How to Stop Procrastinating When Studying for the Bar Exam

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Today we have some fantastic advice from Ariel Salzer of the Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox team. She is an experienced law school and bar exam tutor, and is here to deliver excellent advice on dealing with procrastination when studying for the bar exam. 

Are you a procrastinator? If you have a Civ. Pro. essay to review, multiple choice questions to practice and a Con. Law essay to write but you just can’t seem to tear yourself away from Facebook, this post is for you!

Procrastination can be challenging in law school, but when it comes time for the bar exam, you probably only have a couple of good solid months to prepare. What this means is that procrastination can really take a harsh toll. Plus, since the workload when studying for the bar is so intense, you might find that you’ve done a great job with one subject but sort of skimmed your way through another so you can catch up. And, you definitely don’t want fantastic outlines for the MBE subjects and complete blanks for all of your state-specific subjects. So, what can you do to stop procrastinating before you even start? Or, how do you salvage if you’ve already started rolling downhill? Here are some tips from a recent study you can find here: Time Travel  Studies have shown that imagining that the task in front of you is already done can have a huge motivating effect on procrastinators. For example, you know how great it would feel to finish your entire outline for Evidence plus your chart of all the hearsay exceptions, along with a mnemonic to remember them all. At that point, you might finally feel like the whole subject makes sense. You could start to see the different sub-topics and where they fit in. You’d likely have a much better grasp on the format a good Evidence essay should take. If you’re procrastinating about making your outline, travel forward in time and remind yourself how nice it will feel when you’re done with it. Just thinking ahead like this can be a helpful way to push yourself to accomplish your work now instead of waiting until later. Take Just One Step in the Right Direction  The idea of making outlines and attack plans for twelve or thirteen different subjects can be completely overwhelming. For a lot of bar students, stress, plus nerves, plus the sheer volume of work can make them want to do anything and everything besides actually sitting down and getting started. I’ve seen bar students who decide to go scrub down their entire house because they just can’t face all the work piled on top of them. This isn’t usually a conscious choice. There’s often a lot of rationalization that goes along with it. “I can drill videos while I’m washing the dishes!” “I can run mnemonics as I sort laundry.” It’s amazing how almost anything else can sound appealing when you’re trying to get out of the things you need to get done. So, what should you do if you can’t seem to get started? Just take a step in the right direction. It doesn’t even need to be a big step. In fact, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to start small. You don’t have to make all thirteen outlines right now, but you do have to pick a subject and put in one solid hour of work. Set a timer and make yourself put in one productive hour. After that point, at least you have a working document, which is much easier to deal with than a blank page staring back at you. Stay Off the Internet  We’ve told you about the Netflix binges some students find themselves in when it comes to studying for the bar. You might think, “Oh wow, how could that ever happen? I would never let myself watch Lord of the Rings 20 times if I was studying for the bar!” Well, it’s not that simple. It usually starts with overwhelm, then procrastination, then hard work in fits and starts, then burnout, and then comes the TV. You can do yourself a big favor now by setting some firm limits. Turn off your phone during the day. Yes, switch it all the way to off. Put it out of your sight. Set your browser so your home page isn’t a social media site or anything else you find distracting. Take off your automatic login settings for Facebook and reset your password to something you need to go look up. Make it harder for yourself to get into the sites that eat up your time. And, if you’re tempted to play another show or movie, go back to step one above and ask yourself how good you might feel if you used the next hour to get ahead on your outline instead. Forgive Yourself if You Get Distracted  Along with procrastination can come some pretty serious feelings of guilt and shame. Why? Well, no one wants to admit that they spent six hours on Instagram and have no work to show for it. No one wants to feel like the reason they failed the exam is because they couldn’t get themselves to try hard enough. If you waste enough time, you might even feel like taking the bar is hopeless because you’ve let yourself ruin a whole weekend, or week. I’ve worked with students who lose a whole week, and it is possible to come back from that. But, you can’t just vow to work harder going forward, you also need to get over the guilt. The past is in the past. If you waste a day, there’s no way to get that time back and if you keep beating yourself up about it, you’re just going to jeopardize the time you do have right now. So, forgive yourself! Some procrastination is completely normal and it’s not the end of the world. If you start feeling guilty, tell yourself whatever you would tell a friend in the same situation. I bet it will sound something like, “That’s okay, don’t feel bad, you can wake up early and work really hard all day tomorrow to make up for lost time.” This is much more productive than the typical internal monologue of, “How could you be so careless/stupid/lazy!” etc. Be kind to yourself. Studying for the bar is hard enough already.

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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