As a California bar taker, you probably just received the instructions from the State Bar about remote testing. So did we. Wow. As if you weren’t already preoccupied enough with studying for the exam, here’s a new detailed list of do’s and don’ts that you need to consider. Thanks, Calbar!
First off, I would be remiss if I did not mention the good things to come of this admittedly weird new exam format:
- You can take the exam in the comfort of your own home (and pajamas, without shoes, yay!)
- You get a 15 min. break between each essay, MBE session and the PT
- You have fewer MBEs to answer (but they still count for 50% of your score)
- You can cut and paste from your digital scratch paper onto your essay writing screen
- You can cross out wrong answer choices to narrow down MBE answers
- You can bring real, physical scratch paper to the PT session
- The new passing score is 1390 instead of 1440
And, now for the not-so-good:
- You have to take the whole exam with a webcam in your face recording your every move
- Pretty much nothing is allowed in the exam room with you, except your laptop (seriously… no pets, people, drinks, snacks, books, phones)
- You can’t bring any hardcopy scratch paper to plan your essays
- You can’t jot in the margins on MBEs since they’re digital
- You can’t go back and check previous essays or MBE sessions once they’re over
- You can’t borrow time from one essay to the next like you could on the old exam
- You can’t survey all essay subjects by flipping through quickly at the start of the exam, you only get one essay at a time
- You can’t circle, or write margin notes on essay fact patterns, the PT library, file or task memo, or MBE questions, because they’re all electronic (but you can highlight)
Some of my students have asked me what they should change as they approach the next couple of months of study. I want to preface this advice by saying that you should carefully read through the FAQs released by the State Bar of California because this blog post does not cover every detail. (note on the FAQs: make sure to open in a new browser to ensure you’re not looking at an old, cached version of this as it’s updated often. You may also want to clear your cookies). Also, they mentioned updating these FAQs as more questions arise, so check them again in a few weeks and again before the exam, because it’s not clear whether you’ll be notified of changes. It sounds like they’ll just be added to this same “living document.”
Finally, these suggestions apply to online exam takers who do not have testing accommodations. If you’re taking the bar in person, or if you have extra time or other accommodations, some of these pointers won’t apply to you.
Okay, so where do you begin? Here are my first five tips. I will be following up in a second blog post with five additional tips, so stay tuned!
1. Fix your study schedule
The bar exam dates were up in the air for a while, and it was super frustrating for everyone. Now that they’ve been pinned down to October 5 -6, 2020, you need to set your schedule accordingly. Obviously take these days off if you’re working, arrange childcare and pet sitters if needed.
Importantly, you should also revamp your study schedule. Not only do you need to hit each subject a couple of times between now and October, you should build in some testing days that reflect the scheduling changes to the essays, MBEs and the PT.
2. Begin using the new timing breakdowns
Instead of three essays back-to-back, then lunch, followed by another two essays and the PT, you now have each of the five essays on its own in a strictly-timed one-hour block. What does that mean? Well, you really need to get your timing down, because once that hour is up, it’s break time and then on to the next essay. No wiggle room whatsoever. The sooner you can get used to this, the less anxiety-provoking it will be on the exam.
- Practice a 90-minute MBE session followed by 15 minute break and then a 90-minute PT
- Practice two 90-minute MBE sessions back-to-back with a 15 minute break in between
- Practice three essays in a row for one hour each with a 15 minute break between each one
And of course, give yourself a dry run of both exam days in full sometime between now and October.
3. Start on-screen essay planning now
This is a big one. For the first time, you need to read the fact pattern off your screen instead of having it in front of you on paper. That means no jotting down quick notes, marking issues as major or minor, or circling dates or key events. You will also have a pop-up “Tool Kit” that opens and closes where you can type scratch paper notes. This is going to take some getting used to.
Plus, it sounds like having the essay question prompt and your essay writing screen side-by-side on your laptop will make the text of both documents smaller, which could get annoying. And, since no dual monitors are allowed, this is just something you’re going to have to deal with. If you have a smaller laptop, it will be particularly important to test this new format out.
Bottom line, no more printing fact patterns. No more handwritten scratch paper. Start using the new guidelines for essays now.
4. Do digital MBEs
If you’re not already using an online MBE program, you may want to start. You can still gain knowledge by practicing MBEs on paper. But, since that no longer simulates the real exam-day experience, you may want to just move to digital questions.
You now have two 90-minute sessions of 50 MBEs each. The timing of the questions hasn’t changed. You still get about 1.8 minutes for each one. But, since there are only half as many questions, and they still make up 50% of your total score, each one is weighted more heavily. You can cross out wrong answer choices on your screen (something I would recommend to narrow down to the correct option). You can also flag tough questions and come back to them. But, you cannot go back into the previous 90-minute exam session. And, of course, you still need to click your answer choices, just like on a scantron (just crossing off the wrong ones won’t get you any points).
All this is to say that you need to get used to the technicalities of the new MBE program. Would I still recommend writing down a one-sentence rule for each practice MBE you get wrong from now until October and memorizing it? Absolutely. Do you need to do this on paper? Not anymore.
5. No more hardcopy PT packets
I don’t know about you, but I find reading the PT packet off the screen instead of in hardcopy a little frustrating. It might be easier if you had full-sized dual monitors, but that’s not allowed on the exam, so you’re just going to have to do your best. Can you copy and paste rules or facts from the PT packet into your answer? Nope. Can you circle facts or write margin notes in the library? No. You do get 8 pieces of scratch paper (which you need to supply yourself, obviously), but to me, this all sounds like a big adjustment.
As with the essays, your best bet is to start using this new format now. The good news? You don’t have to kill any more trees printing out PT packets. The bad news? You’re going to have to change to how you’ve been practicing these.