What do REAL bar takers think of the remote/online bar exam? And their advice on how to study for an online bar exam

The bar exam world changed in 2020.

It became possible to take the bar exam remotely—from anywhere on the planet—thanks to the miracle of high-speed Internet. It’s the bandwidth revolution! The Great Reset!

But with new ideas come poo-poo-ers.

People were complaining about how it won’t work, they’re going to spy on us through the camera, there aren’t any bathroom breaks in the middle of a session, there will be tech issues, there are hackers, people will cheat, it’s too complicated, etc.

Some of it DID happen.

Some of it was preventable by bar takers (like remembering to go to the restroom beforehand).

People are calling for remote bar exams to be abandoned, proposing alternative formats, cutting multiple choice questions and making essays open book, and suggesting diploma and license privilege.

They are all valid concerns.

But just because something is uncertain or new doesn’t mean it’s always bad. (Remember when people complained when Facebook kept changing its interface and got used to it within a day?)

I don’t do doom and gloom here. Examples:

“The bar exam is so hard and terrible and hard to pass”

Yes it is.

And yet plenty of people do pass! It’s easy to blame everything on the pass rate and self-sabotage. I will guide you in the right direction.

“I’m so overwhelmed! I’m freaking out! What are the subject predictions?!”

Breathe. Relax. There are tools to keep things manageable, sane, and optimistic, and ways to feel in control other than relying on predictions.

“The remote exam is a shitshow and will be a failure”

Well, after much anxiety about the first-ever round of online bar exams, it turns out that people enjoyed the remote format and want the bar exam to stay that way!

Plus, high performers WANT to face challenges. The gap between their composure and others’ panic is where they thrive. It’s their opportunity to distinguish themselves. The best don’t avoid hard work. They seek it out. They invite it. They welcome it.

See these screenshots from actual bar takers and repeaters:

"Those 2 days were actually the 2 least stressful days I had that week (sadly). There was something nice about not having to worry about traveling to the exam, being in the comfort of my home, etc. There was some stress due to noise created by my neighbors, but I only experienced it on the second day."
"I loved the breaks in between. It made all the difference."
"Honestly went smoothly for me as well. Besides the small space to type, I had no complaints and would rather the bar be administered like this than to take it in person. It was a great feeling being able to finish the bar and immediately go to bed"
"I must say this one is wayyyyyy better than in person. I mean really. The breaks and the highlighting feature were game changers."
"All in all, this remotely was pretty great. This should be a permanent change."

Some more salient benefits of taking a remote/online bar exam:

  • Not having to travel or get a hotel (although some choose to isolate)
"I was really grateful to take it online, not have to pay the expense of a hotel or absorb the added anxst of a crowd. Besides when i accidently cut a paragraph of my pt and couldn't get it back (yes, i cried after), i was thankful to be home and get breaks. I thought it was really efficient."
"There are many foreign applications taking the exam overseas from their homes . . . These people would normally have to travel all the way to California from abroad, get a hotel, etc."
"I liked to take the exam remotely. No stress to drive to a location, parking, fear of being late... I didn’t like the PT and I wish I had more tools and less time wasted. I liked the breaks"
"UBE writer here: I thought it was really nice to write in peace and quiet in my pyjamas instead of at a convention center after getting no sleep in a smelly hotel"

"Sounds like remote bar exam is an advantage for test takers, contrary to the hype"

"Not just smelly but noisy too!"
"CA Bar said that Feb will be online as well. I am so happy for taking exam online from my home."
"This format helps me focus on the one question without getting distracted by the others. And the 15 min break in between is a nice little stretch and recharge period."
  • Being surrounded by other anxious people:
"I've taken several bar exams. In past exam settings, I have been crippled by the self-constructed intimidation I have of other applications who I felt were better and smarter than me. It was nice to have that completely gone. I think my results will reflect it."
"I prefer online. Being in a room with NO windows with 2000 anxious people throwing up in the bathroom is not a healthy environment to take a test. In my living room was so comfortable that I was able to focus and not deal with all the crazy distractions in person. And it was a lot cheaper to sleep in my own bed instead of paying $600 for two nights at at hotel"
"If you never took the bar exam, you have no idea how horrible it is... the running to the bathroom, long lines, droning on with ridiculous instructions, proctors breathing over you every three seconds, crowded people... it's just terrible. That's not to mention the travel, parking, hotel trying to find food, having to leave all your stuff in a hallway, etc. . . . for exam conditions, this was by far the best."

