Preparing to pass the bar exam starts before your bar prep…

Everyone seems to be preparing for the holiday season earlier and earlier. It seems as if the moment the doorbell stopped ringing from trick-or-treating neighborhood kids, the commercials for Christmas shopping started running on television and the huge Christmas tree went up at the local outlet mall. I know. I was there with my wife, talking about the upcoming bar review season, also quickly approaching, over a sandwich at Ruby’s Diner at the mall. And it was there that I thought, I had better start getting myself mentally prepared for what was to come. Just like Christmas that sneaks up on us all as November and December seem to fly by every year, the crush of bar review will sneak up on us, too, and we’d better be prepared.

So what am I saying? We should prepare for preparation? Seems redundant…but it’s not. I tell every classroom full of new students as the bar review course begins: This is going to fly by. Blink and it will be over. On the one hand, that sounds great. Who wants to go through the work of preparing for an exam that will test you on so many subjects? Seems like we’d all like for it to go by in a flash. But when you’re in the thick of it, as a student, you begin to feel the crush of all those subjects and the stress of that pressure to do so much in so little time can get to even the strongest willed students I’ve met. One way to handle stress is to head it off before it hits you in the first place.

Having seen so many students start their bar review with enthusiasm or, at the very least, determination, then end up either stressed out or depleted and unmotivated in the face of the mountain still yet to climb when we get far into our journey through the subjects, I have collected some ideas that I believe can help all of you prepare for that bar prep journey. Prepare to prepare!

1. Clear your plate. This means getting as many time-consuming little projects that must be completed out of the way, any nagging problems solved, all those things that eat up your time that will bother you if you leave them undone. Need to go to the dentist? Go. The dog needs his shots? Call the vet and get it over with. Buy Christmas gifts ahead of time–or better yet, get everyone gift cards this year. You want your distractions to be minimal while you’re in the middle of bar prep. If you think something is going to bother you if it’s put off until March, do it NOW.

2. Have “the talk” with your friends and family. Tell those people that are close to you that you are going to be pretty unavailable for 6 to 8 weeks and assure them it’s not them, it’s you. You’re devoting yourself to the last leg of an incredibly long and difficult journey towards your dream of becoming a lawyer and if you don’t become single-minded in your bar prep, you’ll be jeopardizing your chances at success. Reassure them that you love them just as much as ever and that you will be back to your normal self soon enough. Your bar review will fly by and you need to feel comfortable devoting the time and mental energy needed to get the work done.

3. Come up with a couple go-to stress relievers that you will employ whenever the pressure gets to be too much. Over the years, I have been saddened to see incredibly smart students who were on target with their preparation yet spiraled into failure because they were overcome with sheer panic towards the end of the review. I’m convinced, in these cases, that this problem can’t be overcome by more and more work, by cramming more information into a stressed-out, burned out brain. Quite the opposite. These students needed to calm down, relieve stress, take care of themselves and make mental space for the work yet to be done. So go in prepared. Enroll in a once a week yoga class. Buy some bubble bath. Start taking morning walks. If you have a trusted counselor or therapist, start talking to them about what’s ahead so when the stress comes, you both can tackle it before it gets to be overwhelming. Meditate if that helps. Whatever works for you, make sure you prepare for the stress because it will come.

4. If you’re a procrastinator or have a tendency to get a little lazy in the face of big projects or challenges, have “the talk” with yourself. It’s time to be firm with yourself and say, This is only two months of my entire life and what I do during this short time will make the difference between whether I pass this exam or whether I fail. And for many of you, failing means problems at your present job, financial stress from a lack of job opportunities when bar results come out, the cost of re-taking the exam again and any bar review you may take to prepare again, and the toll it takes on your confidence. For some, it can be a strain on relationships, too. Don’t let watching your TV shows or playing video games or hanging out with friends or wasting time on the internet get in between you and your goal. Make this promise to yourself ahead of time. It’s very hard to do when you’re in the crush of hard work and pressure. Tell yourself now: It’s only a couple months. You can do it.

5. Finally, let me say that again: You can do it. Now say that to yourself: “I can do it.” You can. And you will. Prepare yourself for any self-doubt or any attacks on your confidence that might come by boosting that confidence before bar prep starts. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come so far. Remind yourself of the determination to reach your dream that got you through law school. Remind yourself of that mental toughness and dogged determination that made you say to yourself in the first place: “I want to be a lawyer and I believe I have what it takes.” You do have what it takes. Now take that confidence, turn it into your mantra and say it over and over again: “I can do it.” And visualize ahead of time how, when the tough moments come, you’re going to pull out that mantra, and say it over and over again. You’ll be prepared.