September Bar Exam

The Good And The Bad Of A Fall Bar Exam

With the world in the midst of a global pandemic, unprecedented changes have occurred in all aspects of human life. Closures, delays, and cancellations have occurred in entities that were previously thought to be fixtures in our society, such as schools, universities, government offices, and even courthouses. The bar exam is no exception! For many test-takers, a fall bar exam is inevitable.

Because bar admission is administrated by the individual states, the states have a certain amount of control over the administration of the bar exam in their state. For states administering the Uniform Bar Exam, the National Conference of Bar Examiners announced on April 3, 2020 that “NCBE will make bar exam materials available for two fall administrations in 2020: September 9-10 and September 30-October 1.” Note that California is currently considering moving the exam back even further, to October 5-6.

As of this writing, most jurisdictions (31, in fact) are planning on administering a July bar exam. However, many of the states with the largest number of bar exam takers in July 2019 (California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, among others) have decided instead to administer a fall bar exam. See this post for a complete list of states’ bar exam dates.


The Good And The Bad Of A Fall Bar Exam

If you live in a state that has determined to administer its bar exam in the fall of 2020, you may wonder if you should feel elated or dismayed at the news. Like many things in life, the answer is mixed. What is the good and the bad of a fall bar exam?

The Good: More Time to Study

This is obvious; right? If the bar exam takes place in September or October rather than in July, of course, you will have more time to study. But what is good about having more time to study?

1. A more relaxed study schedule 

With a July bar exam date, most students have about 10 weeks from the end of their final exams to the bar exam. Even if students follow their bar prep study schedule diligently, students will find themselves buried in bar prep work for those 10 weeks. For students who are working, have families, or get behind on their bar prep schedule, the amount of studying required each day to keep on track can be crushing.

With a fall bar exam date, there is more room to breathe. Depending on which fall date your jurisdiction has chosen, you may have between 17 and 20 weeks (or more if California delays again) to study for the bar exam. That is almost double the amount of time that students who are studying for the July bar have. That means, theoretically, that your study time per day should be cut in half. For everyone—but especially those who have tight constraints on their study time—a fall bar exam date should make it more likely to complete a bar prep program on time. A more relaxed study schedule is one of the good things about a fall bar exam.

2. More opportunity to work on problem areas

All students who are studying for the bar exam encounter problem areas. For some, that area might be property law. For others, it might be getting essay structure down pat. Still, others may struggle with time management on the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). Whatever your problem areas are, a fall bar exam potentially allows you the time to focus on those problem areas. For students taking the July bar exam, problem areas often remain with them throughout the study period because there is just not enough time to tackle those areas adequately. More opportunity to work on problem areas is another good thing about a September or October bar exam.

3. More opportunity to incorporate feedback

Most commercial bar prep courses provide the opportunity for students to receive feedback on their written assignments, like essays and the MPT. However, because of the pace of study, many students do not have enough time to thoughtfully and adequately incorporate that feedback into their learning. As a result, some students repeat the same errors over and over.

A student with a fall bar exam date, however, should have sufficient time to digest the feedback they receive and effectively incorporate that feedback into their study. Changing behavior through feedback is a powerful learning tool. Thus, more opportunity to incorporate feedback is a good thing about a fall bar exam.

4. More opportunity to increase your speed

The clock. It is an instrument of torture for many bar exam students. If it were not for the clock, the bar exam would be a far easier undertaking. Thus, beating the clock is a major component of bar exam study.

One of the ways to increase your speed on the bar exam is through practice. As we all know, practice takes time. With only 10 weeks to study, students sitting for a July bar exam have limited hours for practice. With more time to study, students sitting for a fall bar exam can add additional practice to allow them to increase their speed. More opportunity to increase your speed is another good thing about a September/October bar exam.

The Bad: More Time to Study 

How can the good part of a fall bar exam be the same as the bad? And how can having more time to study be a bad thing?

1. A false sense of time passing

 Have you ever noticed how time seems to pass more quickly on the weekends? Or during a holiday? If you are not careful, the extra time afforded by a fall bar exam date can slip through your fingers. This is especially true at the beginning of the study period. It can be easy to think, “I have 7 extra weeks! I’ll take a few weeks off before I start studying for the bar.”

Taking some time off before launching into bar study can be a good idea, particularly for students who find themselves burned out and exhausted after final exams. However, the more time that passes on that studying vacation, the easier it is to lose the good habits that made you an effective study machine during finals. Waiting too long to start studying for the bar exam can make it harder to get back into the study groove. Worse, if you wait too long, you might end up with fewer than the usual 10 weeks of bar prep study. A false sense of time passing is a bad thing about a fall bar exam.

 2. A false sense of security 

Throughout law school, most law students hear stories about what recent law school grads experience while studying for the bar exam. A common piece of information that filters down to law students is that they only have about 10 weeks to learn and digest a gargantuan amount of information. Many bar students bemoan, “If only I had more time to study!”

Well, if you have a fall bar exam date, you have something of which nearly all former bar takers could only dream: more time to study for the bar exam. Although this can be good news, it can lead to a false sense of security. Students may subconsciously think to themselves, “I have all this extra time to study for the bar exam. There is no way I can fail.” Be careful not to fall into this mindset. A false sense of security is another bad thing about a September/October bar exam.

3. A lack of urgency 

Students who are studying for a July bar exam often hear from their bar prep instructors, “Keep up with the program! Don’t get behind!” With only about 10 weeks to study, the sense of urgency to stay on schedule is quite real for most students.

For students who are studying for a fall bar exam, however, the sense of urgency can be dulled. Students may think that there is plenty of time and that other matters can take precedent over bar study. One of the suggestions for bar study is to section off this time period in your life and devote that time as wholly as possible to bar exam study. With the study period stretching out to 17 or 20 weeks, maintaining that kind of discipline and focus can be challenging. A lack of urgency is one of the bad things about a fall bar exam.

 4. A lack of motivation

For a couple of reasons, a lack of motivation can plague students who are studying for a fall bar exam more than their July test-taking counterparts.  First, May 2020 law school grads did not experience the heady send off into bar study that their predecessors did. The excitement surrounding graduation activities can be an important motivator for recent law school grads to dive into and stick with bar study. Second, fall test-takers realize that even if they pass the bar exam on the first pass, their careers are likely to be on hold until close to the end of 2020, when the bar exam results are released. The combination of these factors can quickly drain the motivation out of the most disciplined student. A lack of motivation is another bad thing about a fall bar exam.

So how do I get the good without the bad?

The key to benefitting from the good of a fall bar exam and avoiding the bad is to control your mindset from the start. Just being aware of the potential mental pitfalls can go a long way in avoiding those pitfalls. Knowing ahead of time what issues you may encounter can help you reap the benefits of a fall bar exam while keeping clear of the potential negatives.

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