Have I Already Blown the Bar Exam?
July 19, 2010 by Sweet Hot Counsel
Q: I’m taking the NY Bar Exam later this month for the first time and am taking Barbri to prepare for it. It’s been going OK, but I got back my scores for the simulated practice test that Barbri offers and, no exaggeration, I almost threw up. (I won’t even share my score. I can’t bring myself to say it out loud.) Before you make judgments, though, know this: I graduated from a T14 school, was on an honors journal (not Law Review, but still an honors journal) and graduated in the top third of my class, so I know how to study. But I’d heard from multiple sources that the best way to prepare for the Bar Exam was to just treat the studying like a 9-5 job; i.e. it’s OK to take breaks, work out, go out with friends at night, all that, which I’ve been doing. But now I’m totally panicked and think I might’ve be taking the whole preparation thing too lightly. I would literally need to double my score from the practice test to even be in the neighborhood of passing. Is it too late to ramp it up before the test? I’m actually wondering if maybe I should even just postpone until February. Am I over-thinking this?? Am I totally screwed?
A: Quick question back at you before we get going: These “multiple sources” that clued you in on their secret to Bar Exam prep success: Did they start their spiel with “Dude, look…” and end it with a story about how they went out and got bombed every night up until the week before the test, at which point they totally stayed up studying for, like, six days straight in their parents’ outdoor shed and didn’t shower and pissed in a cup and ate only peanut butter and cardboard but that it all worked out in the end? Because if they did, I totally know them!! One of them just rang me up at Walgreens.
Oh, honey, part of me just wants to slap you and part of me wants to give you a hug. And then slap you. Let’s start with the part of me that just wants to slap you: During the 3 years you spent in law school, did you not notice that nothing about law students is cool? And the recent grads who brag about how little they study and use party as a verb are the least cool of all. Sorry to break it to you —and keep in mind, I’m a lawyer, too— but lawyers aren’t cool. And law students really aren’t cool. At least by real world cool standards. We’re nerds. We’re good at tests and that’s why we wound up in the godforsaken places we did. So, just own that, be proud of it and stop pretending that anyone giving you on advice on the Bar Exam is a Ronson-in-training.
Now, the hug: Calm down. Now that we’ve agreed that you’re not going to listen to any more of your esteemed “multiple sources,” remember: Barbri’s goal isn’t just for you to pass the Bar Exam; it’s to make as much money for Barbri’s business as possible—and part of that business model involves scaring the crap out of you a few weeks before the Bar Exam so that you’ll murder your ego and just dive into the materials and study your ass off — and then rave about Barbri when you pass. Though, speaking of your ego, know this (and thanks for the warning not to judge you): Your litany of entirely unremarkab— whoops, sorry, was just about to judge you! Do-over: Your litany of law school…accomplishments mean precisely ZERO when it comes to passing the Bar Exam. Actually, I take that back, it means less than zero. All of the folks I know who failed the Bar exam went to great schools, did well and then…failed anyway. Most of them went to Yale and Columbia, actually, if that makes you feel better (probably not). So, drill this into your head: Knowing how to succeed in law school and knowing how to succeed on the Bar Exam are two hugely different things.
OK, so, now that you’re even more depressed and nervous, as you should be, take a few deep breaths and relax—you’ve still got a shot at passing. You have, um, over a week to cram like a lunatic. (Sure, that’s the opposite of what you’re “supposed” to do during the week before the Bar Exam, but as I hope you’ve figured out by now, there’s no one way you’re supposed to do anything on this test.) Just remember, this isn’t law school. You’re not aiming for an A+; you just want a C+. Hell, you just want a D+. So, just clear your head, make friends with your short-term memory and spend every waking minute doing as many practice questions as you can. Whatever you do, keep calm and steady and just keep plowing ahead—and maybe stock up on some peanut butter and cardboard.
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