Decompressing from the uniquely exhausting experience of preparing for and taking the bar is tricky. Bar Exam Toolbox contributor Jennifer Warren accurately describes the “strange mix of emotions” following the bar exam – “relief that you don’t have to study anymore, excitement that you completed the test, exhaustion from the hours you’ve spent concentrating over the last few days, fear of how difficult the questions were, and anxiety about whether it was enough to pass.” (Read Jennifer’s post – Still Thinking about the Bar Exam? 5 Tips to Help You Decompress.) While waking up to a post-bar exam life is liberating, it is an awkward freedom. All bar examinees share the uncertainty of not knowing whether they passed or failed. Many face the stark reality of a suspended job hunt. Some will advise a relaxed decompression period focused on catching up on sleep and recreation. I don’t judge the approach—everyone is different—but for me, peace of mind means keeping busy. If you are like me, here are some effective ways of channeling your post-bar exam energy into productive outlets to jump start your legal career or cope with bad news come results day.
1. Keep your Schedule
If you are like most bar examinees, whether you were working during bar prep or just studying, you kept a tight schedule. You knew the potential consequences of falling off your study schedule, so getting out of bed on time wasn’t optional. Try to keep your rigid schedule going, especially if your day is not regulated by a job. Take your bar prep schedule and modify it to meet your post-bar needs. If you are job hunting, for example, divide up your study blocks into time for application drafting, networking, and career options research. Fill your schedule back up and keep busy!
2. Write a Postmortem Report
Part of that new schedule can include drafting a bar exam postmortem report. Such reports are standard in the business world for a reason—they help you to learn and grow from past experience. Whether you felt you did great or poorly on the exam, spend some time in the weeks after the exam taking notes covering the whole of your bar exam experience. Write down how you felt the exam went, section by section—did one section or subject give you trouble? Was exam stamina an issue? Was your hotel a nightmare? If you passed, the report can be a happy keepsake to look back on fondly. If you end up failing, this report can give you insights about where you need to improve the next time around. Getting your reflections down while it is fresh will help you to accurately capture your experience and give you a firm place for restarting your bar prep if you get bad news come results time.
3. Preserve your Bar Prep Materials
No celebratory bonfires just yet. No one likes to think about a second round of studying, but it happens. On the other hand, don’t just leave your materials out to raise your anxiety by their mere presence. Neatly sort through your materials, straighten up your papers, box it all up, and find a good safe spot in the closet for them. If you get bad news, you will not want to come back to a mess. Along with your typed up postmortem report, a neat box of bar prep materials will make the pain of rebooting the study process that much easier.
4. Ramp up your Networking
Once you have a desk clear of bar prep materials, whether you have a job waiting for you or not, ramp up your networking. If you entered a self-imposed bar prep hibernation, now is the time to rejoin the real world. Many people wisely disconnect from Facebook and LinkedIn during bar prep to eliminate distractions, but with a legal career ahead of you, you need to get back in the networking game. Reestablishing your personal and professional networks is key to any job hunt or new legal career. Also, consider touching base with your law school career services department. With law school seeming like a distant memory, it is easy to forget about the great resources your career services department can (and are eager) to offer.
5. Lock in Good Bar Prep Habits and Drop Bad Ones
Bar prep can instill both good and bad habits. We already discussed keeping your rigid study schedule as a good habit to keep, but likely your bar prep hard wired in more habits than that. If you built in exercise to your daily study routine, keep it up! If you reviewed study materials every night before bed, replace it with some other enlightening or enriching reading. If your diet fell off of your radar during exam prep, focus on making a change. If you haven’t spent time with your friends or family much, make some time for that. This is a good time to take stock and consciously keep the good and ditch the bad of bar prep.
6. Make Plans for All Alternatives
Bar results are binary, so make a plan to enact whether you passed or failed. And actually write your plans down. For the optimist, writing a plan for how to restart bar prep could be tough, but force yourself to get something down to soften the blow of the bad news. For the pessimist, writing a plan for life having passed the exam could seem silly, but it will be a valuable resource if, by good fortune, you are on the pass list. Either way, you will feel a sense of calm and control before and after results come out if you have a solid plan ready to execute.