Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Keys To Passing The Bar Exam: Study 10 Hours (But No More) Before Midnight, Take Two Breaks, Do Not Work

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AccessLex, Approaching the Bar: An Analysis of Post-Graduation Bar Exam Study Habits:

For most law graduates, passing the bar exam is the culmination and most critical outcome of their legal education. The typical two months spent preparing after law school graduation are essential to success. However, empirical understanding of post-graduation bar preparation is limited; only a few studies in the legal academy have examined this period. Generally, law graduates are advised to treat bar preparation like a full-time job. But we lack research and data on the specific time management strategies and tactics that are correlated with bar passage. Given impending changes to the bar exam, such inquiries are critical to determining what post-graduation study approaches are currently most effective and what adjustments, if any, should be made to prepare law students for the bar exam of the future.

In an effort to contribute to a better understanding of the post-graduation bar prep period, this report describes the results of a 2017 study AccessLex conducted in the seven weeks leading up to taking the July bar exam, which examined the extent to which graduates’ study habits and non-academic activities predicted their bar exam outcomes. With help from the University of San Diego School of Law and Themis Bar Review, we recruited recent California law school graduates to participate in a daily time-diary survey that would yield insights into how they managed their studies in the weeks leading up to the bar exam. During the seven-week period, survey respondents completed a daily record of their activities in 30-minute increments, based on nine predetermined categories: bar preparation, employment, job search, commuting, personal care, caregiving, leisure, sleep, and “other.” In analyzing the data, we sought to answer the following questions:

  1. To what extent is bar passage associated with the number of hours spent studying? To what extent is bar passage associated with study habits and patterns (e.g., number of study sessions per day)?
  2. To what extent is bar passage associated with the amount of time spent on non-study activities?
  3. To what extent is the amount of study time associated with negative experiences (e.g., feeling unprepared) and mindset during the bar exam?

Overall, this report makes the following observations:

    1. The likelihood of bar exam passage is strongly associated with the average number of hours spent studying daily.
    2. Although the average length of study session duration has no significant impact on bar passage, higher numbers of daily study sessions lead to a higher probability of bar exam success.
    3. Studying earlier in the day is more strongly associated with bar passage than studying at any other time of the day.
    4. Employment during the bar preparation period is negatively associated with bar success.
    5. Although graduates who study more hours per day are more likely to pass the bar exam, they are more likely to report running out of time on the multiple choice and essay sections of the bar exam. Graduates who studied an average of 10 or more hours per day are the main drivers behind this finding, indicating that there may be diminishing returns to daily averages of study beyond the 10-hour threshold.

Because this report focuses on a small group of first time bar takers in California, the findings discussed have limited generalizability and should be considered exploratory in nature. We hope our approach serves as a methodological proof of concept that can be replicated among other legal education researchers and practitioners in other jurisdictions.

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