First two weeks after the bar exam: Excited over congratulatory meals even though you haven’t passed yet
In between: Alternating between boredom and nightmares that remind you that you already took the bar exam and it can’t hurt you anymore
Last two weeks before bar results: HELP ME
In your desperation, you seek advice regardless of who it is…
You: “How do I handle the post-exam stress and anxiety of waiting for bar results?”
Your drunk uncle: “Don’t dwell on it… Trust in yourself… Don’t think about your answers…”
You nod politely and close the door behind you.
One problem: Our brains don’t always listen to reason! It’s hard not to think about the most important exam of your career.
In your most private moments, when all is still, you get flashbacks to the exam, relive the things you did wrong, and blow it up to the worst proportions.
The smallest error, realizing that you answered a few MBE questions wrong or made one misstatement in an entire essay, can seem like the difference between passing and failing. (“It WAS spousal testimonial privilege, not marital communications privilege! FUCK”)
You can’t just tell your brain to “stop thinking about it”… It’s inevitable that you’ll think about it. But you can change HOW you think about it and ease the agony a bit.
After screaming into your pillow, try these three ways to reframe your situation to reduce waiting anxiety (more details follow):
- The worst case: What’s the absolute worst that could happen?
- Reducing anticipation: Mentally push back D-Day
- Don’t be miserable in advance
1. Worst-case scenario if you fail the bar exam
If you still can’t calm yourself and want to logic your way out, think: What are the worst-case scenarios if you fail the bar? What’s the absolute worst that could happen?
First of all, you’re probably not going to die, even if you want to right now.
So what are some of the possibilities?
- You get fired from your job? Good, more time to study for next time.
- Your friends think you’re a dumbass and you get embarrassed? Good, now’s your chance to prove them wrong. Embarrassment is the best way to learn a lesson. Thanks friends!
- No job/money? Any family or friends you can rely on? Any alumni resources? Healthy food is actually cheaper than packaged food. Good!
- You give up on the bar exam? Follow your dreams.
Realize that, even in the worst case, even if you fail the bar exam, you can still be in a position to pick yourself back up.
Imagine that a couple of months later, you find out you didn’t pass the bar this time. If you wanted to, you could always pass it another time. (Just today, I got an email from a customer who came back to try again after 5 years!)
This is just an exam. It’ll always be there. Given enough time, it’s inevitable that you’ll pass.
You’re at the pinnacle of higher education. People would envy that you are even qualified to take the bar exam. You got to take the bar exam. You can handle anything else.
Here’s another idea on what to do after the bar exam as you try to bring normalcy back to your life: Think of 5-10 things that are worse than failing the bar exam.
I also go into more detail about this in my mental management course for bar prep: Mental Engines.
2. Become less anxious waiting for bar results by mentally pushing back the day they come out
A mental trick I use to reduce involuntary anticipation is to push the impending date back in my mind.
For example, if results are coming in two weeks, pretend they’re four weeks away. Mentally move the release date. It’s easier to put it out of your mind if it’s one month away compared to two days.
You’ll think about the impending d-day less often, and feel less anxious waiting for bar results in the meantime.
3. Don’t volunteer to be miserable
Results haven’t come out, yet you worry yourself sick, agonizing about your performance and contemplating your future.
You’re volunteering to be miserable in advance.
What if you passed? Then you’re wasting your sanity with anxiety.
What if you didn’t pass? Then you were miserable for no reason.
“It’s natural to stress. I can’t help it. It’s worth the trouble if I pass anyway. It’s fun to commiserate.”
Sure, you can be anxious if that’s what you want. Sure, maybe it’s impossible to completely eliminate all the worries in your head. And sure, maybe you enjoy indulging in self-doubt and commiseration with others.
But if you want to reduce the waiting anxiety, there are many other things that could occupy your attention instead of driving yourself in circles and calculating the possibilities about what could be.
Being anxious about bar results also makes it harder to study in case you wanted to start ramping up because you’ll be distracted.
Let it happen when it eventually does. You can’t force it to come earlier or later. It will come whether you want it or not. What you do in the meantime is your choice.
If you found this article helpful, drop a link to it in your favorite bar exam/prep Facebook group or subreddit, or send it to a friend who’s anxiously waiting for bar results.
If you want to stay in the loop for the next bar exam, sign up for my weekly coaching newsletter and MBE questions by clicking here. You’ll also get coupons for AdaptiBar, UWorld, BarEssays, as well as my guide to kicking ass on the performance test.