Many of our students ask us, “Should I take breaks during bar prep?” And the answer is: Yes! One of the hardest things about the bar exam is managing your schedule. You cannot study 14 hours a day every day! Instead, we recommend that you incorporate breaks into your study schedule. In this post we will tell you why it is beneficial to take breaks during bar prep and how to incorporate breaks into your schedule.
Why it is Beneficial to Take Breaks During Bar Prep:
Taking breaks during bar prep can help you in so many ways:
- They can help keep you focused. If you try to study for four hours in a row, hour #4 will be much less productive than hour #1 unless you give yourself a break.
- They can help you look at the material in a new way (which can help you understand the material better). Sometimes if something doesn’t quite “click” a break can give your brain the break it needs to make sense of it.
- They can help keep you energized and interested in the material.
- They can help you to study really “intensely” when you study (since you know you will be taking a break!) rather than halfway-studying for a long period of time.
- They can help you keep your sanity and reduce anxiety. Reducing anxiety is very important, for if you feel extremely anxious you will be blocking the receptors that you need to understand and internalize the information you need to know. If you can approach bar prep with a clear head, you will be well ahead of where you would be if your mind was clouded with anxiety.
- They can give your brain the chance it needs to sort and organize information. Just like you need to sleep adequately in order to retain information, it is also helpful to allow your brain to “rest” periodically throughout the day so it can sort and file away what it has learned up until that point.
How to Take Breaks during Bar Prep:
Here is the schedule we recommend if you are looking to incorporate breaks into your study plan:
Incorporate some breaks into your daily bar exam study plan. Instead of going to the library for eight hours or even trying to study in 4-hour chunks of time, incorporate a few ten minute breaks into your plan (I used to take a ten-minute break every fifty minutes!) If you think a break that often interrupts your flow, feel free to take it at a more natural time for you or to take it every two hours or so. These ten-minute breaks can be life-savers. They are necessary to help your brain reset and organize what it has learned. If you can do something “active” or healthy during your break (i.e. a ten minute walk, or getting a healthy snack), that is even better. We do not recommend you sit at your desk for this break or you won’t even feel like you had a break!
Take a break once a day. At the end of every day, plan something to look forward to. It does not have to be a four-hour break. It can be an hour of watching a television show you like, or dinner with your parents, or going on a walk, or just doing nothing. This will reward you. It will inspire you to work harder the next day. It will energize you and reinvigorate you, and it will also help you keep your anxiety in check. Remind yourself that you deserve it. Further, you cannot study every waking minute of the day. If you try to study fourteen hours a day, not only will you be very unproductive during the end of each day, but you will also burn yourself out early on. A once-a-day break serves as motivation throughout your bar prep schedule.
Take a break once a week. We highly recommend that you incorporate a weekly break into your bar prep study schedule. This can be a half-day break, a whole-day break, or just a few-hour break. If you are working full time while studying, then your break may have to be a bit shorter (a couple hours). I took every single Sunday “off” both in law school and while I was studying for the bar exam. I found that it energized me and refocused me for the next week. You may not want to take a full day off if you are not used to doing so, but take a longer break at least once a week. Go out on Friday night and seep in on Saturday. Or keep your tradition of getting a long breakfast on Sunday. This longer break will serve to refocus you for the next week.
Take a break post-bar vacation! I highly recommend that you do this! While it is true that the last thing you want to do is spend all of your study time planning a post bar exam vacation, investing a little time to do this is a great idea! (It doesn’t have to be a post-bar exam vacation to Europe! Even just traveling somewhere in your state and within your budget can be a great reward!) A post-bar exam vacation can actually be very good for you during bar prep! You will realize the bar exam is not the only thing going on in your life, and this will serve to lower your anxiety and keep everything in perspective. Not to mention, you will deserve this great reward when the bar exam is over!
In the following post we give you four tips for planning a post-bar exam vacation that is suited to you.
I feel too guilty when I take breaks during bar prep!
If you are starting to feel guilty, we suggest you do a few things:
1. Make a list of what you have accomplished that day. This will show you how productive you have been. You can even make a list of things to do at the beginning of the day then cross items off your list as you go along.
2. Make a list of what you will accomplish when you come back from your break. Even though this might seem, at first glance, as though it would make your more anxious, it will actually help you feel more organized and on top of things and less overwhelmed. Having a to-do list gives you a sense of control because instead of some overwhelming amount of work that you have to do, you have identified the tasks, listed them, and can come back to them after your break.
3. Remind yourself that you are doing yourself a favor by taking a break – that you will remember more, that you will concentrate better, and that you will lower your anxiety. (Reread all of the benefits of study breaks above if you need a reminder of the benefits of breaks!)
4. Make your bar exam break a true “break.” Don’t have your outlines all over the place or do any studying. Cut yourself off from bar prep and remind yourself that you’ll have plenty of time to get back to the material once you are more energized.
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