The Pregnancy Guide to the Bar Exam

One post I realized I never published is my guide to taking the bar exam while pregnant!

Before we get into my tips for taking the bar exam while pregnant, let me give you some background.

I found out I was pregnant the December before I was slated to take the California bar exam. It was two days after my dad’s funeral so you can imagine how high my emotions were that day. Since this pregnancy was a surprise and not at all planned, one of the first things I thought was, “can I still take the bar exam?!” I calculated that I’d be in my 9th month, so I turned to Google and researched it. Most articles or blog posts I found were of stories of women taking the bar exam while in their first or second trimester. I found one blog post from a woman who took it at the beginning of her third trimester (click HERE for that blog post). Once I read that post, I felt even more fired up to take the bar exam, because nothing was going to stand in my way.

Once I got back to school, I also scheduled an appointment with the bar prep professor at my school. My school had a year-long “pre” bar prep class as part of the curriculum so I knew if anyone had tips for me, it’d be Professor Basick. I told her the news and she just smiled. She pointed to a picture of her family, specifically to one of her daughters, and said, “that daughter was born three days after I took the bar exam.” That gave me soooo much peace of mind. This professor had also written a bar prep book and the other professor she wrote it with was in her first trimester when she took her exam. Professor Basick gave me some advice about studying, how many hours to study, and what I could start doing now (in January) to make sure I was as prepared as possible.

I will say that the study tips are universal and not just for pregnant women. Certain things in this post, such as accommodations, are exclusively for pregnant women, but the study tips can be applied to any one taking the bar exam, or any big test for that matter.

ACCOMMODATIONS

One of the firs things I did was look into and apply for accommodations. Accommodations are for test-takers who have some type of physical issue that needs special attention. Being pregnant definitely falls under this category! What is required is getting a doctor to fill our a form and then you send it and your other materials to the ABA. You get to suggest what accommodations you’d like and then it’s up to the ABA to decide what exactly you’ll get. I asked to be seated near the door to the bathroom, a pillow for both days (you’re only allowed a pillow on one day), and food and water during the exam. Luckily, I was granted all the accommodations I asked for. Being near the bathroom was the best because during the first session of MBEs, I remember I had to go to the bathroom like 5 times in that 3 hour span. Having food and water allowed me to stay hydrated and awake, when all I really wanted to do was nap. I also suffered from severe back pain during pregnancy and alternating a pillow between my back and sitting on it was the only thing that helped alleviate some of the pain.

BAR PREP PROGRAM

This section is not so much about which specific company to choose, but rather what option to choose. Most bar prep companies have an option to either watch in class at your school or watch at home. I opted to watch in class at my school because I knew if I could only watch at home, then I wouldn’t be motivated to actually watch the lessons. However, even though you choose the in-class option, you can still watch the lectures on demand later. So there were plenty of days I didn’t make it to class on time because of, well, being pregnant, so I’d watch it a little bit later in the morning, but I would still get up and leave the house to study (that was key!).

For this reason, I was would also be hesitant to pick one of those special classroom programs that is taught by really successful and knowledgeable people where you go to their office (not your school) and learn there (an example of this is Flemings). The reason I caution this is because there will be days when you cannot get to class on time. You’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re slow, you’re waddling, whatever the reason may be, there will be those days and those companies are not as lenient about tardiness.

STUDY HOURS/SCHEDULE

Having a pretty strict study schedule is key to passing the bar while pregnant (or in general). My professors said that the average bar prep taker should be studying at least 12 hours a day (it’s somewhere around 12, it’s been a few years, don’t quote me on it). However, I knew my body would not last 12 hours of sitting in a chair at school trying to study. I aimed to treat bar prep like a job (which is what my boss from my 2L internship told me). I studied from about 8:30/9 AM to 6 PM. I stayed at school during that time and did practice essays, MBEs, review, memorizing law, etc. When I went home at 6 PM, I’d have dinner as a way to relax and then I’d review flashcards for the rest of the night. I basically did the same thing every day: wake up, eat breakfast, study at school, go home, eat dinner, review flashcards. I found it extremely important to keep a schedule like this because I knew I only had a limited amount of hours to study and I needed to make the most of it.

STUDY TIPS

In regards to the actual test and material, I found a few things that worked for me. Keep in mind that studying is a very personal thing. Only you know how to study effectively for yourself. What works for you may not work for your best friend, and vice versa. The bar exam is not the time to try out new study skills if you figured out what works while in law school. Try not to get wrapped up in what your friends are doing and how they’re doing it.

