Where to Study for the Bar Exam: Environment Matters

Where to study for the bar exam: environment matters (talk about using a co-working space to study, interview friends about where they studied and what the pros/cons were)This week we welcome guest writer Allison Pincus, tutor for the Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. Allison discusses why it’s important to pick the right location for your bar study, and what her personal experience was finding a place to study.

“Where have you been for the past few days? We were so worried!” This was the response I received from the greeters when I signed in at my co-working space the day after I took the bar exam.

Of course my family and friends all knew I was sitting for the bar at the end of July. And the employees at my co-working space knew I had been studying, and studying hard – but they hadn’t known exactly when the exam was taking place. I hadn’t shown up to study as I had been doing every day, and they were afraid that I had given up.

There is lots of advice out there about how to study for the bar exam, including useful tips like knowing if it’s too early to begin, and creative strategies for how to study. The prevailing wisdom is to limit distractions and other obligations while studying for the bar, but how does this apply to your study environment? What about where to study for the bar?

Of course, there may be factors outside of your control such as cost of living while studying and/or having to care for a loved one. Your environment can have a huge impact on how you feel during the months of bar prep, and maybe on the results of your efforts as well. Keep in mind what you have control over, and try to seek out or create an environment that works for you. Here are some tips:

Where to Live?

Some of my friends from law school stayed in their apartments from law school to study for the exam. Many of these friends enjoyed staying in their old routines and continuing to do what had worked for them throughout law school.

I’ve also heard about people doing the exact opposite: picking a spot to study that is very different from their ordinary lives, where they wouldn’t typically have the chance to spend time, like a family friend’s vacation home or renting an inexpensive apartment in another country.

I lived with my parents while studying for the bar. My mom is a lawyer, and every lawyer remembers studying for the bar. She helped me stay sane by going on walks with me as study breaks at night, provided meals, and, most importantly, offered moral support. In the hours when I wasn’t actually trying to study, the arrangement was great.

Where to take Breaks?

It’s very important to take care of yourself and take breaks while studying. Bar exam prep can be an isolating experience, even if you’re preparing for the exam at the same time and in the same place as most of your law school classmates, and especially when you’re not. Where should you go to take breaks?

Lee Burgess, founder of Bar Exam Toolbox, recommends at least half a day or a full day at some point during bar prep. Spend the day outside or go to an exercise class.

I also found it helpful to take a short break each day because it gave me something to look forward to while I was studying, like going for a walk or sitting outside and chatting with a friend. Do something relatively quick so that you don’t start stressing about fitting it in, but that allows you to come up for air, get away from your computer, and remember that there is a world out there away from the exam.

Where to Study?

Friends who stayed in their law school apartments studied at our law school library.

While the routine felt familiar, many said they absorbed their classmates’ stress and wished they had studied elsewhere. It’s important to know yourself and to know your study habits.

Classmates who had lined up judicial clerkships did a second summer stint at their 2L summer firms, and were permitted to study for the exam in their offices during the workday. Many reported feeling stressed by having to balance their commitments to the firm, networking, and also studying for the bar, while some liked having a quiet, private space to study.

While living with my parents was great, when I was actually studying, it was a different story. My parents’ apartment was too small, too busy, and too noisy. I tried the New York Public Library, but every time I had to go to the bathroom or step outside to make a quick call, I had to pack up all my stuff – a big pain since I was studying pretty much 9-5 every day, and I needed to take breaks.

About two weeks into my bar prep course, I found a co-working space in NYC that rents out spaces in restaurants during the day when the restaurants are closed. It was perfect for me because they had coffee and tea included in the monthly membership, and fast internet so I could watch the bar exam lectures undisturbed. I was around other people so I didn’t feel lonely, but no one bothered me. And best of all, the people who worked there noticed me after awhile because I was the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. I was studying diligently every day, and they seemed to care. For me, this was the perfect way to study: I had peace and quiet, but I had a community nearby to cheer for me.

During the summer in which I spent the most time alone in my life, and the least amount of time outside in the sun, a sense of community, even from afar, went a long way. And when I finally found out that I had passed, they celebrated right there with me.


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About Allison Pincus

Allison is a tutor for the Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. She attended UC Berkeley School of Law, where she earned the American Jurisprudence award in her criminal law course. She is currently clerking for a federal judge. 

Before law school, Allison worked at a civil rights law firm as a paralegal and also worked as an assistant teacher and tutor at a low-income charter school.

During law school, Allison served as a TA in the 1L skills program, where she provided feedback on students’ writing and oral advocacy skills. She also worked in the housing clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center helping tenants avoid eviction, and she interned at the ACLU. Allison spent the summer between her 2L and 3L year at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in the litigation group. She is a certified yoga instructor, and in her spare time enjoys cooking.

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