Preparing for your Bar Exam? Watch your language and keep it positive!

The great basketball player Michael Jordan apparently once said, “You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”  How do you think of yourself? How do you talk to yourself?

You must ask the right questions in order to get the right answers. You must think of yourself and speak of yourself as someone who can and will succeed. (If you feel you cannot honestly speak positively, because you truly doubt that you will achieve, talk with someone and do everything in your power to dismantle the self doubts. Law students, make an appointment with your ASP faculty and talk over your doubts.)

Changing the tone and content of your own inner dialogue (something that is totally within your control) can empower you in your quest to achieve your goals, and propel you toward success. Consider the following examples:

Thought: Why can’t I get a higher score on these practice tests?  Re-phrase: How can I improve these practice exams and do better next time?

Thought: This material [for law students perhaps easements and covenants; for high school or college students perhaps physics, statistics] is so difficult. I’ll never understand it.  Re-phrase: Maybe I need to re-read the material a couple of times before I get this. Or, maybe I need to find a different explanation of the concept, one that makes more sense to me. But, I will get it eventually. (Be patient and kind with yourself. We live in an age of instant gratification, but difficult concepts are not always graspable on your first read or the first time you hear a professor introduce the topic. Something you must puzzle over something for many long hours to really get it.  That is normal!  Do not get frustrated. Be stubborn and stick with it, all the while believing the answer will come.)

Thought: I’ll never be able to sit and focus for three days. I can’t go ten minutes without checking my phone. Re-phrase: I have a challenge before me to build the endurance to focus for the entire length of my bar exam. I will have to wean myself from all my distractions, including this phone.  I’ll do it a little bit each day. In two weeks, I should be able to focus for at least two hours in a row and in four weeks for four hours straight. I will train then in four hour blocks going forward so that I am ready to perform for the three-hour blocks that I must be on and focused for during the bar exam.

Thought: There is no way I can write an answer that is as good or detailed as the model answers. I can barely re-type a model answer in the time allotted.  Re-phrase: I am studying sample answers and model answers to learn from them. I am not taking the bar exam tomorrow. I have time to absorb this way of thinking and writing. The more I read these and study how someone got this answer from this fact pattern, the easier it will be for me to write this much detailed analysis in this organized a manner within the allotted time. Whether I feel it or not, I know that with each practice test I do I get stronger. My issue spotting gets better, my rule statements become more precise. I am increasing my speed and my accuracy as I practice. I just have to keep going. I can do this.

Adapted from Pass the Bar: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals 

Author: Sara J. Berman

Sara J. Berman, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law, is a Professor of Law and Assistant Dean at the Touro Law Center. She formerly served as a Director at the Washington DC-based Center for Legal Education Excellence.

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