The Bar Exam Chill Pill

How to Stop Worrying and Plan for Success

With the bar exam merely days away, your head is probably crawling with worries. What if I forget an element? What if I run out of time? What if I have to pee? When a student starts listing concerns like this, I call that a bad case of the “What Ifs.” If you are suffering from the What If’s, you don’t even need to ask your doctor about a drug with a spacy sounding name. The What Ifs are curable with a good dose of what I call the Bar Exam Chill Pill. Yes, I went there.

The Bar Exam Chill Pill is a set of steps that I suggest you take anytime before the bar exam, to improve your confidence when you find yourself with What If-like symptoms.

Step One: Understand, Specifically, What You’re Worried About

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 hide them in the corner of their mind and pretend they will just go away. Treating your worries by ignoring them is like feeding a weed and then hoping it will just pack its bags and move on its own. Your worries will just keep getting bigger and scarier and continue to haunt you. If you really want to be decrease your worry and increase your confidence, you must face your weaknesses and worries head on and make a plan for dealing with them.

Step Two: Brainstorm All Possible Solutions

Now that you’ve listed your worries, brainstorm possible solutions. If each worry happened, how could I solve it? For example, if you worry you will run out of time on an essay, brainstorm potential time management techniques and then try them out to see if they work.

If you worry you will panic, think of all the ways you can calm yourself down. In the Mind Over Bar Teleseminar: Test Taking Toolbox, which will be hosted on Sunday night, I will teach specific tools for calming down your body and turning off your stress response so that you can calm yourself down no matter what happens.

Step Three: There’s a Plan for That

For each worry, put together a specific plan on how you would handle it on test day. 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. Once you have your plans, you have ammunition to combat your What Ifs. What if I don’t know the issue? There’s a plan for that!

Write each of these plans down. These will become part of your last minute review before the bar exam. For example, if you fear you will forget an element, your plan may look like:

“If I forget an element, step one, I will take 3 deep slow breaths, then I will tell myself that I can do this, then try again. If I still can’t remember I will make one up and analyze the rest of the essay, then return at the end to see if I can remember one last time. I will not waste more than X minutes on trying to remember an element.”

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 Four: Practice Makes Confidence

Now practice your plans while you are taking practice tests. Try to make each worry happen on purpose, and then solve it using your 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 have memory problems with and practice what you will do if you don’t know an element.

Worried you will panic? Do a practice essay and pretend you are panicking, then practice how you will calm yourself down.

In the end, when you walk in to the bar exam, you never know what to expect or how you will feel. A friend of mine had to take the bar exam next to a woman dry heaving for 3 hours during the first session. And he still passed! It is what it is, and it if happens you will solve it and you will pass. So take a chill pill man. Sorry, couldn’t help it!

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.

Conquering Tiredness During Bar Study

To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question. Chronic tiredness during bar study can be more just than a minor annoyance. If not dealt with, you could be losing time, energy, and even confidence. If sleepiness is interfering with your study productivity, don’t just sleep on it. Examine all possible causes and experiment with various solutions.

Health

First look to the simplest solution, your overall health. Your body is operating at a higher stress level right now and may need more sleep than normal. If you are averaging fewer than 7 hours of good quality sleep at night, consider restructuring your schedule.

Likewise, your diet dramatically influences your energy level. If you are not eating right, you body could simply be depleted. Like sleep, during high stress times your body needs better quality fuel. Try adding broccoli, zucchini, squash, asparagus, spinach or other vegetables to your daily diet and dramatically increase your water intake. Also, take a close look at your consumption of sugar when you study. The spike and drop in your blood sugar can, in itself, cause sleepiness.

Are you exercising regularly? Raising your heart rate several times a week will increase your energy level. If you notice you can’t seem to keep your eyes open, quit for an hour and take a brisk walk or go to the gym. Also consider exercising in the morning to wake up your body.

Study Environment

Hours upon hours of monotonous studying can bore even the healthiest person to sleep. Examine where and how you are studying. If the bed calls when you study at home, try other places. When I studied for the bar I could fall sound asleep on top of a book at home and at the library, so I studied in coffee shops with headphones and ambient music. Try different study environments and change it up, or try studying to different types of music or with other people.

Simple body movement will also help combat tiredness. Experiment during your breaks and find something you enjoy that invigorates you. Maybe stretch out or dance in your living room to Michael Jackson for 10 minutes.

