It’s easy to get discouraged when studying. Mountains of materials make it all overwhelming. But please remember that education is a treasure; it is an endless gift to be able to spend time learning. Confront challenges and problem solve to dissipate road blocks. And, try hard to put a smile on your face when you are working. It is amazing how inner positivity can have a productive ripple effect.
You are perfectly normal if you think, “I cannot handle any more studying. Not another lecture or practice test. I need to sleep. I need a day off. I need my life back!” You will have your life back after the bar. For now, another day of this is precisely what you must do. And another, and another. You must remain motivated, batteries fully charged, util the last “time” is called on the last day of your exam.
How to maintain motivation? It’s not easy. But these ten steps help.
1) Exercise to burn off stress
Burn off the stress. Do something active every single day if you are able. Walking, yoga, biking, swimming, weight lifting, jogging, spinning, skating. Don’t skip a day. Think of time exercising as an investment in your success. And, if you want, study while on a treadmill or walk while playing a bar review lecture.
2) Pace yourself – one day at a time
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 lunches now. Stop fully and relax. Eat something healthy. Drink water. Then get back into it. And, when you’ve put in a full day of studying, take off, relax, then get a good night’s sleep.
3) Reward Yourself –daily and weekly.
Do something kind to acknowledge each day’s work. And, give yourself a bigger treat to mark the end of each week of hard work.
4) Plan an after-bar something special
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 planned will help alleviate some of the burnout today.
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. Explain the rules/theories you are most afraid will be tested on the bar exam to a non-lawyer person. (If you can explain something correctly to someone else, likely that means you have mastered it.)
Study in a different location one day. Variety can go a long way to helping stop burnout before it drags you down.
6) Get on bar standard time
Complete practice days where you are “on” during the times you will have to be on during your bar exam. This will help you train the endurance needed for success.
7) Be kind to yourself.
This IS one of the hardest times in your life, one of the steepest mountains you will climb. Once you pass, it’s a lifetime license. You never have to do it again.
Sing a favorite song. Music is a healthy, natural way to re-charge.
9) Check in with a classmate
If you study effectively with others, it might help to have some company. If not, at least reach out to classmates. There is no one who will understand what you are going through better. Even a quick phone call, text, or Zoom can help you feel that you are not alone. You are all in this together.
10) Eat chocolate! It won’t add brain cells, but it should put a smile on your face!
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.
Some of you will soon face final exams. How do you concentrate when not everyone around you is as serious as you are about doing well on exams? It’s hard to motivate with the sunshine out, and especially if anyone around you seems to be playing or having fun while you’re “stuck” studying. Remember, it’s only a couple of weeks. (Well, if you happen to be studying for the bar exam right after finals, it’s a little bit longer stretch. But, even the two months will fly. Read Pass the Bar Exam for all the tips you need!)
Most important, try to see the “study glass” as half full. You are not “stuck” studying; you get to study. It’s an incredible gift to be able to sit quietly in a safe place and learn. It sounds corny, but it’s really true. You are on the path to help yourself to do well and to do good.
Here are some practical tips to help your focus during finals:
1. Pick a study spot. Maybe it’s the library, maybe it’s s a coffee shop, maybe it’s your home. Wherever it is, make sure it’s a place you can concentrate where people will not bug you.
Try studying in a different spot once or twice to see if you are more productive in a different setting. (For example, some people study in the library but spend more time socializing with friends than studying. It may be that an office, a home, a public library, or even library in another school at your university may be where you need to hide during finals.)
2. Let your friends and family know you are in finals mode, and tell them when to expect you will be free. Say “No” to all plans, social invitations, and even to family obligations unless absolutely necessary during the couple of weeks before exams.
If you are a working student with a job outside of school, see if there is any way to take some time off before exams.
If you have young children or aging parents, plan well ahead of time, think about whether it is possible to arrange for someone reliable to provide the care you usually give, at least to free up some time for you to study.
Saying “No” ahead of time to social invitations frees you up to decide if you feel like you have time to socialize. If you have put in a good day or evening and want to drop by that party you were invited to, go ahead. But only after your work is completed.
If after studying you just want to go to sleep, let yourself. Brain work takes much more energy than most of us realize. A good friend of mine who was appointed to the bench told me she had never been more tired than in her first months on that job. There was nothing physically demanding, but she was certain that she was using more brain power than she ever had before.
3. Plan something special to look forward to after finals –either by yourself or, if you have family or a special someone who will miss you during this intense study time, plan something fun for them to look forward to doing with you after finals are done.
4. Take a social media break, and, don’t answer texts or phone calls while you are studying. Pick a set time (a short break time) in the evenings after studying is over for the day to read messages.
Again, good luck on finals! And best wishes for a great summer after exams.