When you sit down to study for the bar exam, it is likely you will get a bunch of feedback from other law students and friends as to how much you are supposed to study for the exam. I have heard it all! When I was studying for the bar exam, I remember people proudly claiming they were studying twelve hours a day, leaving the library only because it closed. I remember folks being shocked when I told them I was taking Sundays off. How was that possible? There was no way I was going to pass!
Shocking news: I passed-only studying until about 6:30 p.m. in the evenings and taking Sundays off.
How much you need to study for the bar exam is a critical question. I have seen people understudy and fail, for sure. But I have also seen people over-study for the exam. I know, hard to believe, right?
Over-Studying and Burnout Can Cause You as Many Problems as Under-Studying
When you over-study for the bar exam, you are likely going to burn out quickly. You need adequate time to rest and recover when you are studying for the bar. Studying every waking hour of every day is going to lead you down the road of not being able to focus, being overly exhausted, and just not being a productive studier. For most of us, we cannot productively study that many hours a day. We need breaks to rest and rejuvenate ourselves. We need to get away from the desk and the computer and move our bodies. We need to eat healthy food. These things all help us do better on the bar exam, but they can't be done if you are studying twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (okay, I know that is an exaggeration, but you get what I mean).
So How Do You Know How Much to Study?
Perhaps it is easy to tell if you might be over-studying, but how can you tell if you are studying enough? This is a very personal decision, one that takes a lot of reflection on the process. I think a good first parameter is that you need to study about 40 to 50 hours a week. Treat the bar exam like a full-time job.
Now that means you need to actually study 40 to 50 hours a week. That doesn't count hours that you are chatting with friends in the library or driving to and from campus. If you aren't sure what 40 to 50 hours a week of work really feels like, try tracking your time (since you will have to do that at your future law job anyway!). What you may find when you do this exercise is that you aren't actually studying as many hours as you thought you were. That doesn't mean you add more study hours; that means that you need to be more efficient with your study time. How can you maximize the number of hours you are on campus working? And how can you maintain focus during those hours? These are all critical questions to get the most out of your days.
What If I Can Only Study Part Time? How Many Hours Do I Need to Study Then?
Studying part time is a challenge, but it can be done. I encourage anyone studying part time to study at least 20 hours a week and study for a longer preparation period than the typical bar prep cycle.
If you are studying for the bar for the first time, you may need to think carefully about making enough time to review the substantive law and also to practice. You may find yourself eating up all of your limited study time by just listening to lectures. But unless you are an auditory learner, listening to lectures isn't going to get you very far, unfortunately. So be smart about which lectures you listen to (just the ones you think will be most helpful).
If you are a repeat taker, best to leave those video lectures alone when you have only limited time to study. Instead, focus on active learning of the law and practice. It is possible that not knowing enough law was the reason you failed, but it is also likely that you failed because you didn't practice enough or didn't know how to execute the bar questions in the best possible way. Figure out what went wrong and then develop a study plan that will allow you to get the most out of your study time.
Remember that it isn't really about how much you study, but the quality of the study time you put in.