Thursday, January 12, 2023

Misery is not a strategy for bar exam success

 

January 12, 2023

If you are sitting for the February bar exam, you likely know that February 21, 2023, is less than six weeks away. If you are following the traditional bar preparation schedule, you likely started review and studying around mid-December, and so you are in week four or so of your study.

Over and over again I hear from examinees right after the bar exam a sentiment something like, “whatever happens, I know I did everything I could to prepare for this exam.” I hope when the time comes you feel that way too! But what does that mean, to "do everything you can" for success on the bar? My observation is that it has several components:

  1. completing your commercial bar prep program, faithfully (or if you don’t have a program, sticking with the study plan you designed for yourself);
  2. being thoughtful and self-reflective about your areas of relative strength and weakness (e.g., if you did poorly on a graded practice essay, what did you miss?);
  3. seeking out and using additional resources and active learning techniques for your areas of relative weakness (e.g., if you did poorly on a graded practice essay, did you read at least three selected answers released by the jurisdictions? Did you make flashcards of language from the released essay that stated a rule concisely and thoroughly? Did you then re-write the essay to solidify your understanding?);
  4. taking care of yourself as a whole person, including at least: sleeping enough, eating and drinking healthy foods, working actively to keep a positive mindset, engaging with your loved ones to keep yourself emotionally fulfilled, and moving your body at least a little bit every day.

We are at the point in bar prep where people want to get wild for some reason, almost like there is some kind of award for whoever can make themselves the most miserable and run themselves most deeply into the ground. This is the time when many start to despair. It is in these moments of despair that we become most vulnerable to thinking there must be some easier way, some magic strategy for bar exam success, and we become susceptible to bad advice.

Some of us become our own saboteur, and follow a flawed reasoning that goes something like this:

  1. To succeed on the bar, I need to put in many hours of study;
  2. To have enough time to study, I will have to give up doing some things I enjoy;
  3. Giving up things I enjoy will make me feel bad;

Therefore, the more miserable I make myself during bar study, the better my chance of passing the bar exam!

The three premises are all generally true, and consistent with the average bar study experience, but it is the “logical” conclusion of the first three that is very flawed.

This focus on misery as a strategy causes some to stare blankly at their outlines late into the evening, long after their brain shut down for the day. Some will cut out all pleasurable time spent with family and loved ones—staying home from every family Sunday dinner at your sister’s house, missing Grandma’s 75th birthday party, attending none of your child’s gymnastics classes—only to re-watch a video lecture while your mind wanders anyway. We stay up way too late, sleep later than we mean to the next morning, drink too much coffee to compensate and get the jitters, and then skip the routines that make us feel human like daily showers and routine workouts. “This is miserable!” the bar-studier thinks, and so feels virtuous and like they must be on track for that passing result.

Make today the day that you do a midpoint reset, and refocus before the second half of your bar prep. Commit to going to bed at a reasonable hour every night, starting tonight. Commit to waking up at the same time you will need to on bar exam day every day, starting tomorrow. Schedule breaks throughout your day to correspond with meals; eat peacefully without studying--bonus if you can share a meal with a friend or a loved one, even if it's a quick 20 minute sandwich break with your friend, your spouse, or your kid. Catch up on your bar review program if you are behind, and commit to staying on track and following through with all recommended assignments until the end.

Remember, when the exam is over, there is no award for The Most Sleep-Deprived JD Ever to Take a Bar Exam. There's not even an award for Did All Online MBE Questions Four Times, or Missed the Most Family Dinners Since November. Yes, you have to study A LOT. Yes, the bulk of your waking time should be spent studying. But remember to look after yourself as a whole person, because you can't run yourself so far down that you've got nothing left to give for the bar exam.

For the next six weeks you have to find strength in yourself that you might not know you have. To help you find it, allow me to remind you of everything in your life you had to achieve to find yourself in the privileged place you are today, about to take a licensing exam to become a lawyer. You had to get accepted into an undergrad school. You had to graduate with your undergraduate degree (and any graduate degrees you might have). You had to get accepted into law school. You had to attend law school during a pandemic and during some very challenging social and political times. You graduated from law school. By now you have likely completed 40+% of your bar review program. And, many of us had careers, families, and other big life events before we ever even got to law school. Each of these is a major success, and you likely have lots of other categories of success in your history that I haven't listed here.

Reflect on all these achievements and successes that led you to this point. You are a winner, an achiever, a successful person. And what do successful people do? They work hard to achieve their goals. So keep living the life of the successful person you already are. Keep working to achieve your goal of licensure. It's less than six more weeks. The follow-through is the most important part. Keep working to achieve your goal every single day, and don't stop until someone calls "pencils down" at the end of your bar exam.

(Lisa DeLaTorre)

 

 

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