First things first. One of the most important pieces of advice I received during law school was: “first, win the mind game.” To do this: remember what you know, prioritize something that has nothing to do with law school, make a plan and stick to it, and limit talk of law school and exams.
Before law school, we were all successful students. If you had the grades and the LSAT score to get into law school, you know how to learn and you know how to test. Your academic talent made you exceptional in high school, undergrad, and elsewhere in life. But it does not make you special in law school, where you are surrounded by peers with equally stellar academic records.
“A”s are no longer guaranteed to bright students (which you no doubt are); they are reserved for the handful of students who perform best on law school exams (which you may or may not do). Winning the mental aspect of law school is hard, but it has a direct impact on your physical and mental health and thus on your academic performance. Are you winning?
Here are my top 4 tips for winning the law school mind game.
Preparing for law school exams? Read our other Exam Week posts:
Closed book law school exam preparation tips
How to succeed on open book law school exams
How to succeed on take-home law school exams
10 steps to writing a great law school final paper
1. Remember what you know
Law school is chock full of lore regarding success, much of it absurd and none of it surefire. Nonetheless, given the high stakes, otherwise bright and discriminating law students are loathe to disregard any tidbit of information and advice that might prove useful. My first piece of advice is to remember what you already know. How did you prepare for exams before law school? How did you study? What worked for you? And importantly, what did not work for you? Apply this knowledge to your legal studies. Filter law school wisdom through your own experience and knowledge. Exercise judgment and disregard bad advice.
2. Prioritize something that has nothing to do with law school
It is hard to abide by this, but the most successful and healthy law students I have known took this to heart. Think about how you remained balanced before law school. How did you deal (successfully) with stress in the past? Do that. Or do something else. Cook, run, golf, watch movies, play with your cat. It does not matter what you do, but it is essential that you do something other than law school. And make it a priority.
This is hardest, but most important, before and during finals. I recommend exercise of some sort—that law school stress has to go somewhere, and most people carry it in their bodies and end up sick or injured, either of which could ruin your ability to perform on exams.
3. Make a plan and stick to it
One of the worst parts of law school for me was never feeling like I could take a break. Enough was never enough, and this burned me out and ruined my free time. I learned to deal with this by making schedules. As finals approached, usually about six weeks out, I created a schedule of what I needed to accomplish each day in order to be prepared for finals. Each day I followed my schedule and when I met my goal, I stopped working. Because of my plan, I could set my work down and enjoy my breaks. Per #2, I prioritized non-law school activities by putting them on my calendar.
CAVEAT: To use this tool effectively, you need to be realistic and forgiving. That is, you must set realistic goals and you must forgive yourself if you do not meet your daily or weekly goals.
4. Limit talk of law school and exams
If you moved for law school, then odds are good that your closest friends are also law students. This is wonderful, on the one hand, because they know what you are going through and can truly empathize with your stress, frustration, exhaustion and panic. Therein lies the obvious downside: your friendship is anchored in shared law school experience. In my experience, one of the best things you can do to win the mind game is to avoid talk of law school and exams. Find something else to talk about with your friends.
As for your fellow law students with whom you are not close, avoid all talk of exams. If someone is sharing their stress with you, do not accept it. Some of my law school colleagues seemed to thrive on sharing their stress with others. They were draining, crazy-making, and toxic. Avoid those people. If you are one of them, then you are not winning the mind game. Take a deep breath and go back to #1.
Got more tips? Please weigh in. Got questions? Please ask.