In regards to MBEs (multiple choice questions) it is essential to implement a few steps into your studies. Take the practice test, grade your test, and then go through every single question and review the answer. Yes, even the ones you got correct. The reason for this is simple. You may have gotten the question correct but totally guessed on it. You may have gotten it correct but the rule you were using was wrong or just slightly wrong. Reviewing the answers you got correct will help you remember the rule for next time and it will help you understand the rule. What I learned in my studies is that it was more important for me to understand the rule and know how to apply it, than to simply memorize it. You could memorize the periodic table all you want, but if you don’t know what any of those elements do and why and what combinations create what, then what is the point of memorizing the periodic table?! Memorizing the law is essential to MBEs and essays, but it is just as essential to truly understand the law and how it applies in several circumstances. One way I reviewed MBEs was by taking my flashcards, finding the rule that particular question was talking about, and then reviewing it on my flashcard and making notes about the fact pattern. If, for some reason, my flashcard didn’t have the rule because it was an obscure one, I’d write it in. But the key is definitely reviewing the correct and incorrect questions. I used the Critical Pass flashcards for MBEs, which you can purchase HERE.

Essays are little different for me than most, I think. I knew my strongest part was essays and my worst was MBEs (by a lot!) so I chose to focus my time more on MBEs. I think I did around 100 (at least) a day. With essays, I focused more on outlining the essay, hitting the major topics, and writing out the rules for those. I knew that if I could remember and write out the rule for each topic (or major and minor topics) then I’d be okay on essays. In general, focus on the area that is your weakness and try to master that area just as well as the area you already know you do well. However, if you think you’re good in all areas, have someone else assess your work to help you pinpoint your weaknesses. After all, no one is perfect.

RESTING

I took breaks and rested more than anyone I know who took the bar at the same time as me. I alternated between sitting at the desk and laying on the floor. I also took a lot of walks around school. While studying, be sure to rest! Also, take as many simulated practice tests as possible. Whenever your school or the bar prep company offers to do simulated exam days, do them! Your body needs to get used to sitting still and focusing for extended periods of time. During simulated tests, also take note when you feel yourself getting tired or zoning off (or if you the baby starts kicking like crazy after you’ve been sitting for too long). This way you can come up with a strategy of how to combat these feelings when the time comes.

Most people will also say do not take any days off completely. I disagree. I usually used Sundays as my day off (or whichever weekend day my husband had off from work). I needed a day to recoup and refresh, a day basically devoted to laying on the couch and watching Netflix or running errands that I didn’t run during the week, like grocery shopping. I didn’t start out by taking every Sunday off, but once I got close to the test I started to take every Sunday off. That sounds like counter intuitive advice but it helped me not get too exhausted too soon. The last 3-4 weeks of bar prep are when everyone (not just pregnant women) start to get burned out. Taking a day off each week helps combat the burn out and keep you motivated.

HEALTH

Do not skip doctor’s appointments! I know everyone talks about how bar prep is not the time to go out and do anything other then bar prep. However, if you are pregnant, that is a different story! By the time you’re in your third trimester, you typically have doctor’s check-ups every 1-2 weeks. In the grand scheme of life, your baby’s health is more important than an extra hour of studying. If you can, plan them strategically like at times in the day you know you’ll be taking a break (lunch or dinner time) or on the weekends (although I know doctor’s don’t usually do weekend check-ups). Your doctor will likely know you’re studying (especially if you use him/her to get accommodations) so s/he will most likely be more than willing to work with your schedule. The issue I ran into when I was studying was that my doctor was an hour away back in my hometown so I usually had to plan a half day or whole day to travel down just for a brief check-up. But I made the most of these visits by studying in the waiting room or using it as my day off.

ANXIETY

One thing I struggled with during my study period and after as I reflected on the exam and how I studied was the anxiety I felt from feeling like I didn’t do enough. No matter if you are pregnant or not, you will feel this way. However, the added part when pregnant is that you feel like you definitely didn’t do enough because you didn’t study for as many hours or as many days or do as many practice tests or you took an hour for lunch instead of 30 minutes or you took too many walks in a day or whatever the case many be. You will always feel inadequate because you’re pregnant compared to your friends who aren’t. It’s okay to feel that way as long as you don’t let it consume you.

Test day anxiety is a really thing. I knew several very smart people who couldn’t pass the exam because of test day anxiety (it usually took them more than 3 times to pass). For the bar exam, I adopted the same method I used while in law school for midterms and final exams. Before the test, I take several deep breaths to try to slow my heart rate to an acceptable level. I said a very long and detailed prayer (I’ll give you an example you can steal). And then I took a couple more deep breaths with my eyes closed. After doing this, I knew I was ready for the test. During the test, if I felt like I was starting to get worked up again, I’d repeat the process.

My prayer typically went something like this:

Dear Lord, thank you for this opportunity and being with me today and every day. I’m really freaked out today but I know you are with me and that keeps me steady. I pray you give me the knowledge to answer the questions correctly and to the best of my ability. I pray you give me the strength and energy to get through this exam. And I pray you give me the peace I need to stay calm when I feel like I’m on the wrong track. Be with me, carry me, and be my guide as I navigate this test. In your name I pray, Amen.

One thing I will mention that Professor Basick said is that she has known a lot of women who have taken the bar exam for the first time while pregnant and every single one of them has passed, including me. If that doesn’t give you a confidence boost, I don’t know what will!

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