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Law Students: Becoming a Lawyer
Advice: Exam Days
Like Barbri says, the bar exam itself isn't the hardest part of the process. Studying is. When the days of the exam finally roll around, there is nothing more you can do. Fortunately, there is really nothing TO do, except to regurgitate, which you'll find is a largely involuntary process. Your main job is just to focus, and not make stupid mistakes in reading, bubbling, time managing, and on some essays, spotting.
Don't do any experiments with your body now, no matter how small. Keep your habits. If you don't eat breakfast, don't start. If you stay up late to watch Conan and drink a beer every night, keep doing it.
I only slept three hours the night before my first day, despite the sleeping pills. By that time, I was used to it. The weeks leading up to the exam, I was having insomnia pretty regularly. I found that I can still function with that amount of sleep, so I wasn't afraid of it. Interestingly, being tired also made me less nervous. The second night I slept like a baby, probably out of pure exhaustion.
To offset the effects of insomnia during the exam, try to get some sleep the few days before. A good sleep can have benefits 48, even 36 hours later. So, at some point in the last few days, sleep becomes a higher priority than studying. You have to pull yourself out of the cram mode, and just try to relax a bit.
You will be nervous. Maybe like never before. Don't be nervous about your nervousness however. It's inevitable. You do not need to be perfectly calm to do your best on the exam. But do stay in your "zone." If you freak out easy, try meditation. Meditation is the practice of thinking about nothing. Practice it when you're not stressed, and you'll be able to do it when you are. Also, try not to look at the three days as opportunities to "mess up." Think of them as opportunities to pick up points here and there. Even if you had a bad day, you're getting closer to passing.
The climax will be day 1, the last few minutes before they call begin. I was sitting there, in the middle of a huge hall, slightly tired. The proctor spent forever going over the directions. I could barely hear her b/c I already had my earplugs in. My pencil was under the first page of the first book. My watch said 12:00; its knob was pulled out. My heart was pounding. I couldn't for the life of me recall the elements of battery. Begin.
As I said before, the only time that truly matters with the essays are the 15 minutes you spend reading, spotting, and outlining. Typically, I only had time to read the question once. But if you have the luxury of doing it again, do it. Try to get your focus level up for the read. Take a deep breath. Stretch your arms. Forget the last essay you did.
Buy your lunch the evening before. In Oakland, there were a ton of restaurants near the Convention Center. I took a walk through the Asian market across Broadway both nights and found some lovely pastries. I like the effect that Red Bull has on me. I drank half before the AM session and half before the PM.
The first challenge for the PTs is fighting off fatigue. The second, and most critical thing, is to read and follow the directions carefully, and exactly. Given the weight of the PTs, the time you spend reading those directions has THE BIGGEST impact on your score. In other words, those first few minutes are the MOST IMPORTANT of the entire exam. Once you start writing, few things can truly go wrong (or right).
The right answer is the most obvious answer. Typically, you'll find a section in the file or library that is "right on" for a call. Just copy the damn paragraph out exactly and slap on a heading. If the facts give you a bulleted list, copy the list. Lists of short things are easily graded, and so if you see something like that, they probably want you to copy it out for the grader. If there is an ambiguous direction, check if you misunderstood it. If not, do what you think most other examinees would do.
Finally, keep your mind open for a PR issue. Often the issue will jump out at you, b/c it's some lawyer doing something outrageous. But before you start writing, flip through your book again. See what the lawyers did. If there is anything questionable, write a paragraph about it.
Messing up early.
The MBEs are not such a big deal b/c one wrong MBE never broke anyone. But for some people, knowledge that they messed up on an early essay question or PT will nag them and hurt them for the rest of the exam.
You can save yourself the heartache by not talking about the questions afterwards. Forget it. Keep your earplugs in and go straight into your hotel room and eat your sandwich and watch Jerry Springer.
If just "happen" to find out that you did something wrong on day one, don't dwell on it. You got 40 by simply writing down the first word. If it was an essay, remember that a PT is worth twice as much. If you messed up more than that, remember that there is nothing you can mess up the first day that can't be fixed on the third. Wrong answers get credited all the time. Whatever you do, don't just pack up and go home.
I personally found out I missed a major issue on the very first essay last July. I found out right afterwards, but didn't do a full damage assessment until after day 3. I didn't let it get to me and it didn't really hurt my performance any.
Studying in between.
My advice is to not plan on it. At this point, sleep will do you better than studying. However, if you're not tired, you can flip through some MBE flash cards or go over your essay checklists. But really, the difference between you flip through those 100 flash cards and not is probably nothing.
The MBEs are very mechanical; you've probably heard all the advice already. Read the call first so you know what subject the question is. Each question is only 1 point so don't be shy about guessing. Mark the ones you guessed on and come back to it if you can. Check your bubble number against the question you're reading occassionally. Keep track of time. If you're short on time, skip the long and Property questions. If you're really short on time, pick all C's.
One thing I will add is don't be thrown off by a string of the same letters. I experienced a string of D's in my PM session, and went back and reread some of the questions and didn't change anything. I'm not sure how many I got right but hey I passed. It happens.
After the exhaustion had faded, the period after the bar was probably one of the happiest few days of my life. Having all that pressure all of a sudden disappear was incredible; I felt like I'd been cured of cancer, but with a slight chance of remission.
Some people say waiting is the hard part. I think they're partly joking. At any rate, it doesn't matter how you wait. Happy or sad, the dye is already cast.
Some people will tell you the bar is not hard. "Oh you'll pass." That always rubbed me a little the wrong way. The most accomplished people have been known to fail. What makes you so sure that *I'll* pass? That was sort of the problem some people had with Honisberg (whom you'll meet next summer). I promised myself that once I lived through it, I wouldn't say something like that to a law student. I don't care who you are, no one is guaranteed to pass. And frankly, it was hard. But I'm not sure how much of that had to do with the exam and how much with me.
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