Previously, we discussed five pieces of advice for tackling the new online bar exam in California. Here are five more tips to add to your list:
1. Assess you laptop, wi-fi, and desk situation
I’m not going to slog through all the logistics you need to check, because you can and should go back to the State Bar’s FAQs. However, if you haven’t already, you need to
- Check your hard drive space, memory, and webcam
- Make sure you have the right operating system installed
- Disable automatic software updates, restarts or sleep modes that may interfere with exam sessions
- Check your wifi speed and reliability
- Bookmark the URLs for the password site and any other login pages (unclear when these URLs will be made available)
- Triple check time zones if you’re taking the exam out-of-state (or abroad)
- Ship off pets, children and anyone else who might be loud or walk in during your exam (a cute dog curled up under your desk or roommate popping their head in one time could be enough to make you forfeit the exam, and nobody wants that)
- Completely clear your desk space and anything within view of the camera
- While you’re at it, do you have a desk? Some students like to study on the couch, but you likely need a proper table for the test days
- Check the prohibited items list and make sure your ear plugs, watch, etc. conform
- Do all practice exams without food, snacks or even water
- Time any meds you need to take and make sure taking them on a break is okay since you won’t be allowed to during exam sessions
- Apply for extenuating circumstances if you foresee wifi, noise or work space problems arising
2. Practice all the old essays and PTs in the new exam software
It’s actually required that you go in and try out the new exam software once it’s ready. Beyond that, though, you should absolutely practice all the exam questions that get loaded into the software so you can get comfortable with its functionality (note, they didn’t say when these are being loaded, so hopefully they’ll notify you soon). Things like highlighting text electronically instead of with a marker, typing your scratch paper notes instead of handwriting them, and setting a timer for each essay after the essay session has begun all take up time, and you need to get used to these things now so there are no surprises on exam day.
3. Close your eyes
I had a call with a student the other day. She said: “Usually, when taking a practice exam, I sort of just space out at the wall and try to remember the rules. Since there’s going to be a webcam on my face, is the proctor going to think I’m cheating?” Such a good question.
I’ve covered this with students taking the in-person exam before, and the same advice applies: Close your eyes. If you feel like your process for remembering rules or planning out what you want to write even looks like you might be reading the wall just behind your laptop, just make it crystal clear to anyone watching that you’re not. I usually tell students to close their eyes and try their best to remember without glancing around the room too much. Obviously, you’re not going to cheat. But the proctors don’t know that, so better to be safe on this one.
4. Don’t walk out
Several years back, I had a student who walked out on the exam on Day 1. Of course, she didn’t pass. She had practiced her heart out on essays and PTs, but the anxiety was just too much, and she hadn’t practiced coping with that. From then on, I’ve always told bar students to make a pact with themselves, “I will not leave the testing center, no matter how hard it gets.”
When I was reading through the new FAQs, it occurred to me just how tempting it might be to leave the exam room when it’s literally… your own room. Don’t do this. Since leaving the room outside of the allotted breaks for any reason could result in forfeiture, you should practice sticking with the test, no matter what happens. You owe that to yourself and the hard work you’ve put in.
5. Have some confidence
This is not going to be easy, but you can do it! The threshold passing score is lower now, so your chances are even better than they’ve ever been. Maybe some technical details are giving you anxiety, but there’s nothing you can’t practice and prepare for ahead of time. As much as you can, put yourself into the real exam-day situation and practice real essays, MBEs and PTs. No one else sitting for this bar has done this before either, so no one has the advantage. Deep breaths. You can do it!