Countdown to the Bar Exam: Routine, Healthy Habits, and Perspective are Essential
You’ve almost made it. With the bar exam less than two weeks away, added stress is understandable, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In preparation for writing this post, I didn’t want to rely on only my experience, so I surveyed my colleagues – the lawyers at Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog. I asked them what “words of wisdom” they had for upcoming bar exam takers.
But before we get into the advice portion of this post, I think it’s important to start with a little perspective. To get to this point, you’ve successfully graduated high school, graduated college, taken the LSAT, survived your first year of law school, PLUS two more. You’ve got this. This is the beginning of your rewarding and successful legal career – a career that will always benefit from your thorough, yet focused, approach to the work required of you. Read on for helpful advice that will hopefully be beneficial through the next few weeks and beyond.
Treat Studying Like Your Job
Hopefully you’ve been at this one for a while. If you haven’t, it’s never too late to start. Set regular study hours and break times. Make sure your work space is designed in a way to make your study time as efficient as possible. Don’t worry about what your classmates are doing – just keep doing what works for you.
Keep Up Your Exercise (and Sleep) Routine
Let’s face it – it’s easy to find a reason to skip the gym when you aren’t feeling the pressure of bar exam preparation. (Or is that just me?) I am certainly not one qualified to give health advice, but there is plenty of information out there on the benefits of exercise for your mental health, how exercise reduces stress, and even evidence that suggests working out makes you smarter – all positive outcomes during these last few days before the exam. This goes for your sleep routine as well – make sure you are getting enough.
Take the Day Before the Bar Exam Off
I heard this from many of my colleagues. Your brain is already overloaded – if you don’t know the information by now, you aren’t going to learn it in a day. Take the day off. One of my colleagues mentioned he visited a batting cage on his way to Raleigh they day before the exam. Baseball not your thing? Go see a movie. Go for a run. Go for a swim. Buy the booze for your post-bar exam after party. Have lunch with a friend or family member – one who is NOT taking the bar exam. Just please don’t study.
Control What You Can
It’s easier to deal with the unknowns that are out of your control (like what will be tested) if you deal with what you can control. Make sure you’ve planned to meet your basic needs for the days of the exam. (Also good advice as you start your career.)
- Do you know where you are going to sleep?
- What are your lunch options for the two days of the bar exam?
- What are you allowed to bring with you?
- What are you going to wear?
Before you gloss over the wardrobe advice, you may want to note the Board of Law Examiners has rules for what you can wear. Per their Regulations and Code of Conduct, you’re outerwear is limited to “a light-weight outer garment, WITH NO POCKETS…” [their emphasis, not mine.] Comfort is key and layers are part of the equation. The last thing you want is to be distracted during test time because you are too hot or too cold.
After the Exam: Let It Go
To quote the lyrics of one of my four year old’s favorites, once you’re done - let it go. Don’t feel like you have to use all the time you are given for the bar exam. If you are done and comfortable with your answers, pack up and hit the road. Or use all the time you are given. As you walk out, leave all the stress of the last few months behind in the exam room. Don’t compare answers with your friends. Chances are, if you didn’t know the answer, neither did they. Now, go get started with that after party.
A Final Note on Perspective
Just as your performance in law school does not define who you are, neither does whether you pass or fail the bar exam. There are many famous lawyers who failed the bar exam the first time. Maybe you will fail too – but more than likely you won’t. Stay the course over the next two weeks. We’ll look forward to welcoming you to the bar this fall.
A special thanks to my CSH Law colleagues who helped me with this post: Larry Baker, Buck Copeland, Laura Dean, Lee Evans, Emily Goodman, Chris Hinnant, Janelle Lyons, Regan Toups, and David Williams.
Ginny Allen is the Director of Client Services at Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog. Though she maintains her law license, Ginny’s primary function for the firm is to build and nurture relationships with the firm’s clients. She also manages the firm’s marketing and business development efforts.