Wednesday, July 28, 2010

break it down now: a farewell ode to the bar exam.

monday was my anniversary.  i spent it like any other young couple probably spends their married anniversaries: studying for a bar exam, awaiting the beginning of the "strongly recommended" orientation session, silently cussing my pregnant bladder and, of course, running back and forth to the bathroom.  just another day in paradise.  (sidenote: i had a doctor's appt. that morning, and at said appointment, i discussed my concerns about my overactive bladder with the doc.  she looked at me and laughed, "you're pregnant, stephanie!"  and i was all like, "yeah, i know, but is this normal?  i mean, i don't know how a person could physically go to the bathroom more than this."  she assuaged my fears about gestational diabetes, and blamed the whole thing on the heat wave we've been experiencing.)

but anyway, i am not going to complain about taking the bar exam.  it was mostly my choice to take another bar exam, so there's no need for any whining.  i will, however, take this opportunity to share some observations i came into this week.

#1 open bar vs. open registration?  i am certain that some examinees missed the part of the letter where it said this was open registration, not cocktail hour.  there's really no need to put on thick layers of make-up, a short, slinky dress and high heels for a bar exam registration session.  we know you've spent the past two months holed up in your house/apt/condo/local library feverishly taking practice exams and memorizing outlines.  we know this is your one chance to show off your new "i'm so nervous about the bar exam, i lost 10 lbs." physique.  we know you spent the last of your remaining student loan funds on the sexy little number you're traipsing around in (treasure it because it's going to end up costing you 10 times that much by the time you pay back that loan, girlfriend!).  still, put your hair in a ponytail, throw on a worn college drinking team t-shirt and a pair of running shorts, and get in line.  this is not a miss america pageant.  you are not going to find your next serious boyfriend at the bar exam. 

#2 too cool for school.  at every exam, and thus, at every registration, you will find the group of examinees who want to make sure everyone around them knows how little they know, how silly they think this whole thing is, how much they have NOT studied, how absolutely "wasted" they got last night, how hungover they've been all summer, and how ready they are for this to be over so they can commence preparing for the february examination ("'cuz like they're totally not going to like pass this" (girl) or "dude, i'm so f'ed on this exam, dude, it's like, see you in february, dude.")  these people are the average to better-than average students in the room, and they're going to pass the damn test.  they just really want everyone around them to know how cool they are.  so when they get their passing results and you see their name on the list of newly admitted attorneys, you can remember how they "barely" even studied for the MBE.  wow.  they must be so freakishly smart that they could just remember all the exceptions to the exceptions, despite a two month diet of miller lite & jagerbombs!  suuuuuure.
#3 nervous guy(s).  at each bar exam i've taken, i've always been able to find the token nervous guy.  during bar exam #1, he was sitting next to me, chattering obnoxiously, but sweating so profusely that i immediately felt bad for him, so i commenced praying that he would pass because he needed this victory.  i saw a few nervous guys at bar exam #2 (they had not passed the first time around), and they were pacing, reading flashcards and mumbling to themselves.  at this session, nervous guy was standing behind me in line.  he tried to make some small talk related to being pregnant, "ohhh man, i'd never want to be you right now!"  (i didn't know what he was referring to, until he explained.)  i can't help but be overcome with emotion about these nervous guys.  i just want them to do well on the exam.  they're so friendly and sweet, and they just want this experience to be over with.  i feel for them.  and i wish them all the best on their respective bar exams this week.

#4 law school clique reunion.  when i took my first bar exam, i was taking it in a state where i did not attend law school, so i didn't know a single soul at the testing site.  however, most people were there with their law school buddies, slapping fives, talking old memories and discussing important business or, in other words, who's been hooking up with who post-graduation.  in this case, a group of couples descended upon the girl in front of me in line and began discussing "HIM."  "did you see HE'S here?"  "oh my god, really?"  "i totally turned the other way because i did not want HIM to start talking to me."  "i know, right?"  i was trying to get to the bottom of the annoying, terrible things HE had done, but it came time to move ahead in line, and i missed all the juicy gossip.  the group planed to have dinner in the hotel restaurant later, though, and for a brief second, i contemplated scrapping anniversary dinner plans with john, so i could sit near them and catch up on the news!

the orientation session.  first of all, what is wrong with people?  am i taking the bar with a bunch of illiterates?  ok, presumably we have all mastered at least basic reading and writing skills (since we've all graduated from accredited law schools).  surely this means that we can read and comprehend the exam instructions given earlier, right?  perhaps not.  the hand-out clearly states that only gum, mints and one water bottle/beverage is allowed into the exam site.  however, very anxious ginger kid excitedly asks, "can we bring a small bag of chips?" answer: "no."  "can we store snacks outside the room so that we're able to access them if we leave the room?" answer: "no."  "can we go to our hotel room during the exam to retrieve snacks?"  EXCUSE ME?!?  is this kindergarten?  do you need some designated nap time and a blankey, too?  the exam is broken into two segments of three hours each.  perhaps not the most pleasant way to spend most of the day, but certainly manageable.  equally annoying was the part where the lady conducting the session says something cute like "everyone breathe" or "MOST of you will pass," and everyone laughs as if we're sitting front and center at some sold-out comedy show.  c'mon people.  the woman giving us these instructions is not grading your exam.  there's no need to suck up.  even more annoying was the kid who, despite the BIG BOLD WARNING  on the handout given earlier that forbids the presence of cell phones and other electronic devices, asked "can we please bring cell phones into the exam room if we agree to keep them away from our person?"  are you kidding me?  you're just so important that you need to have your cell phone or blackberry in the room while you take the most important exam of your life?  really? 

