The Bar Exam: A Time To Be Selfish

There are now just days until the next bar exam and if you are studying, you are definitely feeling that it is crunch time. You likely have moments of doubt about your ability to pass as well as moments when you feel you are prepared.

But we don’t live in a vacuum. Friends who may also be studying for the bar exam are likewise under incredible stress. It is possible they are struggling and dealing with increased anxiety. And they are turning to you, the bar studier, for guidance. What do you do?

You must take care of yourself. 

Although you want to help friends who are also studying, it is important at this point in your preparation to be a bit selfish. It takes almost all your energy to discipline yourself to study and keep your own emotions and anxiety in check.  You may not feel that you have anything left to give to your friends. In addition, talking to friends who are in bar-crisis mode can feed into your own doubts—causing your confidence to waiver. This can be demoralizing and damaging in these final days of preparation.

So, what do you do?

I think it is reasonable to limit discussions with friends who just want to vent or share their anxieties with you. I often recommend to my students that they turn off their phones during the day so that their study time isn’t interrupted by someone looking for a shoulder to cry on. But you might find that sending a supportive text or e-mail to your friend in crisis may allow you to be helpful without requiring the mental energy needed for a long dialogue during a bar-exam freak-out.

This is something to keep in mind in the week of the test as well. 

For many folks, it is likely that you are going to see people you know at the testing site. I recommend that you limit discussion of the test with any of them. It is not constructive to re-hash the questions and generate self-doubt. But you must watch out because conversations you think are safe—that aren’t about your answers—can quickly turn into something unintended. For example, a friend comes up to you and is really emotional. This friend fears he/she bombed the third question, for instance. You try to reassure him/her, but then your friend starts talking to you about the answer—looking for validation and in a way checking in with you about your answer. This is just the type of dialogue you want to avoid. It doesn’t help you to start questioning parts of an exam that you have already completed. You need to stay focused and positive about what is to come.

You may need to avoid chatting with your friends during the exam. 

I know this sounds extreme, but you can do it in a kind way. You can discourage people from talking with you by listening to headphones while outside of the testing center (note: you likely won’t be able to bring them in, but you can leave them in your backpack). Or you can go off on your own during lunchtime and read a magazine or listen to music so you are not tempted to discuss the test. Or you can go back to your hotel room and watch TV during lunch (during my bar exam, I watched Happy Feet on HBO in my hotel room ). Although I know you want to be there for your friends, you also want to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and not becoming distracted.

If you need space from friends and family during bar week, just explain that to them so no feelings are hurt. 

Some students like to think of the bar exam as a time warp—during which they don’t talk to anyone about anything else going on in the world until the exam is over. Some students find it comforting to chat with family and friends or even see family and friends during the bar exam. Regardless, you need to think about what is best for you and then share this with your family, friends, and significant other. If you want them to be available for you, just ask. If you want to go off on your own to complete the bar exam with little contact with the outside world, then share this with them as well. They care about you and will want to be supportive in the best way that they can (you can share this post with your family and friends on how to be supportive of your bar studier). Being honest with family and friends is much better than being frustrated or distracted during bar week.

Remember, passing the bar exam all comes down to how you perform on exam days. You want to be honest with yourself about your needs and adequately selfish so you remain focused and give yourself the best opportunity for success on the bar exam.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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2 comments on “The Bar Exam: A Time To Be Selfish

  • When I took the NYS bar exam, many years ago (and thankfully, only once), I had to fly into Albany from Chicago. All of the people I took the bar prep class stayed at the same motel. I did not, having friends in the area who recommended a bed and breakfast about a mile from downtown. This was absolutely the best thing I could have done. I was away from the hive of anxiety at the motel (the air conditioning there broke down, I later learned), the B and B owner got up extra early and made us a nutritious breakfast both mornings, and I walked right downtown to the test and got a little exercise. It really helped my mental attitude.

  • That is such a nice story! Thank you for sharing. Staying at a different location (other than the main testing center) can be a nice option to consider (especially if you can still go eat lunch in your room).

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