Today we welcome our friend Lauren Fire of Mind Over Bar, an expert on mental preparation for exams, who will be sharing some strategies for getting mentally ready for law school exams. Without further ado…
You’ve studied your tail off and now it’s time to walk into the exam. What if you panic? What if you blank? And how do you get the best out of yourself when it matters most?
Performing well under pressure isn’t simply a gift granted to some lucky people. With a little strategy, you too can rock it on test day.
Learn to Calm Yourself Down
As you may know, certain emotions like fear trigger the body’s stress response, causing the release of several stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The stress response also causes the brain to divert many of your resources to dealing with the perceived emergency, including a certain amount of brain power.
- So when your stress response is fired strongly during a test, it can cause parts of your memory to be shut off, making it difficult to retrieve stored information — like the elements of battery, for example.
So the stress response is what causes people to blank on exams.
Negative thoughts and body tensions can cause the feelings that trigger your stress response. If you see a question you don’t know, tense up, and think something like “I don’t know this, I’m going to fail, oh my god!” it may trigger fear, which sounds the stress response alarm.
Your thoughts, emotions, and body tensions also bounce off of and cause each other like a pinball machine. For example those thoughts may trigger your chest to tighten, which may cause fear, which may then lead to more negative thoughts, a racing heart, tight shoulders, shallow breathing, then anxiety, more negative thoughts, and so on.
- You can see how, without a conscious way to calm yourself down, your mind and body can quickly spin out of control.
Two Steps to Calm Your Body
The good news is that there is something you can do about this — you can learn to calm down your body.
It’s very difficult to stop your thoughts.
For example, don’t think of a purple elephant right now. No, seriously, don’t. What are you thinking about? My guess is a purple elephant. The mind, well has a mind of it’s own.
Even more difficult is to stop or change your emotions. If you’ve had any heartbreak in your life, you know exactly what I mean.
So what can you change — your body! Starting with your breath, you can actually turn off your stress response by calming down the body. Here is a two-step process for calming down your body:
- First, move your breath from your chest down to your stomach. This is called “Belly Breathing” and actually activates the part of your nervous system that calms down your body. Breathing shallowly into your chest tells your body to be tense and stressed out. So breath into your belly for a few breaths, and notice how this calms you.
- Next, once you’ve moved your breath into your belly, try melting your body into the chair. Literally, just feel like your muscles are jelly, hanging off of your bones. And let your body melt, so that the chair is supporting you.
Practice these two steps as often as you can so that you can start to learn to calm down your body. Practice this when you are studying and especially taking practice tests. The more you practice, the faster you will get at calming down your body and turning off your stress response.
If you blank or panic during the test — do not worry! Remember that blanking is just temporary. It is a sign that your stress response has been fired. Just do these two steps and focus on settling down.
- Picture a snow globe that has been shaken up. You have to wait until the snow settles.
Just like the snow, if you panic, your brain and body are a little shaken up, and you need to settle them down by using your breath and relaxation.
Then you will be able to focus and retrieve the information you need.
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Lauren Fire is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course an innovative course that supplements bar study by teaching students how to tackle the mental challenges of the bar exam. The course teaches in-the-moment practices that students can use to combat stress, overwhelm, panic, and test anxiety. Lauren also offers private coaching to law students and bar exam takers.
Did you find this article helpful? Leave your feedback and questions in the comments and check out the rest of the series!
- The Law School Mental Game: Slay Your Self-Doubt Dragons
- The Law School Mental Game: Create Plans of Action
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