Let’s all just accept that this is a very weird time in our lives. As much as we want to cry out that it’s just not fair, these once in a century circumstances have to be acknowledged. I wish I could remember what great philosopher expressed this idea, but I am a firm believer that the most successful people in life are those who have the ability to adapt and move on from obstacles placed in their paths. Rather than complain and rail against how unfair it is that you have to accept this unseen threat, figure out how to move forward and whether there are any benefits you can take advantage of that might not be available at another time.
For instance, one benefit of our current situation may involve where you get to take your bar exam. The norm is that you have to go to some large test center, and maybe get a hotel room for a couple of days nearby, especially if you don’t live in a city where the bar exam will be administered. While the various states are contemplating their options, consider the possibility that many of you may get the opportunity to take the exam from the comfort of your own home. In fact, the California bar has stated a goal that they will make every effort to offer the exam online. This, of course, could be a mixed blessing, but let’s concentrate on the benefits for now.
1. Take the exam in the same location where you study on a daily basis
Think about how this would actually be a really good option. One problem with a big open testing location is the unknown. Will the seats be comfortable? Will my computer screen be at the proper level to prevent neck strain? Do I need to worry about ear plugs to dull sounds that might be distracting during the exam?
Put some effort into creating this workspace with the bar exam in mind. The ideal would be a separate room/office in your house where you could lock the door to prevent family members or roommates from entering during the exam or while you are studying. If there isn’t a separate room, is there a dining room with a large table that can be commandeered for a few months? Get a comfortable chair. Find the perfect height for your computer screen. Make sure the lighting is good. Practice timed exams in the exact same location where you might ultimately take the exam.
2. Set up your study space to enhance your memorization of the relevant material
A common technique employed to enhance memory is visualization. This technique teaches you to create pictures in your mind that will trigger your memory about topics you have been studying. Repetition and consistency help you to internalize these memories into “pictures” you can call up when needed.
Why not create physical charts (maybe in the form of posters) for each subject on the bar exam. Under the general topic name list the major issue categories you might see in a fact pattern. Place these around your workspace. Refer to them repeatedly, then close your eyes and try to picture them and the content they contain. If you are successful, you will be able to call up these “pictures” during the bar exam, going through the list of potential issues and checking them off.
3. Some other practical things to think about
Face it, so much is unknown about what you will be experiencing. Try to think ahead and minimize potential problems before they arise. For instance, some bar examiners are saying that they might automatically disqualify someone’s attempt if during the exam a wifi connection is lost. Therefore, think about getting an ethernet cord and connecting your laptop or computer directly to your router and modem.
If you have access to a larger monitor, use it. Depending on decisions that are still being made, you may not have the ability to print out a hard copy of the fact patterns. You will need to practice using a split screen to view the fact pattern, mark it up, and create an outline on one side of the screen while writing out your response on the other.
Finally, figure out how to minimize distractions during the actual exam. Send family members on a short vacation during the bar exam. If that is not possible, then find a way for them to be away from your home at least during the hours of the bar exam. Unplug or silence any other devices in the home that might distract you during the relevant times.
It’s time to start thinking like a lawyer even before you become one. Consider all your options and plan on having a response to what you can’t control. Be prepared for the worst but hope for the best. Whatever happens – you’ll have a story to tell.