As of April, 900 people have listened to my presentation, Channeling the River: Using Social and Cognitive Science to Steer Inclusion Efforts. Here’s a brief description: In 2012, I…
Are you taking the Bar Exam next week? If so, here’s the one piece of advice you need – do nothing the day before the exam. I know, you’ve always done something the day before a big test. It’s what you’re used to doing, and we all prefer to stick to our habits. Habits are comfortable, but this is one of those situations where our brains work differently from what we believe. So, hopefully, by the end of this piece, I will have convinced you to take Monday off.
We form memories through repetition and connection. For example, at some point in the past, you didn’t know what water was. Your parents showed you water, and repeatedly said the word “water” until you associated the word with what they were pointing out. But you didn’t just form a connection to what water was, you also made connections to things it did – cool you down as sweat, burn you as steam, fall as rain, etc. Those connections helped you consolidate your understanding of what water was.
Behind the scenes, your brain was building the concept of water. Neurons associated with your concept of water strengthened until one day, you got it. These neurons made and accepted connections to other neurons. As those connections strengthened, you associated water with “wet,” “liquid,” and snowball fights.
The brain uses more energy than any other part of your body. When you’re awake, this energy is used to make connections and recall information. When you’re asleep, this energy is used to consolidate information. It also helps us to build skills. Studying uses energy. Rest allows your brain to replenish itself.
Compare study to working out. When you work out, you use your muscles, they get drained, you get tired. After you’re too tired to work out (this might be several days for the more athletic among us), you take some time off. Maybe a day or two. Consider how you feel when you come back – refreshed, stronger, and ready to go.
This is exactly what’s going on in your brain. You’re working it out. Trying to put in more information at one time than you ever have before. It drains you. Tires you out. Taking one day off at the end of ten weeks of study to do nothing will have you fresh and ready to go for the sixteen hours of testing you’re about to endure. I can confirm it was definitely useful before my three days of testing for two bar exams.
After three years of law school and ten weeks of study, you both need and deserve a day off. Take it.