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Before you read one more word of this column, I should warn you: I liked studying for the bar exam. I even liked taking the bar exam. My friends regarded the experience as something akin to climbing Mt. Everest in a swimsuit and flip-flops, but I found no grounds for complaint. “Why is that?” you may ask. The reason was simple: Law school, and the first year in particular, had been wildly confusing to me, and the process of preparation for the bar exam turned out to be my chance to get it right. LET’S HIT THE ROAD! My very first law school class had tipped me off that my legal education was to be no casual journey. My law school, exercising an unfortunate combination of good intentions and bad judgment, held a three-day orientation that I assumed would be the functional equivalent of driver’s training class. No such luck. Rather than teaching us how to maneuver or at least watch out for danger, the curriculum avoided all practical skills and instead consisted of an extended discussion about something called the “Fireman’s Rule.” Everyone seemed to understand the Fireman’s Rule until they started to teach it to us. After that, nothing was clear and we resigned ourselves to perennial and incremental confusion. Eventually the class bonded in their collective failure to get the points that appeared obvious to the professor. It reminded me of an ill-fated trip to New York when I sent my sons on the ferry to Ellis Island and they didn’t notice the Statue of Liberty. Many years later one of them told me that they had been looking forward to seeing it, but they just forgot to look up. MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE Orientation proved an accurate indicator for law school itself. The confusion never really abated. Knowlege arrived at strange hours in unmarked packages and exams were eccentric and unpredictable. But graduation finally occurred, along with the realization that the days of riding academic shotgun had ended and I was expected to take the wheel. The bar exam was beckoning, and the journey continued. TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROAD After law school’s magical mystery tour, the bar review course had the joyous quality of the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy and her troup emerge from their chaotic itinerary along the yellow brick road and sight the Emerald Kingdom. The doors to the legal kingdom swung open, and the bar prep course ushered us onto the straight and narrow after three years of attempting to execute wheelies in an academic maze. This help appeared in the form of an emergency road crew called Barpassers, a now defunct bar preparation course that set itself a simple goal: teach ‘em the law without gimmicks or frills. THE RULES OF THE ROAD “Here’s the basic legal rule,” stated the unflappable Barpassers video lecturer. And, in the reassuring tones of a tour guide who has witnessed every possible crisis a traveler can endure, she would add, “Just apply the rule this way.” The Bar review process tugged at the bottom line and swabbed an exterior coat of simplicity over our befuddled grasp of legal concepts. No more scholarly side roads and death-defying leaps. Just a ride down the long, straight legal information highway with a drop-off at our destination. Admittedly, I occasionally strayed from the tour group, but I loved the idea that you could actually learn the law if you simply stayed the course. ARE WE THERE YET? The last two weeks of bar preparation are the most critical. For me, they turned out to be the highlight of the trip. Once bar review sessions ended, my study buddy and I set out on our own. We were on the road early every day. We spent our mornings doing multiple choice questions in a given area of law. We took a quick rest stop for lunch and devoted our afternoons to outlining as many essay answers as we could without falling asleep at the wheel. (Writing out complete answers proved to be too time consuming.) In the evenings we worked separately and reviewed the material that was most difficult for each of us. I found it highly gratifying to do exercises that pressed into service all the information we had learned for the bar exam. My study buddy was not prone to lavish the same measure of praise on the process, but she remained a devoted and good-natured fellow traveller throughout. We were ready for the bar exam. JOURNEY’S END Our travels were not destined to end on an easy note. The bar exam was more demanding — and more gratifying — than any formal assessment I have ever experienced. Having spent ten weeks packing as much information as possible into my brain, I was now prepared to let it rip! Like the contents of an overstuffed suitcase, the archived material folded and stacked into my memory came flying out the minute I released the clasp. The bar exam proved to be an endurance test requiring relentless recall, unwavering focus, precise maneuvering, and near perfect timing, but the bar review process had prepared us well. For the first time since that fateful encounter with the Fireman’s Rule, I actually understood what I was expected to do and I knew enough law to do it. When in doubt about which direction to take, I just followed the standard instructions from the bar review course. I sprinkled my answers with headings, underlined key words, and used short, declarative sentences. I used templates to structure my answers whenever I could, and made sure that every sentence I wrote contained something of legal significance. I didn’t cave in to the temptation to change my first choice on a single multiple choice question. I even remembered to supplement the law with my common sense on the performance tests. At long last, I felt that I was capable of handling a solo journey. OK, EVERYONE OFF THE BUS All in all, bar prep and the bar exam were difficult at the time but provided a mental album filled with lifetime memories. It was a long trek, but manageable if I kept a steady pace and read the map. Positive bar exam results in November confirmed that the trip was a success. Now I teach law and I have assumed the role of tour guide for my own students. Mindful of my own experience in law school, I try to plan our itinerary as carefully as possible so students are well prepared for the bar exam and the practice of law. I can relax a little, knowing that the bar preparation process will provide the final boost if you just allow it to take the lead. Bon voyage! And best of luck to all of you on the bar exam. Lois Schwartz is an adjunct professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and an adjunct instructor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

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