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My friend Bridgit Lawley and I disagree about very few things, but even after all these years we still don’t see eye-to-eye on the bar exam. Bridgit believes that candidates for the bar exam should be kind to themselves during the actual period of the exam. I believe that you should drive as hard as possible until you reach the very end. Bridgit and I had the dubious distinction of meeting in a Barpassers review course in the summer of 1989. It was a perfect match. I was a follower in search of a leader. Bridgit was a natural coach who was at her most effective when she had students to instruct. She drew up a study schedule, and I promptly fell into line. Bridgit’s plan did not incorporate flex time for moods or bad brain days or real-life distractions. If we were scheduled to do twenty multiple choice questions in property that morning, we did twenty multiple choice questions in property that morning — even if Bridgit’s varietal tomatoes were wilting on the vine or my dog had gone missing from the yard. This singleness of purpose did not sit well with everyone else, and our significant others quickly left town — without the tomatoes or the dog — in order to escape the oppressive atmosphere. We barely noticed, except to the extent that these departures might provide a hypothetical for diversity jurisdiction. My birthday fell a week before the bar exam, and Bridgit furloughed us from the endless study hall of our existence for a two-hour birthday supper on the town. At dinner we talked about the Chinese chicken salad and interpleader. Some friends came into the restaurant but declined to join us. Evidently easements and covenants are not much of a conversational draw. We heard horror stories of other people who attempted to study together and ended up considering murder (and we could recite in our sleep the four categories of homicide). We experienced almost no friction. Our only dispute during bar preparation was a disagreement about a multiple choice question that involved an accident with a BB gun. “We’ve done this one already,” I announced to Bridgit. Bridgit kept careful records and was not easily derailed. “No we have not, and you are losing it!” was her diplomatic response. Years later I realized that I recognized the question because a professor had used it as the basis for his final exam in my first-year torts class, but that’s another story. I apologized profusely to Bridgit. It was not until the actual bar examination itself that Bridgit and I realized that we were no longer master and disciple. It turned out that Bridgit subscribed to the “reward for solid effort” school, which meant that you were allowed to kick back a few days before the exam and bank on your knowledge from that point on. My own personal philosophy could be described as “distrust yourself deeply.” I knew that there was always more to learn, and I didn’t allow myself to stop. I studied until the day of the exam and even during the exam, with time off for good behavior only when I was sitting in the exam itself. Here’s how it all played out: July 24, 1989. Night before the exam. Bridgit visits with neighbors and reads a novel. Lois yells at her neighbors and reads her Barpassers outline. July 25, 1989. Morning of day one of the exam. Bridgit has a sensible breakfast and arrives at the exam site with time to spare. Lois frantically reviews the elements of ten esoteric torts, chokes down a pop-tart, and checks for the fifteenth time to be sure her roll of quarters for the parking meters has not disappeared from her backpack. July 25, 1989. Evening of day one of the exam. Bridgit relaxes, eats dinner, watches TV. Lois congratulates herself because today’s first essay question tested business torts she studied the night before. She resists the urge to rest on her laurels and works 50 multiple choice questions. She attempts to medicate her incipient migraine without impairing brain function. July 26, 1989. Morning of day two of the exam. Bridgit has a sensible breakfast and arrives at the exam site with time to spare. Bridgit does not have a headache. Lois’s pounding migraine wakes her at the crack of dawn. She declines breakfast, a choice she will later regret, and instead practices another 20 multiple choice questions. She checks her quarters for the twentieth time. They sit in perfect formation in their paper wrapper and there is no evidence of any attempt to escape. July 26, 1989. Evening of day two of the exam. Bridgit chills with friends and listens to music. Lois congratulates herself once again — it turns out that she reviewed a number of multi-state questions on Tuesday night that appeared on the test today. Not trusting her luck, Lois reads about wills and trusts for a couple of hours. Sure enough, a question on this very topic is on the bar exam on Thursday. She finally takes her migraine to bed. July 27, 1989. Morning of day three of the exam. Bridgit has a sensible breakfast and arrives at the exam site with time to spare. Lois wakes without a migraine (hooray!) and does not check her quarters because she has finally figured out to leave them in the car. She reviews community property, assuming that she will need to know it anyway when her spouse divorces her on grounds of abandonment. July 27, 1989. Evening of day three of the exam. Bridgit and Lois check in with each other, determine that each has survived, and settle down to experience a cavalcade of conflicting emotions and delayed reactions concerning the stresses of the last three days. Bridgit waters her tomatoes. Lois walks her dog. Life slowly begins to return to normal. November 25, 1989. Bridgit and Lois each receive very thin letters from the bar examiners announcing that they have passed the bar exam. (That’s how the results were published in the old days.) They toast each other’s success and the success of many other friends. February 2002. Lois and Bridgit each remain convinced that her way is the best way. Both teach law by now and are regularly solicited by students for advice. Lois tells her students: Study all through the bar exam. You never know which small piece of law will make a difference. Never stop absorbing information. Stock up your short-term memory. Capitalize on your anxiety and use it productively to review. Keep going until the very end. In contrast, Bridgit tells her students: Just relax in the final days and let the information settle down. Don’t keep cramming at the last minute. You will just rattle yourself. You know the material. Be balanced. Don’t let yourself get crazy. What will work for you? Either approach — putting that nervous energy to work, or keeping it under control — can be effective. Use the one that feels most natural, or combine them. Anxiety about the bar exam is inevitable, no matter what your personality. Just continue to do what was successful for you in law school and the same strategy is bound to be successful on the bar exam. GOOD LUCK! Lois Schwartz is an adjunct professor at Hastings College of the Law, Santa Clara University, and Golden Gate. She has worked in the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office and occasionally fills in as a research attorney for the Contra Costa County Superior Court.

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