Creating a system for your bar exam review

A schedule is good. A routine is an improvement. A system is a whole new level.

Majority of bar examinees will design a schedule for their review. Some will develop a routine. Few will create a system.

If you think about it, that is somehow representative of the 80% failure and 20% passing rate. (Those in between are the lucky ones who have somehow lucked out. While luck is a good thing, you may not want to rely on it that much for one of the most important exams in your life.)

Over the years, I’ve been recommending bar examinees to create a system for their review. Unfortunately, only a few understand it, while many tend to think confuse it with making a schedule or setting up a routine. It’s far from it.

Creating a system is being intentional in what you do. You have a clear end-result in mind a system and you have developed processes that gets you to that desired goal.

If you simply have a schedule or routine, your mind will wander off and you’ll find yourself bored, tired, or dozing off. When you go to a law library back then prior to the pandemic, you’ll notice a lot of bar examinees who entered wonderland.

You should know. Your mind needs a target. It is how you can retain your attention for longer periods of time. Studying for 1.5 hours is not a target; what you need to learn for this topic in the syllabus is a target. There is a big difference. For the first one, your mind is simply waiting for tick-tock of the clock which an induce sleep. For the second one, your mind is on alert eager to accomplish the objective.

In addition, a system is a reliable process where the results are always achieved because the proper flow was observed. Think of a car engine, there are various processes underneath the hood that all worked to make it run. At your fast food restaurant, there are several processes that all worked at the kitchen to get you those hamburgers and fries you ordered.

Similarly, you should think of your bar exam review along those lines. Clear goal, clear process, clear execution. Rinse and repeat for the duration of your review.

Here is a guideline to get you started with creating your system. Remember, the key is to intentional. Ask yourself what you need to accomplish and why.

Start with these questions.

1. What time will you sleep?

Your day largely depends on how you slept the night before. It is a no brainer. If you are short on sleep, do not expect to perform optimally.

Determine your time of sleep and stick to it. Obviously, remove distractions to a good sleep. Yes, I’m referring to your mobile device. Read up on Arianna Huffington’s solution to getting a good night sleep. It involves not having any gadgets in your room where you sleep.

2. What time will you wake up?

You have to consistently wake up at the same time of the day. This is to condition your mind to a regular schedule of studying. If you have an erratic waking time, there will be so sense of normalcy which is not a good thing as it promotes confusion to your mind.

As I have repeatedly stressed in other articles, you should pattern your waking hours to the time for the bar exam. Meaning, you should be awake and at your top condition daily from 8:00 am to 12:00 nn and from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, particularly Sundays. These are the time and day when the bar exam is conducted.

Don’t fool yourself. If you regularly sleep late and wake up at noon time or worse in the afternoon, you are asking for it on your bar exam day. Sleep will come knocking. No amount of caffeine taken in or injected into your veins will make up for it. And too, changing your sleeping time months or weeks or days before the bar exam is not going to work. Habits are very hard to break.

3. What will you do after waking up?

Pray. Meditate. Exercise. Journal.

Do what works for you. It is different for everybody. If you could do all of them, then great.

What I did was pray and run 10 kilometers every morning at the Quezon City circle. That’s an hour of running if you’re wondering. On occasions, before breakfast, I meditated and wrote on a journal.

4. What will you eat for your first meal?

As bland as this might sound, you should stick to a routine set of a healthy meal. This will take the time off your schedule to deciding what to eat. Have you noticed how long you sometimes look at the menu? During your review, your mind has enough things to process. You may want to spare it from other decision-making processes.

5. What will you wear?

Similar to No. 4, save yourself the time going through your wardrobe deciding what to wear. Read up on why the late Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg keep wearing the same outfit. It will save you the time and energy if you have a default attire during your review.

6. Where will you go to review?

You should have a go-to place for your review. Your mind should associate these places as where you’ll give complete focus and attention to your review. You are there for a specific purpose, to study. Nothing more, nothing less.

It is recommended that you have at least three (3) places so that you have alternate locations once you start feeling too familiar and comfortable in one area. When that happens, sleep will keep visiting you. Having different ambience now and then will help your mind be more alert and awake.

In my case, my places were: the food court at SM North Edsa from 9:00 am to 12:00 nn (yep, a specific time period only), a McDonalds in Visayas Avenue in the afternoons on weekdays and mornings during weekends, and a wildcard place where there is good sunlight. My criteria were simple: there should be some background noise (as it helped me stay awake), it should be in public (again helped me stay awake, can you imagine sleeping in food court or a McDonalds? Me neither), and it should have good lighting (preferably sunlight) and good airconditioning! Those two places checked all my requirements.

I intentionally did not choose the law library at UP Law as the quietness and repeated sound of photocopying machines made me doze off. To think, ASMR was not yet a thing a decade ago.

