Studying for the bar exam can feel all-consuming. It may seem as though there is always more that you could do – more practice questions to answer, more outlines to review, more flashcards to make. And while the instinct to do more is a tough one to quell for a bar examinee, at the end of the day, you can and will burn out if you don’t build in some down time to your routine. You do yourself no favors by pushing yourself too hard; breaks are as essential to test-day success as any other part of the process.
Because different days will present different needs – say, for example, you just finished an unexpectedly difficult set of civil procedure questions that left you feeling a little overwhelmed – it is helpful to keep handy a list of go-to activities that you can turn to for brain-break inspo. Below are a few ideas, categorized based on the amount of time you need to decompress, to regroup, and, dare I say it, to have some fun.
- Exercise. This will be number one on the list for many people, and with good reason. The science on this one is clear: physical activity triggers endorphins; endorphins enhance focus (read: help you to drown out distractions) and improve memory and recall. All extremely helpful skills for studying. Some would even say exercise should be a mandatory part of your bar exam prep! At the very least, it is never a bad idea to lace up those sneakers, roll out that mat, or hit that trail. Bonus points if you can get some fresh air and sunshine, too.
- Try out a New Recipe. Eating well while you study is undeniably important – how you fuel your body is how you fuel your brain. But this go-to is actually less about healthy eating and more about nurturing your creativity, which can sometimes take the backseat during bar prep. Look, you have to eat anyway. Why not make it fun? And get this: studies show that embracing your inner chef and can promote mindfulness; what a helpful tool come test day.
Cooking not your thing? No problem. The idea is simply to engage in a small, creative task that, unlike studying, has a tangible result. Think crafting, drawing, sewing, or other similarly-tactile activities that showcase your inner creative!
- Phone a Friend (preferably one who is not studying for the bar exam). It’s easy to get so wrapped up in your own study schedule that you put off checking in with friends and family day after day. But staying in touch with your support network is one of the most important things you can do for yourself while you’re studying (not to mention, an important thing to do for your friends and family who will start to worry if they stop hearing from you). Taking 15 minutes a few times a week to talk hear about your sister’s recent vacation or your best friend’s new job – really, anything other than testamentary trusts – will keep any bar-related anxiety you may have in perspective. In other words, it’s good for your brain, good for your heart, and good for your squad.
- Spruce up your Study Space. It is easy to underestimate the extent to which your physical environment impacts your mood and mentality. If you are getting sick of your dedicated study space, try changing up the feng shui. Clear off your desk for a more minimalist feel. Or add some cozy touches, like photographs of slightly more exciting times. Reorient your chair for different lighting. Or try turning your desk altogether! (And don’t forget your other senses, either. Scent diffusers and sound machines are equally wonderful space-sprucing ideas.)
Any Amount of Time:
- Read for Pleasure. Reading might sound like the last thing you could possibly want to do after a long day of bar-related reading. But reading for pleasure activates an entirely different side of your brain and can take you miles and years away from bar prep, all from the comfort of your couch or your local coffee shop. (The same could be said, of course, of a good Netflix series. Just beware the temptation to binge-watch…)
All that said, this list is by no means an exhaustive one. You know what you need better than anyone – don’t drown that voice out! However you choose to spend your down time, the important thing is to truly commit to being “off.” That way, you can really commit to being “on” during working hours. Because, like any muscle, your brain needs to rest and reset between sets. This is not slacking off, it is studying smart and with the long game in mind. So happy breaking!