Bar Exam Tips for the Home Stretch

The bar is almost here and students always ask me for final bar exam tips as they head into the final stretch.  So here goes:

  1. Relax.  You’ve done all you could do.  Whatever you did in your exam preparation, I’m sure you did your best.  Relax and take a deep breath so when test time comes you are mentally alert.
  2. Don’t study after Sunday night. If you don’t know the law now, you’re not going to learn it in the next day.  Go see a movie, watch television. Have a glass of wine or a beer and rest. Let your mind take a break from the intense study that it has just experienced. Most of you spent the last two months or longer studying 8 to 10 hours a day. Your brain needs a break before it is forced to respond to 18 hours of testing over three days.
  3. Between now and the end of the bar exam, eat foods that keep you alert like proteins, and avoid simple carbohydrates because they fatigue you. Don’t eat meals that leave you tired at 3 in the aftenoon when you still have a performance test to complete or another 65 MBE questions left. It’s tempting to reach for sweets under stress, but resist.  You can celebrate with those treats when it’s all over.
  4. If you are checking in to a hotel on Monday, allow yourself time to settle in, but then make sure you have something to do on Monday night that will distract you. Even though it’s tempting, don’t sit and study in the hotel, and certainly don’t study between sessions of the exam.  Again, if you don’t know it by now, you’re not going to cram it in now.  More importantly, when you cram for an exam and start realizing there are things you don’t know, you panic.  You already have enough on the line here–panicking is only going to hurt you.
  5. Make a list of all the things you want to bring into the exam room and all the things you need to keep out. Read the list in the morning before you go and make sure to empty your pockets or purse or backpack of anything that could get you in trouble. About eight or nine years ago, I had 2 students who ignored this advice. One failed because she brought a cell phone into the exam room and it rang during a performance test, and the other failed for bringing a digital timer when the rules strictly forbid it. They were silly mistakes, but they cost them dearly.  When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to be forgetful or make careless mistakes.  Plan ahead and check yourself.
  6. Don’t talk to others about the exam until it’s all over. Who cares what some other stressed out examinee thinks was on the exam?  The last thing you need to hear about is the remedies question that person wrote about when you didn’t even see a remedies question.  She may be right, she may wrong, but it doesn’t matter.  Just focus on yourself.  Also, beware of the trolls who purposely try to plant seeds of doubt in you by talking about issues they wrote about that they know weren’t on the exam just to screw with your head.  It’s nasty, but it happens.
  7. Answer every essay question in order. Just pick it up, read the fact pattern, organize your answer and write until the hour is up and go on to the next question.  Don’t cherry pick questions because you have to get to them all anyway. The time wasted stressing over questions and determining which to answer is a waste of energy and time, and it won’t pay a single dividend. Just take the essays as they come.  MBEs are different, however. If one trips you up, mark it on the answer sheet so you can come back to it later and move on. Read and answer as many as you can, leave nothing blank and get finished before time is called. If you have time to return to the few you were confused by, do so, otherwise fill them in and you’re done.
  8. Finally, keep breathing.  Being stressed out, freaked out, going nuts, losing it–none of that is going to serve you as you go into the exam.  Here’s what will:  A sense of resolve.  A “let’s do this” attitude.  Then, when it’s over, take a break.  You have earned it!