There are many things about the bar exam that you cannot control, but bar exam logistics are something you can and should give thought to in advance. One logistical aspect to think about is what you should do with your evening (or evenings) between bar exam days. I submit that the best use of your bar exam evening is to find a friend or family member and go out for a nice, sit-down dinner. It may sound foolhardy, but here are six reasons why it could help more than you think.
1. Appreciate the Value of a Good Meal
Diet and nutrition matter. You don’t want to head into the second day of the exam on too much caffeine and a ham sandwich from the local convenience store. A good healthy meal will give you some energy going into a long and draining exam day. (For all of your bar exam nutrition questions, read Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant Caitlin Weeks’ Optimal Nutrition for Bar Exam Success). Also, if you are an out-of-town examinee, finding a local to recommend a place to meet can remove the unnecessary struggle of finding a place to eat that you will enjoy and that will not give you food poisoning.
2. Cramming Won’t Help
Once you are into the exam, confidence and mindset matter far more than trying to cram more law into your head. Spending the evening after a day of testing studying in a cold sweat is a bad idea. But if you are in a room alone with all of your bar prep books, it is tempting to overthink day one and think that studying just a little more will make the difference. Whether you are at home or in a hotel, forcing yourself out of your bar exam bubble for a few hours will prevent you from getting spun up and trying to learn everything in one night.
3. You Can Still Review
I am not suggesting staying out all night. Dinner can only take an hour or two. It makes sense to do some targeted review for upcoming sections to stay sharp, but you should not be trying to do more than a quick review anyways. In your final week, collect a comprehensive – but limited – set of review materials. For example, flash cards were my bar exam comfort blanket. I took a selection of them in neatly labeled boxes and flipped through them when I got anxious. As you prepare, identify what methods of review calm you down and build your confidence. A good dinner won’t prevent a healthy review session.
4. Getting Out Gets You Away From Other Bar Examinees
Nothing good will come from talking to other people taking the bar. In her post Practical Tips for the Day of the Bar Exam, Anita Bittner rightly advises to avoid your anxious fellow examinees, even “[y]our law school friends and study buddies will not be on their best behavior.” Bittner very accurately warns of the common pitfalls of discussing the exam with other examinees –
[Y]ou 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.
If you are at home, you will be tempted to reach out to your friends to check-in on their bar exam day. If you are at a hotel, you will be tempted to make bar exam small talk to those floating around the lobby in a stressed stupor. By having a dinner-out plan in place, you will avoid the urge to commiserate and be the better for it.
5. Dinner out Offers a Safe, Friendly Ear for Sharing Struggles
If you choose your dinner-mate wisely, your dinner will offer an advice-free, sympathetic ear. Think about a family member or close friend that has no familiarity with the law or the bar exam. Once the bar exam has begun, there is no helpful advice. Any last minute advice or strategy will only add to your stress or confuse you. Dinner with a non-legally inclined companion will allow you to talk about the exam and vent without any of the negative consequence that come with discussing the exam with another examinee. They will listen politely and sympathize with your pain as you explain the process and your day’s ups-and-downs without any confidence-crushing or anxiety-inducing retorts.
6. Going Somewhere Will Break the Tension and Reduce Stress
The tension of the bar exam has a tendency to build and build throughout the exam process—especially if you have a rough day. Let dinner be as complete of a break as possible from the stress. It can be mentally exhausting to pep yourself up for exam day, force yourself to stay calm, and convince yourself you didn’t blow the whole thing that day. The mental break will help you avoid overthinking it and keep you on your game for the next day.