Tuesday

Anticipation of Conditions

The second of the three techniques needed to pass any bar exam is anticipation of conditions.

In order to succeed on the bar examination -- or any important test of ability -- one must prepare for it under conditions approximating that "test" situation. This is why people in the military have live-fire exercises and combat training. You don't just hand someone a gun, drop them off in enemy territory, and say, "Go to it." While failure on the bar exam has much less drastic consequences than failure in a war zone, there are lessons to be learned from the intense and cinematic preparation that an advanced military undertakes.

The bar exam is, for most people, a highly stressed two- or three-day period. For some takers, it may be the most stressful situation they have ever been in. Therefore, understanding what the test will be like and practicing in similar conditions is of utmost importance. There are two central aspects of the bar exam for which one must prepare: 1)performing at a high level for 6-8 hours for two or three days in a row and 2) performing while surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of people who are frantically taking the same test you are.

Endurance and High-Level Performance

A bar exam is a multi-day affair. To my knowledge, all states require at least two days of testing, and several (like California) require three. For those in Louisiana, the test is three days, but it is spread over a week (i.e., Monday, Wednesday, Friday). In order to give your best efforts during each day of the test, you must have practiced this. Visualization is also very helpful, and is discussed in another post.

If you are taking BarBri, the company has a built-in practice bar exam where you show up at the class site and take a test in the same format and under the same time contraints as if you were taking your jurisdiction's real bar exam. This is great and, if you take the test seriously, it will likely be sufficient preparation under this prong of my suggestions to you. Now, by "take the practice test seriously," I mean that you should show up, give your best effort for the full time allowed, and get used to the intensity. unless you are brilliant, your performance on the practice test will likely be far from a passing effort. But that does not matter because the point here is just to see how your body and mind reacts to being forced to test for several days in a row.

For those of you not taking BarBri or another review course that does a sample bar examination, you need to build such practice into your study schedule. When I took the Oregon bar, I was taking BarBri and so used its practice test. When I studied for the California bar exam, I was doing it on my own and so had to build it in. CLICK HERE to look at my California bar study schedule. You will note that I chose Tuesday February 5 and Wednesday February 6 as practice exam days. You will probably notice that I only did a two-day practice exam even though the California bar exam is a three-day exam. I chose to do this for two reasons: 1) I had taken a bar exam before and was confident that if I could perform for two days, I could perform for three and 2) day three of the California bar has a format identical to day one, so I felt that studying rather than doing a practice test would be a better use of that extra day.

Another important thing to note is that I made the practice exam Tuesday and Wednesday. In most states, the bar exam starts on a Tuesday, and California is no exception. Furthermore, in states that use the MBE, it is ALWAYS administered on a Wednesday. Therefore, to anticipate the conditions properly, I practiced the written portion on Tuesday and practiced the multiple choice MBE portion on Wednesday. Had I chosen to do a three-day practice exam, I would have done the second essay day on Thursday. It is important to match the day of the week with the format so that your mind and body synchronize their abilities with the correct days of the week.

Finally, find out the approximate start time of your state's bar exam. Be sure that you start and stop your practice examination within those time parameters so that the practice session is as realistic as possible.

Practicing for Testing at the Testing Center

Once you have practiced for the endurance aspect of the bar exam, you need to practice for the auditory and visual experience of the bar exam. What I mean is that you need to be ready to take a test in a room with hundreds or thousands of people, many of whom are panic-stricken and hyper-stressed. This can be done, in part -- again -- through visualization.

Let me briefly describe my two bar exam experiences:

For the Oregon bar, there is only one testing location for the entire state. All 700-1000 people taking the bar converge on a rented convention hall at a hotel by the Portland International Airport. The majority of these people take the test on a computer and are placed in the same room. When I took the test, the computer-takers room had probably 500 people in it. Prior to the test starting, the power went out to a large portion of the room because the drain on the daisy-chained extenstion cords was too great. My laptop battery would only last about 2 hours. Good thing I practiced hand-writing essays. When the power went out, panic spread. Finally, the power was restored and the test started about 30-45 minutes late. With everyone typing, it sounded like heavy rain. Thank goodness I had my earplugs in. The entire time I was typing I kept wondering if the power would go out. I kept checking my power cord to ensure the green "it's still working" light was glowing. What a distraction. Day two was better since we only needed pencils to take the MBE. There was still panic in the air as a few people actually did not bother to show up for the second day, assuming they had failed.

In California, the number of people taking the exam requires that the bar examiners have several locations to administer the bar. I took it in San Diego, where it seemed like there was a mere 800 or so people in a convention hall taking the test on their computers. I have heard that some locations of the California bar have nearly 2,000 people taking the test. (Check out A Lawyer Walks Into a Bar... for a good summary of the bar exam experience.) With the California bar, the examiners seemed a lot more strict than those in Oregon. We had to put all of our test supplies in a clear plastic bag and leave our backpacks outside of the room. We had to provide fingerprints, signature cards, and photo ID during various moments of the exam. Just silly junk, but distracting nonetheless. At least I did not have to sit through the earthquake that hit during the July 2008 examination!

As you can see, any manner of things -- anticipated and not anticipated -- can occur at the bar exam. If you practice under less-than-ideal conditions, then it is more likely you can adapt to the expected and unexpected distractions and stress that WILL OCCUR during the actual bar exam.

Other than visualization mentioned earlier, I suggest that you set aside at least one block of time to practice essay (and, if your bar requires it, performance test writing) and another block of time to practice MBE questions (unless you are in one of those states that doesn't use the MBE; in that case, double your essay/PT prep). Then, locate a place where there will be a sizeable number of people who will be making at least some noise but where you will not likely be interrupted by someone speaking to you. Ideal places include a busy public library or a coffee shop.

Then, go to your chosen place and write an essay or a PT under timed conditions and do 33 MBE questions in one hour. Try to do this on two or three separate occasions. Of course, be sure to so it at the time of day when you would actually be doing the same thing for the bar examination.

Lastly, if your bar has odd rules for its exam, be sure to incorporate them into your anticipation of conditions practice. For example, the Virginia Bar requires that applicants take the bar examination wearing business attire. how would you like to fail because you weren't comfortable taking a test in a coat and tie (men) or wearing a tailored skirt or suit or heels (women)? Do not let yourself fail for a foolish reason and for lack of practice.

In summary, make sure you do a complete test under timed conditions and pracitce bite-sized portions of the bar exam under unfavorable conditions.




[Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/crystalflickr/2317183342/]

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