The lawyer assistance programs (LAPs) have pulled together some tips, words of encouragement and resources for you during this stressful time.
In case you don’t already know, LAPs provide confidential services and support to law students, lawyers and judges who are facing substance use or mental health issues.
If you or someone you know needs assistance, contact your state or local LAP.
Dear Law School Graduate and Bar Examination Taker:
In the week before the bar exam, you need to accept that “the hay is in the barn.” (We like using any phrase or euphemism related to horses or farming, here in Kentucky). What that means is that you’ve (hopefully) done the hard work, you’ve studied, you’ve treated it like your job this summer, and the hardest part is done – it’s time to perform. At this point, it’s going to be difficult to memorize much more, so now is the time to focus on practice tests and the art of taking the test, the actual process, and your pace. Spend your time wisely – not cramming in more random facts you probably won’t recall anyway.
It’s so important that you breathe! Don’t forget to breathe! Take the time to meditate (using one of the many free apps you can download), so you can clear your head which will allow your thoughts to become better organized. This will serve you well in the week leading up to the bar exam. Start each morning meditating, allowing your brain to be calmed and soothed. Even if you’ve never meditated before, start now! What have you got to lose? It’s just a few minutes of your time and you’ll just be worrying about studying, anyway! Not only will this help in the week before the bar, studies show that people who meditate make better complex decisions. Just what you need to answer the complex bar exam questions! So when you’re taking the exam, and you read that question that seems to be a trusts and estates question, or wait, is it a dissolution question? – stop, breathe, and think! Allow yourself just a minute to breathe in deep, clear your mind, and breathe out. Re-read the question, and do what you are well trained to do at this point – apply the law! Do this anytime you hit a panic-point during the exam.
If you’re like most law students, you’re pretty well-prepared at this point. On the day before the exam, relax. It’s not the time to hit the other bar – just relax and do something enjoyable. See a movie, eat a good meal, and understand that a few more hours of study aren’t going to change much. You’ve prepared for the marathon, and you’re as ready as you are right here, right now.
And finally, dear exam taker, if you don’t pass the exam, remember that it’s not the end of your world. We promise. It just feels that way. But it won’t feel that way forever. Lots have taken, lots have not passed, and lots have re-taken. They’ve become amazing lawyers and judges (yes, I said judges), and had fantastic careers. Your test score won’t matter forever. The great news (??) is that you can take it again.
If the stress is overwhelming and you feel you are at the end of your rope, call your LAP program in your state. We’ll meet with you, have a cup of coffee (probably your 17th of the day), and try to help you through the rough patch. If more professional help is needed, we’ll guide you to that help. And if you need help after the exam, we have that covered, too. We’ll guide you where you need to go, and remind you that many, many other students, lawyers and judges have been exactly where you are, and there’s a way to walk through it (relatively) unscathed. We’re here to help you however we can. We want you to succeed! We’ve got your back.
Good luck! Or as we say in Kentucky, “a good horse makes his own luck.”
Yvette Hourigan, JD, CEAP
Director, Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program (KyLAP)
Staying Sane While Studying for Exams
1) Lighten up, smile and relax: The stress associated with law school exams drives many students into unnecessary depression and anxiety. Be sure to integrate fun and laughter while you are studying. The brain operates quicker and more efficiently when we are in a good mood. While your exams are important, if you take them too seriously, you could do yourself long-lasting harm from high levels of stress.
2) Organize your environment: Where will you be studying? Make sure that space is conducive for studying. Is your chair comfortable? Do you have enough light? Have you cleared out distractions? Do you study better with or without music?
3) Set your schedule: Fit in breaks and “time to goof off.” Be sure to plan at least 10 to 15 minutes of relaxation, fun, or planned distraction after every 50 minute period of studying.
4) Pick one task at a time: Your brain operates at its optimum level when you are focusing on one task at a time. If you check your email or search the internet, it could take you several minutes to get back to the task at hand. Save distractions for your designated breaks!
5) Get the food ready: Plan your diet before you start your study period. Your brain and your body need nutritious foods to aid your concentration and memory. Too much sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants will not help your endeavor in the long run; be sure to keep those to a sensible minimum while studying.
6) Drink water and Get sleep: During studying or “cramming” sessions, we can forget to take care of our bodies. Your brain needs hydration to work properly; be sure to help it out by drinking at least a glass of water every hour while studying. In addition, it is necessary to sleep for at least 6-8 hours a night in order for your brain to function properly. Research shows that the amount of sleep the night before an exam is a predictor of success.
7) When the exam is done, LET IT GO: The actual exam is going to go by fast. It’s amazing how quickly 3 or 4 hours can pass when you are focused. However, you still have more to go; so, once the exam is finished, don’t spend time comparing your answers with your colleagues or worrying that other students did better than you. Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself! Keep your spirits high and move on to the next batch of material you need to study. It will be over before you know it!
Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP)
If during your exam preparation you find yourself becoming overwrought/ overwhelmed/overloaded, take a minute (HALT) and think about whether you are also experiencing hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness. If so, you have permission to attend to your self-care and try to remediate the negative feelings. Taking a break, accepting your feelings and needs, and attending to self-care will likely make you more productive overall. Powering through it is not the answer.
Mary Spranger, LCSW
Manager, Wisconsin Lawyer Assistance Program (WisLAP)
Lawyer Assistance Program, Maryland State Bar Association
Links to Resources:
Bar Exam Toolbox
Dealing with Bar Exam Stress and Anxiety, by Lee Burgess, Ms. JD
Failing The Bar Exam Doesn’t Have To Be The End Of Your World, by Staci Zaretsky, Above the Law
Keeping Your Sanity During The Bar Exam, by Jeena Cho
Ten Tips for Law Students Dealing With Stress, Mental Health, and Substance Use Issues, prepared by Chris Ritter, JD, Staff Attorney for Texas Lawyers Assistance Program
Tips to Help Stressed-Out Law Students Unclinch, by Angela Morris, Texas Lawyer
10 Tips for Those Delirious From Bar Exam Prep, by Jeena Cho, Above the Law
22 Awesome Bar Exam Tips, Bar Exam Mind
Thank you to the programs named above as well as the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) and Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) for creating and compiling these resources.
And of course, thank you to all the LAPs for the vital services you provide.