Girl Walks into a Bar (Exam)
Several years ago, a 31 year old U.C. Berkley graduate created a website which she cleaverly named “Girl Walks into a Bar (Exam). She detailed her experience preparing for the July 2005 California Bar Exam where she graciously shared countless tips and study outlines. Her site is no longer operational, but I offer her tips and outlines under the same conditions as she did – FREE
The Final Post!
Now that the stress has subsided, I wanted to write a wrap-up post for future takers of all the advice I can think of about the California Bar. Most of it probably applies to other states too, but just know that I have CA in mind here. Where I wrote a full post on that particular piece of advice, the link to that post is provided.
One important caveat about Bar Exam advice — from any source — is that you have to take it all with a grain of salt. Studying for and taking the Bar is a very individualized process, and you have to decide what works for you in particular. And this is purely my opinion, others may disagree!
Try to understand your studying methods, what stresses you out, and what works for you — and USE THAT. Don’t let the fact that other people do things differently, or that they’re trying to tell you that you are weird for doing things a certain way, make you change your methods. YOU are the only one who knows what it will take for YOU to pass the Bar. Anyway here we go…
FIRST FIVE SEMESTERS OF LAW SCHOOL:
1. Take all the subjects tested on the Bar while you are in law school. I wrote a full post about this here.
2. Sign up for BarBri as a 1L. You save a lot of money by signing up early, and everybody takes BarBri anyway. Even though you may end up getting a job that pays for your course, many firms just give you a lump sum at graduation and let you use it how you choose. So if you save money, that’s more leftover for you.
3. Recognize that you can’t take the Bar on an Apple computer, so if you are buying a new laptop for law school, that’s one reason to choose a PC. Full post.
LAST SEMESTER OF LAW SCHOOL:
1. Try and take care of things that you won’t have time to worry about during Bar Review. For example, get your car serviced, go to the dentist, etc.
2. Take advantage of time to shop during your last semester, and stock up on shorts/pants with stretchy waistbands. You will need them for your Bar Review fat. Trust me.
3. In my humble opinion, you don’t need to sign up for PMBR. Full posts here and here. Recognize that this, of course, is my personal opinion and other people find PMBR worthwhile. But don’t feel like you have to do it. Especially in California, where the MBE is worth only 1/3 of your score.
4. Do, however, get the PMBR CD set (29 CDs) on eBay if you are an auditory learner like me. I found that listening to them while working out really helped my memorization.
5. If you have time, try and start listening to the PMBR CDs while you’re in the car or working out. It can help limber up your brain for the crunch time.
6. Consider setting up a food delivery service (full post) and/or maid service (full post) if you can afford it.
7. Pay attention to deadlines — this year the “timely filing” (i.e. not having to pay a late fee) deadline was April 1. Some states don’t even allow you to register late (VA is one of them, I happen to know from a friend’s personal experience!).
8. Make your hotel/airplane/rental car reservations for the actual exam.
9. Buy a little analog clock, less than 4″x4″. This is the only type of clock allowed in the California Bar (full post). There were no wall clocks at my location.
10. If you don’t already have an exercise program, start one. It can be as easy as taking a 30-minute walk every day. But physical exercise really helps relieve stress and build up physical endurance for the exam.
11. If you’re not taking PMBR, get the book “Strategies & Tactics for the Multistate Bar Exam.” You can buy it used on eBay. Full post.
12. If you register for the CalBar online, there’s a piece of paper you have to mail in IMMEDIATELY after registering, thereby completely obviating the purpose of online registration. So if you register online, be sure to mail it in. I think they have to *receive* it within 7 days.
13. You have to separately register your ExamSoft. Don’t forget! Full post.
14. When you go to pick up your BarBri books, keep in mind that you will get a giant box with 9 ginormous books in them that is VERY HEAVY and awkward to carry. Plan accordingly. Full post.
15. California Bar Exam expert Travis Wise often gives free talks about passing the Bar. Check his site (links at left) to see if he might be speaking in your area. Full post.
16. Decide whether you want to handwrite or type the exam. I was told to do whatever you did in law school. There is not much difference in the passage rates for handwriters versus typists. There is some discussion in the comments section here.
17. You might find it useful to learn and practice meditation breathing techniques in order to calm yourself down when you start to panic (for use during the actual exam). Full post.
DURING BAR REVIEW:
1. Very early on, figure out how you are going to manage the stress of studying and the actual exam. Don’t just say that you don’t get stressed that easily, or decide that you’ll just take it as it comes. Learn how you as an individual best reduce stress, and plan how you will incorporate that into your routine. Full post.
2. Plan to take Sundays off. Schedule it into your study plan. Full post.
3. Make sure your significant other understands that he/she is not permitted to break up with you during this time. Full post.
4. Your family and friends won’t really understand what you’re going through, and this can be isolating. I found it helpful to ask them to imagine that I was pregnant and due at the end of July. It’s analogous — you will need their support during an intense and stressful time; you will have to do what’s best for *you* and be more selfish than normal during this unique experience, and they will have to be understanding about that; your mood swings may make you unpredictable; and they will need to remember that it’s only temporary, so you are not being unreasonable.
5. You might want to check out some of these links. Definitely visit Travis Wise’s site.
6. I found it useful to bring a stack of flashcards to class and take notes directly onto the flashcards. This way I didn’t have to waste time creating them later, and it kept me engaged with the lecture when I otherwise would have zoned out.
7. Practice writing a few essays by hand, so that in case your computer freezes you have had at least some experience with handwriting them.
8. Recognize that a lot of people aren’t able do all the BarBri homework. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t keep pace.
