As the bar exam nears, we know you’re not only looking at the best techniques for improving your score, but also ways to keep calm during crunch time. Today we have a guest post from Elena DuCharme, an attorney and performance coach who specializes in helping bar-takers achieve the right mindset to conquer the exam. You may remember Elena for her recent blog post about why mindset matters when studying for the bar exam. Today she will share with you two strategies to reduce stress and increase your bar exam score. Welcome back, Elena!
I’m a mindset specialist, and my preferred route of tweaking (in a good way, of course) bar-takers’ mindsets to help them succeed is through their subconscious mind. It’s very fun and incredibly forensic; and I guess you could say it satisfies my latent cross-examination tendencies, because I get to ask my clients tons of questions about how and what they’re thinking.
But I get stuck on how to write about it. It’s a rather deep mix of science and psychology and woo-woo. And your average bar-taker doesn’t have the time for that.
That’s why I’m thrilled to be able to lay out for you, right here and now, two respectable, straightforward ways you can ease your worries and even increase your bar exam score.
Ready? Here they are:
- Write down your worries
- Write about your roles and positive qualities
Yep. Not kidding. Simple as that.
Offload and Outsource Your Worries to “Paper”
If you are like many bar-takers who constantly entertain worries that you won’t or can’t pass, take note: worries actually takes up space in your analytical brain, hogging your precious cognitive capabilities and blocking easy, quick access to the information you’ve stored there.
After all, your brain is designed to keep you safe, and so it places a high priority on worries and focuses your conscious attention on them at the expense of less important matters, like the exceptions to the parole evidence rule.
Which is why you should write your worries down.
Studies by psychologist and author Sian Beilock at the University of Chicago show that writing down worries and fears about test performance just before an exam actually can increase test scores as much as 15% — which would be a huge margin on the bar exam.
It’s thought that the increase in scores is the result of labeling your emotions and “offloading” and outsourcing worries to paper.
To label your emotions and fears, you have to get curious about what you’re feeling, filter it through your conscious mind and translate it into cold, hard words. This might reveal that your formerly vague, unspecified worry (as so many are) has little or no actual basis, which can “collapse” it on the spot.
And, as Beilock’s research posits, by putting your worries on paper, you’re relieving your “working memory” of having to keep track of them. It’s analogous to making a to-do list, or closing computer programs you’re not using. The program is still there, but it’s not sucking up RAM while you’re trying to work on other things.
And a quieter mind is a wonderful thing on the bar exam.
Remember Who You Are Beyond Law School and Lawyerdom
Too often, the choice to go to law school results in a kind of tunnel-vision that makes it appear as if your entire future — and indeed, your very value as a human being — hinges on how you perform in a relentless series of “tests:” your LSAT score, the law school you get into, your first semester exams – and grades, getting hired out of law school, and of course, passing the bar — the first time.
There are at least a couple of problems with this thinking.
For one, if your self-worth is wrapped up in law school or the bar exam, you feel miserable if you don’t perform like you hope to.
And second, this narrow, distorted perspective causes you to lose touch with the vast majority of who you are, and the awesome things you have going for you, including talents, skills and abilities you could bring to the fore now – to help you pass the bar exam.
How do you get reconnected with your forgotten awesomeness?
Here’s what you do. Take five or ten minutes and a piece of paper and make a list or mind-map of your many roles in life — musician, athlete, good friend, cookie-baker, wise counsel, helper or volunteer for some cause. You can include positive qualities and strengths, and even significant accomplishments or successes.
Place this document where you will see it often. Contemplate the breadth of who you are and the life experience that has taught and shaped you.
So there you have ‘em.
Why not give these methods a try? Devote ten minutes or more to riffing on your worries and see how it lightens the load on your reasoning brain. Ponder your positive qualities and roles and get connected with who you are in the larger sweep of your life. And, like the students in the studies, do these exercises the night before or morning of the bar exam.
Taking just a few minutes now and then could well result in you feeling and performing better.
You can read more about the research on writing about worries and your roles in life increases exam scores in Sian Beilock’s book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To, (2010) (Simon and Schuster, Free Press).
Elena DuCharme is an attorney and performance coach who specializes in helping bar-takers overcome anxiety and overwhelm and develop a confident, high-performance mindset through the use of cutting-edge neuroscience-based techniques. You can find out more and sign up to receive her Bar Exam Success Mindset Tips on her website.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Why Your Mindset Matters When it Comes to the Bar Exam
- Taking care of yourself is a critical part of bar exam preparation
- Bar Study Tips: Getting mentally ready for the bar exam
- Strategic Tips for Unwinding Stress