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Seriously, Try to Let It Go

November 11, 2012

By Alex Flood

The best exam advice I received that I did not follow was from my Legal Analysis and Writing TA who said, “When your exam is over, seriously, try to let it go.” 

Moments after walking out of my first exam in law school I was extraordinarily happy.  My first semester of Civ Pro was done.  My hand was still stinging from high fives when I called my wife to let her know that I thought the exam went well. 

It turns out I was completely wrong.  Even though my exam was complete, I was nowhere near finished with it.  Shortly after hanging up the phone I wondered if I was mistaken.  Maybe the exam didn’t go well?  Law school exams shouldn’t be easy. If it was easy for me, then it was easy for everyone else too. I must have missed something.  What could I have missed?  This is when I started taking the Civ Pro exam a second time. 

I didn’t sleep much that night.  Lying in bed I catalogued the many ways in which I’d completely blown it.  A list of cases I didn’t mention and concepts I didn’t address kept stirring me from sleep.  That entire exam was burned into the front of my skull.  For the first time in my life I felt I had a photographic memory, and it convinced me that I’d failed my first exam.  I went from high fives to sweaty pillow in less than three hours.   

I’ve since learned that the best way to avoid this sort of mental spiral is to not go near it in the first place.  The urge to think about how an exam went is always there but after my Civ Pro free-fall I now follow my TA’s advice in a very literal sense.  I consciously try to let it go. 

Now it’s not always easy to just avoid thinking about something you have put so much time and energy into but here are a few tips I’ve found helpful:

  • Exercise: Even though exams are exhausting I find that going for a run helps drain any residual anxiety. I also find that it is a nice set up for my next tip.
  • Burritos and Parks and Recreation re-runs: My favorite food group and television’s best political show are two things that can distract me from just about everything.  So take some time after your exam to indulge in a distraction.
  • Not talking about exams:  This is obvious, but worth noting.  I’d recommend avoiding the “How did it go?” conversation, or at least keep it very general.  At least one, if not all parties to these conversations are worse off as a result. One person mentions an issue that another person missed, and not long after that you’ll have another sweaty pillow.  So even if you think you nailed it, do your law school buddies a favor and keep it to yourself for a bit. 

Realize that it is impossible predict exam performance:  I ended up doing fine on my Civ Pro exam.  I missed my fair share of points, and so did virtually everyone else.  The curve can do amazing things.  In fact, the only thing anyone can predict is that grades will take forever to find their way to your computer screen, so seriously, try to let it go.   

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