7. What will you do during your review?

Don’t just open a book or a reviewer and marathon read. That is not effective. Again, you have to be intentional and purposeful in you approach to reviewing. If not, you’ll easily fall into the trap of slacking off or sleeping through your bar exam review.

Think. What is the most effective way of learning and retaining what you’ve read?

Let me give you a tip. Non nudis pactis sed traditione dominia rerum transferuntur.

In my Property Law subject back then at UP Law, I got asked about the English translation of that latin saying in a recitation. I failed to answer and got me a “sit down, Mr. Del Puerto”. A year later, when my law professor in Succession wanted to give me a 5.0 (that’s a failing mark) for recitation, he asked the same question this time in the reverse – i.e. to give the latin saying after he said the English equivalent (it was a Sucession class! for crying out loud, the worst part of it was that it wasn’t covered by any of our readings for that day, and thus everyone in class gave quizzical looks). Uknown to my Succession law professor, I’ve already been asked that before that somehow it stuck with me, even up to the present now that I’m a lawyer. So, he was surprised (along with the class) and he wittily smiled at me when I managed to give the latin equivalent. By the way, I still got a “sit down” but a better and higher and better grade this time.

So, what’s the lesson here? We’ve already been taught how to better study since kindegartern, elementary, and up to high school. Ever heard of Pre-Test and Post-Test?

If you take a Pre-Test before studying a lesson, your mind will be alerted to questions and concept that you were unable to answer or you have incomplete understanding. Hence, when you proceed to studying the lesson, your mind is more focused and alert as it goes combs through information. When you encounter those standout questions in your books, your attention is called and your mind zooms in to carefully process information. That’s why, you usually perform better during a Post-Test. You also get a good benchmark of your performance and improvement.

8. What is the duration of your study?

Marathon reading is for dummies. The amount of study time does not necessarily correlate to level of understanding or memory retention.

There are many research out there on studying and learning. In my undergraduate, I took up Psychology as a minor. I enrolled in this interesting course called the Psychology of Learning. One of the research I encountered was on how long is an effective class. The answer: 1.5 hours.

That’s the effective time to get and retain a student’s focus and attention. After that, a drastic decrease happens until you lose the student to boredom or distractions. That’s why many classes are developed around the 1.5 hour model with short breaks in between.

The same goes for your studying. Your review is effective for every 1.5 hours only. Going beyond that time will drastically decrease your gains in studying. Your mind will only be doing its job for compliance purposes only. There is really no learning and retention happening.

9. What will you do during your morning break?

Yes, as it strange as it sounds, you also have to plan out your breaks to incorporate them into your system.

Do avoid engaging in any activity that is addictive. During my time, clash of clans was all the rage. Start a few games and next thing you know hours have passed by. It can be difficult to fight the dopamine that your brain is getting from playing the game. Hence, better not start.

Note that there are many alternative and healthy alternatives out there. You can take a walk, talk to someone, listen to music, or do some cleaning. Whatever works for you to help your mind unwind.

10. What will you do to get back to studying after a break?

Getting back in the zone or recovering your focus can be tough. You have to figure out how you can regain that state of mind ideal for studying.

For some, music helps in getting into the mood. It’s what some call their “bar exam song” or “fight song”. By listenting to it, their mind is given the cue and motivation to continue studying.

11. What will you do during your review?

Go back to No. 7.

I’ve deliberately included No. 11 to remind you to be mindful and intentional. Your second run of studying after taking a rest should also be planned out. Do you read, answer write on your notes, take tests, listen to recording, etc.? Be deliberate with your choices.

12. What is the duration of your study?

Similar to No. 8.

Put the brakes on when it is time to stop. Again, marathon reading serves no one. You have conserve your energy and focus. The bar exam review is a long journey. You don’t want to burn out just after 2 months of review.

Rest is as important as studying.

13. What will you eat for your next meal?

Similar to No. 4.

You should have a good idea by now that you need a food plan. And yes, it should consist of healthy food. Preferably, these should not take a long time to prepare, particularly if you are the one cooking. As with choosing what to wear, you should cut down time for decision-making. This will help lessen any further processing by your mind.

You should have a good idea by now that you need a food plan. And yes, it should consist of healthy food. Preferably, these should not take a long time to prepare, particularly if you are the one cooking. As with choosing what to wear, you should cut down time for decision-making. This will help lessen any further processing by your mind.

14. What will you do after finishing your meal?

15. What will you do to get back to studying?

16. What will you do during your study?

17. What is the duration of your study?

18. What will you do during your afternoon break?

19. What will you do to get back to studying after your break?

20. What is the duration of your study?

21. What will eat for your next meal?

22. What will you do after finishing your meal?