Monthly Archives: February 2015

Seven Suggestions to Avoid Study Burnout

Note: This post is relevant to everyone studying. Whether you are in high school, college, law school or any other graduate study, if you are giving it your all, you will burn out from time to time. Here’s how to re-charge!  

You are perfectly normal if you are thinking, “Not another day of this stuff!  I cannot handle any more studying.  Not another lecture, paper, or practice test.  I need to sleep.  I need a day off.  I need my life back!” You will have your life back when exams are over.  But, for now, “Another day of this” is precisely what you must do. Another, and another, and another –all in  high gear.  You must remain totally motivated, batteries fully charged, util the last “time” is called on the last day of your last exam.  For the upcoming bar exam, that is a full month away still.  So you have lots of time.  But you must make the most of it.

How to re-charge?  How does one maintain that kind of persistent motivation?   It’s not easy.  I remember the first week of July when one of my classmates said, “Just bring it on already.  I am so [expletive] sick of studying.  I just want the test now.  I’m tired.”  I have to confess at the time I felt so un-ready for the Exam that I could not relate at all.  I wanted every single day that remained to practice.  I wanted every minute to get ready.  I was happy to wait.  But, I can relate now.  Thousands of students later, I see how some people have just had it even by this time.  Others want even more time to pull it all together.  (They wish the exam were two more months later.) Wherever you fall on this spectrum, give yourself a break if you are feeling stressed and burned out. Stress and burnout are normal

Bottom line, you have no choice.  You are taking this exam at the end of this month, are you better believe with all your heart, soul, and might that you going to pass!  Done deal.  No options.  (To quote Apollo 13: “Failure is not an option.”)

What will you do on actual bar exam days?  You will go in and do your very best. That is what you owe yourself.  That is what must be done.  So, how do you get through from now until then?

Here are 7 Tips to Prevent Bar Exam Burnout:

1) Exercise. 

Most people are stressed, quite normally so.  The best way to burn off the excess stress is to burn it out, with exercise.

Do something active every single day.  Walking, yoga, biking, swimming, weight lifting, jogging, spinning, skating.  Whatever you do, don’t skip a day.  You must think of time exercising as an investment in your own success.  It is never a waste of time.  (If you simply cannot justify taking “time off” to exercise, then study while you are on a treadmill, or walk while playing a bar review lecture in headphones (or listening to a recording of yourself reading rule statements, see below.)

2) Pace yourself. 

Take breaks.  Remember even during the bar, you get close to a 2 hour lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions.  So, feel free to take long lunches now, each day.  Stop fully and relax.  Then get back into it.  And, when you’ve put in a full day of studying, take off at night to relax before you get a good night’s sleep.  And, make sure to get a good night’s sleep, each and every night.

3) Reward Yourself –daily and weekly.

Give yourself some daily reward.  At the end of each evening, do something before you go to sleep that acknowledges a hard day’s work.  (For some, that’s a mindless TV show.  For others, a glass of wine.  For others, a few minutes on social media.) And, give yourself a bigger treat to mark the end of each week of hard work.  Every Sunday night, for example, go out to a really nice dinner, or watch a movie.

4) Plan (and book) an after-bar vacation.  For those in college or graduate school, plan something fun for Spring break and summer!

Schedule something as soon as possible after the exam, something you really look forward to.  Just thinking about that and knowing that you have something definite in August will help alleviate some of the burnout today.  It can also be a great way to reward family and a significant other for letting you have time and space to study this June and July.

5) Shake up your study routine.

If you are tired of reading quietly, read aloud to yourself.  One of my students found the way to keep motivated (and better retain the material) was to read aloud in a funny accent and record her voice reading rules.  She played them back to herself  while driving and laughed while learning.

Try charting, try flashcards, try re-typing sample answers.

Study in a different location one day.  Explain the rules/theories you are most afraid will be tested on the bar exam to a lay person.  (If you can explain something correctly to someone else, likely that means you have mastered it.)

Variety can go a long way to helping stop burnout before it drags you down.

6) Get comfortable with “practice test days.”

Practice days are critical.  They will help you train the skills to pass.  And, if your practice work has simulated the intensity of the real thing, you will be able to walk in to the actual exam with power and strength.  You will have a  ”been there, done that” attitude and confidence.

7) Above all, be kind to yourself.

This IS one of the hardest times in your life, one of the steepest mountains you will ever have to climb.  The good news is, once you get through, it’s a lifetime license.  You never have to do it again.  Just pay your yearly dues and remain ethical, and you’ll keep your license for life.

PS. Be sure to eat lots of chocolate, and ice cream!  It won’t add brain cells, but it should put a smile on your face!!!!!

Ten Reasons Why People Fail the Bar Exam

Having taught thousands of people to pass the bar exam for, I can sometimes tell in a few moments of listening why someone failed the bar exam.  You can too, if you look candidly at the past, diagnose what went wrong, and commit to passing the bar exam next time around.

