For many law school grads, the bar exam still looms at the end of July. As if the test itself didn’t provide enough stress, examinees this year are trying to navigate the additional challenges and fears associated with COVID-19. While some states have changed their timelines and/or methods of administering the bar exam, plenty have not. And in the states moving forward with a July exam, examinees are dealing with some pretty major questions, even though the exam is only a few weeks away. Will the exam be rescheduled? Will the format change? Will it go remote? If the test isn’t rescheduled, is it safe to take it in person? Is the exam worth the health risk?
I found the bar exam to be extremely stressful under normal circumstances and can’t fathom also dealing with these additional unknowns and fears. Bar-takers, this is in no way an easy time to stay focused and motivated. I know you’re wondering about everything from physical safety to job security to whether you should bother to keep studying because your exam might be postponed. If taking the July bar exam is still in the cards for you, the best advice I can give is that staying focused on your studies is the most important thing you can do right now. Of course, I realize this is easier said than done. I also want to be clear that this article isn’t meant to encourage anyone to take an in-person July exam. If you are in a high-risk group or don’t feel comfortable taking the bar exam in person, I encourage you to contact your career services office or future employer to discuss your options.
Don’t Waste Your Energy on Things You Can’t Control
A lot is out of your control right now, and that’s not a great feeling. We’re all feeling that on at least some level during this pandemic. You can try to take action and make your voice known—sign a petition, write to your state’s bar examiners, attend Zoom hearings, or join the fight for diploma privilege. Whether you decide to join the conversation is up to your comfort level. Once you have exhausted your options, focus on what you can control. Unfortunately, spending all day refreshing your email, scrolling through social media, or simply being angry about the bar exam isn’t going to change the situation—it will only have a detrimental effect on your mental health. Instead, if you have committed to the July bar, focus on best preparing yourself for test day. Your bar exam success requires you to focus on yourself and your study plan.
Stay Focused and Follow the Plan
If you do end up sitting for the bar in just a few weeks, you don’t want to find yourself wishing you had studied more. Don’t throw away the conventional bar exam advice you’ve no doubt received through this point. Continue to follow your bar program and complete lessons, assignments, and practice sets on time. Set a daily schedule and treat bar studying like it’s your full-time job. Put social media and other distractions away while you study, and set timers to take breaks throughout the day. Try supplements like flashcards or bonus exam questions when you have an extra few minutes throughout the day. Take a day off each week to refresh and reset. These and other tried-and-true tips for bar exam success still stand.
Know the Rules, and Practice
The bar exam has always included a set of strict rules for test day, from what you’re allowed to bring into the test site to what you can wear to where you can go on breaks. It’s important to know these rules, prepare accordingly, and complete at least one or two practice tests under simulated testing conditions. This year, there will be even more rules in place due to COVID-19, such as the requirements to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Include these measures in your practice sessions, too. For example, you’ll want to take a practice exam in your mask so you can discover and fix any issues before test day (e.g., glasses fogging up). You need to be well prepared to follow all of the bar exam rules to a T—not only for your success on the exam, but also for your health and safety.
What to Do If The Exam is Postponed
If the exam does get postponed, you’ll probably feel a mix of relief and frustration. While the anxiety of the in-person exam is alleviated, you might wonder why you spent these past months studying so hard. But everything you have done through this point was not a waste of time. First, take a step away from the exam for a few days and give yourself a break from studying. Use this time to reset and blow off steam, even if it’s just getting outside for some extra exercise. Then, pick up your study program again when it’s time to rejoin the altered schedule. You might find that you can work at a slower pace as you realign with the new timeline. And you may end up repeating some material, but think of this as a positive—you have more time to solidify your knowledge and hone in on topics that tripped you up the first time around. During this time, also be sure to pay close attention to new information from your bar examiners—there may be requirements to confirm your registration or new instructions for a remotely-administered bar exam.
There is no way to sugar coat it: The situation you’re facing is not ideal. And perhaps we have yet to see changes in the states still planning an in-person July bar exam. But for now, focus on what’s within your control and give studying your all. If you do sit for an in-person exam, you’ll want to make it worth the time and risk.
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