It's Spring (Exam) Fever!
The season of Spring. A time of new beginnings. A chance to start afresh.
For a great number of professional trainees, specifically those on the Law Society Blackhall Professional Practice Court Part 1, it is almost certainly exam preparation time.
Or crunch time, to use a sports-related metaphor.
I write this fresh off the latest Civil Advocacy workshop which took placed this afternoon in Blackhall Place, which is billed as a dedicated practice run for the final practical exam in March, and after which I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I have the feeling that I am not alone in this regard, seeing the rest of my colleagues in suits and dresses with papers in hands, either discussing the workshop or heading to their respective rooms to begin the workshop..
As it felt good to shine the Mary Jane shoes and iron the smart professional office dress for this practice session, the lingering sense of nerves did not leave me until I stepped out of the room following some well-received presentation pointers by the tutor, followed by the often repeated question, 'Did I do enough?'
Hello once again, imposter syndrome.
Truthfully, it is enough to have put in however many hours work as it took for me to be able to deliver a submission on behalf of a client. It is more than enough to be able to deliver any sort of speech, be it in an advocacy setting or not.
As I ponder how I did in the workshop, it occurred to me that there are in fact many facets of study fear that may set into any course, be it any academic degree, masters degree, the FE-1 entrance exams or professional accountancy exams, any student can witness the fear in many degrees and shades.
From my experience, study fear can be broken down into the following stages:
1. Outright Panic
The most fraught out of all the stages and it could hit at any moment without warning.
Usually associated with phrases such as 'There is so much to do! What am I going to do? I am so, so scared!'
It may also manifest as a series of migraines and sleep disturbance, when the worry takes over and does not appear to want to leave.
2. Positive Reasoning
The slow realisation coming off the high of panic that your attendance has been decent, that you have a bank of notes at your disposal and that the Law Society PPC1 exams are open book, so no need for the dreaded memory test and regurgitation of notes onto the page.
Confidence slowly returns and the inner voice of 'You're not good enough' is pushed to the back of the mind.
Meditation and yoga may be assisting here, or else pounding on the treadmill in the gym or taking long walks, breathing in deeply of the fresh air because the brain needs oxygen.
3. Share, Share, Share
The burden of exam stress may become too great and you feel as if you are battling a monster all by yourself.
You may or may not vent about circumstances with your colleagues in a similar bind and find some source of comfort that may are in the same boat as you.
There are study groups set up, a sharing of resources and tips, a constant support system which may involve hitting the books or even the local pub of an evening.
4. Planning Out
When the act comes together and it all clicks into place, at long last.
This is the optimum stage of motivation when the good stationery comes out: the Post-It notes, the coloured tabs, the pens gathered over many years and that stylish planner that you had been saving for a special occasion, such as this year, 2019.
The notes are put in meticulous order, the manual coded and leafed through and the mantra of 'I can do this' is a constant fixture.
4. Execution of the Plan
This may involve many hours spent in the library or your kitchen table, accompanied by the large pot of coffee or tea and a will to continue, as well as the browsing of Spotify playlists by the hundreds.
Topics are gone over in precise detail, questions are practiced and the energy never declines, punctuated with the glance at social media which takes at least half an hour under the guise of searching study inspiration quotes on Twitter and Instagram.
Coming to the open book examination structure was a daunting prospect for me, especially after so many years of committing legal cititations and statutory sections to memory, as well as listing out the various factors involved in obtaining an injunction over and over on the off chance that it would come up and seal the top mark for me.
This set of exams has a distinct advantage for there being a wealth of knowledge at the fingertips, with an answer to be found in the turn of a page or the press of a button (Ctrl and F, to be precise).
Several weeks ago, Rosemarie Hayden of the Student Development Services at Blackhall assuaged my fears a great deal in discussing the exam question structure in a practical manner: for each question, you will be advising a client, so the answer will be structured in that manner as if preparing a memo for any client back in the office.
There were also some wellness tips and healthy eating reminders which I have been keeping in mind and practicing as best I can when the exhaustion has not fully crept in yet.
While exam anxiety is never truly banished, it helps to bear in mind that any exam, any presentation, any attendance at an office or the courthouse is something to be tackled head on rather than dreaded and feared.
I used to dread exams, dread the results, dread anything to do with something that frightened me or caused my heart to pick up speed, but learning to face those fears is something that will surely stand in the future of my career.
It is a long-established thought that attitude changes everything.
So I say to anyone preparing for exams in any profession, and especially to my colleagues on the PPC1 2018/2019: onwards and upwards.