i have my own ideas about things to keep in mind when taking a bar exam.  and i guess a lot of you probably don't care about this, but i include the following tips (which may be helpful for other stressful situations) anyway:

TIP #1 (the most important).  bring a husband, wife, significant other, TOLERABLE family member or friend with you.  you might be thinking that it's go time, you'd rather buckle down solo style in a hotel room for 48-72 hours and just get through this nightmare.  ok, step back from the ledge.  you need perspective.  you need someone who doesn't understand what you're going through to convince you that you do know this stuff, that you will pass this, and that everything is going to be fine.  because it is.  but you won't trust yourself or fellow bar examinees on any of this.  you need someone not connected to the situation to pull you out of the corner where you're bawled up, rocking back and forth, crying over your MBE practice book.  this person will tell you you're being ridiculous.  this person will convince you it's better to have a beer, eat a nice dinner and take a little dip in the pool.  and this person will be right, which is why he/she is a must-have during exam time.  (practically speaking, this person also serves as your own personal assistant during this time, making sure you have lunches waiting promptly at break time and running any other last minute errands you might need.) 

TIP #2.  do not look up answers to questions that you remember after the exam is over.  i did this.  it was a mistake.  this is why i can tell you without reservation: when time is called, put the exam out of your head.  there is no reason to torture yourself with the memory of what you should have written, the answer choice you should have picked.  you have to let it all go.  if you cannot do this on your own, you should enlist the help of your companion (see above), who can secure lots of alcohol or other necessities to aid in this task.  am i advocating getting drunk after the exam?  of course i am.  you don't need to get all 21st birthday crazy, there's no need to take exotic shots or make bad decisions you'll regret later.  but the right amount of alcohol designed to fade the memories of the past few days is important.  because the bar exam is just something you have to get through.  it's not your wedding day or the birth of your child or college graduation.  you do not need to etch the memory of the experience in your brain to keep replaying at later intervals.  (what are you, some S&M freak?) 

TIP #3.  internalize the concept.  i think a lot of people taking the bar exam don't see the forest through the trees.  and i totally get that.  because there are so many goddamn trees to worry about, who has time to step back and look at the forest?  but to preserve sanity, you have to do this.  the bar exam is just a test.  it doesn't test you on things that you need to know to practice law.  the results don't have anything to do with your self worth.  you can't let yourself get so wrapped up in this process that you lose sight of who you are, where you've been and where you're going.  it will take an enormous amount of work to prepare for the exam.  (i am not telling you to slack.  you do need to put in the work.)  but you also need to realize that this. is. just. something. you. have. to. get. through.  you will study hard for about 2 months, it will be miserable, you will take the exam, and it will be over.  there is no way around it.  you just need to be prepared and know that everyone has to do this.  and they do.  and it's fine. 

TIP #4.  do not be an annoying bitch when you get to the exam.  with the exception of the sweet nervous guys i mentioned above, don't be like any of the other groups of examinees.  be kind to everyone you meet (they're all just as nervous as you are, regardless of what they're saying/doing), smile a lot, volunteer information (if you know it) and pay it forward.  you don't need to get ahead by being an ass.  there are enough a-hole lawyers in the world as it is.  the bar exam is not an opportunity for you to become one of those.

TIP #5.  do not acronym drop.  the BarBri prep program is helpful, and you'll learn lots of tricks and pneumonic devices to help you remember the ungodly amount of crap you have to memorize for the exam.  "frank sinatra didn't prefer orville redenbacher" is one device i'll never forget (as much as i might try).  anyway, while these tricks are cute and useful for you, please do not come into the exam orientation/registration spouting off these fancy acronyms in an effort to bolster your confidence and freak out your neighbors.  you're just being an annoying bitch (see above).  i remember at the iowa session, i sat at a table of valley girls who were throwing out their favorite acronyms, "AIR," or "SEXYBUNS," among other annoying monikers.  i returned to my hotel room, defeated, about to sob to john about how i didn't have any fancy tricks and i didn't know what air meant, or what sexybuns was supposed to help me remember.  john rolled his eyes at me, told me i was ridiculous and reminded me that he was hungry and it was time for dinner (see tip #1, above).  you need all the good karma you can get, so don't allow yourself to be the reason people are back at their hotel rooms sobbing and getting hysterical.

TIP #6.  treasure the lull.  in between the time you take the bar exam and the time you receive your results and are ultimately sworn in, you might be consumed with worrying about whether you're really going to pass.  instead, you should enjoy the time when you're just a non-practicing attorney.  you won't experience that lull again until you're retired.  soon you will be busy all the time, a mess of files covering your desk, needy clients calling at all hours of the day with their own ideas about how their cases should be handled.  you'll spend a lot of time feeling slightly to horrendously overwhelmed, and you might find yourself wishing for some downtime.  treasure the lull, while you can.

this has been my written ode to the bar exam.  fare thee well.  i've taken three of you, and i can say with certainty, i'm DONE.  if this were a bad relationship where we kept breaking up and getting back together, this would be the moment where my friends have this intervention with me, and i realize i have to kick your sorry ass to the curb!  for real!  we're through!  thanks to all my family & friends who have been so supportive and encouraging over the past year-ish.  love to you all!

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