The bar exam is almost universally recognized as one of the hardest professional tests that anyone will ever have to take. Even after years of courses and additional studying, a large percentage of people end up failing the test on their first try. Even the most prepared candidates are sure to feel some level of bar exam anxiety.
This added stress not only impacts your life leading up to the exam, but can actually make it more difficult to pass. People who are experiencing anxiety when taking a test are more likely to second guess themselves, which can result in them getting questions wrong that they would have otherwise gotten correct.
With this in mind, finding the best ways to overcome bar exam anxiety is second in importance only to studying. The tips listed below will help you to boost your confidence and get you in a strong mental position to give you the best possible chance at passing your bar exam.
1. Acknowledge Your Anxiety
The most important thing you need to do is acknowledge your anxiety and accept that it is a normal obstacle when preparing for any major event. Nobody is surprised when they are feeling a little anxious in the days leading up to a major surgery, or even leading up to a wedding. Anxiety is simply your brain’s way of processing the fact that something important is coming up.
Once you have accepted that anxiety is normal, you can start working on finding ways to overcome it. Part of the process of acknowledging the anxiety is looking at the specific reasons why this bar exam is stressful.
This can be done by asking yourself some questions related to the anxiety, and then giving yourself the answer. This will help your mind to process through the various scenarios that you will be facing, which can help to calm you down. Start with the following questions, and then come up with some of your own based on your unique needs and personality.
What Happens if I Fail the Bar Exam?
The biggest fear for most people preparing for the bar exam is what would happen if they fail. The fact is, however, that many people fail the bar on their first try.
Many famous people have failed the bar, including Hillary Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and even former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo. While nobody wants to fail the bar, knowing that it absolutely does not mean the end of your legal dreams can be very comforting.
Have I Studied Enough?
It takes a lot of studying to really understand all the concepts that will be covered on the bar exam. It can feel like you can never study enough, which can make you feel anxious. When you ask yourself this question, try to answer it objectively. Look at how many hours you have studied, whether you have spent enough time on each section of the exam, and any other related questions.
If you can honestly say you have studied enough, then you should be more confident. If not, then create a plan of action on when you will study more, and on what specific topics.
What Will Happen on Exam Day?
Do you know what to expect on exam day? If not, look up the process for your exam location. Once you have the information, plan out exactly what you will be doing on the big day.
Write down what time you will wake up (include how many alarms you plan on setting and other details), the route you will take to the exam location, what time you want to get there, what you will be bringing with you, and any other details you can think of. Creating a detailed plan may help to provide some relief from your anxiety.
What is the Absolute Worst Case Scenario?
So if all your fears about the bar exam come true, what would happen. If you fail the bar exam, you can always retake it another time. But if you took the test and failed, then took it again and failed, and eventually had to give up on your dream of being an attorney, what would happen? While this is obviously an extremely bad scenario, you would eventually find another career and have a good life.
This question is not meant to minimize the importance of the exam, but rather to show yourself that while this is a major exam, it is not a life-or-death situation. By doing this you can calm your mind, which may be stuck in a fearful mode, resulting in anxiety.
2. Take Practice Exams
One of the best things you can do to overcome bar exam anxiety is to familiarize yourself with the actual test-taking experience. Finding authentic practice bar exams and taking them will help you to get comfortable with the type of questions you will experience on the actual test. Practice exams will also help you to identify which areas of the bar exam you are still struggling with. This will help you to be able to focus your studying on these areas.
When taking practice bar exams, try to treat them just like the real thing. Plan a time when you can focus on the exam for as long as it takes. Don’t break up the time spent on the exam in a way that doesn’t mirror testing day, or stop to look up answers. By giving yourself an authentic exam experience, your mind will be much less anxious when it is time for the real thing.
Consider taking one practice exam per week in the months leading up to your exam. This will not only help you to become more comfortable with the process but will also help you to see the progress you are making, which can help with anxiety.
3. Ask for Help
While you will need to take the actual exam on your own, preparing for it should be seen as a team effort. Working with other people to study and build your confidence will help you to learn the information and can be a great way to find relief from anxiety. In addition, when you are helping others learn about a subject, you will retain the information better.
When you are working with a group of people who are all working to prep for the bar exam, you will see that everyone is worried about it. This will help to show you that your nerves are not a problem unique to you, and that they are a completely normal part of the bar exam process. For many people, this alone will be a big relief.
Taking a bar exam prep course can be beneficial, too. Not only is it an effective way to study, but some courses (even those held online) will connect you with a group of students preparing for the same exam, which can be a great way to talk through your anxiety.
4. Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health
Preparing for the bar exam takes a lot more than just spending hours on end reading law books. You need to make sure you are taking care of your overall mental and physical health to ensure you are ready. Spending hours on end at your desk will eventually become unproductive.
Schedule some time in your day to get some exercise, and make sure you are eating healthy foods. A healthy body is required for your brain to be working at full capacity. While this is obviously important at all times in your life, really focusing on your health during stressful times can help you to get through them more successfully.
Avoid eating anything unhealthy, overeating, or going without food for long stretches of time. Giving your body the right fuel during the week leading up to your exam will not only help your mind to be at its best, but it can actually reduce anxiety.
5. Get Ready in Advance
Many people will make sure that they get plenty of sleep the night before the exam and have their exam day all planned out to make sure it goes smoothly. While that is obviously very important, it is actually just as important to plan out the entire week before the exam.
In that final week before your bar exam, you should have gotten the vast majority of your studying completed. This is not the time to be staying up all night cramming. Instead, get at least eight hours of sleep every night this week so that your mind is working at peak capacity. It takes at least four days to catch up on sleep, so getting a full eight hours each night for a week will ensure you are well rested.
Any studying you do engage in should be much more casual than before, and focused on reviewing specific topics rather than learning new information.
You are Ready for This!
You have spent years learning about every aspect of what it takes to be an attorney. You have undoubtedly spent countless hours inside and outside the classroom studying the specific topics that are found on the bar exam. The very fact that you are reading this article shows that you are taking bar exam preparation seriously.
Take a deep breath, count to ten, and remember: you are ready for this!