Published: Jul 07, 2021
When you’re preparing for the bar exam, you hope that your support system will be there to cheer you on at every high-stress step along the way, not to mention celebrate with you when it’s over. After all, this exam is a big deal for you and your legal career—it’s the grand finale after years of hard work. But unfortunately, life—including your significant other—often has other plans, even during bar prep when it feels like everything not related to the bar should be on hold.
If you find yourself going through a breakup during bar exam prep, I won’t sugarcoat it: It’s not a great place to find yourself. Not only do you have to try to move forward with your study schedule—which is stressful enough—but you have to do so while dealing with the fallout of a relationship and the corresponding emotional roller coaster.
A bar exam breakup is difficult, and it can be isolating while the rest of your bar-taking friends continue their prep seemingly unscathed. Conversations about completion percentages and tricky MBE answers might seem less important than before. For starters, know that you are not alone. Whether you’ve been dumped or are dealing with a different personal situation, there are other bar preppers out there experiencing a hard time too. And while it might feel catastrophic now, you WILL get through this. Here are a few tips from someone who was in your shoes and went on to pass the exam.
Lean on your support system.
Now more than ever is a time to lean on the people in your life who still very much care about you and your success. Help your friends and family help you by letting them know what you need, whether that’s assistance with meals or errands, a plan to meet for a walk, daily motivational quotes, or just being there to listen when you need to vent. Another great place to find support is with fellow bar takers who are also going through difficult situations. Try reaching out on social media platforms—there are plenty of groups out there for bar exam takers on Facebook, Reddit, etc.—and see if you can find a buddy or two for commiseration and accountability. And if you are really struggling and need extra support, there is no shame in reaching out to a therapist or counselor for more-structured help during this time.
Eat and sleep.
I know, this advice may seem laughable when you’re going through a painful breakup. Things like “eat a hearty breakfast” and “get a full nine hours of sleep” are the least of your concerns. But here’s the thing: You will not be able to do much of anything, let alone study for the bar exam, if you don’t put at least a little bit of effort into maintaining your physical well-being. This doesn’t have to look perfect or even close—in fact, feel free to disregard traditional wellness advice for a while, especially if you’re struggling to eat or sleep altogether. Personally, I could only stomach sugar (undying sweet tooth for the win), so I lived off of cupcakes for a week. Not the most nourishing, but better than nothing at all. And once my body realized it need more than frosting, I relied on delivery and comfort food until I felt like cooking healthy meals again. As for sleeping, I took naps throughout the day because I found myself staying awake most nights, but again—at least I got rest that way. This might sound unconventional as far as bar prep advice goes—and it is—but you’re in an unconventional bar prep situation. Be kind to yourself, and do what you can to take care of yourself, even if that’s a bizarre diet and sleep schedule.
Use emotions to your advantage.
You’ll cycle through endless emotions during your breakup, and yes, you will have to process them all as part of the healing process. But here’s the thing: Right now, you need to focus on the bar exam, and that in and of itself is an emotional challenge. So how can you cope with all of it? For now, try to focus on the emotions that will fuel you through bar prep, channel them the best you can, and tell yourself you can deal with the rest after the exam. I chose to channel anger (which seems fair—who dumps someone during bar prep?!) and used it to work even harder—I wanted to prove that I would still pass the exam. It might sound silly, but now is the time for mantras like, “I didn’t work this hard to have someone else ruin it now.” This is also the time to channel the greatest fictional lawyer of our time and ask yourself, “What would Elle Woods do?” I think we all know exactly what she would do: She wouldn’t let her ex bring her down—she’d go on to ace the bar exam!
It’s okay to cry.
Elle Woods-attitude aside, there will be times when you just need to feel your feelings. Don’t try to fight them. Emotions don’t make you weak or unproductive—in fact, getting them off your chest will often enable you to better focus on studying afterwards. Allow yourself the leniency in your schedule to take breaks when you need a good cry (or to watch a tv show or to go on a walk). And if you’re worried about your emotions during the exam itself, don’t be—give yourself permission to get through it any way you can. I cried during the entire two-day exam, and I’m pretty sure people thought I was having a breakdown related to a lack of studying. And you know what? That’s fine. You’re not there to worry about what other people think about you. You’re there to take and pass the exam. If that means packing extra tissues and spending lunch breaks alone in the bathroom, okay then. (And you probably won’t be the only person who sheds a few tears during the exam, whether for personal reasons or reasons related the the exam.)
Look to the future.
Not to get sappy, but you have an incredibly bright future ahead of you once you’ve made it past the bar exam milestone. Things won’t always feel as tough as they do right now. When the bar exam is over, you will hopefully be able to take some time to disconnect, relax, and focus on yourself. This is also a great time to plan a post-bar trip with friends or a solo adventure (highly recommend!) to give yourself something to be excited about. And after that, you have your legal career to look forward to. You’ve finally reached the most exciting part of your legal education: getting to do real legal work as a real attorney! And you’re going to be great at it—so take that, ex.
While the stress of the bar exam can be overwhelming, there is one bright spot to look forward to: your post-exam bar trip. Planning a memorable trip after the bar exam is a favorite tradition among recent law grads—from relaxing at a tropical location to jetsetting around the globe.
The journey to becoming an attorney is a windy road filled with late-night study sessions, high-pressure exams, and tough competition—all of which can contribute to mental health challenges. With an estimated 40% of law students experiencing depression by graduation, it is important to understand that you are not alone if you are suffering from depression.