In the days leading up to the bar exam, you may feel increased anxiety. This is no surprise — by the time the bar exam approaches, you’ve spent months studying and preparing for one of the most challenging academic experiences of your life. It’s important to have a plan in place to manage your anxiety in the days before the bar exam. Being proactive about this can help you minimize stress and reduce your fears about the test and achieve a passing score.
1. Confront your anxiety head-on and write down your fears
In order to manage your anxiety, you need to understand it. Ask yourself where your anxiety is coming from and be totally honest with yourself. Are you afraid of failure and what this might mean for your career prospects? Do you fear letting down your partner, parents, family, or friends? Are you worried that other applicants have studied harder than you? Do you think you might have missed some key concepts during bar prep? Are you nervous about what subjects might appear on the essays?
If you’re struggling with these types of thoughts in the days leading up to the exam, consider writing them down in a journal. Once you acknowledge your fears in writing, you will be closer to conquering your anxiety. While some feelings of nervousness can be a healthy motivator to keep up your studies and do your best on the exam, being paralyzed by unreasonable anxiety, fear, and negative thoughts will ultimately harm your performance. Try to leave these thoughts in your journal. If your mind returns to them, try to “change the channel” to more positive thoughts and visualize passing the exam.
2. Plan to take more study breaks than normal
This may seem counterintuitive, but frequent study breaks are one of the best ways to manage stress in the days right before the bar exam. If you’ve been following a rigorous study schedule, you’re probably feeling fatigued by this point. Taking periodic breaks throughout the day can help you refresh your mind and relax. This will help free up more mental space for memorization, practice, and other last-minute bar preparations.
You may be feeling pressure (either from yourself or your peers) to study constantly in the final days before the exam. But after weeks of intense study, your mind is probably nearing its capacity. Studying for too many hours a day puts you in jeopardy of burning out before you sit down for the exam. Plan to take regular walks throughout the day, squeeze in a few extra yoga classes or visits to the gym, or sit down for some mindfulness meditation in a quiet setting. Give yourself permission to watch an episode of mindless TV or some funny videos online (videos of baby animals work, too). You want to walk into the bar exam feeling rested and confident, not exhausted and worried.
3. Prepare your “go bag” for exam day
Every state has rules about what you can and can’t bring into the testing center during the bar exam. To help you feel more prepared, review these rules carefully and pack your bag full of approved supplies for the exam. This will probably include your admission ticket, pens and highlighters, and Number 2 pencils for the MBE. Pack this bag and set it aside, then don’t touch it again before exam day. You may also want to pick out what you’re going to wear for the exam (some states have rules about attire, too). Knowing that you have your “go bag” and wardrobe ready to go will help you feel more prepared and will allow you to focus on your final days of exam preparation and important self-care activities.
4. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist about how you’re feeling
You may feel like the only person who is dealing with pre-exam jitters, but this is certainly not the case. Everyone feels nervous before the bar exam, and it can be very helpful to talk to someone you trust about the way you’re feeling. Call someone who has already taken and passed the bar exam or talk to a trusted friend who is not sitting for the exam. Tell them about how you’re feeling and don’t be shy about asking for some extra encouragement and support.
If you have a therapist, schedule a visit in the week before the exam. A licensed professional will be able to talk through the emotions you’re experiencing about the bar exam, which can be very intense. Having a candid conversation can be cathartic and allow you to reduce the intensity of your anxiety about the exam.
5. Invest extra time in self-care rituals and eat healthy
The stress you’re under can compromise your immune system and leave you feeling exhausted. Be sure to invest some extra time in self-care activities, like soaking in a relaxing bath or taking a short afternoon nap. Consider indulging in a manicure or pedicure. If your body is sore from all the time you’ve spent sitting and studying, you may want to book a light massage before the exam. Be sure to eat a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy protein as the exam approaches. Your body (and mind) will thank you for it!
6. Visualize success
When you feel your anxiety spinning out of control, try to visualize passing the bar exam. Whether this is your first attempt or you are retaking the exam, imagine opening your results and finding out that you’ve passed. Think about seeing the word “Congratulations!” at the top of your results and making phone calls to tell your friends and family the great news. This simple technique may help calm your mind and get you back to a place where you can focus on last-minute preparations.
Tackle Stress so You Can Succeed on the Bar Exam
Taking these steps can help you ensure that you walk into the bar exam with a clear mind. By managing your anxiety, you will set yourself up to focus and succeed on the bar exam. Good luck on the test!
This post contains general advice and was not written by a doctor. If you are struggling with anxiety that has become severe or unmanageable, seek treatment from a psychiatrist or licensed therapist right away.