When I took the California bar exam (long enough ago that it was still three days), I packed my own lunch each of the three days. I don’t remember what I took each day, but I do remember the first day was (1) a peanut butter and jam sandwich on whole wheat bread; (2) a bag of fresh blueberries; (3) a cookie; and (4) a bottled sugary sports drink. I also took a couple of energy gels as snacks for before the exam started, the ride home, or whenever else I might need them.
While not exactly a lunch of champions, it served me well.
In deciding to pack my lunch, and what to pack, I considered the following — and these might be worth your consideration as you prepare for the bar exam too:
1. Many Bar Exam Locations Have Limited Food Options
This can be a challenge for anyone who has food allergies, food sensitivities, or just generally concerned about getting something healthy. You want to be at your best during the exam — fully fueled and able to concentrate. If you’re not used to eating greasy, fatty, or salty foods and those are the only options available at your bar exam location, your body might not react well to them and it may distract you or impede your performance during the afternoon session of the exam.
2. Ensure You Have Something That Doesn’t Bother Your Stomach
The day of the bar exam is stressful. Many people with sensitive stomachs know that stress increases the danger of an upset stomach significantly. For those who know they have sensitive stomachs, and even those who even think they might, having something that has proven safe for your stomach can both alleviate some of the test day stress and reduce the risk of an upset stomach during the afternoon session.
3. Avoid The Lines
In addition to the limited food choices at some bar exam locations, limited options can also produce long lines. While the lunch break is usually adequate, locations with a lot of test-takers and few food vendors can make getting food and eating it in the time allotted stressful. Bringing your own food can ensure you aren’t worried about getting lunch in the time you have available.
4. Give Yourself More Time To Meditate
Bringing your own lunch can give you more time to eat by avoiding the lines, but also give you more flexibility in where you sit down to actually eat. You can use this extra time and flexibility to help you make your lunch the break you need. For some people this means socializing and chatting with friends (if you are taking the exam with classmates or people you know). For others this means a quick lunch and then a solitary walk around the block. And for still others this means a quiet lunch and meditation in your car. Whatever activity is calming for you, bringing your own lunch can give you more time to spend on it.
5. It’s Cheaper
Taking the bar exam is expensive. Save yourself a little cash! Especially when the food might not be very good, lines might be long, and bringing your own food will give you more time — spending the money to buy your lunch at the exam location might not be worth it.
So if you’ve considered the above, and you think you might like to bring your own lunch on exam day, what should you consider?
Avoid The Need For Refrigeration
You almost certainly won’t have access to refrigeration (unless you are staying at a hotel next to the exam site and have a refrigerator in your room or are able to leave your food in your car in a cold climate for the February exam), so plan accordingly. Things like string cheese hold up pretty well without refrigeration, but things like yogurt and meat often don’t. And even if they won’t technically spoil in a morning, make sure it still tastes good even if room-temperature. Which brings us to…
Pack Something You Know You And Your Stomach Like
If you are bringing your own lunch because to have a sensitive stomach, be sure to pack something that won’t irritate it. But it’s also important to bring something you like and enjoy eating! You’ll probably be stressed out and may not be that excited about eating, but keeping yourself fueled is a good idea. So pack something you like.
Pack Something Balanced And Full of Energy
What you eat does matter. Research suggests that a balanced diet including whole grains, complex sugars, proteins, and healthy fats can improve performance on your exam, aid memory and recall, and reduce stress.
My lunch of a peanut butter and jam sandwich and fruit doesn’t sound that exciting, but it checked all of these boxes for me. It filled me up. It did just fine sitting in my hot car all morning. It was full of carbohydrates and protein to give me some short- and long-term energy. And it was easy on my stomach. But the thing that served me best was the chance to eat a quick and relaxing lunch with a couple of friends, and then sit quietly in my car for a short meditation before returning for the afternoon section of the exam. Those may not be your priorities, but whatever your priorities are, consider whether packing your own lunch may make it easier for you to accomplish them.
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