For years I’ve run half marathons including the Philadelphia Half Marathon, Disneyworld Half Marathon, and Colonial Williamsburg Half Marathon. Each race has its unique challenges. Some have higher elevations. Some have flat courses, which surprisingly are challenging in a different way than hilly races. But, one part of running races remains the same no matter where the course is: tapering.
Tapering is a concept where a runner begins to reduce the intensity and length of their workouts before a big event. Generally, a twelve-week training plan will peak at about week eight or nine, meaning the longest run of the entire training plan will be at week eight or nine rather than week twelve or race-day.
The reasoning behind this race strategy is that the body needs time to recover after a strenuous training cycle in order to be in top shape come race day. The same can be said for studying for the bar.
Rest is a critical component to any quality bar-prep program. Even (and perhaps especially) the week before the bar exam.
You’re about to take an incredibly challenging exam that is required in order for you to serve in the profession you’ve spent three years in school to achieve. Relax? Yeah right. I get it. I really do. But, let me paint the scenario of a bar-taker who doesn’t make an effort to get rest before the bar exam:
Imagine going into the exam with almost no sleep. Imagine trying to effectively comprehend the call of the question, the relevant facts. Imagine trying to recall the rules of civil procedure or evidence or the elements of torts or crimes while being incredibly run down. Without proper rest, nobody can be at their absolute best.
The bar exam is designed to be a rigorous experience. There’s only enough time to really answer a question and quickly move on to the next. There’s not enough time to read and re-read multiple questions, to sit and stare out a window, to take walk breaks to stay alert, or whatever it is you might do if you weren’t sharp.
Ask any elite athlete what they do before a big game, and I guarantee they will tell you some variable of their method for relaxation and rest.
So, how do you relax before the bar exam. It depends. What do you like to do? If you enjoy hiking, go for a hike. Bike riding? Go for a spin or a spin class. Something restful that may be a little more sedentary would be coloring in an adult coloring book. Or read a book. Or a magazine. Cook a gourmet meal. Watch a favorite tv show. Take a bubble bath.
Covid may have made some activities more difficult lately, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find legitimate ways to relax before the bar exam. Make sure to make time to rest and relax so that you can be as sharp as possible the day of the exam.
Now, getting active may seem like a contradiction to my previous advice to rest and relax, but it’s not. Hear me out. The idea behind resting, relaxing, and getting active is that each strategy helps you clear your mind for the exam. A clear mind means you’ll be able to more easily recall the information you need. Plus, getting active, for many, is relaxing.
If you aren’t already running half marathons, I am not saying go out and start a training plan a week before the bar exam. But, do try to go for a walk or do yoga, kickboxing, Pilates. There are workout videos on YouTube for free that you can do right from the comfort of your home.
If none of that sounds appealing to you, put on some feel-good music and dance around your living room. Try Darius Rucker’s “Beers and Sunshine.” It’s a current family favorite during our at-home dance parties! When you get active, you release stress, and you’ll be better prepared to handle the rigors of the bar exam.
There’s no way of getting around this one. You should still be studying. But, at this stage of the game there’s a right way and a wrong way to study.
If you haven’t mastered all of the hearsay exceptions by now or all of the rules of Civil Procedure, chances are you probably won’t cram them in the week before the bar exam. The time for learning new material at this stage is over.
But, that’s okay! By now you should have learned a sufficient amount of material to succeed. The key the last week of bar prep is to practice what you’ve learned so it’ll be fresh by exam day. Don’t hit the books too hard. Instead, this week is all about maintenance.
Yes, the bar exam is stressful. But, please do remember to breathe. Remember everything will be okay. Lots of people pass on their first attempt. Lots of people don’t. I know an attorney in my community who took the exam four times before he finally passed, and he’s exceptional at what he does and has helped me on numerous occasions as I’ve learned the rules in a new state.
The key to being exam-day ready is to be relaxed, rested, and to effectively know how to cope with your stress and anxiety. You can do it!