The stress leading up to the bar exam is epic. Don’t expect it to vanish from your life once the test is done.

Every year at the end of July, thousands of poor souls will suffer the agony that is the exam required to gain admission to the bar. Many report on the stress leading up to exam time: relentless weeks of intense studying, akin in some ways to the time before law school finals, but much, much more is at stake.

This post is meant to remind and reassure you that once the bar exam is over, your brain, and life, will not magically return to normal. To minimize the damage to yourself and those around you once you experience the letdown of the test being over and the worry over your results sets in, keep the following in mind:

  • Accept the freak out. Your routine of weeks will be broken. Thousands of bits of knowledge will begin to slough off of their attendant mnemonic devices and leak out of your head as you try to remember what life is like.
  • Work it off. Giving yourself time to totally kick back and release all responsibility — on a cruise, on a beach, up a mountain — may seem like a grand plan in the midst of the pre-test grind. But even in the best environment, your suddenly free mind may slip back to the place it’s been for a few months: thinking about the exam. And now it will be about whether or not you passed, whether or not all that work was, in essence, a waste of intense energy and time. Be prepared to fill your mind with something, and know that sun and fun may not be enough to replace the intensity your brain has become accustomed to.
  • Allow yourself to plan for the worst. After the bar exam, a life you’ve never experienced begins. Life as an attorney. Or life as someone who put forward every effort to be an attorney, but for whatever reason didn’t surmount the final hurdle of the exam. Indulge your worry over the test results enough to formulate a rough plan for what will happen if you don’t pass on the first try. Will you focus on taking the bar again in February? In the same jurisdiction? Will you alter your job search? Give yourself the chance to remind your loved ones that some people who take the bar don’t pass, and let them know how plans might change if one of those people is you.

If, after you receive your results, the stress, erratic behavior, or emotional disruption doesn’t abate, be sure to seek additional help.

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