Lego man lifting dumbbellThere are two main goals at the heart of bar exam study:  (1) learn the substantive law you need to pass the exam and (2) learn how to take the test itself.

You can accomplish the first goal by enrolling in any good bar review course or by acquiring/buying the right materials to learn the law on your own.

You accomplish the second goal by anticipating the format of the bar exam, taking practice tests, and building up your endurance for the marathon that is a 2- or 3-day long bar exam.

But don’t overtrain.

Exercise physiologists know that extreme exercising — such as weightlifting with no rest between sets and no days off or endurance training with no easy days or days off — can lead to injuries from overuse.

Even worse, overtraining can sabotage performance at critical times.  Too much running, for instance, can lead to slower race times rather than faster race times.

The same is true with bar preparation.

If you try and study 12-14 hours per day for 8 or 10 weeks straight, it will be very difficult to maintain your ability to learn.  You will undoubtedly have days when your brain and body say, “Enough!”  You will hit the wall.

If you hit the wall too many times, it may impede your ability to succeed on the bar exam.  (Note:  If you have a few days here and there where you can’t seem to get much done, don’t worry too much about it.  I can remember hitting the wall on occasion both times I took the bar exam.  You just have to accept it, take some time — maybe a few minutes, maybe the rest of the day — off, and get back to studying when your brain wants to work again.)

Take Extended Breaks

One way to avoid bar exam burnout is take a measured approach to studying. Probably the best way to do this is to take one day off each week to rest your mind and do something other than sit at a desk:

  • Spend time with your friends;
  • Play video games;
  • Meditate;
  • Read some fiction;
  • Enjoy a few beers;
  • Take a long walk;
  • Go to the beach, lake, mountains or park;
  • Do anything other than study for the bar exam.

If you are working while you are studying for the bar exam or you absolutely feel you cannot take an entire day off, try taking at least half a day off.  Saturday and Sunday afternoons seem tailor made for this.


Exercise scientists know that periodization is key to strength and performance gains.  In short, you vary your workout routine by incorporating rest days and easier days and weeks with periods of more intense training.

Why not apply this principle to learning the skills necessary to pass the bar exam?

A.  Periodization for learning new skills

According to Marc Dagenais, one can apply periodization to learning a mental skill as follows:

  • Introduction to the skill (Explain concept)
  • Development of the skill in a quiet setting
  • Incorporation of the skill in sport specific situation (Specific application)
  • Refinement of the skill in training and in preparatory competition
  • Integration of the skill in strategies of competition
  • Use of the skill in competition to achieve Ideal Performance State

As applied to bar exam preparation, we might think of it as follows:

  • Attend lecture or review outline of particular subject area
  • Begin memorizing law for that subject area
  • Initial practice essays and/or MBE questions on that area
  • Learn from mistakes of initial practice and increase depth of understanding of law through use of mini tests
  • Practical application of knowledge to full-length, timed essays and/or large groups of subject-specific MBE questions
  • Ideal Performance State achieved on the bar exam itself

B.  Periodization for enhancing/maintaining learned skills

If the structure above seems uninteresting to you, then think of periodization for exam prep as simply varying from time to time what and/or how you study.

For instance, maybe give yourself a few days off from writing essays.  Focus only on memorizing the law and MBE practice.  Then, take a few days off from MBE practice and focus on writing essays.

You might also forego any practice testing for several days, spending all your time reviewing outlines and flash cards.  Then, do a blitz of practice testing with two or three straight days of nothing but MBEs, essays and PTs.

These changes will give your mind a break from constant repetition of MBEs or constant writing of essays or performance tests.  The change will free your brain to solidify the skills it has been learning while you turn to a related but different skill so as not to lose valuable study time.


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