This post is not going to teach you the secret for getting good grades without studying. I wish it were that simple! What I hope it will do, though, is give you a few quick tricks (unrelated to studying) that might help you feel more confident going into your next exam.
Do Some Power Posing
Have you ever noticed how powerful people in movies sit, walk and stand? The hero, the queen, the president, the victor—they take up space. They hold their heads up. They open their chests and push their shoulders back. They cultivate these postures on purposes to make themselves appear more confident and authoritative to those watching, but could it also be changing the way they feel about themselves, or even their brain and body chemistry? Dr. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Associate Professor at Harvard would say so. Data from the experiments she has conducted indicate that altering the way we hold out bodies can actually change our minds. She recommends that when faced with situations in which we may feel weak or like we are imposters (e.g. law school!), we should “fake it till we make it.” One way we can do this is by spending two minutes before walking into a room doing some quick “power posing.”
So, what is power posing and how does it work?
Basically, it involves configuring your body into a stance that looks and feels more confident, assertive and dominant. Think: Wonder Woman with her hands on her hips, or a runner who just burst through the finish line in the Olympics—with their arms up in a “V” for victory, their held high. You can see a diagram of weak vs. strong poses here. This will probably feel ridiculous when you do it, which is why Dr. Cuddy recommends striking a pose behind closed doors, not in your actual job interview, exam, or meeting. According to her research, power posing can actually lower our cortisol levels (stress hormone), raise testosterone (which she describes as the “dominance hormone”), and boost overall feelings of confidence, assertiveness, and comfort with the situation. If jumping up and marching around like a super hero feels too silly and exaggerated, don’t worry! No one else will ever see or care about that part.
You could also try accomplishing the same thing with some simple adjustments to your frame and posture. My ballet teacher in high school used to say to imagine you have a beautiful, priceless diamond necklace on that you are trying to get to catch the light. Obviously, you can’t do this if your chest is concaved, your shoulders hunched, or your head down. By the time we got used to the idea, all she had to do was call out “diamond necklace!” during rehearsal and we would all instantly fix our postures. I’m sure other reminder mantras could work similarly (see below). Yoga might be another easy way to incorporate some power stances into your pre-exam routine. Poses like Warrior II look and feel strong and take up more space, which is what Dr. Cuddy suggests.
So, next time you leave your house before a day of studying at the library or gather your thoughts before heading into an exam, consider closing the door for two minutes and striking a few poses. It might feel completely uncomfortable at first, but maybe it will also make you feel and act with more confidence—which we all know is important on law school exams!
Get Back to the Music
Can you think of one song in particular that makes you feel like you could take the world by storm? Maybe every time you hear it you feel energized and ready to conquer all odds. Really, any kind of music will do, what matters is that the song makes you personally feel inspired—my song (like my outline) might not work for you, and vice versa. So, find some music that gets you amped.
For example, I had a friend in law school who would unobtrusively listen to Eye of the Tiger from Rocky III as he walked to school before every final. He built this into his routine. Perhaps he thought about high-fiving the imaginary kids and townspeople who flocked behind him as he made his way through the neighborhood. Maybe he even did some shadow boxing or struck a power pose at the top of the stairs before entering the lecture halls — I doubt it — maybe he just listened to his headphones and got quietly pumped.
Not a fan of Rocky? Perhaps the grand crescendo in the first movement Elgar’s cello concerto in E minor is more your speed. In any case, I’m not saying music or body language alone will help you ace the test. Obviously, these are just minor additions on top of months of hard work and practice. But, they might just give you that extra confidence so many of us loose in the final days of cramming and feeling anxious.
Be a Snow Globe, Melt Down, and Belly Breathe
Our friend and exam prep. expert, Lauren Fire, has recommended that when students feel shaken up before or during an exam, they imagine they are snow globes and take a few moments to pause and let the snowflakes settle. She also recommends breathing from our bellies instead of chests (which tells our bodies it’s time to calm down), and recommends some other great tips for exam relaxation, such as melting into your chair: here.
Banish the Negative Thoughts with Positive Encouragement
Lauren Fire has also suggested some simple strategies for summoning confidence and putting our fears and nerves to rest. She even shares her own personal law school mantra. In law school, I used to tell myself to “do the best you can with the time and resources you have.” This is just common sense practical advice, and it’s not even as catchy or colorful as Lauren’s adage, but it reminded me to be efficient with my time and the way I studied, and to use the tools I had available to me. It also reminded me that, at the end of the day, all we can do is our best, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves by staying up all night, spiraling into freak-out mode, or behaving drastically.
Again, telling yourself “you’ve got this,” or running around like Superman before an exam is not going to be the reason you pass Torts or get a good grade in Evidence. Clearly that takes a lot more work than can be accomplished with a couple of simple mantras or power poses. But, cultivating confidence, teaching yourself to feel more at ease (both physically and mentally), and encouraging yourself in a positive way are just a few more steps toward putting yourself in charge going into your next exam.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- How Many Weeks Left Until Final Exams?
- Rely on Systems, Not Willpower
- You’re Totally Unprepared for a Law School Exam! How to Avoid Disaster
- How to Cope When You’ve Got Too Much Going On
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