how to bar exam during the coronavirus pandemic

How to Bar Exam During the Coronavirus Pandemic

If you find yourself to be one of the lucky individuals that gets to deal with taking an extremely high-stakes, stressful exam during an unprecedented pandemic that has swept across the nation, read on! We have some tips for studying smart and staying sane during these scary and unknown times. Below are our five tips on how to bar exam during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Be smart about your bar exam approach but stay flexible. 

In these COVID-19 times, things have the potential to change quickly. One day your state is administering the July bar exam, then the next day they decide to administer a fall bar exam. Or no bar exam. Or an online bar exam.

Some students wonder if they should even start studying for the bar exam. The answer is yes. If your jurisdiction says it is giving a bar exam (and most states are, unless you are a lucky Utah or Wisconsin grad!) study for the bar exam. (If it is delayed, that is okay! You will not regret studying “early” especially if you follow the rest of these tips!) Also, the alternative is to not get started…which will lead to feeling overwhelmed closer to the bar exam date and perhaps even not passing the bar exam. In other words, follow your study plan and recognize that it might have to be tweaked down the line–and that is okay.

Maybe you are traveling elsewhere to take the bar exam. For example, perhaps you want more bites at the bar exam apple, and are planning on taking the bar exam in more than one jurisdiction. Or maybe you are forced to change jurisdictions if you want to take a 2020 bar exam (repeat takers in New York, I am looking at you).  If this is the case, choose wisely. (We have compiled our advice on how to pick a bar exam state here.) Pick a jurisdiction that has lower coronavirus rates, a decent bar exam pass rate, and a late application deadline! Do this now to avoid missing deadlines.

You may wonder which bar exam you should take. Recognize that no one has all the answers. Your law school, the state bar, your bar review company…no one can tell you exactly what to do or exactly what will happen. Maybe the bar exam will be canceled, delayed, administered online…states could make one decision today and a different decision tomorrow. So there is only one thing you can do…which brings us to the next tip.

2. Focus on what you can control.

There are some things you cannot control. For example:

  • You cannot control if the exam will actually be given on the exact date it is supposed to be administered (what if there is another coronavirus outbreak?).
  • You cannot control what the job market will be like.
  • You cannot control a pandemic.

But you can control many aspects of bar exam preparation. For example:

  • You can control your study schedule—when you start studying, how often you study, and your study schedule.
  • You can control your approach to the bar exam—where and when you decide to take it.
  • You can control your attitude and your ability to stay smart and flexible.

Focus on what you can control. Remind yourself that even if something happens that is outside of your control, you will deal with it when it occurs. You are not alone and states and testing authorities have no desire to delay your career. They want to get examinees licensed quickly.

3. Make health a priority.

Anxiety is rampant. It is natural to worry not only about the bar exam and job prospects, but also your own health and the health of your family members and friends. Being cooped up alone studying for the bar exam can take a toll on mental health as it is. Adding a pandemic to the equation does not help things.

Further, anxiety and stress affect one’s physical health, and being inside all day can lead to over-eating and quickly gaining the “covid 15”.

So make your physical and mental health a priority. Exercise on a regular basis—even something like going on a walk, can be great for your physical and mental health.

Consult your doctor if you are feeling anxious or stressed. Meditate. Try visualization or affirmations. You have two major stressors to deal with at once – coronavirus and the bar exam. Make your physical and mental health a priority during these doubly-stressful times.

4. Take breaks. 

If you are studying for a bar exam now, you may be in it for the long haul. With many states postponing exams to mid- or late-September, you may find yourself with months to study. Getting started early is a good idea but one of the real risks of studying early is burnout. It is important now, more than ever, that you incorporate breaks, days off, and some things to look forward to in your schedule. If you do not, you may find yourself too exhausted to remain productive midway through your prep.

5. Set up a retention schedule.

This is an important, but overlooked tip. And it is especially necessary if you are studying early for a fall bar exam.

Will you remember what you learned today 5 months from now? No, not unless you have a “retention schedule” set up to make sure you are reviewing the information. (We frequently help nontraditional students get started studying early for the bar exam and this is one of key aspects we incorporate into “early bar prep” study schedules!)

The best way to memorize something is to repeatedly review it. The brain learns by repetition. To set yourself up for success, incorporate days into your schedule where you do not learn any new information but where you simply review what you have already committed to memory. (See some sample fall bar exam study schedules here.) You will be grateful you did this, whether you are taking the bar exam in the summer or the fall!

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