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

It’s finally here. Implementing, practicing, and doing. I hope, by doing those things, you’ve made solid progress!

You probably don’t feel ready anyway. 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'll never know unless you try


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 almost a decade: “There is always hope.”

No matter what, if you’ve done your best to prepare, you don’t have to regret the result.

Even if you don’t pass this time, it’s not going anywhere. It’s going to stay in the same spot, while you keep getting closer and closer like a predator moving in on a prey. Therefore, passing is inevitable.

It doesn’t matter where you start. This is an acquirable skill, one that you can stack over time if you need to. You can always get better. It’s always a work in progress.

Did you improve this time? Then you took a step toward passing. Of course, I hope you improved enough steps to pass this time!

It’s totally natural and tempting to worry and have nightmares. You’re not alone! Twice a year, thousands upon thousands of examinees fall prey to their own survival instincts.

You put on a brave face so your family and friends stop worrying about you or wishing you “good luck” (like they know what the hell you’ve been through).

At the same time, you don’t know whether you should feel optimistic or not. I don’t want to tell you “I know u will pass if u believe in urself !!” and overinflate your optimism and complacency. That’s what your friends are for, if you haven’t totally estranged yourself from them yet.

It may be that you don’t feel prepared despite all your efforts studying and memorizing and practicing and pacing in the bathroom and having nightmares and telling yourself “you can do this!” and telling yourself “I’ve seen better heads on lettuce, loser.”

That’s all right.

I’m not saying don’t have regrets in general because I’m all for acknowledging your mistakes or wanting to do better. But at this point, if you’ve done your best, have no regrets as you go into the exam.

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 your results.

True, you might fail; there’s no guarantee. All I ask is that you give your best anyway, and leave the rest. Your best now is enough, even if your future best will be better.

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 lose” (anxiety). Don’t worry about that now. The freakout and paranoid score projections are for afterward, not during the exam itself.

You only have two choices when you sit down in the exam hall:

1… Keep going whenever you get thoughts about giving up. One more question. One more paragraph. Do the real thing as if it were practice. Be arrogant on the bar. Concentrate all your power on those few days that count. Give it everything you’ve got on the bar.

2… Go through the motions. Get your participation trophy. Give up.

I’ve never died, so statistically speaking I’m going to live forever. Or at least for the next few days.

And so will you. You’ll eventually reach a state of existence where you don’t have to take the bar exam anymore. That’s for sure. Either you 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 we’ve already passed through these fleeting moments together. Wow, so ~moving and unforgettable~ like graduation week when we signed each other’s yearbooks with throbbing hearts and the popular kids had to buy inserts to get even more comments 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. Time travel costs energy, as confirmed by Stephen King.

Now’s the time to consolidate your preparation and conserve your emotional energy. If you’re obsessing over whether you’ve done enough in the past weeks or months, you’re glued to an irreversible past. If you’re anxious and having nightmares about what kind of questions will appear, you’re jumping ahead to conclusions about an unknown future.

Most of the work is done up front. If you’ve spent all this time to prepare up front, then trust in that preparation. Worry about results after the bar.

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

If you get anxiety about the bar exam, take deep breaths in sync with this.


What’s the worst that could happen anyway?

You give up being an attorney? Which means you also give up MCLE requirements, annual bar dues, being legally responsible for other people’s problems, etc.? This actually sounds kinda good!

It may even be a blessing because there may be things that are more important to you, like family or alternative careers that don’t require chasing billable hours. Maybe another line of work is more fitting for you. Your JD and all this time preparing for the bar give you unique advantages such as being detail oriented, seeing potential issues and problems, writing skills, etc.

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 to mark the beginning of your trial.

You’ll probably be fueled by adrenaline and panic anyway, but being in your top shape can’t hurt. 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 Examsoft failure, insomnia, and getting lost in the neighborhood during lunch (which all happened to me).

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; 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 back or ass comfortable. Figure out ahead of time where you’re going to get food. Remember to “be arrogant” during the exam and put forth all you’ve learned. Do the real thing as if it were practice.

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 in order, depending on how comfortable you feel about each subject. Your best subjects first to gain confidence? Your worst subjects 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 it to noon as each exam period begins to put yourself on track. Guidelines: 34 MBE questions per hour. 17 MBE questions 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. All subjects are fair game.

EXCEPTION: If you’re desperately strapped for time, prioritize which ones to focus on in the final days. You can study the “likely” subjects toward the end so that you can retain the information better. But I wouldn’t focus just on those “likely” subjects. At least read some model answers even if you’re out of time for enough practice and feedback.

Whose prediction should you listen to?

My predictions for the CA bar

Near the end, you can also come up with some last-minute acronyms for rules you just can’t seem to remember.

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? Maybe. I usually don’t do gum, but this worked for a job interview (got the job too).

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 (smartphone app also available) to calculate when to go to bed. And bring earplugs to the hotel in case there are trucks banging on metal from 3 to 5 AM on Tuesday morning. Oddly specific? It happened to me. If worse comes to worst, adrenaline and bullshit may be your best buddy.

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, sink into an actual bed to close your eyes or eat food that you’ve stocked. Peace and solitude will help you focus instead of being conscious of classmates or relatives. You can always chat online in convenient comfort, on your own terms (such as in the private MTYLT Facebook support community).

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 day at a time:
__ Tuesday
__ Wednesday (unless you’re taking the attorney’s exam)

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


One Reply to “Admire the Buttcrack (and 9 Other Last Minute Tips for Bar Exam Week)”

  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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