Bar exam takers are always asking: “How can I get confident before the exam?” Many students believe that they must feel confident on bar exam day to pass.
Attorneys and prospective attorneys are generally perfectionists and want to feel sure they’ve done it right. But with the vast amount of material to memorize, trying to “get it right” and “be confident” becomes that imaginary carrot you never quite get to. So here are five steps you can follow today to start creating more bar exam self-confidence.
Step One: Figure Out Why You’re Not Confident
Make a list of everything you are afraid might happen. Are you worried you will run out of time on an essay because it keeps happening in practice? Worried you haven’t memorized enough and will forget an element?
Many people fear their weaknesses, so they put them in the corner and pretend they will just go away. If you really want to be more confident, you must face your weaknesses head on and try to improve them now.
Brainstorm possible solutions. If you run out of time on essays, try different time management ideas. Maybe when you outline an essay, parcel out your time – 4 min on this issue, 6 on this issue, etc.
If you worry you can’t memorize enough, try different memorization techniques. Maybe use a tape recorder to quiz yourself or write elements and pneumonic devices on paper and stick them to your bedroom wall.
Step Two: Make a Plan of Action For Test Day
For each fear, brainstorm how you would handle it on test day. Planning and preparation are the keys to confidence. On test day, you just might forget an element or panic. But if you have planned how you will handle it, even your worst- case scenario won’t knock you out of the game.
If you forget an element, maybe plan to insert something random but similar, and analyze it to your best ability. If you have test anxiety or panic, make a step-by-step plan of how you can calm yourself down.
If you don’t know the issue at all, maybe your plan is to just analyze it using the closest law you do know. If you worry you will have to go to the bathroom, plan your pre-test water drinking strategy.
Step Three: Practice, Practice, Practice
Now practice until you are blue in the face. Make each fear happen to you now on purpose so that you can practice your action plan. The more you prepare and practice, the more confident you will be that you can handle anything.
Worried you will forget an element? Pick a practice essay for a subject you haven’t memorized adequately and practice what you will do if you don’t know an element.
Worried you will run out of time? Try making yourself deliberately run out of time so you can practice how it feels to run out of time and test out your plan.
Worried you will have test anxiety or panic? Do a practice essay and pretend you are panicking, then practice how you will calm yourself down.
Step Four: Fake It Till You Make It
Confidence isn’t something that falls out of the sky. You have to cultivate it and create it for yourself. How would you walk if you felt confident? How would you breathe? What thoughts would you be thinking if you were confident?
Write all of this down on a note card and keep it with you. Then do all of these things regularly now so that they come easy on test day. Even if you feel stupid, just fake confidence until you make it.
Try it now. Walk tall, breathe deeply and think “I can handle this” or “I’m ready for this”. Even though you’re faking it, your body doesn’t know that and you will probably feel a little more confident.
Step Five: Stop Worrying About Being Confident!
Here’s a little secret… no one feels totally confident when they walk into the exam. Many people want confidence because they think it’s necessary to pass – it isn’t. Whether you walk in nervous or confident, all that matters is how you perform on that test.
You probably won’t feel like you know “everything” or have done “enough”. But you do NOT have to know everything. And there is no “enough”. So stop trying to get to that imaginary carrot – it will just keep moving away.
When you walk in, you may feel 10 things all at the same time – scared, frustrated, confident, nervous, ready, angry, happy, and sad. You will feel what you feel. None of it means anything about how you will perform. So stop worrying about it and start focusing on what’s important – planning and preparation.
Want to learn how to handle test day panic or anxiety? Lauren Fire is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course, an innovative course that focuses only on the mental challenges of the bar exam. The course teaches in-the-moment practices you can use to deal with any mental challenge and rock the bar exam.