It's bar study season, once again. If you're one of the many thousands of miserable JDs currently in that process, it's not going to be a picnic for you. Unless you really hate picnics and find them ant filled, sun-screen coated miseries, in which case, it will be exactly like a 2-month-long picnic.
Here are 5 things that many lawyers wish they knew about studying for the bar that we are pretty sure they didn't, at the time.
1. It's expensive. In other words, you will be broke. The bar does not leave much time for you to commit to your other sources of income. The exam costs a few hundred, a prep course is at least a couple thousand, and you still have to feed yourself. Be prepared for how you are going to cover your necessary expenses, so that you don't have to deal with that additional stress.
2. You don't need to know everything. You really, really don't. You do need to be in bed with IRAC, though, and sound like a lawyer. But, in general, citing every little rule from your outline isn't necessary. Show an understanding of the law, yes, but you mostly need to be able to analyze the issues. So, while rules are important, don't fret if you get a word or factor slightly off. Bar graders scarily spend very little time reading your essays, and they won't be impressed if you submit just pages of regurgitated rules with no explanation (they'll mostly be annoyed).
3. A bar prep course is not the be-all end-all. Bar prep courses are useful in that they create a structured study guide, but it's not a secret society with a goldmine of answers that you're getting. Sorry, it's still black letter law that you need to know. Remember that you know yourself best. If you find that a method they are assigning you isn't working, find another way that works for you.
4. Your non-law friends and family members aren't going to fully get it. The bar exam is universally known, yes. But, that may be the extent of what non-law folks will get. To them, it's just another icky law-related test. For you, it might be like fighting a war and coming out of it with PTSD. It's a niche process, to say the least, and while your family and friends are always good for support, it may be useful to lean on those who have been through this before or are now in it with you. There's nothing like camaraderie in the trenches.
5. Mental breakdowns are normal. It's inevitable that there's going to be one, or two (or daily) moments where you assume the fetal position and feel like your head's going to explode. Part of the battle of the bar is that there is a huge mental component to it and it's not just "studying." Remember that breaks (during and after) are both healthy and necessary. You will be far more efficient if you are well-rested - both physically and emotionally.
Editor's Note, June 7, 2016: This post was first published in June, 2013. It has since been updated.