There’s a scene in the movie Run, Fat Boy, Run, when Simon Pegg’s character Dennis, mid-marathon, hits the “wall,”– that moment when the exhaustion becomes utterly paralyzing, and going any further feels impossible. To stretch the ubiquitous “bar study is a marathon” metaphor to its limit, the same wall can appear in the weeks leading up to the bar exam.
Bar exam study demands a lot from students. There’s all that law that needs memorizing, accompanied by piles of practice essays and PT’s, each one eating up at least an hour of your day. MBE practice can become a tedious chore of reading and re-reading what you got wrong and why, and then figuring out how to not get it wrong again. Overlaying all of that is the fear of failing, and the stress of imagining the worst case scenario every time you forget a rule, or don’t finish a writing practice on time, or have a less-than-perfect issue spotting day.
So, it’s no surprise when, at a certain point, you don’t feel you can go any further. You scan the facts for issues, and all your mind can conjure is the white noise of a broken TV. MBE practice just becomes automated bubbling of “C”s all the way down. Your fingers refuse to type quickly enough to race the clock. There is a wall in bar study, and you can get through it. Here’s how:
Remember Your ‘Why’ – And Take Action
Presumably, you are putting yourself through this ordeal for a reason. But when you’re trying to remember the difference between a lien state and a title state, unless mortgages get you fired up, it’s going to be hard to feel connected to whatever has driven you to this point. That’s when it’s time to return to whatever that was.
So, if social justice is your reason for becoming a lawyer, then join a protest that connects to what you care about, or take a day to volunteer at a legal clinic. Remember that you are working this hard in order to have an impact, but that impact does not need to wait until July or February.
If you’re motivated by an interest in a particular practice area, such as torts, intellectual property, or academia, then seek out a local event, documentary, article, or speaker series that relates to that interest. No matter how you do it, get out of your house/library/study nest made of ripped up flashcards, and have a meaningful reconnection with the reason you’re putting yourself through all of this in the first place.
Write A Letter To Yourself
When students lag, I often encourage them to write a letter that articulates their motivation for taking the bar, and what they will commit to doing in order to get through the remaining weeks. A letter can live in your wallet, on a bathroom mirror, or in a desk drawer. No matter where you decide to keep it, it’s a physical reminder that you can return to when you need it. Remember, nobody can tear down that wall but you, and sometimes you need to hear it from yourself, in an official, on paper sort of way.
Watch a Movie or Show About Lawyers
Even if you’re not yet licensed to practice in a courtroom, you can still be in the courtroom via any number of streaming services. Many of us learned about what we think lawyers do from pop culture. Some of us were moved by portrayals of mission-driven attorneys who fought for justice in contravention of unjust laws. Others dreamed about engaging in the snappy theatrics of the hallucinatory Ally McBeal, or mimicking the ingenuity of the scrappy but passionate crew in The Practice.
Yes, many of these shows misrepresent, and even romanticize, legal practice, sometimes to an absurd degree. But when you’re itching to one day stand up in court and yell “Objection!,” getting a dopamine hit from watching Steve Harris do that and more in the meantime can give you the extra push you need to get through the next set of MBE questions.
Spend Time With Your People
As much as I would love to tell you the bar exam is your friend, you have real friends, and they miss you very much. If they’re far away, schedule a video chat. If they’re near, pull yourself away from the outlines and get together for brunch or a walk. Even a short visit can make a vast difference in your wellbeing.
The bar exam is also a great lesson in allowing yourself to be cared for. If you’ve hit the wall, and are despairing over it, then feel free to tell people you trust what you need from them, whether it’s space for a good cry, a dumb movie night, or a 30-minute phone call. Be around people who want you to succeed (clarification: not people who make you feel like their admiration for you is conditioned on your success.) They’ll remind you that you already have much to celebrate about yourself, no matter what ends up happening with the bar exam.
Take A Break
Whether with friends, family, or on your own, take a break. You may think you can’t afford a single bar-free moment, but if your brain is too tired to take in the information anyway, then you’re better off giving it some rest. Sometimes the only match for the wall is a beach day.
For real, it’s amazing what a glass of cold water will do to revive a melting brain. Hydration may not address the fear, the slog, or the sleepless nights, but it can remind you that you have more left in you than you thought. Sometimes the wall is a barrier that requires you to call it a day, curl up, go to sleep, and start fresh the next day. Sometimes, it’s just dehydration.