Law school has conditioned you to study hard right up until it’s time to take the exam. However, this is not a law school exam. This is no 3 hour test where you’re allowed to use highlighters, wear watches, drink coffee, eat snacks. Those were the good old days. This is the bar exam. Endurance is important. You’ve been studying for 10 weeks and you are tired. You’ve probably had trouble focusing this week, each day getting worse than the one before. This is totally normal. Your body and brain are sending you a signal so listen and get some rest between now and Tuesday so you can be focused and energized for the exam.
This weekend try to have a “normal” couple of days. Put in a little study time, but also sleep, rest, watch tv, go out to dinner, interact with other people. Eat something healthy: carrots, apples, broccoli, anything that comes directly from nature. Go easy on the alcohol, soda, coffee, and energy drinks. Instead, re-hydrate with water.
- Stop cramming. You can’t learn all the law and you don’t need to.
- Stop obsessing over your MBE scores. It won’t help and you’ll be fine.
- Stop trying to get a perfect score on every essay. It won’t happen and it’s not necessary.
- Stop doubting yourself and your abilities. You are ready for this.
Trust me but more importantly, trust yourself- you’ve worked hard, you know the material, you know what to do and how to do it.
Get on the Bar Exam Schedule:
Adjust your schedule so your study time is the same as testing time: 8-12, 1-5. It’s time to get your brain and body on the bar exam schedule.
- Sunrise Studiers: you are great in the morning but you also need to stay strong through the afternoon. You want to be as sharp at 3pm as you are at 9am.
- Night Owls: the afternoon sessions will be a breeze but your brain has to be ready to go hours before that. Get up and get going.
Balance Review and Practice:
This is not a law school exam where you are expected to know absolutely everything and get points simply for discussing it. This is the bar exam and although substance matters, so does application. If all you do is memorize, you won’t be able to actually write a response or apply it to an MBE fact pattern. If all you do is answer questions without self-assessing you won’t know if you made mistake. A few important truths about practicing:
- You cannot learn all the law. You don’t have to learn all the law. You have to learn enough. Trust that you have done this, stop with the outlines and start answering questions.
- You will get an essay question where you don’t know/can’t remember the rule. You will have to make one up. Stay calm, use words that sound like a rule, connect it to the facts and reason your way through to a conclusion.
Pre-exam jitters are absolutely normal and very necessary. It’s called adrenaline and it is actually useful because the adrenaline rush ensures you’ll operate at peak performance. The problem occurs when it interferes with performance. It will subside once you start working because you know how to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take a moment to think about all the work you’ve done to prepare. Look at the list you wrote last week- the reasons you will pass. Be confident in your abilities. I know you can do it but you have to believe you can. This is the one thing I cannot do for you. When you begin the exam, take a breath and then work your way through, one question after another. As you move forward, your exam preparation will take over and you’ll soon be thinking of the questions and nothing else.
Last week you took a simulated MBE and have now been working to improve upon that performance. You have probably seen a nice improvement on practice questions but this is about the time when people experience the “MBE Vacuum.” You will start missing a ton of questions and your scores will drop, sometimes by a lot. I don’t really know why this happens only that it is very common. If an when you enter The Vacuum, Do. Not. Panic. Resist the urge to hurl your book across the room or throw things at your computer. Avoid posting on social media things like; “I just got 3/17 Crim questions right. I’m going to FAIL the bar exam.” Or “I guess all those hours and hours I spent studying Evidence were a TOTAL waste of time because according to this MBE score, I don’t know ANYTHING.”
Yes, you might get some sympathetic responses from friends but this won’t improve your scores. This won’t get you out of The Vacuum. Take a few deep breaths, close your book, shut off the computer and take a break from the MBE for a few days. Come back with a better attitude and I promise your scores will improve.
Many of you are taking a simulated MBE today. You’re going into it with a mindset similar to how you felt about exams your first semester of law school: “I just want to pass. I’ll be happy with a C.” For most of you, grades came out and you did pretty well, better than you hoped for. Even if you didn’t do well, you didn’t quit. If you had, you wouldn’t be studying for the bar exam right now. It’s human nature to do things like this- failure happens but no one likes it. When you fail, it’s easy to want to give up. Planning to fail is called “failure expectation” and it actually helps you maintain confidence. Even if you do poorly, you are prepared for it and it doesn’t kill your motivation. The rationale behind this is that we learn from our mistakes often better than from our successes.
So prepare for the simulated MBE with a “failure expectation” plan. Aim for a realistic score like 50%. Then come up with a back up plan if you score under this. If you score higher, you can move forward but even if you “fail,” you have a plan to reach your ultimate goal. Giving up is not an option and neither is whining about it. Know what you will do to keep yourself moving forward.
Take your nervous energy and transform it into confidence by doing the following:
- Take control. If you come across an MBE question or essay that seems impossible, just take your best shot and move on. By not giving up you take control of the situation and this is empowering. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Don’t doubt your abilities. You don’t know all the law today and you won’t know it all in three weeks. But you will know enough. You’ve worked hard and it will pay off. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Keep going. No excuses.
- I’m tired.
- Everyone is going out tonight, and I’m missing all the fun.
- I can’t focus at home, and it’s too hot to walk to the library.
- My back hurts.
- This is going to take me at least ten hours, and I only have eight hours to work.
- I deserve some rest.
- It’s overwhelming.
- I really should do laundry.
- I’m hungry.
- I’ll do it tomorrow.
- I’m tired.
Stop it. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Winston Churchill
You might feel a little nervous because the commercial bar prep lectures are over and although you have a study schedule, you are essentially on your own. Oftentimes people aren’t quite sure what to do. You are a special snowflake so why follow a generic study schedule? Don’t. Use it as a base and adapt it to what works best for you. In general, I recommend covering 2-4 two subjects a day and for each subject:
- Review notes;
- How you review is up to you. There is no one right way to do it.
- Work through practice essays and MBEs.
- Review your responses, modify as needed.
- Compare essay responses to released responses and reconcile difference, figure out why you missed an MBE question.
Whether you study 2, 3, or 4 subjects a day is up to you. How much time to spend per subject and per component depends on your comfort-level and how you like to learn. If you learn from reading, take more time to review notes. If you learn from doing, skim notes and do more practice. If you learn from mistakes spend more time reviewing your response and modifying your notes.
Keep studying and practicing and working your plan. While you should take note of your failures, you should also recognize your successes. This is what helps you stay in control and move forward.
Check out tomorrow’s post for suggestions on how to take your nervous energy and transform it into confidence.