Friday, February 20, 2015

Game Day Tips for Next Week

I trust that all of you are putting the finishing touches on your studying, and also preparing for your travel on Sunday or Monday. All of you know what you need to do, and how you need to do it, so I have just a few last-minute thoughts to share.

First, about Monday night and Tuesday night. To study or not to study? 

That's up to you, really. If you would prefer to exercise, get some dinner, watch some T.V., and then go to bed early, I think that's a great plan. If you would prefer to get some dinner, then do some light studying before lights out, I think that's a great plan too. Most of you, I'm sure, will prefer this latter option. You will feel the need to review some material the two nights before testing. You'll be fidgety, still unsure about a couple issues, and will want to keep your mind active and thinking about the bar. That's normal. But just know that whatever you study at this point is pretty much irrelevant. What you're really doing is keeping your mind on the bar and not in relax-mode. You never want to let your guard down, especially not the night before the exam.  If watching T.V. helps you do that, do it. If doing a quick set of MBEs helps you get there, then do that. 

If you want to study, make sure you cap yourself after about two hours. Don't go overboard! Again, you're not really "studying." You're simply keeping your mind on the bar and not in relax-mode.

However, if you decide to run through a couple essays or a light MBE practice set, make sure you previously covered the essays or MBE questions and did well on them. After Sunday evening, you don't want to do anything that will compromise your confidence. Confidence is the key to bar exam success!

Second, sleep.

Don't be a dummy here. Do what you normally do. Do not change your routine. Because by doing so, you throw in a variable. At this stage, variables are risky. 

So if you sleep on five hours every night, don't change your routine. Sleep five hours. If you try to get between 7-8 hours, try to get 7-8 hours. If you need 9+ hours, get 9+ hours. A word to wise, though: falling asleep before bar exam days is tricky, so just factor that in. Your mind will be racing, you'll be anxious, and you'll be unsure. Try to put as many of those distractions out of your mind. Tell yourself that, by getting a poor night of sleep, you'll be jeopardizing tomorrow. Do you really want to jeopardize tomorrow?

Third, talking about the exam between sessions

This one's like studying the night before. If you don't want to do it, don't. If another person doesn't want to do it, respect his/her choice. But most of you will have to talk about the exam during lunch and at the end of the day. Don't suppress the urge; it will only distract you. But, like studying, don't get carried away. Talk about it -- then drop it and move on. 

Some other pointers here:

  • First, just because someone had a different answer, doesn't mean yours was incorrect. For some essays, several approaches can be correct. You also don't know how the examiners will weight the various issues within each essay. 
  • Second, answer only what the examiners ask you to answer, nothing more. Some examinees will write about extraneous issues, trying to show off to the examiners. That approach will get them no love. 
  • Third, watch out for fellow examinees who try to scare you afterward by talking about irrelevant issues or making a big spectacle about the ones you forgot or the essay on which you struggled. This sort of over-confidence often screams of insecurity. In other words, this person is likely trying to psyche you out with the hope that doing so will give them an advantage or make them feel better about their own tepid grasp of the law. Chances are, you're going to forget an issue or two. You're going to screw up on an essay too. That's OK. Don't let some stranger make you think differently. Don't let him throw you off your game. Stick to your plan. 

Fourth, ABC: Always be Confident.

You can't pass without it. Tuesday and Wednesday will really test your confidence. You have to push hard through all of it. Messed up a morning essay? That was the morning. Now's the afternoon. Four more essays to make up for it. Messed up on an afternoon essay? Move on. Nothing you can do about it now. Get ready for the MBEs tomorrow. Messed up on an MBE question? Focus on the other 199 questions. 

We often fret over all the issues we missed, the questions we know we got wrong, but never about the majority we got correct, the essays we aced, or the MBE questions we knew cold. All we think about is the negative. I'll talk more on that post-exam. For now, give it your best, keep your head up, keep moving forward, and let the chips fall where they may. 

Rest and relief await you in just a few short days. Good luck, everybody! You can do this. The bar exam is not the end all-be all. You're going to be fine. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

How to Maximize Your Home Stretch of Studying

Well, it's that time of year again. With the February 2015 bar exam a little less than two weeks away, I encourage you to keep a few pointers in mind. These tips should help to maximize your home stretch of studying.

Review Smart 

If you’re comfortable with all of the major issues for each subject, then move onto the details. If you’re still trying to nail down all of the major issues, focus on them—and forget the details.

Think small at this point. Ditch the big outlines and books. Rifle through your index cards instead, three or four subjects per day. A week from now, all of your cards should be second nature to you.

Do 25 MBE practice questions per day—but review every explanation! If you don't review the answer explanations, don't bother doing any practice questions. Waste of time. Also, although this priority is secondary, try to complete two run throughs of the short answer questions before the exam.

Do 7-10 practice essays per day. If you went through Barbri’s Virginia Essay book cover to cover, switch over to William & Mary’s collection of previous Virginia Bar Exams. Do the four or five preceding bar exams. The VBBE love to recycle previous essays. If bar examinees bombed a particular essay on the previous exam, don’t be surprised if you see the same or similar issue on the forthcoming exam. The VBBE test on what they think is important.

Please note that when you read through previous bar exams on the William & Mary website, you will recognize that you read the same essays in Barbri’s book. Re-read them anyway, as it is good practice. Also, some of William & Mary’s model answers will be different from Barbri’s model answers. That’s fine, too. Some essays will have several acceptable answers. The point is, just do as many essays as possible. You want to be in essay-mode from this point forward.

Recharge Your Body

You can’t afford to get strung out or sick now. Now is the time to begin physically preparing for your exam days. Get sufficient rest (minimum 7 hours per night, preferably 8 hours), eat healthy foods and drink lots of fluids. Your body needs to be physically prepared for two grueling exam days.

Recharge Your Brain and Psyche

Avoid emotional meltdowns. Avoid crying in a stupor about your preparation or progress, or lack thereof. At this point, those issues cannot be completely addressed. Also, avoid crying in a stupor about the bar exam, which lies dead ahead. Fretting over it won’t make it come sooner and go away or get any easier. What is the best defense against emotional meltdowns? Confidence and effective studying, in that order. Which leads me to the next point. . . .

Keep Up Your Confidence

This one’s crucial! You have to keep your head up. You must be confident in your abilities, even if you don’t quite feel that way. The bar exam beats you by finding your weaknesses and exploiting them. Don’t let that happen. Build an impenetrable wall around yourself. When you feel an urge of anxiety or fear rushing upon you, reject it with a pep talk.

Again, I cannot stress confidence enough. No matter how well you know the law, if you walk into the bar exam feeling under-confident, chances are you’re not going to pass. Keep calm and hold fast. You can do it!

You’re on the Home Stretch

You’re almost there! Take a minute to appreciate just how much effort you gave this winter, how you put your mind to it, how badly you wanted this, and just how much law you now know. Honestly, you know more law right now than you might ever know in your entire career. That’s impressive!

In short, you’re rounding the turn for the final 100 meters. Don’t let up know, finish strong, but finish smart. Don’t be a dummy in these last two weeks. They can make or break you. GOOD LUCK!