Bar Examination Advice

I know that many of you that frequently read Ruling Sports will be sitting for the bar examination in your state beginning tomorrow.  Three years ago, I sat for the examination in California.  It was the most nervous I ever felt.  A lot hinges on the bar examination, and that in and of itself can cause anxiety.  However, I hope that in reading this, you can find some solace and motivation to wake up tomorrow and give the examination your best shot.  The bar examination is completely conquerable and something that each of you can pass.

The first piece of advice I have, is that if you were diligent in law school and diligent this summer in your bar examination studies, you know everything that is on the test.  There are no real trick questions on a bar examination.  Rather, some questions may require a bit more mental digging to process than others.  When you walk into the exam, sit down at your seat, and remind yourself that you are fully capable of passing this test.  You have all of the tools in your toolbox necessary to do so.  If you hit a question that stumps you, take a few deep breaths, refuse to panic and pause.  During that pause, roll through the ideas you have as to what the question may be about.  Rationalize which one of those ideas is the best fit to answer the question.  More than likely, the idea that you come up with during this exercise is leading you on the path towards answering the question correctly.

The next important thing to remember about the bar exam, is that time is a precious commodity.  It cannot be wasted.  You need to answer the questions as they come to you.  If you hit a question–multiple choice or essay–that you do not know the answer to, you do not have time to come back to it.  Thus, you need to answer it in that moment.  If the answer doesn’t come to you after practicing the exercise I just noted above, just get something on your paper or something bubbled in.  You need to give the exam graders at least something to work with, so at a minimum, you earn a small number of points.  Every point counts on the bar exam.  When you go to apply for jobs, an employer will not know if you passed the exam by one point or 100 points.  All that matters is that you passed.  So, give it your all and give yourself the benefit of the doubt and work to answer every question.

Another piece of advice is something that you have probably heard throughout law school:  Don’t discuss the exam with your peers after it is over.  For me, this was an incredibly easy rule to follow during law school.  Although I ranked in the top-10% of my class throughout law school, I kept that fact very quiet to myself.  I knew how much I studied, and believed that I was more prepared than the bulk of my peers when it came to finals.  However, I never allowed myself to talk about the tests with peers after finals were over, save for my two best friends.  The reason I did this, is that I believed enough in myself, my capabilities and what I put down on paper that I didn’t need affirmation from others.  I distinctly remember after our first round of tests were completed my 1L year, the student who was the most vocal about how well he did on exams.  He was that irritating soul, who for weeks while the exams were being graded, would go around tooting his own horn about all of the issues he “spotted.”  These were issues that none of my other classmates spotted.  While they all panicked, I ignored him.  When our graded exams were handed out, his head hit the desk.  He had received the lowest grade.

Given that the bar examination is a two or three-day marathon of an exam, it is important not to solicit the input of others taking the exam.  You do not want these people to psych you out or to make you question what you do know.  During breaks, go to the restroom, get a drink or eat a high protein snack.  When the exam is over for the day, go to dinner with a close friend and keep the conversation as much off of the bar exam as you can.  Then, go back to your hotel or home, watch some mindless TV and spend no more than an hour reviewing flashcards.  Get a full eight hours of rest–your brain needs it.

If you’ve read this far,  you’re about to receive what I believe is the most important piece of advice I can give you:  Keep it all in perspective.  I know how important the bar examination is.  My entire life, I wanted nothing more than to be a lawyer.  I realized that if I didn’t pass the bar, that dream would be delayed.  Couple that with the realization that if I didn’t pass the bar on the first try, my employment would be delayed and I wouldn’t be able to repay my student loans, and I was in stress mode.

This is not the perspective I want you to keep.  As I noted above, if you’ve been diligent in law school and this summer in studying, you will pass the bar.  There’s a bigger perspective to keep, though:  Life goes on if you don’t.  If you do not pass the bar, you will join an elite club of individuals who have found great success in their life, like John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villariosa.  Not passing the bar on the first try does not define you as a person or a lawyer.  Not attempting it again might, but I doubt any of you would quit chasing your dreams after a minor setback.

After I took the California bar in July 2009, my friends and I had planned an exciting two weeks filled with nothing but beach celebrations.  Then, I was to head back to Colorado for one of my best friend’s weddings.  My two-week long celebration came to a screeching halt three days in when my Mom called me and told me that my Dad was in the emergency room and that the doctors feared his cancer had returned.  I packed up immediately, got in my car and drove a very stressful 14 hours to Denver.  The panic I felt in those hours was more than anything I can remember in law school or while sitting for the bar.

My point here, is that life is bigger than the bar examination.  Focus, stay motivated and do your best.  That is all you can do at this point.  Come this fall, I hope to welcome many of you into the great world of being a practicing attorney.  And for some of you, know that I will continue to support your dream of becoming a lawyer, because I know it will happen for you, too.

Best of luck!

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