- Did you budget your time well? If not, watch the clock more carefully and limit your time per question.
- Were you tired after lunch? Perhaps you can eat a bit less and take some of that lunch hour to walk a bit and burn off some stress or listen to some motivating music.
- Did you “blank out” on any questions? If so, get a plan ready to work through a temporary “brain freeze” should one occur during the exam!
- Most important, do not get psyched out. Simulated exams help you by providing an opportunity to make necessary adjustments before the real thing. Simulated exams are not necessarily a referendum on how you will actually perform next week. They are, however, an opportunity to get lots of useful information. Use that data wisely, and use these two weeks to improve!
It’s here. This month that you looked forward to from the first day of law school is finally here. You may be feeling dread or fear or fatigue. Likely you are not yet excited.
Notice the word “yet.” Trust that you will be. Give bar prep your full attention, focus fully for the next three weeks, and you will most likely come to the point when you feel if not downright excited then certainly empowered by all the knowledge in your head.
Picture yourself as a runner finishing those final laps. You will be ready to cross that “finish line.”
You will be ready to write intelligently on any topic they throw at you. You will be ready to say, “Bring it on, Examiners. Bring any topic and I have something to say. I can break the issues down, recite the main rules, and, based on a careful reading of the facts determine a logical outcome to each issue presented.”
You will be ready to read each multiple choice question carefully, with curiosity, delving in to the call to figure out precisely what the question is, then seeking the facts to match up to law that is in your head so that you can rule out the wrong answers and bubble in the best one.
You will have more law memorized than at any other time in your life. And, if you let it, that feels good. Threads of legal rules that seemed to be picky irrational details finally make sense. You see how it all fits together. You see parallels between legal rules and policies in numerous areas of law that previously had been “siloed” in your brain in only own course, associated with only one professor.
Stay focused these next three weeks, though. This is not the time to let up. Today is. Take today, July 4th, off. Recharge your batteries. Then, get in and soak up every bit of knowledge you are now ready to learn. You are primed. The rules have context now, so they will stick. Memorize. Know key rules just as well as you know your favorite passwords. (Say them out loud, sing them, write them out 20 or 50 times.)
Think of how much you learned in three days before certain final exams. These three weeks are the bar exam parallel to those three days. Embrace them and enjoy this process. You are strong and getting stronger. You will go in there and be prepared to do your best. And, that is a great feeling.
So proud of all my students. It’s hard to dig in, after graduation, and get ready for yet another exam. But, this is the last one. And, it’s so worth all the effort.
You CAN do this. You can pass the bar exam. Dig in and embrace bar review. It is an opportunity to get to do this kind of intense learning.
Don’t view it as torture or hazing. Throw yourself in. Think of the bar exam as a photo that right now is blurry and out of focus. But each week as you get closer to the exam, you learn more and more, you refine your knowledge and your command of each subject, and that blurry photo comes more and more into focus. By July it will be crystal clear.
July is your exam to pass!
PS. I know I wrote about this days ago, but I just learned of a dear friend — a beautiful, vibrant, smart, and talented college grad whose life was taken from her at age 22. If there is a lesson in this loss it is to make the most of every moment we have. Don’t view study as torture. Don’t waste a moment feeling bitter, or angry, or sad. Embrace the studies. Learn all that you can. And, know that you are on a road to not only do well but do good. Your future is bright. Embrace it!
I attended a lovely graduation ceremony this past week, as I’m sure many of you did. Huge smiles from graduates, their families, faculty, and administrators. It’s all seems worth it on this big day. And, it is. Do not be put off by the fact that there is more work ahead. (For law students, your biggest test (the #barexam) is yet to come. Embrace that as good news –as an opportunity to learn more and rise to the challenges ahead.)
Do not let the idea of further effort diminish all that you have done to get to this point. Those of us who have work to do are lucky! Incredibly lucky.
I just learned about a college graduate who walked this past week and will never walk again. She died in an accident –while her family was visiting for graduation festivities. She was and will remain a shining star in the hearts of all who knew her. I cannot believe that I will never have the chance to hug her again, to follow her career and see her shine. She will never have the chance to work. Her career was taken from her, as was her life, at 22.
I don’t have the right words. I doubt there are any. My heart goes out to her family and friends. She will be missed dearly.
So, to all my students and readers, to anyone facing a bar exam this summer, to those studying in summer school, to the many engaged in summer jobs or internships, to all who just graduated and are looking for jobs –let us collectively be thankful that we face work ahead. The fact that we get to work means we are alive. And let us support one another in the process.
Tragedies remind us that the road ahead may be cut short at any moment; let’s make sure that each step we take is filled with purpose and gratitude. And, let none of us be discouraged by the fact that some of those steps will be challenging. How lucky we are to be here to face challenges….
Many college and graduate school students must work while studying. A couple of thoughts.
- When you get your syllabus, calendar midterms and finals, and ask your employer if it’s possible to work fewer hours (or take off entirely) during the weeks prior to those exams in exchange for working additional hours once exams are over.
- Don’t wait until after work when you might be too tired to study. If you have to work while in intense study mode, put in an hour or two in the morning before work, an hour at a lunch break, and an hour or two after work. You will get 5 hours a day in this way, without having them all crunched in when you are perhaps too burned out to focus.
- Use “work” as time off from studying and studying as time off from work –at least during finals. During those high gear weeks before finals (or months if studying for the bar, boards, or a big standardized test), eliminate or reduce if possible any responsibilities other than work and studying. Obviously if you are the sole caretaker of young children or elderly parents you cannot “eliminate” those responsibilities –but try if possible to get someone or hire someone to help out or act as your “relief pitcher.”
