Tales from The Bar Exam

I have always prided myself on my test preparation and test taking abilities.   Not just knowing the material, but the little things that help with preparedness, like getting on a sleep schedule that coincides with the testing hours, eating brain and energy foods, avoiding things that cause stress, dressing in comfortable clothes, mapping out and timing the route to the test location, even listening to Mozart!   Then there’s the superstitions:   I firmly believe that sleeping with books under my pillow or next to my bed helps.  I don’t care what anyone thinks about that.  I believe it.


Crash: If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you ARE! And you should know that!    – Bull Durham

The bar exam is one  pretty big test, at least two full days, depending on your state.  Accordingly, one must be prepared and ironically, having graduated from law school has little to do with being prepared for the bar exam.    There is a period of two and a half months of bar exam study  for would be lawyers.    In my infinite arrogance, I decided that unlike EVERYONE else, I would not pay for and take the bar exam prep course.   My thoughts were, it is stressful to be around anxious pre-lawyers all day,  the course itself is ridiculously expensive.  Plus, what do the courses do?  They give out materials, go over them, teach and practice test taking strategies and offer  practice tests.  I can do this myself, I thought.    I have always (until now . . . but I digress . . .)  been extremely disciplined.  I credit my musical training for this.   I don’t need a class to give me daily study structure.   I can, all by myself, put myself on a study and practice test schedule, every day for eight hours a day, plus a couple more hours at night.    I truly thought I would do better by myself.  I had never taken a prep course for any of the other standardized tests I’d taken, why start now?  Plus, I  resented the way in which the companies that sponsor these bar prep courses (not law schools) profited from the insecurities of pre-lawyers.   These companies know that we have to pass the test and we would do almost anything to pass the test.   No one wants the embarrassment of failing. No one wants to take it more than once.   One Tweeter @CriticalA aptly noted:  “”I’d rather suck Satan’s d*ck than take the bar exam again.”    That pretty much sums it up.

So partly out of arrogance, taking a stand against corporate greed, and, well,  I had no money, I decided:   No, I’m not going to do it.  I will buy the books, but I will not take the course.

Not one other person I knew made that choice. Not one.


But it was all good.  I did put myself on a schedule.  I never missed a day of studying, except for the Rat In My House incident, all went well.   I felt prepared, ready.   Mine was a two-day test.  The first multiple choice, the second essay.  If  the test taker  scores high enough on the first day, the second day is less important, so most of the prep courses and study focused on the first day of testing.  I prepared for both.

As planned, a week before the test I put myself on test schedule for sleeping and eating.   I was well rested.  I actually felt good.  I had passed my practice exams well within the allotted time.  I was ready.  Nervous, but ready.

Day One

On test day, I successfully avoided my stressors, got a good seat.  And . . . go!!!!

At some point during the exam, however, I apparently decided that it was time to take a nap.  




A nap!!!!  I freaking fell asleep.

I fell asleep on the bar exam.

I freaking fell asleep on the bar exam. 

There was no reason for this.    I was well rested, nourished.  All I can think is that my mind had been so focused on getting ready, that when the day finally came, my brain said — “Okay, I’m done now, right?” and checked out.

I don’t know how long I was out.  I woke up with about a half hour left and a lot more than a half hour of questions to answer.

I wanted to die. 

 I finished when they called time, but not with well thought out answers and with no time to spare.  I’d always had time to spare in my practice tests.  But then again during my practice tests — I WAS AWAKE!!!!!!!


According to my finely tuned text taking strategies and rigid rules,  I must not discuss this monumental blunder with anyone.  I would only go home, eat, rest and sleep in order to be ready for Day Two.  Because  I FELL ASLEEP  on Day One, Day Two became much more important.

I put myself in denial and robotically followed my plan.  I spoke to no one, except my husband, only out of necessity.

Day Two 

I always liked  law school essay tests, but since I HAD FALLEN ASLEEP on the previous day’s multiple choice test, I had to do more than “like” these essays on Day Two.  I had to ace them.

Pursuant my test taking techniques,  I scanned the essay questions.   There was one that I absolutely did not know that answer to.  I would still answer it, of course, but it would take some reasoning.  No need to panic.  And as I recall there was another that was a bit difficult as well, but at least I knew the answer, though the reasoning might be tricky.  I did what has always worked for me, I knocked out the easiest ones first, to reserve time for the harder ones later.

