Panicking and studying don't mix.
June 28, 2010 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm studying to take the bar in July. Two bars, actually. I'm also dealing with some heavy personal problems. How do I push those aside so I can actually pass this damn test?

I don't think the details of my problems are that relevant. Things that might be:

-I have major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I am being treated for these things.

-I have a shrink. She rocks. I can only see her once a week and she's out of town for the next two, and frankly I need advice nownownonwonow. Yesterday now.

-I can't afford to miss any bar study time. I need to get beyond all of this personal stuff that is paralyzing me and I need to work, but I can't compartmentalize like that.

-I've been doing BarBri pretty faithfully, and I just took a practice MBE where I did just as poorly as I did when I took a practice MBE *before* doing any studying a month ago. This is extremely discouraging and I'm convinced that there is no way I can pass.

-If it's useful at all, I'm taking PA & NJ.

I don't think I need the "get thee to another therapist" or other answers like that. I just need practical tips on how to work through the tears. I don't have the luxury of taking a mental health day -- I just have to work.

Thanks in advance for any tips you can give me.

Throwaway e-mail: panicbar@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Generally when doctors aren't available there's someone on call who can take emergencies. Perhaps a strange shrink won't be able to help--but perhaps s/he would, and its worth trying if you're that stressed. Just call the shrink's office and ask for an emergency appointment with whoever's on call.

Further, it wouldn't absolutely destroy you if you don't happen to pass the bar this time. Even if you have a job lined up, they'll often let you do paralegal type work (for paralegal type pay) until you can take the bar again. It'll be okay to not pass--or even to put it off and put your bar exam fee toward the next sitting (as much of it as will apply, anyway, you'll probably lose some of it).

If you do postpone the bar, it's still probably a good idea to keep going to BarBri. Even if you repeat it before the next sitting, it won't hurt to have that under your belt.
posted by galadriel at 12:53 PM on June 28, 2010


- Make a realistic "to do" list for a day.
- I get myself out of emo mode and into work mode by alphabetizing words (like the words in the first sentence of what I'm supposed to be reading).
- If you're freaking out, drink chamomile tea. If you're spacey, maybe drink coffee (but probably a bad idea with GAD).
- Think about how good you will feel when you get some hard work done, and then reward yourself when you make it to the end of the list for that day.
posted by salvia at 12:56 PM on June 28, 2010


I'm sorry you are going through this - definitely something you will want to discuss with your shrink once you are able to see her. I'd still try to call someone else in her office - and if it gets to a serious point, please seek appropriate help - don't try to handle it on your own.

Study somewhere in public. Public library, coffee shop, etc. In a place where people can see you. Maybe this will trick yourself into not crying.

Find a friend and study together. Or find a friend who is willing to come sit with you while you study.

Set up a schedule - POA (Plan of Action) every day. Break it into 10 minutes intervals. For every 10 minutes, take 5 minutes off. Schedule yourself to be busy - but don't make overwhelming goals.

Exercise/do yoga/go for a walk - try to release some of that pent up/scared energy into something physical. You'll feel better.
posted by quodlibet at 12:58 PM on June 28, 2010


Are you outlinining yourself? Sometimes writing down what you're learning in a different way helps instead of just re-reading the same lines over and over. Meeting with a study group that actually works (instead of just stressing each other out) could also help.

If there are certain times of day when your concentration is better, make sure to study during those periods. Would setting an alarm and working really early help (i.e., before class)?

Is there any way you can set aside one hour each day to deal with the personal issues in a constructive way? And let the people involved in those know that time, and that you won't respond to emails, phone calls, etc. except during those periods?
posted by Sukey Says at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2010


1) Set aside some amount of time every day -- say, 10 minutes -- to worry about the personal problems. Hard-core, uninterrupted worrying. It will actually be hard to sit down and worry for 10 minutes straight. But the rest of the time, you can tell yourself you've set aside time to worry, so you don't have to do it now.

2) Exercise 45 minutes per day -- brisk walking outside, if you aren't a "workout" person. I swam every day for 45 minutes while studying for the bar. Your study time will be so much more effective, and your sleep will be so much more restorative, that it will easily pay for itself in productivity.

3) Allow yourself to imagine and confront the worst -- you fail to pass the bar -- and realize that it's not so bad after all. Really, it's not; it happens to a lot of people, especially if the test happens to occur at a bad time for them personally. They try again, at a time that's not so bad.

4) For the seeming ineffectiveness of your studying so far: If you've just been listening to the lectures, do something with the material that forces you to process it; for example, take your own notes during the BarBri lectures, and then draw up outlines with key points. Try to fit everything for one topic on one side of a sheet of paper, writing very small -- things like that.

Good luck!
posted by palliser at 1:10 PM on June 28, 2010


The good news is that you still have time; I know many people who only started studying after July 4 who did passed. A colleague here in MA studied less than 2 weeks and passed (though I wouldn't recommend that bumpy route!).

Let's divide and conquer here. Two bars. There's only one MBE, of course, so you're really "just" studying for three days' worth of exams. Moreover, in my experience, people sitting for the bar in two jurisdictions only ever study for one bar, and apply that jurisdiction's law in both. I first took the bar in NY, and I had several friends who took the NJ or CT bars just by regurgitating the NY rules (and passed).

Ok, so now where are we? One state, one MBE, just like all bar takers. You say you're disappointed with your MBE performance--is it just "I wish I were doing better" or "I got 3 right total, and I'm sunk"? The thing about the MBE is that, because it's a multiple choice exam, your exams can be pretty up and down--sometimes you get more things you know, and sometimes fewer. It's a crap shoot. You might want to check how your jurisdictions measure passing--do you have to "pass" both days, or can you ace the essays and do poorly on the MBE, and still pass? Depending on how PA and NJ approach this, you might re-focus your studies. That is, if you're studying for only one essay day, make that essay day the one for the jurisdiction that will give you more credit for good essays.

