study too much

Bar Exam: Can You Study Too Much?

By Aaron Oustrich
Updated: June 10, 2020

Preparing for the bar exam might be one of the most stressful periods in a law student’s life. Years of dreaming of becoming a lawyer and thousands of dollars invested in formal education have prepared you for one test. The natural reaction to that type of pressure is extreme dedication to studying. I will never say the bar exam is something to be taken lightly, but I fear too many hopeful test-takers take the test too seriously.

In economic theory, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns states, “[A]t some point, adding an additional factor of production results in smaller increases in output.” In bar prep terms, it means that after a certain point, an extra hour of studying will not help you get a higher score. This law is better understood by knowing the resources available on hand.

Fixed resources

Time is always a fixed resource because it never stops progressing, so deadlines are always decreasing their distance from us. Try as you will, time will never bend to your will, but you can bend yourself to time’s will by having a consistent studying schedule. Every day of the week has 86,400 seconds in which to accomplish all our tasks.

Though you are closer to the freedom from student loans and repetitive ramen dinners than a college freshman, money is most likely a fixed resource for you. Some may reasonably think, “Well, if I’ve already spent $X thousand dollars on my education, why not spend up to three thousand more on a bar prep course?” Purchasing a bar prep course is a sound investment, but as with all capital gains, the most expensive option does not always yield the most dividends. Crushendo lies at the intersection of reasonable pricing and great results.

Perhaps the most relevant fixed resource to which more attention should be focused is your individual mental capacity and stamina. We all wish we could run the mental marathon of studying all day, but while some can, others can only run the 5k or half marathon versions. Know your mental limits and actively push them, but not past the breaking point.

Variable resources

While time is a fixed resource, the way we spend our time is variable. Knowing how many hours to devote to studying torts or real estate law is just as important as knowing the aggregate hours we should use to study.

Are you hoping to defend the Constitution? Then you might not have to spend as much time preparing for those questions since your interest in the field allows the material to come more naturally to you. Do you want to defend the rights of the family? You probably find yourself needing to study other topics like property law or secured transactions more. Don’t ignore studying your strengths, but leverage your strengths to know what weaknesses need your attention the most.

Practice tests, flashcards, audio outlines, study guides, scholarly articles, and mnemonic devices are all great tools in your bar exam preparation, but even these are variable resources. The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns asserts that, at some point, adding an extra variable resource to your fixed resources will yield a decrease in output (a lower exam score).

Ceteris paribus

Ceteris paribus is a Latin phrase that translates roughly to “other things being equal.” Economists use this term to focus on one variable’s effect on everything else. Preparing for the bar exam is a full-time job, and I would recommend at least 40 hours of study each week, but before scheduling 41 hours of study time, consider the consequences. James Clear says, “When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option… No is a decision. Yes is a responsibility.”

If you were to add an extra hour of studying, you would remove all other variable uses of your fixed time. Perhaps you don’t need to follow an economical approach to your bar exam preparation, but this approach shows that it is possible to study too much for the bar exam. One more outline or practice test can be helpful for your preparation, but adding one more hour of sleep or another activity to destress or focus on mindfulness might do more for you in the long run.

So study hard and study diligently over several weeks or months. Dedicate yourself to the bar exam and try harder to succeed at it than you have ever tried to succeed at anything else. But remember that, according to the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns, you might work too hard or be too stressed and decrease the output of your studying. I have no clue when you will reach that point (and if you don’t take your preparation seriously, you never will) but remember that it’s okay, and economically sound, to take a break or to sleep in a little bit or to laugh a little harder with your friends. I don’t need to tell you how important the bar exam is, but I hope to remind you how important you and your mental health are.

About the author

Aaron Oustrich is a student at Brigham Young University who enjoys reading, writing, learning, and thinking.

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