9. Outline as many practice essays as you can get your hands on. Once you’re used to writing out a full essay, it’s OK to just outline. Spot the issue and write out the rule statement. Don’t look at your notes, and see how much you can remember. Write the best outline you can. Then look at your notes and add in stuff you forgot. Get the outline all organized as if you were going to write an essay. Then compare it to the model answer. Make a mental note of issues you missed.
10. Plan ahead for the actual Exam. For example, think about where you will eat lunch, and what you will do if you can’t sleep. Your goal is not to have any surprises during that 3-day period.
11. If you learn through the process of making outlines (I do), then make them. If not, don’t, just use other people’s or the ones in the Conviser Mini Review. You can download mine here (right click and “Save As”): NOTE: Right upper side of this page. Civ Pro, CA Community Property, Con Law, Corporations, Contracts, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence, Property, Professional Responsibility, Torts, and Wills. I didn’t do trusts since I refused to learn that subject. Remember that these were created by ME and only ME under the stress of the Exam and probably have tons of mistakes. Don’t take them as gospel!
12. Use BarBri’s StudySmart software! For some reason they didn’t even tell us about this, but I found it after Roonie posted about it. You can download it from the BarBri website.
13. I found this stuff very helpful in dealing with the acne you will inevitably be plagued with during Bar Review.
14. Go read the sample essay answers provided on the California Bar website. You will see that they are MUCH worse than the exacting “sample” answers found in the BarBri books. And they all earned high scores, according to the Cal Bar. This can help if you are freaking out that your essays aren’t good enough. Here are some.
15. Plan ahead and ask a close friend or relative if they can bring your dog or cat to the vet if it becomes necessary right before the Exam. Animals are very observant and will know that you are stressed, and this may in turn make them stressed, and they might start feeling ill or start doing weird things.
16. Don’t read the message board JDJive, because a lot of people intentionally post obnoxious messages there around Bar time to rattle nervous takers. But DO go solely for the purpose of looking near the top of the threads (it will usually be made “sticky” so it stays on top) and find the thread with Bar mnemonics in it. I found them very helpful.
17. Remember that life doesn’t stop during this time, and bad things may happen. Just muddle through and try to do your best, it’s all you can do. Full post.
18. Go read Jay’s hilarious post about how you know you’re studying for the Bar here.
19. Recognize that some days will be less productive than others, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Full post.
20. Don’t flip out if you receive this letter right before the exam. A lot of people do. Just call the CalBar office and make sure everything is OK.
21. It’s going to feel like you never have a spare minute to prepare meals towards the end, so stock up on healthy snacks. Full post.
22. Don’t sacrifice sleep to get more study time, it can backfire (unless you’re just one of those people who doesn’t need a lot of sleep). Full post.
23. Don’t believe essay predictions from Sakai at BarBri or anyone else. It’s my opinion that the CalBar Examiners are now actively trying to throw off people who look for patterns. Be ready for anything.
24. The BarBri weekend-long “review” of the practice MBE answers is, by all accounts I heard, a waste of valuable time. Read the answers on your own in the back of the book.
25. There are some free flash-powered online flashcards here. Full post.
26. You should receive your CalBar admission ticket towards the end of June. If you don’t get it, call and ask them what’s going on. Full post.
27. If you and your friends get too stressed out while studying, take a break and hold a BarBri Olympics.
28. If you have trouble finding a quiet place to study, try my ultimate white noise maker.
RIGHT BEFORE, AND DURING, THE ACTUAL EXAM:
1. Remember to call and verify your hotel/plane/rental car reservations before you leave.
2. You might want to request an upper floor of the hotel, if it’s tall, because in the mornings the elevator will be completely packed by the time it gets halfway down and you’ll have to walk down the stairs. Also there’s less street noise.
3. Don’t work out at the hotel gym, unless you have headphones you can turn up loud to block out sound. Don’t eat at the hotel restaurant either. Both these locations will be full of people talking about the exam and about their stress. Of course, if commiserating with fellow takers soothes your nerves then ignore this advice.
4. Be sure to bring a battery-powered alarm clock! Don’t rely on the hotel’s wake-up call or on the power not going out!
5. Figure out how to deal with the CalBar’s retarded rule that you can’t bring food. Some people wear cargo pants and put a Clif bar in there for eating in the bathroom stall. I wouldn’t reccommend the solution of just eating a very big breakfast and lunch so you won’t get hungry during the Exam — a very heavy meal might make you drowsy. Either way, plan ahead.
6. Make your CalBar purse so you don’t have to juggle your laptop and everything else in your hands. You could make a backpack version with two straps also!
7. Bring the two pillows without cases they allow you to bring. Some locations stick you with uncushioned, metal chairs. Also, our desks were way too tall so I had to pile the pillows underneath my butt to get to proper typing height (and I’m tall!).
8. In California, something like 72% of first-time takers pass. Based on my anecdotal observations, about 70-80% of first-time takers walk out of the test thinking they failed. That means that 40-50% of first-time takers who are convinced they are going to fail, actually pass. Don’t write yourself off until you get the results.
9. Recognize that on the MBE, you may need to skip some questions. That’s just fine. A Real Property question that takes up an entire page counts just as much as that short Evidence question. Full post.
10. Once you’re done, follow JM’s 12-step program to Bar Exam recovery here.
That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll add more if and when I think of them. Hope this is helpful. Again, this is all my personal opinion and others may disagree with this advice!
Enjoy your post-Bar trips if you’ve got ‘em — I’m off to ‘Minnesoter’ shortly for my family reunion, I’ll probably turn off the comments then since I won’t be able to monitor them (believe it or not this blog has more than one blog troll, I guess that’s a sign of popularity or something!). Until then feel free to post your own bits of advice in the comments. The future Bar Exam takers will thank you! From Girl Walks into a Bar Exam: