The bar exam is, without a doubt, the biggest exam of your life. And, coming right out of law school, most grads are eager to register right away and get it over with, so that they can embark upon a career in law.

The question is: when should you start studying for the bar exam? Naturally, if you’re fresh out of law school, you’re going to want to take a few weeks off to congratulate yourself on surviving; maybe take a little vacation for some much-deserved R&R. But how much time should you give yourself before you start studying for the bar exam?

We’re going to answer this question RIGHT NOW! But first, allow us first to introduce ourselves ...

Hi, we’re Brainscape!

We’re the brains, minds, and hearts behind the world’s smartest study app for bar prep. Together with our team of law experts, we’ve curated a comprehensive collection of study guides (like this one) and certified adaptive flashcards for the MBE to help you study for the bar exam way more efficiently (especially if you start early). More on that in a bit.

We've also packaged these flashcards in a podcast, with each episode containing 10 questions and answers, read aloud by our law partner. By listening to this in whatever free time you have (or when you're doing mundane things like driving, running, or cooking), you can actively practice your law content knowledge anytime, anywhere. For more information, check out 'The best podcast for law students & bar exam prep'.

Now that you know a little more about who we are (and how it is that we know what we’re talking about) let’s answer that question: when should I start studying for the bar exam?

When should I start studying for the bar exam?

Overwhelmed by studying

Look, everyone’s different, but the general recommendation for students who are studying full time is that they put in 40 to 50 hours of studying per week and start at least nine weeks before their bar exam date.

So, for example, if you’re taking the bar exam on February 22 - 23, 2022, you should start studying on December 21, 2021 (on the winter solstice, baby!) OR, if you’re taking the bar exam on July 26 - 27, 2022, you should start on May 24, 2022.

Remember, however: this is a minimum recommendation for full-time students. To be safe—you know, in case you come down with the flu or have a few unproductive days of procrastination—I’d recommend slapping an additional week or two onto this forecast.

If, on the other hand, you’re working part- or even full-time, you’re going to have to spread the same amount of total study (360 to 450 hours) over a longer period of time. And that’ll be up to you to work out. Either way, it’s totally doable and you’ve got what it takes!

Pssst! Check out these 12 top apps for law students and bar prep.

How many hours a day should I study for the bar exam?

How many hours to study per day

If you start studying 9 weeks before the bar exam and treat it like a full-time job, you’re looking at 8-hour days, Monday to Friday, for a total of 40 hours per week. But you can chop it up however you want. In fact, here are some examples of study schedules (all assuming you’re working to a total of 40 hours per week, for 9 weeks in total):

  • 8-Hour study days, Monday to Friday, Saturday and Sunday off
  • 6.5-Hour study days, Monday to Saturday, Sunday off.
  • 6-Hour study days, Monday to Friday; 5-hour study sessions on Saturday and Sunday
  • 7-Hour study days, Monday to Friday, 2 to 3-hour study sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

Of course, you can play around with your time distributions if you start studying for the bar exam earlier … say, a week or two before. It all depends on YOU. Whichever way you swing it, there are three important things to remember:

  1. It’s better to spread your studying out than cram;
  2. Study breaks are essential for managing stress and staying motivated; and
  3. There is a study tool that can help you efficiently nail the necessary (and total pain-in-the-butt) content memorization aspect of the bar exam, and I’m gonna tell you a little bit about that right after this pro tip ...

Pro Tip: Long study sessions burning you out? Mix up your study modes and media so that you stay engaged. For example, spend an hour reviewing older content (Brainscape’s certified MBE flashcards automate this for you); 2 to 3 hours learning new content through textbooks, lecture videos, taking notes, etc; and 2 to 3 hours practicing questions.

Also, check out our advice videos on Brainscape’s Law YouTube channel, like this one …

How you can accelerate your learning with Brainscape

Okay, so about that study tool. It’s Brainscape!

Brainscape's MBE collection contains over 2,600 flashcards that provide an in-depth review of EVERY major subject area on the MBE, distilling all that content down into its most essential facts. This saves you a ton of work on determining what’s important to know versus what’s secondary.

Brainscape distills down each subject, like Constitutional Law (as you can see in the image above), into a collection of neatly-organized flashcards, which you can study efficiently anytime, anywhere via web or mobile app. We’ll also help you keep track of your mastery as you progress, taking the stress out of time management.

But the real “secret sauce” to these flashcards, which are an excellent supplement to any review course or self-study schedule, is that they leverage the way your brain is biologically hardwired to help you learn more efficiently.

How? Through our crafty algorithm that delivers law content to your brain in a way that optimizes its ability to retain that information. And it’s this spaced repetition at precisely the right interval for YOUR brain that makes Brainscape so effective for remembering the mountain of law content you need to memorize in order to smash the bar.

So, if you’re curious, check out Brainscape’s certified MBE flashcards and start studying TWICE as efficiently as you can using more traditional study techniques.

Also, make use of Brainscape’s hands-free MBE podcast, which can turn any mundane task (like cleaning, driving, exercising, in transit, between lectures, etc.) into a ripe opportunity to review and memorize the most essential knowledge you need to know! Through active learning, our FREE podcast offers an efficient way to repurpose “down time” for learning, helping you progress quicker through your law content.

Okay, now back to when you should start studying for the bar exam ...

What if I’m a repeat test taker?

Taking the bar exam

The advice I’ve provided up until this point has been for first-time test takers. But if this is the second or third (or more) time you’re taking the bar exam, there are certain things you just don’t need to do all over again, like watching all of the lectures, for example. So, in theory, it shouldn’t take you as long.

But, having said that, you’ve certainly still got your work cut out for you! Right now is to figure out where you went wrong, where your weaknesses lie, and how to attack them in a systematic manner until you are a merciless bar exam assassin. For the best advice on exactly how to do that, check out: ‘How to study for the bar exam more efficiently’.

You might also want to read ‘The biggest reasons people fail the bar exam’ to see which of the common traps you may have fallen into and how to avoid them next time.

In terms of when you should start studying for the bar exam (round two), it’s a little harder to say because you may have failed by a hair’s breadth ... or you might have flunked it completely. How far off the mark you were will determine how much work is needed to get you ready for your next attempt.

Either way, take a week or two (in addition to your new study schedule) to get over the disappointment. And if you work hard, study efficiently, and polish up those critical thinking skills, you should definitely be able to register for the next bar exam administration.

Before I leave you, a cautionary tale ...

Important to know for the bar exam

So, we’ve answered the question: “When should I start studying for the bar?” and even given you a little inspiration on the variety of study schedules you might follow, depending on how you like to portion out your workload.

But this discourse on studying for the bar exam wouldn’t be complete if I left you without a stern word of warning. You see, some students like to put off their bar exam prep until a few weeks before the exam, stating that they just “work better under pressure”.

The thing is, you cannot even begin to understand the nature of bar exam stress until you’ve felt its sickly grips around your throat. Also, there is a MOUNTAIN of work to get through: and not just content memorization, either. Learning how to answer bar exam questions, which are notoriously tricky, is a skill that requires dogged practice.

So my final tidbit of advice to you is to start studying for the bar exam early, at least nine weeks before. DO NOT CRAM. Remember: if you portion out your work into daily, achievable study goals, you will arrive at the bar exam ready and prepared to rise to your challenge!

Additional bar exam resources to check out: