Stress Reduction

The third of the three techniques needed to pass any bar exam is stress reduction.

The key for stress reduction is using techniques that will make your experience of anxiety lower without decreasing you performance. Drugs like alcohol, marijuana, opium and numerous manufactured pharmaceuticals, while they will be effective for reducing stress, will destroy your ability to learn and retain information; therefore, they are not useful for this purpose.

The two best ways to reduce stress and actually increase performance are meditation and/or visualization. Ideally, you would be able to do both, but the world is not ideal and so you may need to choose which to do. If you can only choose one, then choose visualization. Mediation is really a lifestyle change, whereas visualization is a focused technique that can be implemented for a short-term goal (e.g., pass the bar exam).


Since visualization will work for everyone, I will only discuss meditation in outline. Meditation involves calming the mind. Meditation trains the mind to shut out all extraneous information and stimuli (whether the stimulus is generated by mind activity or by external sensory inputs).

[UPDATE:  See my much more detailed post about meditation and the bar exam over at my new blog:  BarExamMind.com.]

For those who want to learn more about mediation, I recommend reading Real Happiness:  The Power of Meditation, by Sharon Salzberg, or getting an audio meditation like Thich Nhat Hanh's Touching The Earth. For those of you interested in a quick, online guide to meditation, check out this website.


If meditation seems too "out there" for you, try its little brother: visualization. Visualization is generally as effective as meditation in the short term. Where mediation normally changes your entire life, visualization is highly effective for a single goal. Since your singular goal is to pass the bar examination, visualization is probably a good compromise. (For a good book on visualization, check out Creative Visualization.)

Here is a good (though somewhat hokey) video explaining the process of visualization as well as its power:

Incorporating Vizualization into Your Study Routine
You need to set aside ten minutes at the same time each day. For example, I always did my visualization when I was in bed during the 10-20 minutes immediately before I went to sleep. In my opinion, those last few minutes before you fall asleep are perfect because, in that tired state, your brain is very susceptible to suggestion. You can, of course, use any period when you can have 10-20 minutes of uninterrupted silence. Next, you start to visualize.

What should you visualize? You can visualize whatever you think will help you, but I suggest visualizing three things that will help ease anxiety and create a positive outlook for your examination taking:

1. visualize walking into a very crowded room (500-2,000 people) with rows and rows of tables. One each table are four laptop computers. Thousands of people are rushing among the tables, trying to find their seats. The people are in a panic; it is chaos. You calmly locate you assigned space. You boot up your laptop and sit down. You wait serenely for the test to begin whilst everyone else is totally out of control. [This visualization is to show you that even in the worst possible scenario where you are surrounded by chaos and extraordinary levels of stress, you will keep your cool and be calm during the examination.]

2. visualize writing a great essay, performance test, or having a great MBE session. You can switch it up and visualize each of these three things on different nights, or you can focus on whatever you feel is your weakest subject. The important thing is to visualize a great testing performance. [This visualization will confirm that you can do well on the regurgitation component of the bar examination – i.e., you will be able to recall and/or explain the required legal concepts.]

3. visualize receiving your results and passing the bar examination. Most states post the results online. Sometimes the results are made available publicly so that everyone knows at the same time who passed and failed (e.g., Oregon), other times you need to log in with an ID and password and you can get the results before anyone else (e.g., California). Check how your state does it and visualize using that process. Continue the visualization by telling your family or significant other that you passed: the sacrifice of the last two months has paid off and you are now a lawyer. This is a happy moment for you, enjoy it. [This visualization gives you the added confidence and drive to take the examination because you have visualized how satisfying it will be to pass.]

4. visualize the swearing-in ceremony.  Check out this post for a video of a real swearing-in ceremony to help with your visualization.

Maybe you think visualization is a bunch of hocus pocus hippie foolishness. I will tell you that I visualized passing the California bar exam before I took it. I visualized the entire examination: three morning essays and one afternoon performance test the first day; two 100-question MBE sessions the second day; and three essays and one performance test the third day. I repeated this visualization at least 3 times a week; it normally lasted for 10-20 minutes. I passed the examination on my first attempt when 60% of the others who took the same examination failed.

For more on visualization and the bar exam, check out BarExamMind.com.



UPDATE 9/6/2009 -- Check out my post on dealing with fear during the bar exam. One of the techniques for dealing with fear is negative visualization (i.e., imagining all the worst things that could happen and becoming immune to them and they fear they engender).


Alex said...

These are really good techniques not only for passing examinations but also useful to reduce stress in day to day life. But I am very much successful in overcoming stress by defeating the reasons of stress following these stress relieving tips in my life.

Anonymous said...

I used sports to reduce and manage stress. Go out for a nice run and you will feel good.

Bar Advisor said...

@Anonymous -- Running is certainly a convenient exercise. I dislike running, so I go with walks or hikes. Just get the body moving and get outside!

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