Healthy fear as the great motivator for final exam success

GUEST BLOG Harrison Thorne, Esq.
UCLA School of Law, Class of 2016
Associate Attorney at Vedder Price

I usually became a nervous wreck around finals. My nerves were a mix of fearing the final exam and comparing myself to others.

Fearing a test is good. Healthy fear will motivate.

However, what is not good is measuring your knowledge against others.

I found that most people gave off an air of knowing everything about every course. My classmates would talk about how they had various topics “down cold” or how they “know that subject like the bank of my hand,” etc. In response, I became extremely nervous. My thinking turned into a checklist of concerns and doubt:

  • Everybody knows everything
  • I don’t know everything
  • Classes are graded on a curve
  • I know less than everybody else
  • I will fail

My saving grace was that, as time passed and finals neared, I worked hard and disconnected from that defeatist mindset. I actively pushed those thoughts down when they came up. And they came up a lot! What I found was that I was not as “dumb” as I thought and I could write a decent law school exam. I also found that the people who felt as I did tended to psych themselves out and under-perform.

My advice to my past self or anyone else about to take their first set of final exams is as follows:

  • Acknowledge the fear. Exams are scary. Especially the first time around. There is no point in denying that fact.
  • Use that fear. Fear can be a great motivator.
  • Come up with an “attack plan.” Get a calendar or download an app and set up a daily to-do list to keep track of what needs to get done.
  • Get it done. Now that finals are coming up, this is the time to put your head down and grind out work.
  • Never, ever, ever compare yourself to others. In fact, it’s probably best to avoid other law students as much as possible at this point. There will be a desire to ask other students what they’re doing, how they’re outlining, what practice exams they have taken. DO NOT do this. Focus on your well thought out and designed attack plan.
  • Use Tools. While everybody else is nervously Googling study aids, thumbing through E+E’s or checking out secondary sources, use no-nonsense tools like BARBRI 1L Mastery and 1L Mastery Pro.

 As an example, here’s a glimpse of how I planned one of my final exam prep days:

6:00: wake up1:30-3:00: Study
6:15-7:30: gym3:30-5:00: Class
7:30-8:15: shower/breakfast/
check emails
5:30-7:00: Study
8:15-10:30: Study7:00-7:30: Dinner
10:30-11:00: zone out, check emails, whatever7:30-9:30: Study
11:00-1:00: Study9:30-10:00:
Pleasure Reading
(never give this up!)
1:00-1:30: Lunch