Of course, it’s not all flowers and rainbows…

I got emails about how they lost time because their machine froze, or how they have to retake the bar because it shut down. These people weren’t the only one who ran into issues:

"noise on the outside of my door and the voices outside the room were extremely noticeable, loud and distracting. I almost had to start to laugh to keep from crying. It was BAD.  Tomorrow I’ll be taking the exam from home."
"Terrible experience. There was a software malfunction on day one. Couldn't get ahold of ExamSoft during any of the breaks."
"My laptop went blue on me for the performance exam and I lost a lot of time"
"I experienced technical issues with ExamSoft during the PT and was unable to complete this section of the exam. I had the exact same problems during the mock exams and informed the State Bar of California twice before the exam and, in horror, once again immediately afterward. I also contacted ExamSoft prior to the exam and, as you can imagine, was placed on a very long hold only to be told that they were working on it and that I should contact my jurisdiction. The State Bar of California has yet to respond."

Pass rates have also fallen in some states!

So then how should you study for a remote/online bar exam?

Based on the above feedback from actual test takers, seems like a remote exam could be good and bad depending on how you address your situation.

Fortunately, you can prevent the bad and maximize the good by knowing and preparing ahead of time what taking this exam remotely will be like.

Two things…

First, the basic tips. Second, tips from bar takers who ACTUALLY went through a remote exam for the first time.

The basic tips:

If at all possible, use the computer you’ll take the exam on to practice essays, PTs, and MBE questions (AdaptiBar or UWorld would be great for this since they’re online platforms).

For essays and PTs, practice in Word with multiple documents on your screen as you would see in the exam software. Or practice in the exam software itself.

Simulate the exam with the mock exam file multiple times in the environment you plan to take the exam in (to the extent practical).

Here are more strategies specific to each portion of the bar exam (essays, MBE, PTs/MPTs).

I also asked my readers who took the bar exam remotely, about their best tips for someone who will take an online bar exam.

First, here’s the raw data (along with answers to other post-bar questions, like their biggest regret or mistake).

I sorted through the tips for taking a remote bar exam (column E) and categorized them by common themes.

Here are five main takeaways:

Practice on the computer — for essays, PTs, and MBE!

  • “Practice MBE on the computer without scratch paper”
    • AdaptiBar or UWorld would be great for this since they’re online platforms
  • “Practice essays and PTs on your laptop. Spend some time coping model answers, then move to reading them, then writing your own answers, finally write your own answers without reading the model answers, but see how you did.”
  • “Practice only online, no more paper! Splitting the screen horizontally will also help be prepared for the big day. On exam day, I felt I was just practicing again as it was almost exactly the same format I had been practicing with for weeks.”
  • “I practiced with Adobe reader, Apple notes, and Microsoft Word as soon as I heard that the exam was going to be online. I would advise others to do the same on equivalent software. It helps immensely.”
  • “Practice during your prep using the techniques you will need in order to take the exam remotely vs. on paper. For example, I scanned all my practice MPT’s into PDF’s so I would be used to reading them on the computer and I used Adaptibar for MBE’s.”
More tips about practicing on a computer
  • “Practice outlining online the essays and PT”
  • “Practice reading/taking notes/highlighting for essays on your computer to simulate the actual exam experience. I used BarEssays [for CA bar] to pull pdf versions of essay questions and put the pdf essay question next to a word document on my computer screen. While I read the essay, I took notes and outlined my answer in the word document. Then, while I wrote the essay in the same word document, I highlighted the pdf as I used facts like I would have on paper. I think this was a good way to practice reading and highlighting on a computer screen rather than on paper so I was ready to use the same approach on the exam. I didn’t like it at first but ultimately found it to be more efficient because I didn’t have to go back and forth between looking at paper and looking at the computer screen.”
  • “Be familiar with your computer”
  • “Buy a good laptop”
  • “Take your laptop for a review before downloading examsoft. Practice all in your computer.”
  • “For the PT, go faster than you think. All the scrolling and closing opening trying to see minimizing maximizing answer part made it so I barely got out law headings and analysis to the point where I came nowhere close near finishing.”

Be familiar with exam logistics and anticipate potential issues ahead of time.

