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Obvious Bar Stress Study Says Waiting for Results Is Stressful

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By William Peacock, Esq. on December 16, 2014 8:24 AM

You know what the worst time of my life was? Waiting for bar results. Waiting for bar results while unemployed, knowing that if I failed, it would all but guarantee ongoing unemployment until another testing cycle (February exam, plus a few months of waiting for results) had passed.

So yes, waiting for bar results is stressful. And now, if that obvious assertion isn't obvious enough, there is a study to back it up.

First, Last Days of Waiting Are the Worst: Study

The study, which surveyed 50 California Bar Exam takers at various points in the waiting cycle, found that stress peaked in the first days post-exam and in the final days before results were released, reports the National Law Journal.

Why? After you walk out of the exam and sober up, you have two options: You go to work if you are lucky enough to have a job (starting a new full-time job is stressful), or you are unemployed and out of excuses to push off the job hunt. Either way, your life, which has been study-study-study for three years of school and three months of bar review, is in for a big change, which means stress. As for those last days: duh -- you're worried about the results.

Attitude Matters

Who felt the least stress, according to the study? "Dispositional optimists," which is psychology-speak for exactly what you think it is -- happy people. Defensive pessimists, despite their bravado, were more stressed.

At least in this one instance, my stepfather's advice to "expect the worst, you'll never be disappointed," is harmful to your mental well-being, with a caveat: Pessimists who were proven correct when results were released coped with failing better than optimists whose souls were crushed by bar failure. (Picture a kitten being hit by a bus -- that's how optimists feel upon failure.)

Stress Relief Exercises Are Useless

A second study, which hasn't yet been published, examined the effectiveness of different coping strategies. It turns out that none of them were particularly effective in reducing results-waiters' anxiety, reports NLJ.

"If anything, people who say they are using lots of coping strategies are more anxious and are thinking about the exam even more," University of California, Riverside psychology professor Kate Sweeny, one of the co-authors of the study, said.

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