise, if you’re not a morning person, waking up at sunrise to study probably won’t translate to successful study sessions.
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Condense Your Bar Prep
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can work full-time and make it through an entire bar prep course without any modifications. You likely will not have hundreds of hours to listen to prepared videos. Instead, look for courses that have condensed the black letter law to smaller pieces that are easier to digest— instead of trying to teach you about every nuanced aspect of this area of the law over the last 300 years. With less time available to you, you must be able to maximize the time you do have.
Maximize Your Weekends
A realistic schedule for your week may be completing two to three hours during your work days and 10 hours per day off. So, a typical work week may allow you to have 10 to 15 hours during the weekdays and 20 hours during the weekend for a reasonable 30 to 35 hours per week.
Make the most of your weekends (or your other days off) and spend most of your study time on higher-level tasks. While you may want to use weekday studying for more passive reviews, such as reading through flashcards or outlines, full days that are not affected by your work obligations are perfect for more active studying. This can include completing official MBE questions, reviewing your answers, and taking practice tests.
Eat the Bar Exam
Grab your sandwich and your outlines and find a spot to study and eat while at work. Many jobs offer a one-hour lunch break; take advantage of this time if it applies to you. Basically, it might be easier for you to focus for one hour during a typical work day while still possibly having energy to do higher level tasks like completing multiple choice questions. It’s also good practice for the bar exam day itself, since you’ll be around distractions.
Find a Good Study Spot
Before you attempt to study, isolate a location where you can really focus. Since you have less time to study than the average test taker, you must ensure that those hours you do spend on studying are actually spent studying, not trying to get you back in focus.
If you have kids, you might need to leave the house or have them leave during your study time. If your boss doesn’t mind, you may be able to stay late in the office and study there.
Your ideal study location should be quiet and free of distractions. You may also need to have an internet connection and decent lighting. However, it shouldn’t be so comfortable that it lulls you to sleep. While you might think your local law library or your law school may be an ideal location, if there are groups of other people there or your law school friends may bother you, you might want to consider an alternative location.
Ask for Help
As the strong, independent type, you may feel that you can take on the world on your own – and maybe you can! But if you have other people around you who love you and are vested in your success, consider asking for help.
You may be able to reach out to your support network to find ways to ease your burden. This can take many forms. Maybe a loved one can prepare a weekly meal for you or take your dog for daily walks. Maybe someone can pick up groceries for you on their way home from work. Maybe a friend can be available to provide some emotional relief.
Time saving methods and logistical support can make a big difference during this critical time of your life.
Take a Repeat Class
If you have unsuccessfully taken the bar exam in the past, consider taking a repeat class. These classes are designed to help you increase your bar exam score without reiterating everything from previous lectures. They also tend to skip the time-consuming videos that may not translate into a better score for you.
Keep Looking for Bar Study Tips
Studying for the bar exam while working full-time is no easy feat. Keep an eye on our blog for ongoing resources and tips to help you make the most of your bar exam preparation. Check back periodically for some more great advice on how to effectively study for the bar – and good luck!
Valerie Keene is an experienced lawyer and legal writer. Valerie’s litigation successes have included wins for cases involving contract disputes, real property disputes, and consumer issues. She has also assisted countless families with estate planning, guardianship issues, divorce and other family law matters. She provides clients with solid legal advice and representation.