The bar exam is just days away and everyone’s anxiety is running a bit high. That is completely normal. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t at least a little bit nervous in the days leading up to the exam (I know I was). But there is a delicate balance between good nerves and bad nerves. Good nerves can keep you focused and working hard. Bad nerves can cause you to freeze up and not be able to perform at your best.
Your Mind-Set Going Into the Bar Exam Is Very Important
Although it is not the most talked about part of your prep, I would argue that your bar exam mind-set is incredibly important. If you aren’t in a good mental place to sit for this test, you can actually stand in your own way, causing unforeseen results on exam day. (Our friend Elena Ducharme has explained the differences in good anxiety versus bad anxiety in this blog post. Her point: You don’t want a “no stress” situation, but instead you want to find a “sweet spot” where you feel highly effective and motivated.)
There are many different ways to look at mind-set. But here are a few ways to think about your thought process in these final days before the bar exam. Do any of these resonate with you?
- Just decide you will pass. Alison (my partner in the Bar Exam Toolbox and founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School) talks about how believing she would pass helped her keep focus, even when her certainty started to waiver.
- One and done. This was my bar exam motto, and one I have shared with many of my students. Throughout my bar exam prep, when things got shaky, I just reminded myself that I wanted to do my best so that I had to go through this experience only once. And hey, it worked for me!
- Stop saying, “I can’t.” I hear this from students all the time. This negative messaging can actually keep you in a negative mind-set. Does this sound like you? If so, you can help yourself by changing the dialogue about how you talk about this exam.
There Are Simple Things You Can Do to Calm Your Nerves
Even if you have the right mind-set, you may still feel that your nerves are getting the best of you. Don’t worry; we have some suggestions for that.
- Calming your nerves can be as simple as writing things down. Have you ever tried it?
- What about meditation? It is amazing what a little time closing your eyes and breathing deeply can do to reduce stress or a nervous feeling in your body.
- Sometimes, to calm your nerves, you just need to do something as simple as taking a break.
These are just some suggestions. You know yourself best. What are the things you have done in the past to help calm yourself down in times of stress? Try those out now.
Come Up With a Game Day Plan
One of the things I always find helpful is having a game day plan. That means I want to have everything organized when it is time to go to the hotel. In addition, I want to plan when I am going to get up each day, what I am going to do in the evenings, even what I am going to eat during the exam days. Having all of this stuff figured out definitely lowers my anxiety level. What about you? Do you have everything in order for the exam week? If not, taking some time to get organized may actually decrease your anxiety.
What If Anxiety Hits During the Exam?
If anxiety hits during the exam, you want to do the most simple thing you can imagine—take some deep breaths. Turns out breathing creates a physiological response that reduces the stress response. And the best thing about it is you can do it at any time at any moment, even during the exam. So if you start to feel things are spinning out of control, take a break, take some deep breaths, and then go back to your work. You will likely think more clearly and be able to perform better than if you had just pushed through.
What If You Aren’t Taking the Exam for a While But You Are Already Worried About Anxiety? What Should You Do to Become Bar Exam Ready?
If you aren’t taking the exam for a while, you may want to explore some different options to help you cope with stress and anxiety and get things under control.
- Here are some strategic tips for unwinding stress. These include creating your own strategic self-care plan, taking care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self.
- Have you ever heard of hypnotherapy? Some folks have found it really helpful in coping with fear and anxiety. Check out this post for more information on the techniques used to help you get out of your own way.
- Or perhaps it is time to talk to a therapist or coach about what is going on. Sometimes professionals can help shed light on things we do that we can’t recognize in ourselves.
- If you can’t afford a therapist, or want to try some techniques yourself first, check out these four free to very low cost options for handling anxiety and stress.
Studying for and taking the bar are stressful experiences. But by listening to your body, utilizing some anxiety-relieving techniques, and being kind to yourself, you will be ready to do your best on exam day.
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®.