You are gearing up to take the bar exam. You have your nose to the grindstone and have been spending your days studying since graduation. Theoretically, you know what the bar exam is like and what to expect. However, you still aren’t 100% sure how to prepare yourself or what the exam will be like! Fortunately for you, I have experienced the bar exam myself and have successfully passed the bar exam. In order to help you understand what to expect when taking the bar exam, I have curated a list of things that not everyone knows about it. Here are ten things they don’t tell you about the bar exam. I hope that this list helps you feel more prepared when test day comes. (Note: I took the Michigan bar exam a few years ago, so my advice is based on my experience in that jurisdiction. However, many jurisdictions have similar testing procedures. In any case, check your particular state’s bar examiners website for more detailed information!)
1. They Test Similar Questions
It should not surprise you that the topics and questions tend to be recycled. There are subjects that are frequently asked, and it is a good idea to really nail down those particular areas. However, you want to be careful when you are taking the exam. Read each question very carefully and do not make the mistake of assuming that a question is similar/the same as one you previously answered in bar prep. Sometimes the test writers will change the question very slightly and an answer that would have been correct on a previous question is now the wrong answer on the actual test question.
2. They Post Old Essays
Most jurisdictions release the essay questions from previous exams and post them on their bar examiner’s website. In addition to the questions, they also post model answers to previous essay exams. These are excellent tools to use as practice questions because you are able to self-grade with the model answers. These will help you feel more prepared and have a better understanding of how the essay questions will look on exam day. So make sure to check out the released essay questions and answers!
3. Not All Subjects Are Tested Equally
Each jurisdiction chooses what areas of law are on their bar exam and whether they adopt the standardized multiple choice questions. Most jurisdictions have more areas of law that they can test from than actual exam questions. As such, each bar exam has areas of law that are tested more frequently than others. Thus, you want to look into your jurisdiction’s history of the subjects tested. This way, you will be able to focus your studying on areas that are tested more frequently, especially if you are in a time crunch! However, you will still want to prepare for less frequent/rarely tested areas of law because they do appear on exams.
4. The “Difficulty” Changes Each Year
Well, sort of. The bar exam changes with each testing date. Different topics can be tested, the focus of a question can be changed, or the frequency of an area of law fluctuates. Also, the exam writers and graders can vary with each administration. Thus, the amount of people who pass also differs with the testing periods. Unfortunately, you won’t know what your exam “difficulty” will be until you sit and take the bar exam. However, it is good to look at the passing/failing statistics that most jurisdictions post to get mentally prepared!
5. You Need to Figure Out Lunch
Since most bar exams are 2 or 3 all-day exams, you will be given a break to eat lunch. Unfortunately, you are not provided lunch by the test facility so you will need to figure out your food plans on your own. Some law schools (like mine) provide lunch for their students taking bar exam at the testing center. However, others pack their lunch so they do not have to worry about finding food and getting back to the exam on time. In any case, you will want to get a game plan together before the exam!
6. You Need to Get Your Own Supplies
For each jurisdiction, there is a list of things you need to bring to the exam and things that are excluded from the testing facility. Make sure you know what you need to bring on test day! The administrators will not have supplies for you if you forgot them. The best way to be prepared is to get your bag together the night before the exam and triple check it in the morning before you leave!
7. You Will Go Through an Emotional Rollercoaster
The bar exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Before the exam, you will be pushed to your limit through the bar prep period. You will be stressed, anxious, and overworked by the time you sit for the bar exam. During the exam, you may feel fatigued, stressed, worried, or even discouraged. However, you have to encourage yourself to keep going and push through to the end. On the other side of this ride is great relief – you can do it!
8. The Waiting Period is Almost as Bad as Studying
After you finish the exam, you will likely feel a huge weight off your shoulders! However, the anxiety period is far from being over. You won’t get your results immediately and instead will enter “the waiting period.” During this time you are in limbo waiting to hear whether or not you passed and can take the next steps to become a licensed attorney. While this doesn’t sound that bad, it was one of the most stressful times of my life. It could be several weeks or months before you get your results and your anxiety runs out of control. You are so stressed, worried, and unsure of what to do during this time because you don’t know if you are going to be practicing soon or studying again.
9. It is Not the End of the World If You Don’t Pass
You spend numerous months working hard preparing for the bar exam. When the results come out, your seat number or name are not on the list, meaning, you unfortunately failed the bar exam. This is a law student’s worst nightmare, and it seems like the end of the world. You feel so alone and discouraged. I truly feel for those who missed the mark and did not pass. However, you are not alone. There are many great people who came before you and did not pass the bar exam and, in the end, they are doing amazing things. Even if you did not pass the bar exam this time, there are more administrations of the test, and you are still an intelligent and hard-working individual. You can still be an attorney, even if it takes a few times to pass the exam!
10. It is Not Impossible to Pass the Bar Exam
The bar exam is a difficult exam, I am not going to lie to you. It is not easy to pass and instead requires a lot of time and hard work. There is also a lot of stress and anxiety that go into the bar exam as there is a lot banking on passing. That all being said, it is not impossible to pass the bar exam. Many people before you have successfully passed the bar exam. It seems daunting now, but one day you will be on the other side, looking back at this moment. You can and will be successful and achieve your goals. You will pass the bar exam and take the next steps in your legal career. For now, good luck studying!