By: Mitchell McFee, Regional Director, Helix Bar Review Engagement
In a perfect world, bar studiers could put life on hold while they prepare for the exam, but few (if any) have this option. It’s recommended that you spend a minimum of 400 hours preparing for the bar exam, so having a clear roadmap of how and when you’re going to fit that study time into your life is crucial. Most bar studiers spread their studies over at least a 10-week period and, over the course of that time, it’s likely that life events will derail you from your planned study schedule.
What do you do when you’re sick for four days and can’t study? How do you recover from an unexpected day-long internet outage? Is it possible to recoup the study hours from unanticipated missed days?
The first thing to do is remind yourself that you are not alone. Almost everyone will have some interruption to their bar prep schedule. The key is how you handle the disruption when it happens.
To get back on track, ask yourself the following questions:
- How much time did you lose?
- What did you miss?
- How much time is left before the exam?
The answers to these questions will help you understand how best to jump back into your study plan.
How much time did you lose?
The ideal amount of prep time for the bar exam is usually somewhere between 400 and 500 hours – meaning studiers on a traditional 10-week plan will spend about 40-50 hours a week preparing for the test. Keep this average as a guidepost throughout your bar exam study period. This will allow you to conceptualize missed study time and figure out how to manageably add it back into your weekly study schedule to make up for the loss.
Example: You have a family emergency that causes you to miss a full week of studying. Because you know you’ve been studying 40 hours a week on average to keep up with your course, you can assume you missed about 40 hours of study time. Now, you just need to strategically split up that missed 40 hours over the remaining weeks until the exam, so you don’t feel too overwhelmed. You can add a bit of study time to each day, add a day of study to your weekend, or do a combination of both.
What did you miss?
A quick but important question to ask yourself is: did you miss any graded opportunities or simulated exams? These are important milestones throughout your course as they are crucial to tracking progress and providing opportunities to practice in exam-like conditions. So, if an emergency causes you to miss out on a graded assignment or simulated exam, prioritize making these up first upon your return.
How much time is left before the bar exam?
When strategizing about how to make up for lost time, it’s also important to factor in the amount of remaining time before the exam. Let’s think again in terms of a 10-week study plan. If you miss three days in the first week of study, that’s time you can easily redistribute throughout the rest of your study period. However, if you miss that time with only a week left before the exam, you’re going to need to be more strategic about how to make up that deficit.
If you miss more than a few days, and study time is running out, consider these points when planning your next steps.
Factor in your strengths and weaknesses.
What areas of law are you struggling with? What components of the exam are your weakest? If you’re still not performing well on Property and Contracts multiple-choice questions, focus more on those areas of law in your remaining study time to make last-minute gains (instead of reinforcing strengths you already have). Conversely, if you have scored well on every practice performance test, substitute any remaining performance task-related study tasks to work on skills you still need to improve.
Focus on subjects that are highly tested.
When you need to catch up with limited time remaining before the bar exam, consider how regularly a topic appears on the exam and focus on subjects that will give you more bang for your buck. For example, if you’re weak in both negligence and nuisance in Torts, spend your time improving your performance on negligence questions, which make up one-half of the Torts multiple choice questions on the MBE.
Ask for advice.
You don’t have to create your comeback plan alone. Reach out to the academic or bar support faculty at your law school or to a representative from your bar prep company. At Helix Bar Review, our Helix Directors are always available for a quick coaching call to help you strategize about how to get back on track.
Be honest about what’s doable.
If you must miss a significant amount of time very close to the exam, be honest about whether it is realistic that you have enough remaining time before the test to cover the necessary material. The bar exam is a challenging, high-stakes test and the amount of time you spend meaningfully studying strongly correlates with passing. On the other hand, the psychological impact of failing the bar exam can create larger hurdles to passing the next time. So, if circumstances require you to take significant time away from your studies that you cannot realistically make up, you may want to consider looking into your jurisdiction’s rules for deferring to the next test administration.
Remember, as you start your bar prep journey, life is going to happen while you’re studying. And it’s very likely that you will end up missing a few days of study time because of sickness, family emergencies, etc. It is a good idea to plan for this probability by beginning your study program a week or two early or by working ahead if possible. But know that if you do miss study time, it will not be the end of the world (although it may feel like it). Take a beat. Answer these questions and create a plan to make up missed days so that you feel comfortable and ready on exam day!