Bar Exam Anxiety: Expect It. Prepare for It!

Just how bad can bar exam anxiety get?

My last year in law school we were required to take a Bar Prep Class. The instructor for this class said something that shocked me, and would resonate with me through my months of study.

She said that one thing was CERTAIN. Each and every one of us would experience at least 3 “total meltdowns” during the months of bar prep ahead.

There was silence in the room.

I’m sure that some people thought, “duh, tell me something I don’t already know.” But others like myself thought, “WHAT!? That CAN’T be right! I will never have a ‘meltdown’!”

And as fear whispered in the back of my mind, I started trying to convince myself that I wouldn’t have a meltdown. I spent law school in the top 10% of my class. I was on an academic scholarship . . . blah…blah…blah. I could not possibly have a meltdown.

Sure, I’m scared. But I’ve got this. Right?

Well, suffice it to say that I was in the camp that was dead wrong.

Bar Exam Anxiety Can Be Sneaky

It took a while. I studied for the bar for 3 months. Months 1 and most of 2 went pretty well. I felt like I was sailing along well!

It was at about the 4th week in month 2 that it hit. The meltdown of all meltdowns! The tsunami of self-doubt, pure fear, and crippling dismay washed over me, and I lost it.

bar exam anxiety - magoosh

My poor husband came into my ‘study chamber’ just as the tsunami hit. I’m sure he will never forget it.

I was momentarily insane. I was babbling, sobbing, and eventually I even started to hyperventilate. My husband dutifully got me a bag to breathe into so I didn’t pass out.

I’m laughing out loud right now, but at that moment it was no joke.

The realization had hit that I was just over 1 month away from the bar exam. I am a ridiculous perfectionist. There was SOOOO much more to learn. I looked at all the material I STILL had to memorize spread out before me and COMPLETELY FREAKED OUT.

bar exam anxiety, collage - magoosh

My husband listened carefully while I spilled my guts. It was not pretty. Then he calmly spoke to me. He succeeded in talking me off the ledge. Wow. What a guy.

That was the big one. Just like my instructor said, I did have two more such moments, but that was the worst.

So what I’m saying is, expect it. I suppose there are a few of you who are laid back and mellow—but generally, laid back and mellow does not go to law school! For the rest of you, expect it. Prepare for it.

How Do You Prepare for the Tsunami?

First, just accept that bar exam anxiety will likely happen at some point. Knowing that is half the battle. If you know it’s coming, then during the panic attack you will know in the back of your mind that it’s not unusual. You will know others go through this too.

So think it out ahead of time. When it hits, how or what do you think will help you the most to calm down and keep going? You know yourself, so assess what the you’ll need. Maybe you should have a good friend or family member on stand-by.

Pick someone who knows all about what you’re up against, and can be there day or night for you to call when you start to panic. bar exam anxiety, stress relief - magoosh

Or maybe you know that you need more than a pep talk to stem the tidal wave. Perhaps you need to go out to a movie, or swim laps in your pool, or go run 10 miles. (My hat’s off to the runners, you crazy kids!)

If you’re more the Zen type, perhaps an hour of meditation will bring you back to a state of calm.
I had no idea at the time I took the bar, but there are some who experience so much stress that they seek help from a therapist.

Hey, whatever it takes baby. No judgement here!

In Conclusion

So expect the meltdown. It’s OK. We all go through it. You can still move forward and pass this exam. Take a moment, or a full day if you need it, to recuperate.

And press on.

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