It pretty much goes without saying that law school final exams can be one of the more anxiety-inducing, stress-producing times during your law school career. Fortunately, there are many ways that you can reduce the stress that you may be feeling. Read on for some of the best tips we’ve gathered on how to make it through law school final exams with flying colors.
Breathe! I used to play some hard-core competitive tennis. I loved putting in the time to practice and I hit a wicked left-handed serve that drove opponents nuts. But in the stress of a competitive match, I’d start to hold my breath. Against a smart and tough opponent that meant I seldom had sufficient oxygen to run down a lot of returned balls. Once I learned how to resist that urge, I was amazed at the extra energy I had … and started winning a lot more points. So, suggestion from a former breath-holding tennis fanatic — take some time during finals to focus on your breathing. Inhale using a slow, smooth, rhythmic, and deep breath. Then follow with a slow, forceful, and deliberate exhalation. Repeat after me: breathe in … breathe out … repeat as necessary.
Organize! Ask yourself, “What do I have to get done before my exams?” Your time is valuable and every minute counts. Start by putting together a study schedule for yourself. Make sure you set aside enough time to prep for each exam … but … keep it realistic. And include time for study breaks … and yes, for eating and sleeping too! Outlines can help you determine what needs to be covered. As you organize, also consider what type of exams you’ll be taking. Professor Noreuil of ASU offers these tips on taking essay exams and multiple choice exams. If you have a take-home exam, scroll to the comments section on this post from Ms. JD for helpful advice.
Sweat! I know, you think you’re already sweating. But I’m talking about putting on a pair of your old sweats and taking a walk or jog around campus or through downtown. Or, really get busting and climb up to the M and back. How’s this going to help? Well, some say only 20 minutes a day of physical activity can help improve your memory. Not to mention it also gets those good endorphins flowing throughout your bloodstream and your mind focused on your body’s movements — all of which help stress and anxiety fade away. So dig out those walking or running shoes from the back of the closet and get movin! You’ll clear your head and be ready to focus on issue preclusion and res judicata.
ZZZ’s! It’s oh so tempting to push on for just one more hour of studying. But before you know it, you’ve pretty much pulled an all-nighter and your final exam is only a couple hours away. Don’t expect your brain to perform amazing feats of information processing while running on fumes. Unfortunately, you’ve just deprived your brain of its much needed seven or so hours of sleep each night. Your mood, energy level, concentration, and short-term memory depend on giving your brain time to recharge. That means you want to get enough zzz’s on a regular basis to keep your noggin sharp and prepared … zzzzz.
Brain Food! Like a lot of things during law school, finding time to do much other than studying falls low on the list. Getting to the grocery store might even fall to the very bottom of that list. But Ramen noodles, frozen dinners, and frequent trips to the snack machine aren’t going to cut it … especially at final exam time. Your brain is one demanding organ. It wants enough physical activity, it wants enough sleep, and it also wants enough healthy food … or else! If you want the benefit of your brain’s enhanced mental capabilities, get thee to the grocery store. What should you purchase? Web MD and SteadyHealth both provide a list of foods that will make your brain happy. Much to my delight … and perhaps to yours as well … a little chocolate every day has been shown to be good for keeping your brain humming. When you create your study schedule (see Organize! above), work in time to stock “brain food” in your house. By avoiding a diet disaster, you’ll reap the benefits of better concentration, motivation, memory, and less stress. Feed your brain well, you’ll study well.
Laughter! It’s an old and worn adage, but it remains so true that laughter is the best medicine. If you’ve ever experienced a real belly laugh, you know how it relaxes your entire body. When you start to laugh, you lighten your mental load and positive physical changes occur in your body. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase producing a good relaxed feeling. In addition, laughter keeps your blood flowing and boosts your immune system — all helping you to stay healthy throughout finals. So watch a funny movie or TV show, hang with funny people, or tell some jokes.
Music! Like other stress relievers, music provides a mental distraction that serves to reduce tension and send those stress hormones back into hibernation. If you’re already a music lover, you probably have your fav playlist for studying. But have you thought about listening to some classical music? Certain types of music that follow a 60 beats per minute pattern (like Mozart’s) have been shown to activate both the right and left sides of your brain. This stimulation is linked with increased recall … meaning that listening while studying can help increase the likelihood that you’ll retain relevant information. You might want to try out this classical study playlist. Okay, so you’re not so sure about dipping so far back into time? Here’s a more contemporary study playlist put together by a law student … and … if movie scores are more your style, Legal Geekery recommends The Bourne Identity, The Dark Knight, Braveheart, and Casino Royale as starters.
What else? Some brief final suggestions on additional ways you can lessen stress and anxiety during the law school final exam period:
- Take time to connect with friends and family. Social contact is a good stress reliever. It provides support and helps you weather through your exam period.
- Take breaks. Your energy will ebb and flow so study in chunks. And consider alternate study spots. According to an article in the New York Times, when you vary the setting in which you study, the information studied is enriched and this slows forgetting … aka, improves your retention. Gotta like that!
- Pet/play with your pet (or someone else’s). A number of law schools have begun to bring in dogs during final exams as a break for students, like this one at Lewis and Clark. As they’ve discovered, it’s hard not to smile and chill out around a cool canine.
- Reward yourself. When you’ve finished up an exam, give yourself a break and reward yourself before moving on to studying for your next exam. See a movie or have dinner with friends. A little rewarding down time allows you to clear your mind and enables you to re-focus.
Good luck! We know you all will do great!