Also, keep in mind that of all the first-time takers of the July bar in 2009, 86% passed in NJ and 87% passed in PA. Staggeringly high numbers. You're somewhere in those 86/87 percent. You're a superstar! I can feel it! You're totally going to pass.

Lastly, some tips on working through it all--I took the bar in MA last year after switching jurisdictions. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, was recent enough arrival in Boston that I knew only people through work and essentially spent a month cooped up in my apartment for about a month, smoking cigarettes and talking once a week to my shrink and to my parents. I literally can count on one hand how many times I saw my friends (without exaggeration, THREE times). By the end, I was close to losing my mind. What got me through was daily exercise, and endless short-term goals. I'm going to finish torts by 1:00 and then surf the net for 10 minutes. Then I'm going to do an essay and take a walk. I passed. I did not go crazy.

You'll be fine. Just breathe. MeMail me if you want to chat.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:11 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you have an exercise routine? Hard exercise, like running, is shown to reduce anxiety.

More personally, I was going through a raft of tough emotional issues right before I took the Bar, and found that running -- and in fact really pushing on my distances -- made the whole thing much more bearable. Perhaps this is idiosyncratic, and I am hard-pressed to explain how it happened. But it did.
posted by grobstein at 1:16 PM on June 28, 2010


Lexapro helped me study for the CFA exam in June. Ask your doctor about it. It may be too late to start it for an exam in July.
posted by dfriedman at 1:20 PM on June 28, 2010


Nthing the suggestion of exercise and a schedule. Schedule time to think about or work on your personal problems, and time to study for the bar. One does not have to affect the other.

I found that outlining definitely helped a great deal.

You've still got a whole month until the bar exam. Keep doing practice tests, and take a look at what you got wrong, and your score will get better.

If anything, look at bar study time as a time to get away from all your personal stuff.
posted by Tin Man at 1:34 PM on June 28, 2010


I don't have the luxury of taking a mental health day -- I just have to work.

I would just like to point out that in fact, you do have this luxury and telling yourself that you don't is only adding to the pressure.

The exam is not tomorrow. If taking a day to cry with friends or watch a sappy movie and give your heartache some attention will help you to release some of the stress and focus better when you resume studies the next day, then it's time well spent.

Otherwise, I think palliser's advice is wise. You could also do a daily 45 minute run as grobstein suggested, and make that the space in which you think about your personal issue.

Compartmentalization may not be the most healthy long term strategy, but short term it can work very well.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:00 PM on June 28, 2010


Take that mental health day. Take one once a week, at least. You will do so much more harm to yourself overall by not taking it than you will gain by the extra low quality studying you will get in. Find a trusted friend who you can vent to once a day. Or write in a journal. Once you're done venting, move on; do everything you can to mentally separate those problems. Not a long term strategy, but it can be pulled off for a few weeks.

EXERCISE. A combination of long bike rides and yoga classes did it for me. Find what works for you. If you really don't think you can take the time to exercise, get those PMBR CDs and listen to them while you walk or run or whatever.

Don't despair on the MBEs. I had some alarmingly low scores on practice MBEs early in the summer, but things came together in the end. Just keep doing lots and lots of practice questions--all that you can get your hands on. I did the Kaplan class and I think they suggested 50 a day. That's probably high, but 30 wouldn't be unrealistic. Don't just do them; read the answer explanations, too. If you do 30 a day six days a week for the next 3 weeks, you will have done 540 practice questions and you will rock that part of the exam.

If you haven't already, start doing practice essays. At least one a day, even if you don't think you know the substantive law well enough yet to do it. Set a recurring alarm on your cell phone. Every day at 9:00 you do your MBEs. At 2:00, you do your practice essay. At 5:00 you do your exercise. Or whatever works best for you, but automate your day to the nth degree so you don't have to think about what you're going to study or try to bargain your way out of it. The alarm goes off, and you just DO IT.

Find an awesome study partner or a comfy cafe where you can camp out and gorge yourself on good scones for the next few weeks. You've got at least three weeks, that is way more time than you realize. You'll be amazed to see how everything starts to come together in the end. You're gonna do fine!
posted by c lion at 2:57 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Call your doctor and ask her about prescribing you a beta blocker for the big day. They're used sometimes for test anxiety.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:38 PM on June 28, 2010


This is spaltavian's fiancee, who has taken and passed the MD bar. Do NOT try new medications on the day of the bar. If you want to try beta blockers before the day of to find out how they'll affect you, go for it. But do NOT mess with your brain chemistry in any new way that you can't predict with certainty under those circumstances.
posted by spaltavian at 6:56 PM on June 28, 2010


I passed the bar with weekends off. I have compatriots who did the same.

It is way too early to expect good scores on practice tests. You need more time to incorporate the volume of information.

Whether it's exercise or coffee shop time, reward yourself on the weekdays as well. My study group set an alarm for a break to walk to Starbucks. Incorporate stress relief into your schedule.

Do not underestimate make-work studying. Turn your outline into flashcards. Turn the flashcards into a flowchart. Remember -- you already have the skills to pass the bar. You can think like a lawyer, you can IRAC, you just need to absorb some new patterns of precedent and analysis, and use the skills you have.

Talk to a non-law friend. They provide a lovely sane perspective of the world, and remind you how awesome you are to have gotten this far.
posted by freshwater at 10:06 PM on June 28, 2010


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