- Though work and studying will (and should) take nearly all your focus, continue if at all possible to exercise, sleep, and eat well. Brain work takes a great deal of energy. Your focus, your ability to learn and retain information and to think clearly will all be enhanced by effective self care.
These simple few suggestions in no way imply that juggling work and studies is easy, especially if you also have familial responsibilities. But hopefully these tips will help make the trying task a bit easier. Keep up the good work and hard work, and draw on your internal motivations to rise to this admittedly very tough challenge.
Interesting piece in the NY Times that made me think about the sorts of fears and other road blocks that get in between students and exam success. (“Time to Be Honest about the Fear that’s Getting in Your Way” by Carl Richards, April 17, 2017)
Let’s look at some possibilities:
- I really do not love what I am studying and would rather spend time doing ________ [FILL IN THE BLANK] than studying.
Fear? [For college students]: Maybe there is no major for me. [For graduate students: Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong field. But what then? I’ve put in so much time and money, how do I turn back or change things now? I will incur more costs, more time, I’ll disappoint others….] This is an issue, no doubt. A couple of thoughts. What do you love? Can you articulate it? Is there training to get a job that would involve doing what you love? Also, remember, even work one “loves” is often hard. If you are well into a course of study, think carefully before deciding something “isn’t for you” solely because you may be struggling. If you are now just first deciding what to study, research what people do professionally with the degree you are seeking and see if any of it sounds appealing. Go on informational interviews. Talk with people. Research. You might find you were on a good path all along, or you might conclude that you do need to make a change. Bottom line here, the more strongly you believe you are on a positive path, the more likely you are to succeed in the various steps along that path.
- I do not believe that the price I’d have to pay to get the best grades possible is worth it. Everyone says that no one in my generation will get jobs unless they are in STEM, so why bother.
Fear? I won’t get a job. True may of today’s college grads, and even law school grads, are having a harder time than in previous generations finding good jobs. But there are still jobs. And, the better your grades are the you are more likely to get one of them. Instead of deliberately putting your head in the sand, or sabotaging yourself, make yourself the best possible stand-out graduate you can be. (Make an appointment with someone in your university’s career services center.)
- If I really put in every ounce of energy and an immense amount of time and I still don’t do as well as I’d like, the “truth” will come out that I’m just not as smart as people think I am. If I don’t put in that much, I can blame B’s, C’s, or D’s on something other than my own intelligence.
Fear? I am not smart enough. OK, this is a layered and nuanced concern. Some people are not suited for certain studies. But being admitted to a degree program is at least one objective measure that you are capable. Your grades are another measure. But, sometimes grades are an indicator that you have to try a different approach or seek a different explanation. Haven’t you ever had something just not make sense at all until that one moment when someone explained it in a different way, and “click,” -you got it?
Don’t let the fact that you haven’t yet figured something out push you into an imposter syndrome –where you fear you are not cut out for whatever you are seeking to accomplish. Instead of fearing you are not smart enough and falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy, try believing you are smart enough and find ways to live up to your high expectations. Seek help. Try different ways to studying. Experiment with different places to study. Research learning science techniques. Harness all the tools out there to help you become and stay your absolute best. Look for articles, books, videos, professors, TA’s, tutors, academic support or writing centers to see if any of them can help you get it –maybe with a different approach. There is a really good chance that persistence will pay off!
- If I put in my all, I will do better than [FILL IN THE BLANK – perhaps this might include friends, siblings, or even parents.] My success will make them jealous.
Fear? I won’t be as well liked or loved if I show how smart I really am. OK, if the last point was nuanced, this one is even more complex –but oh so real for many people. There are jealous people and those who are not supportive. We could spend hours, days really, strategizing about how to handle this. For now, think about it this way –no one has the right to diminish your potential. And, certainly don’t let anyone into your head to keep you down before you’ve even given yourself the chance to soar.
Put this fear on hold. (Hit the pause button.) Do your best, succeed to the best of your ability, then deal with the fallout afterward. What’s the worst that can happen? You might lose friends. (If you lose a friend because he or she is jealous of your success, decide if you were best served by keeping such a person in your life anyway.) You might alienate family. (Ok, maybe. Sometimes people close to you are jealous or resent the time that your success takes you away from them. But you can find tools to repair such relationships, especially if they are truly grounded in love. Sometimes people need time and reassurance to know that your success will not diminish them or your relationship.) And, you may be surprised and find some or all of those you thought would not be supportive are. You may find people you thought would be jealous are immensely proud of you.
Is there something standing between you and doing your best? What is it? Break it down. Look closely to see if there are underlying fears, and if so, can you work through them without sabotaging yourself. Bottom line, struggling to do the best you can, in whatever you are studying at the moment, will give you more choices –even if you end up making a change.
Many of my students have been asking me how to best prepare for success on their final exams. My advice differed when I spoke with those who asked a month or more before exams. With them we talked about slow and steady working through the material, outlining, completing many practice tests under timed conditions, etc. To those who ask what they can do just days before their exam, we talked over the best strategic use of the remaining time. One common thread emerged — go in to the exam in peak form –or, well, as close to peak as possible.
For law exams especially, and certainly in many other disciplines as well, you must be alert enough to read carefully, and critically, to do well. I give the same advice to people who want to stay up all night the night before the bar exam: don’t. (“The guy sitting next to you may know a bit more content than you but if cramming that into his head came at the price of being so bleary eyed that by the afternoon session, Ps and Ds all start to look alike, that extra knowledge won’t help at all.”)
For many exams, particularly essay exams, there is simply nothing more effective than walking in well rested, calm and confident –enough to focus closely on every word. Read the essay thoroughly before you begin writing. Read the question two or three times to make sure you understand it. Then, outline your answer. Only then, after reading carefully and organizing your thoughts should you begin writing and completely address the full question.