Any good bar exam preparation program will show you how to break down a bar exam essay, how to analyze a multiple choice question, and how to focus your studies on the subjects and areas that matter most. Some programs are better than others (like Bar Exam Toolbox!), however what these programs don’t cover are the hidden issues with taking the bar.
For example, did you know that you will have to travel, sometimes really far away to take the bar exam? The MPRE, the ethics portion of getting licensed to practice law, is often offered in many more locations than the bar exam itself. Other standardized tests like the SAT and LSAT are offered in numerous places giving test takers ample opportunity to take the exams in a place convenient to them. The bar exam? Not so much.
Here is something good, bad, and ugly that may surprise you about taking the bar exam.
Taking the bar exam, for me, was incredibly empowering. After months of studying towards this one hugely important goal, passing the exam showed me that I not only could achieve what I set my mind to but that I could achieve way more than I even thought possible.
When I took my first bar exam in Virginia going on ten years ago now, I didn’t have much money. I was afraid if I didn’t pass the exam on the first try and get a job in the legal field, I may not get a job period. Without a job, I couldn’t afford to pay to take the bar exam again. Everything, literally everything, was riding on me passing the bar exam the very first time, and I did.
After I reveled in my successful bar exam attempt, I swore I never, ever wanted to go through that kind of stress and pressure again. Ten years later, I decided to take the Uniform Bar Exam so I could practice law in New York where I had relocated. This time around, I was taking the exam as a married woman, with a full time job, and a toddler. If I didn’t pass, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I still had my full time job even if it wasn’t one I enjoyed, and my family would still love and support me. But, I wanted to be able to show my son (and my future daughter), that they could achieve their goals. I also wanted to work in a vocation again that inspired me so I could be at my best for my children.
When I decided to take my second bar exam, I texted a law school friend of mine. I told her I had a crazy idea, and when I told her I wanted to take the bar exam again, I was honestly hoping she would talk me out of it. I was hoping she would give me all of the reasons why I couldn’t achieve this goal. Of course, she told me I was brave and should never hesitate to strive for what I wanted. She was right.
Knowing that all the months of preparing for the exam, all the years studying in law school, and all of the years before that preparing to get into law school—all of it was worth it when I passed the bar. Appreciate that this is a struggle, but with great struggle often comes great rewards.
I did mention that this process is a struggle, didn’t I? The truth is that studying for the bar exam takes dedication, and that often means there are sacrifices. The cost of the exam alone was a huge sacrifice for my family. The cost of staying in a hotel for several nights (a night before the exam, the night between test days, and the night after) in Albany, New York cost around $1,500!
That was money that my husband and I were setting aside for what would have been our first real vacation together, and my first vacation in ten years. Instead, it went to the bar exam.
Neither my husband nor I regret that decision. Thanks to my passing the bar in New York, we started a law firm and that’s now our full time jobs. But, it definitely didn’t come without some serious sacrifices along the way.
After months of studying for the Virginia bar, I was incredibly anxious to get to the testing site and just take the darn test already. I knew my outlines, the law, my game plan. I was ready.
Then I got the email from the board of law examiners explaining what could and could not be brought into the test site. Nobody warned me I wouldn’t be able to bring my purse! I don’t recall Virginia’s policy ten years ago being stringent, but when I took the exam in New York in July 2019, I was surprised to learn I couldn’t even leave the labels on my bottles of water, and the bottles of water had to be a certain size.
What surprised me perhaps the most as a female test-taker is that anything brought into the exam site had to be contained in a clear plastic bag. That meant any feminine products would be front and center. As a nursing mom, this was also problematic. Where would I pump? How would I bring my pump to the test site? For women who sit for the exam and are pregnant, it’s important to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition and hydration throughout the day, which can also be a challenge due to some state’s policies on items that can be brought to the exam.
Contact the board of bar examiners in your state as early as possible to learn what their policy is on items in the exam room in order to accommodate your needs. If you are on your period, nursing, pregnant, or have other considerations, make sure you address those with the board as soon as possible.
The bar exam can be a rewarding process, but there are definitely sacrifices and hidden issues along the away. Don’t be afraid to ask someone who’s a seasoned bar exam veteran for advice.