Exams are Over! How to Have a Relaxing, Happy Winter Break and a Productive Semester

WinterCongratulations, you’ve survived law school exams! (If you’re still working on them, just bookmark this for later reading, and keep studying.) What’s next?

If you’re like most law students, you envision a restful, relaxing holiday break, full of catching up with friends, family, and loved ones and just generally chilling out. If that happens automatically for you, fantastic! At least for me, things never seemed to go quite as planned.

Things that Might Spoil Your Holiday

Some things I learned along the way:

  1. Be gentle with yourself, and your relationships. After a very intense semester of law school, you’re at least a slightly different person than you were when classes started. This is particularly true at the end of the exam period, when you’ve spent weeks being stressed out, not sleeping, and not treating yourself very well. If you try to parachute back into your old life, there may be some frisson. In my case, after exams were over, I didn’t have the energy to talk to anyone and just wanted to go into a padded room for a few days and decompress. Unfortunately, I immediately flew across the country to spend time with my then-boyfriend, who’d been bored on his own for several months and wanted to spend all of his time talking to me and hanging out. Suffice it to say things didn’t end well. In retrospect, I could have done a better job explaining what I wanted, but, frankly, I was too burned out to even know. Just be aware that there may be some unanticipated tension, even with people you care a lot about, and try to deal with it directly, but gently.
  2. Do not get so hammered the night before your flight that you sleep though it. Trust me, this is an expensive, embarrasing mistake. (Although it does make a funny story, years after the fact.) Also, if you do sleep through your flight and have to buy an expensive new ticket, do not compound that mistake by eating sushi at the airport and getting food poisoning. I’m just saying.
  3. Try to avoid talking about law school. For obvious reasons, people are going to want to talk about law school with you. How did it go? Did you do well on your exams? You’re going to want to kill these people. All you can do is smile, and say it went fine, and you studied hard for your exams but won’t find out how you did for a very long time. Then change the topic. The only exception to this rule is if there’s someone who can actually provide a valuable perspective on the experience (say, a lawyer whose opinion you trust). In this case, if you can bear it, be open to their advice. But if you really can’t deal, just say you’d rather not talk about it, and want to enjoy the party/dinner/whatever. If they keep pushing, offer to set up a call once you get your grades. Odds are that will never happen, and you’ll be off the hook.
Useful Ways to Spend Your Winter Break
  1. Rest and relax. If you want to sleep twelve hours a day, feel free. If you want to watch hours of bad TV, go for it. This is not the time to “get ahead,” it’s the time to do whatever you feel like doing. (Clearly if you have children or other family responsibilities, this is trickier, but, even then, zoning out in front of cartoons for a few hours is a completely valid option.)
  2. Think about what went well and what you want to change. Once you’ve recovered from the immediate aftermath of exams, it’s useful to think about two questions: What went well? and What would you like to change? Did you feel like your study schedule was great, but you want to make sure you get more regular exercise? Think of ways to make your changes concrete, and formalize them as soon as possible (for example, you could sign up for a weekly yoga class, and pay for the first month). Reflecting on useful changes is good, taking action to make them stick is even better.
  3. Take care of any nagging tasks. It’s amazing how doing something totally trivial that you’ve been putting off, like taking your favorite shoes in for repair, can drastically improve your mood. Are there things you put off all semester because you didn’t have time to deal with them? Carve out a few hours and knock them off the to-do list. (This also applies to nagging law school-related tasks, like filling out necessary forms or updating your résumé.) You’ll feel so accomplished, you won’t even believe it!
  4. Think about why you applied to law school to begin with. After law school exams, it’s easy to feel defeated and beaten down. Now’s the time to refocus on your original motivations — why did you want to go to law school in the first place? What steps can you take now, and next semester, to make your goals a reality? (If the answer is you had no real reason to go and can’t think of any reason to return, well, that’s something to think about. Maybe it’s time to call a career counselor to help you figure out if you should really be in law school?)
  5. Remind yourself that you’re capable and competent, and that people care about you. This is a total cliché, but it’s important. Law school has a way of making even the most intelligent, competent people feel like unlovable idiots. (Interestingly, studies show that this is particularly true for women in law school, who feel bad about themselves even when their grades are fantastic.) I don’t care if it involves pulling out old awards or report cards, or asking a friend to list all your great traits — find a way to remind yourself that you’re smart, capable, and inherently “good enough.”

Oh, yeah, and the most important thing. Don’t talk about exams! They’re over, and good riddance.

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Have a nice break, everyone!

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Comments

  1. thanks so much for this post. as a 2L waiting upon my grades & in utter agony waiting for them to all come in by tomorrow at 1pm, i found this & it really helped me — as did your posts regarding grades. i just wanted to say thank you for putting together this blog. it’s wonderful. i’ll be reading!

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