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by Ashley Reed | August 03, 2020

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The main lesson from this year is that things do not always occur according to plan. Unfortunately, even bar-prep plans can unravel due to unforeseeable circumstances—something I learned the hard way last month.

I am currently preparing for the bar and have dedicated most of my summer to bar prep. My studies came to a halt, however, when I got a phone call that my father had a heart attack. My father’s well-being immediately became my main priority. When I crawled into bed that night, I called my mother and asked her if I should defer to the February bar exam because of the lack of certainty surrounding my father’s situation. Ultimately, I decided to continue with my bar prep plans to the best of my abilities because my father was able to recover quickly.

After looking at posts on a bar prep Facebook group, it became clear that many bar preppers face emergencies during this already stressful period. One member wrote that she is considering deferring because her father recently passed away while another worried that she would not have enough time to catch up and be adequately prepared after spending over a week in the hospital.

The question bar preppers must face is whether or not to defer. Deferring may be appropriate for several reasons—e.g., you won’t be able to keep up with studies, you are too distracted by the circumstances, you are concerned about your mental health, etc.

If you are currently wondering whether to continue with your original bar prep plan, here are some things to consider:

Take a Moment.

First and foremost, it is crucial to take a moment to assess everything, especially yourself. You will be unable to get back on track if you do not take care of yourself first. If you do not address your emotions and situation, you will not be able to move forward. Whether to defer or not depends on how you will be able to cope and whether you will be able to study sufficiently.

Recognize that you are going through a challenging time and that things are different than what you originally planned. Do not be afraid to reach out to a therapist or even to trusted friends and family members. 

Gain a Better Understanding of the Situation.

You can’t make a decision until you understand your situation and the process to defer. Something to consider is how long the current circumstances will last. If the time period is unclear, then you need to decide if you are prepared to move forward with uncertainty.

Assess Your Progress.

Most courses have progress trackers that will indicate if you are behind. After looking at your tracker, schedule an appointment with your bar prep advisor to discuss whether you can realistically catch up and be adequately prepared for the bar exam. Don’t just look at your current progress, however. Evaluate your study schedule going forward and determine whether you can reasonably follow along and keep up with it. It is critical to put aside your pride here and take a hard look at what you truly have time to accomplish given this new circumstance in your life. Not being able to keep up with the study schedule is not a reflection of your work ethic.

On the flip side, taking a hard look at the schedule may reveal that you do, in fact, have time to dedicate. And for some, keeping on track may be a positive thing. This is a personal choice.

Consider the Effects.

Two important factors take into account if you are considering delaying your bar plans are your financial situation and professional goals. Will you be able to afford to take more than one bar exam? Are there upcoming fellowships or jobs you want to apply for that you won’t be able to if you defer? Do you already have a job that expects you to take the upcoming bar exam? Financial concerns and potential loss of a job opportunity will add additional stress, so make sure that you weigh these items and speak to relevant people who can give you more insight—whether that is your new boss, financial planner, law school career services counselor, a family member, or someone else you trust.

Alternatively, you may be at a stage in your life where you have flexibility and can delay your plans without major stress.

Find a Support Net.

Having a person or an entire support system is a vital tool for everyone to succeed, especially when facing bar exam stress. It is important not to be afraid to lean on other people—they will be able to act as a soundboard and provide comfort that you may not be able to give yourself. Talk to someone who you trust, whether it is a close friend, a parent, or a counselor, about how you are handling the stress. Or take time to relax with family or friends—even if it is through a Zoom chat—as a means of stress relief.

Mental Health Is Everything.

The bar exam comes around twice a year—it will be here for you when you are ready. Much more important than the bar is your mental health. It will be difficult for you to face the emergency at hand and the bar exam if you do not take care of your mental health. Without proper care for your mental health, you will likely not be able to focus and be as productive as you want to be. If you feel like you are becoming anxious or depressed, reach out to a therapist who can assist you or to NAMI, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. You can also check with your law school for recommended mental health resources.

Don’t Feel Bad for Deferring.

Many people avoid delaying taking the exam because they think that this means that they are weak. On the contrary, being self-aware is an excellent quality to have because it means that you are aware of your situation and limitations.  You are going to face many more hurdles in your legal career; understanding your limits is a valuable tool.

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