February 22, 2017

How to Conquer Test Anxiety

I used to suffer from severe test anxiety, especially in the form of standardized tests.  I bombed the LSAT the first time I took it, even though I had just shy of a 4.0 in high school and college (so did Spanx founder and billionaire, Sarah Blakely).  I took the LSAT one more time and still did not do superb, but I got accepted to law school (and now my score means nothing!).  My test anxiety was so bad my first year of law school, that I sometimes vomited before exams.  Looking back, I definitely overreacted in some instances, but hindsight is 20/20.  Test anxiety is very common in law school (or any kind of grad school) because in many classes you only get one grade, so there is very little room for error.  I have taken my fair share of law school exams (not to mention the Bar Exam) and learned some coping mechanisms along the way.  Without further adieu:

1. Do the Work
Preparation is key in law school.  You have to stay current on all assignments and study for finals (and constantly review older material) all semester.  The days of pulling all nighters are over.  That might have worked in college, but will not work in law school.  I constantly updated my outline and read Barbri outlines all semester, that way when it was time to really study, I was more prepared and at ease.

2. "Get Out of Your G*d D*amn Head!!"
One of my Bar Exam professors gave my class a pep talk one day when we reached the burn-out phase in prepping for the Bar Exam.  Everyone was tired, miserable and frustrated, to say the least, and could not figure out how to answer the obnoxious multi-state questions (for you non-lawyers, multi-state is multiple choice on steroids- all of the choices are correct or incorrect and you have to choose the most correct/incorrect.  They are total torture, especially for those of us that are right-brainers!!!).  Anyways, he looked at us and shook his fist and very bluntly told us to "Get Out of Your G*d-D*amn Head!"  He certainly got my attention, and I have carried that bit of advice with me anytime I find myself not thinking clearly.  I pass this advice on to others when their anxiety kicks in.  One of the biggest lessons I learned sometime after 2L is that you must be able to pass law school exams if you will ever pass the bar.  If you cannot get through law school exams, you will never get through the bar exam.. so, relax, get out of your head and get over it.  You will be fine!

3. Practice Taking the Exam In Exam Settings
I am convinced that law school is part preparation and part psychological.  Part of what is so scary about law school exams is the unknown.  Not knowing the exam format.  Not knowing how lenient the professor is.  Not knowing what all to study.  Most professors will tell you the exam format (if not, go ask upperclassmen and always, always ask the law librarian and be their best friend- they know and hear everything), but I recommend being prepared for any sort of format.  Once you know the format, start taking practice exams under exam settings (go ask the librarian if there are any old bar exam books on file and work multi-state questions (these are the best) for that topic and practice essay questions).  For example, set a timer and take a mock test where you normally sit.  This works wonders.  There is something about just getting comfortable with your surroundings. Also, for essay exams, I recommend typing answers on your laptop just like you would on game day.  We used Exam 4.  Learn the quirks of the software before the exam, otherwise this will only add to your anxiety.  The more practice you have under exam-like settings, the more confident and comfortable you will feel.

4. Visualization
Visualization can really affect your performance and how others perceive you.  I am an avid reader and love to read books on career/business development and successful people (see here).  One common theme I keep seeing is that successful entrepreneurs all swear by visualization in both their personal and professional lives. So, for example, they will visualize aheiveing their end goals and what steps they need to take to make that happen and continue to do so.  Visualize yourself studying for your exam, then making whatever grade makes you feel successful (spoiler alert: no one has ever asked me my law school GPA even though I busted my tail!). First and foremost, visualize yourself spending weeks preparing for the exam, then remaining calm and collected during the exam and ultimately passing and leaving the room knowing you succeeded.  It sounds cheesy, but visualization and positive thinking works!!

5. Take Care of Your Health
Sometimes taking care of your overall health can be put on the back-burner in law school and even more so while studying for the bar.  We all know we need to get plenty of sleep each night, but when you have 40 cases to read sometimes your sleep suffers.  Get a good night's sleep the night before your exam so that you are able to focus and think clearly when it's game time.  Ideally, you should cut off studying early the afternoon before and just give your brain a break.  One of my professors always said that if you didn't know the material the day before, you can pretty much forget it.  I believe that!!  In addition to sleeping, exercising and eating healthy will do wonders for your physical and mental health.  I always ate an apple thirty minutes before my exam.  Also, now that I am done with law school, I love getting massages and acupuncture to help relax my mind.

Related Post: What To Do Post Bar Exam... The Dreaded Wait

I hope you find these tips helpful.  How do you conquer test anxiety??  Thanks so much for stopping by!  


  1. Such great tips, babe! Practicing in an exam setting is such a great idea!
    xoxo, Vanessa

  2. Amazing teachings! Thank you! Only if I knew this years ago!