Editor’s note: Pack a jacket and pain relievers, and request a late hotel check-out. Those are just a few of the suggestions that Lisa Waters, a grader for Texas Wesleyan University School of Law’s spring 2012 “Preparing for the Bar Exam” course, has for test-takers sitting for the three-day Texas bar exam, which begins July 24.
Texas Lawyer research editor Jeanne Graham emailed Waters — an attorney adviser with the Social Security Administrations’ Office of Disability and Adjudication Review in Dallas who passed the test last July — some questions about taking the bar exam. Following are Waters’ emailed tips for examinees, edited for length and style.
Texas Lawyer: What is a good study strategy for the last few days before the exam? What worked for you?
Lisa Waters: Incorporate the study techniques — studying flashcards, posting Sticky Notes throughout your home, etc. — that worked for you during law school. My technique was studying mini-outlines that I had created along the way. Because bar exam preparation is new to most examinees, they think that they should study differently. But this summer is not the time to make any significant changes in your life, whether it’s cutting back on caffeine or experimenting with new study methods. The techniques that got you through law school should get you through the bar exam.
TL: Are there other actions test-takers should take care of this week or items they should make sure they have on hand for the exam days?
Waters: First, book a room at a hotel within walking distance of the exam site. No matter the cost, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind, knowing that you won’t get a flat tire on the way to the bar exam. Also, pack whatever you need to ensure that you are as comfortable as possible during these three days. That might include a box fan if you need one to sleep at night, pain relievers to treat the headaches that you will almost certainly have, and a jacket to keep from freezing in the testing center. Further, think about what you will do for lunch on the second and third days of testing. I recommend a meal replacement bar so that you don’t have to leave the exam site and don’t have to worry that your food sat in your car for hours. Finally, consider asking your hotel for a late check-out on day three to avoid having to pay for an extra night just because you won’t return from the exam until late afternoon.
TL: What do you recommend test-takers do the day before the exam? What did you do the day before the July 2011 exam?
Waters: Against my better judgment, I stayed up very late trying to memorize the rules that I had not mastered yet. Obviously, this is not what I recommend to July 2012 examinees. As uncomfortable as you might feel walking into the exam with gaps in your knowledge, you aren’t likely to learn what you need to learn the night before the exam if you haven’t learned it already; that ship has sailed. More importantly, the practice of law isn’t about memorizing and regurgitating legal principles but, rather, is about resolving legal problems. This is especially difficult to do after a sleepless night, so get some sleep.
TL: What do you recommend test-takers do during the evenings after day one and day two of the exam?
Waters: Just as you hopefully did before day one, I would relax and get a good night’s rest. However, assuming that day one’s material was the last material that you studied the weekend before the exam, you probably need to briefly review day two’s material the evening after day one and day three’s material the evening after day two. Just do enough to shift gears and bring the relevant information to the forefront of your mind, and set a time limit for yourself so that you don’t get too involved. If you have one-page reviews for each subject, those would be ideal to flip through on those evenings.
TL: If you could share just one tip with those who will be sitting for the exam beginning July 24, what would it be?
Waters: Don’t get caught up in the minutiae in one subject to the exclusion of heavily tested areas in another subject. While I suggest that you use the same study techniques that worked for you in law school, this does not mean that everything should receive the depth of treatment that you would give it while studying for an A+ in school. Instead, recognize that the breadth of material for which you are responsible is too vast to study everything in such depth. Your task is to get from one end of an Olympic-sized wading pool to the other. You have a lot of ground to cover, but all you have to do is wade through it. This isn’t the time to do any diving; in fact, you could really hurt yourself if you tried.