After reading this recent post from Susan Cartier Liebel, I felt it was important to talk about taking care of yourself during your bar exam study period. For many students, taking care of yourself is the first thing to go when you get stressed or busy. I hear this all the time! “I don’t have time to go to the gym or make a healthy meal.” Or my favorite, “I don’t have time to take a break, there is just too much work to be done!” Or heaven forbid you get sick and start saying, “I don’t have time to stop studying and get better.”
Your physical health and mental health are critical elements of bar exam success.
The bar exam is a physically challenging experience. I know this may sound strange, but that is one of the things that surprised me during the testing week — how physically exhausted I was after three days of sitting (I took the California bar exam). My body felt as though I had run a race! Most of us don’t take into consideration how physically draining being under stress and working at a high level can be. If you are not physically strong and healthy, your body won’t be able to help you perform at your best.
The bar exam is also a mentally challenging experience. From studying for weeks on end to the grueling days of the exam, you are under stress, coping with anxiety, and trying to do some of your best academic work. Your mental clarity and strength are not important just on exam day but throughout your study period. You want your mind to be sharp and clear to retain as much information as possible. You want to be able to cope with the stress and anxiety of studying without it becoming paralyzing. And during the exam day, you want to make sure that you are focused only on doing your best on the test and not on fears of failure or concerns regarding the outcome.
Can you be an excellent bar exam taker if you are physically and mentally drained or sick throughout your bar exam preparation? For most of us, the answer is no. So what can you do?
Make taking care of yourself part of your bar exam preparation.
Just as you make lists of tasks you want to accomplish to study for your exam, you also want to include tasks under the header of “taking care of yourself.” These tasks are just as important as (or at times more important than) a few more hours of studying over a two-month period. What are some of these “tasks” that you should include on your study schedule?
- Getting exercise: Exercise is good for our bodies and good for our minds. It can also be fun and a great way to get away from sitting with your books all day. When I was studying for the bar exam, I worked out with a trainer two days a week in the mornings before my bar review lectures to make sure I fit in the workouts. I know other friends who religiously went to yoga or ran every day. Exercise classes can also be fun because you get to hang out with people who are not studying for the exam. That can have its own benefits. Even if you just get outside to walk your dog, moving around physically will help you sleep better, have less anxiety, and likely have better mental clarity. Not sure where to find the time? Put exercise on your calendar. I schedule my exercise activities in the same way I schedule meetings. If it is on the calendar, it is more likely to get done, right?
- Eating healthy food: Since taking the bar exam, I have learned a lot about how food can affect how you feel, not just physically but also mentally. What you eat (or don’t eat) can help you focus, stay full, and generally feel better and have more energy. Want some suggestions? Check out this post on what to eat for bar exam success. Cooking healthy food for yourself while you are studying as well as during the exam days is a great way to help you do your best.
- Taking breaks: The bar exam is a marathon and not a sprint. Although you may have studied all day, every day for final exams during law school, you likely didn’t do that for two months at a time. Burnout is a real issue with bar exam study and without time to recuperate from hours of studying, you are likely not to be as productive and thus not get the most bang for your buck during your study time. Let’s also not forget the most important break during the day, sleep! Sleep is a critical element to being able to be at your best. Burning the midnight oil night after night, week after week seldom helps you perform at your best. There are no prizes for the most hours studied. The only prize is passing the exam in the end. Studying smart, in my opinion, means taking time off to rest and clear your head so when you are studying, you are your best self.
- Getting the help that you need: The longer I work with folks studying for the bar exam, especially those coming back after a failure, I get more and more passionate about students seeking professional help when they need it. If the anxiety is becoming paralyzing or your fear of failure is growing pervasive and preventing you from studying, you should, in my opinion, seek out help. Why wouldn’t you? If there is a coping mechanism for your fears and anxieties that will free you to be more successful (and less miserable) in this process, it is worth exploring and checking out. As lawyers we typically scoff at seeking help, considering it as a sign of weakness. But I encourage you to think about seeking help as a sign of strength.
It can be hard at times to make your health and wellness a priority. We often forget that they are actually critical to being successful day after day. So take care of yourself! This will help you be more successful (and less miserable) during your exam preparation.
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®.