Jul 13, 2012
13 Things To Do Before the #BarExam
by Lee Burgess
So believe it or not we are now just over a week away from the bar exam (and today is Friday the 13th, how fitting). Although that may seem like a while for those studying, you do need to take some time over the next few days to make sure everything is ready for exam days.
1: Confirm where you are going to stay.
If you are staying at a hotel, you want to call and confirm your reservation. You also want to plan on getting there on the early side of check-in to get a room in the location you want. Typically, if you are staying near the testing site you want a low-floor room so it is easier to get to and from your room on testing day (you can take the stairs versus an elevator, for example). Another thing I did was rent a mini-fridge from the hotel for the time I was there. That way I could go grocery shopping and keep lots of food in my room. If that isn’t possible, I know a number of people who brought a cooler to store food and just kept re-filling it with ice throughout their stay.
Also what about checking out? Are you going to check out the morning of the last day and store your luggage or try to keep the hotel room until the end of testing day (some hotels allow you to purchase late check-out)?
If you are staying with friends, you want to talk to them about what you are going to need during your stay. Make sure you are going to be able to get enough sleep and rest in the evenings. If you are sleeping on someone’s couch who stays up watching TV until 1:00 a.m., that may not be a place to crash during the bar.
If you are staying at home, make sure your house is going to be stocked with food and that other distractions are taken care of (your rent check has been sent out, etc.). Make sure your home is going to be a place of solace during exam time.
2: Finalize transportation.
If you are driving to the testing center, do you know where you are going to park and how much it may cost? Have you driven to the testing center before? It might be a good idea to do a dry run especially if you are unfamiliar with the area. You don’t want to get lost and you do want an accurate assessment of how long it will take you to get there. Remember to leave time for crazy things to happen (construction delays and the like) and check the traffic before you leave the house to prevent any unwelcome transportation surprises.
If you are taking public transportation, have your route planned and take it once so you have it down before test day. Also, what happens if there is an issue with the route you are planning to take? Is there another way you can get to the test center?
While you are figuring out transportation, also set a definite departure time for each day of the test. No need to leave that decision to the day before!
3: Plan your food.
I mentioned this in my DOs and DON’Ts for the final weeks of exam prep post. Food is fuel during the bar exam. You need to make sure you know what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—food that will make you feel great. If you are packing a lunch for exam day (my recommendation), have it for lunch a few days before the exam. Make sure it keeps you full and energized. No time for a post-lunch nap during the bar exam!
Also, if you are staying at a hotel, it is important to consider your check-out time. You may not be able to eat lunch in your hotel on the final day. This is another reason you may want to consider paying for late check-out if that is an option.
4: Check to see if your jurisdiction has a dress code.
I don’t think you need to pack a week in advance, but you should think through what you are going to take with you to wear to the testing center. For jurisdictions without dress codes you can wear anything confortable you want but consider wearing layers, as the exam room can be cold or warm. If your state does have a dress code (check out the professional dress code requirements in Virginia and how Pennsylvania makes you wear soft-soled shoes), make sure to choose a comfortable outfit while also meeting the requirements.
5: Brainstorm what you are going to do during the evenings.
I don’t believe that studying a ton in the evenings of the bar exam is a great idea, especially in California, which has a three-day exam. You need that rest to be ready for the next exam day. So if you aren’t going to study all night, what are you going to do? Come up with something fun to entertain yourself. Save some silly movies, take a walk, or go to the gym. Just make sure you aren’t sitting around stressing about the exam. Find something relaxing to do in the evenings.
6: What materials are you going to bring with you to the hotel (or wherever you are staying)?
Students often ask what they need to take with them to the hotel to study. Whether or not you are planning on studying for the exam at night and in the morning (more about this in next week’s post), you shouldn’t bring all of your materials. That can be overwhelming and won’t help you review for exam day. If you want to bring materials, bring your simplified study materials, flash cards, or attack plans only.
7: Mitigate non-bar distractions during exam days.
Bar week is not a good time to deal with your landlord, get your car fixed, pay bills, run errands, etc. You don’t need to cloud your head with other responsibilities if it can be helped (one reason people like staying at a hotel). It is just a few days and typically you can pick up those life responsibilities when you return to the real world post-exam.
8: Make a list of what you are going to take to the testing center.
Each jurisdiction has different rules as to what you can take into the testing center. Here are the rules published by California (you should reference, however, the version of the document provided to you by the state bar rather than what is found online). New York also provides information on its website about testing rules and instructions, but again reference materials provided for you by your state bar.
Just because you can take it into the testing center doesn’t mean you should. Ask yourself what you really need. You typically don’t have that much work space during the test and more clutter may be more of a distraction than it is worth.
9: Using a laptop? Make sure you get it set up and tested.
Are you using a laptop? By now, you want to have loaded the testing software on the computer, tested it, and even done some practice questions on it. Computer failures are no fun during the bar exam, so make sure you try to do what you can to eliminate that possibility.
But on that note, you should learn what happens if something goes wrong with your computer. For example, would you start writing in a blue book? Knowing this may help you be mentally prepared if the worst were to happen.
10: Handwriting the exam? Pick your pen!
If you are handwriting the exam, you want to take some time to plan what pens you are going to use and practice with them. You don’t want anything to come as a surprise to you during the exam (like finding out your new pen makes your hand more exhausted while writing). Haven’t put much thought into your pen of choice? You can check out some handwriting tips here.
11: Decide when and where you are going to upload your answers.
If you are taking the exam on a laptop, think about where you are going to upload your answers. I took the bar exam in Oakland, California. After the exam many people headed to a bar across the street from the convention center to have a celebratory drink and use the Wi-Fi to upload their exam answers. Bar takers literally brought down the network! So that may not be a good plan. I had my hotel room set up for late check-out so I immediately went to my room, uploaded my answers, and then was completely done with the process before I went home (and had that celebratory drink).
12: Keep a positive attitude.
So often we discount the importance of keeping a positive attitude during the final push of bar preparation. Athletes know the importance of mental readiness and luckily many in the bar community are talking about that as part of bar exam preparation as well. You need to commit to staying as positive as possible. If you find yourself repeatedly telling yourself that you can’t pass this exam, check out this post for help.
13: Schedule something fun to celebrate.
You have been working hard (many of you for months) to prepare for these days of testing. Make sure you have something fun to do afterwards to celebrate. Schedule something with friends or your significant other. Or take a bar trip. No matter what, it is great to have something to look forward to at the end of this bar season. (Note: Has the bar exam been hard on your significant other? Planning a bar trip or a way to celebrate may be a great thing to do in honor of the experience being over!)
Running through this checklist now will help you be prepared for exam day. Keep up the good work—you are almost there!
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.