Due to the new online exam format, you are now free to stop worrying about things like where to plug in your laptop, where you will be seated in the testing center, and how to deal with all the sounds and distractions around you on exam day. Yay! Good times.
However, there are, of course, new areas of concern: Is the test even going forward as planned? What if my laptop or the testing software or my wifi crashes?
No matter what ends up going down on test day, here are five tips to help you stay relaxed and focused in the week leading up to your bar exam.
1. Create calming morning and evening routines
When it comes to bar study, I’ve noticed that anxiety about the exam can hit you like a wave. It may quietly build under the surface for some time, but it’s going to crash over you at some point. It’s almost like studying hard throughout the day can act as sort of a dam, but once you set down the outlines and put away your laptop, the dam breaks loose and anxiety floods its way right in.
I’ve noticed these moments of anxiety amongst my bar students tend to happen first thing in the morning and right as they’re trying to fall asleep at night, or so they tell me. In other words, once their minds aren’t inundated with study tasks, that space opens up and all kinds of pandemonium breaks loose.
My solution is to come up with both morning and evening routines that help you stay calm. Especially in the week before the exam, but, really, all the way through bar study you need to give yourself some quiet time to: (1) feel any anxiety that’s coming up, (2) Let it wash over you, and (3) Give yourself a chance to practice dealing with it.
Meditation can really help with keeping calm. Some other soothing activities might include sniper breathing, sipping a hot cup of tea, having a laugh, or taking a warm shower or bath and forcing yourself to think about something other than the exam. Easier said than done, I know!
2. Channel your energy into practicing under exam-conditions
In the week before the bar, most of my students usually say they feel a combination of:
“I just want to get it over with”
“I wish I had more time to study”
You might feel exhausted or amped up, or even vacillate between both feelings multiple times in the same day. That’s totally normal too! What you need to do is muster some energy and channel it into doing “real” exam-day practice.
What do I mean by that?
- Try out the online exam software and decide your best method for essay planning (Should you use the virtual scratch paper pop-up? Just use the essay writing screen instead?)
- Do real past exam essays and PTs under timed conditions
- Set up “surprise” essays for yourself (where you don’t know what the subject will be until you start your one-hour practice clock. Hint: save multiple fact pattern pdfs with the essay subject deleted from the file name, but keep the exam date so you can find the sample answers easily later)
- Complete “back-to-back” practice (MBEs then a PT, or essay, break, then another essay)
- Challenge yourself on a full mock exam day (not the day before the exam, earlier)
3. Make your own exam-day checklist
Even if you’ve taken the California bar exam before, this new online format has a lot of changes in store for you! Obviously, there are circumstances you simply can’t anticipate that are totally outside your control (like the exam software main page getting hacked). However, if there’s anything you can prepare for, you should!
Here are my ideas for your pre-exam-day checklist:
- Are all my supplies compliant with the State Bar’s rules? (earplugs, clock, blank scratch paper for the PTs only)
- Is all my technology in order? (laptop, wifi, webcam, etc.)
- Is my fuel readily accessible and outside the exam room? (lunch, water, caffeine if you need it, meds if you take any, etc.)
- What am I wearing to the exam sessions? (pro-tip, the words “shirtless” and “lawyer” have no place together)
- Is my phone charged and ready outside the exam room in case I need to call tech support quickly? (hopefully you don’t!)
- Have I bookmarked any important websites and phone numbers? (exam software login page, password page, exam software tech support, etc.)
- What is my melt-down plan if things should go atrociously wrong? (hint: don’t leave the exam room if the clock is still running)
4. See yourself acing the exam
When I was studying for the bar exam, I did a wind-down routine every night that involved “seeing” myself passing. I’m not talking about thinking happy thoughts or crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. I would actually walk myself (in painstaking detail) through the steps I would take on exam day and imagine things going really well—even better than expected.
It went like this: I would close my eyes and imagine settling myself in front of my laptop, taking a deep breath and opening the exam. I would visualize feeling completely calm and ready. I would see myself planning out my answers and imagine feeling that “in the zone” “flow” kind of feeling. You know when you just know you’re doing a good job? I tried to incorporate as much realistic detail as possible—how the keyboard felt against my fingertips, the sound of my typing, but mostly that feeling of preparedness and confidence.
I’ve heard Olympic gymnasts gain self-assurance and reinforce their skills by mentally watching their routines playing out before going to the mat and performing them. They can actually watch themselves as if it were a movie. Why not try the same thing? Cue up the mental movie of you acing your bar exam. Try watching it instead of Netflix as you doze off each night. Worst case scenario you lay there closing your eyes and the whole thing gets so mind-numbingly boring that you fall asleep easily and get some rest! Win, win.
5. Look at the bright side
Feeling stressed out by the new exam format? Try to see the positives.
- The new passing threshold score is 50 points lower than before! (1390 vs. 1440)
- At no point before, during, or after the exam sessions do you need to:
- Wear shoes
- Look at, or interact with, other test-takers
- Leave your cozy, comfortable home
- Listen to other people typing (or sobbing, or sprinting around the room screaming “I’m a covenant running with the land”)
- You also don’t need to worry about:
- Getting lost
- Being late
- Finding yourself in a new, unfamiliar setting
In some ways, you may be the luckiest cohort of bar examinees so far!
As I’ve said before, this online testing situation is new, frustrating, and anxiety-provoking, to say the least. But, it’s also going to happen whether you like it or not. Get used to what you can, prepare for contingencies, and if all else fails, at least try to go in calm and relaxed. You can do this!