How to motivate for bar exam studies

By Sara Berman

The bar exam is rough – everyone knows it. It is your “key card” into a profession you’ve sought to be part of for years, sometimes decades.  You know you must find total concentration (and hopefully “flow”) – but, after all that time, it also perfectly normal to feel burned out – especially given how difficult the last year and a half has been. 

In this short piece, we’ll focus on just a few motivation tools.  A quick caveat, serious mental health and wellness challenges are real and rising in law student and attorney populations. 

So, get the help you need if you need it. (See the many resources at the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (americanbar.org), including the LAP Directory (americanbar.org).)   

What is motivation? Some describe it as an urge or driving force. There are internal and external motivators – both can exist simultaneously. External motivators might include money or praise, or avoiding suffering or punishment? 

Some people who have job offers pending that require bar passage find great motivation both in the excitement of the new work and in the fear of possibly losing the job. The same can be true of people who will be looking for employment after taking the bar exam – knowing how much easier it will be to find a position having passed may be a powerful motivator; not being ready to or not wanting to “be a lawyer” can drain motivation.

I think about internal motivation as, “Finding your why.”  Why did you go to law school, and why did you stay and graduate?  You may have been driven by deep family hopes and sacrifices, basic survival and financial necessity (perhaps supporting others and yourself), inner dreams (maybe emulating a hero –or wanting a career in law to feel empowered). 

Whatever the reasons are that brought you here in the first place, write them down and read them daily – especially when you aren’t feeling it.  On dark days, when you forget rules, you knew or realize just how many rules you’ve never heard of and must still master, keep your purpose front and center. 

Remember, there is no judgement here; one motivator is not inherently better than another. And, you don’t even have to tell anyone what motivates you. You just need to find the drive and keep it going steadily through the entire bar prep marathon. 

What makes me think you can succeed?  Consider the most challenging things you’ve ever done. What drove you to success before?  Did you get through college and law school as a first gen student?  What got you to do that hard work?   Did you have a job you thought you couldn’t do?  What made you stick with it when others around you gave up?  Did you live through trauma?  What made you rise each morning and push on? 

You’ve got what it takes, or you wouldn’t be here. Get clear on your motivators, feel them powerfully, and push on. The effort is so worth it. You future lawyers are our future leaders.


 Sara Berman is director of Academic and Bar Success Programs at AccessLex Institute and the author of many books and articles on how to pass the bar exam.


 

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