July 13, 2021

Approaching the Bar: An Analysis of Post-Graduation Bar Exam Study Habits

Joshua L. Jackson and Tiffane Cochran
Research and Data
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For most law graduates, passing the bar exam is the culmination and most critical outcome of their legal education. The typical two months spent preparing after law school graduation are essential to success. However, empirical understanding of post-graduation bar preparation is limited; only a few studies in the legal academy have examined this period.1 Generally, law graduates are advised to treat bar preparation like a full-time job.2 But we lack research and data on the specific time management strategies and tactics that are correlated with bar passage.3 Given impending changes to the bar exam, such inquiries are critical to determining what post-graduation study approaches are currently most effective and what adjustments, if any, should be made to prepare law students for the bar exam of the future.

In an effort to contribute to a better understanding of the post-graduation bar prep period, this report describes the results of a 2017 study AccessLex conducted in the seven weeks leading up to taking the July bar exam, which examined the extent to which graduates’ study habits and non-academic activities predicted their bar exam outcomes. With help from the University of San Diego School of Law and Themis Bar Review, we recruited recent California law school graduates to participate in a daily time-diary survey that would yield insights into how they managed their studies in the weeks leading up to the bar exam. During the seven-week period, survey respondents completed a daily record of their activities in 30-minute increments, based on nine predetermined categories: bar preparation, employment, job search, commuting, personal care, caregiving, leisure, sleep, and “other.” In analyzing the data, we sought to answer the following questions:

  1. To what extent is bar passage associated with the number of hours spent studying? To what extent is bar passage associated with study habits and patterns (e.g., number of study sessions per day)?
  2. To what extent is bar passage associated with the amount of time spent on non-study activities?
  3. To what extent is the amount of study time associated with negative experiences (e.g., feeling unprepared) and mindset during the bar exam?

Overall, this report makes the following observations:

  • The likelihood of bar exam passage is strongly associated with the average number of hours spent studying daily.
  • Although the average length of study session duration has no significant impact on bar passage, higher numbers of daily study sessions lead to a higher probability of bar exam success.
  • Studying earlier in the day is more strongly associated with bar passage than studying at any other time of the day.
  • Employment during the bar preparation period is negatively associated with bar success.
  • Although graduates who study more hours per day are more likely to pass the bar exam, they are more likely to report running out of time on the multiple choice and essay sections of the bar exam. Graduates who studied an average of 10 or more hours per day are the main drivers behind this finding, indicating that there may be diminishing returns to daily averages of study beyond the 10-hour threshold.

Because this report focuses on a small group of firsttime bar takers in California, the findings discussed have limited generalizability and should be considered exploratory in nature. We hope our approach serves as a methodological proof of concept that can be replicated among other legal education researchers and practitioners in other jurisdictions.


1 See, e.g., Andrea A. Curcio, A Better Bar: Why and How the Existing Bar Exam Should Change, 81 Neb. L. Rev. 363, 391 (2002), https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/nebklr81&i=373; Hong Jiang, Andrea A. Curcio & Kim D’Haene, A Preliminary Study Looking Beyond LSAT and LGPA: Factors During the Bar Study Period That May Affect Bar Exam Passage (June 2019), https://www. airweb.org/docs/default-source/documents-for-pages/accesslex/curcioscholarlypaper-2.pdf; Mario W. Mainero, We Should Not Rely on Commercial Bar Reviews to Do Our Job: Why Labor-Intensive Comprehensive Bar Examination Preparation Can and Should Be a Part of the Law School Mission, 19 Chap. L. Rev. 545 (2016), https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/chlr19&i=569; Keith A. Kaufman et al., Passing the Bar Exam: Psychological, Educational, and Demographic Predictors of Success, 57 J. Legal Educ. 205 (2007), https:// heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/jled57&i=213; Patrick E. Shrout et al., The Effects of Daily Support Transactions During Acute Stress: Results from a Diary Study of Bar Exam Preparation, in Support Process es in Intimate Relations hips 175 (Kieran T. Sullivan & Joanne Davila eds., 2010), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237687604_The_Effects_of_Daily_Support_Transactions_During_Acute_Stress_ Results_From_a_Diary_Study_of_Bar_Exam_Preparation.
2 Mainero, supra note 1, at 549. 3 Prior studies have found a link between academic success and time management strategies as well as self-regulated learning strategies. See, e.g., Darren George et al., Time Diary and Questionnaire Assessment of Factors Associated with Academic and Personal Success Among University Undergraduates, 56 J. Am. Coll . Health 706 (2008); Amy Gortner Lahmers & Carl R. Zulauf, Factors Associated with Academic Time Use and Academic Performance of College Students: A Recursive Approach, 41 J. Coll . Student Dev. 544 (2000); Carl R. Zulauf & Amy K. Gortner, Use of Time and Academic Performance of College Students: Does Studying Matter? (August 1999), https:// ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/21547/1/sp99zu01.pdf.