Here’s a quick story that explains one of the most valuable things I did to prepare for the bar exam.
About a week before graduation I sat down with my bar exam mentor, who gave me one of the best pieces of advice for getting mentally prepared for the bar exam. He told me about a technique he used to cut through the natural anxiety that accompanies the first morning of the bar exam.
The first morning is arguably the toughest; the buildup to the moment when the proctor says “begin” is intense. So I made sure I was ready for that moment by using my mentor’s technique during the ten or so weeks I studied for the bar exam: after every day of studying, I’d spend 2 or 3 minutes a night sitting in a quiet room, eyes closed, visualizing what it will feel and look like to go through that first day.
Every night I pictured myself walking into the test center with a smile on my face, focusing on my own sense of confidence and blocking out the stress of the other test takers around me. I visualized sitting down, taking a deep breath, quieting my mind, and hearing the proctor say “you may begin.” I envisioned opening up the test booklet, looking at the first question, and confidently working through the question.
I also spent time visualizing a difficult situation on the bar exam: an essay question that I wasn’t sure how to answer. Again, I’d imagine taking some breaths, feeling calm, and coming up with a plan to work through the answer with what I knew.
Finally, I visualized walking out of the exam at the end of the day, feeling not only that I’d held it together, but that I’d done more than enough to pass.
This sounds like a lot, but I did all of this in just a couple minutes each night.
After several weeks sticking with this technique, I walked into the test center on the first morning of the bar exam. It felt completely familiar, like I’d been there 100 times before. That familiarity was calming and bolstered my confidence. I was able to block out the stress of the hundreds of nervous bar takers around me.
And, of course, I ended up facing an essay question I initially had no idea how to answer. Rather than let anxiety set in, I took the breaths I practiced, calmed myself, and came up with a plan for how I was going to answer it. The technique worked wonders for my nerves and helped me feel comfortable and confident.
I walked out on the last day feeling just like I’d practiced feeling: like I’d done more than enough to pass. Sure enough, a couple months later, I found out I’d passed.
So here’s the takeaway: this can work for you. Even if you’ve never meditated or tried something like this before, give yourself just a couple minutes a day to practice this technique. Visualizing the bar exam experience and your emotions around it could have a huge impact on your mindset heading into that first day of testing.
-- Drew Amoroso
Drew is a Critical Pass contributor and practices law in San Francisco, CA.