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Self-Care During Bar Exam Prep

A How-To Guide To Self-Care During Bar Exam Prep

Preparing for the bar exam is an all-encompassing experience.  You’re expected to digest hours of lecture material, commit to memory intricate rules of law, and learn how to work through challenging essay and multiple-choice questions.  In the midst of all that, it’s easy for “self-care” to get lost in the shuffle.  Don’t let that happen.  Taking care of your mental and physical health during bar prep will lead you into exam day feeling strong, centered, and ready for most anything those bar examiners might throw at you.  Here are a few tips on self-care during bar exam prep.

A How-To Guide To Self-Care During Bar Exam Prep

1. Eat well

The importance of eating well during bar prep cannot be overstated.  Although your law school days may have been fueled by energy drinks and junk food, you should consider a more nutritious diet during bar prep.  Your brain needs to be at its peak capacity, and one way to ensure this is to eat a diet rich in whole foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and the like—while avoiding highly processed foods.  For your caffeine fix, reach for coffee or tea over energy drinks loaded with sugar and other chemicals that only students of an organic chemistry class can pronounce with ease.  And don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and stave off fatigue.  While eating healthy is no guarantee to a passing bar exam score, it will certainly help you get there.

2. Exercise

The sheer volume of information that you’re expected to master during bar prep can be overwhelming, and it can easily create the impression that you must spend every waking minute at your desk in front of study materials.  If you fall into this trap, you’ll be depriving your body of something else that it needs to be at its best: exercise.

If you do one thing for yourself during bar prep, make the time for exercise, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day.  Go outside for a run, jog, or brisk walk.  Do some stretching.  Throw a ball around with some friends.  Anything to get you up and moving and get your heart pumping.  Numerous studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise improves brain performance, and who wouldn’t want that during bar prep?  Whether it’s first thing in the morning, in your lunchtime break, or in the evening, carving out some time for exercise is a decision that will pay dividends on exam day.

3. Make sleep a priority

Although some people claim to be able to need only five hours of sleep per night, most adults need between seven and nine hours.  If you’re in the majority, too many nights with inadequate sleep may leave you struggling to learn and retain information, grasp complex concepts, and work through challenging practice problems.  In short, as the quality of your sleep decreases, so will the quality of your bar exam preparation.  So do yourself a favor: make high-quality sleep a priority during bar prep.  Avoid the temptation of working late into the night; the work will still be there in the morning, and odds are, your performance will be much better after a good night’s rest.

4. Practice mindfulness

You may want to consider incorporating a meditation practice into your bar prep regimen.  Only five or ten minutes a day has been shown to lower stress and increase concentration.  Meditation also encourages you to remain in the present moment—i.e., focused on the day’s study plan instead of worrying about exam day or a possible failing score.

If you’ve never tried meditation before and don’t know where to start, try sitting for five minutes at the start of the day, breathe through your nose, and focus only on your breath.  If a thought comes into your head, simply observe the thought and return to the breath.

Meditation certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s becoming ever more popular in the legal profession.  Even United States Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer incorporates meditation into his daily routine, and he has spoken openly about its benefits.

5. Take it easy on the alcohol

This one is self-explanatory: hangovers are not conducive to long days of focused studying.  You need to be on your “A” game during bar prep, and this is pretty difficult to achieve if you’re waking up after a long night enjoying one too many adult beverages.  While the occasional glass of wine never hurt anyone, don’t get too carried away.  Besides, there’ll be plenty of time for celebratory beers when the exam is over, and (hopefully) celebratory champagne when you find out that you passed.

6. Make time for things you enjoy

Bar prep is an all-consuming experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still do some of the things that bring you pleasure.  Whether that’s getting together with friends, or engaging with a hobby, or reading a novel—or whatever else you enjoy—it’s healthy to have activities that take your mind away from bar prep, even if it’s just for 30 minutes.  When you give your brain a well-earned break, you’ll return to your work refreshed and reenergized.

Finally, for advice on how to handle the inevitable bar exam stress, see our post here.

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