  • “During the mock exam’s from your jurisdiction really get familiar with all of the tools, i.e. the timer, notes section and cut and paste, if available.”
  • “Set up a basket with food, drinks, and important paperwork right outside the room”
  • “Make sure you are in a quiet room and read all the rules/instructions a couple times over”
  • “Make sure that you kick everyone out of your home to have peace and quiet; otherwise, focusing will be difficult. Ask your lawn maintenance service not to come on the days the exam is scheduled. Don’t order packages to deliver on exam day. Do whatever you can to alleviate stress.”
  • “It starts when you’re ready. Go pee before you start facial identification bc it starts right after you click lol I was caught off guard. I thought on the day the exam will start right according to schedule, but it starts when you click on the next button.”
More tips about remote logistics
  • “Make sure you know how big your camera window is, pee a lot during breaks, and stay dehydrated through the day so you don’t have to go during sessions”
  • “Don’t wait until the last few minutes or even 5 minutes to log in with the password or you might not get in at all and be disqualified. Make sure the neighbors that do a lot of landscaping or construction know to be quiet. Tell every single family member individually multiple times not to open your door and remind them the morning of every test day (keep animals far away from the room in another room so they don’t come scratching). . . . Have an empty trash bin under your desk in case you need to puke (you never know what red bull coffee stress and food might hit you with all at once) so you don’t have to get up and get disqualified. Get rid of all the pillows in your room. Make sure the temperature is good.. close all windows cuz of noise . . . Make sure take the food and drinks out of the room.”
  • “Plan ahead for your breaks for exam day and whether you’ll eat lunch or not. We really only had 15 minutes before the next password was available in between sessions”
  • “Pay close attention to the state bar’s released videos on how to use the software during the exam”
  • “Get your exam logistics sorted early. Choose test site, etc.”
  • “Make sure your lighting is great for the day of the exam for the video”

Location: Choose a place that helps you! If it’s quieter and more comfortable at home, stay there. If you prefer to be away from home, get a hotel room. If you want to meditate, well, shit, go for it.

  • “Ensure that your testing space feels different on the testing days than on study days. It’s important to simulate the adrenaline that comes with showing up to a testing center to take a test, and it’s hard to do that when you’re in your living room. So anything that makes it feel more significant and like it’s really “game day” is a step in the right direction.”
  • “If you can, study in the same place that you plan to take the bar exam, that sense of familiarity will be helpful the day of when you may be nervous.”
  • “Get a hotel room”
  • “Find a good hotel that is supportive of your endeavor. Few weekends before the exam, book for one night on each weekend and state the reason why you are staying at the hotel. I told them that I was studying for the CA Bar Exams and if they could provide me with a quiet room. They ended up to be very supportive, giving me the lowest rate yet the best possible suite. Their kindness was overwhelming.”
  • “Find a good place where you can focus. Study there. And then take the test there! You will feel comfortable, confident, and focused.”
  • “Learn to deeply meditate and be in peace between the gaps between each essay.”

Prepare and study substantively per usual (business as usual).

  • “start memorizing earlier, make your own version of magicsheets early, practice rule statements and attack strategies, more MBEs from a variety of sources”
  • Accountability: “Have someone who will keep you accountable with your goals.”
  • “Make a detailed plan for your test days & visualize the exam”
  • “Study, take practice essay exams and MBE’s under time pressure. Relax. You got this!”

The biggest one: Relax. Don’t worry too much! Don’t listen to the doomers and gloomers.

  • “Calm down. It’s not as bad as it seems. They’ve taken the time to think the aspects through and make it work for us. So trust the process.”
  • “It’s not that big a deal….just relax. I found it nice as compared to the Baby Bar with all the people.”
  • “Don’t feed into negative commentary on FB… if there are too many Debbie Downer’s don’t continue the group. (Stick to MTYLT 😊)”
  • “Don’t worry about the technology and what if something goes wrong. The tech was support is there to help and most of the time things are great .. just take the exam.”
  • “Relax”

Recap and tactics for remote bar exams:

The online bar exam is new and different. And with any new procedure, there are concerns. That much is fair enough.

But we can manage the uncertainty by preparing ahead of time. We as humans tend to exaggerate potential future outcomes. But we are terrible predictors of the future.

We enter the future backward, like rowing a boat. All we can do are look to scenes of the past and learn from them. That’s why I’m offering past experiences of bar takers as guidance for you.

It turns out taking the bar exam remotely not a big deal, and in fact, a very positive change! It may be something for you to consider while it lasts.

Some commonly emphasized tips from remote bar takers:

Practice on the computer — for essays, PTs, and MBE!
Be familiar with exam logistics and anticipate potential issues ahead of time.
Choose the right location for you.
Preparation itself is business as usual.
Relax! It’s not that bad. In fact, it’s quite good.

Now that the remoteness is no longer a concern, bar prep is business as usual. If you need outlines, substantive how-to strategies, or help with mental organization for your next bar exam (whether online or not), check out the MTYLT collection of study tools here.

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