This week, thousands of law school graduates will sit for the bar exam. The test -- two days in some states, three in others -- is the culmination of the law school experience and one of the final hurdles that you need to clear before you actually get to practice law.
The test itself is a miserable experience. Cramped rooms, students cramming material in the final moments, and mental and emotional exhaustion from months of studying create an atmosphere of stress and anxiety. Going home after the first night knowing that you have to do it all over again the next day (or the next two days if you are in New York, California, or a few other states) makes for a less than restful night of sleep.
A few random bar exams tips:
Tip: Practice and study using ear plugs and then bring a set with you to the exam. It's amazing how loud the sound of a sneaker squeaking on a hardwood floor can be in a room full of a thousand people...
Tip: Avoid the nuts. You will see people in the bar exam using study guides and outlines up to the very last moments before the test begins. Avoid these people like the plague. They will stress you out and ruin your focus.
Tip: Remember that it's not about how high you score -- it's about passing. Your entire law school career (and before that, college and high school...) was focused on not just passing an exam but doing so with perfect scores. You do not need to ace the bar exam, and you need to change that mindset. That's not to say you shouldn't study, but rather than you should resist the natural instinct to panic when you don't know the answer to a question. If you know the answers to most other questions, you're going to pass.
Students often spend thousands of dollars on prep courses and devote 2 months of their lives memorizing obscure legal concepts and mnemonic devices that they will regurgitate on the bar exam. I have relatively fond memories of my time spent preparing for the exam. I remained at law school after graduation and watched the BarBri lectures on video. A number of my friends did so as well. During bar exam prep your life is on a set schedule, so we decided to schedule mental health time by playing golf a few times a week at a fantastic local course. That's one other tip: be sure to schedule mental health time. Just because the bar exam happens in July doesn't mean it should ruin your summer.
With everything going on in your life as you prepare to sit for this test, imagine if you were told -- less than a week before the exam -- that a technical error was going to prevent you from sitting for it?
That's what happened to Sara Granda, a recent graduate of UC Davis School of Law. Sara spent the last couple of months preparing to take the California bar exam. She graduated UC Davis in three years, speaks fluent Spanish, and worked at an immigration law clinic. Fairly typical of a 3rd year law school student -- except Sara Granda is a quadriplegic.
Sara Granda signed up for the California bar exam and her $600 entry fee was paid for by the California Department of Rehabilitation by check. Problem is, the state bar's website requires that payment be made by credit card. Granda apparently did her homework and checked with a representative from the state bar who told her that her application would still be processed.
Unfortunately that never happened, and Granda was notified that because of a bureaucratic snafu, she was not registered for the test. Granda has petitioned the California Supreme Court to allow her to take the test, and even has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking out for her.
So as you study during this final weekend before the exam, remember that things could be worse. You could be fighting with the mnemonic devices and random Contracts question while also having to fight to take the test.
Questions or comments? We want to hear from you! And good luck on the exam.
Gregory Henning is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge R. Lanier Anderson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then became an Assistant District Attorney in Boston. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Greg works with law school applicants.