After months of non-stop studying, reading outlines, and listening to lectures, you’re finally at the end of your journey. Now that you’ve taken the bar examination, you probably feel out of sorts. You might not know what to do with all of your spare time now that you’re out of study mode. However, just sitting around and doing nothing after the bar exam just makes you think about it more— every question you might’ve gotten wrong and everything you could’ve done better. Worse yet, you still have to wait weeks before you’ll learn whether or not you earned a passing score.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that this waiting game can be agonizing. Here are some tips to help you save your sanity after taking the uniform bar exam.
1. Leave Immediately
As soon as the exam is finished, leave immediately. Don’t hang around to pick up on the nervous energy of other law students, mull over what questions you might’ve got wrong, or listen to other people’s new and exciting opportunities. Just. Go. The sooner you get out of there, the more likely you can preserve your own sanity.
2. Go to the Real Bar
This is definitely a time that warrants a drink. It’s fine to let off some steam after such a grueling test; having a drink can help you take the edge off and finally relax after months of working so hard for this goal. Cover your bases and use a rideshare or designated driver so you don’t wind up on the wrong side of the law. Nothing kills your buzz like having to update your bar association application to account for a new DUI charge. Don’t let your first criminal defense client be yourself!
3. Don’t Talk About – or Even Think About – the Bar Exam
Avoid conversations about the bar exam. Avoid even thinking about the bar exam. You will likely encounter many people who knew you were taking the test who will ask you about how it went. A curt “fine” is sufficient, but you don’t have to continue this conversation; quickly change the subject. Avoid large stretches of time where you can think endlessly about the bar exam.
Additionally, do yourself a favor and avoid looking up answers to questions you second-guessed yourself about. Agonizing over every detail on the exam won’t help you after you’ve already finished your bar prep and taken the bar exam. If you want, call up your law school friends— but not to mull over the test. Get your mind off of the test!
4. Practice Mindfulness
You are about to enter an incredibly stressful and competitive work environment. Hence, the sooner you learn to handle stress, the better. Take up meditation, yoga or other activities that focus on your breathing and overall stress relief. Read a book or take a local class on mindfulness that can teach you to be present in the moment and let go of your anxieties. This practice will help you now and in the future when you’re dealing with additional stressors. Even if you don’t buy into mindfulness, peace and quiet usually doesn’t harm anyone!
5. Keep It Relative
Even if you don’t feel super good about your performance on the bar exam, remember that you can sometimes miss 40% of the points on your UBE or MBE score and still pass the test. You didn’t have to do well to pass the test; you just had to do well enough.
Even if you did bomb the test, you can always retake it. Think about the areas you felt good about and the areas where you struggled. Start devising a plan about how you can perform better in those areas if it’s necessary to test again.
6. Read About People Who Failed the Bar Exam
If you’re really feeling bad about your performance on the bar exam, you might feel comforted to think about other people failing. About 21% of people who take the bar exam for the first time fail it. Joining the ranks of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Kathleen Sullivan, or Governor Jerry Brown isn’t so bad!
7. Spend Time with Loved Ones
Your love life and friendships have probably suffered during the last few months as you’ve been steadily studying. Reengage with them. Be sure that you express your appreciation for the people who rallied around you during this important time: your parents who let you huddle up in your old childhood bedroom, your girlfriend (or boyfriend) who patiently talked you down after intense study sessions, friends who understood when you couldn’t go out at night, and relatives who helped keep your house clean or took care of your kids while you prepared for the bar. Get back to your normal life and readjust your priorities by spending more time with the ones you love.
8. Resume an Old Hobby
While you were studying for the bar, you probably gave up gardening, origami, video games, or any other of your favorite pastimes. Go back to your old hobbies and rejoin the normal world. Resuming an old hobby can give you a sense of familiarity and comfort. It’ll also help you take your mind off of the big test by encouraging you to focus on a new project and deadline.
9. Go Back to Healthy Habits
You might be on a diet of pure caffeine and pizza after spending so many hours with mundane studying. Now is the time to resume healthier habits you had before these last few months. Go back to healthier habits, add some more color to your diet (like green!) and resume your exercise regimen. These things will make you healthier while also helping you to relieve stress and boost your mood.
10. Take Advantage of the Opportunity and Travel
Thanks to your extended legal education, your new job is waiting for you. But if you plan strategically, you can create a buffer of an extra week before you return to the law office after the bar exam. The partners will mostly think back about their own agonizing time of studying for the bar and understand your need to get away. Now is the perfect time to head off for a trip before you embark on a high stress job. Being around foreign people, sights and foods can help you reset and come back to work rejuvenated. Whether it’s across the ocean, the country, or just the state, take advantage of this time and get away for a few days!
