Every bar exam taker has a story. While attending the December 2010 Thomas Jefferson School of Law Graduation seeing friends graduate, Bob Ames, former Board of Trustee to the law school, stated that he remembered his story and it included a person who sat next to him during the bar exam, and after reading each essay question, made a loud “gasp” sound as if he was shocked at each question. The story brought some laughter, as well as the further realization of the change to come in each graduate’s life. The purpose of this article is to provide practical and common sense advice to those who will prepare for and take a bar exam.
During the summer after finishing your second year and about to begin your third and final year of law school, you realize that you are about to come upon a significant change in your life. You begin to consider taking and passing a bar exam, paying back your student loans, finding a job, making a living, and paying taxes from your salary. I remember thinking, this “pop quiz” is going to be a challenge, but you must greet this challenge with every effort and thought. It is at this stage that you begin to build the foundation that prepares you for taking and passing the bar exam.
It is during Legal Synthesis that you are first introduced to bar prep material and ponder the amount of information you have to remember and analyze. To be quite honest, make sure to pay attention in this class or classes if you take Legal Synthesis II with the California-specific subjects on the California Bar Exam. Do not spend multiple hours on the computer in class typing emails and handling business not related to learning and re-learning the law. This is in essence the battle that all law students must contend within themselves. The bar exam is a battle between learning and analyzing the law, and managing your personal affairs (administrative, job hunting, student activities, family, etc.). This in laid the hardest challenge for me, considering my involvement with things not related to learning the law—but in the end, discipline prevailed and allowed for the confidence walking into and out of the bar exam.
With that said, substance and forum are your keys to passing the bar. The one constant that stayed with me from the practicing attorneys and mentors who offered advice on the bar exam, was based on substance (learning the law) and forum (where and how you study the law and how you lead your life during the bar exam). The substance is what you learn in the bar prep programs, on your own, and from supplements, outlines, and spending the time reviewing, writing, and analyzing the law. The forum is things like leaving your cell phone at home (those who know me realize this would have been my “Achilles Heel” had my cell phone been carried along with me to the library), studying in the library to mock the actual exam, and not surfing the internet, or checking Facebook. However, you must also keep your sanity by setting a schedule before beginning bar prep and sticking to it, and remember your schedule includes free time and you time. One last point regarding preparation: practice, practice, practice! You must practice reading, writing, and being responsive to answering questions and checking your work.
In the end, the bar exam is an honest test. It tests your knowledge and application of the law. The bar exam does not lie or cheat, and should not be a cause for alarm if you are prepared. Bar results do not arrive until sometime after taking the bar exam, however, there is something to be said about walking into and out of the bar exam with confidence and conviction in your preparation and abilities. Lastly, treat the exam as a job and run the race.
Wishing all of you the best with the bar exam. Remember those who pushed, guided, and encouraged you before, during, and after the bar exam.