Mantras, words, slogans, or phrases that are repeated, have played an important role in helping me cope with difficult situations. From running half marathons to giving birth to my daughter at home without any medication, mantras have motivated me to do my best, to not give up, and to even enjoy situations that I once dreaded.
The trick to effective mantras is to find ones that motivate you in a specific situation. Some of my mantras for helping me run hills, for example, didn’t necessarily help me have a natural birth. Mantras like, “these hills make my butt look good!” definitely missed the mark during the labor!
Other mantras like “breathe” work in just about every situation. Practicing mantras as part of your preparation for the bar exam will help ensure that the mantras you choose are effective for you on the day of the exam.
But, can mantras actually help you pass the bar exam? Sure! Here’s why.
Mantras Are Calming And Motivating
I say mantras to myself when I need a little reassurance. We say them to each other, too, when we’re try to reassure our loved ones or even our favorite athletes.
Go to any sporting event and you might hear fans cheer things like, “Just one more to go!” or “you’ve got this!” When I was in marching band, my bandmates had a long-standing tradition of cheering “deep fried” before band competitions. There was a backstory to that mantra, of course, but the point is that because it was a special phrase to us, cheering it to ourselves before competitions made us feel more motivated to perform as well as we could.
Mantras can help us get energized, but they can also help relax us. When I was preparing for natural labor, I learned that contractions follow a wave pattern, meaning the pain increases, crests, and then dissipates. As I began to prepare for the physical challenge of labor, I practiced using the mantra, “ride the wave.” Remembering that contractions follow a wave pattern helped remind me that the contraction would begin to wane and recede just like a wave. This was reassuring and calming.
Similarly, when I was taking the bar exam, I needed a phrase to repeat to keep me relaxed. I used a few different ones, but the simplest was the most effective: Breathe. By reminding myself to take good breaths, I took the time to release excess tension, which helped me focus.
Mantras Help You Focus
Being able to focus brings me to my next point: mantras are designed to help us focus. In fact, the dictionary definition of mantra is a “word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.”
When you’re taking the bar exam, you need to be able to focus in order to effectively comprehend the call of the question, to analyze the choices, to recall the proper rules. If you’re not focused, you may get tripped up by one of those tricky questions that looks like it should be one rule, but turns out to be something different. You might forget an issue that distinguishes the right question from the wrong one, for example whether a contract is for goods or for services.
If you start to feel overwhelmed or cavalier while you’re reading bar exam questions, bring yourself back into focus. Simply reminding yourself repeatedly to “focus” can be a mantra.
Mantras Help Calm You
One of the most important things to remember when taking the bar exam is to remain calm. Easier said than done! When I took the Uniform Bar Exam in July 2019 in New York, the test site required that I show up more than an hour before the exam. With such a high volume of test takers, the administrators needed to ensure ample time to get everyone through security before the exam.
At the same time, I was only allowed to take the bare necessities to the exam site. No phone. No pens. No paper. No reading material. No notes to review. Nothing but my number 2 pencils, a few snacks, a bottle of water, my ID, and my ticket.
Once through security and in my seat, I didn’t have anything to do. I couldn’t play games on my phone. I couldn’t doodle. Talk about a recipe for anxiety!
Instead of letting the experience psych me out, I used my quiet time to repeat mantras to myself to help calm me. I took the time to breathe and relax so that when the tests were handed out, I was ready to go.
Find Your Mantra
I’ve used mantras in lots of similar situations. Effective mantras can be almost anything. For example, before a particularly challenging court hearing when I was feeling nervous, I repeated the alphabet in Italian over and over. Focusing on repeating something simple to myself helped me get my mind off what was making me nervous.
Mantras are a great tool to use during your preparation for the bar exam so that using them is part of your routine when you take the exam.