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  • Writer's pictureTommy Sangchompuphen

Lessons from the U.S. Olympic Trials

This past weekend, I had the chance to visit Indianapolis, where the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in swimming concluded last night. While I didn't catch any of the races, I made a quick stop at the competition site on my way to Missouri to drop one of my sons off at summer camp. Still, even in that brief visit, I felt the incredible Olympic spirit.


Reflecting on this experience, I’m struck by the parallels between the journey of competing at the U.S. Olympic trials and the journey of preparing for the bar exam. Both paths are grueling, both demand immense dedication and preparation, and both serve as ultimate tests of one’s abilities. Here are some key lessons we can draw from Olympic hopefuls to help guide you through your bar exam preparation.



✅ Commitment to a Long-Term Goal

 

Olympic athletes often spend years preparing for a single event, much like law students spend years preparing for the bar exam. This long-term commitment requires an unwavering focus on the end goal. Whether it’s countless hours in the gym or library, the commitment to continuous improvement is paramount.

 

Bar Exam Tip: Effective bar preparate requires developing a study schedule that spans the weeks and months leading up to the exam. Consistency and regularity in your preparation are crucial. Set small, achievable goals each week that contribute to your overall preparedness.


✅ Make and Adhere to a Structured Study Plan


Athletes have highly structured training regimens designed to maximize their performance. They work with coaches who provide expertise and guidance, helping them focus on their weaknesses while building on their strengths. Similarly, bar prep courses and structured study plans are designed to cover all necessary material methodically.


Bar Exam Tip: Utilize commercial bar review courses, and stick to their structured study plans. If you’re supplementing your course with additional resources provided by your law school, leverage the resources provided, including practice problems, essay outlines, and review sessions. Follow the plan diligently, and don’t skip steps.


✅ Maintain Mental and Physical Health


Competing at the Olympic level isn’t just about physical prowess; it’s also about mental toughness. Athletes employ strategies to stay focused, manage stress, and maintain a positive mindset. This mental conditioning is equally important for bar exam takers.


Bar Exam Tip: Incorporate stress management techniques into your routine. This could include mindfulness meditation, regular physical exercise, or simple breathing exercises. Maintaining your physical health through proper nutrition and sleep is also essential. Remember, a healthy body supports a healthy mind.


✅ Simulate Exam Conditions


Olympic athletes engage in simulated competitions to prepare for the real event. They recreate the pressure and environment they’ll face to acclimate themselves to the conditions. For bar exam preparation, this means taking practice exams under timed conditions. 


Bar Exam Tip: Take full-length practice exams under exam conditions. Time yourself strictly and simulate the test environment as closely as possible. This will help you manage your time effectively and reduce anxiety on the actual exam day. As the end of June approaches, you should be completing your first 200-question simulated exam. Read my previous blog post, “Washing, Rinsing, and Repeating Your Way to Improvement,” to learn how best to take advantage of the simulated exam.


✅ Learn from Setbacks


No athlete’s journey is without setbacks, whether it’s an injury or a disappointing performance. The key is how they respond to these challenges—learning from them and coming back stronger. Similarly, you may encounter difficult topics or practice exams where your performance isn’t what you hoped for. 


Bar Exam Tip: Treat every mistake as a learning opportunity. Review your practice exams critically, identify where you went wrong, and understand why. Seek help if you need it, and never be afraid to ask questions or revisit challenging concepts. Read my previous blog post, “When Getting It Wrong Is Good,” to learn why incorrectly answering questions is an effective way to learn and retain information.


✅ Leverage Your Support System


Athletes often have a team of coaches, trainers, family, and friends supporting them. The journey to the Olympics isn’t one they undertake alone. Similarly, preparing for the bar exam is made more manageable with a strong support system.


Bar Exam Tip: Lean on your support network, whether it’s classmates, professors, family, or friends. Join study groups, attend review sessions, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support when you need it. Remember, you’re not in this alone.


✅ Taper Your Performance


In the days leading up to the competition, athletes often taper their training to ensure they are at peak performance. This tapering involves reducing the intensity and volume of their workouts. For bar exam takers, a similar approach can be beneficial.


Bar Exam Tip: In the final week before the bar exam, reduce your study hours. Don’t plan to do any significant studying the Monday before the exam. The Sunday before the exam should really just be a half-day of studying at most. Use this time to review key concepts lightly and relax your mind and body. Overloading yourself right before the exam can lead to burnout and fatigue, so tapering your study sessions will help you remain fresh and focused.


✅ Execute Your Plan on Exam Day


On the day of the competition, athletes focus on executing what they’ve trained for. They trust in their preparation and focus on performing at their best. The same applies to bar exam day.


Bar Exam Tip: Trust in your preparation. Stay calm, stay focused, and approach each question methodically. Remember the strategies you’ve practiced, manage your time effectively, and maintain a positive mindset throughout the exam.


Just like those athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic trials, you’ve got what it takes to succeed.

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