It’s finally here. Is it really that real? Let’s do this!
Implementing, practicing, and doing. I hope, by doing those things, you’ve made solid progress!
You probably don’t feel ready. The good news is that the more prepared you actually are, the less you feel prepared. The bad news is that the other way isn’t necessarily true.
Not all hope is lost, ye weary traveler. For now, go in with a “might as well, even if I’m screwed” or a “you never know until you try” attitude.
You’ll be able to say, “I’m glad I tried.”
You’ve worked hard these past weeks and months. You’ve come all this way. Let’s finish it without any hiccups at the very end.
Admire the Buttcrack (and 9 Other Last Minute Tips for Bar Exam Week)
The cancer center I used to work at has a motto that I still remember after a decade: “There is always hope.” (First of all, if you’re not a patient there, that should give you some perspective.)
It’s too late for regrets now because the bar is finally here and is actually happening. It’s also too early for regrets now because you’ll have plenty of time to be left alone with your thoughts and anxiety as you wait for results.
No matter what, if you’ve done your best to prepare, have no regrets as you go into the exam. And if you put forth your best during the exam, you don’t have to regret the result.
Your best now is enough, even if your future best will be better.
It’s tempting to worry and even have nightmares about the bar, though. You’re not alone! Thousands upon thousands of examinees go through this twice a year.
You put on a brave face so your family and friends stop worrying about you or wishing you “good luck” or assuming “you got this” (as if they know what it’s like).
If there’s one guarantee, it’s that you’ll eventually reach a state of existence where you don’t have to take the bar exam anymore. You’ll be done by the end of the week. Then you either pass or call it quits. When the anxiety of the bar approached, that thought kept me going—even looking forward to the end.
Yes, take solace in the fact that the bar will eventually be over, just like how you and I have already passed through these fleeting moments together. Wow, so ~moving and unforgettable~ like high school graduation when we signed each other’s yearbooks with throbbing hearts and the popular kids had to buy inserts because they ran out of space DAMN YOU
On the other hand, brooding about the bar at this point doesn’t impact the past or the future—but takes away your energy in the present.
Now’s the time to conserve your emotional energy. Not worrying about the past and whether you’ve done enough. Not obsessing over what kind of questions will appear and jumping ahead to conclusions about an unknown future. Time travel costs energy, as confirmed by Stephen King.
So whenever you find yourself time traveling to another era, breathe and bring yourself back to the present.
During the exam, I found it helpful to think in terms of “how much can I get correct here, because I’ve seen this before” (arrogance, trust in the preparation, and just having fun with it).
Not “how many points did I just lose” (anxiety, paranoia). Don’t worry about that now. The freakout and score estimations are for after the exam, not during.
What’s the worst that could happen anyway?
At the very least, next week will be a mock exam where you get real feedback. Here are some quick last minute tips for the bar to make the best of your mock exam:
1. The entire week is the exam. As you leave for the hotel on Monday, you’re in ready mode. Perhaps play some music that gets you pumped up because your trial has already begun.
Focus on not being pulled into their pace. Check the lists of allowed and prohibited items from your state bar ahead of time; the MBE day may have different rules (check with your state bar; for example, see here if you’re a CA candidate).
Slightly dull your pencils for easier bubbling. Organize your notes, outlines, cooked essays, and other review material to bring to your hotel. Have your Ziploc® bag ready. Bring a pillow if you think it will keep your ass comfortable. Figure out ahead of time where you’re going to get lunch and dinner. Get enough sleep. “Be arrogant” during the exam and put forth all you’ve learned. Do the real thing as if it were practice.
At this point, you can also come up with some last-minute acronyms for rules you just can’t seem to remember easily.
This is a performance. Being in your top shape can’t hurt even though you’ll probably be fueled by adrenaline and panic anyway. You’ll need the energy to keep you going for those hours, to say “no” to the voice that seduces you to just give up. You’ll need it to face unexpected contingencies like the exam software acting up, insomnia, and getting lost in the neighborhood during lunch (which all happened to me).
2. Scope out the test center. Monday is a good day to walk around the venue, get familiar with the geography, and see where the exam will be held. You may run into organizers trying to keep people from peeking into the actual room, but at least you can become familiar with where to go the next day. One fewer thing to panic about on Tuesday.
3. Consider not answering the essays and PT in order, depending on how comfortable you feel about each subject. Your best subjects first to gain confidence? Your worst subjects (or PT) first while you have more mental stamina? You can reorder your essays ahead of time depending on your preference. Don’t forget to write in the correct answer space.
4. Bring an analog watch to keep time (check your state’s rules first). There may not be a clock in the test room. Set your watch to noon as each exam period begins to put yourself on track. Guidelines: 34 MBE questions per hour. 17 per half hour. However long you need for each essay.
5. Get to the test center on time. Know when you should be seated (check with your state bar; for example, see instructions here if you’re in CA). Don’t be late and start off frantically.
6. Don’t gamble on subject predictions. I know everyone is interested in these, but I don’t recommend paying too much attention to them. Use them for entertainment purposes because all subjects are fair game. Personally, I’d focus more on weak subjects instead of “likely” subjects.
To be clear, predictions can be useful to the extent they give you a sense of direction or ideas on how to prioritize the subjects in the final weeks. In the end, it’s up to you to utilize the information as you see fit. I only caution against relying on them too much.
Even if you’re desperately strapped for time, at least read some model answers for subjects you can’t get to.
7. Chew gum to release anxiety and calm your nerves before the exam. It tells your brain that whatever you’re doing is no big deal if you can still “eat.” Is it a weird trick? Will it work? Maybe. I usually don’t do gum, but I think this helped me perform well at a job interview (got the job).
8. Sleep well, and try to sleep in 90-minute intervals (REM cycles). Add 15 minutes to your 90-minute cycles to account for falling-asleep time.
For example, if you want to wake up at 7:30 AM, go to bed at 11:45 PM. You can use sleepyti.me (mobile app also available) to calculate when to go to bed. And bring earplugs to the hotel in case there are trucks next to the hotel banging on metal from 3 to 5 AM on Tuesday morning. Oddly specific? It happened to me.
If worse comes to worst, remember your friends A&B: adrenaline and bullshit.
9. Avoid people you know. Get a hotel or Airbnb room for yourself (or home, only if you live alone really close by). During lunch time, you can sink into an actual bed to close your eyes or eat food that you’ve stocked. Peace and solitude will help you relax and focus instead of being conscious of classmates or relatives. You can always chat online at your convenience (such as in the private MTYLT Facebook support community).
Speaking of hotels, try asking for a half day extension on the last day so that you can rest during lunch time and check out in the evening in peace. The manager knew that a bunch of bar takers were staying, and I got one for half price.
10. Once you’re in the test center, try to worry less. As said above, it’s too late and too early for that. No time traveling to the past or the future. Don’t let yourself waste your mental energy, at least until the exam is over.
Remind yourself that these few moments are everything. You could give up, or you could reclaim your focus for these few hours that count and be done with it. It just takes a moment of strength for the lifetime privilege of being called a lawyer.
Just look ahead and admire the buttcrack of the person sitting in front of you.
Every night, you can look forward to something nice like food or smashing your face into a pillow or studying some more because that’s all you know how to do nowadays.
Check off one session, one day at a time:
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And then it’s over! Look forward to it.