While engaged in any kind of intense studying, whether for law school or the bar exam, there will be times when you have a setback. You may be acing your practice exams, and then suddenly for no seemingly good reason, you can’t get the most basic questions right. Or, you have a solid study plan in place, but life happens, and it completely derails you.
I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. Here’s how to deal with it.
Take A Break
Taking a break may seem counterintuitive. You’re on a time crunch. You’ve got to memorize elements of nuisance, adverse possession, and common law contract modification all at once. Not to mention service of process, class action law suits, and 6th amendment violations. Plus essay techniques…the list feels like it goes on and on when studying for the bar. Oftentimes when we feel that kind of stress and pressure, the best thing to do is put down the notes and list of funky mnemonics, and just breathe.
It worked wonders for me. This summer I took the New York Bar Exam. I purchased the Adaptibar upgrade to my Bar School Toolbox training plan. After a while, I was getting above average scores. I was elated. But, there were still a few areas where I was struggling (hello, civil procedure!). I spent hours upon hours poring over res judicata and collateral estoppel. I wanted to crush those sections. After days of zeroing in on issue preclusion, I just knew I finally figured it out. I sat down for a practice quiz. I hit the send button. I could see in my mind’s eye the amazing score that would flash on the screen, and then the real score appeared. Failed. Big time. As in a big whopping zero goose-egg.
I tried again. Same result. I got a few right that time, but still failed miserably. I tried a third time. Same as before. Irritated, panicked, and distraught, I showed my husband my last three practice exam scores. He looked me square in the eyes and said, “Take a break”!
For one whole glorious weekend in early June, I didn’t answer one single bar exam multiple choice question. I didn’t skim any essay question and answer. I didn’t refer to my notes. I didn’t outline a thing. I went for a run. I took my son to the playground. I cooked dinner.
First thing Monday, I took another practice exam. I passed.
Sometimes, you just need a break. Take the time, and you’ll come back stronger than ever.
Get Back To Fundamentals
Mid-way through my study plan for the New York Bar Exam, I had to go on a road trip for a family event. I was so excited to spend time with loved ones, but equally determined to stay on track for the bar. I was going to listen to audio outlines on the eight hour car ride. Then, each afternoon while my son napped, I would answer practice questions. Unfortunately, my plan was a lot easier said than done.
My toddler hates being in his car seat and needed to be entertained for much of the drive. I eventually gave up trying to listen to an outline on Business Associations while simultaneously singing the ABC’s for the thousandth time. I quickly realized that effective studying on my trip was just not going to happen. I let it go and took a few days off.
When I got back home, I was nervous. I had my fun, but July was that much closer than before I left for my trip. In order to get back into studying-mode, I went back to the basics. I reviewed some of the elements where I was scoring well before my break. I looked over “big picture” concepts before narrowing my focus again to more narrow issues.
By focusing on the fundamentals, it helped me get back into good studying habits. Within a week, I was back to my regularly scheduled training sessions and scoring positive results on practice exams. When you’re coming off an extended break, take the time to ease back into studying by going over the basics first.
Play To Your Strengths
Passing the bar exam has a lot to do with confidence. When I am afraid I can’t achieve something – I have to really talk myself into trying. After a few unexpected breaks in my studying, I was afraid I would get everything wrong. I spent twenty minutes one night out of my one hour available to study just talking myself into answering the first question. I didn’t want to fail.
I found a way to trick myself into getting started again. I went to the subject in which I had the most confidence. Answering a few torts questions correctly gave me a sense of accomplishment after an extended absence from studying. It empowered me with a sense that I could tackle the rest of the bar exam, too. It didn’t take long after that for me to jump into studying the rest of the subjects.
Sometimes you just have to believe that you can do it. If you’re struggling with motivation or anxiety after a studying setback, take some time to answer questions in a subject with which you feel comfortable. The confidence boost will propel you back into your studying plan.
Tough Times Don’t Last, But Tough People Do
There is one certainty when it comes to studying for the bar exam: unexpected things will happen. You will have a setback or two or three. Everybody does. How you respond to that obstacle is up to you. If you need to take a break, rest. Then, focus on the fundamentals and play to your strengths to build confidence. You’ll be sailing through practice questions in no time!