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 …