Dan’s Roadmap on How to Pass the Bar Exam: The Final Few Days Before the Test

I’m sure the past two months of studying for the Bar Exam have been grueling, if not punishing for you all. Looking out the window at Starbucks while reading a BarBri outline on Contracts as others stroll by in shorts and flip-flops on their way to a summer’s day of fun and frivolity can make you want to scream, “I have had enough of this. Let’s just get it over with!” But you’re in the home stretch now. You might be flipping out that you haven’t studied enough, learned enough or won’t have enough time left to master subjects you still haven’t absorbed before you walk through the test room door on the first day of the exam.

But remember, everyone feels this way. Everyone fears they’ll  fail the bar exam. Taking the bar is a freakish life experience, after all. You really have no prior frame of reference to gauge how to take and pass such an exam. You never studied so many subjects for two months in monk or nun-like solitude to take a two-day test that has large implications for your life post-law school.

Here are my tips to keep take care of your body, mind, and spirit during the home stretch.

Exercise

By necessity, you’re in your head twelve hours a day. In doing so, you ignore and starve that part of yourself below the neck. This isn’t a very good idea because it ignores the yearnings of our body to move. Exercise is a powerful way to tend to our bodies need to release toxic stress. Some types of exercise are more aggressive than others: a bruising game of pickup basketball versus a long walk in a scenic park or yoga, for example. If you feel a lot of anxiety in your body, go for the more active form of exercise. If you feel more down and discouraged, go for the more passive form and soak in the sounds and greenery of nature.

Massage

I highly recommend getting massages. During long periods of chronic stress, our bodies need to regroup and feel nourished. When you get a massage, you are giving yourself permission to get out of your head and let someone else nourish your body. It’s well known that massage mitigates the punishing effects of too much stress and release powerful endorphins (the feel-good chemical in your brain). A good massage probably costs $75 per hour. Why not get one? Isn’t it worth it if it will help you study better and be at your best on test day? If you cannot afford it, have a friend or loved one give you a massage. Here’s a YouTube video on how to do it.

Eat Healthy Food

Of course, there’s the ever-present temptation to reward yourself with ice cream, salty chips, gummy bears or dark chocolate. All of that has its place. But, remember the bar exam is about having your brain hit its peak level of performance when you take the test. So, load up on the protein, fruits and veggies and lots of water.

I recently read a book called, “Your Body’s Desperate Cry For Water.” The author, a physician, maintains that many of our health problems, including low energy levels, sleep problems and mood disorders, can be linked to our culture’s dehydrating diet (too many caffeinated drinks and high consumption of salt) and not enough water intake. Many of our beverages and foods dry out our bodies and knock them off kilter. So load up on the H2O!

Get Enough Sleep

I know you’re all sleep-deprived. But just like water, your brain and body absolutely need good slumber. For those who are night owls and get up early, you’re going to have to take a nap. Many of you have trouble getting to sleep at night because the wheels are spinning in your head: “My MBE practice test score was too low today. I am going to fail this goddamn test!”

You need to distract yourself from these thoughts. Pull out your iPod and listen to some music that’s soothing and relieves your stress. Remember, on test day you’re going to be expected to perform at your best between the hours of 8 am. and 5 pm. and not between 8 pm. and 2 am. when you might have been doing some of your best studying. As you approach the bar, try to get in sync with the hours you’ll actually be taking the exam. A lot of research has shown that it’s detrimental to one’s optimal test performance when you don’t get enough sleep. Make this a very high priority.

Pace Yourself

Take breaks. Remember that even during the bar, you get close to a big lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions. So, feel free to take long lunches now, each day. Stop fully and relax. Then get back into it. Plan (and book) an after-bar vacation Schedule something as soon as possible after the exam that you really look forward to. Just thinking about that and knowing that you have something definite in August will help alleviate some of the burnout today. It can also be a great way to reward family and a significant other for letting you have time and space to study this June and July.

Shake Up Your Study Routine

If you are tired of reading quietly, read aloud to yourself. One person who took the bar exam with me kept motivated (and better retained the material) by reading it aloud and recorded her voice reading rules. She played them back to herself while driving. She passed the bar. Try charting, try flash cards and try re-typing sample answers. Study in a different location one day. Explain the rules/theories you are most afraid will be tested on the bar exam to a layperson. (If you can explain something correctly to someone else, likely that means you have mastered it.) Variety can go a long way to helping stop burnout –before it drags you down.

Spirituality

If you have a religious or spiritual routine, keep doing it. If you don’t, read or listen to something inspirational every day. Some of you have long-established religious or spiritual routines, whether that is going to Mass, reading the bible and/or praying. Lean heavily on God. Don’t worry; He (she) has big shoulders! For others, a spiritual practice might mean doing mindfulness meditation or walking in the woods. Whatever it is, connect with it on a regular basis for at least 20 minutes per day.

Laugh Your Ass Off

Watch funny movies. Belly gut laughter helps put everything in perspective. Check out the blog 50 of the Funniest Movies Chosen by Comedians to get some ideas.

Don’t Hang Out or Talk to Negative People

People try to gauge how they’re doing by talking to other fretful friends. Nothing good can come of this. It will simply jack your anxiety level and lead you to conclude that you have little if no chance to pass. Just cut anyone out of your life for the next few days that aren’t positive. YOU NEED TO STAY POSITIVE.

Doing your Best on the Bar Exam is Usually Enough

If your goal on the bar exam is to memorize all the law that might possibly be tested, that’s, of course, impossible, and you might feel like quitting now. No one could do that. In law school, your goal (rightfully) was to make the highest grade you could on every exam you took. But on the bar exam (happily) your goal is very different. You don’t need to ace this exam. You only need to make a passing grade. That leads to altered study tactics.

Stop visiting Distracting Websites

Do not study while distracted by websites, texts, Facebook, etc. The bar exam is important enough to merit your full focus. It is just going to fragment your attention span and make it harder to get back to studying. If you’re doing it, stop it right now. A lot of people studying for the bar lament that they’re not consistent with the number of hours and their quality of the studying on a day-to-day basis. If you have a bad day of studying, leave it behind and start the next day determined not to let it happen again.

There’s an old Zen saying, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

If you have a bad day, get back up.

Are you a law student or lawyer who struggles with too much stress, burnout, anxiety, or depression?  If so, contact me at Yourdepressioncoach.com.  I have a life coaching practice specifically designed for those in the legal profession. For more information, contact me at danieltlukasik@gmail.com or text at 716-913-6309 to set something up.

Further reading:

What to Do the Week Before the Bar Exam

22 Bar Exam Awesome Tips

The Reasons Why Law School Graduates Are Very Worried About Failing the Bar Exam

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