Emond Exam Prep: 5 Strategies to Avoid Running Out of Time on the Bar Exam

In an open book exam, effective time management is one of the most critical components of success, and can make or break your mark. Many factors contribute to your time management, including discipline, knowledge of exam content, organization/length of your reference materials, and your level of stress. Here are five simple tips to ensure that you avoid running out of time on the bar exam.

1. Have a plan

The Ontario Bar Exams consist of 240 questions each, within a 7 hour period. This means you have roughly 1 minute and 45 seconds per question during the exam. Knowing this, it is a good idea to plan out your scheduling in advance. You will inevitably gain time on some questions and lose time on others, but if you have specific goals and checkpoints (e.g. at the half-hour mark I should be at question 17), it will help you gauge your time management and keep you disciplined in moving forward.

2. Become intimately familiar with your index

Supporting materials such as a comprehensive and well-organized set of indices can be immensely helpful during the Ontario Bar Exams, and most students come to their exams equipped with this. However, a disorganized or unfamiliar set of indices will put you at a huge disadvantage, because valuable time leaks away as you frantically search for a subject that isn’t listed where you expect it to be. It is common for students to purchase a set of indices online, or collaborate with a group to create them, and either one of these approaches can work perfectly well if you spend the time to review, edit, and practice with the indices. The biggest mistake you can make is to accept a set of indices as-is without bothering to look through them before exam day. You should spend time “studying” with your indices, and write as many practice exams as possible using your indices for reference so that you become familiar with how they have been organized.

3. Treat your reference materials as a supplement, not a crutch

In the stressful situation of a timed exam, it can be tempting to rely completely on your reference materials, and unwittingly treat them as a crutch rather than a supplement. In this scenario, your race against the clock will be hindered by time spent navigating your materials unnecessarily, which will in turn impede your ability to focus on reading and processing the question and answer choices. Before referring to your materials to answer a particular question, always be sure to carefully read the question and each answer choice. This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often students will rush to find the answer in their indices without carefully reading what the options are. Taking a more methodical approach will allow you to:

  • Identify which particular sub-area(s) of the legal topic the question is referring to (e.g. varying a bail order in criminal law, calculating net family property in an equalization claim in family law, etc.)
  • Eliminate any answer choices that you recognize as incorrect or inapplicable to the question (put an “x” next to it to remind yourself that this is not an answer choice that you will be considering)
  • Based on what the question is asking and your narrowed answer choices, determine the most effective way to locate the required information in your reference materials (i.e. through your own summary notes, annotated table of contents, or index, as applicable)

These simple steps will help to keep you focused and efficient in your use of reference materials during the exam, and reduce time wasted looking up information that is not useful to answering the question. Sometimes a careful reading and elimination of incorrect answer choices can lead you to answering the question without needing to refer to your materials. And, if you can’t find the answer quickly, at least you have narrowed your choices for guessing.

4. Know when to move on

Hit a difficult question? A minute and thirty seconds has gone by with no sign of progress? Mark an “x” beside it and come back to it at the end. Spending 5 minutes wrestling with every tough question will mean you run out of time and possibly miss out on questions that you could have easily answered in far less time.

5. Take a deep breath, have a sip of water

For most students, the bar exams are two of the longest and most stressful exams they will ever have to write. They are mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. With that in mind, it is important to consider what you can do to be kind to yourself and stay refreshed throughout the course of the day. It may seem frivolous, but neglecting your needs and allowing yourself to wilt with time will have adverse effects on your performance. To avoid this, every 20 minutes plan to allot yourself a moment or two to take a few deep breaths, take a long drink from your water bottle, or nibble on a snack you brought. If necessary, build this into your schedule.


Barrister Exam: June 1-4 and 8-11, 2021  |  Solicitor Exam: June 22–25 and June 29-July 2, 2021