  1. You are not worried enough. You got by in law school.  You did not come to class prepared and you knew it, but you got lucky.  You passed all your classes, so you think you will get by now.  You say to yourself, “It can’t be that tough.  I know tons of stupid people who passed.”Wrong! It is that tough. And it is a whole different ball game, physically and mentally, from law school finals. First off, it is two or three full days, not a few hours. You will be exhausted, more tired than you’ve ever been in law school. Second, it is way more material than you’ve ever had to deal with on a single exam. Third, the anxiety level is much higher. People around you are terribly stressed out, and rightly so since so much of peoples’ future rides on that outcome.   So, what is your job?  Get with the program. Word hard, really hard, now.  Relax when you pass.  If you are working while studying, realize that you may not be able to do it all. Think about taking out a loan so you can give the Bar two totally concentrated months of full time study.
  2. You are too worried. You are filled with so much anxiety that you cannot relax enough to learn the material. You have a lot to study and you are right to be concerned, but you cannot absorb the law if you are completely stressed.Stop. Sleep more. Take breaks. Do deep relaxation and physical exercise. You cannot study effectively for 20 hours a day, and you don’t need to in order to pass. Just be diligent, disciplined and give it a good 6-10 hour day. Remember: slow and steady won the race.  Also, realize you are dealing with more material, more subjects, but the depth of analysis is not nearly as intense as a law school final or law review article. (Note, in a state like California, this is especially true on essay-only subjects. MBE subjects tend to be tested in more detail than subjects for which you only have to write an essay answer.)You are not trying to be Justice Holmes, or have your Bar Exam answers published in the Harvard Law Review. You just want to pass.
  3. You have not learned the law. Did you brief cases in law school? Do you really know and understand what a case is—what the difference is between a holding and dicta? Do you know what an easement is? Do you understand UCC Section 2207?If you don’t REALLY get it, it fine to admit that now. You can learn before it is too late. But do not set yourself up to fail. Do not pretend you know what you really do not.  The time is now to dig in and really learn.
  4. You are the Dreamer. You are going beyond the scope of the fact patterns. You read into things. You assume facts not in evidence.  What is your fix?  Read slowly and read every word of the fact pattern aloud, under your breath. Recall what you read, take notes, and then analyze them thoroughly. Stay away from “What ifs.”  Resist if you find yourself saying, “But what if the party were an adult?” If the facts say the party is a minor, work with that. Why bother with the “what ifs?” The party is a minor, period, end of story. Analyze the facts and the law accordingly.
  5. You have weak reading comprehension skills.You really don’t understand what you are reading. Either you are nervous, trying to read too fast, or you have not trained your reading skills thoroughly enough. The Bar Exam, like all standardized tests, is largely a test of reading comprehension. Your reading must be in top shape to pass.Do lots of practice tests and study the model answers. Figure out what you did wrong. Re-read instructions. Also, if you want a good exercise: try reading and summarizing in one to three sentences, all the articles in the opinion section of the newspaper each day—this will train your skills and keep you informed at the same time!
  6. You are a Practicing Attorney in Another Jurisdiction.You are licensed to practice in another state, and trying to get licensed in a new state. You may have been practicing for years. But, for some reason, you just can’t seem to pass this Bar. You may be angry at having to take the Exam in the first place; you are an attorney, after all. You are licensed. You have done your time. You shouldn’t be asked to have to take another test. It’s been a while since you were a student and you resent this imposition.You are also knowledgeable in the real world. But in some instances, you know too much. You think of too many practical issues and get hung up on them. You need to pretend you are back in school. Think BIG issues, and write a complete analysis. This is not shorthand to help you resolve a client’s problem. This is long hand. Give a complete analysis to prove your skills for the grader. “Show the math.”Also, lay off the jargon unless terms are used in the problem. Don’t use flashy terms to impress the grader; you won’t. Don’t use “heretofore,” “the party of the first part” “said party” or “said issue.” Just write out an IRAC (issue, rule, analysis, conclusion) in short but complete plain English sentences.
  7. You have poor writing or typing skills and present an illegible answer. If the graders cannot easily read what you wrote, they won’t. They will not assume you wrote the right things. They will not give you the benefit of the doubt.  Sloppy careless typing or writing with major mistakes in spelling and grammar can bias a grader.  Lawyers must be organized.  Present yourself on paper as you would in an interview: as a competent, organized, clear-thinking and clear-sounding professional.
  8. You don’t manage time well enough.You didn’t bring a clock with you to the Exam, or you didn’t look at the clock you had. Either way, time ran away without you. You were caught with moments to go and unanswered or barely answered questions. Even one question left unanswered is enough to fail you—especially if it’s a performance test question that is worth a big percentage of your total grade.  Practice, under timed conditions, with a big, easy-to-read clock.
  9. You are not ready to be a lawyer.Maybe you went straight from college to law school, and are still a little overwhelmed. You may not even know for sure if you want to be a lawyer, and you are certainly not ready to have someone else’s life or financial future in your hands. This is common. You can solve this issue creatively in a number of different ways, without having to fail the Bar. For example, decide before taking the Bar that you will give your yourself some time after you take and pass the Bar Exam before seeking or accepting a law job.  (Work doing something else for a bit to take the pressure off, and then decide it law is what you want.)  Don’t commit ahead of time to a job you are not ready to accept.
  10. You are simply unlucky. This does happen.  For real!  Some people do just have a bad day, family problems, physical accidents or other incidents that occur with the worst of bad timing.  If you are one of these people, just climb back on the saddle, and do it again.  This time the exam will be yours to pass!!