Today we are honored to have Dr. Hank Weisinger returning to talk about the pressure of law school. Dr. Weisinger is trained in clinical, counseling, and organizational psychology, is a New York Times Best Selling Author, and is the author of Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. Welcome!
In the past we talked about how to handle pressure leading up to the big exam and the evening and morning before. Today, Dr. Weisinger is giving us tips on how to handle pressure during and after the exam.
During the Exam
If you’ve followed my advice, when you take your seat in the exam room you’ll judge yourself feeling less pressure. Your task now is to thwart off any anxious or distracting thoughts that might be triggered by a difficult question or momentarily wondering about whether or not you will get the summer internship you desire. In essence, if you are to perform to your capability, you need to “stay in the moment” and attend to the task upon you. Here are three actions that will help you present your best case:
Tune into Your Senses.
If you become anxious and think about the future consequences of a poor performance, or past tests that you’ve screwed up on, you’re apt to intensify pressure and increase the chances that careless mental errors will occur. Your chance for doing your best is improved when you focus on the here and now. You can accomplish this as soon as you take your seat by tuning into your senses. In only takes a few seconds to increase your awareness by asking yourself: How am I breathing (fast, slow, heavy, light); what do I see (scan the room); what do I hear? ; What do I smell? Your awareness will anchor you in the immediacy of the moment. In fat, get in the habit of tuning into your senses several times a day and you will find yourself a more focused individual, especially when you want to do your best.
Use your pre-test question strategy.
Under pressure, your cognitive skills are downgraded so in pressure moments, you may lose “orderliness” and thus respond with random and hap hazardous responses that are ineffective. This often occurs under time pressure.
An effective way to build and maintain your focus especially in a time pressure test moment is to have developed a pre-pressure strategy—an orderly or systematic procedure that directs your attention to the steps that are necessary to achieve a successful outcome. In so doing, it helps you stay logical that will help you handle the questions at hand.
Under pressure, the student with a plan who encounters a difficult problem is more apt to stay focused and feel in control because he or she will be adhering to the steps that will help flesh out the answer. The student with no plan is more likely to panic and start trying responses that under calmer conditions, he or she would see the logical gaps in their answer. The caveat is you have to develop your strategy before the test and you have to remember to use it during the test.
Regulate your breathing.
There’s a good chance, especially if you are one of the 17 million people who have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, that when the test is passed out, you feel an adrenaline rush —your breathing is most likely labored and shortened. This is a cue that you are about to lose your composure and that you are no longer in control of the situation. You need to regain your sense of control so you can feel confident and diminish feelings of anxiety and fear. The fastest and most effective way to regain your sense of control is to bring your physical arousal under control by regulating your breathing. Just take a series of 4 short breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling slowly.
Anxiety speeds up your breathing forcing you to breathe high up in your chest. By consciously slowing your breathing down and forcing yourself to breath from your diaphragm, you will be able to quickly calm yourself down. During your test, if you feel things slipping away, remember a breath of fresh air will help.
After the Test
Once you realize that regardless of your performance, you are not going to die and will live to take another test, spend some time reflecting on how you handled the pressure of your exam. Think about how you can handle pressure more effectively.
You and your study group will also find it useful to discuss “pressure management.” Those who share their pressure feelings tend to perform better and in the process, feel less daily pressure.
While there are no guarantees, the odds are high that if you use the presented pressure defense strategy, you might not get off Scott free, the odds are great that the jury will give your performance a favorable verdict.
More about Dr. Weisinger
Hank Weisinger, Ph.D. is trained in clinical, counseling, and organizational psychology. He is the author of several successful books, including the New York Times Bestseller, Nobody’s Perfect, and the senior author of the recent New York Times Bestseller, Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most (Crown, 2015).
He has consulted and conducted workshops to dozens of Fortune 500 Companies, government agencies, taught in numerous business school executive education programs and executive MBA programs, including Wharton, UCLA, Cornell, NYU, Penn State, and Columbia.
Dr. Weisinger has appeared on over 500 television and radio shows, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, Oprah, ESPN, and NPR. He is currently working on Helping Your Kids Handle Pressure: Giving Your Sons & Daughters Life’s Ultimate Edge, soon to be an online course. You can sign up for the online version of Performing Under Pressure here.
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Other helpful tips from Dr. Weisinger:
- Caution Law Student Under Pressure! Handling Law School Stress
- Defending Yourself Against Law School Pressure: Leading Up to the Exam
- Defending Yourself Against Law School Pressure: The Night Before and Morning of the Exam
- Podcast Episode 29: Handling Pressure in Law School (Guest Dr. Hank Weisinger)
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