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.
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. After graduation 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 reasoned that 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 exam I put myself on a simulated test day 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.
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 DURING the bar exam.
There was no reason for this. I was 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, and then only out of necessity.
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 all the essay questions before beginning. 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 crafting 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!!!
I HAD NOT ANSWERED ONE OF THE REQUIRED ESSAY QUESTIONS ON THE BAR EXAM!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
Just Me With . . . the ability to say . . .Yeah, well, 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 …
A Rat In My House
I was in law school. Or, actually I was done with law school and studying for the bar exam. In my infinite wisdom and with a splash of arrogance I decided I did not need the assistance of the bar exam prep courses everyone else took. No, I put myself on a home private study regimen. My husband and I had no children at the time, we were living in our little starter home with our adorable Labrador Retriever.
I would study most of the day, take a break in the evening when my husband got home, and then do a night shift of studying after he went to bed. My mini-split level had a pseudo downstairs den and a small damp room which I used as a study. There were sliding glass doors from the den opening to a small yard and beyond that, a wooded area. We hadn’t been in the house long. The previous owners used to leave the sliding doors cracked a bit so that their small dog could come and go, which, of course, allowed other critters to become accustomed to coming into the house. We, of course, discontinued that practice, kept the sliding doors closed, had the place exterminated, and didn’t have any problems with pests — or so I thought.
One night, during my late night study session downstairs, long after my husband had gone to bed, something ran across the room. It was NOT my adorable lab. No, this was smaller than a lab, bigger than a mouse, too fast to be a possum and had a long hairless tail.
A freaking rat. A huge gray rat!
I gasped so hard, I almost swallowed my tongue. But, I’m a tough girl. Bugs don’t bother me. I’ll get dirty outside, I have a strange interest in serial killers and I seriously considered becoming a mortician at one point in my life — but vermin? — not my thing.
I sat completely still waiting for it to come back. Afraid that if I moved it would come after me. I heard scratching; it was still in the house. So I did the responsible thing and ran up the half flight of stairs, through the kitchen, rounded the corner to the next flight of stairs, turned into my bedroom, closed the door and jumped in bed. May have done it all in four steps.
Studying done for the night.
I woke up my husband, told him we had a rat. He didn’t get up, said he’d look for it in the morning. I had nothing more to do but wait for the sweet release of sleep, behind my closed bedroom door.
My husband went to work very early. As usual, he got up before me. Before leaving, however, he woke me to exclaim that he’d killed the rat with an arrow — he had hunted it down and stabbed it. He asked me if I heard it screaming. I had not. He was so proud. But, he added, it had gotten away and he’d have to find it when he got home because he couldn’t be late for work. Huh? I was half asleep, murmured, “Okay. Thanks.”
I woke later. Looking down the stairs, I saw my dog’s butt. She was on her haunches staring into the kitchen.
This can’t be good, I thought.
I was right.
I slowly descended the stairs and peeked into the kitchen. My dog looked up at me as if to say, “Um, we have a situation here.”
There, on my kitchen floor, was a quite large, dead rat. It had apparently been wounded and emerged from its hiding place and did a death crawl to the middle of my small kitchen. Entrails hanging, a train of blood and guts behind it. It finally succumbed to its wounds equidistant from the kitchen sink and refrigerator, blocking the steps to the downstairs den and study where my books were.
My study regimen for the day did not include disposing of a dead rat. My knight in shining armor did not complete the job.
I freaked. Of course I did the mature thing and went back to bed.
That didn’t last. I was afraid my dog would play with it. Really, though, the dog was like, “I’m not getting near that thing.” Plus, it was summer and we did not have central air. The only thing worse than a dead rat in my kitchen would be a rittingbdead rat in my kitchen.
My husband was unreachable, this was before cell phones and he worked on the road. I hadn’t made friends with any neighbors yet. I was on my own . . . and I needed to study. I considered grabbing my books and heading out to the library, my parents’ house, anywhere, to study for the day. But my books were downstairs, through the kitchen. My husband wouldn’t be home for hours.
I cursed him. I cursed him like I’d never cursed him before (of course events in later years have elevated my cursing him to an art form, but I digress . . . ).
How could he go all Rambo like that on the rat and not finish the job — leaving his wife to dispose of the body?
What kind of man was he to leave me with this mess?
Oh, he must have been so proud running around stabbing this rat and then walking off into the sunrise, leaving the corpse to me, a sleeping student suffering through the stress of the impending bar exam.
Damn, him. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Cursing him to myself did not help.
The dead rat was still in the kitchen.
I’d taken my dog out the front door and around to the fenced back yard.
The dead rat was still in the kitchen.
I cursed my husband again.
The dead rat was still in the kitchen.
I’d have to get rid of it, without looking at it, without feeling its weight, without dropping it. I still shudder.
Damn him (husband), damn the rat.
The whole disposal operation took me about two hours. I had to rest between tasks. My study schedule was ruined for the day. Once the carcass was removed, I disinfected the floor to a level beyond operating room clean. Many trees lost their lives to make the mound of paper towels I used. Lysol was my soul mate.
But I don’t think I ever went barefoot in that kitchen again.
When my husband came home I was a raving lunatic. He laughed. He thought it was hilarious. At some point much later I was able to laugh about it, too. But I still cursed him. I still do.
Clean up after your kill, man. Clean up after your kill.
Just Me With . . . a dead rat, paper towels, a shovel, Lysol, and trash bags.
See also, Tales from The Bar Exam