Stressed About the Bar Exam? 5 Last-Minute Tips from an Expert Tutor!

RelaxAre you studying for the February bar exam? Well, you’re in luck! Bar tutor extraordinaire Lee Faller Burgess of the Bar Exam Toolbox returns to share some last-minute tips for doing your best. Take it away!

Tip 1: Make sure your essays look professional. Would you show up to an interview in a wrinkled or mismatched suit? I hope not! Well, the bar exam is actually a written interview of sorts—the graders are deciding based on your writing whether or not you should be licensed to practice law. So how do you make a good impression? Present yourself in the best way possible—on paper. That means that your answer should be organized (well-planned); easy to read (this means headers, people); and should follow any writing requirements (IRAC, if you didn’t know this already). Oh, and answer the question asked (if it is a four-part question, then answer it in four parts). Don’t ever think you have a better way to organize an answer than the bar examiners have presented to you. They are asking you a specific question—give them a specific answer!

Tip 2: Write with confidence. I read a lot of essays every day and it is amazing to me what can be communicated through an essay. I can tell frequently when a student didn’t outline or is unsure about the law or is running out of time. But mostly I can tell when a student is writing without confidence. As attorneys we are expected to present ourselves and our arguments confidently; you never want to act as though, well, you don’t know what you are talking about! So why would you do this on the bar exam? In many jurisdictions (yes, California included) most people will need to make up law on the bar exam because it is impossible to know everything. (I will admit it—I had to make up some constitutional law on my bar exam.) But the trick is, you need to make it up with confidence (and I did, and I passed!). Don’t tell the graders that you don’t know what you are talking about. Make them read your essay and follow your argument.

Tip 3: Take some full-length practice exams. In California, the testing day is six hours of writing in two three-hour blocks. In the morning you have three hours to write three essays and in the afternoon you have three hours to complete one performance exam. The first time you take timed practice tests (in three-hour blocks or for six hours one day) should not be on testing day. You should do a dry run or dress rehearsal of the testing day for both the written portion and the MBEs. You need to get used to taking the test in this way to practice time management and also for endurance.

Tip 4: Take care of yourself and get ready for “game” day. Many folks studying for the bar exam think that if they just study a few more hours the last week of the preparation period, that will make all the difference. Typically though, that is the wrong approach to take. If you study too much—too many late nights, for example—you are likely going to be tired and burned out for the test. And that isn’t a good plan because the test is hard and you need to be at your best. So take care of yourself. Eat good food, get some sleep, and even soak in a bubble bath (if that helps you relax). But make sure you are feeling physically and mentally good, come the day of the exam.

Tip 5: Simplify the experience—have a plan and don’t over-complicate testing day. Okay, so the testing week is stressful. You have to do your final hours of studying, get everything organized, and actually take the exam. What can you do to keep things as simple and stress-free as possible? Have a plan. Here are some things you should consider when making your plan.

  • What time are you going to get up?
  • How are you getting to the testing center?
  • What time are you going to leave your house/hotel?
  • What are you going to eat for breakfast so as not to get hungry mid-morning?
  • What are you going to eat for lunch?
  • When/where are you going to upload your answers (if taking the test on a computer)?
  • What are you going to take with you to the testing center?

Note: Most jurisdictions give you a list of what you can bring into the testing center. Should you bring everything you possibly can on the list? No! Only bring what you need. Bringing in tons of junk with you (just because it is allowed) is not wise. It is just going to clutter your workspace (of which you likely won’t have that much) and give you more things to remember and keep track of (which leads to more stress).

Keeping these tips in mind will help you give yourself the best chance of passing on exam day.

Go in prepared, with a plan and having done adequate practice.

You will be ready to show those bar examiners that you are qualified to be a licensed attorney!

Good luck, bar takers!

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Thanks, Lee! Want more? Check out the Bar Exam Toolbox, or read one of her other fantastic guest posts:

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Got questions about last-minute bar exam prep? Leave them in the comments!

Image by mckenna via stock.xchng.


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