Emond Exam Prep: 11 Do's and Don'ts for the Week Before Your Bar Exams

It is the week before your bar exams, and for many students, panic will be setting in. The bar exams are open-book exams, which you’ll be accustomed to after three years of law school. However they are still unlike any other test you’ve taken. They are much longer, and it is impossible to fully master the thousands of pages on which you will be tested. This can be very unsettling, but take a deep breath, relax, and remember that in a few short weeks the bar exams will be behind you. In the meantime, consider these do’s and don’ts for the week before your exams:

DO finish reading your materials in advance of the final week

Even though you are not expected to memorize the Barrister and Solicitor materials, you must read them through at least one time. Do not leave this to the last minute. If the exam is a week away, you should have finished reading through the materials at least once. You may or may not want to review the materials after the first reading — perhaps just certain sections, perhaps all of it — and the last week is a good time to reacquaint yourself with the content and your study aids.

DO NOT tackle dense material for the first time in the final week

This is not a good time to struggle through challenging material for the very first time. The sleepless nights are simply not worth it, and it will inevitably leave you feeling underprepared and overstressed. You should try to tackle dense material as early in the studying process as possible, to give yourself plenty of time to work through it, and avoid last-minute panic attacks.

DO take practice tests

By this point you will already have finished reading your materials, so the optimal way to be productive is to write practice exams using your study aids. Practice tests are intended to help you understand the ways in which the material you’ve read can be framed as exam questions, evaluate how effective your study aids are, and give you an idea of how much time you have per question. Of course, the practice tests don’t have to be 8-hour long affairs. You can take mini practice tests under timed conditions, a section or two at a time.

DO NOT stay up late cramming

You’ve had plenty of time to prepare for the bar exams, and the week before exams is not the time to pull all-nighters or stay up late watching Netflix. The licensing exams are long and exhausting, and apart from testing your knowledge and test-taking skills, they test your endurance, and your physical and mental wellbeing. Research has shown that sleep is a critical factor in the development and retention of memories, and also enhances the speed and accuracy with which information can be recalled.

DO take steps to regulate your sleep schedule in advance

Make sure you are well-rested the week before your exam so that you are at your best on exam day. If you have trouble sleeping, you’ll need to start thinking well in advance about ways to manage this. Some basic strategies include:

  • Create a habit of going to bed and waking up at a reasonable hour so that your body is not completely in shock on the day of your exam. While this may not be practical year-round, the week before the exams you should be doing what you can to get into bed before 11, and out of bed at the same time as (or earlier than) you’ll be getting up on exam day
  • Avoid consuming caffeine past noon for the final week, and reduce or eliminate consumption of alcohol and other drugs
  • Try to disengage from electronics at least an hour or two before you intend to sleep. Screens act as stimulants that will keep you awake. Instead of watching a movie, opt to dim the lights and read a paperback or listen to a podcast in the evening.

The last thing you want is to be lying in bed wide awake at 3 a.m. the night before your Solicitor exam, knowing that you will have to be awake, alert, and writing a 7-hour-long exam in only a few short hours. Sleep is one of the most powerful biological tools that we have at our disposal, so do not cheat yourself out of its benefits.

DO make all of your arrangements a day or two before

Remember that you are going to have a long, stressful day. Don’t scramble around on the morning of the test trying to get all your things together. Put together a survival pack a day or two before your exam. Carry lots of snacks, but be careful to avoid food stuffs that are not allowed. If you are easily distracted, consider using ear plugs. I am prone to headaches and stomach aches when I’m stressed, so I arm myself with Advil and Pepto-Bismol. Wear comfortable clothing in layers to avoid becoming too hot or too cold.

DO NOT forget to arrange your transportation in advance

You should also know in advance how you are getting to the test centre. Is someone driving you? Will you take a cab? Carpool with friends? If you are using public transit, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to take into account delays and other such contingencies that will inevitably arise when you can least afford them. Even if you are driving, leave half an hour earlier than you normally would to avoid traffic-related interruptions.

DO try to relax and take it easy the night before

Although our natural impulse is to cram before a big exam, the bar exam just doesn’t work that way. In fact, tiring yourself out will be counterproductive. Remember that you’ve done your best and that taking it easy the day before an exam will actually help you perform better on the day. Your body will be rested and your mind will be fresh. Spend time with friends who aren’t taking the bar exams. Go for a walk. Take a bath and listen to your favourite music. Do some deep breathing. Cuddle your dog. Punch a sandbag at the gym. Cook yourself a nice meal. Read a book (a fun, fictional book that doesn’t involve 1600 pages of legal material). The key is to do what it takes to de-stress and put you in a calm, healthy, and confident state of mind.

DO NOT rely on booze or drugs to achieve relaxation

The only relaxants to avoid are alcohol and drugs. These are completely counterproductive to your goals the week and especially the day before the exam. Studies show that even one glass of wine consumed as many as four hours before bed will slow your brain function, interfere with your sleep quality, and leave you groggy on exam day.

DO set a backup alarm for exam day

Most importantly, make sure your alarm is set correctly. In fact, set two alarms. Go to bed early, and get a good night’s sleep. Your brain and body will thank you for being kind to them.

DO plan to celebrate after the Solicitor exam

Give yourself something to look forward to after you finish your last bar exam. Whether this means curling up in sweatpants with a bowl of Kraft Dinner and binge-watching episodes of Orphan Black, or donning your sharpest suit or highest heels to dance the night (and exam stress) away, plan for it and enjoy it!

One day soon you’ll look back with a sigh of relief on the bar exams, which will be well behind you. So keep your eyes on the prize and study hard, eat well, and get enough sleep during that final week. Good luck!

UPCOMING ONTARIO BAR EXAMS DATES

Barrister Exam: Tuesday, March 12, 2019  |  Solicitor Exam: Tuesday, March 26, 2019