Tips on Getting Into (and Staying) the Bar Zone:
- Get Your Brain on the Bar Exam Schedule: There is no doubt you’ll be able to wake up early on bar exam day but if your bar prep routine hasn’t quite followed an 8-6 schedule, your brain has gotten used to this lifestyle. Your brain has to be ready to work hard 8-12, 1-5 so it’s time to kick it in gear and get on the bar exam schedule. This will not be easy for the first 2-3 days and that should tell you something- your brain is not used to functioning like this. Of course this is totally up to you: struggle now or on the bar exam.
- Time to Taper: This is not the time to ramp it up or go hard. You’ve already done that and your brain knows what to do. It’s time to taper and let your muscle memory do its job. Any former or current athlete can tell you that taper is essential for peak performance. You may be afraid to taper for fear of losing information and skills. You won’t gain anything from going hard now. You will exhaust yourself for the bar exam. It’s time to trust your training and give your brain time to rest and recover. Tapering does not mean sleeping all day and binge-watching Netflix. You should continue to study to remind your brain what to do but you should decrease your study time each day. For example, for a typical 8-hour study day, you could try this:
- Monday & Tuesday 8 hours, Wednesday & Thursday 6 hours, Friday & Saturday 4 hours, Sunday 2 hours.
- Monday 8 hours, Tuesday 7 hours, Wednesday 6 hours, Thursday 5 hours, Friday 4 hours, Saturday 3 hours, Sunday 2 hours.
Important: these are EXAMPLES to give you an idea of how to taper. Adjust to fit your current needs and study schedule.
- Have a Little Faith in Your Abilities and Capabilities: 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 trying to memorize the exception to the exception. 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.
- Control Anxiety: 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.
An Ode to Bar Exam Fear
On July 2
check bar fear at the door.
You know this crap
and a whole lot more!!
You’ll look at the first essay.
Okay, you’re gonna dig deep.
You need to grit your teeth, bite your lip
3 more days til you sleep
Dig deed into your
bar review soul!
pull out whatever you’ve got.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you get to the test…
yep, you actually know a lot!!!
Your bar flash cards and study lists
you’ll see them as you write.
Resolve: that no matter what – you won’t
go down without an incredible fight.
Each question and essay is just a peak.
Passing by the lowest possible score
is the plan of attack to seek!!
If the first question throws you off course
don’t curse the bar review class—
with buyer’s remorse!
Think of lawyers you know who
have already passed.
some who are smart and
some with no class.
If they found a way to pass the test
YOU know you can do
your personal best.
So take your bar exam fear and
leave it in the car or bus
In a few years you’ll be one of us.
you’re going to stay steady
You have parents, or a spouse and friends
rooting for you!!!
They know your courage and
what you can do!!
You don’t need to pass with a
Big A +
just do enough to be
like the rest of us!
So take the anxiety and
check it at the door!!
Because you are winning
the BAR EXAM WAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Note: this ode was originally published in July 2015
You might feel a little uncomfortable because the commercial bar prep lectures are over and although you have a study schedule, you are not sure about following it exactly as given. This is a good thing because it means you have a sense of what you need to do to prepare. It means you don’t need to rely on commercial bar prep for every little detail. Use the commercial bar prep schedule as a base and adapt to what works best for you based on your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you scored above average on the practice MBE, you probably don’t have to spend as much time on MBE prep. 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.
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.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
What does “get comfortable being uncomfortable” mean? It’s something I’ve been saying for years. When I coached swimming, I said it to my athletes all the time. In swimming, every hundredth of a second matters so when you’re five meters from the wall and you think you need to take a breath, don’t. You are less than a second from finishing and taking a breath (or lifting your head) creates drag which can mean the difference between winning the most Olympic gold medals ever or… not.
Getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable also means not being afraid to fail. Swimming great Katie Ledecky fails “spectacularly” and that is why she wins.
There’s no magic bullet…[Katie] doesn’t have this incredible wingspan. She doesn’t have webbed feet. You look at Katie, just like with Michael [Phelps], and you realize the differentiator is between the ears. And their hearts. Their appetite for competition, their unwillingness to lose, and their embracing the challenge. And not just the challenge on competition day, which is a huge part, but the challenge of the training grind.
– Bruce Gemmell, Ledecky’s coach
At the Rio Olympics Ledecky finished so far ahead of the competition that she spawned Chuck Norris-like memes.
So, what does this mean for the bar exam? It means that you push yourself past your comfort zone. It means you don’t quit when things get hard. It means you mess up, make mistakes, and fail. A lot. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable means you are prepared for and can handle just about anything. Things don’t have to go perfectly for you to succeed. You have learned how to adapt, adjust, and move forward. No one likes feeling uncomfortable but avoiding that feeling and being afraid to fail is exactly why people fail the bar exam. They are afraid to make mistakes and afraid to be wrong. They are afraid of what others will think and that their best isn’t good enough.
It’s week two of bar prep and the uncomfortable feelings are creeping in. You can avoid them and take a breath or you can hold on, push through and get to the wall first.