We’ve all seen them – fidget spinners, fidget cubes, special play putties. These have risen in prominence over the last few years, but for many, they’re not just for play. Occupational therapists have long known that fidgets help people concentrate. Fidgets allow your brain to filter out sensory information so that you can hone in on important tasks. This can help relieve anxiety and nervous energy while promoting deeper concentration.
I’ve taken the bar in two states and have talked and worked with countless examinees. I have never met one who was not anxious on test day. First, know that this anxiety is absolutely normal. Everyone there has invested at minimum hundreds of dollars for the test, and maybe thousands for test prep. The stakes are high. Everyone else’s nerves are palpable and the anxiety feels contagious. The half hour or so before the test begins is really tough. Most people are having doubts about how effectively they studied, and there is apprehension about which subjects will be tested. You will hear nervous chatter as people try to bolster and distract themselves and the people near them.
Fidget toys would be a godsend for so many of these people, but because bar examiner rules are so stringent, for good cause, it is no simple thing to bring one in to the testing room. Test anxiety is a real thing and fidgets are a simple tool that can help you cope.
Ask for a Reasonable Accommodation
If you have a qualifying disability such as anxiety or ADHD, you should strongly consider submitting an accommodations request to the examiners. Fidgets can be as important to your test day success as extended time or quieter testing areas. You must submit the request as early in the application process as possible. Give yourself time to appeal unfavorable decisions.
You will need appropriate documentation to show the examiners that you need a fidget, so make sure that your medical providers specifically note that you will need one. Ideally, you will have used one during your law school exams too. Bar examiners like to see that you have a pattern of needing specific accommodations before granting them. You can absolutely still request the use of a fidget if you didn’t use them in law school, but give the bar examiners as much time as you can to process the request.
Can’t Get Accommodations? Innovate
If you do not have a qualifying disability, you will not be eligible for accommodations, but you can still bring a fidget into the room. Anything can be a fidget.
Think about the things you are allowed to take into the exam room. Let’s look at California. Bringing unauthorized items into the room is a serious offense, and you should never do that. You can, however, bring pencils, pens, rulers (really fantastic for making sure you read every single line of the essay fact patterns, by the way!), paper clips, highlighters, and foam earplugs.
Those may look like ordinary supplies, but with a little bit of imagination, they make fantastic fidgets. You can’t use mechanical pencils, but some people relieve a fair bit of tension by twirling their pencils and pens between their fingers. I did not need the earplugs provided by the examiners, so I spent a big chunk of one of the test days rolling and unrolling one of them as I worked through the essays. Some people bent and unbent paper clips.
Fidgets don’t have to be tactile. You can use your other senses to help drown out distractions. Sometimes making up a mental game or doing something mildly physical for just a few seconds is enough to help you focus for a longer chunk of the test. This can be as simple as taking a few seconds to count how many people have ponytails in the row in front of you or wiggling your toes or doodling. These sound almost absurdly simple, but when tensions are high, these small things can make a difference. The key is to make sure you don’t get lost in time while doing them. It can be too easy to start daydreaming about the end of the test, but your time is better spent slamming through the questions for which you’ve spent so much time preparing.
Sometimes a fidget isn’t enough. Some people do much better when they move during the test. It may be enough to roll your ankles and shoulders, but you may need to physically get up. If you are one of these people, walk to the restroom, clear your head, and get back into test mode.
Be sensitive to your neighbors. Don’t do anything that will cause visual distraction or make noise. If you’ve ever taken a test next to someone drumming on the table or clicking a pen, you know how frustrating that can be. A lot of fidgeting is done subconsciously, but do make an effort to be a polite test taker.
This will always be good advice: Prepare for the test as you intend to take the test. If you know you will need to adapt a fidget, use one on your practice exams. If you know you will need to get up every other hour or so, take that timing reduction into consideration.