How tense are you right now? How much learning is blocked from coming into and staying in your brain because of nerves.
My constant refrain that I ask bar takers and other students getting ready for exam to tell yourselves is: “Turn Panic into Power and not Paralysis.” That power phrase appears in my books and articles and in most every talk I give to students preparing for high stakes exams.
There are many steps for turning panic into power. Step one is always to breathe. We’ll talk about next steps in future blog posts.
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.
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.
This morning, I saw one of my students with his cap and gown, and we were both beaming. I am so excited for all of you who are graduating. It’s a huge milestone. Congratulations to you if you will soon have earned your J.D.
But as you well know, graduating from law school is uniquely anti-climactic. Maybe you get to toss your mortar board in the air, have a few drinks and a nice meal or two with family and friends. Then what? Another test! Crazy, right? You accomplished perhaps the biggest goal you have ever achieved and you hardly have time for congratulations. Would be nice in a way if you could take the Bar first and then have the big party and festivities. But, for most people it doesn’t work that way.
So, acknowledge this graduation with your one or two days of celebrating. Then, gear up again, this time in the highest gear you’ve ever been in for your July bar exam. Trust me, the joy you will feel when you learn that you that you pass this bar exam will more than outweigh the delayed gratification of waiting to really and fully celebrate your graduation.
In just a few weeks, you will walk into Bar Review classes. You will deal with yet again with ridiculously heavy outlines. (You thought carrying casebooks would kill you!) You will spend two months review more than a dozen subjects. But you will do it. And, in about July you will feel so strong, so empowered. Everything that may have seemed vague in law school will come clearly into focus. You will be ready to answer any question the examiners throw at you.
So, after finals, clear your calendars of everything that is not essential between now and the exam. No more distractions, no more errands, parties, etc. Eliminate or reduce obligations unless they are absolutely essential. Read Pass the Bar for success on the exam.
And, one more thing. As soon as possible, if you haven’t done it yet, plan the most fun thing you can think of for August!