Eating activates your digestion, which can keep your body active and prevent you from falling asleep. Keep healthy, non-sugary snacks with you, like nuts or trail mix, and snack when you feel tired. I ate sunflower seeds when I studied because de-shelling them one by one gave my body something to do and kept me alert.

Pay attention to the type of studying that makes tired and experiment with other ways. If reading material puts you to sleep, try doing something different with the material like quizzing yourself at the end of each section or making one note card per page. Try re-working your own outline, explaining the material out loud to your dog, or throwing a bouncy ball against the wall while you quiz yourself. Get creative and keep your body and mind fresh.

Read to What is the experience of taking the bar exam? on Quora

Emotional Health

Sometimes tiredness is caused by something more subconscious. If you feel defeated, frustrated, overwhelmed or resentful about studying for the bar, especially if you are repeating the bar, your mind and body could be unconsciously fleeing through tiredness. When you feel unpleasant emotions, even if you do not notice them, your body’s natural reaction is to get away. This can manifest externally with procrastination or even tiredness.

To examine this closer, take a pen and paper. Think about the bar exam, and for five minutes write down every feeling and word that comes to mind associated with the bar exam. Notice if you get more stressed out, more tense, or more anxious or angry as you write. If a majority of your words and feelings are negative, these negative thoughts and feelings could be causing your tiredness.

Another possible energy factor is mental stamina. If you are spending mental energy taking care of someone else, working a stressful job, or managing other external problems in your life, you simply may be out of mental energy when you sit down to study. If this is the case, see if you can lighten your mental load.

The most important weapon against tiredness is your consciousness. The more you are conscious to what is causing you to get tired, the closer you can get to finding a solution. If you cannot pinpoint the problem, just try various solutions and see what works. Don’t be asleep at the wheel, take an active role in crafting your personal best study environment and you will be surprised by the results.

Want to learn more mental tools to rock the bar exam? 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 improve your study productivity instantly.

What if I Blank on the Bar Exam?

Picture this: On day one of the exam you read the first essay, an evidence question. Your heart speeds up, your palms start to sweat, and your mind starts racing.  You suddenly realize you can’t remember the hearsay exceptions.  In fact, you can’t even remember the definition of hearsay!

What happened to that information?  It was still in your brain, but you temporarily could not retrieve it.  In other words, you blanked.   Although scary, blanking is simply the result of your biological stress-response.  With a little understanding and practice, you can remedy even the worst-case scenario very quickly.

Think of your mind as a giant file cabinet. When new information enters your brain, the information is analyzed and filed by your memory.  Your memory then retrieves the information from the file cabinet when you take the exam.

You use different types of memory to store and retrieve different types of information.  You use one type to store and retrieve the hearsay exceptions, and another when you learn to snowboard.

One type, your emotional memory, stores and retrieves emotional information such as fear and anger.  Because emotional information may signal external trouble, the emotional memory is also the body’s security guard and can sound your body’s emergency alarm – your stress response.

For example, if you are feeling fear because a lion is chasing you, your emotional memory will trigger your stress response, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline, and diverting all of your energy to escaping the lion.

When it sounds the alarm, your emotional memory also shuts off the rest of your memory, preventing you from taking in or retrieving other information.  After all, you don’t need those hearsay exceptions when you’re running from the lion.

But your emotional memory is like Chicken Little.  It cannot distinguish between fear of the bar exam and fear of a lion.  So if you feel very strong fear during the exam, your emotional memory may sound the alarm and shut down the rest of your memory, diverting your body’s resources to what it mistakenly believes is external trouble.

If that happens, your memory literally cannot retrieve the information from the file cabinet in your head – you blank.  To remedy blanking, you must learn how to shut off your stress response – to calm your body down.

If you blank on an exam, follow these steps to remedy the situation:

1. Remind yourself that blanking is temporary.  The information did not disappear.
2. Take a few deep slow breaths, breathing low into your belly.
3. Don’t pay attention to your thoughts, just focus on your calming down your body.
4. Relax the muscles in your body, melt into your chair.
5. If you still cannot retrieve the information, skip it and come back to it.

Practice makes perfect. The more you practice learning to calm your body now, especially during practice tests, the faster you can calm your body during the exam itself.

Want to learn more mental tools to rock the bar exam? Lauren Firestein 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 calm your body and clear your mind on exam day.

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