11. Pamper Yourself
If you don’t have the funds or the time to physically get away, at least get away physically for a few hours. Head to the spa and arrange for a pampering day of massages, facials, manicures and more relaxation techniques. Bring another law school friend with you to double the fun.
12. Take up a New Hobby
If you don’t have an old hobby to turn to, why not try a new one? Developing a new hobby can help you exercise other parts of your brain, get you out of the house, and get you to focus on a new activity. Plus, painting, playing an instrument, learning a new language, or writing the next classic novel can help you make a more well-rounded person.
13. Binge Watch and Veg Out
Okay, so the last thing you might want to do after studying for months is studying something else. So if you want to just take a few days and binge watch the TV shows you missed during the last few days, that’s okay too! Sometimes you just need to decompress after confronting something super challenging in your life. Feel free to veg out on pizza and wine or other comfort foods while watching your favorite shows.
14. Get Some Retail Therapy
Feel free to treat yourself to a special post-bar reward. You’ve earned it. Do some window shopping for a new suit, laptop, pen set or anything else that strikes your fancy and then make a purchase. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but giving yourself a little pick-me-up after this big test can help you regain your sense of balance, while also taking full stock of what you just did.
15. Meet with a Non-Law School Friend
After weeks of study groups and going through practice runs with law school chums, surround yourself with other people who haven’t spent the last several months revolving their lives around the hardest test on the planet. Talk to them and see what’s going on in their lives. Did they just get engaged? Pregnant? Back from a cool mission trip? Expand your bubble and think about non-bar related things going on in the world.
16. Let Go at a Concert
You likely have a lot of nervous energy after taking a two-day test. Studying for – and taking – the bar exam is an incredibly stressful experience. Give yourself a chance to truly unwind and let go of this stress by dancing, singing, and yelling the night away at a concert or local music festival. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of seeing one of your favorite groups.
17. Have Fun
Do something else that brings you enjoyment in your life. Take out your calendar now and book at least one day a week to do something purely for the joy of it. This will give you something to look forward to while also ensuring that you devote some needed self-care during this time. You deserve to do something fun after recovering from the mental marathon that you just undertook. There will always be more time to tidy your home, do laundry, or take care of other responsibilities. But it’s okay to let go of these for a little bit longer while you concentrate on your mental health and your overall well-being. Take some well-deserved time to do a fun activity. You know what your go-to fun activities are, so just do one of them!
18. Go Outside
With so many hours spent indoors studying for the bar exam, you probably look more like an albino agoraphobe than a young graduate who spent the summer on the beach. Breathe in the fresh air and bask in the sun (don’t forget your sunblock, though). See what other people look like and what fashion trends emerged while you‘ve been shut up indoors. Explore the outdoors!
19. Turn to Your Bucket List for Inspiration
Everyone needs a so-called bucket list— a list of things that you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” If you don’t have one, make one up now. Then, think about how many of these things you can tick off your list before you get your bar exam results. Give priority to the more enjoyable items on your list. Some ideas for your list may include:
- Visiting another country
- Going on a cruise
- Taking a photography class
- Learning to play violin
- Reading a classic book
- Riding in a race car
- Learning a new language
- Completing specific volunteer work
Get to work on your bucket list after you take the bar exam and update it often to reflect new challenges and desires.
20. Book Your Day
On the day when bar exam results come out, be sure that you completely fill your schedule. You don’t want to agonize over every minute while waiting for the results to post. If you’re working, assign yourself some high-level tasks to stay occupied in the hours leading up to the results. If not, dive headlong into one of those hobbies I talked about earlier.
21. Think about the Future
Take this time to reflect and obtain clarity on the next steps you hope to accomplish. Think about why you went to law school in the first place and the professional goals you hope to accomplish. Think about a backup plan in case retesting is necessary and what you will do differently the second time around. Talk through contingencies with your new employer. Many law firms will give new associates a second chance to take the test.
We won’t kid you; there is a lot riding on the results of this test. But stressing out about it in the weeks leading up to the results will not help. The best things you can do to preserve your sanity after the bar exam is to take care of yourself, keep your mind and attention busy, and give yourself a chance to relax.
Believe me, you’ve earned it!
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Valerie Keene is an experienced lawyer and legal writer. Valerie’s litigation successes have included wins for cases involving contract disputes, real property disputes, and consumer issues. She has also assisted countless families with estate planning, guardianship issues, divorce and other family law matters. She provides clients with solid legal advice and representation.