William and Mary Law School

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Suggestions for Responding to the Stresses of Law School

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Simple Advice Exam Studying Tips from a 3L Mental Health Resources

 Simple Advice that goes a long way...

1) Increase the amount of physical exercise you get.

2) Increase the amount of water you drink.

3) Get enough sleep.

4) Avoid too much sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.

5) Stay in touch with other people who make you feel good (especially those who make you laugh).

6) Be aware of how the following "cognitive distortions" (identified by David Burns in his book on mood therapy) may get in your way--

 (a)     ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

 (b)     OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event (e.g., getting a low grade) as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

(c)     MAGNIFICATION OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement) or the converse, shrinking things (such as your own accomplishments) to appear less important than they are.

 (d)     JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make negative interpretations of situations even though the facts do not support those interpretations. An example is arbitrarily concluding that someone's negative behavior was caused by you.

 (e)     SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything.


For confidential assistance, law students may call Virginia Lawyers Helping Lawyers Toll Free: 877-545-4682 (877-LHL-INVA)

The American Bar Association Law Student Division has compiled some excellent materials to help law students stay healthy. In particular, see the recommendations (p. 9-14) on ways the student can respond to stress. 


Tips from a 3L

by Marcus Lange

1L year is stressful enough without exams, but exam time takes stress to a whole new level.  Even those of you who aren't hyper competitive, want-to-be law school professors, or future biglaw associates, the stress is probably piling on.  The dreaded "curve" and lack of academic feedback puts even the most relaxed persons on edge.  (Sidenote:  Oh, how I yearn for the days of undergrad when a curve meant my grades would be better!)  Here are some practical tips that I have acquired through trial and error and hope will be of assistance to you during exam time (DISCLAIMER:  This is purely my opinion, and may not apply to you);

1) Don't spend too much time in the library!  When entering Wolf the tension can hit you like a brick wall.  It is my firmly held belief that anxiety is more contageous than the seasonal flu.  That is not to say that you shouldn't study hard.  Find a nice quiet spot outside of the library to study on your own.  If you have a good friend that isn't freaking out it can be beneficial to study together, just make sure they are committed to staying calm.  Personally, I like going to the library after I start getting burned out (maybe around test 2 or 3), since a small shot of anxiety can be a good remedy.

2) Don't ask others about their study habits!  Part of the 1L experience is the constant sense that everyone is doing more than you.  This is usually just a nasty side effect of anxiety and the fact that you don't know where you are in terms of academic performance.  Everyone else is feeling the same thing.  It's an illusion!  Stick to your own guns, and don't worry about others' study habits.  On a related matter, quit venting about how much work you have done or how much work you still have to do!  There is nothing worse than two law students frantically talking about what they did and what they will do.  The problem is, there is no real communication.  You and the other participant(s)s only do it because you want to feel better.  And even though you may feel a very fleeting sensation of semi-comfort, it will quickly be replaced by more anxiety than you had before.

3) Keep an internal frame of reference.  We are effected by 1) things within our control, 2) things which we have only some control over, and 3) things outside of our control.  Academic performance within law school falls within category 2 because of the "curve".  Since it is irrational to worry about things outside of our control, we ought to concentrate on what is within our control.  An "internal frame of reference" means just that, worrying about your efforts and attituide (which are under your control), not the outcome (which isn't).  You can control how hard you work, your internal dialogue, etc, but you cannot control the luck of which exam questions are asked, how your peers study and handle tests, etc.  So, worry about yourself.  This skill will help you not only in law school, but in life.

4) Submit the practice blackboard exam.  I know this sounds silly, especially to those of you that are technically proficient.  Do it anyway.  Trust me.  You don't want to be that person that submits their exam late because of some counterintuitive aspect of blackboard.

More to come...

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