Overcome Your Exam Anxiety to Achieve Passing Scores on Your Law School Essay Exams and the California State Bar Exam
Performance anxiety is not just for actors and athletes. It is a well-documented response to stress-driven situations, including taking law school and Bar exams. It must be recognized, acknowledged, and effectively managed.
Law school and Bar exams are intellectually challenging. The time constraints associated with taking them under exam conditions cause a tremendous amount of stress, which can affect how students respond in testing environments. Exam anxiety is a serious issue for many law school students and Bar exam candidates. With proper strategies, it can be channeled into a performance motivator rather than a performance impediment.
Exam anxiety is both physical and emotional. Thus, law students and Bar candidates should assess the nature of their anxiety in order to recognize it and overcome it. One strategy is to understand the importance of advance exam preparation and integrate exam-taking into your study schedule. This type of proactive exam preparation is imperative to overcoming exam anxiety because it provides an anchor that will secure your success.
Another important strategy to understand is that “well-care” is essential for preparing for law school and the Bar exam because a healthy body promotes a healthy mind. Leaning into your anxiety and visualizing your success is beneficial. It keeps you focused on maintaining a positive attitude about your ability to perform at your best when you are ready to sit for your exams.
If your anxiety is severe, you may consider seeking professional assistance. It requires a concerted effort to address and conquer your exam anxiety, but in doing so, you can achieve the passing scores you desire.
Personal Introspection of Your Anxiety
Exam anxiety is a combination of physical symptoms and emotional reactions that interfere with your ability to do well on law school essay exams and the Bar exam. Physical symptoms can include headache, nausea, increased heart rate, lightheadedness, and panic attacks. Emotional symptoms can include stress, negative thoughts, and your mind going blank during the exam. If you suffer from exam anxiety, it is beneficial to go to a quiet, comfortable location and assess your past exam history - how you’ve felt preparing for, during, and after an exam.
Based on reflection, some students realize that their exam anxiety may stem from an issue when they were young. A parent or teacher may have filled their heads with negative thoughts about their exam-taking abilities. As a law professor, I worked with a law student who had a passion for law school but suffered from self-doubt and performance issues due to exam anxiety. One of our first steps was to discuss her testing history and use the power of her mind to replace negative experiences and thoughts with positive thoughts and expectations.
By understanding the history and nature of her exam anxiety, she began to change it through the power of her mind because she made physical and emotional changes in her body and mind with a focused, positive perspective. You can do the same thing with the same strategies.
Preparation is Your Anchor
Being prepared for law school essay exams as well as the Bar exam is foundational to overcoming exam anxiety. The student I worked with was in a special program for first-year law students who utilized Fleming’s Fundamentals of Law study guides for law students. These are excellent resources as Fleming’s has substantive outlines for each Bar tested subject as well as comprehensive Bar review courses for the Bar and Baby Bar exams.
Fleming’s Bar Exam Premier Tutorial Package includes a presentation by a noted hypnotherapist who assists students with education techniques that reduce the stress of taking exams. These resources helped to streamline my student’s study schedule, and provided strategies to reduce her anxiety so she could channel her energy into learning the law and implementing exam methods that improved her exam-taking skills. By using these techniques, she turned her anxiety from negative forces to positive tools.
My student and I would sit together and review the Fleming’s substantive outlines to ensure she understood the law and memorized all the elements of the rules. We would also review practice exams and student model answers for issue spotting and developing analysis, including making sure she answered the “why” as to each issue. One of Fleming’s greatest tools is its tried-and-true method for outlining law school or Bar essay exams. With a great outline for the exam, if you start to feel anxious or your mind goes blank, you can refer to your outline to ensure that you write on all the issues, have all the elements to your rules to support your analysis, and have legally sound conclusions.
Well-Care is Essential
Unfortunately, neither law school nor preparing for the Bar exam lends itself to our physical well-care due to the demands of life and studying. I always encourage my students to maintain their workout schedules or add physical activity to studying. While studying for the Bar exam, I studied my outlines on the treadmill. By the time I took the Bar exam, I was in the best physical condition of my life, which increased my stamina for the Bar exam (which was three days at the time). Taking care of your body with proper nutrition, physical activity, and sufficient sleep will assist with exam anxiety because you will become stronger, physically and mentally.
Lean into Your Anxiety and Visualize Your Success
Generally, I never experienced exam anxiety during law school essay exams. However, I did prior to oral arguments during a moot court competition. Prior to competing, I felt stress, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat. I closed my eyes and regulated my breathing because I had read articles that you cannot have anxiety if you regulate your breathing. It helped, but did not make it go away, so I leaned into my anxiety by intentionally choosing to focus on reviewing my arguments instead of focusing on my anxiety.
I still get nervous during oral arguments in court. However, as preparation is an essential part of overcoming anxiety, I always have a detailed outline to ensure that I hit all of my arguments.
While preparing for the Bar exam, I met with a psychologist who instructed me to visualize how I would celebrate when I passed the Bar exam. There is tremendous power in positive thinking and affirmation. Recently I heard the story of a couple who put boiled white rice into two separate containers. Every day, they would make positive comments towards one jar and negative comments towards the other. The rice that got the negative comments became rancid. The rice that received the positive comments stayed relatively intact for five years. This may sound strange, but there’s truth to it. Positive affirmations to yourself, as well as visualizing your success on your exam, will aid with overcoming your anxiety.
Tips While Taking An Exam
One thing to remember is that you are seeking a grade of 70 or better on your law school and Bar essay exams. Do not add to your anxiety by seeking a perfect score. You also want to stay calm before the exam, which may include listening to relaxing music.
As I drove to the Bar exam each morning, I repeatedly listened to Eric Clapton’s Layla as it helped keep me calm. During an exam, if you have anxiety, take 30 seconds to focus your breathing. Maintain positive thoughts as negativity will hinder your performance. In law school as well as when practicing law, you need to learn the determination to power through difficult circumstances.
Do Not Be Afraid To Seek Professional Help
Professional help can come in many forms. Do not be afraid to seek help from a medical doctor or psychologist if you have acute exam anxiety. In the case of my student, she hired a Fleming’s attorney tutor who assisted her with learning to write passing law school essay exams. She went through all the steps, including seeking a professional tutor, and was able to overcome her anxiety and achieve high scores in all of her classes.
Do not let your dream of becoming an attorney fade away due to exam anxiety. You need to acknowledge it and face it head-on. Being prepared will assist you as it is foundational to your success.
You also need to take good care of yourself and seek professional help if you experience severe exam anxiety. With hard work, determination, and a positive attitude, you can overcome your exam anxiety and achieve passing scores on your law school essay exams as well as on the California Bar exam. And please, don’t hesitate to contact Fleming’s if you think we can help - we are ready and eager to assist you in your journey from law student to lawyer.