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How to keep your focus during the bar

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

It is an adage to say “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. For most law students, the Bar examination is more than that, it is a pursuit of a higher calling, a dream, a promise, a culmination of all the blood sweat and tears, or simply a redemption.

Back then, the Bar was an excuse. Yes, you heard it right. I wanted to forego being an adult, it was my way of dodging the bullet of responsibility. Not to mention my innate love for going to school and everything that goes with it. I was in love with the thought of sitting in a room with people who want to be somebody someday. I like the idea of certain uncertainty, threading the difficulty of law school just to get to a better place.

I took it not to prove myself but to redeem myself, I was being left behind (in all the sense of the word). I did not have a career, a love life, nor a family.

Before I became a lawyer in 2017, I reviewed twice for the bar. Once in 2015 and another in 2016. My mother died middle of my 2015 bar review. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a crazy September morning I was at my wit's end because, at barely a couple months before the bar, I had yet to read anything on Criminal law and Commercial law. My mom wanted to watch the third and last installment of the John Lloyd and Sarah trilogy, “It takes a man and a woman”. She asked me to take a rest since I had done all that was humanly possible to prepare for that most coveted title. I requested that we watched in the afternoon, and just before lunchtime, her bathroom break took a little longer than usual. When my brother went to check on her, he discovered her lying on the floor forcing her locked jaw to utter a word. The rest was a whirlwind of unfortunate events that led to her unexpected and untimely demise.

In between my mom’s visitors, I was trying my best to regain focus, but I just could not get myself together. It was during her final night that I decided to take the Bar the following year. I was angry and depressed. I couldn’t forgive myself for prioritizing the Bar exams over my mother’s humble request.

Then 2016 came and I had a new reason to take the exams. I was taking it as a tribute to my mother’s unconditional love and sacrifice. I enrolled in a review school near our home and rarely stayed in libraries or coffee shops to read. Aside from the obvious fact that I didn't have the money (I was unemployed and broke), I was unstable. Little seemingly incoherent and irrelevant things trigger my loneliness. Anything can make me cry, literally anything.

On the rare occasions that I was emotionally okay, I attended lectures and stayed at the most unnoticeable corner of the room. I was there only to hear the latest jurisprudence and to rest my tired eyes. I kept my human interaction at a minimum since I didn’t want to talk with other examinees who would mostly yap about why they were taking the bar and who are they taking it for. I sincerely kept my distance even from family and friends. I am extremely thankful that most of them understood why I was being weird.

For 6-7 months, my usual day would mean 8-10 hours in my study table reading with a few 15-minute breaks in between. My 15-minute rest included bathroom breaks, snacks, dog time and a quick walk outside the house. Then, I would spend a good 8 hours of sleep and the remaining 6-8 hours will be for TV time or window shopping. By this time, I already had a loving and supportive boyfriend who kept me sane by calling me everyday to talk about anything under the sun.

My study table contained different inspirational quotes and Bible verses, I had pictures of cars, bags, and house cut out to motivate me. I hoarded Nathaniel’s buco pandan to keep my mind active. And I practically threw fashion and diet out of the window. I dressed for comfort and gained 30 kilos during the review and never cared (well at least during the review).

During moments of doubt and fatigue, I would pull out my rosary and pray. I prayed for the soul of my mom, my sanity and the bar exams. I cry almost 10 times (I kid you not) a day out of frustration, grief, and anxiety. I was your normal bar looney. I talk to my brother who lives next door for a good 2 hours a day and spend the rest of my day like a hermit.

My limited exposure to other humans helped me maintain my focus, it kept unnecessary comments at bay. I stayed away from people who will only fuel my doubts, heighten my anxiety or provide uncalled for boosts will only make me conceited about my preparations.

A few hugs from my family and my then-boyfriend (who is now my husband) sweet nothings were enough to keep me going. And if you are still reading this and still haven’t found the answer to the question of how to keep your focus, let me summarize it for you.

1. Find a logical and deep answer to “why am I taking the bar?” – remind yourself about this every day

2. Contemplate on who you want to offer or share your success to – keep them close to you during the review

3. Manage your time wisely– have enough time for sleep, leisure, rest and family/friend bonding

4. Keep yourself healthy.

5. Acknowledge all your emotions – cry if you must but always know when to stop.

6. Remember to have time for your pleasure– for me, this means a good buco pandan cup, a sweet hug or a long call from my boyfriend.

7. The obvious… study! – find what works for you i.e. to read alone, at libraries or attend lectures and stick to it.

8. Stay away from people whose opinion you do not value.

9. Stay away from negativity.– you can already drown in your own doubts and anxiety. OR just think happy (as far as practicable)

10. Lastly, pray. Pray for strength, health, wisdom, and patience.

These are just my suggestions, I am not claiming that this is the true path to getting that most coveted title “Atty.” But who knows, it might just work for you too. Best of luck my future Panyera/o!

Atty. Lovejoy Salvadora is now a Corporate Lawyer. She is a graduate of Arellano University School of Law.

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