You’ve managed your time well and completed the required prep work. You’ve taken and learned from practice multiple choice, essay, and performance test questions. You’ve gotten your timing down and the IRAC method is your new best friend.
You put your writing utensil down and close your prep materials on the second to last day before the bar and think to yourself, “Now what?!” “Good question,” I say. “Read on!”
Surviving the Bar – The Day Before the Exam
I am a strong advocate for making the entire day and night before the exam a non-study day. (Tip: You’ve earned it if you’ve kept to your study schedule.) This is the day where you must engage in self-care, because the next two days will be mentally taxing.
Self-care means that you allow yourself to enjoy – yes enjoy! – that day before the exam by doing something that gives you mental satisfaction. Do you relax by working out? Do it! Do you relax by binging on a Netflix series? Do it! Do you relax by spending the day with your kids or loved ones in the park? Do it! Do you relax by making a home-cooked meal? Do it (and then send me some, please)! The only thing I don’t want you doing is engaging in risky behaviors that may inhibit your mental or physical capacities. In other words, stay away from intoxicants and save extreme sporting activities until after you take the exam!
Ultimately, you have worked incredibly hard over the last several weeks and the best thing you can do for yourself is set aside your much-loved (and sometimes much-loathed) study materials and allow your brain to recharge. You want it refreshed and ready to face the task at hand: passing the bar.
Self-care also includes making sure you are ready for battle. Discussed further here, this means you:
- Prepare or know what you are going to eat for the next two days (Tip: Three square meals, folks! No skipping or fast-food-only meals!)
- Know where you’re staying during the exam (Tip: If you’re staying at a hotel, make sure you are packed and ready to go! If you’re staying at home, make sure your family and friends know and are ready to respect your boundaries. I strongly suggest not talking about how the exam went.)
- Know how you’re getting to the exam (Tip: Have a backup plan and make sure to get there early.)
- Test your computer to make sure it is compatible with the exam software (assuming you’re not handwriting your exam, and, ideally, you should have already done this so do it NOW if not!)
- Know where you’re going to upload your answers
- Go to bed early and get good sleep (Tip: You are no longer allowed to cram at night. Period.)
Surviving the Bar – The First Day of the Exam
In the Morning: Arrive to the testing center early. Check-in and set up your exam materials. Go to the bathroom. In the remaining time before the exam starts, engage in some calming activities, like focusing on your breathing.
After the Morning Session: Eat your lunch, preferably outside of the company of others. As Anita Bittner put it best in her article Practical Tips for the Day of the Bar Exam, “Unless you are 110% sure that you and your BFF are on the same page with regard to not discussing the exam, find a quiet spot and eat your lunch by yourself. Otherwise, you will expose yourself to bar exam takers joyfully announcing that they nailed a section of an exam you may not have felt comfortable with and to others who will frantically compare all of their answers. Neither approach is good for your sanity.” Everyone handles stress differently during the exam, and it is okay to insulate yourself against unnecessary anxiety by politely keeping to yourself before and after each session of the exam.
After the Afternoon Session: Head back home or to your hotel room to decompress. You know what kind of environment is best for you. If you want to be surrounded by company, strongly consider non-law folks. If you want to be alone, then be alone! As long as you stay away from your study materials and intoxicants, do what will best help you unwind and make you happy. You should try to go to bed early. If the first day didn’t go as well as you hoped, keep it in perspective.
Surviving the Bar – The Last Day of the Exam
In the Morning & After the Morning Session: Everything you should do to survive Day One of the Exam is exactly what you should do for Day Two.
After the Afternoon Session: Upload your answers as soon as possible and in a reliable, safe location. Call me paranoid (although I prefer the word “prepared”), but you should not wait to upload your answers and you should not do it in a bar where everyone is already celebrating and could accidentally damage your computer.
After that, let the celebration commence! Congratulations, you did it! If you want some inspiration on how to decompress after the exam, consider my colleagues’ suggestions here.
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