In the end, I finished in time, actually with a little time to spare, proofread my answers and tried to put the whole experience behind me.

On the way home, however, I realized —-  to my horror:

I’d answered the one question I was initially concerned about but I’d  FORGOTTEN  TO GO BACK AND ANSWER THE OTHER ONE!!!



For the second time in two days, I wanted to die.


Let’s  recap, shall we?  I didn’t take the bar exam prep course that everyone else took,  I fell asleep on Day One of testing, and I simply neglected to answer a full essay question on Day Two.

It wasn’t good.  Not good at all.

And now the wait . . .

If you don’t know,  there is a four-month delay between the date the exam is taken and when the results are published. It was a long-ass four months. By this time,  I was working for a federal judge. My co-clerk was a snobbish double ivy league golden boy son-of-a- judge. 

The  results day came, finally. This was before discovering your fate could be accomplished alone, via the Internet and without human contact.  The snobbish double ivy league golden boy son-of-a- judge  and I decided that instead of participating in the law clerk tradition of  walking to the county courthouse to publicly read the results,  we would call the designated a hot line at the State Bar.  Good.  For the reasons above, I had convinced myself I had failed. I figured that receiving the inevitable news over the phone would limit the witnesses to my embarrassment to just one: the snobbish double ivy league golden boy son-of-a- judge. That would hurt my ego, but it would be better than  public humiliation followed by  the long walk of shame back to my desk — and my judge.

Snobbish double ivy league golden boy son-of-a- judge and I  called the hotline.  He entered his identification number and got word of  his Passing  score.  He  handed  the phone to me.

My head was spinning:  Why was I so arrogant?  Why didn’t I take the course like EVERYBODY ELSE? Why did I fall asleep? Why did I decide part of the exam was optional? Why can’t I just lay down and die???????  I  entered  in my identification number, waited, then  . . .



Despite it all, I had passed.  I had passed.  I had passed.  Damn, I must have done something good.

(Yes, I see the typo in the image text, my apologies, it’ll have to do for now.)

Just Me With . . . the ability to say . . . I passed the bar exam in my sleep.

And here’s a bonus, much to the utter shock and dismay of  my  snobbish double ivy league golden boy son-of-a- judge  co-clerk, not only had I passed, but my numerical score was . . . wait for it  . . . higher than his.   (I didn’t say a word, on the outside.)


And  here’s yet another  bonus.  Years later, I ran into my  snobbish double ivy league golden boy son-of-a- judge co-clerk, who actually gained some humility over the years and apologized to me for his arrogance (which is beyond the scope of this post).   Then he started telling me how busy he and his wife were:

Him:   “You’ll never believe it!  I have twin girls!  Yeah, it’s crazy!”

Me:    “Really?  Twin girls, huh?  Wow.   Crazy.   So . . . you  have . . .  just . . . the one  . . . set of twin girls?” .  . .    wait for it . . .   “I have two.”

We had a good old laugh about that.

Him:  “You always manage to one up  me, don’t you?  I guess I’d better just shut up.”



A Rat In My House  – Unscheduled study break …

My Law School Crush

Another Embarrassing Moment, Another Crush

5 responses

  1. Good going!
    I had the take the MAT (Millers Analogy Test) to get into grad school. I had a migraine for three or four days previous to the exam, sleeping three hours each night for those four days. I was halfway through the test and realized I had skipped a question on purpose, but had not skipped a number. So, I spent a frantic period of time carefully erasing answers and bubbling in the right ones. The last 30 questions out a 100 question test were answered feverishly. I barely read them, used no reasoning, just bubbled the first thing i thought might be right.

    When we were given the last time warning I still had ten to go. I just bubbled in C all the way. I had to leave four blank. I walked from the testing center having the desire to walk in front of a bus. When I got my score and made an 82, I was horrified to have scored so lot.

    Back at the testing center later, I discussed my apparent low score. The head of testing assured me I did exceptionally well and not to worry.

    Like you, I am an exceptional test-taker of standardized tests or essays. So, the conditions of my body before the test were not optimal.

    Yay for both of us.

    Now that I want to get a PhD, I have to take the GRE. I am older and maybe not so sharp as I was then….sigh.

  2. What a nightmare. I took mine at the Javits Center. They locked us in like animals. I was so convinced I failed I composed a letter to the board redoing 3 essays. Unfortunately or fortunately I passed. I still cannot decide.

  3. Hilarious! Belated congratulations!!

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