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Everyone who has taken the bar exam has a “story.” I found that hearing these stories while I was preparing for the exam made me feel better about taking the exam. By demystifying the exam, it didn’t seem as horrible as I feared. This is my story, presented in chronological order. I don’t think it’s a particularly interesting story, but it is more or less typical of the experiences of most people who take the exam. I hope that by sharing my experience, I will calm some nerves and give a feel for what it’s like to take the exam. MONDAY, JULY 24, 2000 One day left before the exam. I spent the morning and the first part of the afternoon reviewing my checklists for each subject. At about 3 p.m., I picked up my friend and we headed up to Oakland, Calif. There was a tangible feeling of nervousness between us. Our hotel, the Oakland Howard Johnson, was worse than expected, in every way possible. Don’t stay there. I had called to confirm my reservation a few days before the exam, and the idiot behind the desk apparently thought I wanted to cancel my reservation, so I had no reserved room. And the hotel was sold out. Fortunately, “sold out” apparently did not include the “bad room” that they have, so they gave me that. It had no trash can, no clock radio, no air conditioning, and the bathroom was not the greatest (my receipt even identified this room as the “no a/c, old bath” room.) Oh, and it reeked of an unidentifiable odor. Maybe it was the condom I found underneath the bed? It’s about what I think a youth hostel would look like. That upset me for about five minutes, but I reminisced about some of the lodging I stayed at in Hong Kong and China two summers ago, and it made my HoJo room seem very nice indeed. I decided to deal with filing a complaint and seeking a refund after the bar. I wanted to share my experience to impress the importance of carefully selecting accommodations. It’s a once in a lifetime event — splurge for the Marriott. In the evening we took a tour of the nearby Marriott Hotel where the exam would be given, ran into some friends, and quickly walked the other way (desiring to avoid discussing the exam.) Dinner was at Jack London Square, and we opted for a movie afterwards. I don’t even remember the title of the movie, but it was extremely scary, and not what I would recommend in terms of pre-bar exam movies. I was feeling nervous and scared, but not panicked. TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2000 Waking up in the morning wasn’t a problem, because I don’t think I fell asleep the night before. Maybe it just seemed that way, but I know I spent a lot of time tossing and turning and trying hard, but unsuccessfully, not to think about the exam. So finally, at 5 a.m., I got up and showered and watched some TV. Just walking to the test center was scary and nerve wracking, and my lack of sleep made it seem eerie — like walking to a death chamber. But I wasn’t panicking — in that sense, I was calm, but my stomach was in knots. The proctors went through their paces, and before I knew it (and before I was mentally ready for it!), the exam began. And I had to pee. I should have expected it, but for some reason it surprised me when a proctor followed me into the bathroom, and watched me while I peed. Every time I went, he was there with me. (This is a standard security procedure.) The essays went well — first was evidence, then property, then wills & trusts. They were good subjects, and I felt BarBri prepared me well for them. I was confident that I identified most of the issues. Some were more convoluted than I was prepared for (e.g., a community property aspect to a trust), but I think I addressed it adequately. The afternoon performance test was nothing less than wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for anything better — one memo with five points to address. I developed a new method for dealing with performance tests on the spot. I wish I had developed the method earlier, but it wasn’t until I got the huge 11- by 17-inch sheets of scratch paper that I figured out how to use the whole sheet, putting the facts on the left, and corresponding law on the right. Writing the essays felt like I was doing a practice exam at home, and I had to keep reminding myself, “Pay attention! This is the real thing! This is the most important thing in your life!” I don’t want to give the impression that I was confident about the test — I wasn’t. I knew that I very easily may have failed all of the essays and the performance test. But I couldn’t have asked for a better exam. The hardest part of the entire day was getting through the first hour, and realizing that it was doable, and I wasn’t going to burst into flames after the first essay, or run out of the room screaming. We went out to dinner, and I watched some TV. I was looking forward to MBEs the next day — I’d done over 4,000 practice questions; I was prepared. Tips: After lunch, most people were really tired from lack of sleep the night before plus the exhaustion of getting through the first essays of the exam. My tip is to drink a can of Coke at lunch to get a caffeine boost, or take an Excedrin pain reliever which has caffeine in it. And of course, watch what you eat at lunch — you don’t want to eat something that will make you tired or give you gas. There is an understood rule that you do not discuss the exam with other examinees during breaks. Sometimes, however, there is a question that bugs you, and will bug you until you ask someone about it. In that case, ask someone if it is OK to discuss a substantive question with them, and then, only if they say yes, should you proceed with your question. Don’t ask questions in the elevator or around other bar applicants. WEDNESDAY, JULY 26, 2000 One word to describe this day: Whew! I slept for about six hours the night before. I woke up at 4 a.m. due to nerves and road noise, but not to study, as some of my fellow test-takers did. A few hours later, I took my pencils and earplugs over to the convention center and started the MBE portion. It was pretty much what I expected, but more difficult than I hoped. (I was hoping for really easy questions, which was an unrealistic desire!) The only real comment I have about the MBE is that I thought the questions in the bar course prep materials were generally indicative of the difficulty level of the questions on the actual MBE. Several (maybe one or two dozen) questions were almost word for word. Others were completely foreign. That night we had a nice dinner at Jack London Square to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and I watched some TV before going to bed. THURSDAY, JULY 27, 2000 I don’t know if the third day is always the hardest, or if that was just the luck of the draw, but the essays and performance test were noticeably more difficult than Tuesday. (I later learned that it was merely luck of the draw — the third day is not always the hardest.) The one good thing was that, since I knew I needed a good night’s rest, I took two melatonin sleeping pills, and I slept for about six hours before waking up and reviewing notes. (I ceremoniously threw out the notes from Tuesday’s essay subjects — once the subject is covered, it won’t be covered again.) The essays were slightly more difficult than the first day. (No, I don’t know how to quash a grand jury subpoena, thank you very much.) None of the essays covered professional responsibility, so the bet was that it would be on the afternoon performance test, since PR is always tested. Sure enough! My method of performance test organization that I came up with on Tuesday didn’t work for this day’s exam, so my approach was very disorganized. I spent a lot of time reading over the questions, thinking , “I do not understand what they are asking me to do.” But I think I may have managed to pull it together in the last 45 minutes. I realized that no matter how much you prepare, you will never be fully prepared for the bar exam. There will be questions you have never seen before, and have no idea what the answer is. My friends and I commiserated that at this point, it is completely up in the air if we passed or not — we felt like it was a 50/50 chance. As one of the participants in California’s laptop/Examinator pilot program, I have a prediction: It will be years before more than a few hundred applicants take the bar exam on their laptop in any one location. Administratively, there were a lot of delays and problems. The proctors don’t know anything about technology, and there were only two tech people to handle little problems (people who didn’t know how to turn off their computer’s speaker, for example). It’ll be a while before this becomes practical in a widespread way. I have heard that California’s February 2001 exam using laptops was basically similar to the July 2000 exam — they are still working out some of the logistical bugs. The exam was finally over. I kept reminding myself that there was nothing I could do at this point to change the results, so I should just let go. But I knew that it would take a few days for me to relax and unwind. This originally appeared in Travis Wise’s helpful “California Bar Exam Primer,” at http://www.twise.com/barexam.htm.

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