level with bubble in center

As I write this post, bar preparation courses have begun or are about to begin.  I thought this was a good time to suggest that you do a “bar exam level set.”

What is a level set?

A “level set” simply means to assess your resources and your goals to see what you need to do or need to obtain in order to achieve those goals.

In the case of the bar exam, you should examine several areas to determine how you will study for and pass the bar exam.

The process may involve your friends, your significant other, your family, and anyone who you think will help or hinder you bar exam preparation.

Here are some things you might want to think about:

Determine where and when you will study

Do you need total silence when you study? Can you handle some noise but not too much? Are you easily distracted or could you study at a rock concert?

The answers to these questions will determine where you should study.

Some suggested locations:

  • law library (possible distractions from colleagues talking to you)
  • public library (can be loud at times)
  • home (might not be a good choice if you have a loud roommate, children, or are easily distracted by other tasks like cleaning or gardening)
  • coffee shop (I could never have done this, but some people seem to be able to pull this off; not recommended)
  • outdoors (study in a park? at the beach? maybe, but seems like it would be tough to focus)

What time during the day should you study?

Are there any commitments you cannot change during your bar studies that you will have to work around? Are there any important holidays that occur during your period of bar prep that you want to enjoy?

Possible daily schedules:

8am to 5pm:  I think this is ideal and it is how I studied for the bar exam both times that I took it.  By following this schedule, you study at the same time the actual bar exam is administered, so you train your body and mind to be focused during the same time as the test. I call this “anticipation of conditions.” On the other hand, you need to be highly focused everyday while you study during these hours, and you generally can only take short breaks if you want to fit the necessary studying into these hours.

8am to 10pm (or similar, e.g., 6am to 8pm): This schedule allows you to take longer breaks while you are studying, maybe to exercise during the day or spend a few hours with your family.  It is probably a good schedule for people who have commitments beyond simply studying for the bar.  The main drawback I see is that the later at night you study, the harder it can be to fall asleep, and you need to get sleep while studying for the bar exam.

6pm to Midnight:  This is a schedule for people who are working during the bar exam.  Obviously, not ideal, but you have to do what is necessary.  Having a late night schedule will likely require studying most of the day on the weekends.  But be sure to take breaks and get some good sleep.  (I had a colleague who was working as a full-time attorney in California who was studying for the New York bar exam at night and on the weekends.  She hated it, but she passed.)

Eliminate or Reduce Stressors and Potential Stressors

To the extent that you can foresee a stressor that may negatively affect your ability to focus on your test preparation, you should try to do something NOW to eliminate the stressor or reduce the likelihood that it will have a negative effect.

Doing this may require some uncomfortable conversations with family and friends or working out agreements with people (e.g., for the next 2 months, we won’t do “x”, but after the exam is over, we’ll do “x” everyday for a week).

Here are some possible areas of stress to think about:


Do you have kids who will need attention?  I had a 3 year old and a 1 year old when I took the Oregon bar and they were 5 and 3 when I took the California bar.  I made a commitment to think about the bar when I was at the library from 9-5 but then was fully present for them (and my wife) when I was home.

Is your spouse or significant other needy?  Will he or she be jealous of the bar exam for occupying so much of your time and attention?  If you think this could be a problem, consider ways to reduce it.  Commit to a date night once a week. Take Saturdays off and do something with your S.O. every Saturday.  Promise to cook dinner a few nights a week.


You don’t want to run out of money while you are studying for the bar exam.  If you think you might run short on funds, cut back on expenses where possible.  Do you have family you can tap for a couple hundred dollars if absolutely necessary? What about freelancing?  Here is a great post with some great ideas about how to make cash fast.

Make sure you bills get paid and you don’t overdraw your bank account.  (The only time in my life I bounced a check was when I was studying for doctoral exams; I literally forgot to deposit a paycheck.)  If you have auto-pay for your bills, great; if not, consider setting it up.  If you don’t like auto-pay, put bill paying into your calendar on the 1st and 15th of each month so you won’t forget.


You need to eat healthy food while studying for the bar exam. Poor food choices can lead to brain and body fatigue, poor concentration, and even depression.  Not what you want at this critical time.

leave of mustard plant

But eating healthy takes time because you need to cook.  If you are worried about having enough time to cook, consider preparing meals in advance and freezing them.  I have one friend who cooks 5 days’ worth of chicken breasts, vegetables, and rice each Sunday.  He separates the food into 5 Tupperware containers and freezes them so that he has his dinners for Monday through Friday all ready to go.  Kind of boring, but healthy.

Maybe you can get your significant other, a roommate, or a family member to cook for you? The mother of one colleague of mine actually moved in with her for the last 3 weeks before the bar exam.  She cooked all her meals, washed her laundry, and cleaned her apartment.  Now that is love!

Deal with Fear and Anxiety about the Bar Exam

This topic is the main focus of this blog, and I won’t go into great detail in this post.  The point is, if you are worrying about the bar exam and consequences of failing the bar exam, it makes it more difficult to study for the bar exam.

To deal with the stressors of fear and anxiety, consider using negative visualization to put the fear in its proper perspective and positive visualization to build confidence.

For more ideas on how to deal with anxiety and fear, keep reading this blog or buy my book.

If your fear or anxiety is so extreme as to be debilitating, you might want to consider seeking help from a therapist or psychiatrist.  (Here is a video about one bar repeater who, in part, attributes her ability to pass the bar exam to anti-anxiety medicine.)

Final Thoughts…

Passing the bar is difficult, but many people have done it.  You can do this.  Make the commitment to pass.

Get your life set up so the only thing you need to worry about is studying.  It may take some planning and negotiating, but it is important to make these arrangements now.

Don’t let the stress and anxiety build up before you take action.


If you want to perform your own Bar Exam Level Set, you can use the handy Level Set Checklist I’ve prepared. Download your free copy here.

P.S. -- Want a FREE copy of my Bar Exam Mind audiobook?

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