Admire the Buttcrack (and 9 Other Last Minute Tips for the Bar Exam)

Ahh shit… You utter the first word of the day as a dying declaration.

Because it’s time. Is it really that real? Let’s do this!

Implementing, practicing, and doing. I hope, by doing those things consistently, you’ve made solid progress!

Maybe you 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. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Not all hope is lost, ye weary traveler. It’s time to put your training to the test.

For now, go in with a “might as well, even if I don’t feel ready” or a “you never know until you try” attitude.

You’ll be able to say, “I’m glad I tried.”

You'll never know unless you try

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.

We don’t want a “failure of the last mile” to undo all we’ve done up until now.

10 Last Minute Tips for Bar Exam Week

The cancer center I used to work at has a motto that I still remember: “There is always hope.” (First of all, if you’re not a patient there, that should give you some perspective.)

It’s tempting to worry and even have nightmares about the bar exam. You’re not alone! Thousands upon thousands of examinees go through this twice a year, feeling the same panic and uncertainty as you are.

But 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.

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 won’t have to regret the result.

Your best now is enough, even if your future best will be better.

You put on a brave face so your family and friends stop worrying about you or assuming “you got this” (like they know what it’s like or how screwed you feel like you are).

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. Take solace in the fact that the bar exam will eventually be over. When the anxiety of the bar exam approached, that thought kept me going—looking forward to the end.

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 and focus. 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. So whenever you find yourself time traveling to another era, breathe and bring yourself back to the present.

Your first last minute tip for the bar exam: If you get anxiety about the exam, take deep breaths in sync with this.

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.

At the very least, it will be a mock exam where you get real feedback. Here are some final last-minute tips for the bar exam to make the best of it:

1. The entire week is the bar exam.

Get in ready mode. You are up on stage. This is your performance.

Focus on not being pulled into their pace. Check the lists of allowed and prohibited items from your state bar ahead of time. MBE day may have different rules than the written day.

(Check with your state bar; for example, see here if you’re a CA candidate.)

At this point, you can also come up with some last-minute acronyms for rules you just can’t seem to remember easily.

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).

Extra tips for the exam to give you an edge:

  • Slightly dull your pencils for easier bubbling (though this will take away that “edge”…haha…).
  • 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.

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.

2. Scope out the test center ahead of time, and make sure your laptop and exam software are working.

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 or performance test in order (where applicable).

Your best subjects first to lock in the points and gain confidence? Your worst subjects first while you have more mental stamina?

The PT first in the afternoon session if you’re in California?

You can reorder your essays ahead of time depending on your preference. Just 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.

Don’t be late and start off frantically. Know when you should be seated. Better to have time to spare than scramble into your seat.

Check with your state bar; for example, see instructions here if you’re in CA.

6. Don’t gamble on subject predictions.

You know where I stand on this.

I know everyone is interested in these, but I don’t recommend relying too much on them. Use them for entertainment purposes because all subjects are fair game. Personally, I’d focus more on areas where points are concentrated and weak subjects.

Even if you’re desperately strapped for time, at least read some model answers and outlines for subjects you can’t get to.

Refresher on three alternative ways to focus your efforts if you want to feel in control.

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. That means not completely forgetting about entire subjects to go all in on the ones you think will be tested.

Subject prediction fail
Narrator: He did not pass.

In the end, it’s up to you to utilize the information as you see fit. I only caution against relying on it too much.

All I’m saying is that I’ve never heard of anyone being glad that they followed predictions.

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.”

I did this and performed well at a job interview (and got the job).

Was it a coincidence? Is it a weird trick? Will it work? Maybe. We’re in tactical “tips and tricks” territory now.

8. Sleep well, and try to sleep in 90-minute intervals (REM cycles).

Try to get at least 4-5 sleep cycles, which last about every 90 minutes. Try not to interrupt the cycle so that you don’t wake up disturbed and groggy. 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 (mobile apps also available) to calculate when to go to bed.

And bring earplugs to the hotel in case there’s a truck next to the hotel banging on dumpsters from 3 to 5 AM on Tuesday morning. Oddly specific? It happened to me.

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, 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 or Uber drivers who will interrogate you and put more pressure on you (“How was it?! You’ll be fine!”).

You can always chat online at your convenience (such as in the private MTYLT Facebook support community).

If you’re getting a hotel, try asking for a half-day extension on the last day so that you can rest during lunch and check out in the evening in peace. I was able to get one for half price because the manager knew that a bunch of bar takers were staying.

Don’t skimp on getting your own space for Monday and Tuesday nights (and Wednesday if your bar exam is 3 days long). It doesn’t have to be a fancy or expensive hotel, just your own personal space to recover in.

Remember that we don’t want a failure of the last mile and that this is all an investment. If a hotel room helps you avoid people knocking you out of your flow, and increases your chance of success on the bar exam (and securing your livelihood), it is worth the cost.

10. Once you’re in the test center, embrace the situation.

Bring all your excitement, anxiety, apprehension… and confidence born from preparation. It’s finally time to give them a taste of their own medicine.

Remind yourself that these few moments are everything. You could give up in the middle because you get tired, or you could reclaim your focus for these few hours that count and be done with it.

You’re here to make this your last time. It just takes a moment of strength for the lifetime privilege of being called a lawyer.

As said above, it’s too late and too early to worry. No time traveling to the past or the future. Don’t let yourself waste your mental energy, at least until the exam is over.

Just be in the present, look ahead, and admire the buttcrack of the person sitting in front of you.

If worse comes to worst, remember your friends A & B: adrenaline and bullshit.

(Or admire your reflection on the screen… It’s time to “be arrogant” after all!)

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.

Need a quick refresher on the key rules and how to set up the relevant issues? Take Magicsheets and Approsheets with you to your hotel/bedroom.

Check off one session, one day at a time:

__ Tuesday AM
__ Tuesday PM
__ Wednesday AM
__ Wednesday PM
__ Thursday AM (for 3-day bars like Nevada)
__ Thursday PM
__ Don’t forget to upload answers

And then it’s over! Look forward to it.

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2 Replies to “Admire the Buttcrack (and 9 Other Last Minute Tips for the Bar Exam)”

  1. But, if you wait till the last minute you won t have time to warmup or use the bathroom and it s always a good idea to have that last minute potty break!

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