Like most, I took my first bar exam immediately after law school, while unmarried and childless in my early twenties. It was a tremendous challenge all by itself, so I couldn’t imagine taking the exam with additional responsibilities in my personal life.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m the mother of a two year old and pregnant again. We had recently relocated from Virginia to Ohio for my husband’s job, and the opportunities for legal positions that did not require local bar admission weren’t very promising. I hadn’t practiced long enough in Virginia to waive in, so I was required to take the bar exam if I wanted to practice law in Ohio.
I did not know anyone that had taken the bar exam while pregnant, and the idea of being hours away from my doctor and family for three days to take the test made me nervous. Not to mention, the distractions of having tiny feet kicking me in the ribs as I tried to study and concentrate, the notorious “pregnancy brain,” feeling exhausted all the time, and the precious study time I would lose going to my many prenatal doctor’s appointments, not to mention time taking care of my toddler. An internet search for advice was not helpful – I just found terrifying news articles about women who went into labor during the exam itself.
Despite these obstacles and uncertainties, I was able to successfully pass the Ohio bar exam and gave birth to my son three weeks later. Here is what worked for me:
Figure out the timing
My options were 1) take the next bar exam I was eligible to sit for, during which I would be 8 months pregnant, or 2) wait until the following exam when I had a six month old. While taking the exam that close to my due date seemed a little crazy, the prospect of taking it with a newborn, while breastfeeding and getting little to no sleep sounded even worse. Each woman may feel differently on the best time given her own circumstances and will want to consult her doctor too.
Maximize your study time
As a parent and/or pregnant woman, you won’t have as much free time to study as most test-takers, especially if you are working too. So be diligent about studying efficiently when you do have that precious uninterrupted time. If you are going to lose a few hours due to a long doctor’s appointment, or spending most of a weekend taking care of items on your baby-preparation list, try to make up that time another day that week.
If you already have a child, having a family member or friend help out for a few hours on the weekends is essential, as you do need to study almost every day to cram all of that knowledge into your brain. Be prepared for additional mom guilt, as you will not be able to spend as much time with your little one as you usually do. Having special, one on one outings together helps. I avoided studying when I was home alone with my toddler, so I could be fully present when we were together. Think quality of study time versus quantity: it is impossible to memorize the rules of evidence with cartoons in the background.
Find creative ways to study
My bar preparation program had a mobile app, of which I took full advantage. It was helpful to be able to take practice multiple choice tests on my phone while waiting for doctor’s appointments and as a passenger on family car trips. I took my flashcards everywhere. I also learned to study in other environments – during our 4th of July vacation, I listened to lectures by the pool during naptime and outlined late at night in a hotel conference room.
Take care of yourself
If you are exhausted, take a short nap. You’ll lose a little study time, but hopefully it will refresh you so that you can be more productive when you get back to it. I tried to exercise every day, even if it was just to take stretch breaks or go for a walk. You are undertaking something incredibly challenging, so treat yourself to massages, special study snacks, nights out with your partner, and maybe even a short vacation. It helps to have things to look forward to so that you aren’t miserable the entire bar preparation period.
If you are staying at a hotel to take the bar exam, try to enjoy the time as much as possible. At this point, you have studied as much as you can. Order room service or go to a nice restaurant, go for a swim in the pool, or take a yoga class to help relax you and prepare you for sitting still for hours during the exam.
Inquire if your state’s bar examiners will allow you to sit close to the bathroom and have snacks, water, and medication at your test table. If you are a new mom, you may also get accommodations to pump during the test day.
It helped ease a lot of my test-taking anxiety to be thoroughly prepared, and not just when it came to the legal knowledge. So much is beyond your control, so it helps to minimize uncertainty and nervousness in the areas you can control. Research the nearest hospital to the bar exam site in case you might need it, and ask your obstetrician for recommendations. Figure out all logistics (hotel, parking, transportation, food) well in advance. Walk around the test venue the day before if you can. I even scheduled a doctor’s appointment the day before I drove to the city of the bar exam to make sure I wasn’t showing signs of early labor.
To help with being away from my toddler, we had a video chat call every evening I was away, and my husband took her out to her favorite restaurant the first night. I packed all of her lunches for school before I left. Knowing she was happy and felt very loved helped me to worry less.
I hope you will find my experiences helpful should you attempt to take the bar exam pregnant or with small children at home. Women are strong and do amazing things at all stages in life, and this is a challenge you can excel at too!