Two weeks into November, second-year law students have some major hurdles behind them. On-campus and in-firm interviews are finally over. The cards have been dealt and it is time to either celebrate your accomplishment or drown your sorrows. Either way, you’re off to the local watering hole.
In my case, before I am through my first cocktail, I am overcome by a wave of nausea and a dreadful realization: exams are less than a month away. Last year, when I hadn’t expended hours upon hours doing firm research and interview preparation, this would not have been such a horrifying moment. This year, however, I am weeks behind in all of my readings, without even a shadow of a summary prepared, and my summer job security provides only cold comfort. It is at this point that I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am not alone in my procrastination pickle. November is a dark time for all law students. Stress and anxiety build sky high, but fear not, there are ways to cope!
The first step is to decide where and how you will study best. If you are the type of person who, like a comic book villain, feeds off of other people’s anxious energy, the law library is the place for you. Here you will find rows of coffee-drinking keeners fiercely typing away on their laptops, the thunderous clicking noise tempered only by periodic sighs. Conversely, if you need a more serene environment to get your thinking cap on, I suggest you go to your local coffee shop and create your summaries to the pleasant tune of holiday jazz muzak. I am equally partial to both environments. There are days when I am eager to huddle around my peers and commiserate with colleagues on campus. Other days I will study at home, where the chocolate and coffee source never runs dry (thanks mom).
Irrespective of where you choose to study, I recommend that you plan strategic breaks. I truly believe that anxiety during exams is fuelled by the belief that your entire future depends upon your grades. Students tend to lose their sense of self and to an extent — after spending morning, noon, and night in the library — their sense of humanity. To this end, I try to take an hour or so each day to do something that makes me happy. This ranges from taking a walk outside, to a coffee break with friends where no law-related chatter is permitted. This year I have fallen in love with turbo kick-boxing. Something about running around and punching the air adds exponentially to my mental well-being and, in turn, my productivity when hitting the books.
If you choose to neglect my fluffy “take time for yourself” advice and have become a highly efficient study machine, don’t forget to fuel your mind and body with sleep and nutritious food. Last year I obeyed my own advice up until my final exam. The night before writing, I stayed up until 5 a.m. putting the final touches on my summary. Despite having a flow chart, short summary, and long summary all handy, I was not sharp for my exam and my lack of sleep was reflected in my grade. I commend those who are able to push themselves to the limit and study from the early morning hours through to early the next morning. I have learned the hard way that even the most polished notes will not replace the benefits that come from a good night’s rest.
My last piece of anxiety-reducing advice is to focus on one task at a time and set reasonable goals. Start with your first exam and aim to have your summary and other notes organized at minimum a week in advance. This way you can take time to review and write practice exams. If you try to do everything at once, you will undoubtedly become overwhelmed. When you have reached your first goal, move on and plan what your next goal will be.
Although I counsel all students to remember that the sun will still rise if you get a B or a C, it is important to remember to try your best and aim for success. If you stay focused, the month of November will come and go before you know it. Until then, I will be listening to techno music and consuming triple-shot Americanos in the Osgoode basement.