Monday, November 12, 2018
Last Friday, I experienced the pure joy of coaching an 8 year old flag football game at 9:30pm with the wind chill in the 20s. The temperature was the same for both teams, but everyone in attendance could see the difference between how the teams handled the conditions. One team bounced around with everyone running to the ball, celebrating, and having a good time. The other team shivered, jogged, and repeatedly shook their hands to try to stay warm. Most of those kids couldn’t feel their hands by the 2nd quarter, and as you would guess, they lost the game.
I witnessed a similar event a few years ago during the College Softball World Series. In the final series, Oklahoma played Alabama. Oklahoma dominated teams most of the year. They had the best hitter and pitcher in the country. During the second game of the best of 3 series, the heavens opened and rain drenched everything. Oklahoma made a few bad plays, and then, the umpire delayed the game until the rain subsided. During the rain delay, Alabama bounced around their dugout. They danced and sang through the whole delay. Oklahoma mulled around with their heads down from the couple bad plays. After the rain delay, Alabama trounced the Sooners. They subsequently won game 3 the next day for the National Championship beating an Oklahoma team that the following year with similar players was arguably one of the best in history.
The ability to respond to undesirable conditions is critical from elementary school to elite athletes. The same is true for law school final exams. The conditions will be similar for most students. Everyone is taking the same exam. Everyone has the same amount of time between the last day of class and final exams. Some people may have slightly different obligations during finals, but most students are on a similar playing field for finals. The ability to embrace the situation can make a difference in performance on finals.
I tell students every semester that final exams are as much a test of mental strength and discipline as they are a test of legal knowledge and analysis. The key is to embrace the grind of finals. Complaining about the exam, the amount of time, or unknown expectations is the equivalent of shivering on the field. Letting those thoughts creep in gives the final exam the edge before the test begins. Complaining students are the ones sleeping on coaches around the law school or finding every excuse necessary to not study. Making the final harder than it is becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy causing lower performance.
Overcoming negativity makes an impact of scores. Michael Hunter Schwartz developed a program for pre-law students many years ago where he described how high self-efficacy leads to persistence. Worry and other negative emotions don’t promote self-efficacy and tend to harm persistence. Persistence, or the grind, is what leads to improvement and readiness for exams. Final exams are hard. There is an unknown element. However, that is true for everyone taking the exam.
Embrace the grind by planning. As I have posted before, writing down a detailed monthly, weekly, and daily plan can make finals more manageable. The unknown causes some people stress because of the lack of control. Take that control back with a plan of attack. Plan for the whole study period from now through the last final. At the beginning of each day, plan the hours of the day. Take adequate breaks to mentally refresh and eat. Finish at a reasonable time each night. Grab momentum with the areas you can control, which should alleviate some stress. Remember, the vast majority of exams will come from material discussed in class. Exam period is a review of what everyone already experienced throughout the semester.
Start each day with positive affirmations to stop the negative emotion spiral before it starts. Be confident with statements about the ability to succeed, completing the necessary tasks, and overcoming obstacles. Focus affirmations on the study process or overcoming obstacles. Statements about the ability to study hard material or previous hard tasks can motivate anyone to push through the tasks for that day. Exams are a culmination of studies throughout a long period of time. Don’t focus affirmations on final exam results, which is unattainable on a given day. Focus on attainable goals for that day, for example “I am always able to recite sections of my outline after a few hours of study. I will be able to do that by lunch.” Affirmations on attainable goals builds over time for an impact on final exams.
Hard conditions can affect anyone, and law school exam conditions are difficult. However, planning and positivity can put everyone in the best possible position for success. The goal is to be able to walk into the exam with your head up and not shivering. Embrace the opportunity to demonstrate your ability on each exam.