The Almost Daily Word – Seven Deadly Sins of Bar Exam Preparation – #4 – Obsessiveness

Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back to the same question and never get an answer. Norman Mailer – American writer.

Thirty-five years of experience with the California Bar Exam has led me to reflect on the seven deadly sins of bar exam preparation – self-defeating traits that predict bar exam failure. Number 4 is:

Being Obsessive

Let’s define our terms. “Devotion” is “the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal.” Being “obsessive is “[being] excessive, often to an unreasonable degree.” One way of thinking about whether you’re devoted to, or obsessive about, your exam preparation may be in terms of what you’re doing and what you’re not doing.

In my opinion, you’re devoted if you are doing these things:

1. Developing a general plan for your summer study before or promptly once your bar course begins. Start with a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. It’s best to do it yourself – you know yourself better than anyone. Relying on someone else (a trusted professor, a close law school classmate) is the best of second best, but only if you agree with the result.

Setting your priorities: realistic time allocations for prep course attendance, group study (if that’s your thing), individual study, practice exams, tutorial time – everything you can think of. The whole thing is like a financial budget – only the finite resource is time.

This plan must take into account that you have a life outside of studying. (You’ll see what I mean if you keep reading.)

2. Preparing a realistic day-by-day schedule. Some prep courses are very schedule-heavy. A good thing if you want this type of thinking done for you, but only if it will work. Your priorities (see step 1) may dictate otherwise. Will the time allotted to each bar course you are seeing for the first time suffice? If not, you may have to tweak your schedule, “on the fly,” and “as the clock runs down.” Start thinking about it – the earlier, the better.

3. Sticking to the realistic schedule you’ve set for yourself throughout your studying. And, changing the plan only for good reasons which you’ve considered carefully.

In my opinion, you’re obsessive if, because you’re studying so much, you’re not also doing these things:

a. Exercising. Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain, improving alertness, attention span and mental acuity. It helps curb feelings of anxiety. And it makes you less prone to catching a cold or the flu – two things that will throw your studying way out of line.

b. Eating right. A 2012 study in the journal Population Health Management links unhealthy eating with a 66 percent increased loss of productivity among workers in three large American companies. Eating right is not rocket science. In a nutshell, it means less salt (sorry pizza!) less fat (sorry again!), and less sugar; and more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. It also means proper hydration and moderate consumption of caffeine and alcohol.

c. Getting enough rest. A study in the Journal of Vision from Brigham and Young Women’s Hospital shows that the more sleep deprived a person is, the worse his or her work becomes. “The longer a person is awake, the more the ability to perform a task … is hindered, and this impact of being awake is even stronger at night,” says Jeanne Duffy, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s.

d. Hugging (and being hugged). Hugging, cuddling and kissing (feel free to go on from there) a loved one all raise the amount of oxytocin in your blood. Oxytocin helps to decrease anxiety and blood pressure, and even boost memory.

The bottom line is study effectiveness – right? Scheduling realistically in and actually doing the right things in addition to studying will improve your bar performance. It will improve your overall health and state of mind. And, since you’re going to be healthier, happier, and more alert, it may provide more quality time for you to knock down the rule against perpetuities – without getting obsessed about it.