What Bar Exam Takers Can Learn from Marathoners

Last week I hobbled my way across the finish line for my first full marathon. Three weeks before the race I injured myself. The cause of the injury is clear in retrospect, and I learned some important lessons about future training. Luckily for you, I realized that the lessons I learned from training (poorly) for a marathon can help you succeed when studying for the bar exam this summer.

Interval Training

When studying this summer, it’s easy to get sucked into the bar exam. You’ll make the bar your only focus and exclude everything else. Don’t do this. Let interval training help. For runners, interval training means working extremely hard for bursts at a time, and then taking a break. This same approach works wonders when studying. One of my favorite habits last summer was to study at my local pool. I would force myself to do a certain number of difficult multiple choice questions in a subject I didn’t like, and then reward myself with a swim. Or I might lock myself away all day without breaks, but then get together with friends to see a movie or, more likely, go to the bar. These little breaks help you to clear your mind. When you’re running around in circles about the rule against perpetuities, a break can help you come back and see things more clearly.

The Right Equipment

I own at least three pair of running shoes that I rotate through. Not to mention my GPS watch, fancy running clothes, hats, jackets, etc. Clearly, I’ve got more equipment than I need. But what equipment do you have for the bar exam? First and foremost is probably your computer. Check your state’s rules to see what special procedures there are for laptops. Download the software early and make sure you know how to use it. The last thing you want on test day is to freak out over a software problem. If you’re hand writing your test, see what the requirements are. Can you use whatever color ink you want, or does it have to be blue? How many pens are you bringing to the test? Bring more.

What about clothing? Some antiquated states still require test takers to wear a suit. Others allow any clothing you want, but require soft soled shoes. Look these things up now and sort them out in advance. These will not be the things you want to think about the week before the test. Do you like to have a watch with you? Make sure they’re allowed in the room.

When I run a race, I always set all of my gear out a few nights before the run just to make sure I have everything. You should be doing this as well. Create a checklist and put everything on your kitchen table to make sure there is nothing you’re forgetting. And remember your computer’s power cord. You can thank me later.

Hill Work Beats Speed Work

When you run up hills, you are preparing your body for a more intense race than you will (hopefully) have to run. Hills build strength and contribute to your speed as well as your overall cardiovascular health. You will do the same thing this summer to your brain. I recommend that when studying for the bar, you take an hour here and there to really challenge yourself. Open to the hardest questions in your worst subject area and slog through them. It’s OK if you get them wrong. But read the right answers and see why you got them wrong. Take notes accordingly.

As you work your way through these incredibly difficult questions, you’ll be fine tuning your brain for the big day. When you sit down to your exam and see that there are only a couple very difficult questions, the rest of the test will seem easier. The ten minutes you spent on that elaborate contracts question will help you breeze through four or five easy questions in as much time.

Rest Days are Critical

A lot of runners make the mistake of running or cross training every day of the week. Some of your fellow test takers will do the same thing. Luckily, you read this website and now you know that you should not study all day every day. Your brain, like any muscle, needs to rest. So take an afternoon to read a crappy novel. Or go out Saturday night with your friends. It will be OK. Rest will make you stronger and help you from being burned out.

Nothing New on the Big Day

You know what you like to eat for breakfast. You know how much water you should be drinking so you don’t go to the bathroom constantly. You know how to approach multiple choice questions, essay questions, and performance exams. You’ve studied and prepared for this bar exam. So don’t foul it up on the big day. Don’t have a big breakfast if you’re used to a Pop-Tart. If you always draft an outline of your essay questions before you write, don’t skip it now. You’ve invested time and energy into your preparation. Let it pay off and knock the bar exam out of the park.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/klimenko/4611557934/)

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  • Mike

    Great post.

    As a lawyer and marathoner, I’d add:

    – get a good nights sleep the second and third night before the exam/race. You’ll be a bundle of nerves the night before and might not sleep at all

    – don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Run your own race/exam

    – prepare for the unexpected – something unforeseen will happen, take it in stride and deal with it, don’t let it ruin your day.

    I can’t come up with an analogy for tapering – sorry

    • Great tips Mike.

      I actually sort of tapered before the bar exam. That last week I slowed down a bit, then did nothing the weekend before. I was pretty much the only one of my friends who did that. Everyone else really pushed the last week.

  • Great post!

    I love the comparison, and can completely identify with it. Great advice as I head into bar study. I’ve already started my list of what to bring. My computer power cord is now on that list!

    • Thanks Beki. Don’t forget earplugs. Leave the Bodyglide at home.

  • Love the article. As a distance runner in college, I couldn’t have come up with a better analogy myself.