In this post, we want to discuss everyone’s favorite topic: test anxiety! Ok, we know, it’s probably everyone’s least favorite topic. But, it needs to be talked about since everyone deals with it in law school and in bar prep.
Before you move on from this post thinking, “Well, that’s not me, I have never had test anxiety,” trust us when we say that test anxiety exists when studying for the bar exam and will affect you in some way! Read on for some of our practical tools and skills to deal with test anxiety.
Why does test anxiety happen in law school?
We have written posts on why law school is “hard” and one of the main reasons we mention is the test format. In your previous academic experiences, you might have had that one big test halfway or at the end of the year. In law school, every test is that big test, and you could have up to four in one semester. Four big, important, stressful tests that you won’t be able to retake. That is stressful just to think about!
What happens when you get test anxiety?
Everyone experiences test anxiety differently. We have spoken to several health experts who have shared with us the few common things that happens to everybody, however, one of the most interesting thigs we have learned is that fundamentally, stress isn’t bad.
Stress is designed to protect us, not from exams, but from wild animals back when we were cave people. Our bodies would be flooded with stress hormones like adrenaline, triggering a fight or flight reaction. In a law school classroom or bar exam testing center, even though you might want to take flight a leave, these instinctual reactions are mentally draining. Our body diverts resources away from our brain and into other things like sweaty palms and tense shoulders. This diversion of focus away from our brain is what makes us blank out on tests or flat out temporarily forget how to write.
But, even though adrenaline works against us in the exams, that doesn’t all bad. We need a little adrenaline to focus on the test and stay sharp. It’s when your adrenaline crosses the line into paralyzing your thought process that it becomes a problem.
Successfully preparing for test anxiety
In our opinions, managing test anxiety is all about preparation! First, you need to be prepared to understand that you have no control over what is going to happen. You don’t control your grade. What you can control is your effort and preparedness. Actively understanding this is a key starting point to further relaxation. Accept it and move on!
The second important kind of preparation we can all probably benefit from is staying healthy. You can’t snap to eating healthy and sleeping well the day before the test. Honestly, we are all more likely to snap to staying up all night, eating crappy foods, and drinking caffeine or alcohol before the test! To avoid this, form good habits including eating well, working out, and sleeping enough so when it’s time to relax and get ready for a test, you are not too far off from where you want to be.
Finally, know that anxiety and stress compound over time. If you don’t confront and deal with your anxiety early on, by the time you get to the test it may be too late to ease your anxiety. Research, try, and practice coping mechanisms so by the time you get to the exam, you know exactly what to do and expect!
Our best coping mechanisms
I went into law school thinking nothing would bother me, but I was sure wrong. I ended up seeking help in therapy where they asked me a question I had never considered before: “How does that make you feel?” My therapist made me reflect on my feelings, which was a revelation to me and taught me how important simple awareness of yourself is.
The most important thing I have learned about coping mechanisms is that there is no best one. Do something that works for you. For me, I found meditation really valuable. The lessons on breathing that meditation can teach you are really important. Also, it is a great thing to get into because it requires practice and discipline. Thankfully, there are plenty of guided meditation videos and soundtracks out there to help you become a pro meditator!
Preparation and practice can make be the difference between a successful coping mechanism and an unsuccessful one. Whatever mechanisms work best for you, we urge you to try them while taking practice exams under real conditions. The more anxiety you know you have, the more practice tests you need to be taking so when the real exam comes around, you won’t freak out.
Finally, if nothing seems to be working for you, call a therapist or doctor and talk to an expert. They can recommend things you may not have thought of. If you know you have an anxiety problem before you enter law school, seek help- chances are that law school will only make things harder on you.
Working on dealing with test anxiety now will make things easier in your career! You can do it!
___ _ ___
Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Steps to Making Your Own Bar Exam Schedule
- Why Really Wanting to Pass the Bar Exam Isn’t Enough
- 6 Study Strategies to Get the Most Out of Bar Exam Prep
- Train Like an Athlete for the Bar Exam
Photo credit: Shutterstock