Studying for the bar exam may only last a few weeks, but it can sure send you on a roller coaster of emotions. After surviving three years of law school you may think you’re well prepared for the stress of bar prep, but nothing quite compares to the bar exam. Bar prep will likely subject you to a slew of emotions that will feel particularly intense given the pressure, workload, and shortened time frame. Managing the emotional ups and downs of bar prep in a considerate but efficient manner is essential to staying on track with your studying. To avoid getting derailed during your study sessions, use these strategies to help you handle the various feelings, moods, and mindsets you might encounter as you prepare to take the bar exam:
Whether it’s at the beginning of bar prep when you’re staring at the huge pile of outlines you need to learn or when you realize that the actual test is only a few days away, it’s common for students to feel apprehension, concern or just plain terror at some point during the bar exam. To overcome your fears about the exam, or at least minimize them, try writing down exactly what you’re scared of and then strategizing ways to deal with that situation should it arise. So, if you’re scared you’ll draw a blank on the essays, you might strategize that you’ll take five deep breaths, re-read the question, and analyze using common sense to see if that triggers your memory of the key rules. If you’re scared that you’ll run out of time on the MBE, you might strategize that you’ll put in extra practice under timed conditions and check your pace every 15 minutes during the exam. And what about the biggest fear of all, not passing the exam? If you play out this scenario, you’ll probably realize that, although it would be a huge disappointment, it won’t be the end of the world. Naming your fears by writing them out and crafting strategies to address those fears will diminish their power and make you feel less intimidated.
No one said bar prep would be fun, but you may not have anticipated how difficult it can be to maintain your focus and motivation when the material and activities are so dull. To combat boredom, try to incorporate some creative study strategies into your routine. Mixing up your study locations or studying with a friend on occasion can also break up the monotony of bar prep. While it’s important to embrace a routine and stick to your schedule, studying in a new way or in a new place every now and then can give you a much needed change of pace.
Most students feel anxiety at one point or another during bar prep, if not throughout the whole process. Anxiety is normal given the stakes, but it’s important to control feelings of nervousness so that you can perform your best during the exam. To keep your nerves in check, remind yourself of other challenges you’ve conquered and focus on doing the prep work necessary to pass the exam. It may sound touchy-feely, but repeating positive affirmations or taking a few minutes for some mindfulness exercises can have a big impact on controlling your test-taking anxiety.
If you get to the point where you feel like you can’t even look at another MBE practice question or just the thought of reading through an outline makes you fatigued, you’re probably experiencing some bar prep burnout. With so much material to memorize and so many skills to perfect over a few weeks, it’s not surprising that students can start to feel burnt out before the end of the prep period. Unfortunately, with such a limited time frame for studying, you have to find a way to re-motivate so that you can make the most of the days that remain. The best strategy for handling burnout is prevention. Make sure you’re getting regular sleep, eating well, taking regular breaks, and practicing self-care throughout bar prep so that you don’t run yourself down midway through. If you do feel burnout at some point, give yourself a day off! Sleep in, catch up on your Netflix queue, and forget about the bar exam for a day. A short break and a good night’s sleep should be just enough to recharge and make the final push to exam day.
Disappointment and Frustration
Generally around the time when the mock MBE exam is administered by the commercial bar prep programs, some students will feel disappointed and frustrated that their hard work isn’t paying off in the form of higher scores on practice tests or increased retention of material. Don’t succumb to disappointment and decide to give up. Instead, fight back so that you can break through the plateau and get back to making positive progress. If you’re feeling frustrated, reach out to an academic support advisor at your law school or contact a tutor to help you evaluate your approach and make the most out of the time that remains.
Keeping yourself on an even keel during bar prep is important to maintain your concentration and motivation, but the unique pressures and intensity of the work can make that difficult to achieve. Check in with yourself each day to evaluate your mood and make sure you use positive strategies to control your emotions during bar prep.
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