In my recent post, Your Biggest Challenge, I discussed how important motivation and discipline are for doing a successful self study. In short, if these are not qualities you possess, it is unlikely that you will do what is necessary to pass the exam. A commercial prep course is probably best for you.
Even those who are motivated and disciplined can use a boost. Having a game plan for pushing through those really tough times is a smart idea. Unfortunately, in bar exam world, there aren't a lot of plays to be had. As I discussed in Superbowl Prep for the Bar Exam, one approach is to give yourself a break to refresh. Another is to stalk bar exam blogs like this one for encouragement. The approach I want to discuss at present is finding/building a network of other self studiers.
The first point of business is finding those people. When I re-studied for the exam last year, I knew of classmates who graduated with me who were also re-taking the exam. Thanks to facebook, it only takes a quick glance at their page on bar exam results day to know if they passed or not. I took a calculated risk in messaging one of these friends to inquire if they were going to be sitting for the following administration of the exam. I was really nervous about doing this, because they were in the midst of dealing with the disappointing results. But as I explained that I had to take the exam again too, and wondered if we might support each other and help each other through the process, I think it came across okay. I received a welcome response, as well as information about other classmates who were in our same position. So I gathered us together via email.
The second point of business is turning your network of self studiers into a common resource. Each person is going to have their own needs - their own strengths and weaknesses, their own focus for the exam. Some may be first-timers, some repeaters. Some will be studying full time, some will be working full time. Some may enjoy the school library, some may be home-studiers. Some may have taken a commercial class before, some may be employing a different self study program than you. The key is not to focus on these differences. You don't have to be all doing the same thing to support each other. What you really need is a small group of people to check in on you, to keep you accountable. You need people to email when you're struggling through something and need help.
My own group consisted of 5 people, including myself. I'm pretty sure everyone except me had taken BarBri before. All of us were repeaters. I think all of us had jobs or other full time responsibilities that kept us from studying full time. My intent was for us to get together at least once a week (Saturday or Sunday). For the first meeting, I wanted everyone to bring their past exams so we could compare and learn from our mistakes. Also at this first meeting, each of us was to share our past study experience: what classes and materials we tried, what we thought of them, etc. That way others could benefit from our recommendations if they were considering trying something we already had. After this first meeting, I intended to have us do a 3 hour practice exam at our weekly meetings; the idea being that we rotate through a 3 hour PT, 3 Essays, and 3 hours of MBEs, thereby giving us practice under simulated conditions.
It was like herding cats. It never worked out how I intended it to. Not one meeting was fully attended, and I quickly realized after a short period of time that the weekly meeting idea wouldn't work with my friends. There was always at least one person who couldn't make it for some reason or other. And people showed up late. And we talked.
I still think it's a great idea and would recommend it to those of you who can get a committed group of people together. For whatever reason our group didn't work as I imagined. I think it makes a big difference if you have a group of first timers who are studying full time without family or work responsibilities. That said, my little group was good in other ways. We found that our email group was a great way to communicate throughout the week. If we had a question or issue, we'd email the group or a friend in the group. If one person was looking for audio lectures on Crim Law, someone else in the group always seemed to have it and would email the file. If we were looking for an outline or mnemonics, someone would share theirs. But the biggest help of having this group was merely having a group. Being part of a group where everyone is facing the same challenge and working to succeed. We had a sense of community and knowing we weren't alone, even if we didn't see each other. We had a number of people we could call or email to encourage us when we were frustrated. We all understood each other's pain. Even seeing the emails pass back and forth was a constant reminder of the approaching bar exam and that we needed to continue making progress. This was the biggest benefit to having the group. It helped me keep motivated and disciplined. It helped with feelings of isolation. It also helped knowing that others, like me, were self studying, even though the vast majority of people were taking a commercial prep class.
So to encourage you in building your network, try to get the word out that you are self studying for the exam. See if you can find friends of friends from classes before or after you who are in the same position. Maybe there are other law schools in your area - be bold and put up a flier that you're self studying and want to connect with other self studiers. Decide amongst your group what role you want it to play. Do you want to have a structured practice exam every week? Do you just want to share materials? Let it serve the members of the group.